Friday, December 28, 2007

The Cake My Mama Made

So this one was not made by me. But it was so fabulous, and my mom, who did make it, said it was super easy. So, I thought it was worthy of mention on this blog.

I believe my Grandpa named this creation "Christmas Fantasy Cake", so we'll go with that. To make it, get yourself a Duncan Hines devil's food cake mix and whip up two round layer cakes according to the package directions. Once they are cool, carefully split those suckers in half so you have 4 very thin round chocolate cake layers. While you're doing all the splitting business, leave a half gallon of peppermint ice cream out on the counter to soften up. When it's slightly melty. build the cake up - chocolate layer, peppermint ice cream, chocolate layer, etc. until you have a giant cake tower. For the outside, my mom used whipped cream, but I think frosting or pudding mixed with cool whip would all work just fine.

For the final flourish, mom put candy canes and a little melted chocolate on for decoration. It's a pretty quick, yet tasty and impressive holiday dessert!
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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Li'l Bites of Heaven

I have been fortunate enough to attend a couple cookie exchanges in the past week, and I am here to share with you the most fabulous cookie of 2007. Now, the cookie tasting was judged by me, of course, so you might think that the title of Most Fabulous Cookie is being awarded a little subjectively. You would be right. But I strongly believe that if you don't like this cookie then you are an alien and therefore I don't think you should be reading this blog anyway. So there.

Ok, here it is: Oreo Snowballs.

This cookie has exactly three ingredients. And that is all it needs to achieve its fabulosity. Take an entire package of Oreos and crush them. I had to laugh at the "pull-off tab" at the top of the Oreos Jason bought for me. Like, if you need access to the entire package of Oreos immediately without the hassle of cutting the end and pulling out the little tray, then this tab is genius. But if you're like most people and don't eat the entire package all at once, it seems pretty silly. Anyway, I digress.

Crush the entire pack of cookies, creme centers and all. The person who gave me this recipe recommended using the blender. I found that to take a long time, and I had to keep emptying out the crushed cookies at the bottom of the blender so it didn't clog up the blade. I think a baggie and rolling pin might work just as well. But you do want them to have the texture of good garden dirt. No chunks, because it will take away from the oreo cheesecake texture you're trying to achieve.

After the cookies are crushed, chop an 8 oz. block of softened cream cheese (full fat, because it's CHRISTMAS!) and dump the cookie crumbs in a bowl with the cream cheese chunks. Take off your rings and squish it all together. And if you want anyone to eat them afterwards, wash your hands first.

Chill that mixture for a couple hours, then take it out and form small balls with it. I used a heaping teaspoon for each ball and came out with about 35 of them.

Chill your balls for another hour or two, then take about 16 oz. of almond bark and melt it. Dip your balls in the almond bark and put them on a sheet of waxed paper to cool. I sprinkled some colorful sprinkles on the ones I'm bringing to Maya's preschool, and some white sugar over the tops of a few others. I left a few plain, just for some variety. I only melted 12 oz. of almond bark when I made mine, and as you can see, I was just a little short. So 16 oz. should be plenty to create 35 perfect balls.

After the almost bark cools into hard little shells on each one, they're ready to eat.

Good luck not eating all 35 of them yourself!
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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Our Christmas Card

Sorry I haven't posted lately...I've been too busy making Christmas crafts to talk about them! Okay, and like, working and parenting too. Anyway. here are our Christmas cards this year. I actually started working on these back in July with Eva. Bob was in Texas at a workshop and we needed a good project. She helped me punch circles and stars and then stamp the inside of the cards. I think we got 10 done. Only 70 more to go...which we did in little dribs and drabs of weekend time, finishing shortly after Thanksgiving. This is a very simple idea I saw a picture of in The Look Book (scrapbooking idea book) that I made even simpler. Just free cut some triangles for the trees and trunks, punched some circles (which I stapled to the tree) and stars (which I adhered with tape runner). I made a background of patterned paper and ribbon to put the trees on and stamped "Happy Holidays!" inside. Look for one in a mailbox near you. However, it probably won't look just like this one. I made these entirely out of scraps...the leftover pieces of paper I save after making a scrapbook no two cards were really alike. It was eco-friendly, less expensive and kind of neat to see little pieces of the past year brought together for our Christmas cards!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

More Legwarmers!

Hey, I might as well tell you, I made TWO pairs of legwarmers. These were pure recycling: I made them with an old sweater.

I know that photo makes my carpet look really gross, but really, it isn't that bad. It's actually pretty white. But my old, non-digital photography somehow made my off-white carpet look like the floor of a crackhouse. Ignore that. Stop looking at it!

I cut the sleeves off of a sweater that was both too large, and also chafing to the new disorder that I've added in recent years to my growing collection of disorders: the one in which I can't wear anything around my neck. No, no, that sweater would not do at all. So I cut into the body of the sweater just a bit for a cuff around the top of the legwarmers, then I turned them inside out, cut more of a calf and knee shape ( I measured around my knee and calf), sewed it back up, finished the top, and turned it right-side out again.

I like them. They don't come over the knee, so they don't really have far to fall, and are made to be a bit slouchy, anyway. They are a great use for a knit you like, but a sweater that you don't.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Leg Warmers

I like to wear skirts, but dang those Chicago winters. If you don't want to wear thick tights around every day (though it's handy to have a couple of pairs of those, too), here's an alternative to waiting for the train in a skirt. Legwarmers!

I don't knit. As of yet, it isn't a crafting project that has held my interest. I think I'm just too impatient. Anyway, lucky for me, you can buy knitted material right off the bolt. This particular piece I bought was on sale for $3 for the whole thing. (In cases like that, I buy first, and figure out what to do with it later.)

I decided to do a LONG pair of legwarmers, so that the cold air didn't hit the tops of my legs. I took three measurements to make these: around the widest part of my thigh, and around the narrowest part of my ankle. Then I measured the length from one to the other. I basically made a long cone.

There were stripes in this material, so I matched those up.

Then I just hemmed the top and the bottom. I also placed a hemmed slit in the bottom at the back, so that I could get the narrow part over my feet when I pulled them on. I also sewed some elastic around the top, so they would cling around my thighs and wouldn't fall down easily. I used a piece of elastic that was just smaller than the measurement around my leg, and stretched it as I sewed it in.

These pull on right over pantyhose or tights, or keep you warm until you get where you are going if you are wearing neither. I might one day sew some short zippers into the back at the ankle, because at this point, you have to pull your shoes off, then pull these off, and then put your shoes back on. Still, I like 'em, and I like the sort of witchy-poo look they came out to having. I especially like the way I seem to have matched up the stripes pretty well!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Variations on a Theme By Gina

Ok, so Gina came up with one use for old t-shirts. This past week, I helped Maya clean all the too-small clothes out of her closet, and came up with another use for old t-shirts, when she looked heart-broken that I asked her to give up her beloved Hello Kitty t-shirt. Darn all that "growing"!I'm sure y'all know how to make a I won't bore you with the details.
I will say, however, that after I was done I had a "wish I had done it differently" moment. The knit t-shirt material is so stretchy, that it makes the pillow pooch all out deformed-like on the front side. If I had been smarter, I would have sewn the shirt square flat to a piece of the polyester fabric, THEN sewn it on to the back of the pillow before stuffing. The added layer of polyester would have given the front a lot better shape.
Here's the back (all nice and normal and pillow-looking).
And here's the front (all crazy and pooching out at the sides and whatnot.)But whatever. Maya is only 4 and she thinks this pillow is the best thing ever. Probably because it has SPARKLES!
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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Crafty Weekend

This weekend I did a couple crafty things that I had never done before. The first was that I took a candle-making class and poured my very own soy candle. The process was very easy, because the teacher already had the wax all melted down, so we just basically poured a layer, waited for it to set, then poured another layer. I thought it was a blog-worthy project, because I learned a few things that I hadn't known before. The first was that regular paraffin-wax candles come from oil, and that buring them is kind of like burning deisel fuel in your living room. Apparently doctors recommend not burning candles if anyone in your home has any kind of respiratory problem because of the indoor air pollution. But, soy candles are not a problem like paraffin candles are. I snagged a list of benefits off a random website for you to peruse:

Soy candles are cheap - Beeswax is a great natural alternative to paraffin, but to get the same results as a soy-based candle, it is very expensive.

Soy wax is a new alternative to paraffin wax that is cost effective. Soy wax is also made from a renewable source.

Soy wax is all-natural - Soy wax is a favorite of environmentally conscious people because it is not made from petroleum, like paraffin candles. Burning of soy candles does not increase the CO2 level in the atmosphere.

Soy candles last longer - They can last up to 50% longer than paraffin candles.

Soy candles spills are easy to clean - It's very difficult to remove paraffin wax from furniture or textiles. Soy wax spills can easily be cleaned up with hot soapy water.

Soy candles produce less soot - Soot should be avoided because it is very unhealthy and can eventually coat furniture and walls. Soy candles produce about 90% less soot that paraffin candles.

Scented soy candles distribute more flavour - The incorporation of soybean oil lowers the melting point of the candle, which translates into cooler burning candles and faster scent dispersion.

Amen to that last one...I was surprised to hear that the candle I made in my little mason jar might have 70-80 hours of burn time.

Ok, on to last night's craftiness. I went to a knitting bee. Ok, actually it was more like trying to learn to knit in the middle of a drunken riot, but that was just because one girlfriend had too much sangria, and another guest was just the loudest person on the face of the earth. And also quite intoxicated. But I persevered in my craft and came away with some Crazy Phat Knitting Skillz.

but I learned how to knit. This is not something I would ever attempt to explain with words or drawings. But I thought that next time I start a project (which won't be for a while, since I started another one today that will take at least a week to complete) I might attempt video-taping the three basic knitting stitches and posting a video knitting tutorial. Because it's really not hard, but I definitely needed someone to show me a few times how to do each maneuver before I could do it on my own. Then this morning I had to run out for yarn and knitting needles, because I knew if I didn't practice some more, I'd completely forget everything in less than a week.

So, that's a subject for another blog...for now I'll just post a picutre of the proof that I knitted something. I was going for a dog scarf (I don't have a dog, but it was small and I couldn't think of anything else to make it into) but I had to just be happy with a 6" x 3" rectangle because it took about 3 hours for me to complete that! And my knitting tutor was trying to teach me how to "bind off" the end...but I didn't quite catch it because she just took over the project and finished it up herself. At the end of the project I'm on now, I'll have to take it over to her house and have her show me again, in slow motion, so I can practice that skill as well. I was pretty impressed the space of an hour last night she taught me how to "cast on" stitches, how to knit, and how to perl. Woot!
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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Seasonal Wreaths

I have noticed a trend on this blog...we something we like and figure out a way we could make it cheaper. That is the same theme of this tale. This past spring, I found a Making Memories wreath kit on sale at Target. It was being clearanced at 9.99, but had originally been over $20. I realized it was a simple concept. Cut small squares of patterned paper. Place pictures on them. Place a frame over those pictures (cut a square out of a square). Adhere. Attach a ribbon to the top of each matted and framed picture (via a hole or staple). Tie the ribbon to a wreath. Voila. So, I made my own, sans kit for summer and fall. I got the wreaths when they were on sale at Hobby Lobby for half-off. So, the whole project costs less than $6 when you do it that way. On the fall wreath I just completed, I used my coluzzle templates and blade (available at most craft stores) to cut out the circles and it made the process much faster. On the summer one, I weaved in some of that sparkly garland that they always sell for various holidays that looks so fun but I have previously never been sure what to do with. Also, I have found that you need to use more than a typical adhesive runner to attach the pictures. The sun tends to make them peel away from the paper. I have used brads and staples to secure them.

I Ain't Afraid of No Manual Labor!

Alright, Gina...this one's for you!

A couple years ago, I got so sick of the astroturf (yes, I said ASTROTURF) that someone had long ago laid on our front porch, that I ripped it off. And was left with a giant glue-stained slab of concrete. It wasn't pretty. We needed a new plan. I went to the tile shop and was told that porcelain tiles work just fine on outdoor areas. So I jumped right in. I rented a wet saw, bought the tile, thin-set & grout and was on my way.

This past winter, the corner tile came up...maybe because I've bumped into that corner with the lawnmower countless times. Anyway, you have to wait for a certain type of weather (no rain for 72 hours, temps between 55 & 80) to work with tile, especially if you're an amateur like me. So while I was waiting, the tile next door also popped up. Too many piano students walking on my porch, I guess.

But this past weekend, I finally had the right weather and enough time to do the repair. And if I can lay tile, YOU can too!

The only stumbling block I had was not being able to get the same color grout, because they discontinued it. But it hadn't really dried true to color anyway, due to my husband using way too much water washing the grout off the tiles when I originally laid them. So I picked a grout a couple shades lighter, and I don't think you'd every know that the two corner tiles had to be repaired.

The hardest part about laying tile is mixing the thin-set and the grout. They should be about the consistency of peanut butter. And in order to mix them in large batches, you have to buy this giant beater thing that you hook to a drill (we burnt out 2 drill motors mixing like this, so I don't know what we were doing wrong.) But it's next to impossible to mix large batches by hand. For the repair though (Thank God), I mixed up just a small batch by hand. The whole repair took less than 20 minutes on two consecutive days. (The thin-set has to dry 24 hours before you can grout). The lady at the tile store asked me if I had used the new mortar that is supposed to be better for outdoor areas, but when I bought supplies at her store two years earlier, no one had mentioned it. But if you want to do an outdoor area, you might ask about it. Also, you should use sanded grout (as opposed to un-sanded) for outdoor tiling projects. The wet saw was a little intimidating, but you have to use one for porcelain tile. For ceramic, I guess you can just score it with a utility knife, then knock it in half. But I think the saw made really clean edges, and it wasn't hard to use. So don't be scared to tile. Brain surgery it ain't...but your body will be hurting the next day!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Mob of Monkeys

In other craft fair news, I've been busy making sock monkeys this week. I had a dozen "red heel socks" tucked away in a basement craft drawer (they've been there since maybe 2003) so I figured I'd turn them into sock monkeys to sell. They are very easy to make, only requiring about 10 minutes each on the sewing machine to make each appendage. Then you stuff everything and hand-stitch the whole thing together. I went for embroidered eyes on these, since I don't want to take a chance on selling one to a dumb lady who might let her baby eat button eyes off and choke to death. If the baby eats the string eyes off...well, that will eventually come out just fine, in more ways than one.

So I could give you a step-by step on the instructions, or I could just show you the instructions that come with every package of these socks. I think I'll be lazy and go for that. Here's the big secret you need to know to make sock monkeys: they ONLY sell Red Heel Socks at Farm & Fleet. You will not find them at any craft store or any department or discount stores. Just Farm & Fleet. I'm sure you could turn out really cute monkeys using other socks, too...I'll have to try that next time. The offical instructions also contain directions on how to make either a little monkey had or a monkey fez, but I just went for the basic monkeys this time. Now I just have to throw them all in the washer so they don't smell like our musty basement any more!
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Saturday, September 15, 2007

What I've Been Up To Lately.....

So every so often I get an itch to create stuff to sell. My latest nudge came from a moms' group that I belong to. They decided to host a "vendor sale" in November for all the moms who have at-home businesses to come and peddle their wares. I don't actually have an at-home craft business, but seeing as how I can't exactly peddle my actual at-home business of piano & voice lessons at a vendor sale, I just made one up. And voila! "Trinkets and Trappings" was born. (Yeah, the fact that I had to come up with a name was kind of lame since I don't plan on this being a regular thing, but they wanted something to call my table at the sale. And "Nicole's Crafty Stuff" didn't sound like it would draw in many shoppers. So, I went to the on-line thesaurus to look up synonyms for "jewelry" and "accessories" then picked two that would make an alliterative title. Anyhoo....)

The thing I've been making lately for this sale is kiddie aprons & smocks. I actually have 3 styles, but one was a little too complicated to photograph well for this forum. So I'm giving you the two easier styles. The first is this two-sided beauty. They're both reverseable, with the inside fabric being the same as the pocket I attached. The ties come out the side seams, so it can be put on with the blue side facing out or the Winnie the Pooh toile facing out and the ties will work exactly the same.
This one was made with a full back. So it's not only reverseable inside-out, but you could actually put it on backwards and it would fit exactly the same. These were both made to fit 12-24-month-olds, so it looks like a real shorty-smock on my 4 1/2 year-old, but you get the idea. On the right-size kid, the hem should hit somewhere in the mid-thigh-to-knee range. To make either of these, make a pattern out of newspaper (you could trace a tank top, then add another 6 inches to the bottom that flare out at the sides. Hold the pattern up to your kid before you cut the material so you can make changes to it if necessary.)

Cut out two pieces of each fabric, then sew the matching pieces, right sides together, at the shoulder seams. I should mention that I picked a cute cotton print fabric and a heavier canvas or denim fabric for the other side, just so the apron would actually have a chance at being thick enough to catch whatever is spilled on it. My sister said that there is also some sort of scotch guarding/waterproofing stuff you can buy to treat the fabric, so I might look into that, too. Ok...back to the instructions: Cut a rectangle of the fancier fabric, and turn the edges in with an iron if you want a pocket for the other side. Stitch the top of the pocket or sew bias tape over the raw edge. Pin the two one-sided smocks together at the shoulder seams (still right sides together), then pin down each side and at the hem. Once it's pinned, cut 4 lengths of ribbon (about a foot long each) and slip them inside the smock (2 in the front half and 2 in the back.) Pin them so they hit at the wait of the apron . The ribbons should be inside the smock, with just enough sticking out each side so you can sew it securely into the side seams, and so you can see that the ribbons line up on the two sides when you fold the smock flat in half.

Stitch the entire way around the outside of the smock. Use the open neckline to turn it inside-out. Iron the smock flat and pin the sides and neckline. Top-stitch the entire way around the outside of the smock, then stitch around the edge of the neckline. Pin bias tape over the neckline seam and stitch that in place. Go have an ice cream sundae. You deserve it!
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Here's apron style #2. This one is a little easier to make. I put a shirt (size 3T) under an apron that I intend to fit the 12-24-month-old crowd. Just so you can see how it would be pretty easy to lay out a shirt a size or two bigger than the ones your kid actually wears and draw out an apron shape on newspaper that you could use as a pattern for this project.

It's sewn pretty much the same way as the first style of aprons. First doing the front pocket, then laying the first side face-up and pinning the neck ribbon & side ties in place (pointed in toward the middle of the apron), then laying the second side on top of the first one so the two sides have their right-sides together. Stick all but a small portion of the hem, turn inside out, iron & top stitck all the way around to finish.

If you were really ambitious, you could put a pocket on both sides, but I figure it's really just for decoration on the "boring side". I mean, how many preschoolers are actually going to carry around their paint brushes or wooden spoons in their big pocket while cooking or crafting? Speaking of that though, I thought this would make a really good birthday or Christmas gift for a little kid if you had the apron pocket full of paints, brushes, markers or other various crafty stuff. Cute and practical!
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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

T-Shirt Blanket

Between the two of us, Chris and I had a lot of old t-shirts that we no longer wear, but just couldn't get rid of for sentimental reasons. Chris still wore some of them to bed, but because of the sentimentality attached, I knew this would eventually mean they would wear out from "threadbare" to "complete disintegration." So I decided to construct a t-shirt blanket, as I'd seen someone construct when I worked at Joann Fabrics.

My t-shirt book has been packed away in storage with some other books (so that we could "stage" our condo for showing), so I kind of just made it up. I made a square template out of cardboard. After a bit of experimenting, it seemed like a template that was 12" x 12" square was the best -- it nicely encapsulated most of the designs. If the logo on the shirt was longer, I just traced a "double" tile onto it, as in the number 12 one that you see in the photo. The next decision that I made was to just use the sports t-shirts, as we had enough of those to make one whole quilt. I reserved some of the other shirts for a future blanket.

I put the template on each shirt, traced the square with a Sharpie, and cut them out. I got two or more tiles out of some shirts, with the front and the back. Then I laid them out on a piece of fleece (though you could also use an old bedsheet) until I found a pattern that fit nicely on the fabric I had. I ended up with a blanket that was 6 squares long by 5 squares wide. I rearranged them until I was pleased with it, then I sewed each square together in rows. Then I sewed each row together. Then I just flipped the whole thing face-down on the fleece, pinned it to the fleece fabric, and cut around it.

The fleece was easy to use, because it has no nap, and no grain. So you can't cut it crooked. I also used some sleeve stripes as an embellishment on one tile. I just sewed it down before hemming the edges, because jersey knit won't unravel.

Lastly, I sewed around the edges, leaving about a foot open. Then I turned it right-side out, ironed the edges and seams, and hand-sewed the open corner. Then I machine-sewed all around it again to tack it down, and keep the top from shifting. That's it! I didn't iron the individual tile seams, or use any batting.

As you can see, there are some real gems in there. There is Kankakee stuff, gradeschool jerseys, my softball jersey from Chris' current company, fundraisers I helped arrange professionally, bike rides Chris has been on, Cubs stuff, Bluejay stuff (Chris' randomly picked childhood favorite), and others. And the whole thing is such a cool mix of Chris and I, it is like a kind of memory album for his life, my life, and our life. I also like the recycling aspect of it. It would be a great use for kids' jerseys and shirts that you just can't bear to get rid of!

And of course, it is super, super soft. Like a body-sized t-shirt!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Fish Cupcakes

Ok, so these aren't the most brilliant creation, but it's time for a new post up in here. We took our kids and a couple of my son's friends to the pool today for Evan's birthday, and to go with the "water theme", Evan decided he wanted to decorate his birthday cupcakes with sea creatures. We have a fancy little candy store here where you can buy all sorts of gummy fish, starfish, seahorses, frogs, dolphins & sharks. We used smarties for "bubbles" and I cut up some sort of sour gummy string to use as seaweed. We made lily pads for the frogs out of sugar I dyed green.

I wouldn't recommend serving cupcakes with blue frosting to anyone over the age of 13 since it's kind of revolting to eat anything blue, but for a bunch of 7-year-old boys, this was as good as it gets. And my kids had a great time decorating the cupcakes, so it was win-win all around!

Friday, August 3, 2007

Craft Idea

Here's a thought... Find cassette tape in dumpster. Make animated short around cassette tape. See? Easy!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


by Brooke
Haven't posted in a while and Gina's post on her What's For Dinner? blog about her sweet nonno inspired me to share this. I am not much as I like to think there is a drop of Italian blood running through my veins somewhere, I'm fairly confident it's all German and French Canadian. But, I love Italian food and Italian people and their attitude about their food. Being friends with the Gianottis and Ciaccios from birth and later with the Patinellas and Segneris, I went to a lot of parties with a lot of food. Love = Plenty to Eat. And I love the command of "mangia! mangia!". Not, "Oh, here, I hope you enjoy this" but "Eat! Eat!" It can be startling with how direct it is, almost seem a bit coarse, but it is loving---like, "don't worry about being dainty or polite---we want to see you fed."
So, here is a picture of Eli that I felt spoke to that. Now, granted we are eating at the Pasta House, which might not be considered truly Italian. But there is spaghetti and there is sauce (I won't go so far as to call it "gravy") and he is enjoying it big time.
To represent the big-ness I love, I used giant chipboard letters for the title, Italian-flag colors in patterned paper by Frances Meyer, a big photo corner by Heidi Swapp (which covered the people in the background fairly nicely), a journaling card by Creative Imaginations, a Bazzil blossom and brad and some Italy stickers that I was given.
And since a post from me would not be complete without a little of my scrapbooking philosophy:
You do not need to fill a book with random shots of your kids eating. But, I like to do pages like this because I believe in scrapping more than birthdays, vacations and holidays and other "special occasions." And, such a page does not have to be about just what is happening in the picture: "Eli enjoying his spaghetti in a messy way" or the date "Summer lunch 2007" but can also be a memory triggered by the picture, or an overall feeling like the one I described above.