Monday, December 28, 2009

One of the Seven Wonders of Cookie World

White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies
(based on the Joy of Cooking's Classic Oatmeal Cookies)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Beat until well blended:
~1 cup (two sticks) softened butter
~1 1/2 cups packed dark brown sugar
~1/4 cup white sugar
~2 eggs
~3 teaspoons vanilla

Whisk together:
~1 3/4 cups flour
~3/4 teaspoon baking soda
~3/4 teaspoon baking powder
~1/4 teaspoon salt
~1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
~1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

Add dry ingredients to butter/sugar mixture and mix until smooth and homogeneous.

Add to the dough:
~3 1/2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
~1 (generous) cup of dried cranberries
~1 cup white chocolate chips

Mix until the oats, cranberries, and white chocolate chips are evenly distributed. Form dough into two-tablespoon balls (this is where this kind of tool comes in handy). Place the cookies about two inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Press the balls of dough into 1/2 inch circles. Bake for 8-10 minutes until the just the edges of the cookies are golden; they should still be soft on top. Let the cookies cool and become more firm on the cookie sheet for 2-5 minutes before transferring them to a rack to finish cooling. Store in an airtight container, and enjoy!

Pictorial Highlights of Christmas Day

(A first for our little family
since we haven't done stockings since we got married.)

We opened and ate presents.
Some (like the lovely oil and vinegar dipping set Benjamin got for me)
were more edible than the one pictured above,
so I'm not crazy to say that we all "ate" presents.

We played with our new toys and tried on our new clothes.

We ate fabulous food thanks to Benjamin
who made a new and tasty variety of stuffed shells
as well as delectable olive bread
which we dipped in the oil an vinegar from my new set.

We relaxed and enjoyed being together as a family.
(As one of my parents' friends said:
"Family wrapped up in each other is better than any wrapped gift.")

Two Brothers

I couldn't resist sharing a few photos of the boys together from the last month or so. I just love watching them interact.

Sharing tummy time.

Little Man wanted to get in on Brother's three-month photo shoot.
The above sweetness was the result.

Little Man requested to "hold little hands" for this photo.

Holiday fun.

Last minute Christmas baking

I was afraid that I wouldn't get any Christmas baking done at all this year. Last year we did without decorations, and this year I thought baking was the tradition that would go by the wayside. I was wrong, though. A few days before Christmas, my internal holiday baking timer went off, and I made some tasty Christmas treats.

First I tried my hand making caramel. I'd never done it before, but the recipe looked attainable. Sure enough, they turned out beautifully (Benjamin loved the result of my experiment). It looked so pretty as it cooked and the cream and sugary syrup swirled together.
We also made traditional gingerbread cookies. I love the colors of cloves, cinnamon, and ginger together. It's almost worth it to make gingerbread just to see that classy combination.
Little Man and I thoroughly enjoyed cutting out the cookies together. We used a variety of untraditional boyish shapes this year like footballs, cars, airplanes, fish, and frogs.
I also made some delectable white chocolate-cranberry cookies (photo and recipe coming soon). I packaged some of them in home made parchment paper bags which Little Man and I delivered. He was excited to meet all of our neighbors' dogs. : )
In addition to the goodies I made, we were given two plates of cookies as well as getting to enjoy my mom's yummy holiday treats. I'm beginning to think that maybe I could have skipped Christmas baking after all. : )

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Highlights

The past two Decembers Benjamin's side of the family has gotten together for an early "Christmas" the first week in December. Since the four siblings all live in different states, it is quite a feat to get everyone together. Last year we all met at his parents' house, and this year, we met in Arizona, where his oldest brother and his wife live. The following are a few snapshots of the highlights of our trip.

[Brother's first airplane ride]
Because of the spread-out way Montana is, Benjamin's sister (pictured above) ended up flying with us even though she lived five-and-a-half hours north of us. It was so nice to have an extra pair of hands as we maneuvered our boys and many cary-ons though security and onto the airplane. Both boys did well on the flight and we arrived with minimal adventures.

[big family meals]
Eating good food and talking over it is a big part of my husband's family culture. We especially enjoyed eating a few of them outdoors in sunny, warm weather while our friends and family in the north were freezing in sub-zero (Fahrenheit) weather.

[catching up]
We stayed in the home of Benjamin's oldest brother, and it was delightful to be able not only catch up but also get to know my brother- and sister-in-law better. The rest of the family stayed in a near-by hotel. We had such delightful times chatting, cooking (and cooking, and cooking), playing games, and playing with the little ones.

[the three brothers]
It is so fascinating (as an only child) to see my husband interact with his two older brothers. They enjoyed their share of catching up too.

[olive mill tour]
We had a big family outing to a nearby olive mill where we took a tour and learned about how olive oil is made, observed olive trees in the "show grove" (the main grove is not open to visitors for safety reasons), and ate a tasty meal prepared by the cafe on the grounds.

[cousins playing peek-a-boo]
Little Man and Cousin (a few months younger than he is) had a delightful time playing together. They were practically inseparable the whole week we were there. They went to the park together, played with toys together, read together, ran together, and even got into mischief together.
[Cousin holding Brother]
Of course everyone was delighted to meet Brother, and he got quite spoiled from being nearly constantly held.

[opening presents]
One day was designated as "Christmas," and we enjoyed eating a special breakfast and opening presents. My niece liked the pink and purple apron I made for her very much even though it's still quite roomy. I was delighted by her response.

[blissful grandparents with all their grandbabies]
It was a relaxed and enjoyable trip (though somehow I came home exhausted). We all enjoyed ourselves immensely.

More baby blankets

There seems to be another wave of babies being born, so I was motivated to finish a few of the flannel baby blankets I love to give as gifts. (Last month was super-productive; no wonder I haven't been getting much blogging done!)
I finished the happy accident quilt by backing it with a cheerful animal print and tying it at the intersections of the squares. I will be giving it to some friends whose little boy is due in early spring (I think?). I love this quilt so much; if Little Man and Brother didn't already have an opulent abundance of quilts and blankets, you'd better believe I'd be keeping it!
This pink and burgundy blanket is much more simple: two layers of flannel sewn together and then top stitched with a pretty pattern of flowers and leaves. I love making baby quilts, but this kind of simple blanket is wonderful if one is pinched for time. The two layers of flannel make a very warm blanket that is not bulky and that is perfect for packing around in our cold Montana winters.
This last one is a little scrappy quilt I made from pieces left over from a couple of other baby quilts. It is for some of Benjamin's college friends who are expecting their first little daughter. When I saw that they registered for mostly green and purple, I was delighted to know this quilt top I had tucked away to finish later would go perfectly with their decor. I love it when everything falls perfectly together like that.

Christmas Calligraphy

This year I decided to make calligraphy gifts for some of our friends. I tried to match the calligraphy styles to the personalities of the people who would be receiving the gifts. The finished calligraphies are dramatically different, yet each is beautiful in its own way.
The following calligraphy is different in style from any that I've done before. I was aiming for a more flowing, free form look that didn't conform too closely to rigid space and rules. The friends who are going to receive this one have delightfully spontaneous personalities. Plus she is a dance teacher, and I thought it would be appropriate to try to capture a sense of freedom and motion.
I started by making a pencil sketch, and then I bulked it up by using a felt-tipped pen, adding bold, black color and additional details. At first I felt like less of an artist because I wasn't using my special, snobby calligraphy pens. After thinking about it for a while and observing the finished project, though, I was happy (and a bit relieved) to know that I can be just as artistic with a felt-tipped pen after all.

This next calligraphy was for the friends whose Christmas photos I showed off in my previous post.
She grew up in California and is especially fond of the sea. They also seem like like rich colors and textures. As I mulled over what to do for them, I decided to do a verse that included the sea, and I found the perfect paper to mount the finished calligraphy on in my collection: a teal-blue and brown old-worldish map, rich in color and detail (click on the photo to see a larger, more detailed version). I was delighted with how it turned out and so were they.

photos

At the beginning of this month, I had the privilege of taking family/Christmas photos for some of our friends. We spent about forty-five minutes together and were able to get some shots we were all pleased with.
First we took some bundled-up outdoor photos in their snowy yard beside their large lilac bush.
Since it was barely over zero degrees Fahrenheit that day, the outdoor scene didn't last long, and we headed inside to try some photos in front of their decorated Christmas tree.

Their little daughter is almost exactly two months older than Brother and is such a delight to photograph. (Isn't she a doll?)

This last photo just might be my favorite of all of them. She was smiling up at her daddy who was standing behind me doing all he could to get her to crack a smile. I think that adoring little look was worth it all.

deck the halls

left: our cute little Christmas tree
(No going out into the hills for a real tree this year;
we stuck to our tiny fake standby
leftover from Benjamin's bachelor days.)
center (top to bottom): to avoid ornament breakage,
I strung lights from our curtain rods
and hung breakable ornaments
higher than little hands can reach.
homemade chai latte
to ward off cold and decorating fatigue.
(Benjamin is the best!)
pretty presents all ready for Christmas morning
right: new coordinating Christmas stockings for all four of us.
(I made them from three different kinds of linen
and various pretty trims.)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Hiatus

i was gone
but now i'm back

i wasn't gone
because i lacked
content
for myriads of posts
rather
i had much
too much

i might attempt
to catch up
but i suspect
it would be better
to begin
by documenting
the now

(Here's hoping that your schedules are just as full of goodness as mine and that you are having a joyous and peaceful holiday season.)

Monday, November 23, 2009

craziness

Life has been crazy busy lately. I'm hoping to get back into my blogging rhythm soon. In the meantime, I'll give a short re-capping list of what's been going on.

~We have battled colds and won. And then gotten colds again.
~We have enjoyed more snow.
~We have finished our Christmas shopping (I think) and have a lot of delightful little surprises up our sleeves.
~We have taken a whirlwind weekend trip to see Benjamin's parents.
~We have tackled begining a new schedule with earlier mornings and bed times (and I'm loving it).
~Benjamin's graduation date is set for the 20th of February!
~We have been prompt to doctor appointments, church events, family gatherings, and music lessons.
~Brother has had his three month birthday.
~We have gotten our family photos taken.
~I have started my own Etsy store! It has been a lot more work to get it going than I anticipated, but I have a few things posted and have a lot more ideas. I would be delighted if you would like to come visit me there.

Monday, November 2, 2009

crepes

Last week I enjoyed helping some friends prepare a surprise birthday party in celebration of their daughter's sixteenth birthday. In addition to cutting and arranging vegetables and cheese on trays, I made a calligraphy gift for her.
My original plan was to purchase an 8"x 10" frame for the calligraphy, but when I went to the store I found a clever magnet board with small magnetic frames and four flat, clear magnets. I immediately saw potential in it and decided to purchase it instead.
When I got home, I dressed up the plain, clear magnets by attaching white and red star-themed paper decorations securely to the backs of the magnets with clear glue dots. I also attached flat pieces of magnets to the backs of a few red and white buttons so that she would have additional coordinating magnets.
I finished by making a simple calligraphy version of Jeremiah 29:11 that fit in one of the magnetic frames.

quite possibly the easiest peanut butter cookie recipe ever

I do not like peanut butter. I just don't. It sticks in my mouth in the most annoying way, and the taste isn't good enough for me to overcome the annoyance. However, every once in a while I have a craving for some warm peanut butter cookies with melty chocolate. These are quick and easy to make and always do the trick for me when I'm in that rare mood.


Easy Peanut Butter Cookies

1 cup peanut butter
1 egg
1 cup sugar
(chocolate kisses, swirls, 1/2 cup mini-chocolate chips, or 1/2 cup regular chocolate chips)

~Mix the peanut butter, egg, and sugar until they are very well combined.
~If you are using chocolate chips for mini-chocolate chips, mix them in too. If not, move on to the next step.
~Form the dough into 1 1/2 inch balls (about 2 tablespoons), and place them on an ungreased cookie sheet. If they have chocolate chips in them, flatten them slightly. If not, press the chocolate kisses or swirls onto their tops, flattening them a little bit.
~Bake in a 350 degree oven for ten minutes.
~Take them out, let them cool for a few minutes, and enjoy!

zippered bags

It all started when I read this post on Lisa's blog. I followed the links she posted was enchanted with the idea of making small, zippered bags. They are so handy and so cute, and I just knew they wouldn't be too hard to make
I used my leftover hand bag material to make this little boxy bag. I adapted the information I found in this tutorial. I wanted to efficiently use up all of my left over fabric, so I made this bag bigger than the one in the tutorial by making the initial rectangles 9"x 12". The finished dimensions are 5"x 3" x 8". I also added a ribbon tab to hang onto while zipping the bag closed and adapted it so that all of my seams are between the layers instead of sticking out into the interior of the bag. It took some extra planning and work, but to me it was worth it. I like a very tidy finished product.
I think I might use this one for storing a few small toys for Little Man. I can tuck it into my hand bag, and it will coordinate perfectly.

I was excited about making zippered bags, so I made these more triangular zippered bags with the scraps from my other bag. I was less pleased with these because my seams are sticking out into the inside of the bag. By the time I realized my mistake, though, I had already done quite a bit of sewing and really didn't want to rip it out. (It's all a matter of priorities; ripping it out would have taken too long for me to justify even for a tidy finished product.)
I was really on a roll making little zippered bags and couldn't resist making a couple of green ones. I love green, and I had some tantalizing scraps that were begging to be used. I made one of them small (in the original dimensions of the tutorial), and I made one of them larger like the first bag.
I am looking forward to using these for toiletries and cosmetics when I pack for trips. They will be the perfect size, and I will feel sophisticated using cute zippered bags instead of plastic ziplocks. : )
I enjoyed sewing these handy little bags. They are so versatile, and they are wonderful for using up scraps. I think I might try to make and sell some when my Etsy store is up, and I will definitely be keeping them in mind for gifts.

For Christmas

As you may have figured out by now, Little Man loves to help in the kitchen. He loves to help me mix, bake, and sample. Sometimes it is quite a messy process. Recently I came up with the idea of sewing some small, boyish aprons to help protect his cute outfits.
I decided to make the aprons for Christmas gifts. I searched through my fabric collection until I found four just-right fabrics: a very blue solid blue fabric with some brown to accent it and a red star print with an abstract orange print to go with it. Then I found two brown football-shaped buttons and two red buttons in the tin of vintage buttons that I inherited from my great-grandmother.
I had fun making the pattern, cutting out the tiny aprons, and adding careful details as I sewed them together such as using contrasting top stitching thread (I love top stitching). I also appliqu├ęd a star to the front of the orange apron and added a red border on the bottom.
I made the bands that go around the neck extra long so that I can move the buttons down as Little Man grows taller. That way his aprons will grow with him at least for a while.

It is so satisfying to sew for my little guys, and I hope to have many more projects for them in the future.

growing

Little Man is growing so quickly. Every day he says and does new cute things, and every day he adds new skills to his ever-broadening repertoire of accomplishments.
[looking at a music gear catalog]

Growth in speech:
~Emphatically answering "I would" when asked if he would like to do something.
~Including more connecting words like with, the, on, and to instead of just using the main words.
~Exclaiming out of the blue that "Tars [guitars] rocks!" (Benjamin was especially pleased about that one.)
~Finishing my sentences. The other day I was changing Brother's messy diaper when I said, "Oh my!" Without missing a beat, Little Man finished, "GOODNESS!"
~Carefully trying to pronounce all the sounds and syllables in a word. ("La-dy buG" is a favorite right now.)
~Remembering adjectives (white clouds, full moon, and so on)

[helping move and stack firewood]

Growth in physical and mental skills:
~ Somersaults are old news. He has completely mastered that skill and has even tried to attempt somersaulting off a chair before he was stopped.
~Just yesterday he finally managed a real jump. He finally got both feet off the ground and was temporarily airborne as he jumped off a curb.
~He is carrying larger loads in play and real life. He especially loves carrying the "big woods" as he helps with moving firewood.
~One of his friend's older brothers was working with him on catching a football a few days ago, and he seemed to be catching on quite well.
~He is becoming more and more skilled at drinking from a "big boy" cup and using his spoon or fork.
~He has started to grasp the idea of pretending and loves to "chop" wood and "cook" food.
~He is trying to draw purposeful shapes instead of just scribbling. Current favorites include lady bugs, circles, and triangles.
~He has started to grasp the idea of counting, though it still needs quite a bit of perfecting.
~He loves puzzles and is quite adept at putting simple ones together.

[showing brother "the ropes"]

Growth in relationships:
~He loves to interact with his brother, and when Brother smiles and "talks" to him, he exclaims "Happy see you!"
~He remembers things that happened in his interactions with others and loves to tell me about them.
~He remembers things that certain people do with him and asked to do it again. Things like wresting with Grandpa or Daddy, getting "horsie" rides from Grandpa, eating cookies from Grandma, playing with Tyson or James, and on and on and on.
~He is associating people with locations. (Grandma's house, Grandpa's church, our house, mom's car, dad's car, etc.)

There are a few embarrassing things and difficult moments too, but over all, it is such a joy to be a mother and to have Little Man in my life.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Bags and Business ideas

I made another bag. This one isn't really a hand bag. It is similar to a backpack, but I wouldn't exactly call it that. It has long straps that could work like backpack straps (though I wear them together over one shoulder). The straps weave through the top of the bag and pull it closed draw-string fashion.

This bag is smaller than my last one but still has plenty of room and customized pockets on the inside (it just won't be able to double as a diaper bag).
I have been amazed by the response to these last two handbags. I had been told before that I could sell my tote bags. I knew that I probably could but wasn't too excited about it. However, after making these last two bags, I have received a flood of complements and requests for custom bags or bags just like the ones I have.
The enthusiastic response of so many of my friends combined with my love for sewing bags (and the necessity of finding something to do with some of them so that they don't take over our house) got me thinking. I'm thinking about starting handbag business. I plan to start small, probably selling on Etsy.
Perhaps over time I can build up to having a decently sized business, but for now, I really need for it to be small. My priority will still be my family, and meeting the needs of my husband and growing boys must not take second place to a business venture. I do hope to be able to sell some of my work on the side, though.
I am very excited about this but am trying to take the time to think things through and go about it in a sensible, orderly way. I still have planning, organization, and footwork to do before all my thinking and ideas can be put into effect and my store is opened. In the meantime, I will be thinking about this to help keep everything in perspective.