Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Matchy Matchy

We really try not to go overboard with Christmas. This year all my husband and I bought for the kids were books, and a portable CD / tape player for each of their bedrooms. Of course, Santa (wink wink) brought each a stocking overflowing with goodies. (S, my son was ecstatic when he saw the purple glittering Barbie Mariposa he asked Santa for sticking out of his stocking.) The kids also got matching jammies from Mama this Christmas. I was kind of nervous they would be a big dud after opening toys from Grandma and Grampie, but I was pleasantly surprised. Immediately after S opened his his, he asked if he could put them on. Both kids have slept in them ever since.

They were really easy to make using Butterick 5565. Each leg was only one piece, so there was one seam to sew up the inside of each leg. Using my serger, they went so fast. I think each pair took a little over two hours - including cutting out the fabric. The tops were a breeze too. I just opened up part of the side seams of purchased T-shirts, appliqued a stripe of the flannel , and then used my serger to close the seams up again. When I bought by serger I bought some stabilizer and spray adhesive to use with it - and it is wonderful. I will never pin again on projects like this! Using the adhesive makes everything so much easier. I think jammies from Mama may have to become a Christmas tradition...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

We are celebrating the holidays with my husband's family right now and soon we'll be celebrating New Year's Eve with friends. (We've been celebrating together since 1989! This year's group will total nine adults, nine kids, five dogs and a cat.) Needless to say, we'll be packed in like cord wood and I'm going to be very busy. So my posting here will probably be sporadic or nonexistent until after the New Year.

Until then, I thought I would leave you with a couple of photos of the island decked out in her holiday best. One of my favorite island traditions is the gigantic Christmas tree in the middle of main street. I love how my little ones "oooh and aaaah" as we drive past it. If you're wondering - the red streak in the photo is a snowmobile tail light - it drove past while my shutter was open...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Modern Baby

My two and a half year-old daughter is all about babies. She loves dolls and takes good care of them. Well, at least she tries to. I often find them wrapped in a blanket and crammed into a step stool or a drawer for a "nap." In an effort to help improve K's parenting skills, this year Grandma got her a doll-sized Pack-n-Play for Christmas. Of course, I though she needed a quilt to go with it. Amanda Jean inspired me on this one - I just love how the backs of some of her quilts look. My daughter is getting a little matching yellow pillow too, but guess who forgot to get a picture of that...

Here is a close up of the quilting. I just meandered and made free-motion loops using my Bernina. I am pretty happy with how it turned out. I hope K likes it too.

If you are curious, that is a graduation tassel hanging on my Christmas tree. My high school and college tassels are both hanging there. I didn't know what else to do with them...

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Table Topper

I just can't make enough of these watercolor wreaths - they're addicting! They are so easy to make using the pattern in this book. Now I keep watch for fabrics that will work, and pick them up when I see them on sale. I've got fabrics in my stash for another winter, a spring and a summer version too.

I just love how it brightens up the dining room table. What do you think?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

More Minty Goodness

Or Teacher Gifts Part Two...

The other thing my children gave their teachers and babysitters this year was "Hot Cocoa Kits." Each bag contained five cocoa packets, five candy canes dipped in milk chocolate for stirring and five jumbo holiday marshmallows. (I owe Marie a big thank you for the idea.) I was a bit worried about having my little ones work with the melted chocolate, but they did a great job. Especially after I promised they could snack on the leftover chocolate! I hope the recipients enjoy these as much as the kids enjoyed dipping the canes and putting the bags together.

I think it is important for children to be a part of the presents they give to others. I want them to learn the idea that giving of ones self is important. As a teacher, my favorite gifts are the ones my students make for me - especially the ornaments. I love the little walk down memory lane I get each year when I put up the tree. This year one of my sixth graders even sewed me an apron - an orange apron with white polka dots. Another student made a Christmas ornament for each member of my family - including the dog and the cat! To me, those are the kinds of gifts that are the most special. I know not every mom has the time, energy, or skills to do things like that, and I do love the purchased gifts and baked goods I get too. There's just something special about a homemade gift, don't you think? Some how I think I'm preaching to the choir...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

You Light Up My Life

or Teacher Gifts Part One...

This is what the kids made for their teachers and babysitters for Christmas this year. These candles look so cool with the kids' artwork on them, but they were super easy to make using the tutorial I found here. The hardest part of the whole thing was helping hold the tissue paper taut while the kids drew (and that really wasn't that hard!) S and K did the artwork while Miranda and I used the hair dryer to adhere the drawings to the candles. I hope Mrs. A, Miss. W, Mr. S, Mrs. M, and Mrs. K enjoy them. They'll all be getting something else too, but those little goodies aren't quite finished yet.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Pepperminty Goodness

This weekend a friend of mine held a cookie swap. What a good idea that was! Whip up eight dozen cookies, hang out with friends for a few hours enjoying sangria and then take home a dozen cookies in eight different varieties! So my holiday baking if officially finished. My friend, Miranda, and I made these great cookies and packaged them in little fabric bags. Having a serger made the bags so easy to make. I pulled some fabric out of my stash and had all eight bags made in less than an hour. (I cut strips 6x24 inches, roll hemmed the short ends and then serged the long sides together and viola! I had a quick and cute cookie bag.) Here's the recipe we used:

Peppermint Sugar Cookies

1 cup butter
1 2/3 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 T milk or cream
2 tsp peppermint extract
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3 cups flour

1 cup crushed candy canes (about 2 boxes)

Cream the butter and sugar and then beat in the eggs. Add in the peppermint extract and the milk. In a separate bowl mix the flour, baking powder and the salt. Crush the candy canes. I put them inside a ziplock bag and beat them with the rolling pin. You want very small pieces. Bigger pieces will melt and stick to the cookie sheet. We fought this problem by using parchment paper. It worked beautifully.

Slowly add the flour mixture to the butter / sugar mixture and beat until the dough pulls away from the of the bowl. Scoop out some dough and roll it into a ball. Roll the dough ball in sugar and then use the bottom of a glass to flatten the cookie. Sprinkle colored sugar on top if you wish. Bake at 350 for about 13 minutes. Let the cookies cool for two minutes on the cookie sheet and then move to a wire rack. Makes about four dozen cookies.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Top Ten Christmas Towns

Last year a film crew came to the island where I live to film our local Christmas celebrations. We, all 500 of us who live here year round, were thrilled when our town made it into the show. So, if you're curious about my little island life, here is a five minute taste...

This year's Christmas Bazaar was last weekend, and yes, we all went... The show left out one of the more interesting things we do - and one of my favorites - the community wide garage sale in the Fire Hall. Everyone donates everything and all the proceeds go to the Island Medical Center. This year I found lots of treasures: dresses for my daughter (new with tags,) five wool sweaters for felting, a beautiful aqua angora cardigan (to wear,) a tie for my son, and a My Little Pony (my son named her "Fireworks.") I owe my friend, Wendy, big time for all those bargains. She watched my two little ones so I could go thrift. I also owe my husband a thank you for editing and then uploading that video.

So what do you do to celebrate the holidays that is unique to you or your town?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Icosahedron Ornament Tutorial (A.K.A. The Recycled Christmas Card Ball)

Its name may sound complicated, but this ornament is really easy to make and it doesn't take nearly as long as it looks like it will. (Sorry about the name - it is the math teacher in me. An icosahedron is a 20 sided three dimensional geometric figure where each side is an equilateral triangle. OK, I digress...) If you are a home schooler this ornament can be a great geometry lesson.

I made my mine out of old Christmas cards, but I think for my next one I'm going to use pictures of my children. It would also look cool if you made one out of 20 identical cards. I'll have to wait to see how cheap they are at the day after Christmas sale...

Here's what you'll need:

About 20 old cards
template material - I used old sour cream container lids
ball point pen
glue - I've found rubber cement works quite well
liquid glue (if you plan to glitter the edges)
ribbon for hanging
clips for securing the pieces as they dry

Here's what to do:

The size of the finished ornament depends on the size of the circle you start with; the bigger the circle, the bigger the ornament. Feel free to use this image and resize it, or you can draw your own. If you draw your own, it is easy. Start by tracing a circle and cutting it out. Fold it in half in a couple of places to locate the center of the circle. Then, fold in a portion of the circle so the curve touches the center point. That fold line is one side of the triangle. Fold another piece into the center - just make sure one end of the fold touches the end of the first fold. Where the two fold lines meet will be one of the points of the triangle. Fold in a third piece making sure it forms the last side of the triangle. If that doesn't make sense let me know and I can write more detailed instructions.

Use your drawing to create two templates. One of the circle and one of the triangle. I used the tops of disposable plastic food containers. You may need to trim off very thin strips from the sides of the triangle. You need to make sure that the triangle will fit inside the circle. I had to trim off very narrow pieces - perhaps 1/16 of an inch (1 0r 2 mm.)

Use the circle template to trace around images on the cards you like. From most cards you'll only get one circle. Next, cut them out. You'll need 20. Don't worry if some of the black lines show up, you'll cover them later.

Turn the cards over so the image is down. Center the triangle on the back side of the card.

Use the ball point pen to trace around the triangle. Press hard! You want to score the card so that it will fold on those lines. I placed the images right side up on the front of the card, but they don't all end up being right side up on the finished ornament. For my next one, I don't plan to pay attention and I'll just place them willy-nilly. Do one and then go on to the next step. That way you won't have to redo all 20 if you make a mistake.

Now, fold the card toward the printed sides on the scored lines. If it doesn't fold fairly easily, you want to press harder when you trace the triangle.

Do this to all 20 circles.

Now you can begin to glue. Put rubber cement on one back side of the flaps on each of two circles.

Glue the flaps together and clip them in place so they an dry without sliding. I used big clips and they worked really well.

Glue 5 of them together into a kind of circle. I clipped each one together to let them dry. Think of this five sided piece as the "base" of the ornament. I let mine dry for a while at this point, but you don't have to. Next you'll start building up...

Here's the same piece from below - you can see how it is still clipped together.

Next you'll start building up and around. In this picture you'll see the five pieces of the base on the bottom of the photograph and the two pieces I added up on top.

Next put another triangle, upside down, in between the other two and glue into place. Does that make sense?

Keep going around the base until you have gotten all the way around. Then fill in the top with more triangles.

When you get to the last triangle, stop for a minute. You need to think about how you are going to hang it. I used a very thin gros grain ribbon with a piece of felt tied to it to keep it from pulling out though the cards.

Stick the end of the ribbon down into the center of the ornament, then put in the last triangle and glue and clip it into place. At this point you want to let the ornament dry for a while. I left mine over night.

Now it is time to use glitter to conceal those not-so-perfect edges.

Put a thin ribbon of glue along the edge of both sides of a curve. Sprinkle on the glitter until you are happy with the coverage. Then continue working your way around the ornament until all the edges are glittered. Let it dry and you are done!

Please let me know if anything is unclear and I will do my best to clarify the instructions. Also, if you make one of these, I would love to see it. Have fun!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A Zipping I Will Go...

Monday morning I woke up to this, and you know what that means...

...it means I got to ride this to work instead.

Winter has officially arrived in Northern Michigan. My trusty Polaris, who took a bit of coaxing to start after her long summer rest, makes the one-mile-up-hill bike ride home from work a snap. Well, a pull actually since she usually takes three pulls to get started. I don't know if those of you who regularly travel by motorized vehicle can truly appreciate how much freedom this little snowmobile offers me. All winter long I won't have to budget the extra travel time into my daily schedule - I can zip where ever I need to go...

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thankful for Small Town Fun

The other night, we went to the Boyne City Santa Parade. I love the Santa Parade - while it may be too cold and snowy for Great Grandmas it is perfect for toddlers. There is ample parking close by, free hot cocoa and cookies at several local businesses and the entire parade lasts about 20 minutes. You've got to love small town life!

I suppose we could have stayed after the parade to visit Santa and go on a horse-drawn hayride, but when you live on an island full of horses and get pulled by them regularly, driving through town in your minivan looking at Christmas lights is much more fun. Plus, Santa will visiting the island next weekend for the Christmas Bazaar - S and K can visit with him then.

My month of thankful thoughts has come to an end. This November I tried to stop and think about all the wonderful things in my life that I appreciate and I hope I've inspired you to do the same...

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thankful for Family

We had an unusual Thanksgiving this year... Great Grandma Mary (doesn't she look great?) took us all out to eat on Thursday. My husband offered to cook, but Grandma decided she would rather eat here. I must admit, I'm glad she did (though my husband is an amazing cook - much better than me!) Eating out meant no shopping, no cooking all day, and best of all - no clean-up! Dinner was great: the food was fantastic (except for the stuffing - which my dad and I agreed needed a lot more sage,) my amaretto sour was perfect, and the kids were well behaved. Plus, I got to sit next to grandma. It is hard to believe she just turned 88. We teased her that soon we'll be planning her 100th birthday celebration.

I am so glad that my children have gotten to know her. She is an amazing lady. I have learned so much from her and not just embarrassing stories about my mother. (Like the time she pushed her brother out of a second story window, or when she got a D in algebra.) Through Grandma's example I learned the importance family and why getting an education is worth the time and effort. And how writing down the stories of one's life is an amazing gift to give one's family. Thanks Grandma, for everything. I love you.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thankful for Quiet Time

I'm trying hard to be thankful today...

The other day I finally finished the borders on this quilt. Yeah! I was all ready to sandwich it together and start quilting, but I discovered I miscalculated the size of the finished quilt and my backing and batting were about four inches too short! Aaarrrggghhhhhhhhh. So now I guess I will be ordering a king size batt and more backing fabric. The up side is this is the first top I have made since my children were born and I'm pretty excited about it. Though now that I look at the photo on the pattern I wish I had used more yellow, but oh well.

I've been getting better at making time for myself lately, and taking advantage of my husband's wonderful offers to "go sew, I'll put the kids to bed," so I've been quite productive lately. Also, my mom (who just moved to EGYPT - more on that another time) said I can use her Bernina with a stitch regulator (my older model doesn't have one) to quilt it and that is going to be a lot of fun. I am so looking forward to trying it out!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Thankful For Books

Did you know sea monkeys enjoy a good book every now and then? I didn't know either. Apparently pop-up books, like this one, are their favorite. Just ask my daughter, K. She asked me to get the little guys down from the shelf tonight just so she could read to them. It just made my book-loving heart melt...

It's scenes like these that tell me I'm doing the right thing with my children when it comes to limiting TV and reading to them / encouraging them to "read" often. She must enjoy hearing stories to assume her sea monkeys would like them as well. The Big Bug Book is her favorite right now - she "reads" it several times a day. If you have a little one in the house you may want to check it out.

I was supposed to be reading Twilight this weekend, but my friend forgot to bring it to work today. Oh well. I suppose I'll live if I can't read it until next week. Besides, without the book consuming my time I'll be able to spend more time on the ornament tutorial I've been working on.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Thankful for my Home

With the economy the way it is and all the foreclosures I hear about on the news, I am thankful for my home. We built it on the island just about four years ago. (Though I have lived here, year round, for the past 16 years.) In fact they set the house on the foundation on Halloween 2004, but we didn't move in until New Year's Eve.

You may be wondering what "set the house on the foundation" means. Many of the homes on the island are prefabricated. That means large pieces of the house are built on the mainland and then brought over and assembled on the island.That's what we did; here's how we did it...

First we had a large hole dug on the lot for the basement. Full basements are rare on the island, but I am so glad we have one - where would I keep all my crap, I mean stuff? Next we hired a mason to build the block foundation. Luckily out land was all pea gravel. If we had hit bedrock a basement would have been out of the question.

Next the pieces of the house were loaded onto a barge for the three mile trip across the straits to the island. Actually the pieces were built in southern Indiana and then trucked to Escanaba, Michigan, where the finishing was done (drywall, cabinets, etc.) Then the house was driven to the boat dock and ferried across the lake to the island. We joke and say we have a very well traveled house...

There are the first three pieces patiently waiting on the dock before being hauled up to their future home (no pun intended.) I had to work that day, but luckily my dad volunteered to ride on the barge with the house and take pictures.

Eventually that (the photo below) became the first floor back of the house. Pretty hard to tell right now, huh.

The loons were quite curious about the whole thing, too.

Here comes the last piece...

The crane picked it up, swung it over...

and lowered it into place. Viola! instant house.

OK, it wasn't really an "instant house," but almost. The roof had to be finished, the porch had to be built, and the interior needed work. There were no stairs, and the four pieces had to be joined together and then the drywall finished, the flooring laid, etc.

You may be wondering, why not just build the house from scratch? People don't often do that on the island due to the expense. It is much cheaper to build a modular home. When building this way there is one vehicle permit, and one freight charge by the boat line instead of constant dray (horse drawn wagons) and freight bills for delivering building supplies to the sight. The horses are limited on the size loads they can carry, so delivering supplies to the building site is a huge cost on the island. So huge that my husband looked into hiring a helicopter to bring the supplies over. Pretty scary that the cost was about the same as the dray and boat charges would have been! Looking back on the whole experience, if I were to build again, I would do it the exact same way. Though I probably wouldn't choose to build a house and have a baby all within the same two month period. What were we thinking?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

I'm Thankful it's Snowing

I, for one, am ready for some snow...

It snowed for a few minuted this afternoon while I was baking a pie. (A delicious apple pie from scratch - not something I do very often.) While the snow didn't stick, that little dusting means winter is one step closer to Northern Michigan. 99% of the leaves are off the trees, all of the gardens are mulched, senior citizen transports have begun (on the island in the winter, those 58 and older can get rides from the Police in the Jeep,) downtown is completely deserted, and it is getting colder every day. Except for the snow, winter is pretty much here. (Isn't that snowflake photo amazing? If you like it, you can find a bunch more here.)

Before you decide I am completely insane for actually wanting snow, remember, I rarely have to drive in it, I don't have a driveway to shovel, and snow on the ground means I can hop on my snowmobile any time I want to. Snow means no more riding my bike or walking on icy roads. I must admit, however, I do have a love-hate relationship with my snowmobile. I hate the smell of the exhaust and I hate how loud it is, but I love being able to hop on my trusty Polaris and zip to where ever I need to go. When you live on an island where cars are illegal and you do everything on a bicycle or on foot, most of the year "zipping" is not an option. As soon as mother nature decides to blanket us with the white stuff, I plan to be zipping quite a bit. I guess I'd better go dig the helmets out of the basement and bring them upstairs. Who knows, tomorrow might be the day...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Thankful for Sticky Fingers

Despite the fact that I am deathly afraid of getting stung, I am very thankful for my husband's honey bees. I adore honey and I consider myself lucky that I get to enjoy their hard work all winter long. My husband, A, jokes that he is the largest employer on the island, and that all 80,000 of his workers are women...

One of my favorite things to use their yummy honey on is Three Corn Bread- it's delicious and super easy. I got the recipe from one of the parents at school last year. She brought a batch into school on Teacher Appreciation Day and I've been hooked ever since...

Three Corn Bread

1 stick of butter
1 cup of sour cream or plain yogurt
1 egg
1 can of corn, drained
1 can cream style corn
2 small boxes of Jiffy Mix Corn Bread or similar corn bread mix

Directions: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cream butter and sour cream (or yogurt) together in a large bowl. Beat in the egg. Next mix in the cans of corn. Finally mix in the boxes of Jiffy Mix corn bread mix. Place in a greased pan and bake for 45 - 55 minutes.

I usually bake mine in a large cast-iron skillet. I put it into the oven when I turn it on so it is hot by the time I am ready to bake. When I pour the batter into the hot greased pan it sizzles a bit. That gives it a nice crust on the bottom and sides. I have not had good luck baking this in glass- it tends to be a bit mushy.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Employed and Thankful

The bell tower on the island school

With the economy the way it is, I'm quite thankful that I have a good job in an industry that will won't go out of business. I've taught at my school for 16 years and have enough seniority now that even a drop in enrollment probably wouldn't cause me to lose my job. Which is a good thing when you tend to be a worrier like I am. A friend of mine recently lost her job, and my heart aches for her...

Friday, November 7, 2008

Thankful for High School

Today I am thankful I had parents who valued education, and made sure I got a good one. Sounds cheesy, I know, but it's true. I was lucky enough to to go to a really good high school and it's gotten me thinking about the fact that my 20th reunion is coming up in a few weeks. (Can I be that old?)

It's got me totally nostalgic for the 80s. So I, like thought I'd, like, take a walk down memory lane...

This is how I started the 80s. Lovely aren't I? I was 10...

By the time I entered high school in 1984, I was deep in the throws of 80's fashion. I desperately wanted Guess Jeans - with a button fly. Which was a big deal considering that they were $65.00 a pair back then. And all my money came from babysitting at about $1.50 - $2.00 an hour. That's a lot of babysitting for one pair of pants.

And of course who would be seen in public without pegged jeans. I mean come on! (For the record, that is not my foot. - I do not have a Roman toe.)

And of course, what preppy 80s girl would wear anything other than Reebok high-top aerobic shoes? In white. They had to be white. The black ones were, like so gay. (At least that's what I told my mom.)

My favorite TV show of the 80s was The Monkees. MTV aired every episode starting in February of 1986, and yes, I taped every one. (Yeah, I was geeky then too.) I wasn't in love with Davey though- I liked Micky; he made me laugh. Mike was a close second...

I wasn't as into music as a of of my friends were back then, but I have vivid recollections of watching Live Aid on TV in 1985. Bob Geldof, one of the organizers, was Irish and we were living in Dublin that summer. I remember having a ton of people over and all of us crowding around the little TV in the living room. Everyone went crazy when U2 was on, and the funniest part was that my mom didn't understand why. (U2 is an Irish band.)

My favorite movie of the 80's - Ferris Bueller's Day Off. I am proud to say that I never skipped school - not once. Well, not unless you count the times Mr. Blain, my high school auto shop teacher, told us to take both lunch periods. I wonder if it had anything to do with the fact that I was the first female student Mr. Blain had ever had...
Thinking about it now reminds me I've got to add that to my NetFlix list...

Another favorite from the 80s - my prom dress (and my date.)

I picked the pattern and the fabrics and my mom made the dress. I loved it, partially because my class color was pink. I loved my date, too. - his name was Jon. He went to U of M, while I went to MSU, and somehow we managed to stay friends. Jon and I still talk occasionally and I still have the dress...

Here I am at the end of my 80s experience. (Well almost - I graduated from high school in 1988.) Older, wiser, and better looking than I was in the beginning - despite those awful glasses. Most of my friends took their glasses off in their senior pictures, but I decided to leave mine on. I wore them every day and I just didn't feel right not wearing them. Besides, now my kids will have something to tease me about.

I'd love to offer you all a lovely gift for stopping by, but I think they stopped making these about 20 years ago. What could beat a Swatch Watch? I wanted one so badly in 10th grade. I think Santa brought me a Casio instead.

Photo Credits:
Monkees: http://www.gretsch.com/newsletter/images/monkees/monkees2.jpg