Thursday, January 31, 2013

Baby Essentials: The things we couldn't live without

Babies seem to come in cycles: you go awhile with no babies around and then suddenly everyone you know is pregnant all at the same time!  Inspired by four friends and my sister-in-law who are all expecting in the coming weeks & months, I've been thinking about the things we couldn't have lived without in the first year.  They're the things I recommend over & over to new moms & friends because they WORKED for us.  And I'd rather hear from someone I KNOW about something that worked for them, than to randomly try the millions of baby products out there.  Most of these are things fellow mamas shared with me, and I'm SO grateful!!  Here ya go...

Lansinoh Lanolin Ointment.  This stuff works wonders in those first few weeks of nursing.  No need to wipe it off before nursing, and I'd especially slather it on before shower-time- ooooh, that can be painful!  The tube lasts forever, I still have the first one I bought.  Totally worth the money!

Poke Root.  I was introduced to this at a mommy & me group, THANK GOODNESS!  It has been a lifesaver.  For whatever reason, I was really prone to clogged ducts while nursing.  They're super painful and a little scary/dangerous because they can turn into mastitis or an abscess really quickly.  When all else failed, a couple drops of poke root in a little water cleared the clog/lump within a few hours!  I'd much rather try something natural than resort to antibiotics. And you literally need a couple DROPS so the bottle lasts forever.  (Note, I didn't use the brand above, I used Blessed Herbs purchased at a local health store, but I'm sure they're all about the same.  Read here for more info about Poke Root and how it works.)

White Noise.  After those first few awesome weeks when the little one sleeps anytime, anywhere, at the drop of a hat, real life sets in.  And they start to cry.  All of the time.  For no reason.  Oh, was that just us?  We tried everything, and a few folks asked if we tried white noise, but I dumbly thought that SHUSH-ing loudly in her ear would have the same effect.  No.  In desperation we downloaded a free white noise app on our phones, and within seconds, yes SECONDS, babygirl was quiet, and then asleep.  We called it our baby crack.  It was a miracle.  So you must do two things: 1, download an app for your phone to use while you're out & about and can then slip into the baby carrier when you're driving, shopping, whatever.  Yes, you will lose your phone, but you won't care.  and 2, buy a machine to use at nap & bedtime.  Not a teddy bear or some other stuffed gimmick with white noise that plays for 15 minutes, an actual machine.  We take ours when we travel and it instantly creates the familiar sleeping atmosphere from home.  And it blocks out all sorts of other background noise.  Oh, and you're gonna want to CRANK up the volume.  The louder, the better.  It's real loud in the womb, they're used to it.

Boppy.  If you're into nursing for the long haul, Boppy makes life 10 times easier.  I was given an older hand-me-down and got a new one at my babyshower.  This worked out perfectly because one stayed upstairs and one downstairs! The older one is actually my favorite because the pillow is a lot firmer than the newer one, but either way, it makes positioning baby while nursing so much easier.

Miracle Blanket.  It's no mistake that the word "miracle" is in the name of this product!  We continued to swaddle babygirl after she came home from the hospital- we'd read lots of good stuff about swaddling, and she slept well while swaddled, so we kept it up.  We noticed she didn't sleep as well when she wasn't swaddled tightly, so we started perfecting our swaddle skills.  Then we gave up on the blankets and switched to the ready-made velcro swaddles.  They were great for a while, but babygirl started getting stronger and busting out of them.  And then waking up crying. Every parent knows you'll do anything for better sleep, so when a friend recommended the Miracle Blanket, we gave it a try.  MIRACULOUS! Now I have to say the hubs had trouble getting babygirl as tight as she needed to be in this thing because there are several steps.  But if you do it right, they are like a little burrito, and they're not getting out! Which results in amazing & awesome sleep.  Of course after a while I started to stress about "breaking her from the swaddle" and what happens when she starts rolling over- new moms will find 1,001 things to stress over.  Amazingly, we swaddled til babygirl was 6 months old.  In the same week she started rolling over in her sleep she also got strong enough to bust out of the Miracle Blanket, so we took that as our cue to stop the swaddle.  We quit cold turkey, and she was fine.  No biggie.  Oh, and for the record, I don't believe those parents who say their 1 week old baby "doesn't like" to be swaddled.  I think they're lazy and don't know how to swaddle properly.  Just my opinion, lol.

Baby Papasan Chair.  This was babygirl's favorite piece of equipment.  She wasn't a fan of the swing or any other contraptions, but she loved to chill in her papasan chair.  We took off one of the cushions of our couch and set the chair on the couch so she could lounge with us (probably not recommended in case baby falls off, but we did it with success!).  We also traveled with it a few times and it travels great because the legs fold flat.  Nothing revolutionary here, different babies will like different equipment, but our girl liked this one.

NoseFrida.  The first time your baby has a stuffy nose and you try to use that blue nasal aspirator to clear the snot, you realize how USELESS those things are!!  You also realize that you'll now do ANYTHING it takes to make your baby feel better, including using a crazy contraption that involves SUCKING the snot out.  Yes, sucking it out with your mouth.  But don't worry, there's a filter and a long tube and none of that snot is gonna reach your mouth, even though you will freak out that it will.  But then you use it and realize how well it works, and you stop freaking out about snot touching your mouth, and you get excited about how much snot gets sucked out!  Might not be for the squeamish, but used in conjunction with saline spray, this will clear snot & boogers like gangbusters!

Amber Teething Necklace.  This is one of my most recommended items, I can't say enough about this necklace, for us it has been AMAZING.  Babygirl started teething early, at 4.5 months.  Those first two teeth were a nightmare: tons of crying, fussiness, drooling, low fever, lost sleep, chewing on everything (including while nursing- OUCH!).  I was desperate and was reading everything trying to find relief.  I heard about amber teething necklaces, and figured for $20 we had nothing to lose- if it didn't work it would look cute.  The first week I was super paranoid and would move the necklace to babygirl's ankle when she slept, but I quickly realized she was perfectly fine, and so it stayed in place on her neck 24/7.  At 16 months she now has 16 teeth, and the only 2 that were difficult were those first two.  I totally attribute it to the necklace after seeing what happened with the first 2.  She's had no drooling, no pain and no fussiness. Often she'd cut teeth without us even realizing until they were already through!  You can read more about how amber teething necklaces work here.  They're NOT for chewing on, it's the properties in the amber when it warms against the skin that make them work!  (Note, we purchased from Art of the Cure at the link above, and they were great to work with, the screw on clasp has never come undone, we've been totally happy with it!)

Wubbanub.  We were like many first-time parents and said we weren't going to use a pacifier.  Then they gave babygirl a paci in the hospital, and we thought, meh, whatever!  She loved that hospital paci, and there was no trouble with nursing, so we really didn't care.  But dangit, that little paci was getting lost constantly.  And forget about driving and trying to reach back and find a dropped paci.  For Christmas (when babygirl was 3 months old) she received two Wubbanubs- BEST.GIFT.EVER.  We completely replaced all her paci's with those 2 "woobies" and a year later they're still going strong.  When she was littler they were much easier for her to grip and get into her mouth alone, and she can find them in her crib in the middle of the night without crying for us to get her paci.  They can be thrown in the washing machine, and have held up great after a year of washing.  And, now that we're getting close to cutting off the woobie entirely, we're hoping that since an animal is attached, she'll be happy with just the animal.  Fingers crossed.

Baby Bullet.  We were lucky enough to receive the entire Baby Bullet set as a gift, and it was invaluable.  I like to cook and had planned to try and make all of babygirl's food, and with the Baby Bullet that was totally possible and super easy.  I could make big batches of food and freeze them to use later.  I have no doubt it worked out cheaper than buying jarred food, and KNOWING it was healthier too made me feel so much better.  Unfortunately its use was shorter-lived than I would have liked- babygirl decided early on that she wanted to eat OUR food.  But, I'm thinking of trying out smoothies in it, and I don't see why that wouldn't work great!

So there you have it, the list of things we couldn't have lived without in the first year, or so.  Some of them were more critical than others, but all of them played a big part in making life just a bit easier and I would whole-heartedly recommend them to all my friends and new mamas!!  So did I miss anything??

Monday, January 28, 2013

How to Spruce up a Boxed Dinner

Hi friends!  Nothing to report for a Weekend Update- it was low key around here this weekend with lots of cleaning, yard work & working.  But, I wanted to share something I do when I'm feeling lazy and still want to have a yummy dinner.  We have a boxed shells & white cheddar cheese that we like, but it's not the most interesting thing to eat.  So I dice & saute a purple onion, make a packet of frozen broccoli and add both to the cooked pasta.  Super simple, but adds lots of flavor to the boxed pasta and tastes great!!  

Friday, January 25, 2013

Recipe: Chicken Tacos & Pickled Red Onions

How gorgeous is that image??  Does it make you hungry just looking at it??  Well, let me tell you how easy it is to make...

Okay, so you can hardly see the chicken for all my shredded cheese, what can I say, I LOVE cheese.  But the chicken is the base to these tacos and it's super easy.

Take a package of chicken breasts (3-4) and cut into thirds.  Add to a medium sized crockpot along with 2/3 a jar of salsa (I use a 24 oz jar, so approx 16 oz or 2 cups) and a heaping spoonful of taco seasoning.  Stir around to combine, and then resist the urge to stir during cooking!!  Cook on high for 4-6 hours, and then switch to low until you're ready to eat.  It may look like there's a lot of liquid, but don't worry.  Right before serving, take 2 forks and shred the chicken.  The chicken will shred really easily and absorb all the liquid/sauce from the salsa, and look like this:

Scoop into whatever vehicle you like: hard shell tacos, soft tacos, burritos, nachos- they're all awesome!  We dress ours with the usual tomato, shredded cabbage, cheese, sour cream.  And of course, PICKLED RED ONIONS!!!  If you recall from this post, I came back from Phoenix obsessed with them, and I still am!  I make a jar every couple weeks, and it disappears within days.  The biggest culprit?  Babygirl!  I'm not even kidding, that little gal thinks they're hot pink M&M's or something!

So here's how to whip them up:

Dice 1 large red onion.  Add it to a mason jar, or any container, along with 1 cup of water, 1/2 cup vinegar (I use plain 'ol white vinegar, but use whatever you like), 1 tbsp sugar, 1 tsp salt.  Shake it up, and refrigerate.  You can make them a couple hours in advance in a pinch, but I think they taste best if they've had at least 1 day in the vinegar.  And they turn this crazy beautiful pink color!!

And just in case you thought I was kidding, here's proof.  Girl just got a refill of pickled onions on her tray and she's happy!! I love it!!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Recipe: Taco Seasoning

This is a quickie post to share the easiest recipe in the world that will totally change your LIFE!  That could be a gross exaggeration, or it may just change your life.  You'll have to try it and find out!

I made a couple of resolutions this year.  Nothing fancy, and nothing written down, but one of them was to try and MAKE more things I could easily make instead of BUY.  Like pancake mix.  Or ketchup.  And most definitely taco seasoning.  I'd made tiny batches before and it was super easy, but I had a bunch of packets in the pantry so I decided to use what I had.  Until I looked at the labels one day, have you ever done that?  Go grab a packet real quick and check out the "ingredients". Okay, toss 'em in the trash and let's grab a few spices to make your own taco seasoning using this recipe!  It's super easy, tastes way better, and doesn't have lots of icky chemicals in it.

Go to your spice rack, here's mine:

I made it!  I'll teach you how one day...

Grab: salt, black pepper, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder (I used dried minced onion), oregano, paprika & red pepper flakes (optional).

And the end product.  Like powdered gold!  Or, really tasty taco seasoning!!

2-3 tsp salt (I only use 2, just taste and see what you like)
1 1/4 tbsp black pepper
4 tbsp chili powder
2 tbsp cumin
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp oregano
2 tsp paprika (I don't recommend using smoked paprika here, the flavor is too over-powering)
1 tsp red pepper flakes, or to taste.  (I leave them out because babygirl eats what we eat, so don't want to make it too spicy)

Mix all ingredients in a mason jar or any other air-tight container. Feel free to double or triple the recipe and adjust the amounts of the individual ingredients to your taste!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Window Shopping: Marshalls

I learned a couple things this past weekend as I browsed around for this post.  Namely, I don't go shopping alone nearly enough!  Way back when babygirl was just a dream and the hubs was the boyfriend, I had a Saturday ritual.  I'd sleep in, have a late breakfast and then take off on a solo shopping excursion.  I'd hit up a few of my favorites and leisurely spend the day looking and dreaming.  Of course, it was easier to justify doing some buying too when I didn't have diapers in the budget!  I never felt guilty leaving the boyfriend at home because I knew he was happy with his TV and would hate being drug around shopping anyway.  It was a win-win for both of us!  Those Saturdays were like therapy for me: time alone, time to think and time to dream.  I could clear my head and just slow down a bit.  But those days are long gone!  Now when I venture out, it's usually with a little one in tow, so I always know time is not on my side.  I try to pack accordingly: graham crackers & a sippy cup will buy me a few minutes when babygirl starts wearing thin.  A toy or two to distract her will add a few more.  And if I'm really desperate for some time out, the pacifier, previously relegated to the crib for naps & bedtime only, will give me bonus minutes (at a price, of course!).  But I know that even if it's a bit of a pain, that little gal is gonna be my future shopping companion, so I've got to train her now!  (Kidding!  Sort of...)

But then Saturday's like this past one happen, and I realize alone time without the hubs & babygirl is SO important for my sanity!  I'm resolving to take more time just for me, and hopefully when I do, I won't feel like such a kid in a candy store, which is how I felt this trip to one of my favorites: Marshalls.  The trip was also a great reminder that, although I love my thrifts & antique stores, there are so many cool new things happening too.  So without further ado, here are some of the things that caught my eye (forewarning, there are a LOT of them!)...

It's not a home item, but I LOVE this purse!  The color combo is so on-trend right now: mint, light tan just a hint of red and chunky gold hardware.  You can't see very well, but the bag is patent leather with quilted stitching.  So beautiful.

Such a cute serving dish, and at $7.99 (I think) it was a steal.  Would be equally cute on a dressing table to display colorful jewelry or on a desk with fancy paperclips.

The pattern on this plate was gorgeous.  I'm always drawn to beautiful and graphic salad plates.  My dream is to have a collection that I display with my simple silver-banded china, and swap them out every now and then.  I'd add this to my collection in a heartbeat!

The other day I ran across a blog (really wish I could remember the link) with lovely pictures of the lunches the blogger packs for her daughters.  She used silicone baking cups (like those above) to hold individual items in the larger compartments of the bento box, which I thought was a brilliant idea!!  The little heart ones are especially sweet.

I am BEYOND a sucker for pretty papers and packaging, and these little muffin cups were the perfect combination of the two.  I instantly wanted to open a bakery and fill them with sweet (and healthy, of course!) treats.

How gorgeous are the rainbow colors of those microfiber cloths?  Do you think they would make cleaning more enjoyable?  If they would, I'd hop right on it, but I'm just not sure...

Which is the same reason why these colorful and happy brooms & mops & dustpans always tempt me!  The hubs would probably kill me for replacing our perfectly performing broom with a "girly" one anyway.

I'm totally not a crazy cat lady (don't own cats, never will), but I would rock this mug, and I'd rock it hard!  It's a hilarious sentiment, and the mug was HUGE.  Nothing I love more than a giant cup of steaming tea first thing in the morning (or anytime of day, really).

I can't stand how gorgeous these Ralph Lauren plates are.  The simple bands, especially the scalloped one, were lovely. I'm so wishy-washy when it comes to dishes & bedding, I just can't make up my mind, which is terrible and leads to having way too many sets of dishes (and bedding).  I was good this past year and got rid of all the extras (Except for the cheap white sets from Ikea I use for entertaining. And the good china.  And our everyday cream & black ones you caught a glimpse of yesterday.  And the Kate Spade ones I only have 4 place-settings of, but will drop the everyday ones for in a heartbeat as soon as I can buy more place-settings. [Okay, Kate Spade, not happy with you right now, a quick Google search revealed my pattern is discontinued except for the salad plate.  After 2 years?  WTF?])  Hmm, it doesn't really sound like I pared down, does it?  But I digress, I've come to the conclusion that mostly white is best on dinner plates, and these fit the bill perfectly.

These were fun & funky cactus looking sculptures.  Something about them appealed to me, maybe because I lived in the desert for 10 years, but they'd be fun on a mantel.

Oh can I tell you how this vision made my eyes glaze over?  In a good way!  I love organizing, and really love organizing with all manner of containers.  I just hopped on the Expedit train for our office re-do (will share soon!), and I need good-looking, and interesting, storage.  I also need to corral the toy chaos after a very generous Christmas.  I ended up bringing home just one of these beauties.  For now.

The hubs would never go for this Cynthia Rowley comforter set, even in the grey shade- it's just too feminine for him. But I adore the softness of the ruffles.  With two queen size beds in our guest room, I think they'd be way too busy & overpowering, but it sure is pretty.

More cool storage baskets.  I love the aged look of the wire and burlap.  And, they can work with a multitude of styles from country to industrial and many in between!

Two trends in one: ombre & chevron!  I'm not over either one yet, so I almost picked up a hand towel for our powder room but I wasn't sure about the color for that space.  Another colorway, and a few of those may have found their way home with me.

I love the coziness of sweater pillows and the color of this one was the perfect shade of orange.  My only beef was, it one of those pillows that's so soft it makes your hands feel rough.  I hate that.

Speaking of the perfect shade of orange, our guest bath recently got a paint job (details to come!) and now I'm on the hunt for an awesome shower curtain.  I can't get this idea out of my mind, and though I did end up buying this shower curtain because of the awesome pattern, it's going back.  I just know I won't be happy with it because our ceilings are high and the subway tile surround goes all the way up the wall, and I just want a nice tall shower curtain. Oh well.

Have you ever seen linen sheets?  Yeah, me either.  I feel like they'd be scratchy and wrinkly as hell, but I must be wrong about that, because at the price of $199 at Marshall's for SHEETS, those have got to be some dang good sheets. As soon as we win the lottery, I'm trying out linen sheets.

Two things that will never go out of style, in my opinion: barrel chairs & quilted leather.  In this case the leather was faux, but as an accent piece, and for the price ($179), I don't mind at all!

I'm not sure if I would have noticed this item if it weren't for the God-awful, overpowering stench emanating from the stack.  They're faux (and in this case HEAVY on the FAUX) leather storage ottomans that are collapsible.  Kind of cool idea, I just wonder how: 1) sturdy they would be (the package claims they're ideal for extra seating) and 2) how the heck long it would take to air them out.  Because they reek.  At $39.99, I suppose you don't have much to lose to figure those two things out.

Last up, this tufted linen (look) chair.  Not much I don't love about it.  Except the legs, I don't love the legs.  I'd like to see ebony stained stacked bun feet, but who am I to be picky??  I don't recall the price, but it's Marshall's, so you know it had to be reasonable!

Here's the loot I brought home.  The storage basket is awesome, especially the beautiful chestnut color leather handles. I've been searching for a basket to hold all our winter hats & scarves, and this one fits the bill perfectly.  Remind me to post a pic of it in its new home!  The wooden ampersand has been on my search list forever, so I was excited to find a nice chunky one.  I'll show ya where it ended up too.  The shower curtain & curtain rings are going back, for the reasons mentioned above.  The Dora cup, all I can say is if I find a STRAW cup that's INSULATED and GUARANTEED not to leak, I'll buy it every time.  I hope you can tell from all that capitalization how hard it is to find. And you better believe I saved the packaging, because if that bad boy leaks, I'm sending it straight back.  But so far, so good.  And that tiny little bottle- a lovely shade of midnight blue nail polish.  Just cuz.  So what would you have grabbed, and what would you have passed up?  Do tell!

Oh, and on the way home I was behind this:

Years, maybe decades, ago I read an interview with Martha Stewart where she mentioned she has an old pick-up truck she takes out on the weekends to antique shops and estate sales.  I have no idea if that's even true, but it left a deep impression on me, and I've wanted one of my own (for the same purpose) ever since.  I'd snap that beauty up in a heart beat, it was my perfect shade of orange.  Oh, a girl can dream...

Monday, January 21, 2013

Weekend Update

I sincerely hope that y'all had as beautiful of a weekend as this mama did!

It started Friday night with a cheap pizza & 2 hours with the hubs in front of the TV for the series finale of Fringe.  It's one of the few shows that we can agree on, and we've been watching together since it began back in 2008.  The X-Files-ish vibe of it appealed to me, and I just adore Walter (John Noble).  But like X-Files, there were some so-so seasons, especially this past one.  I had a hard time sticking with quite a few of the episodes: I hated the future story-line and I especially hated the daughter story-line, but I stuck around, and the reward was a really well-done finale.  I'm not sure how the world-at-large felt because I haven't read any reviews, but I was happy with it and in my world, that's all that matters!!

Saturday morning I left a very happy hubs at home with babygirl (see why here) to do some solo window-shopping (post forthcoming later this week, and it's a good one!).  I forgot how nice it is to go shopping alone on a Saturday morning and just LOOK slowly.  Ahhh, perfect break.  Of course mama-guilt kicked in after about 2 hours and I made my way back home.  I scored the loot below (though I've already decided to take a few things back) still, very fun!

The rest of the day was spent with the family and the TV.  I discovered two new (to me) shows and a lovely movie, as I mentioned here.  And the nightcap?  A ginger bath.  I first read about them on MFAMB here, and decided to try it out last night when I was feeling a little meh.  The gist is a really hot bath with epsom salts, powdered (or fresh) ginger and baking soda.  I was going by memory and forgot the baking soda, oops!  The bath smelled divine, was verrrrrrrry relaxing, and I felt great on Sunday.  I'd call it a success, and I'd definitely recommend you try it!  Just make sure to drink tons of water (I actually brought a big glass to the bath with me!) because you'll sweat a lot and want to be sure to flush out all those toxins.  Ahhhhhhh..........

Sunday morning was a little bit of a cooking frenzy: I whipped up some chicken in the crock pot for tacos (remind me to share that recipe, it's AWESOME!), and some taco seasoning to add to the chicken (also awesome, also need to share!), and some waffles in the hubs new waffle maker.  We've never had a waffle maker, so it's been a fun Sunday thing to do, but let me tell y'all, these waffles are HUGE and I don't even want to KNOW how many carbs they contain.  I can't even eat a whole one.  Actually, I can't even get through 3/4 of one!  But they are yummy!!

Next up we took a little trip to Starbucks for the hubs to chat with some nice folks about a fun little side job. I hope he gets it because it will be right up his alley!!  Babygirl & I enjoyed tagging along, and taking a self-portrait while we waited.

We took the scenic route home (meaning through the city streets instead of the freeway- ha!) and just enjoyed the scenery and the sunshine.  Cleaning, eating and football took up the rest of the day, which is not bad at all!  Copious amounts of crumbs were removed from our floors (this could honestly be a full-time job for me), soft tacos were delish, and 1 of the 2 games went our way.  What more can you ask for?

Happy Monday, Inauguration Day & MLK Day!!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A Few Notes About TV

We ditched cable months ago to trim the household expenses a bit.  I didn't mind, but the hubs was having a hard time with it.  "There's something I didn't tell you", he said earlier this week.  Never the words you want to hear!  Turns out he signed us up for a deal with DirecTv and they were coming to set it up this weekend.  At $25 a month, there wasn't much to protest, and I've got to say I thoroughly enjoyed a couple programs!

1)  I Brake for Yard Sales on HGTV with Lara Spencer.  I didn't catch the beginning, but I totally loved this show!  I don't watch GMA, so I'm not too familiar with Lara, but after this show I secretly wanted her as my new BFF!  She's so sweet & personable, and I really love her style.  She also genuinely seems into thrifting & bargain-hunting, it's not just a TV gimmick.  The above is the dining room from the show- I don't love the color on the dining chairs, but holy-moly you should have seen them before!!

2)  Directly after was Flea Market Flip, another Lara Spencer show.  It was totally up my alley.  The premise: 2 two-person teams are given $600 and a punch list of 4 things they have to search for.  They go to the Rose Bowl flea market and purchase items, then go back to a fully-stocked warehouse where they transform the items in order to "flip" them at the flea market the next week.  The team that makes the most profit off the sales of their items wins the profits from both teams.  Cool premise, and really well done.  It didn't seem contrived and I really enjoyed seeing not only the stalls at the flea market, but the projects the teams took on, and how they approached them.  

3)  Somehow I missed this movie when it came out in Dec 2011.  Oh yeah, I was busy having a 3 month old baby!  The hubs and I caught it tonight, tho not from the very beginning and I LOVED it.  I don't care what the online reviews say (I read a few while looking for the above image), I thought it was sweet and inspiring and the perfect movie to watch every single New Year's Eve.  For a moment I felt like we were experiencing NYE all over again, and it was really nice!  Even babygirl climbed up in my lap and watched about a quarter of it (quite a feat for a toddler!).  

If you haven't caught any of these three, I recommend them!  And now I'm off to fry my brain cells with more TV!!

**UPDATE, okay, I totally remember now why I didn't mind at all when we got rid of cable the last time.  I have walked into the family room, or glanced up from my computer, because of insane sounds coming from the TV and have muttered "what the hell are you watching" at least a dozen times.  Not to mention I watched the hubs eat while standing at the counter, then back up to the dishwasher, load his dishes and get a drink, ALL WITHOUT TAKING HIS EYES OFF THE TV.  And he had a cartoon on people!!!  The man is obsessed.  I'm hoping the shininess wears off soon, but I'm not holding my breath.  Oh, and did I mention he talks to the tv?  Yeah, I'm not sure Bravo & HGTV are worth it...

Friday, January 18, 2013

A Handmade Christmas, pt 1

Here it is, January 18th, and the top thing on all our minds: Christmas!!!  Yeah, I know, everyone has moved on from Christmas.  But since I wasn't, ahem, blogging back in December, and since my family reads this blog and would have privy to their gifts beforehand, I'm gonna tell you about the gifts we made now.  In January.

There had been some chatter amongst a number of family members about MAKING gifts this year instead of BUYING them.  We're all semi-crafty, and thought it would be fun.  That was until we started doing it.  Then it got tough, and time-consuming, and at times expensive.  But all in all, it was still lots of FUN!  I don't recall anticipating Christmas so much as I have this year, just because I was dying to see what everyone had made!!  A few of us had remained pretty tight-lipped about what we were doing, so it was awesome to see the gifts unwrapped and the givers & receivers reactions!  Of course, I would have been wise to document all this, but alas, I suck.  Remember?  So, I'm going to sprinkle in the pics I have, and you'll just have to use your imagination on the processes!!

First up, the gifts we made.  I say "we" because the hubs did help, a little, and as a married couple, we represented as a "we".  And also because he's not so crafty.  Not because he couldn't be, but because he doesn't try.  But that's another story.  Our gifts:

1)  Everyone got one of those initial ornaments as gift tags on their presents.  They were easy to make out of the sheets of craft felt you see at Michael's for super cheap.  I just traced two circles in two different colors, cut them out, printed out a page with the first letter of everyone's name (I used Cooper Std Black in 100+ pt font) and then cut out each letter.  I then pinned the letters to felt, cut them out and hand-stitched them on with white embroidery floss.  I then pieced the 2 circles together and zipped around them with my sewing machine.  I left a tiny hole so I could stuff them with poly-fil.  Lastly, I cut a length of ribbon and stuck it in the hole I'd left open, and stitched that closed.  That might all sound awfully complicated, but those little guys took me no time at all, and were super cute!!  I kind of wish I'd made one for myself...

2)  My sister got this little wristlet/phone carrier/whatevs made from a men's necktie.  This one will probably be easiest to understand if you check out an actual tutorial with actual pictures.  Like this one.  It's quite simple once you get the gist, and I didn't do mine exactly like she did hers, but you'll get the idea.  Take a tie, cut off the skinny end, fold it up and stitch.  And if you like, make a little wristlet however you'd like.  I used a bit of the skinny end and stitched it right into the side.  You could add a clip, keyring, whatever!  I sewed on a snap to close it, and then a fancy button on top of the snap just to be decorative.  This was a fun little project, and didn't take much time at all.  The trickiest part was finding a cool WIDE tie so the iPhone would fit down into it.

3)  Next up, my brother and his family got matching PJ pants, and yes that is Christmas-striped John Deere fabric!  My brother's wife loves John Deere (such a funny thing if you know her b/c it's not something you'd expect!) and I found the fabric way back in August on clearance at Hancock Fabric.  It was my first foray into sewing with a REAL pattern, and I'm pretty proud of how well it went!  (I used Simplicity pattern #3577 which was a unisex adult & child PJ pattern- super easy to follow for a beginner!)  I also used the pattern to make our other nephew a pair:

4)  I was feeling so confident in my sewing-by-pattern abilities, that I made letter initial pillows out of fleece for all the kiddos in the family, and two of Riley's BFF's.  Here are a couple of the pillows:
I used an ANCIENT Simplicity pattern I found at the local thrift.  The letters were very "bubbley" and thus the M and the H I made looked a lot alike, lol.  But the kids loved them and they were super easy to make!

5)  Next up were wood bead necklaces for the gals in the family.  I was so impressed with the tutorial over at Decor And The Dog, and already had oodles of ribbon, so I thought I'd give it a go.  I followed her tutorial to the letter, and it couldn't have been more simple.  I spent the majority of my time trying to perfect the bows.  Four words: I.Suck.At.Bows.

6)  My sister had pinned a website ages ago where you could turn a photo into a coloring page.  I used one of her favorite pics and then had it blown way up.  I colored it and spray-mounted it to a canvas.
Actual Pic:

Coloring book page:

Sister's Gift:

7)  Next up, my mom has been needing storage for her jewelry for ages.  Scratch that, she HAS jewelry storage but it's in lots of drawers where you can't see anything!  I've been on a mission to make her something to display all her pretty necklaces and bracelets.  Voila...

I came across those interesting frames/boxes/whatevs at the local thrift.  They had weird prints on the front, but they actually peeled off really easily.  The hubs sanded them down and I painted them a pretty light green on the fronts and white around the edges.  The hubs then drilled holes and inserted some cute knobs we found at Ikea, and there ya go!  The only regret is we didn't have a chance to hang them during our visit.

8)  My parents lost their beloved dog this year, a Mastiff named Toby.  He was my dad's pride and (slobbery) joy, so when I saw a tutorial on Camilla's blog for a silhouette pillow, I knew it would be the perfect gift!  I adapted it from a photo my mom sent.

I used black felt- the craft felt sheet was too small, so I purchased 1/3 yd from Hancock Fabrics.  I cropped and enlarged the pic my mom sent, printed it and then cut out the silhouette.  I pinned it to the felt and cut that out.  I used spray mount to attach it to (both sides) of that great pillow from Ikea, but I wasn't 100% confident the spray mount would hold, so I (TEDIOUSLY) hand-stitched around the edges to secure it.

There you have it, part one of our handmade Christmas.  I'm going to try and round up pics of the things everyone else made, I was so impressed with the creativity of everyone and I know you will be too!!