Friday, December 30, 2011

On the hook...

Now that the holidays are over, and I'm not knitting mini-stockings every day, I'm working on my crochet skills.  While my friend Harriet was in town, she (once again) got me attempting crochet, and I'm proud to say I caught on this time.

It's just a Triangle
The first thing I have hooked right now is the Just a Triangle shawl from Laughing Purple Goldfish. It's in Sweet Mocha Ombre I Love this Yarn, which I love! The pattern is so simple, it was almost the perfect practice pattern.  I'm already on my second skein of yarn.  I get a little dumbfounded on just how fast you can crochet something up.

Have I mentioned I can't wait to finish this?  I really dislike the cold, and it's been quite cold the last few days.  I'm not the only one either- Liam seems to not enjoy the cold, and neither do my chickens.  In fact, I think my desire for warmth is the theme to this week's projects...

Easy Slouch Beanie
Also hooked is the Very Easy Slouch Beanie (with a brim) from Zesty Nachoes.  Again, a very simple pattern that's just perfect for practicing my stitches.  This time I'm using KnitPick's Cherry Cordial Andes Wool of the Andes bulky yarn and hoping the two hanks I have are enough for the hat and a scarf.  I wouldn't want to have to order more, now would I?

Next week, as long as I finish these projects, will hopefully include some belts for the kids, some fingerless gloves for myself and maybe something delightfully geeky.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas recovery

Opening presents Christmas morning
It's taken me days to recover from Christmas.  No really, I'm not joking in the least.  One of the things I've learned in the last 5 years is that having a child with a birthday two days after Christmas makes it so there is no break between Christmas and Birthday celebration. I'd almost describe the experience as awful, and at the very least, I always feel guilty because Lilia doesn't have any sort of separation from Christmas.  She doesn't seem to mind too much, thankfully.  I guess that comes from being an awesome kid. The kids opened presents on Christmas Eve, Christmas, Boxing Day and Lilia's birthday.

Christmas was good though.  I enjoy the time with family, particularly with my niece and nephew since it makes my kids happy to be able to play with them.  I love seeing the excitement in both kids for Christmas- Lilia was super excited about "Santa", even doing an impromptu last minute bribe for Santa (she cleaned her room without being asked) and begged to go to bed as soon as we got home from Grandpa's place on Christmas Eve.  Liam picked up on Lilia's excitement, and enjoyed all his new toys.
Blowing out the candles

Lilia's Birthday was small- just family.  We're working on doing "half-birthdays" for both kids in June each year.  It seems weird, but with birthdays so close to Christmas, we felt it was the best way to allow each kid to have a party with friends without imposing on others during such a busy season.  We got her a cake, the cake she asked for while at the store, had her cousins and family over and just had a nice time.  With the exception of Liam swiping off the word birthday from her cake, everything went fantastic.  And she loved her present- a pink DS and NintenDogs.

We still have to survive New Years, and Liam's birthday next week, but that's not as hectic and stressful as Christmas.  Thankfully.  And in case you are wondering, yes...I did finish my advent calendar garland, on time.

The finished garland

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wordless Wednesday (Not so wordless edition)

Birthday Pancakes
Birthday Pancakes
Pancake batter
Whipped Cream

Make up pancake batter of choice. I prefer making it from scratch, just because it's pretty easy.  Pour in some sprinkles, make pancakes.  Top with whipped cream!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas crafts

The Cheese ball poses for some pictures.

I feel like I've done so much home made/crafty stuff this holiday season.  This past week, I feel like I haven't stopped moving, it's crazy.  Cookies, candies, wrapping presents, making presents... it felt like it never ended.  It feels good to be mostly done.  I have two stockings and a few more presents to wrap.  The best part was that I did a lot with Lilia.  She and I had a lot of fun making clay ornaments, and all of us had fun painting them.  It was a really easy to make:

1 box baking soda (1lb box)
• 1 cup cornstarch
• 1 1/2 cups water

1. Mix everything in a saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring the entire time, until it's difficult to continue due to the thick consistency. 

2. Cool for about 15 minutes. Knead 5 minutes, or until smooth. Keep dough wrapped in plastic until you use it.

Mold it like you want, then let it set 1-2 days for the clay to dry.  The thicker it is, the longer it'll take to dry.  When it's dry, paint with acrylic paint (or similar.)

Cute ornaments!
It's that simple!  The smell was a fit funny, or so Lilia informed me, but she didn't mind.  She had too much fun.  She was coming up with little stories for each ornament shape she cut out.  We waited 4 days to paint, just to make sure it was dry, and then both kids painted them.  See the little patchwork Buffalo?  Yeah, that's the one I did.  And then Liam broke it.  Since I used a straw to put a hole in each, when the paint dried, we strung a ribbon through each ornament, and I attached some of them to gifts bags that I was giving to friends and family for Christmas.  It made a nice touch, I thought.

Speaking of gifts bags, I had my first experience making soaps.  It was a simple melt and pour recipe, meaning I melted it, added some color, fragrance, and poured it into a mold.  I've recently fallen in love with and can't wait to experiment more with soap and candle making.  I also made a gingersnap scented sugar scrub, and chocolate lip balm. I have the ingredients to make bath fizzies, but decided to not make those this week with everything else on my place.
Gingerbreadman soap, fresh from kitchen!
Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and it's good to know that I really don't have much left to do.  In fact, it's kind of refreshing and I look forward to relaxing with John and the kids instead of running around like a crazy mama.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Another finished room.

I wanted to finish painting my dining room before Thanksgiving.  That didn't get done, mostly because of the whole "let's come down with strep" thing (seriously, how did I get strep and neither of my kids did!?  Not that I'm complaining, but me and my immune system don't get along.)  So I was pretty determined to before Christmas.
The old dining room
You remember the ugly paneling?  I can't believe it took me this long, but it's finally gone.  I was a bit afraid of just painting over it- the paneling was etched and grooved, and I was afraid it wouldn't look good if I simply painted over it.  I also didn't want to spackle all the walls, and I definitely didn't want to rip off the paneling, particularly not knowing what was under them.

The grooves turned out not to be so much a problem.  Only one wall had really deep grooves, the others were just lightly etched.  It gave the walls a unique texture, something I can't seem to capture on film.  In fact it's not really noticeable unless you stare at the walls.

I had a little helper.
It was risky, but I went with a dark brown.  I knew it would make the room darker, but for some reason, I really like that for a dining room.  Not that we ever have romantic, candlelit dinners at home (Have I ever mentioned that my kids work off their dinners by running around the kitchen table several hunded times playing chase with one another?) but darker dining rooms always make me think modern and romantic.

Right now there's white curtains, but I'd like to get new ones eventually.  If there's one thing I've really picked up on in the past few years, it's the difference between cheap curtains and heavy, pricier drapes.  They really help a room, in my opinion.  And since it wil be awhile before we get new dining room furniture, the only things I really need to finish the room is some shelving.  In a small house, there's no such thing as too much shelving.

The only wall where the grooves are noticeable.
In the end, I'm really happy with it.
So now that the dining room is finished, the only rooms left are the kitchen and bathroom, plus the stairwell.  I'm trying to convince myself that I can remove tile on my own, but there's a huge spot in my brain that screams "Don't do it!!"  And for now, I'll listen to that voice.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Marshmallows are yum

Only a few more days until Christmas! How exciting is that.  It's a big year for us- both kids understand that Christmas is coming, or at the very least, will be excited about opening presents and spending the day with family.  Lilia is singing in a Christmas concert for her Pre-K.  I can't wait to the adorableness that will abound from kids pre-k to 3 in something called "The Noisy Nativity".  I'm done with shopping, with only wrapping left.  Christmas cookies have been planned, stockings are still being knit and I have lists galore on what needs to be done before Christmas morning.

It's honestly not that much, although it seems like it.  I've been able to relax quite a bit, playing the Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (which the kids love to cheer me on as I play.) and watching Christmas specials with the kids.  Lilia and I have been drinking a lot of hot chocolate, because what better way to deal with the cold weather is there?

I've had my eye on making marshmallows for a while now.  I was a little intimidated, I admit it.  Me and Candy making don't really mix.  I usually lack the patience, and who wants to deal with the mess?  Well, I kept seeing a bunch of various marshmallow recipes pop up on pinterest, and finally gave in.  Yesterday I spent the afternoon making vanilla marshmallows.

My KitchenAid made this SO much easier!
I decided on a very simple recipe from Martha Stewart.  I didn't want anything with eggs, or meringue powder, and I wanted something basic for my first time.  This recipe fit the bill.  I started boiling up the water, salt, corn syrup and sugar, and then realized I couldn't find my candy thermometer.  I had a quick freak out, and then, determined to succeed, I refreshed myself with how to do a "firm ball" test.  Luckily it didn't get that far- my husband found the thermometer.  It reached the right temperature, and I started using my mixer.  Can I admit to being nerd enough that I found it incredibly exciting and amusing to watch the grayish syrup concoction turned white and fluffy?

It wasn't as sticky and messy as I was afraid it would be.  After about 15 minutes of whipping, I sprayed a spatula and poured it into a pan coated in confectioner's sugar.  It wasn't easy, as the stuff still stuck, but I had been warned.  I avoided getting it on my hands, only touching it with the spatula.  Once it was all in the pan, I sprinkled more confectioner's sugar, wet my hands, patted it down, and left it to sit over night.  It all seemed to be right, although I worried all night that it wasn't right.  I'm guilty of poking it quite a few times to see if it was drying out or if it was sticky.

Getting out of the pan was a little messy.  It didn't stick anywhere I put a thick coating of confectioner's sugar down, but the places where the coating was a little thin it did.  I dusted my hands a bit, and then slowly "peeled" the marshmallows off the pan.  Another dusting of confectioner's sugar, and then I cut it all into bite size pieces with a dusted knife.  Each piece was dusted again (and vigorously shook to get as much of the sugar off as possible) and put in a contained.  And it was so delicious!  This recipe called for 2 tablespoons of vanilla extract, and it's almost too strong for me.  John loves vanilla, and he thought it was perfect.  I'd love to make another batch, using vanilla infused sugar.  And a third batch, with peppermint!

I think I'll coat a few of them with chocolate, and give them as gifts to a few people, or at least place them out for guests.  I got the Liam approval, when after I gave him one which he devoured, he climbed onto the table while I was cleaning up to snag a second one.  And of chocolate.
What's a better use for a home made marshmallow?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Monday, December 12, 2011

Adding a touch of sophistication

Growing up, one of our staple decorations were these cardboard cut out wall decorations.  They are like sticker decals, only made of thin cardboard and they don't stick.  My mother had a ton- Santa, Trees, Angels, Stars, Presents, little woodland animals with presents and name it, and we probably had it.  She'd stick them on the walls with tape, usually creating a variety of Christmas scenes.

I have my own collection, but have to admit...I'm not liking the look as much as I once did.  I can't really explain why, only there is a feeling of a lack of sophistication as they begin to wear down and have old tape marks, rips and tears.  Not to mention that my freshly painted walls do not need tape marks on them.  So this year, I've done something a little different.  I used frames, and old Christmas cards, and voila...adorable DIY Christmas decor.

Old Christmas cards, cut and framed!
I was going to use my wall decorations in the frames, but it turns out that most of them are very large.  Too large to be framed.  Now, it just so happens that I have just about every Christmas card ever sent to me in the past few years.  Maybe the last 10 years...I swear I don't hoard...But I always thought that maybe I should do something with those cards, like make a garland.  I just didn't get around to doing it.  Until this year.  It's not a garland, though I have plenty of cards remaining, and might get board before Christmas.  But I think it looks fantastic.

Framed Christmas Buffalo from Roswell Park
So I took a bunch of empty frames, and cut out my favorite cards to fit.  Many of the ones I picked were art cards from Roswell Park in Buffalo.  For those that don't know, Roswell Park Cancer Institute is a place near our hearts, as that is where John's mom received her care while battling cancer.  John's dad sends them out every year, and I think they are lovely.  In fact, it shames me to admit that I forget to utilize these each year... But they are really beautiful cards and they make beautiful artwork for the season.

I loved using the pre-made mat and filling in each space with a card, or even a part of a card that I liked.  I think it looks great with just a bit more of an "adult look" than normal.  I'm kind of proud of it. And really, I just love that these cards were something friends and family sent me at some point in the past, and they weren't just something that was thrown away, they are now a part of my Christmas decor.  Who knows- maybe some of you will recognize your cards from years past!
Don't mind the wallpaper...painting the stairwell is scary.
I have yet to decide if I'll just stow these away each year, or if I'll actually take the cards out and replace them with pictures or art.  I know we've been here for over a year, but I honestly haven't put much on the walls.  Now that things are on the wall, it seems like the walls will just be too bare if I take everything down.  Have I ever mentioned that I love framed work, even though I have a lack of it in my house?

In case you are wondering, I still am using some of my old cardboard decor.  It's great for doors in the house.  It's just that extra cute touch.  Can you tell I may or may not go overboard decorating for Christmas?  I don't mean to...I'm just enthusiastic.  Decorating can be very fun, and sometimes it's exactly what I need to put me in a Christmasy mood.  It's just one of those things...seeing things again after being put away for an entire year.  As an adult, and a parent, who may not get very much under the tree, unwrapping and putting up all my Christmas decorations is like my Christmas morning.  I look forward to it each year.
This one was perfect for my Christmas Pengin theme.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Not so wordless wednesday on Thursday

Decorating the Tree!
Ok, so this was supposed to be posted yesterday for Wordless Wednesday.  The truth is...I forgot.  I was working on a crochet project, which was of course giving me difficulty and before I knew it, midnight was here and I still needed to make lunches and feed the guinea pig.

I love decorating the tree.  My mother was a perfectionist when it came to the tree (Ever have lights taken off 4 times before it was declared ok to put on decorations?) and I inherited a little of that desire for perfection.  Not nearly as bad, thank goodness.  But I did spend a good amount of time rearranging the ornaments the kids and husband put on.

It's awesome to see how the number of ornaments have grown over the years.  Our first tree in 1999 was probably the most pitiful little tree ever.  It was (literally) bought from a gypsy in Cork, Ireland.  They didn't have any tree stands, at least not something we know as a tree stand.  Instead, we bought a little tree pot, which was filled with dirt and the tree placed in that.  We had no saw, so there was no fresh cut, and it's no doubt as to why by the end of the holiday the poor thing had barely a needle left on it.

My aunt had sent a bunch of cute ornaments, and I bought a few generic ones from a pound shop that I later donated.  I made paper garlands, and ornaments, and I can't even tell you what was on top.  Probably some cheap star...but it was our first tree, shared only with our roommate from Taiwan, and I'm pretty sure we were the only students in Dean's Hall who had a tree.

As the years have gone by, we've accumulated quite a few ornaments- handmade and Hallmark.  I have all but the first year of the Mischievous Kitten series (I'd love the first year one!) and the Penguin Pals series (not all of them, sadly.)  But here are some of my favorite ornaments on the tree this year.

40 years of Buffalo Hockey
I believe this was from last year.  We actually have quite a few different Sabres ornaments, including the silly Blue and Gold slug candy candes and a #10 Tallinder signed ball.  I guess this year we'll just pretend it's Erhoff's ornament.  My favorite, not pictured, is a cardboard December 14, 2005 ornament that was given to fans attending that game.  Angry goat head, ftw.

Lilia's 1 year ornament.
This was the series I decided to use for Lilia.  Odd fact, but Lilia is just about the oldest one can get when she had her first Christmas.  Born December 27th, she was almost 1 year old before she had that first Christmas experience.  I'm always a little jealous of those that get to enjoy their babies on Christmas morning.  I spent the Christmas of 2006 sad because I was very pregnant and very disappointed that Santa didn't see fit to send me the only present I wanted that year.

Lilia's "first" ornament
Which brings us to this ornament.  Bought in Ireland that year, it was supposed to be Lilia's first ornament.  Because she was due December 22.  So there was absolutely no way she wouldn't be here for Christmas.  My own naivety amuses me.  It's an enjoyable story I get to tell her each year.

Mommy's First Ornament
1978.  The year I was born, and this is my ornament.  I can remember hanging this ornament up every year since I was old enough to put decorations on.

Tiggerific Christmas!
This tigger was bought from DisneyLand Paris in 2000.  There's also a Pooh one, but Tigger is my favorite.  It survived a trip home in a very heavy suitcase, and many moves later.  And it was placed on our first tree as a married couple.

I love my tree, each and every year.  It's such a nice collection of us then, and now.  And I love how it just grows with us.  And when the time comes, each kid will have their own collection of ornaments that they will use for their own trees.  For some reason, that makes me all happy.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Christmas project progress...kind of.

My plan for today was to get the lights on the tree while Liam napped and Lilia was at school, and then put the ornaments on the tree with the family.  I only got half of that done.  Ornaments will wait until tomorrow, mainly because we got too busy with dinner, knitting, dishes and trying to find my Christmas light staple gun.  At least the lights are on, and they look pretty.

I don't embroider...looks like cute number tags are needed.
I got a few more stockings done for my Advent Calendar, bringing the total to 9, plus the cord to hang it on.  Since I'm a little behind, I'm aiming to do at least one a day, and to hang one each day until all 25 are done.  I was excited today because I found some scrap Wool of the Andes from KnitPicks and I have to say it's probably my favorite wool to use, and it's the cutest of the stockings I've made so far.  I'll have to use more of it just because it's so lovely.

'Tis the season for yummy squash dishes.  I grabbed some spaghetti squash the other, not something anyone in the house but me likes.  I try to come up with recipes that John will enjoy as well, and so far, tonight's dish succeeded.

Spaghetti Squash, cut in half, seeds removed.
Brown sugar
Apple juice

Put the butter, brown sugar and apple juice (all measure to taste- I think I had a tablespoon of butter, a tablespoon of brown sugar and about 1/4 cup of apple juice) in the squash. Cover with foil, bake for an hour at 450.

Delicious!  I didn't take a picture, but really, it just looked like normal spaghetti squash.  Just spoon it out the cooked flesh, and serve.

Monday, December 5, 2011

I like Christmas trees.

Running around, being silly at the tree place
After a nice afternoon of playing with Christmas cards from past years, (post coming soon!) we got our Christmas tree this evening.  It's always a fun event, albeit stressful at times.  With such a small house, it seems like no matter how prepared I think we are, we end up moving furniture around.  Even when we thought our tree was "smallish" it turned out not to be small at all- at least not in this tiny living room.  It's probably the few times a year where I really do curse the decision to pick a small house.

We face the problem of furniture, inconveniently placed heating vents, fireplace, front door, stairs and an awkward corner.  I think we've worked it out this year, and while it's a little tight, I like it.  The tree is now settling nicely, and tomorrow we'll have the fun job of decorating it, as long as I get the lights on properly.

I'm in the hunt for a bigger tree skirt, but I get the feeling it'll be another year before I find the one I want.  (ie- before I get around to making the one I want.)  The one I have is kind of cute, with stand up Santa, Reindeer and snowman- but it's only 40" and I really want a bigger skirt.  I'm also in need of a new star- ours is very old and falling apart, sadly.  One of the funniest debates that I lost over the years seems to be the Star versus Angel debate.  I don't really mind- the star has grown on me.  Of course, I grew up with an adorable plastic canvas tree topper.  It was an Angel...holding a star.

It feels more Christmas-y around here now.  I think all we need now is a little snow.  Sorry, Southerners...but if there's no snow, I'm just not 100% feeling the Christmas season.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

My Favorite Things

It's the season to list such things...the things that bring me joy and happiness- my favorite things.  It was something I spoke to my BFF Harriet about as we came home after she treated me to a little pampering.  She flew all the way from England to visit me, and the family for two weeks.

Being pampered
Who doesn't love being pampered?  I'm not a girly girl, but I admit to love going to the salon to for a manicure and pedicure.  Harriet decided to treat me to a trip to a spa, where we both got a lovely full body hot stone massage.  It was completely awesome- I've never had a massage before. 70 minutes of pure bliss (and a little pain...) and I think I'm going to have to go back for more.  
Craft stores
I don't get to go to craft stores that often anymore.  I think while Harriet was here, we went to Hobby Lobby three times, Jo Ann Fabrics twice and Michael's once.  I love going to craft stores and getting ideas for things, even if I never make them.  (Ok, so that's a little depressing...) and I love going to craft stores with a friend who enjoys the same thing.  

Hockey games (and friends!)
I love hockey.  I don't eat, breath and live hockey the way I used to, but it's still a big part of my life.  I miss being able to go to games as much as I did (but I still have my season tickets!) so going to games is just awesome.  Particularly when it's during a small losing streak but the team wins the night you are there (and the only game the team won while Harriet was in the country.)  Plus sharing the experience with someone who never attended a game before.

I'm so glad that Harriet could come and visit me.  I had a lot of fun with her around and I will miss her immensely.

And those are the things that made me very happy this week.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Christmas lists

Before I had kids, I believed in nurture over nature.  Now that I have kids, I think there's a lot to be said for nature.  I have two very different kids, with very strong personalities.  It's sort of reflected in how they play, or in their Christmas lists.

Yes.  He is naked AND playing the ipad.
Not that Liam has a Christmas list, but my Christmas list for him is made of the stuff I know he likes.  John and I have not raised him to be a "boy" as in we gave him cars and trucks and sports or anything different from what we gave Lilia.  But those are the things he gravitated to.  He loves Thomas the Tank, cars (anything he can push along- trucks, cars, wagons), balls, and video games.  He loves video games.  And by love, I mean he wants to play them all the time.

I'm not opposed to kids playing video games, just kids plying violent games and games inappropriate to their age.  We found this stupid like Super Rub-a-Dub game for the PS3, and Liam loves it.  We let him play it after he washes his hair as a reward, and it's like the best thing in the world.  He's even unlocked some of the extra ducks on his own.  And we won't get into how much he loves my ipad, and how he navigates the thing better than I do.

Lilia, the Queen!
Lilia, on the other hand, is pretty neutral.  I think I'd best describe her as Sporty Princess.  She'd play any sport in a pink jersey and tiara if she could.  She has a very definitive Christmas list that makes me laugh.  She informed me that she wanted an angry bird, Mario, Spencer and Diesel (from Thomas and Friends), a Doll house (sort of weird, since she has a doll house but maybe she meant stuff for her doll house), a kitchen (again, she has one, and even told me she wanted a new one and a dog.  I think she wanted a real dog, but John said no way.

She likes Angry Birds and other video games, but she doesn't have the patience that Liam does for them.  She likes playing cars and trains with him, which is great (kids getting along! Yay!) but she's also got a small nurture side- she plays with her dolls, she pretends to be a doctor or a vet and she loves to dress up as a "princess".

I think the best thing about my kids Christmas list this year is how interchangeable it is.  I don't think there's a single thing that can't be used for both kids, and in fact, I've grabbed quite a few things that are "doubles" so they don't fight over it.  And, I can do a few handmade things since my kids don't really care about brands or labels.  Sure, they like Mario- but Mario can look like this.  Or Angry Birds.  (Yep, I am trying to learn to crochet...)

Christmas time is so exciting!

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Wow, life gets hectic, you stop paying attention and all of sudden it's a new month.  Crazy.  The last few weeks have been a bit crazy with my BFF from Britain visiting for two weeks.  I don't get much done around the house.

But now it's December, and I figured, visitor or no, it was time to break out holiday decorations.  Which seems to be a trend on all the blogs I follow.

Right now I'm working on this pattern for an Advent Calendar to hang on either the hearth or bannister.  I'm thinking of switching it up a bit so that it has mittens as well as stockings.  And maybe hats.  Just because it would be cute, and different from a lot of the similar Advent calendar/garlands I've seen.

I'm looking forward to the Christmas season a lot this year.  Lilia was so excited about it last year, and I think Liam is going to be into it this year.  And who doesn't love the site of a beautifully decorated Christmas tree, with presents and happy kids underneath?