Sunday, December 26, 2010

Even Steven: Why I Got a Bike for my Sister's Birthday

Anyone with kids close in age, especially of the female persuasion, knows that you can't get a present for one without getting one for the other too. Preferably the exact same gift but maybe in a different color.

Because if one of the children gets a gift and the other one doesn't, a melt-down will happen approximately 98% of the time. (The other 2% of the time,  you might be able to distract the kid with candy or ice cream or something, but this is only if you are a very lucky type of person).

I knew this before I even became a parent because I was a child who had a melt-down on my sister's 9th birthday. Because she was getting a bike and I was getting nothing. Because it was her birthday, not mine. I remember being in the bicycle store with my family. I watched my sister pick out a shiny white 10 speed with an innocent and joyful smile. Hooray for the birthday girl! 

Covetousness filled my veins, encompassing my body, filling my entire being with the desire, no, the absolute NECESSITY to have my own bike too. As my sister chose her rightful present, I spotted a peach, Huffy dirt bike (it was the 80s). It beckoned coyly to me from the corner of the store, the fluorescent lights overhead reflecting off the mesmerizing, polished metal. Plastic streamers dangled alluringly from the gleaming handlebars. I had never seen anything so beautiful. I had never wanted anything like I wanted this bike.

I immediately burst into tears and tried to negotiate with my father. It could be my birthday present--an early birthday present--I slobbered with snot running down my face. Looking back, I know I was being completely sincere. I truly felt that I could just have a birthday present 6 months in advance and then not need anything else when my birthday finally rolled around. Maybe I could get advanced all my future birthday presents?

I must have been pathetic enough for my parents to take pity on me (or else I'm just a spoiled brat) because I  did get that perfect, wonderful, beautiful bike. Even though it was my sister's big day and not mine. Of course I got a birthday present later in the year as well. I'm sure I forgot all about my gift-advance by the time my birthday arrived.

Because of this experience I have always tried to be very even with siblings when giving gifts. Maybe it's because I have a deep sensitivity to how the children feel, or it could be a way to atone for my past childhood sins. Whatever the reason, I knitted my nieces nearly identical sweaters for Christmas.

 I loved knitting these, although the lace pattern was a challenge for me at first; I had to rip it out three times (that was a lot of wasted time!!!) before I got it right. The pattern is called Pink Orchard. I followed the pattern's colors for the first sweater and then changed them to raspberry and electric blue for my younger niece. It was fun to knit something girly for once. There are so many pretty patterns for girls. Boy clothing can sometimes be a little boring. I hope the girls like them, and I hope the sweaters fit ok.

The fit is not the important part though.  The important part is that they both have the same gift! Melt-down averted. Although I'd like to think that my nieces are above the sibling jealousy that plagued their aunt.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Odds and Ends

So I think I finally got my Christmas mojo back after our annual Cookie Swap this week. The girls all made their favorites: K made chocolate dipped macaroons, and her famous tri-color Italian cookies. P made yummy spritz and delectable chocolate chip,as well as her coconut macaroons. I made snowballs, peanut butter, and snickerdoodles. K was a wonderful hostess and it was a great way to begin Christmas week.

Most of my cookies are bagged or boxed and ready to be handed out as treats to some neighbors, etc. I still have a little baking magic left in me and plan on making some more chocolate chip cookies and a childhood favorite of my husband's: kipfels. I get such a cookie-baking sickness at this time of year. I don't know what it is, but I have this insane compulsion to BAKE, BAKE, BAKE. And the more variety the better.

Besides cookies, I've made some other little food items to give as gifts. Hope this Country Soup warms the gift recipient. The ingredients look pretty all layered together too.

I also made some "Mommy and Me" cookies for K and my sister-in-law. I know their children are into baking right now; this could be a good activity if it's snowy or rainy and the kids can't go outside to play. Although, um, it might be more of an activity for the mommies than the kids. Sorry, Moms!

Well, it's pretty enough to use as a decoration if they don't want to make the cookies.

This idea is from Bakerella. These are her Cowboy Cookies. I loved the idea so much when I first saw it. And guess what? So did K. She also reads Bakerella's blog, and she made me a gift jar for Christmas too! Very funny. Great minds think alike. It is such a cute idea; I guarantee there are thousands of these jars floating around this year!

My final Christmas treat is Snowman Poop. I saw the idea on the web a couple months ago and knew I had to make them for gift toppers--I am really immature. Last year I crocheted pretty snowflakes for gift toppers. This year? Poop. Unfortunately my printer ran out of blue ink, but here's how the label was supposed to look:

And on that scatological note, I hope you have a very merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Feeling Scroogey

I love the holidays. I really do.  Each year I get really excited about all of the Christmas activities I want to participate in: the holiday events, light shows, Christmas villages, decorations, cookie swaps...all while listening to songs by Andy Williams and Bing Crosby and smelling cinnamon and nutmeg wafting through my kitchen.

Somehow, this year Christmas has snuck up on me though, and I'm suddenly realizing that I have probably missed my chance to attend the majority of these extravaganzas. Note to self for next year: the second weekend in Dec. is the best time to take advantage of the above. It's probably not a huge loss because Little C. isn't really big enough to know what's going on this year. However, I definitely have to be more organized about it for next Christmas.

Even though I've been thinking about Christmas since July and doing my Christmas knitting/ crocheting since then, I have been pretty lethargic about holiday decorations this year as well. I was unable to put out my usual decor because Little C. would have pulled everything down like a rabid monkey. Due to my husband's prodding we did put up a tree, but it is surrounded by a plastic, circular gate (courtesy of my sister-in-law). It does a fantastic job of keeping Little C. from rappelling off this evergreen wonder, but it does sort of kill the holiday mood to have such an eyesore sitting in the middle of the living room. It's kind of reminiscent of a dog kennel but without the accompanying pee-smell.

Anyway, I have been trying to get out of this miniature pre-holiday funk by getting my cookie-making supplies ready (I have a cookie swap next week), wrapping the gifts, blasting a little Bing on Grooveshark, and by making this beaded crochet star for the top of my tree. I used to use a big pink and gold bow as a tree topper but I can't find it anywhere in the bins of decorations, and now that I have a son, I've been rethinking my gold and pink color scheme. I thought I'd change it up this year by making a new topper. Nothing says "manly" like crochet beads, right?

This technique is the same used for the crochet necklaces I was obsessed with this summer. First, take embroidery floss (preferably the kind on a spool so you'll have enough length) and string a ton of beads onto it. You can always take them off at the end if you have too many, but if you run out of floss or beads while crocheting, you're basically out of luck. 

Then crochet whatever design you want. I started off with chaining 10 and joining in a circle, then double crocheting 20 sts into the circle. From there I chained off the center, and then came back using double crochets into the center. Then I started off another spoke, alternating long and short lengths. The final step was crocheting the border around the edge.

I just eyeballed it (which is why it's not very symmetrical). I didn't know if this would even work out so I didn't really bother with figuring out how to make it work mathematically. Also, I'm feeling lethargic! And, I'm not a very mathematical person anyway.

I starched it and pinned it like I did with my crochet snowflakes last year. Even though it was stiff, it was a little floppy still when it dried; it wasn't working out so well as a tree topper.

So I decided to reinforce the back, just using those "gold thingies" sticking out of the tree. That is their official name, you know.

I just cut them to support the long spokes going to the center and used a glue gun to attach. It's one of the first times in my life I've used a glue gun and have not burned myself. Hooray!

The supports were definitely necessary. Even though the topper is only one dimensional, it works with the tree for now. Maybe I'll think about switching it up next year. I'll add it to my list of things I'd like to accomplish for next year's Christmas.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Girls Night Longterm Project

So, remember how I mentioned that instead of working on small crafts for each Girls Night, we decided to individually pick a long project to work on each time we meet instead? Well, this is it.

This is the beginning of a throw blanket, crocheted in a basket weave pattern. The basket weave effect is produced by using front and back post double crochets. The pattern can be found on, but you have to register to view it, I think.  I'm using 3 double crochets; the pattern calls for 4.

Recognize the yarn? It's the yarn that I've attempted to use for a couple different projects over the last 10 years. First for a lacy throw (undocumented) and then for crochet pillows . This time, I know it's the right project; the pattern calls for this yarn (Lion Brand Homespun), and I've been wanting to make a cozy throw for myself for awhile. Something warm to throw on (ha, get it? puns are fun) while watching TV at night. This will be perfect.

The yarn texture, as well as the pattern, makes for a very thick and warm result. At this time of year when it's rainy, windy, cold, and possibly snowing, crocheting this blanket is a welcome refuge. I kind of get to snuggle under it while I'm making it! Get me a steaming cup of hot cocoa and a good movie and I'm good to go.

The are a couple drawbacks to this project, however:
  • I must finish my Christmas knitting/ crocheting ASAP and this is making me procrastinate
  • This is supposed to be a long term project, but I'm probably going to finish it really fast and not during Girls Night
Maybe I'll have to come up with a different idea to work on this year with the girls. Maybe hand stitching something? I'm definitely not likely to ever hand stitch something on my own. And the meetings with the girls would force me to do it. Hmmm...I'll have to do some research.

Friday, November 19, 2010

@$%*&!!!!!!!! or Reflections on Making Pajama Pants

Creating art can be a very therapeutic experience. There have been studies done about how art can dramatically improve a person's mental state; art therapy has been shown to help many individuals work through traumatic experiences and help them recover emotionally. According to the University of Michigan's Comprehensive Cancer Center website, art can also reduce a patient's physical pain:

Research has proven that art making has a positive impact on pain management, depression, anxiety, and stress reduction. For centuries, art has served as a healing tool, fostering self-awareness and coping skills.

I have definitely experienced this myself over the years, albeit in a much, MUCH less dire situation. I recall one instance in particular when I was 25. I had all four impacted wisdom teeth taken out at once. Though not nearly as painful as what most art therapy patients would be experiencing (and not even in the same universe of pain when it comes to what cancer patients undergo), I was very uncomfortable and found it difficult to escape from the throbbing in my head. For whatever reason, I decided that this would be the perfect time to take on a large drawing. I chose to sketch a picture of Michelangelo's The Dying Slave out of an old art book I had.  Why did I choose this particular subject matter? In my own tortured state I must have been drawn to this figure, although I can't remember why this sculpture called out to me.

The drawing experience was pretty amazing. I definitely entered "the zone." You know, when you become so absorbed in an activity that hours pass by without you knowing, or you cease to experience anything outside of the activity that has you enthralled--even pain? It's very powerful. It was a life-changing realization for me. We all have to experience physical or emotional pain or suffering somewhere in our lives; I was excited that I had "discovered" one more tool that would enable me to persevere through it.  And my parents got a great piece of artwork to hang in their front hall to boot.

According to researchers you can experience "the zone" through any activity that completely absorbs/ engulfs you, like working on cars, fishing, maybe fantasy football? Needless to say, I've definitely gotten into "the zone" through craft-making too.

So after that nice intro (yeah, that was just the intro.--are you even still reading?) let me tell you that THIS WAS NOT ONE OF THOSE TIMES!!!!!!!!!!!!

In the name of all that is holy: making these pajama pants was most definitely not one of those times. If you are biting your tongue, sweating, and cursing profanely during a crafting experience you will most definitely not enter "the zone." Sewing these simple little pants caused me so much strife it was the complete antithesis to the zen-like experience mentioned above.

I saw this easy-looking tutorial about 6 months ago online and really wanted to make Little C. these pants. I even bought the elastic I would need from Jo-Ann's way back then because I figured I would make them right away. As usual, life got hectic and the pj pants didn't happen, but the idea of them would pop into my head at random times, always keeping the possibility of them on my radar. I finally broke down and decided to make them when I got a winter L.L. Bean catalogue and saw these cute pj ensembles:

 They have a lot of other cute designs, too, however these are Women's. They don't make this exact type for kids. Regardless, they got my creative juices flowing, and I was finally motivated to make Little C. his pj pants. And I even had an idea for a little matching moose shirt to go along with it.

I must have known somewhere in my subconscious that sewing these pants would be a struggle. Maybe that's why they kept getting shoved to the back burner, and also why I decided I would practice making them using a pair of my husband's pj bottoms first.  I wasn't ready to commit to buying a fabric if I knew it was highly likely that I would mess it up.

Upon going through my husband's closet, I had uncovered a pair of plaid pajama bottoms that he had never worn because they were too short. Instead of sending them off to Goodwill, I thought I'd try to recycle them into lounger pants for the Little Man.

So long story short (and man, this is getting to be a long story...) I totally screwed up the pattern: I was using black thread on a dark fabric= total blindness; I wound up using a chopstick to stab the freakin' elastic into the waistband (don't ask); and I made the crotch so short that when I put it on Little C. his whole diaper was hanging out and he looked ridiculous. My husband said he looked like Britney Spears with his diaper-clad hips sticking out of the pants. The poor little guy even fell down because he couldn't walk freely in the constricting things. So off they went, out came my seam-ripper, and with more cursing I was finally able to fix the @#$%&*# pants. Done.  

I had planned on appliqueing the moose with the extra plaid fabric, but by this point the thought of using the sewing machine for anything else related to this project made me feel homicidal. So I went back to my reliable and easy fabric stencil technique and called it a day. (The moose is a sketch from some online clip art)

I still plan on making more of these pants, though. But I'll probably have to follow it up with art therapy to handle the stress.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sibling Rivalry

Here is the big brother version for P's older son. It's quite stretchy, so hopefully (crossing my fingers over here) it fits.

I used this pattern for the hat and added a multicolor pom pom to the top. It's very easy to make a multicolor pom pom: just double up your yarn when winding around your fingers (or triple up, etc.) Here's how to make a pom pom using your fingers again. I know I posted that before sometime.

So the baby will have his crochet hat and the older brother will have a knitted one.

I think I like crocheting hats better than knitting them, only because crocheting them is so easy. With crochet you start at the top and then keep going around and around, increasing until you have the size you want. With knitting (at least with the hats I've made so far) you start at the bottom of the hat and decrease to the top. This means that you have to get out your DPNs (double-pointed needles) so you can knit a small circular space.  Here's an example from a little hat I made last year:

I find DPN's pretty unwieldy, but I'd like to think I'm getting better at using them.

We are heading into hat weather (ha, I love spontaneous puns!) so I'm sure I'll be getting some more practice with them soon. I'd like to make another hat for Little C. and maybe for another munchkin here or there. We'll see.

In the meantime, I hope P's little one's are able to keep their noggins warm with these finished hats...and show school pride!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Rival Hats

Most of my adult friends are pals I have from college. Some of these crazy kids even married their college sweethearts, so there's never any question about who to root for when it comes to sports.

P. attended a rival college and has had the misfortune for a number of years to listen to very energetic (heated) sports conversations regarding the majority alma mater and her school. Sometimes these discussions (diatribes) become extreme; Outnumbered P. sometimes has to put up with a lot of sports nonsense.

Soooooooooooo, I thought one way to extend an olive branch would be to fashion a couple hats for her two boys in her alma mater's colors. Much to my surprise, my knitting did not burn up in my hands as I made this hat for a rival school.

This one is for her youngest son. I used the crochet earflap hat pattern I always use and just added a pom pom to the top. I'm working on the big brother version now which is knitted, without earflaps.

Ah, bringing peace to rival schools, one knit and purl at a time.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Mister and I Cook Up Some Fun: Kitchen Date- October

BC (before Little C), my husband and I were always out and about heading to the movies, dinners, or travelling. We also dated for six years before we got married and during that time we probably had
hundreds and hundreds of dates. We must have been subconsciously filling our date quota for the future, b/c since the little man showed up, we rarely go on dates anymore.

This can be hard for me and for other parents of young children in a similar boat, but it does have some benefits.: 1.) When we do get the opportunity to go out alone, we always have a great time. Before, we went out so much that we took it for granted, and it wasn't always as fun as it could have been. 2.) It forces you to find other ways to have "date"-type fun at home.

A couple months ago my husband randomly brought up the idea that we should bake something together. I love cooking, baking, oh, and definitely eating! And I thought it was really sweet that he wanted to do something that was clearly more in line with my hobbies than his.

We made a really simple recipe (on the back of the canned apple pie filling) for Caramel Apple Cheesecake . It was really delicious; the cheesecake was light and creamy and the sugary caramel-apple filling added the perfect amount of gooey sweetness. After sampling it to make sure it wasn't poisonous, we wound up bringing most of it to a family dinner for dessert.

Even if it tasted rotten though, the whole baking experience was so much fun. It felt like the perfect date (even though the Little Man was napping upstairs and my husband and I were only in our kitchen and not at a trendy restaurant eating a gourmet meal). Some parts of it were even like scenes out of a romantic comedy: there was witty banter, lots of laughing, and there even might have been some dancing in the kitchen with a few kisses here and there. I know, gag me, but it's true.

So with the success of our first Kitchen Date, I knew we had to try to make this a bit of a tradition. Obama and Michelle might make date night a monthly priority, but even though we're not running the country, my husband and I will be lucky if we get a chance to do this every few months or so. We just don't seem to have the time to do it with more frequency.

Anyway, I figured a quick and easy Kitchen Date idea would be to combine my husband's enthusiasm for rice krispie treats with my love of Halloween. I thought back to when I was a kid trick-or-treating at a childhood friend's house. There was one woman in her neighborhood who always made popcorn balls. As a kid I had ambivalent feelings about these treats. When it was early in the evening they couldn't compete with the alluring peanut butter cups and and crunchy butterfingers, but after noshing on such sweet candies for awhile the popcorn balls beckoned attractively to us--almost offering us the palate cleansing promise of a real food as opposed to a sugar and corn syrup concoction.

These modern day popcorn balls are made from real air popped popcorn with a hefty dose of M&M's and salted, mixed nuts thrown in. They're held together with the same butter and marshmallow mixture used for rice krispie treats. The recipe can be found here.

I wouldn't go as far as to call them healthy, but compared to peanut butter cups and butterfingers, these sweet treats contain healthy fats, fiber, and protein. Just the right touch of healthiness on Halloween night.

If, of course, they make it to Halloween night. In lieu of dancing during this kitchen date, my husband and I kept shoving these in our mouths instead. Hey, we had to make sure they were safe to eat!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Girls Night: October

What's more festive than fabric stenciled Halloween shirts?

Well, ok,  probably lots of things, but it was pretty festive at the past Girls Night with stenciled spider webs,


 candy corn,


and googly eyes scattered about

After the usual conversation and hors d'oeuvre gobbling we retired to the kitchen to drink some blood

And cast some craft spells. Oh, but mostly to eat this monkey bread:

Who doesn't like monkey?

About the craft: It was easy and practical; the kids can wear their shirts this week to school etc. About a month ago I drew out some designs on manila folders and then used a razor blade to cut them out. I had some ideas for a Frankenstein head, black cat, haunted house, and scarecrow, but I ran out of time and there were plenty of choices for the girls to choose from in the end anyway.

I wish I had done a better job selecting fabric paint colors. Ahem, yellow would have come in handy for the candy corn stencil. I recall Little C. being antsy in the craft store when buying them. Or it could have just been that I didn't think of it. Nah, I'll just blame Little C.

P. turned that little spot at the bottom of her spider web into a spider. I don't have a picture though. This "mistake" actually turned out really cute. 

I know I ate way too much (time to get back on the perpetual diet) and some people may have drunk too much (not saying any names here!) but it was a fun craft night. It's P.'s turn to host next, but instead of crafts she will be having a dinner party where we all pretend to be mature adults. I'm going to recommend that we unveil our individual, long-term craft project ideas then. I already picked out what I'll be working on. It will be a nice monotonous and easy project to work on once the Christmas knitting sweatshop closes at my house.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


It's starting to get a little chilly where I live, time for the bears to head into their respective lairs, get under their covers, turn out the lights on their night tables, and snuggle into their pillows for a long hibernation.

But these WIPS have been hibernating already for quite some time in a closet in the spare room. I thought I'd pull them out of their slumber and decide whether or not they're worth keeping around.

First up: Little C's Big Boy Blanket. I love the colors, it will be perfect for Little C to cuddle with on the couch, or look cute when it's folded up at the end of a big boy bed. (Which I don't want to rush at all. Why do kids have to grow up so fast???) I definitely want to continue making this. This WIP is free to return to it's lair.

Next up: Little C's yellow cardigan. This was my first real foray into knitting. There were mistakes all over it. So I turned it into this:

 RIP, little WIP. I'll have to find something else to do with this yarn.

Third up: Crochet Beach Tote. I had the best intentions when making this. I could totally see myself sporting this circular hemp crochet tote on the beach, but I lost interest and then it wasn't beach weather any more. And then I realized that I hardly even went to the beach this year, and that when I did I had to carry a huge bag to lug all the STUFF a mom has to carry. So, my cute, dainty little hemp tote was 100 % impractical.

In spite of all this, though, I'm not ready to give up on this yet; I'm not willing to give up on the beach dream--the one where I actually relax and read a book, with a tropical drink in my hand. Okay little WIP, you may return to your lair unscathed.

Final WIP: Light and Airy Crochet Nightgown. This was an attempt to merge crochet and sewing together. I gathered some materials together and started to crochet some circles using a tiny metal hook.

These were going to be the straps to my Light and Airy Nightgown. I figured I would also use some crochet trim to embellish it. When I look at this now I want to ask only one question: Was I smoking crack?! The amount of time needed for me to make this would be ridiculous. I also have no idea how to sew a garment and did not have a pattern to follow. Oh, also add to the equation that I would be spending a ton of time on a garment that I would never wear outside the house. I won't even mention the fact that I do not wear nightgowns (Light and Airy or otherwise) at all to bed. I wear my husband's old t-shirts. That sounds really cute, but it's, um,  really not; It's all about comfort over fashion these days. I'm ready to forget this project and fast! RIP, Light and Airy Crochet Nightgown.

Ah, that feels better. Cleaning craft house. If your heart isn't in a project it's either not going to get done or it won't be done well. Now I can concentrate on the other projects I'm excited about.
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