Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Midafternoon Cupcakes

My hubby has been hinting for several weeks that he wants cupcakes, but with only 3 of us in the house, I needed a good excuse for them or we'd eat them all ourselves - not good. So I was excited yesterday when my sister-in-law called and said that she and the kids would like to visit us. The cousins only live about half an hour away, but since they are six and (almost) nine and are in school, we don't get to see them as much as they or Abigail would like. This week is spring break, though, so a midafternoon visit isn't out of the question.

While I usually bake most things from scratch using actual recipes, I have only ever made cupcakes from a mix (although I'm open to finding a good cupcake recipe). I'm not really particular about what mix I use - whatever is on sale is usually fine with me. I can't tell the difference between the brands. Yesterday I used a Pilsbury white cake mix (I keep a few on hand in case we want pistachio cake), but used whole eggs which made it mildly yellow (no butter in the mix for true yellow).

The icing I did make from a recipe I found in the book Hershey's Best Loved Recipes. It's not my favorite chocolate icing, but it's easy and only requires one bowl (and no melting).

One-Bowl Buttercream Frosting (Chocolate)
makes about 2 cups frosting

6 Tablespoons butter or margarine, softened
2 2/3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup Hershey's Cocoa
4-6 Tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat butter in medium bowl. Add powdered sugar and cocoa alternately with milk, beating to spreading consistency. Stir in vanilla.

My note: the vanilla is very important. The chocolate gets a little bitter without it. I actually prefer other chocolate buttercream frostings, but like I said, this one is my easiest.

I wish I had a photo of the cupcakes, or at least the aftermath of 3 kids eating the cupcakes (all of them are really more into frosting, and it showed), but I'm having camera troubles lately. Mostly that my I take too many, and need to make space. I'm working on it, and hope to start adding photos soon. Really.

Oh, and hubby did appreciate the cupcakes for dinner (and the yummy ginger-garlic stirfry I made for dessert).

Thursday, March 26, 2009

chocolate cookies

Yesterday I was feeling a little down. I'm not sure why. Maybe it was the rain, and knowing that the temperature was dropping just when I'd gotten used to spring? Whatever the reason, there was just a feel of unease around our house, and I couldn't get my groove.

I like to bake when I'm down. I never understood it when my mama would bake cakes to sell all day, and then bake a batch of brownies to relax. I'm still not sure why it works (although brownie batter can cure the sadness anytime), but I know it does. I try not to do it often, because I don't have a huge household of teenage boys to eat the results like I did at home (or a dorm filled with friends who I made them for everyday one semester), but this day I really had the bug to make something chocolately (the hershey's kisses in the pantry just wouldn't do).

This cookie, while not baked, has been one of my favorites since I was little. We called them macaroons, and I originally found the recipe in the Sebring, FL community cookbook (my mama's hometown) from the 1950's, but I've seen the recipe in lots of places. It calls for peanut butter, but I find that changes the flavor in ways I'm not looking for. It also calls for nuts, but my hubby doesn't like them so I left them out. Here is the halved recipe that I used.

Deanna's Sad Day Chocolate Cookies

1/2 stick margarine
1/8 cup cocoa
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk

Boil together 1 minute

1/4 cup coconut (I've left this out too, just add more oatmeal)
1 1/2 cups oatmeal



No, not the machine kind, although I'm still looking for the perfect embroidery machine for me. I've been reading the archives at SouleMama, and have become interested again in hand-embroidery. I learned how when I was a kid, and used to love it. I have several half-finished projects lying around the house, including panels for a quilt I was making for my college boyfriend (long story, but I can't let go of the panels I completed).

My mama and grandma made several baby quilts using hand-embroidery including my own baby quilt which I still have. My daughter's baby quilt, which was actually created 25 years before she was born and includes her name, is hanging on the wall of her room. Usually, they hand traced drawings from coloring books onto muslin and then embroidered the outline. I collect coloring books for this reason - you never know when you might want to embroider Harry Potter or Winnie-the-Pooh.

I'd heard of Sublime Stitching before, probably through Bust back when I still read it, but it never really seemed like my kind of thing. Then I started noticing the super cute veggies on SouleMama's kids' clothing, and wanted it for myself. I haven't bought any designs yet, but I have a few picked out (how did I miss this before?) that I really want.
  • Garden Variety - love this for gardening aprons (which I'm trying to figure out how to make)
  • Forest Friends - the hedgehog is so cute!
  • Monkey Love - we're really into monkeys around here
  • Dia de los Muertos - it's so hard to find any kind of designs for this holiday - so exciting!
  • Craftopia - um, not sure I need to embroider a sewing machine, but love it anyway
  • I Love Veggies - these are the designs that drew to Sublime Stitching - my absolute favorite
I also like that these are so small, whereas the designs I used to do were pretty large. So these can go on small things, like pockets or hems, and not just for large quilt panels.

Did you know there's also a book? I feel so out of the loop.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Week 2 for 10,000 step challenge

I realize no one joined me last week, but this is a challenge for me too! I have decided what the prize will be. I found this fabulous head scarf in Weekend Sewing. It's fun to sew, and I think it looks cute when my hair isn't (like today, when it's raining and I don't even bother).

These are my results for the week:

  • Wednesday, March 18 - 6961 (went on a walk around the neighborhood - lots of great hills)
  • Thursday, March 19 -  I'm not sure what happened, but my steps got deleted for this day, and my pedometer even stores 7 days of information. My toddler thinks my pedometer is her phone, so I suspect that might have something to do with it.
  • Friday, March 20 - 3676
  • Saturday, March 21 - 7189 (full day of shopping, including trips to both Sams and Costco)
  • Sunday, March 22 - 9528 (lots of shopping, plus a trip to the zoo - I should go there more often)
  • Monday, March 23 - 3259
  • Tuesday, March 24 - 7227 (another walk through the neighborhood - if only I could do this consistently!)
Now, post your results for the week in the comments and I will randomly choose one person to receive the cute head scarf hand sewn by me. If you didn't join me this week, please feel free to start counting today and join me next week. I'm going to keep this up for a while. I'm hesitant to post my weight, but I have noticed that I lost a few pounds this week. I also feel more cheerful and less susceptible to my cravings. Good luck!

A Child's Purse (Sew Fun)

This handbag was a birthday gift for my 3 year old niece (the same one who received the "monkey manket" - her words). I live very far away, so wasn't able to give it to her myself. Her mama tells me that when my brother presented it to her, she looked at him in horror and asked what he'd done to her blanket! They had to show her the blanket and purse side by side. While I'm sorry she got so upset, it makes me feel good that she liked her blanket that much.

The pattern comes from Bend the Rules Sewing by Amy Karol. The pattern instructions indicate increasing the size of the pattern by 130% (I think), but that it can be made bigger for a tote (more on my tote coming soon). For this project, I traced the pattern at actual size. It's really too small to hold anything substantial, but it's perfect for a toddler. It's also cute for Mama-daughter matching purses (ask me how I know - photos coming soon).

I really love the monkey flannel on the inside - yellow with brown monkey outlines. I purchased all the fabric at JoAnns Fabrics and Crafts. I haven't seen this particular pattern again, though.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Ah, what a day. . .

As you may have noticed in my twitter feed (in the sidebar, for those of you reading an RSS feed), I started making an Easter dress last week. I found a very cool pattern in the new book Weekend Sewing (oddly, discovered at Sams, not on any of the blogs that I've since learned are devouring this book too). I hope to finish the dress in time to make a matching bag and perhaps some other accessories. (Review of Weekend Sewing coming soon.)

Unfortunately, I realized yesterday that I have been threading my bobbin incorrectly for six months. I discovered this when each time I tried to wind the bobbin, the thread came off in tangles, and if I tried to sew with it (yes, I did), the back side of the piece had tangles of thread.

This resulted in me picking out the stitches on the bodice twice. I finally resorted to using another bobbin in a contrasting color that was correct, just to see if it would work. That's how I learned that I'd been reading the directions for the bodice incorrectly, and had sewn the wrong pieces together in the wrong places. Third time to pick out the stitches!

All of this occurred on a day that seems to have been challenging for my 2 year old, too. She's very good at amusing herself for short periods, but yesterday was a day of whining, complaining and general dislike of anything mommy presented. For example, she is very fond of her six year old girl cousin, and at times refuses to drink out of anything other than the cup this cousin has used at our house. I thought I'd solved the problem by having my niece drink out of many cups in Abigail's presence, but apparently only the first cup will work. Yesterday, we had quite the battle over which cup she would drink her lemonade from (yes, lemonade). Since I had pink lemonade on hand, it became a battle of whether I was trying to get her to drink strawberry milk instead. Eventually this led to lemonade on the floor. What a day. . .

The final catastrophe (after we'd made up and enjoyed our popcorn snack on the porch), was Abigail crashing to our sidewalk on all fours. Usually we just ask her if it was "wee!" and she says yes, and goes on about her business. This time, though, there was a deep cut and lots of blood. Not even the choice of Curious George or Strawberry Shortcake band-aids helped. She actually didn't want band-aids at all. At least they gave her a story to tell her daddy when he came home. Fortunately it didn't include any mean-mommy shading.

And we did figure out how to wind the bobbin before bedtime, although the pattern still needs additional study.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Remember Sassy?

I had a wonderful chat this afternoon with a dear friend who I've recently introduced to the joys of reading blogs. She mentioned that she has been reading old SouleMama posts while up with her baby at night. I started reading SouleMama last spring, and have read a few older posts, but not many. So this evening, with my sleeping babe on my shoulder, I started reading from the very beginning and came across this post. She mentions loving Sassy magazine as a teen and making a skirt from neckties - and wishing she'd kept her issues.

I loved Sassy, but I didn't read it for very long. I discovered it at my cousin's house, and read ALL of her issues. I even wrote directions for some of the projects in my diary at the time. I should still have all of the issues that I did own though! I'm not sure because my brother cleaned out my room and packed everything up.

Now it makes sense why I love reading Angry Chicken and Soule Mama so much - it's almost like I've found Sassy again, only for a grown-up mommy.

On another note, the same dear friend sent me five issues of Mothering that she was finished with. I love that magazine, and I've spent the afternoon reading and wanting to climb inside the pages at times. Thanks, Abbey! Love you!

How Many Steps Did You Get?

(If you're new to this blog, see my 10,000 step challenge post.)

Well, I wasn't as successful as I would have liked in my quest to increase my activity level. For one thing, I briefly lost my pedometer for several hours one day. And a cold snap hit the Louisville area, so I was mostly unwilling to go outside for extended periods. I live in an area with high winds almost constantly, so any temperature drop is magnified. I did discover a new exercise dvd at the library that I enjoyed. I'll review it soon, but the title is Fit and Fabulous Mom or something like that. It's a low-impact workout, but I still managed to be completely sore for the next three days after (my fault - I didn't stretch afterwards).

Anyway, here are my results for last week:
  • Wednesday, March 11 - 3967
  • Thursday, March 12 - 3701
  • Friday, March 13 - 1513 (I think it was raining - at least I did the workout video!)
  • Saturday, March 14 - 2747 (I could barely move!)
  • Sunday, March 15 - 3466 (I played cornhole - does that count as exercise?)
  • Monday, March 16 - 3373
  • Tuesday, March 17 - 8433 (we went to the zoo - that always helps my number!)
While the challenge is 10,000 steps, obviously I'm not close to that goal. This is all about increasing your activity level.

If you decided to join my challenge, please post your step counts in the comments. I will choose one person at random to receive a prize. I will close comments on Friday morning (March 20) at 10am. Good luck!

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

I love holidays that provide a fun theme. It's exciting to set out your favorite green outfit (hard to come by when I was growing up, but it's my favorite color now so I have lots of things to choose from) and decide on a menu. We love to our local Irish pub on a regular basis, so St. Patrick's Day provides us with a chance to make some of our favorites at home.

Tonight's menu is Guinness beef stew, Irish soda bread, and Guinness for my husband. I usually make a pistachio cake also (not a traditional Irish dessert, but it's green and unexpected).

Our Guinness stew is pretty basic, just chuck roast/steak, potatoes, carrots, celery, and Guinness. I threw in some fresh garlic, and I'm sure there's more I don't remember.

I've only ever made Irish soda bread one other time, and it didn't turn out well. This time, I looked through several recipes trying to find a simple one that didn't use a lot of ingredients and took little time. I lucked out in finding the recipe used by my favorite Irish pub. So this is the recipe for soda bread from the Irish Rover in Louisville, Ky. It turned out very well, although I could use some practice in NOT handling the dough too much.

For pistachio cake, just add a package of pistachio jello to a white cake mix. For the frosting, I use two containers of Cool Whip, two packages of pistachio pudding and enough milk to make it creamy (about 2 tablespoons). These amounts are for a layer cake. If you make a bundt cake or a sheet cake you don't need as much frosting.

I hope you had a wonderful day!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Recent Finds

I love reading blogs. I get such inspiration from seeing what other people are doing with their families. These are some of the posts I've found particularly fun lately.

Have a great weekend!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type

We found our latest favorite picture book last weekend. Abigail was using up the last bit a of gift card at Borders and fell asleep, leaving her Daddy and I to pick it out. He came up to me, very excited, and presented Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin. I was excited that he'd found it on his own, because I had wanted for years to buy it.

I used to work at a national chain bookstore planning events (booksignings, children's activities) and doing the marketing and pr for our location. As part of that, I also planned the storytime hour, and sometimes led them. It can be difficult to find books that are able to hold the attention of a group of babies and young toddlers and that can also entertain the parents (enough so they'll want to buy the book). As soon as Click, Clack Moo was released, we started reading it on a regular basis.

Click, Clack, Moo is about a group of cows who learn to type and the demands they make of a long-suffering farmer. There are lots of fun noises to make, and the watercolor illustrations won the book the Caldecott award in 2001. The book is recommended for ages 3-7, but the story moves quickly enough for younger children.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Spaghetti Ice Cream

I love the idea of food that looks like other food. I'm not sure if I would actually like a meal that looked like a dessert, though. Mashed potatoes made to look like an ice cream sundae just sounds like a cruel joke to me.

On the other hand, dessert that looks like another food just sounds like fun. For example, how would you like to try spaghetti ice cream? When I first came across it, I thought it was actually spaghetti flavored ice cream, but fortunately, it's actually ice cream made to look like spaghetti.

The company makes an instrument that resembles a garlic press, which molds the ice cream into a spaghetti shape (like play-dough). Then you serve it with strawberry sauce, grated white chocolate and almond slivers. Sounds wonderful to me!

The model intended for home use is actually not that expensive. How do you think your family would react to spaghetti for dessert?

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

10,000 Step Challenge

I found my pedometer on Sunday! It disappeared sometime last fall, and I really missed it. I use it as a watch, and I find that I get a lot more exercise if I'm wearing it. I don't know if it's because I'm paying closer attention (like you tend to eat better if you keep a food journal) or what. I do tend to go on more frequent (and longer) walks when I'm wearing it. My typical day is 2000-3000 unless I purposely go for a walk.

I've been thinking that with summer coming, I'd like to be in better shape. I'd like to be able to keep up with my active toddler and set a good example for her. So, I'm starting a 10,000 step challenge.

If you'd like to join me, comment on this post. Each week, I will post my step counts for the previous week. You can post your step counts in the comments section of that week's post. Each week, I will choose one person at random from the comments and send you an encouraging prize. I'm not ready to commit on what the prize will be. I'll try it for a few weeks, and see what happens. While the goal is 10,000 steps, I'm nowhere close to that yet myself. So I guess the real goal is to increase your activity level (if you're not reaching 10,000 steps yet).

I'll give you my step counts so far this week, but the challenge steps will begin with Wednesday, March 11.
  • Monday, March 9 - 5385 steps
  • Tuesday, March 10 - 7895 steps
For ideas on how to reach 10,000 steps, check out The Walking Site. Comment on this post if you want to join in. Next week, I'll post my results for the week, and you can post your results in the comments.

A Handbag for Me (Sew Fun)

After making several gifts, I really wanted to try a project for myself from Bend the Rules Sewing by Amy Karol. The fabric is from Heidi Grace Designs (bought at JoAnns Crafts), and both the outer fabric and the lining are in the same butterfly line. This pattern is the Charming Handbag.

I love this pattern. It's a cute shape, and fairly easy to make. It's just big enough to hold my keys, wallet, and phone. Maybe my point-and-shoot camera if I'm careful (since the pattern doesn't include a closure, I have to be really careful). It is small, but is a good size for an evening out. I have always carried a purse separate from my diaper bag anyway (actually, I'm a little embarrassed to admit how many bags I do carry).

The straps are really short, so this is definitely a handbag and not a purse. The book does suggest experimenting with the size, and I'm working on a larger one that I hope will be a tote bag. I'll let you know how that goes.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Everyday Treasures

Today SouleMama encouraged focusing on our everyday treasures - things that we may take for granted otherwise and miss when they're gone.

What's my everyday treasure? Abigail singing - singing anything. The past few weeks, though, a favorite has been "Happy day today," otherwise known as "Happy Birthday." It's a joyful tune, and she breaks out singing it at random times.

This quote also found at SouleMama:

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. 
--Thornton Wilder

Take a few moments today to preserve the memory of your treasure.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Tomtens and (hopefully) saying goodbye to winter

I had never heard of a tomten until I read Jan Brett's book Hedgie's Surprise many years ago at storytime (I sometimes led storytime at the bookstore where I planned events), and I was much more attracted to the hedgehog. I didn't really think about tomtens again until I read about the tomten costume at Angry Chicken, and I was intrigued.

For the past two weeks, we've been reading The Tomten and The Tometen and the Fox by Astrid Lindgren (she also wrote Pippi Longstocking). The stories are about a tomten (like a little gnome) who guards a farm at night during the winter. Both books are rhythmic and lulling. I thought that they may not interest Abigail because they don't have lots of bright colors or an exciting plot. I now realize that the calmness is the best part. These are stories are set late at night in the middle of winter. They're supposed to be calming! I think they'd make great bedtime stories (for a normal child who understands bedtime).

I'll talk more about Hedgie's Surprise another time. It has little in common with the other tomten stories, but has it's own charms.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Yoga Fun

This morning I finally got around to playing the Yoga Kids 2 dvd I picked up at the library a few weeks ago. I love doing yoga, but my practice is very sporadic. I've never taken a class (I am fond of the Yoga Zone dvd series). I'd noticed that a friend had her children doing yoga a few weeks ago and it sounded like fun so I thought we'd try it too.

Yoga Kids 2 is for ages three to six. Abigail is two and while she did some participation, I think she would understand a lot better if she was older. Some of the activities would seem kind of silly for children much older than six, but I do think there's leeway on either side of the age range.

The video uses the alphabet to guide kids through different yoga poses that seem to be renamed for the video. For example, A is for alligator and while the pose seemed familiar, I don't remember that name! I really liked the Namaste song for the letter N, and the ZigZag pose was a great way to end (and a much better name than "dead man's pose" which is how I remember learning it before).

Abigail enjoyed doing the yoga, but she also enjoyed climbing on me while I was showing her how. At one point, I made the mistake of asking her if she wanted to "ride the horsey" when she climbed on my back, and that almost ended our entire session. I'll have to remember that she enjoys doing that. It's not something I usually think to do.

After we finished, I went to our library website and requested several more yoga dvds geared toward children. I'll let you know how it goes.

Go to Yoga Kids for more information.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Monkey Manket (Sew Fun)

I made this blanket for my 3 year old niece's Christmas present using the pattern in Bend the Rules Sewing by Amy Karol. The pattern calls for two solid yards of complimentary fabric with a yard of flannel for the batting. A suggested variation is to use two yards of complimentary flannel, which is what I did here. My niece loves blankets (mankets), and I thought double flannel would be very cozy. My brother's nickname for her is "monkey" so when I saw these two monkey patterns, I knew exactly what I would make her.

I really enjoy this pattern. The scallops aren't easy to do, and I'm still learning about sewing curves. It's really so much easier than trying to crochet a blanket, though! The blanket is less than a yard in the end and is intended as a receiving blanket. I'm considering doing them in different sizes as nap blankets too. I'm not sure how well it would work for swaddling, as I don't have a ready subject at the moment. It works quite well as a nursing cover-up, though (in winter at least).

Monday, March 2, 2009

Sick Day

What do you do with a sick toddler when you happen to be sick yourself?

Yesterday, I thanked myself for checking out a huge stack of picture books from the library (new stories, yea!), and for stocking our digital video recorder (dvr) with our favorite cartoons (Olivia, Toot and Puddle , Scooby-Doo and the Smurfs). My dear husband watched the sick toddler most of the afternoon while I tried to sleep off my sickies, and could be ready for today when we're alone.

Today, even though my throat is getting worse, we've already been rereading some of the favorites from yesterday and plan to work on finishing our stack of new library books. Hopefully we'll feel well enough by tomorrow to go replenish our stash.

How do you entertain a sick toddler?