Friday, December 20, 2013

Fun with machine embroidery - H's handprint on a pot holder

I recently got an embroidery machine for my birthday (yes, I am spoiled, I know!) and it. is. awesome. I didn't touch it for a month until I could attend one of the instructional classes at the store it came from, which was extremely helpful, as I had never even touched an embroidery machine before… and then I discovered that the thing does 90% of the work for you! It's amazing. It even threads its own needle. Even N, who is very mechanical, was fascinated with it enough to sit with me for quite a while as I played with it.

I'm sure H and her impending baby brother will have their names plastered all over everything until they cry, "STOP, Mama!"

Anyway, really the only tricky part is hooping, which I'm still learning how to do. But I've gotten along far enough that I've been able to make a few gifts for Christmas, including some initial monogrammed handkerchiefs for my dad (who is so old-school he is NEVER without at least one handkerchief) and, recently, a fun little add-on gift (or, as N's family calls them, lagniappe) for N's and my moms.

I had been wanting to do a kid-themed gift for each of them. My mom is the type who would gush over a t-shirt with a paint handprint or something, but I've never seen N's mom wear a t-shirt in my life -- even around the house -- and didn't want her to have to pretend to like it, or to impose on either of them with something that would take up space or have to be displayed. So I decided to do a kitchen item, which would be useful, but would not have to be displayed: a pot holder. So I decided to get really fancy and try to use my embroidery machine to do it.

I found this extremely helpful tutorial on converting a .jpg file to an embroidery file and downloaded SewArt, the software it recommends, for a free tutorial. (The only annoying part was that I had to do it on N's laptop, because it doesn't run on a Mac.)

Then I traced H's little hand with a marker, scanned that and converted the resulting image into a JPG. Then I put that on N's laptop and ran it through SewArt according to the instructions on the tutorial. And it worked! The resulting image wasn't quite as bold as I'd have liked, but still pretty cool for a trial run. I put the image on my embroidery machine using the flash drive and it actually stitched the image out perfectly. How crazy is that? I didn't really expect it to work. The final question was whether the hand image would be the same size as H's hand, since the image had been converted a couple of times. I had her plop her hand down on it, and it was perfect. Hooray!

The first handprint embroidery, before being made into a pot holder.
I added her name and the year, then quilted into a pot holder (OK, first time quilting or making pot holders, so they're not actually very cute, but… they will still work!). I cannot get over the novelty of having my little daughter's handprint turned go from being traced on paper to being stitched on fabric with very little time or effort and without even having to leave home. Pretty cool, huh? I am thinking the possibilities are endless.
Finished personalized pot holder.
And I'm going to have to buy that software when the tutorial expires!

Gratuitous cute kid shot.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Neighbor Gifts: Homemade Dog Treats


It's our first Christmas in our new neighborhood, and I don't really know if people do neighbor gifts at Christmas, but I like to do a little something for the closest neighbors. I also wanted to give them Christmas cards but thought sending them through the mail when they were going next door or across the street seemed pretty insane, so I decided to do a small gift and leave them on doorsteps along with our cards. 

I did a little thinking and realized that all of our close neighbors have dogs. (We are apparently the only people who don't have one… and I'm just fine with that!) So I thought, why not do a little treat for the dogs instead of yet another batch of fudge, jar of cookie mix, or jar of "Russian tea" mix. Not that there's anything wrong with those things -- I absolutely love them! But I wanted to do something a little different.

Anyway, here is a recipe I adapted from Allrecipes.com. Mine made about 35 good-sized treats.

5 cups whole wheat flour
4 eggs
1 can pumpkin
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
water as needed (I used 1 1/2 to 2 cups)
oats as needed (I used about a cup)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients except water and oats. Add water until you have a consistent dough. It will be sticky and not totally smooth. Then add enough oats that you can work with it with your hands. It will still be sticky, but will be formable. Use your hands to pat it out about 1/2 inch thick, then cut into shapes and put on a cookie sheet. Because this is a sticky dough, the shapes might not be perfect. But you can just keep re-forming the leftover bits and re-cutting, so none should be wasted. Bake until nice and hard, about 40 minutes.


Even though these are totally edible by humans, I just didn't have the heart to take a taste! But they ended up with a hard and crunchy consistency. I hope the doggies like them!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Some Recent Sewing Projects

This is just a speedy catch-up post on a couple of projects I haven't shared. The first is a little outfit I made H for our annual trip to the pumpkin patch. I had decided I didn't have time to make one this year, so I went to a couple of local boutiques to buy her something, but ultimately decided I was just too darn cheap to spend $60 on an outfit she might only wear once. (She may actually end up wearing it for a second time, if it doesn't get too cold this week.)

Anyway, I ended up at JoAnn's instead, hurriedly picking out fall fabrics.  I'm not sure if I've ever matched a polka dot with a print before, but I love it in this outfit. Both pieces were from free patterns, both quick and easy as pie, and I have to say, this outfit is one of my favorites! Just sweet, fun, comfortable for her to wear, and looked like a million bucks on her.



I wasn't sure about this pants pattern but it is a WINNER. I will be making it again. You can find it at Modest Maven.  The top is from a pattern (really more a tutorial) I've made lots of variations of, the Marilyn Slim Fit Peasant Dress pattern from Create Kids, which you can download free at fabric.com.


In the past week, I have made H two Christmas dresses. She also still has one from last year that fits. I'm not really sure why I think she needs so many!  I really, really wanted her to have a green Christmas velvet Christmas dress for her to wear in a photo shoot we were having done over the weekend. (Green looks SO pretty on her -- red, however, is not really her color.) I searched everywhere only to find that if you want red, you're in luck, but the only green velvet dresses readily available were eye-wateringly expensive (see cheapness reference, above).

So again, I went on a hunt for local fabric, not having time to shop online. I did not opt for velvet, because I'm a little scared about sewing velvet and didn't want to try something new on short notice. I found very little, but ultimately came up with this green and navy plaid at Hobby Lobby. The hand feel of the fabric is a bit rough (it is a homespun) so I was hesitant as to whether it would be Christmassy enough, but I like the way it turned out.

Mind you, I hated every second of sewing this dress. It was from a pattern I paid for, which irks me because it was a dreadful pattern. There were several steps left out (!), photos with no helpful detail, and writing that was just plain confusing. I won't link to it here because I don't want to slam anybody on my blog, but if you want to know where I got it so you can avoid it like the plague, message me. Obviously, I finally figured it out, and so I might eventually make it again, but I will probably only make the sleeveless version, because the method for attaching the sleeves is really hard (and confusing).

Aaaaanyway, here it is on the hanger:



And here it is on H, paired with some wildly inappropriate footwear. ;-) I promise it will be styled a little better when it goes out in public.



The hilarious (not really) thing is that she ended up not wearing it in the photo shoot because it clashed with the background. Oh, well! She will look pretty at church!

Then on Sunday afternoon I cashed in some "me time" N has been owing me to whip up this little number. It was the total opposite -- a delight to make! It was also a paid pattern, the Junebug Dress from Craftiness is Not Optional. (I actually got it as part of the Southern Institute Sew Fab Pattern Bundle -- what a deal!) Jess never disappoints. Her writing is so clear and her photos are great for showing you exactly what to do. Also, the clever way she puts the dress together is really simple. I thought this might be a bit fiddly to make because of the chest flap, puffed sleeves, and buttons, but it came together quickly. I realized too late that I should have made it a size smaller, but that was totally my fault.


I also like this one because it is pink and blue instead of traditional Christmaswear, so it can be more of a "winter" dress, as opposed to just a Christmas dress. Not that it ever snows here! :-) H likes the sparkly buttons, which she considers very fancy. 

So that's what I've been up to lately! Now time to catch up on the laundry pile. ;-)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Recipe: Crockpot Cranberry-Rosemary Pork Tenderloin with Sweet Potatoes


I love fall! Summer here seems to last so long, those first cool days seem like a dream come true. Once the nights start getting chilly, I like to have a fire in the fireplace and start making hearty fall recipes like chili and stews and roasts.

This is one you can make in the crockpot and it couldn't be any easier.

Crockpot Cranberry-Rosemary Pork Tenderloin with Sweet Potatoes 

2 lb pork tenderloin, rinsed and patted dry
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1- to 2-inch pieces
1 can of cranberry sauce (whole berries)
3/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp fresh rosemary (or 2 tsp if using dried)


  1. Put the peeled and chopped sweet potatoes into the bottom of the crockpot.
  2. Put the pork on top of the sweet potatoes.
  3. Sprinkle the tenderloin with sea salt and black pepper.
  4. Mix the rest of the ingredients together and pour over the top of the meat.
  5. Cover and cook on low for 7 hours or high for 4.
  6. Serve over wild rice.





Monday, November 4, 2013

The rest of H's Ducky Halloween Costume



So, I had intended to get to this a little closer to Halloween, but I was too busy having fun! I showed you how I made the t-shirt part of H's ducky costume out of a much larger shirt here.  Here's how I did the rest! 


I used a combination of Alene's OK-to-Wash-It glue and hot glue for putting the feathers on the t-shirt.  Both worked fine (since I knew I would be throwing the shirt away, not trying to wash it), and of course, the hot glue dried much more quickly, so I used hot glue for the rest of the project.  I stuffed some wax paper inside the shirt before gluing so it wouldn't stick to itself.




I used an adult-sized Hobby Lobby blank tee to make the pants (for cheapness and ease). It was great not to have to hem them because I could use the hem of the shirt! I did make a mistake, though -- I used a leggings pattern instead of a pants pattern. This wasn't a problem, except in the waistband -- because the shirt fabric had way less stretch than the pattern called for. So I ended up with some bunching around the waist. I decided I didn't actually care, though. The pants fit fine, and I don't believe in perfection in Halloween costumes. :-)



For the ducky "tail," I started by basically making a giant scrunchie the size of her waist (out of the scraps from the yellow t-shirt). 


Then I cut strips of yellow tulle from a spool, around 22" long, and tied them onto half of the "scrunchie." 



I finished by hot-gluing yellow and white feathers to the top of the tail/tutu/whatever you want to call it!


The ducky feet were possibly even easier. I cut four pieces of orange felt into a "duck foot" shape and hot glued around four of the five sides of one, stuck it to another one, then stuffed the opening with polyfill. 


Then I took a piece of elastic long enough to go around her ankle, sewed it into the "duck foot" on both sides, and glued the remainder of the hole shut.

For the finishing touches, I used an orange foam visor I got at Jo-Ann's, plus some white and black "foamies" type foam and hot glue, to make a duck bill visor with eyes and girly eyelashes.

And I glued little white and yellow feathers to three small alligator clips to make feather barrettes for her hair.

The costume, front and back:

And in action! The whole costume took maybe an hour and a half to make. H was so proud to be a little ducky. She had the time of her life! 




Friday, October 25, 2013

A Do-Over: Healthy Whole-Grain Mix for the YUMMIEST Pumpkin Pancakes EVER!



Oh my goodness, y'all.  Yes, I have posted on these pancakes twice before. But when I went back to reread the earlier posts recently as I was getting ready to make another big batch -- I was horrified! The posts were absolutely awful! How embarrassing. I can only say, I was new to this type of blogging back then and didn't really know what I was doing, but ... two posts about a pancake recipe without actually including the recipe?! Only links to inspiration recipes with descriptions of what I changed? Not great. Neither were the HORRENDOUS photos. So I have taken the other posts down and revisiting this recipe yet again.

Why, you may ask, would anyone bother to write THREE posts on the same recipe? Well, let me just tell you how good these pancakes are.  No.  I can't even begin to describe it. You just have to make them. You won't regret it. They are so soft and moist, so fragrant, so tender -- it is impossible to wrap your head around the fact that they are also packed with whole grains, have a bit of veggie, and are low in sugar. Oh, and did I mention they're 100 calories per pancake? It just doesn't compute.

Where I live, there is a legendary pancake restaurant, and pumpkin pancakes are one of their specialties. I've had them, and they're delicious.

I like these better.

Better yet, H loves them, and has since she was tiny. Without further ado, here is the actual recipe:

Healthy Whole-Grain Mix for Pumpkin Pancakes
Adapted from King Arthur Flour's Homemade Whole-Grain Pancake Mix

4 cups white whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups oats (old-fashioned or rolled)
3 Tablespoons sugar
3 Tablespoons baking powder
1 Tablespoon salt
1 Tablespoon baking soda
2.5 Tablespoons cinnamon
1.5 Tablespoons ginger
2 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons nutmeg
1 cup vegetable oil

To make pancakes:
1 cup homemade mix
1 cup milk or buttermilk; OR 1/2 cup plain yogurt and 1/2 cup milk
1 large egg
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
(optional) 1/2 tsp vanilla
(optional) a handful of pecans

Yields: 10 batches of about 8 pancakes each

1.  Grind the oats in a food processor until they are well-chopped, but not powder.
2. Mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl or stand mixer. Slowly drizzle oil into the bowl as you mix
well. (I use a pastry cutter at first, then finish up with my hands. When the oil is mixed in, it will make a clump when you grab a bit.)
3. Store mix in freezer bags or other airtight containers. The mix will keep indefinitely in the freezer.
4. When ready to make pancakes, add the liquids, egg, and pumpkin to the mix and let the batter stand for at least 20 minutes before cooking (this allows the oats to soak up the liquids).
5. Heat a pan to medium-hot or an electric griddle to 375.
6. Drop by quarter-cupfuls onto the lightly-greased pan or griddle. Cook for about 2 minutes per side, or until the edges are dry. Then flip and cook about two minutes on the other side.

That's it!

I ran it through a nutrition calculator and this is what I got. (This assumes you use 2% milk for the liquid, and no pecans.)


Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 68 g
Amount Per Serving
Calories
97
Calories from Fat
40
% Daily Value*
Total Fat
4.4g
7%
Saturated Fat
1.2g
6%
Trans Fat
0.0g
Cholesterol
26mg
9%
Sodium
160mg
7%
Total Carbohydrates
11.7g
4%
Dietary Fiber
1.6g
6%
Sugars
2.7g
Protein
3.4g
Vitamin A 48%Vitamin C 1%
Calcium 5%Iron 4%
Nutrition Grade C
* Based on a 2000 calorie diet

Nutritional Analysis

Good points

Mind you, I add just a few more calories to mine by drizzling them with real maple syrup. SOOO worth it.  The maple perfectly highlights the pumpkin flavor. A match made in heaven!


The pictures don't do them justice. They taste so much better than they look. :-)


Monday, October 21, 2013

Tutorial: Turn a plain youth t-shirt into a (puffed-sleeve) toddler tee in under 15 minutes


If you know me, you know that I love Halloween.  Especially making Halloween costumes.  This year, H was able to tell me what she wanted to be.  We went through a costume catalog together for inspiration, and she informed me that she wanted to be a "ducky."  I decided to make it a comfortable and simple t-shirt-based costume.

But, of course, I also wanted to keep things inexpensive (we are talking about something she's going to be wearing for a few hours, right?) and didn't want to go to a lot of trouble by doing things like dyeing a white onesie yellow or something.  So I picked up some larger (and extremely cheap) t-shirts at Hobby Lobby and decided to cut them down to make the top and pants for her costume.

Here's how I did the shirt.  I based it on a similar tutorial I saw online someplace a while ago.  I also added a little gather at the top of the sleeve.  I will definitely be using this method again -- it was SO fast and easy, and the result is very cute!  I'm thinking about all the times I wanted to find a little red t-shirt for her over the summer and grumbled because apparently clothing makers think red is only for boys...

PS. I used a serger, but you can easily use a regular machine. There are some great tips on sewing with knits at Dana Made It.




I started with the smallest shirt I could find in the right color, which was a "youth" size XS.  I laid a well-fitting t-shirt of T's on top, lining up the collars and shoulders.  The sleeves of the pattern shirt need to be tucked in.




I cut all around the outside of the pattern tee, leaving about a 1/2 inch (a bit more at the bottom).

Uh-oh... I seem to be missing a photo here (sorry, I was throwing her costume together in about an hour and guess I got a bit rushed!). But it's easy to describe what I did next. I unfolded the sleeve of the pattern shirt and laid it on one of the sleeves I cut off the bigger shirt, just to get an idea of how much to trim off the bottom and side.  Make sure you trim the armpit side, and leave the hem intact! Also, if you want a puffed sleeve, make the sleeve an inch or two longer than the armhole, as in the photo below.  If you want them more like a standard t-shirt, the curve of the armhole needs to match the curve of the sleeve.  


I used the first sleeve I cut as a pattern for the second one, of course.


Next, I turned the t-shirt inside-out and serged up the sides, leaving the armholes open.  I just serged around the bottom so the t-shirt wouldn't roll up.  I would fold up and hem if this were going to be a shirt H would wear often, but it isn't, and the hem shouldn't really show, so I didn't bother.

Then I turned the sleeves inside-out and serged them closed along the bottom.



Next, I turned the sleeve right-side-out and sewed about 2 inches of basting stitches along the top of the shoulder, then pulled the bobbin thread to gather it to fit the armscye.


With the t-shirt wrong-side-out and the sleeve right-side-out but facing inward (hemmed end of sleeve pointing inside shirt), I lined up the armholes, pinned, and serged.  This was probably the trickiest part of the whole project, because the tiny little armholes were smaller than the arm of my serger, so I had to serge it flat and sort of pull excess shirt out of the way as I went.  Still, not a big deal.


As H says many times a day, "ta-daaa!" A cute, girly toddler tee out of a style-less, oversized craft-store number.  And for a grand total, I think, of less than $2.50.



Now to add some feathers!  Stay tuned for more on the ducky costume.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

DIY Granite Wipes



Our new house is the first place we've ever lived with granite countertops. Being naturally... shall we say "frugal"... about such things, I pretty much instantly googled "DIY granite cleaner" and started making this spray, which works great. 

But eventually I found myself going, "How can we make this even easier? Is there such a thing as granite wipes?" Turns out, there is.  And, being frugal, I decided to DIY them.  (I bought the Weiman wipes in the photo above after the fact, to see how they compared with mine. Mine are extremely comparable -- maybe even a little better!)

Here is where I need to point out that using granite wipes is not the same as using granite cleaning spray and a microfiber cloth.  It just isn't.  You will not get the same beautiful shine, and you will probably get some streaks. (I have had slightly more streaks with the Weiman wipes than with the ones I made, but I got a bit of streaking either way.) If I'm having people over, I will reach for the spray bottle every time. But for day-to-day touchups, having the wipes in reach is very handy.  So here's how you make them. It's super-easy!



1.  Get some sort of empty plastic container. ;-)  A diaper-wipe box would work just as well -- maybe better.


2.  Cut a roll of paper towels to fit in the container. Don't worry about the cardboard tube right now. (A knife would probably work a lot better than scissors! But I managed.)


3.  Put the paper towels in the wipes container.  (Obviously, I started with a partial roll of towels, which was important because a full roll wouldn't have fit.)


4. Mix your solution -- the same as the link to the spray solution above: 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol, 3 drops dish soap, about 1 3/4 cups water, and (if you want) some essential oil for the scent. 



5.  Pour over your paper towels until they're good and soaked.  If you have solution left over, pour it into your granite spray bottle!


6. Let it soak in for a few minutes, and then the cardboard tube will be easy to remove. You can also pour off any excess liquid.


7. Pull a wipe up from the middle, feed it through the dispenser lid, and you're done!

That's it!

I don't like my wipes to be very wet, so when I pull mine out, I sometimes squeeze a bit of excess liquid into the sink. But, you know... it's right there. ;-) 


Monday, October 7, 2013

Toddler-Friendly Halloween Decor!



Halloween is a much bigger deal in our new neighborhood than in our old one.  Our last neighborhood was mostly a mix of older (like retired) people and young people with no kids.  Our first Halloween there, I excitedly filled a bowl of candy and waited in costume on the front porch... and one kid showed up.  His family was new in town, too, so they hadn't gotten the memo: The place was a dead zone (haha) on Halloween.

Last year, I was beginning my house hunting during October, and I drove through what is now our current neighborhood many times scouting it out.  It was so exciting!  Most of the houses were decked out with fun decorations galore.  And from our experience trick-or-treating at our in-laws' house (in a similar neighborhood just a few minutes away) I am expecting approximately ten bajillion cute trick-or-treaters at my door come the 31st.

(That comes with anxiety of its own. I have NO IDEA how much candy to buy. And should I buy all candy, or are trinkets like stickers OK, too? It's keeping me up at night, practically! But I digress.)

After being Halloween curmudgeons like our old neighbors for the past several years, I was excited to decorate this year.  Of course, we didn't have any decorations, really -- and with a 2-year-old in the house, I knew I wanted it to be strictly cute and not scary at all.  (Especially given her reaction when we accidentally wandered into the Halloween yard inflatable aisle of Home Depot the other week -- she was NOT happy.)

So I decided to go with a pumpkin patch theme with a full-sized homemade scarecrow, and, once again, Handy Hubby came through and did most of the work.

I did the fun stuff, like drawing the pumpkin shapes...


... and making the scarecrow head...


... while he did the actual labor -- involving building a PVC scarecrow frame, cutting out pumpkin shapes, and making doohickeys (technical term) for the back of the pumpkins so they will stand up.




We both did the painting and scarecrow dressing/stuffing together.  Team O!  I had originally planned to paint lines down the pumpkins to look like ridges, but the first several attempts turned out looking really bad, so I decided they looked enough like pumpkins as-is. ;-)

I was a little afraid H would be nervous about the scarecrow (whom we have named Buddy), but she got over that quickly.  Now, she insists on visiting him every time we're outside. The weird thing is, she calls him Daddy about half the time.  And when she found a spare, unstuffed "Buddy" head I had discarded (trial run -- too small), instead of finding it creepy, she started carrying it around and calling it her "Daddy puppet!" Kids are so weird.

Here's Buddy at night. Can't take credit for the cool lighting -- the landscape lights were already here when we moved in; we just stuck him in front of one.





So, what do you think? Too spare? I think I am going to fill it out a bit with some real pumpkins I bring home from this year's pumpkin patch visit, and I may also tape some black paper bats into the high entryway window so they will be backlit at night. Any other suggestions?



Friday, December 20, 2013

Fun with machine embroidery - H's handprint on a pot holder

I recently got an embroidery machine for my birthday (yes, I am spoiled, I know!) and it. is. awesome. I didn't touch it for a month until I could attend one of the instructional classes at the store it came from, which was extremely helpful, as I had never even touched an embroidery machine before… and then I discovered that the thing does 90% of the work for you! It's amazing. It even threads its own needle. Even N, who is very mechanical, was fascinated with it enough to sit with me for quite a while as I played with it.

I'm sure H and her impending baby brother will have their names plastered all over everything until they cry, "STOP, Mama!"

Anyway, really the only tricky part is hooping, which I'm still learning how to do. But I've gotten along far enough that I've been able to make a few gifts for Christmas, including some initial monogrammed handkerchiefs for my dad (who is so old-school he is NEVER without at least one handkerchief) and, recently, a fun little add-on gift (or, as N's family calls them, lagniappe) for N's and my moms.

I had been wanting to do a kid-themed gift for each of them. My mom is the type who would gush over a t-shirt with a paint handprint or something, but I've never seen N's mom wear a t-shirt in my life -- even around the house -- and didn't want her to have to pretend to like it, or to impose on either of them with something that would take up space or have to be displayed. So I decided to do a kitchen item, which would be useful, but would not have to be displayed: a pot holder. So I decided to get really fancy and try to use my embroidery machine to do it.

I found this extremely helpful tutorial on converting a .jpg file to an embroidery file and downloaded SewArt, the software it recommends, for a free tutorial. (The only annoying part was that I had to do it on N's laptop, because it doesn't run on a Mac.)

Then I traced H's little hand with a marker, scanned that and converted the resulting image into a JPG. Then I put that on N's laptop and ran it through SewArt according to the instructions on the tutorial. And it worked! The resulting image wasn't quite as bold as I'd have liked, but still pretty cool for a trial run. I put the image on my embroidery machine using the flash drive and it actually stitched the image out perfectly. How crazy is that? I didn't really expect it to work. The final question was whether the hand image would be the same size as H's hand, since the image had been converted a couple of times. I had her plop her hand down on it, and it was perfect. Hooray!

The first handprint embroidery, before being made into a pot holder.
I added her name and the year, then quilted into a pot holder (OK, first time quilting or making pot holders, so they're not actually very cute, but… they will still work!). I cannot get over the novelty of having my little daughter's handprint turned go from being traced on paper to being stitched on fabric with very little time or effort and without even having to leave home. Pretty cool, huh? I am thinking the possibilities are endless.
Finished personalized pot holder.
And I'm going to have to buy that software when the tutorial expires!

Gratuitous cute kid shot.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Neighbor Gifts: Homemade Dog Treats


It's our first Christmas in our new neighborhood, and I don't really know if people do neighbor gifts at Christmas, but I like to do a little something for the closest neighbors. I also wanted to give them Christmas cards but thought sending them through the mail when they were going next door or across the street seemed pretty insane, so I decided to do a small gift and leave them on doorsteps along with our cards. 

I did a little thinking and realized that all of our close neighbors have dogs. (We are apparently the only people who don't have one… and I'm just fine with that!) So I thought, why not do a little treat for the dogs instead of yet another batch of fudge, jar of cookie mix, or jar of "Russian tea" mix. Not that there's anything wrong with those things -- I absolutely love them! But I wanted to do something a little different.

Anyway, here is a recipe I adapted from Allrecipes.com. Mine made about 35 good-sized treats.

5 cups whole wheat flour
4 eggs
1 can pumpkin
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
water as needed (I used 1 1/2 to 2 cups)
oats as needed (I used about a cup)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients except water and oats. Add water until you have a consistent dough. It will be sticky and not totally smooth. Then add enough oats that you can work with it with your hands. It will still be sticky, but will be formable. Use your hands to pat it out about 1/2 inch thick, then cut into shapes and put on a cookie sheet. Because this is a sticky dough, the shapes might not be perfect. But you can just keep re-forming the leftover bits and re-cutting, so none should be wasted. Bake until nice and hard, about 40 minutes.


Even though these are totally edible by humans, I just didn't have the heart to take a taste! But they ended up with a hard and crunchy consistency. I hope the doggies like them!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Some Recent Sewing Projects

This is just a speedy catch-up post on a couple of projects I haven't shared. The first is a little outfit I made H for our annual trip to the pumpkin patch. I had decided I didn't have time to make one this year, so I went to a couple of local boutiques to buy her something, but ultimately decided I was just too darn cheap to spend $60 on an outfit she might only wear once. (She may actually end up wearing it for a second time, if it doesn't get too cold this week.)

Anyway, I ended up at JoAnn's instead, hurriedly picking out fall fabrics.  I'm not sure if I've ever matched a polka dot with a print before, but I love it in this outfit. Both pieces were from free patterns, both quick and easy as pie, and I have to say, this outfit is one of my favorites! Just sweet, fun, comfortable for her to wear, and looked like a million bucks on her.



I wasn't sure about this pants pattern but it is a WINNER. I will be making it again. You can find it at Modest Maven.  The top is from a pattern (really more a tutorial) I've made lots of variations of, the Marilyn Slim Fit Peasant Dress pattern from Create Kids, which you can download free at fabric.com.


In the past week, I have made H two Christmas dresses. She also still has one from last year that fits. I'm not really sure why I think she needs so many!  I really, really wanted her to have a green Christmas velvet Christmas dress for her to wear in a photo shoot we were having done over the weekend. (Green looks SO pretty on her -- red, however, is not really her color.) I searched everywhere only to find that if you want red, you're in luck, but the only green velvet dresses readily available were eye-wateringly expensive (see cheapness reference, above).

So again, I went on a hunt for local fabric, not having time to shop online. I did not opt for velvet, because I'm a little scared about sewing velvet and didn't want to try something new on short notice. I found very little, but ultimately came up with this green and navy plaid at Hobby Lobby. The hand feel of the fabric is a bit rough (it is a homespun) so I was hesitant as to whether it would be Christmassy enough, but I like the way it turned out.

Mind you, I hated every second of sewing this dress. It was from a pattern I paid for, which irks me because it was a dreadful pattern. There were several steps left out (!), photos with no helpful detail, and writing that was just plain confusing. I won't link to it here because I don't want to slam anybody on my blog, but if you want to know where I got it so you can avoid it like the plague, message me. Obviously, I finally figured it out, and so I might eventually make it again, but I will probably only make the sleeveless version, because the method for attaching the sleeves is really hard (and confusing).

Aaaaanyway, here it is on the hanger:



And here it is on H, paired with some wildly inappropriate footwear. ;-) I promise it will be styled a little better when it goes out in public.



The hilarious (not really) thing is that she ended up not wearing it in the photo shoot because it clashed with the background. Oh, well! She will look pretty at church!

Then on Sunday afternoon I cashed in some "me time" N has been owing me to whip up this little number. It was the total opposite -- a delight to make! It was also a paid pattern, the Junebug Dress from Craftiness is Not Optional. (I actually got it as part of the Southern Institute Sew Fab Pattern Bundle -- what a deal!) Jess never disappoints. Her writing is so clear and her photos are great for showing you exactly what to do. Also, the clever way she puts the dress together is really simple. I thought this might be a bit fiddly to make because of the chest flap, puffed sleeves, and buttons, but it came together quickly. I realized too late that I should have made it a size smaller, but that was totally my fault.


I also like this one because it is pink and blue instead of traditional Christmaswear, so it can be more of a "winter" dress, as opposed to just a Christmas dress. Not that it ever snows here! :-) H likes the sparkly buttons, which she considers very fancy. 

So that's what I've been up to lately! Now time to catch up on the laundry pile. ;-)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Recipe: Crockpot Cranberry-Rosemary Pork Tenderloin with Sweet Potatoes


I love fall! Summer here seems to last so long, those first cool days seem like a dream come true. Once the nights start getting chilly, I like to have a fire in the fireplace and start making hearty fall recipes like chili and stews and roasts.

This is one you can make in the crockpot and it couldn't be any easier.

Crockpot Cranberry-Rosemary Pork Tenderloin with Sweet Potatoes 

2 lb pork tenderloin, rinsed and patted dry
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1- to 2-inch pieces
1 can of cranberry sauce (whole berries)
3/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp fresh rosemary (or 2 tsp if using dried)


  1. Put the peeled and chopped sweet potatoes into the bottom of the crockpot.
  2. Put the pork on top of the sweet potatoes.
  3. Sprinkle the tenderloin with sea salt and black pepper.
  4. Mix the rest of the ingredients together and pour over the top of the meat.
  5. Cover and cook on low for 7 hours or high for 4.
  6. Serve over wild rice.





Monday, November 4, 2013

The rest of H's Ducky Halloween Costume



So, I had intended to get to this a little closer to Halloween, but I was too busy having fun! I showed you how I made the t-shirt part of H's ducky costume out of a much larger shirt here.  Here's how I did the rest! 


I used a combination of Alene's OK-to-Wash-It glue and hot glue for putting the feathers on the t-shirt.  Both worked fine (since I knew I would be throwing the shirt away, not trying to wash it), and of course, the hot glue dried much more quickly, so I used hot glue for the rest of the project.  I stuffed some wax paper inside the shirt before gluing so it wouldn't stick to itself.




I used an adult-sized Hobby Lobby blank tee to make the pants (for cheapness and ease). It was great not to have to hem them because I could use the hem of the shirt! I did make a mistake, though -- I used a leggings pattern instead of a pants pattern. This wasn't a problem, except in the waistband -- because the shirt fabric had way less stretch than the pattern called for. So I ended up with some bunching around the waist. I decided I didn't actually care, though. The pants fit fine, and I don't believe in perfection in Halloween costumes. :-)



For the ducky "tail," I started by basically making a giant scrunchie the size of her waist (out of the scraps from the yellow t-shirt). 


Then I cut strips of yellow tulle from a spool, around 22" long, and tied them onto half of the "scrunchie." 



I finished by hot-gluing yellow and white feathers to the top of the tail/tutu/whatever you want to call it!


The ducky feet were possibly even easier. I cut four pieces of orange felt into a "duck foot" shape and hot glued around four of the five sides of one, stuck it to another one, then stuffed the opening with polyfill. 


Then I took a piece of elastic long enough to go around her ankle, sewed it into the "duck foot" on both sides, and glued the remainder of the hole shut.

For the finishing touches, I used an orange foam visor I got at Jo-Ann's, plus some white and black "foamies" type foam and hot glue, to make a duck bill visor with eyes and girly eyelashes.

And I glued little white and yellow feathers to three small alligator clips to make feather barrettes for her hair.

The costume, front and back:

And in action! The whole costume took maybe an hour and a half to make. H was so proud to be a little ducky. She had the time of her life! 




Friday, October 25, 2013

A Do-Over: Healthy Whole-Grain Mix for the YUMMIEST Pumpkin Pancakes EVER!



Oh my goodness, y'all.  Yes, I have posted on these pancakes twice before. But when I went back to reread the earlier posts recently as I was getting ready to make another big batch -- I was horrified! The posts were absolutely awful! How embarrassing. I can only say, I was new to this type of blogging back then and didn't really know what I was doing, but ... two posts about a pancake recipe without actually including the recipe?! Only links to inspiration recipes with descriptions of what I changed? Not great. Neither were the HORRENDOUS photos. So I have taken the other posts down and revisiting this recipe yet again.

Why, you may ask, would anyone bother to write THREE posts on the same recipe? Well, let me just tell you how good these pancakes are.  No.  I can't even begin to describe it. You just have to make them. You won't regret it. They are so soft and moist, so fragrant, so tender -- it is impossible to wrap your head around the fact that they are also packed with whole grains, have a bit of veggie, and are low in sugar. Oh, and did I mention they're 100 calories per pancake? It just doesn't compute.

Where I live, there is a legendary pancake restaurant, and pumpkin pancakes are one of their specialties. I've had them, and they're delicious.

I like these better.

Better yet, H loves them, and has since she was tiny. Without further ado, here is the actual recipe:

Healthy Whole-Grain Mix for Pumpkin Pancakes
Adapted from King Arthur Flour's Homemade Whole-Grain Pancake Mix

4 cups white whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups oats (old-fashioned or rolled)
3 Tablespoons sugar
3 Tablespoons baking powder
1 Tablespoon salt
1 Tablespoon baking soda
2.5 Tablespoons cinnamon
1.5 Tablespoons ginger
2 teaspoons ground cloves
2 teaspoons nutmeg
1 cup vegetable oil

To make pancakes:
1 cup homemade mix
1 cup milk or buttermilk; OR 1/2 cup plain yogurt and 1/2 cup milk
1 large egg
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
(optional) 1/2 tsp vanilla
(optional) a handful of pecans

Yields: 10 batches of about 8 pancakes each

1.  Grind the oats in a food processor until they are well-chopped, but not powder.
2. Mix all dry ingredients in a large bowl or stand mixer. Slowly drizzle oil into the bowl as you mix
well. (I use a pastry cutter at first, then finish up with my hands. When the oil is mixed in, it will make a clump when you grab a bit.)
3. Store mix in freezer bags or other airtight containers. The mix will keep indefinitely in the freezer.
4. When ready to make pancakes, add the liquids, egg, and pumpkin to the mix and let the batter stand for at least 20 minutes before cooking (this allows the oats to soak up the liquids).
5. Heat a pan to medium-hot or an electric griddle to 375.
6. Drop by quarter-cupfuls onto the lightly-greased pan or griddle. Cook for about 2 minutes per side, or until the edges are dry. Then flip and cook about two minutes on the other side.

That's it!

I ran it through a nutrition calculator and this is what I got. (This assumes you use 2% milk for the liquid, and no pecans.)


Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 68 g
Amount Per Serving
Calories
97
Calories from Fat
40
% Daily Value*
Total Fat
4.4g
7%
Saturated Fat
1.2g
6%
Trans Fat
0.0g
Cholesterol
26mg
9%
Sodium
160mg
7%
Total Carbohydrates
11.7g
4%
Dietary Fiber
1.6g
6%
Sugars
2.7g
Protein
3.4g
Vitamin A 48%Vitamin C 1%
Calcium 5%Iron 4%
Nutrition Grade C
* Based on a 2000 calorie diet

Nutritional Analysis

Good points

Mind you, I add just a few more calories to mine by drizzling them with real maple syrup. SOOO worth it.  The maple perfectly highlights the pumpkin flavor. A match made in heaven!


The pictures don't do them justice. They taste so much better than they look. :-)


Monday, October 21, 2013

Tutorial: Turn a plain youth t-shirt into a (puffed-sleeve) toddler tee in under 15 minutes


If you know me, you know that I love Halloween.  Especially making Halloween costumes.  This year, H was able to tell me what she wanted to be.  We went through a costume catalog together for inspiration, and she informed me that she wanted to be a "ducky."  I decided to make it a comfortable and simple t-shirt-based costume.

But, of course, I also wanted to keep things inexpensive (we are talking about something she's going to be wearing for a few hours, right?) and didn't want to go to a lot of trouble by doing things like dyeing a white onesie yellow or something.  So I picked up some larger (and extremely cheap) t-shirts at Hobby Lobby and decided to cut them down to make the top and pants for her costume.

Here's how I did the shirt.  I based it on a similar tutorial I saw online someplace a while ago.  I also added a little gather at the top of the sleeve.  I will definitely be using this method again -- it was SO fast and easy, and the result is very cute!  I'm thinking about all the times I wanted to find a little red t-shirt for her over the summer and grumbled because apparently clothing makers think red is only for boys...

PS. I used a serger, but you can easily use a regular machine. There are some great tips on sewing with knits at Dana Made It.




I started with the smallest shirt I could find in the right color, which was a "youth" size XS.  I laid a well-fitting t-shirt of T's on top, lining up the collars and shoulders.  The sleeves of the pattern shirt need to be tucked in.




I cut all around the outside of the pattern tee, leaving about a 1/2 inch (a bit more at the bottom).

Uh-oh... I seem to be missing a photo here (sorry, I was throwing her costume together in about an hour and guess I got a bit rushed!). But it's easy to describe what I did next. I unfolded the sleeve of the pattern shirt and laid it on one of the sleeves I cut off the bigger shirt, just to get an idea of how much to trim off the bottom and side.  Make sure you trim the armpit side, and leave the hem intact! Also, if you want a puffed sleeve, make the sleeve an inch or two longer than the armhole, as in the photo below.  If you want them more like a standard t-shirt, the curve of the armhole needs to match the curve of the sleeve.  


I used the first sleeve I cut as a pattern for the second one, of course.


Next, I turned the t-shirt inside-out and serged up the sides, leaving the armholes open.  I just serged around the bottom so the t-shirt wouldn't roll up.  I would fold up and hem if this were going to be a shirt H would wear often, but it isn't, and the hem shouldn't really show, so I didn't bother.

Then I turned the sleeves inside-out and serged them closed along the bottom.



Next, I turned the sleeve right-side-out and sewed about 2 inches of basting stitches along the top of the shoulder, then pulled the bobbin thread to gather it to fit the armscye.


With the t-shirt wrong-side-out and the sleeve right-side-out but facing inward (hemmed end of sleeve pointing inside shirt), I lined up the armholes, pinned, and serged.  This was probably the trickiest part of the whole project, because the tiny little armholes were smaller than the arm of my serger, so I had to serge it flat and sort of pull excess shirt out of the way as I went.  Still, not a big deal.


As H says many times a day, "ta-daaa!" A cute, girly toddler tee out of a style-less, oversized craft-store number.  And for a grand total, I think, of less than $2.50.



Now to add some feathers!  Stay tuned for more on the ducky costume.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

DIY Granite Wipes



Our new house is the first place we've ever lived with granite countertops. Being naturally... shall we say "frugal"... about such things, I pretty much instantly googled "DIY granite cleaner" and started making this spray, which works great. 

But eventually I found myself going, "How can we make this even easier? Is there such a thing as granite wipes?" Turns out, there is.  And, being frugal, I decided to DIY them.  (I bought the Weiman wipes in the photo above after the fact, to see how they compared with mine. Mine are extremely comparable -- maybe even a little better!)

Here is where I need to point out that using granite wipes is not the same as using granite cleaning spray and a microfiber cloth.  It just isn't.  You will not get the same beautiful shine, and you will probably get some streaks. (I have had slightly more streaks with the Weiman wipes than with the ones I made, but I got a bit of streaking either way.) If I'm having people over, I will reach for the spray bottle every time. But for day-to-day touchups, having the wipes in reach is very handy.  So here's how you make them. It's super-easy!



1.  Get some sort of empty plastic container. ;-)  A diaper-wipe box would work just as well -- maybe better.


2.  Cut a roll of paper towels to fit in the container. Don't worry about the cardboard tube right now. (A knife would probably work a lot better than scissors! But I managed.)


3.  Put the paper towels in the wipes container.  (Obviously, I started with a partial roll of towels, which was important because a full roll wouldn't have fit.)


4. Mix your solution -- the same as the link to the spray solution above: 1/4 cup rubbing alcohol, 3 drops dish soap, about 1 3/4 cups water, and (if you want) some essential oil for the scent. 



5.  Pour over your paper towels until they're good and soaked.  If you have solution left over, pour it into your granite spray bottle!


6. Let it soak in for a few minutes, and then the cardboard tube will be easy to remove. You can also pour off any excess liquid.


7. Pull a wipe up from the middle, feed it through the dispenser lid, and you're done!

That's it!

I don't like my wipes to be very wet, so when I pull mine out, I sometimes squeeze a bit of excess liquid into the sink. But, you know... it's right there. ;-) 


Monday, October 7, 2013

Toddler-Friendly Halloween Decor!



Halloween is a much bigger deal in our new neighborhood than in our old one.  Our last neighborhood was mostly a mix of older (like retired) people and young people with no kids.  Our first Halloween there, I excitedly filled a bowl of candy and waited in costume on the front porch... and one kid showed up.  His family was new in town, too, so they hadn't gotten the memo: The place was a dead zone (haha) on Halloween.

Last year, I was beginning my house hunting during October, and I drove through what is now our current neighborhood many times scouting it out.  It was so exciting!  Most of the houses were decked out with fun decorations galore.  And from our experience trick-or-treating at our in-laws' house (in a similar neighborhood just a few minutes away) I am expecting approximately ten bajillion cute trick-or-treaters at my door come the 31st.

(That comes with anxiety of its own. I have NO IDEA how much candy to buy. And should I buy all candy, or are trinkets like stickers OK, too? It's keeping me up at night, practically! But I digress.)

After being Halloween curmudgeons like our old neighbors for the past several years, I was excited to decorate this year.  Of course, we didn't have any decorations, really -- and with a 2-year-old in the house, I knew I wanted it to be strictly cute and not scary at all.  (Especially given her reaction when we accidentally wandered into the Halloween yard inflatable aisle of Home Depot the other week -- she was NOT happy.)

So I decided to go with a pumpkin patch theme with a full-sized homemade scarecrow, and, once again, Handy Hubby came through and did most of the work.

I did the fun stuff, like drawing the pumpkin shapes...


... and making the scarecrow head...


... while he did the actual labor -- involving building a PVC scarecrow frame, cutting out pumpkin shapes, and making doohickeys (technical term) for the back of the pumpkins so they will stand up.




We both did the painting and scarecrow dressing/stuffing together.  Team O!  I had originally planned to paint lines down the pumpkins to look like ridges, but the first several attempts turned out looking really bad, so I decided they looked enough like pumpkins as-is. ;-)

I was a little afraid H would be nervous about the scarecrow (whom we have named Buddy), but she got over that quickly.  Now, she insists on visiting him every time we're outside. The weird thing is, she calls him Daddy about half the time.  And when she found a spare, unstuffed "Buddy" head I had discarded (trial run -- too small), instead of finding it creepy, she started carrying it around and calling it her "Daddy puppet!" Kids are so weird.

Here's Buddy at night. Can't take credit for the cool lighting -- the landscape lights were already here when we moved in; we just stuck him in front of one.





So, what do you think? Too spare? I think I am going to fill it out a bit with some real pumpkins I bring home from this year's pumpkin patch visit, and I may also tape some black paper bats into the high entryway window so they will be backlit at night. Any other suggestions?