Skirting the issue

{ Friday, December 24, 2010 }
I had one more christmas craft due before the big day and I was able to sneak this one in right under the wire.

Our first christmas living together, the boy and I acquired a big bunch of new christmas decorations. The following year, I was just coming out of my first trimester of pregnancy and was not feeling up to digging all the decorations out of storage, so we didn't decorate that year and that's why, when we unpacked our decorations last year, it was like we were seeing everything for the first time. We didn't unpack a tree skirt and were sort of surprised since we vaguely remembered owning one, but neither of us could really picture what it looked like and we certainly couldn't find it.

Last year, we did without a skirt, but this year I decided to rectify the situation. I loved this skirt the moment I saw it (I'm a sucker for polka dots), but wasn't feeling the $60 price tag.

I figured I could whip up something similar, so I started out with a couple yards of white muslin and used the string-tied-to-two-pens technique to make two perfect-ish circles roughly 4 ft in diameter. I then cut slits through one side and made smaller circles in the center for the tree opening. I sewed those two circles together, leaving an opening for turning and turned the whole business right side out.

I then stitched one round of red ric rac at the outer edge of the skirt.

The polka dot part was the most time consuming. I found three household items of varying size to serve as my templates and traced and cut many, many circles from wool felt.

I pinned a piece of scrap muslin over the hole to make finding the center easier and, using the string-and-pen technique, I marked three concentric circles on the skirt using a disappearing fabric marker. I then spent hours agonizing over the correct "random" dot placement.

Finally, I sewed all the little dots down with coordinating thread. I'm sure fabric glue would have also worked, but we're a little suspicious of glues around here and I thought the stitching would wear a little better.

The last step was to stitch more ric rac round and round the circles and throw that baby under the tree!
The only regret I have (that I plan to rectify before packing it away until next year) is that I didn't add fabric ties to hold it closed. It works fine as is, but the ties will definitely make it more bean-proof.

The bean says merry christmas to those celebrating tomorrow!

Where, oh where has December gone?

{ Monday, December 20, 2010 }
December somehow got away from me this year. I took on some extra work this month and that, along with household chores and chasing after the bean, has kept me away from my usual christmas preparations. Finally, this last weekend, I found the time (in between holiday parties) to bake batches and batches of christmas cookies while listening to carols and finishing up some last minute crafts. NOW it feels like christmas is coming!

Do you remember this stocking that I started for the bean last year? I stitched like crazy on it all of last December, but I knew there was no chance of getting it done in time. You might think it has been finished for months, given the fact that I had all year to work on it, but I needed to give the thing a little rest at the beginning of last year and only worked on it here and there for several months. This fall, I kicked it into high gear and finally finished up all the stitching.

Last weekend I found the time to do the finish work (ugh, the finishing seems to take longer that the actual stitching). I'm very happy with how my first attempt at embroidery turned out. We hung it up alongside my handmade stocking from my childhood and a place holder stocking for the boy. It took a full year to complete the bean's stocking, so perhaps in two years I'll complete the other two kits I have hiding in my sewing table for us?

{ Monday, December 13, 2010 }
Its been way too long since I posted a bean update, so let's see what she's up to, shall we?

At just a couple weeks shy of 18 months, the bean is busier than ever. She now runs and jumps and dances when she hears music and has that very short attention span that toddlers are known for. Watching her play with her toys can make one dizzy as she moves from one thing to the other.

Of course, the bean is also showing those other traits that toddlers are known for--irrationality, impatience, and tantrums. We try to remember that this is a time in her life when she very much wants to be independent and, to be sure, most of the tantrums are over her not wanting any motherly assistance. Its actually a little funny to see our bean's face slowly change (a warning that the storm is coming), then to see her carefully and slowly lie down face first on the floor (no sense getting hurt just to prove a point). She cries for a few moments, then looks up to see if she still has an audience.

Beyond that, 18 months is all about communicating. The bean's vocabulary has really taken off and she's using new words almost every day. She definitely has a desire to learn and will spend up to 5 minutes (the toddler equivalent of hours) pointing at various objects and listening to us name them. Most interesting to me are the words the bean comes up with that we haven't taught her, in fact, she has some words that we don't really use so we wonder how she learned them. She is also starting to put words together into sentences and they provide a peek into our days lately: That's mine! More cake please! No Mama!

These days the bean loves dolls and babies more than anything else. She doesn't actually have a proper baby doll, but she makes due with whatever is on hand. Mostly, its this stuffed dog which she has named "baby puppy" and which gets puts to bed with a little washcloth for a blanket and whose "spit up" gets cleaned with lots and lots of tissues. When we're out and the bean sees a stroller go by, she's off like a shot to go investigate. I remember being a nervous new mother and absolutely freaking out when, during flu season, a curious young toddler tried to hold baby bean's hand, so I imagine the bean is not a welcome sight running full tilt at these little babies. We're working on admiring them from a distance, but the bean gets lots of hands on time with babies at her twice weekly daycare visits. The teachers tell us that she loves helping feed the babies their bottles and will run over to rock a bouncy seat the moment she hears any crying. The bean is getting ready to move into a toddler room at daycare which will mean many new friends and fun activities, but we're sure she'll miss all the babies in the baby room.

Another favorite activity is helping mama and mommy cook. If she sees one of us even walk into the kitchen, the bean is off to start pushing a chair from the dining table into the kitchen while yelling, "I cook! I cook!" and "Help!" once the chair gets stuck. She stands on her chair next to the counter and "helps" by measuring out water and pouring it from one measuring cup to the other.

Helping mama roll out bagel dough

This is an age where we are really getting a lot back from the bean, when she'll initiate hugs and kisses, wave and say "bye bye" when one of us leaves and come running to greet us when we return. Those teen years will be here before we know it, so for now we're soaking as much of this up as we can!

Thanksgiving menu

{ Wednesday, December 01, 2010 }
I cooked thanksgiving dinner this year for our little family. The problem with a vegetarian thanksgiving is the matter of a main dish. We can (and do) enjoy the side dishes, but for our dinner at home I really wanted a main protein dish to replace the turkey. A few months ago, I got it in my head to somehow stuff seitan, roast it and serve it with gravy so we wouldn't miss out on those traditional flavors. Honestly, my first two practice versions of this dish left a lot to be desired. I originally made the mistake of using the seitan recipe on the back of the gluten container. My final version used the recipe from Veganomicon and it was excellent!

Seitan Stuffed with Mushrooms
Double batch of simple seitan recipe from Veganomicon
4 cups sliced cremini mushrooms
4 tbls high smoke point oil, such as canola, corn, or safflower
1/2 cup gruyere
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup packed spinach leaves
dash of white wine

Make the seitan according to the recipe, but when shaping dough, shape into two thin rectangles. (Seitan can be made up to one week ahead and stored in its cooking liquid.)

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil on high heat add about 1 1/2 cups mushrooms. Sprinkle with salt and saute until browned, stirring occasionally. Remove mushrooms from pan and add an additional tablespoon of oil. Continue cooking the rest of the mushrooms and oil in small batches. The trick to this step is to work with a hot pan and small batches of mushrooms so that the 'shroom juices are boiled off as they are released and you end up with nicely browned mushrooms. Getting the pan too hot, however, will cause your oil to burn, so watch the pan closely and adjust the temperature as needed.

Once all the mushrooms are cooked, remove the pan from the heat and adjust the temperature to low. Return all of the mushrooms to the pan and add the cream, cheese, and wine. Stir to combine and melt the cheese. Add the spinach leaves and cook until wilted. Adjust seasoning and remove from heat. (Don't clean that pan! Deglaze it with a bit of white wine and vegetable stock and and save that liquid to make gravy with.)

Lay seitan pieces flat and cover with a thin layer of the stuffing. Tightly roll each piece starting at one narrow end and tie with cooking twine in two or three places. Cook in a 350 degree oven until heated through, approximately 40 mins.

To serve: remove twine and slice. Top with mushroom gravy.

The rest of the menu? I'm glad you asked.

Parmesan pastry pinwheels

vegetables and hummus

Butternut squash gratin

Brussels sprouts hash

Mashed parsnips, russet and sweet potatoes

Homemade crescent rolls


{ Thursday, November 25, 2010 }
Sometimes I'm jealous that I'm not the fun Mom. During much of my alone time with the bean, I'm doing housework and I'm much more likely to be vacuuming the couch than making a fort from its cushions.

Sometimes I'm jealous that the boy thinks of all the fun games, but mostly I'm just thankful that the bean has someone in her life that lets her clean up her toys like this.

Happy thanksgiving!!


{ Monday, November 01, 2010 }
October 2009

October 2010





I should probably make a throne joke

{ Saturday, October 30, 2010 }
It seems that the tasks that have taken the longest in our bathroom have had the least impact, but those that have been quick have made a big difference and so it is for grout. Aside from the long dry times involved (a couple days for the mortar to set before grouting followed by a few more days for the grout to cure), this went fairly quickly and of course makes a huge difference in how the tile looks.

I have to be honest, I almost hurt myself patting us both on our backs after we got to this point. We had walls and floors--almost done! In fact, this project languished for a few days while we thought about what to do next. I thought we'd just drop the toilet and vanity in place and call it a day, no need to rush. After a couple days, we started to remember some of the little details. Like moulding. Floor moulding is nice to have.

So there was painting, measuring, cutting, nailing down and caulking of the moulding to do. THEN we could finally drop the toilet in. Twice. We did have the foresight to buy two wax rings because we thought we might need a second try at getting the thing in and we were right. Centering an awkwardly shaped (and heavy!) piece of porcelain onto a hole that you stop being able to see midway through the process isn't the easiest thing, but I think the thing's sealed up now. I hope, hope, hope that it is since I have no plans to repeat this remodel anytime soon.

We sort of thought we were on the home stretch at this point since all we had left to do was the vanity. Oh boy, what a headache that ended up being. I'll tell you all about it next time!

A-tiling we will go!

{ Thursday, October 14, 2010 }
Before the recent blog silence, I mentioned that we were remodeling our bathroom. I'm excited to share with you the first update on the work we've been doing.

Why is it that the work that takes the most time while remodeling a room is the stuff that makes the least difference in how it looks? I could show you step by step pictures of how we spent the first couple weeks into this bathroom redo, but they'd honestly all look the same. After days and days of patching drywall, taping, mudding, mudding, sanding and mudding some more, followed by primer and two coats of paint, all you can say is, yep, there's walls there! We're limited to doing all of this work on weekends in between social/family obligations and a few hours of naptime snuck in during the week, so its been slow going.

Moving on to the part I've been most excited for--tiling! We chose large (12"x12") porcelain tiles that were affordable without looking too cheap. Even though we were told it would be more difficult, we were committed to laying them on the diagonal because it really dresses up our budget tiles. The first step in pulling this off was to carefully plan the layout. We first found the center of the room, then drew diagonal lines out from there and finally outlined the position of the first tile in the center.

Next, it was time to mix up the mortar, which was just like using a huge hand mixer.

One tip we read online that really helped us was to use a piece of 1"x2" lumber screwed into the subfloor to lay the first row of tiles against. We carefully lined it up where the edge of the tiles would go and used it as a guide to get the first row of full tiles down.

We let those dry overnight, removed the 1x2 and then the real fun started. We did a sort of dry run by laying all the tiles into place before mixing up more mortar. We were lucky enough to borrow a tile saw and the boy was a superstar tile cutter.

Marking the tile cuts was a bit more challenging than it would have been if we had just laid the tiles straight across, but we were able to make use of a homemade tile marking tool--two pieces of 8 1/2"x11" paper strategically cut and taped back together in a 12"x12" square (you can see it in the picture below). This guy was folded into the shape we needed, then placed on top of the tile to be cut for easy marking.

The boy did the cutting with the saw which put me in charge of making the odd shaped cuts with tile nippers. I attacked this job with vigor (and no gloves) until I felt something strange on my hand and realized it was a blister that had opened up. I ended up with several of the worst blisters I've ever had and the boy had a little scratch from a jagged piece of tile, but otherwise we ended the day unscarred with a floor that looks eerily similar to the "dry run" picture above, but now those suckers are stuck down--hopefully for a very long time!


{ Thursday, September 30, 2010 }
Was the bathroom remodel the project that finally did us in? Well, nearly, but we're still here and have many updates planned for you soon. Right now, I need to chase after the bean, fold some laundry and . . . wait, bean come back!!

The next big thing

{ Wednesday, August 25, 2010 }
We, like most homeowners I imagine, have a list of projects we'd like to complete around our house. We even have them prioritized and roughly scheduled for the year that we plan to complete them in. Our townhouse's 1 1/2 bathrooms definitely need a complete redo (they're all original circa 1975--blue sinks! Almond toilets!), but we have a few other projects we'd rather complete first and had put the bathrooms off for a couple years. We've recently learned, if we didn't know it already, that sometimes houses have a way of screwing with your priority list.

Let me tell this story a different way. If our house had a nickname, it would be Niagara. You may remember that we discovered and repaired several water leaks when we redid the floors a little over a year ago. And the floor is where this story starts. Our beautiful new wood floor started to bubble up in the hallway, just a few feet outside of our half bathroom, a phenomenon that I now know is called cupping. A few weeks later, that area of floor completely buckled. In hindsight all the clues were there, but it took us a good while to track this floor damage down to a leaking toilet in our half bathroom. We should have noticed, but didn't, that water was leaking from the bottom of the toilet tank at an alarming rate, flowing between, around, and under the old, cracked floor tiles and wreaking havoc on the subfloor below.

All this is my drawn out way of saying that we're remodeling our bathroom. Not that we have a choice--once we pulled out everything that was wet, soggy, and rotting, there wasn't much left and nothing to do but try to put it back together. Well, let me show you what I mean.

Here's our bathroom before we started ripping stuff out.

The bottom few inches of drywall around the toilet had to come out, but luckily we were able to save the rest of the drywall in the room along with the subfloor, but everything else had to go. Since there's a good chance that our walls were originally painted with lead based paint, we tried to be very careful about containing the mess that we made. We sealed off the room with plastic, cleaned up with TSP at the end of each day and showered before holding the bean.

After a long weekend of trading off between demolition and bean care, we were left with this.

I always reach a point during big projects like this where I start to panic. Late in that first weekend of work, I looked at the empty room and had to lay my head down. Neither of us have taken on a project this big before and the confidence I felt at the beginning waned a bit when the reality of the work ahead of us settled in.

Nothing to do but put it back together, right?

I'm honored

{ Tuesday, August 17, 2010 }

I've been given a beautiful blogger award by the lovely ladies over at 1 in Vermillion. If you're not already reading this account of Nutella and Strawberry's parenting journey, well, you should definitely start. Its by far one of my favorite parenting blogs. Thanks again, guys!

More birthday craftiness

{ Monday, August 16, 2010 }
Almost two months later, I'm finally finishing up the last of the birthday posts. Today, I have two more handmade gifts to show you. First up is the growth chart.

I'm really cracking myself up with my photoshopping. Of course our bean has a real name that we do use that I stenciled on the chart, but since we don't publish her name here, I had to get creative.

I made the chart out of a strip of linen fabric that I embroidered with brown and green thread. The green doesn't show up in the photograph at all, but there is a repeat of the brown pattern at the top of the chart. I then added a little interfacing to stiffen up the fabric and sewed on the patterned backing. I had never made anything with the backing folded to the front like this, so it took a bit of practice and planning to make the corners neat, but it wasn't difficult at all. Finally, I used fabric pens to mark the distances and color in her name. I was too cheap to buy a whole alphabet's worth of stencils when I only needed a couple letters, so I printed out the bean's name in a large block font on a piece of heavy cardstock and cut the letters out with a utility blade. Time consuming and tedious, yes, but it got the job done.

When it came to hanging the thing on the wall, I was stuck. The boy and I both agreed that we liked the clean look of just the rectangle without any long hanging ties showing, but since we're talking about fabric, most of the hanging options we considered would end up with some sagging somewhere. We almost just drove nails right through the whole thing to attach it to the wall, but thank goodness we decided against that. I ended up making a fabric casing for a wooden dowel that I was able to attach to the back of the chart fairly invisibly. We then nailed a picture hanger right into the dowel and hung it that way. The very tip-top of the chart rolls down ever so slightly, but its barely noticeable and that's close enough to perfect for me!

As it turns out, its difficult to photograph a 5ft long strip of fabric, or perhaps we need a different camera lens, or both. In any case, you're stuck with this arty angle in order to see the detail of the embroidery.

The final handmade present, is this sweater that I posted about a really long time ago. I finally got around to finishing it in time for her birthday. Well, its almost finished. Its in need of two more buttons since I miscalculated the number I thought I'd use. Yes, I understand this displays an inability to count to ten correctly. I haven't been quite as sharp as I used to be since the bean came along--I think it maybe has something to do with not sleeping through the night in over a year.

This sweater is the presto chango sweater (ravelry link). The front panel is completely removable so that it can be swapped out for a different pattern or larger size, how cute is that? A wool sweater may seem like a strange gift for a late June birthday, but I knit this in a 2T because I'm realistic about the amount of spare time I have I wanted it to be big enough to fit for winter. See, those two missing buttons aren't much of a problem--she won't need a sweater for a few more months and she probably won't be big enough to fit into this for another year. All part of my plan, I swear!

The bean says thanks for stopping by and looking at her presents!

Kitchen Revealed!

{ Monday, August 09, 2010 }
It may appear that this blog was intended to only be a journal of our bean's first year, given how abruptly I stopped posting, but I'm still here with lots to say! We've been busy with some new projects that I'm excited to tell you about, but first please indulge me in a couple more birthday posts.

I posted a teaser of the bean's birthday presents and now I'm back to share the finished projects with you. Well, I'm back to share one of them--the bean's kitchen!

We are so happy with how this turned out. The fridge, oven, and under oven compartment are pieces of plywood that we attached with hinges and closed with magnetic closures. We added a catch on the oven door so that it wouldn't slam open and smash little beany toes.

The center drawers are the baskets that come with the trofast system.

The burners are plastic coasters that are attached with a single nail in each center, which ended up being a great alternative to glue.

The most difficult part of this project was the scale. We had a hard time finding real kitchen items that were small enough to work. We looked everywhere for a faucet that would be small enough, but still look like a kitchen faucet rather than one for a bathroom. Finally, I read a tip somewhere about using a bar faucet, which is perfectly sized for our little sink (the sink is a square cake pan).

The shelf is a leftover piece of plywood and the rack that the utensils are hanging from is a leftover drawer pull that happily ended up being just the right length.

After much debating about how to frame out the window (all the trim we found was too wide), the boy had the brilliant idea to use a picture frame. We removed the glass and screwed right through the frame into the plywood back. The curtains are handmade, but the rod caused some problems. The boy ended up cutting down a cafe curtain rod to size and we attached it with something that I like to call "those plastic things that hold pipes to the wall," which I'm fairly certain is the technically correct name.

If you were wondering about the accessories, the metal and plastic pieces are Ikea (they have such a great kids section!), the plates are Plan toys (can't recommend this company highly enough!) and the condiment bottles are Melissa and Doug (I'm falling out of love with them, since their stuff isn't as durable as it could be, but boy is it cute!).

Birthday recap

{ Friday, July 02, 2010 }
Please indulge me in a few more birthday posts, I have so many pictures I want to share with you from all the events of the last week. We celebrated the bean's birthday with family the weekend before the big day and thankfully the weather cooperated, since we held the party at a park near our house.

I DIYed the happy birthday banner and hung paper lanterns from the rafters of the shelter. We also covered the picnic tables with brown paper and provided crayons for scribbling with. It might be hard to see in the pictures, but we had a few dozen round lollipops that we stuck into polka dotted pails to fit in with our polka dot theme.

The bean loved hanging out with all her family and friends, but the bubble machine may have been her favorite part.

When everyone gathered around and sang happy birthday, she was a bit intimidated but, thanks to a happy camcorder accident, we ended up singing twice and she loved it the second time around. I highly recommend singing twice!
And the birthday cupcake wasn't half bad either.

A few days later, on the bean's actual birthday, we went to the zoo.

She especially loved the little tubes in the prairie dog habitat.

But the ducks were a close second.

After all that excitement, we still had more presents to open, pictures to take and, of course, another round of happy birthday.

She crashed shortly after this picture was taken. It was a good day.