Saturday, July 20, 2013

Renaissance Fair time again

Yep.  Its that time of the year again.  I LOVE me some grown-up dress-up.  So what if I never outgrew being 5 and pretending I was a princess?

Years past I have posted random stuff really.  This year is no different.  I am making a peasant/middle class outfit for a friend's girlfriend (she is a friend too so I am not sure why I said it that way, but whatever.  My brain is worthless today).  I had a lot of fun picking out design ideas for her.  Here are the sketches of my initial designs:
This one was my fav, but it was too "upper class."  Darn. I really wanted to make it, too.

Don't know why my scanner beheaded these ones.  Guess my drawing leaves something to be desired.

She liked something along the lines of the drawing on the right from the second set of sketches.  So I am partway through the costume now.  I made the top (from a commercial pattern [Butterick 6196] with some tweaks, of course) and I made all but the clasp on the underskirt, although I made a mistake in my pattern and it will be a bit shorter than I wanted.  I made an 8 gore circle skirt out of triangles but forgot I had to remove some from the top for the waistband.  Oops.  So now its 5" shorter.  Still looks great. Next time I will use trapezoids.  Or make the triangles longer.

Pretty standard, really.
I have the design done for the overskirt, but haven't drafted the pattern yet.  All it will really involve is taking measurements and doing math.  Gross.  Since math went SO well for me on the underskirt.  Its a different style though, so it should be okay.  For this one I am doing a new (to me) technique that takes the waistband out of the center.  I have a skirt that does it.  Basically, you cut two huge semicircles (I'll be doing it with triangles to get the handkerchief hem) and stitch them together except for like 25" or whatever in the very center, and sew the waistband to the middle bit and put your elastic in there and BAM.  You have a SUPER easy skirt.

I will also be making a boned bodice.  That should be pretty straightforward and I plan to use the aforementioned Butterick pattern as my base.  I may make some modifications to the shoulders to add a little flair.  Not sure.  I also (time permitting) want to make a pouch and hairnet for her.  I saw a REALLY neat tutorial on Pinterest on how to make a hairnet, but its in German, so wish me luck.

Also, I made this last year and forgot to post photos.  I have NO idea how I made it anymore since, as with most things, I planned to write down the instructions later since I was too busy to do it as I was working, and now a year has gone by and I have completely forgotten.  I don't even have the finished piece anymore as it was commissioned and is now with its new owner (not that I can't call him up and ask for it back for a day, but still).  When will I ever learn?

An awesome cotton cross body pouch with adjustable strap.  YEAH!  And yes, that is a recycled belt buckle.
Other than a few repairs to my court dress after some abuse it took last year (mostly eyelets coming out... I need to get a proper riveting set) and maybe getting around to a pair of proper breeches for the hubs, I think that is it for this year.  I have not been sewing as much lately since my wedding veils have taken off, and it feels REALLY good to flex that creative muscle again.  Its funny how I binge and then hate sewing, then when I go back I can't remember why I got sick of it!  I'm slowly adding some stuff to my Etsy shop so maybe I can make sewing more a part of my everyday again.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Bleach pen shirt for the cotton anniversary

This is another t shirt craft that I made with a ruined shirt.  Somehow it managed to get some bleach speckles on it - nothing huge mind you, but ugly nonetheless.  Hubs wears these as undershirts anyway, so it stayed in rotation for a good long time, but I finally got tired of seeing him wear it NOT as an undershirt and cringing at the orangey-brown bleach marks.  So I on-purpose bleached the heck out of it!  Stylishly of course...

Stupid bleach spots... I'm gonna cover you!

I made this do double duty as an anniversary gift for Hubs.  I am trying to do a handmade gift every year that corresponds with the traditional list of anniversary gifts (year one is paper, year two is cotton, year three is... well we haven't gotten to 3 years so I don't know yet haha).  Last year I made him a photo book on that was a fairytale starting with how and where we met all the way through our son's birth and so on.  It spanned about 6 years, so there were lots of great pictures and it was both sweet and funny.  This year, I took his shirt and wrote the lyrics to "Lucky" by Jason Mraz and Colbie Caillat.  Bleach pen shirts are all over the interwebz, so I wont go over board on the instructions, but I will share some of my experience with you.

You will need:
a Clorox bleach pen (don't get the color safe one!)
a dark colored t-shirt, preferably a ruined one :-)
several pieces of cardboard that fit in the sleeves and across the whole center of the shirt
latex/rubber gloves
a printed out sheet of your lyrics, poem, whatever
a large work area (I used my floor, but the kitchen table would have been easier)
A full bottle of hydrogen peroxide
A sink or tub for rinsing
a load of whites in the washing machine

Step 1: Arrange your cardboard inside your shirt under the area you want to write on first.  Make sure you slip it between the front and back unless you want bleach bleed through.  I guess that is a look if you want to go for it, but the bleach will soak through unevenly, so beware.  Figure out how you want your writing to look.  If you want, start below the collar to write straight, or you can write on a diagonal across the whole shirt, or you can do a spiral or something else cool - use your imagination.  The song I liked has an interlude by both singers, so I wrote one on each side of the collar then the chorus started across the whole middle.

Step 2: Put on your gloves and begin writing.  Use the narrow tip end of the bleach pen and GENTLY squeeze as you write.  To get it started you may want to dab at a piece of scrap something to get the tip of the pen wet with bleach gel.  You don't need a lot of bleach to make it work, and the less you get out the less it will run and get "blobby" so a thin layer is best.  Just make sure it looks a little wet.  Don't worry overmuch about your penmanship as it will look cool and stylized and nothing like your actual writing, but do leave a little extra space between letters so they don't run together.  Mine is only barely legible, but I like it that way.  Make your letters as big as you want to fit your words well in the pattern you have chosen.  I did a mix of cursive and all caps to lend emphasis and style.  If you want, you can write in chalk first and then trace your letters with the bleach, but I am not that patient, so I went for the big time right away.

Step 3: Write fast.  No, seriously.  You can really damage your shirt if you go too slowly because just like when you get highlights, the bleach is blowing out proteins in the fiber of the shirt which removes the color, but can create holes if you leave it too long.  As you move down the shirt you can skooch the cardboard down with you if you don't have a piece big enough to cover the whole thing, so you aren't bleeding through.  You run less risk of bleed through once you are done writing on the section unless you have saturated the fibers with bleach, which I already told you not to... just sayin.

Step 4: If you are concerned about taking too long to do the whole shirt, take the shirt to the sink and wash out the excess bleach.  Leaving your gloves on, run some water over the shirt and quickly rub out the bleach under the stream.  Work from the top to bottom (or from the words you wrote first to the ones you wrote last).  If you work reasonably quickly and rinse well you wont bleach out the background by rubbing the gel over it.  Squeeze out the excess water.  Pour a little hydrogen peroxide over the lettering until the shirt is saturated, let it sit for a minute or so, then rinse it out.  This will counteract the action of the bleach so you don't continue the chemical reaction blah blah blah.  I used vinegar for mine, but apparently that is super dangerous as the leftover bleach and vinegar can create an INCREDIBLY dangerous gas, so don't do that.  I read up on it since and supposedly peroxide is much safer.  I'm no chemist, so if you injure yourself, please don't sue.  I'm just doin my best here folks :-)  I think I rinsed mine well enough to not run any risk of the chemical reaction, but please be safe.  The gas is so dangerous we are talking one good whiff and you are DEAD.  Double Plus Ungood.

The downside to all this is that you will want to let your shirt at least mostly dry out if not totally before you go back to working on it.  Remember how impatient I am?  But the upside is that you will end up with a much more consistent text color rather than having super light at the top and super dark at the bottom, and the top will be less likely to develop holes over time as you wear the garment.  Again, that whole less damage to the fibers thing.

Step 5: When you are totally done, rinse out the bleach as described in step 4, peroxide it and let it soak for a few, then rinse thoroughly.  Toss in the washer with whites that can handle the bleach (no silk undies) or in an empty washer but shame on you for wasting water, and run a full cycle on hot with two rinses.  I added vinegar to my fabric softener container so it would rinse with vinegar and stop that chemical reaction some more, but again, its up to you to determine the safety factors.  Dry as usual.  For the next few washes you may want to avoid washing with darks that may be damaged by bleach, but by this point with all the chemical neutralizing we have done, you are probably pretty safe.

Bottom Line:
shirt: free for me, but a new one runs maybe $5
peroxide: $1 from the dollar store, maybe less.
Bleach pen: about $3

Total - for me, $3.  Not bad for an anniversary gift!
If you have to buy everything, $9 (depending on how much writing you do, you may have enough bleach pen to do more shirts, too!)

Time: with no stops for rinsing, about 30 minutes plus washing and drying.  With stops for rinsing, about 2:30, maybe more if its a humid day.

I plan to play with this for more shirts that have been ruined by stains, bleach, etc, to give them a cool new life.  I also want to try the spray bottle bleach with a stencil method as that seems like it would go faster and has different options for graphics and large images.  I'm pretty happy with how it turned out and the hubs says he will totally wear it, so hooray!  Happy anniversary baby!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Bigger box is not always better

Costco is great, right?  Everything anyone could possibly need all under one enormous roof.  Food, clothing, electronics, jewelry, even a gas station and auto repair center!  Who doesn't like a one stop shop?

Also, you have this cool membership card that allows you access to all these great deals on bulk items!  Who doesn't like being part of an exclusive club that saves money?!

What a great package!

I love Costco and its other big box companions up to a point.  Don't get me wrong, I shop there from time to time for things like rice, flour, sugar, and canned goods (I go through an ungodly amount of these cooking from scratch all the time), but I always have to do some serious math while shopping because not everything is a good deal.  I am a huge bargain shopper, and I can tell you off the top of my head how much general canned goods, dairy of various types, and meats should cost, on sale, at least for my part of the country.  That serves me well, because I can calculate how much the items at Costco are costing me per unit and compare to my grocery store deals.  And guess what.  Costco is often NOT cheaper.  Not by a long shot.

Here's the rub.  Costco carries name brand products.  Buying in bulk means they don't carry a wide selection of items.  Sometimes they also have their Kirkland store brand, which is often times cheaper, but if not, you are stuck paying name brand prices.  Grocery stores carry name brand, store brand, and off-brand products.  Especially with store brand stuff, they can deeply discount and still make a huge profit margin because they don't have distributors to pay or minimum prices to meet as set by the company.  Therefore, you, the consumer, can pick them up for cheap on sale.  Costco stuff doesn't go on sale.  Costco prices are lower than regular grocery store prices on brand name items.  But don't go blindly assuming that you can do better at Costco than at your local grocery store.

When you add in the cost of the membership, unless you are buying big ticket items like electronics, are doing a lot of catering via their deli, or buy a LOT of things in bulk, its hard to justify doing much shopping at Costco.  You have to save more than $50 per year to just break even. I also think people go bulk happy and get overly excited about buying 6 tons of canned beets, so maybe some of the purchases are a little unnecessary.  Its hard to ignore all the cool stuff, especially when you are "saving so much!"

However, Costco has its place.  It does offer cool stuff like organics and uncommon items like quinoa, bulgur, etc.  It does offer a break on things that seldom go on sale, like flour, sugar, some produce items, etc, and buying those in large quantities really does beat the grocery store prices, if you use it all up in time.  The Kirkland brand stuff is good quality and you can save a bundle over the national brands.  If you already buy a lot of brand names and packaged foods, you can save some money.  For things I don't like to sacrifice quality on, such as toilet paper and paper towels, I like the Kirkland brand because it is still reasonably priced.

Some tips for getting out with your wallet in tact?
1) STICK TO A LIST! Costco is very alluring, but unlike the grocery store where an impulse buy may cost you $5, Costco can easily hit you at $20 or more.

2) Know your prices.  If you know how much a sale price for cheese or meat is before you shop, you can make the best selections and skip the not so great deals.  Keep a calculator handy if you need to!

3) Shop with friends and family.  I piggyback off of my in-laws' membership so I'm not out the annual fee, otherwise I don't think the savings would amount to much.  We also split large boxes of some stuff so we can cut the cost in half and are less likely to waste items that have gone stale or spoiled.

4) Only go periodically and buy products you know.  I wait till I am out of several items before I make a Costco run.  I come home with less unnecessary items if I go less frequently, plus my grocery budget has a chance to build up before I drop $150 on one grocery trip. Also, I try to avoid lots of new items so I am not stuck with a huge case of something I don't like.

Well, there you have it!  Big box stores can be a great way to save for your family, but be careful and compare prices. These tips also apply to dollar stores, so know your prices, stick to a list, and you will be okay!  Happy shopping!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Things they don't tell new moms

Several of my friends are expecting and due very soon or just had babies.  And lots and lots of us have small children and are going through that insanity all together.  I decided I would dedicate a blog post to non-traditional advice.  Here are some of the most useful things I was told, or I seriously wish someone had told me so I didnt feel like an idiot or like a horrible mom.  These are my top 10 pieces of advice for new moms (dads, too, but this is written with moms in mind).

1) Your kid will roll off the bed, couch, or changing table, eat dirt, hit his or her head, swallow a non-food item, bleed on occasion, and otherwise attempt to maim himself/herself.  This is normal.  This does NOT make you a bad parent or neglectful.  Someone once told me that moms in Africa let their babies touch the fire once so they learn not to touch fire.  This is how they learn, and truly, what doesn't kill them makes them stronger.  Babies are built to learn things the hard way.  And you CAN NOT watch them every second.  See also: running fevers, diaper rashes, and throwing huge tantrums in the middle of the store.

2) You will hate your baby from time to time.  Some people feel it more than others, but at some point you will probably be so exhausted, frustrated, confused, and overwhelmed, you will want to give your child away or maybe even be tempted to do something like throw them out the window (my personal feelings on many an occasion when little man would not sleep for love or money).  This is normal.  You aren't a bad mom.  The thoughts are super scary, but you wont hurt your baby (if you think you will, seek counseling - the feelings are still normal but you could probably use some help).  You are totally capable, and you CAN do this, but you need a break.  Go get a friend, dad, your parents, a neighbor, anyone.  Take a few minutes to yourself, and longer if you can.  If no one else is around, put the baby in a safe place like the carseat (inside only please) or crib and take a break.  Go to a place you cannot hear him or her and breathe.  Don't watch the clock, just chill for a little while until you feel better.  You still need a real break later, but that will help get you through.  When you can, take a long shower, go shopping, or do something without baby for a while and focus on you.  You need breaks, and your baby needs to get used to periods where you are unavailable.  (my mom said she wanted to smother me with a pillow once just so I would stop crying... not really maliciously, but still shocking unless you are living it!)

3) You deserve to have a partner for night feedings.  So many moms who are on maternity or stay at home feel that if dad is getting up to go to work, he must sleep undisturbed all night.  WRONG!  If you are bottle feeding, let dad take a shift overnight.  If you are nursing, try what hubs and I did - he woke up and diapered, then I nursed little man back to sleep and put him back in his cosleeper.  The little extra help kept me from waking up totally, so all of us fell asleep faster.  Do what works for you, but just because he is at work does not make dad unavailable at night.

4) Keep an extra outfit in the diaper bag.  Not for the baby; that goes without saying.  I am talking about YOU.  And as soon as you leave it in the trunk of your car someone else will drive.  And there is nothing worse than smelling like poop from a blowout diaper or like vomit from that one last burp at a fun party that you really don't want to leave because its the first one you've been to in weeks.  Wearing your old gym shirt is better.  I promise.

5) You do not need every dang gadget on the face of the planet. Baby manufacturers do not make products to make your life easier.  They exist for one purpose only: to separate you from your money.  Aside from the basics like a crib, carseat, and high chair, stuff that you do need you can probably borrow.  I have a swing up for grabs.  And let other people buy the toys.  If you have any surviving family members they will spoil the heck out of that kid.

6) Ask for help.  You can't possibly do all the laundry, make meals, take care of older kids, blah blah blah, and be superwoman.  Women before us had sisters, mothers, in laws, friends, etc to help them with new babies.  We as modern women need to learn to ask for help.  Chances are all of the above would LOVE a little face time with the new baby while you shower or would love to come over and bring you a lasagna and give a kissy and a snuggle to the bundle of joy.  The flip side of this one is that people are NOT allowed to come see the baby unless they do something for you, ie: bring food, clean something, baby sit, etc.  People will break your door down wanting to visit.  Put those visitors to work!  They probably don't mind and even if they do, that will just ensure they don't come back to bug you.

7)  They will not remember their first birthday.  Or Christmas.  Or Easter, or Valentine's Day, or Groundhog Day, or Arbor day.  Don't panic if you don't pull out all the stops for every holiday.  Sometimes you're just too tired, and that is okay.  A quiet little gathering at home with just you two or three is just fine.  No one will be disappointed.  Promise.  In ten years no one will even remember.

8) No one knows your baby better than you do.  Read all the books you want, listen to the doctors, listen to parents, friends, strangers, but follow your heart.  Your mother's intuition and what you feel is right for you and your baby is almost always the best answer.  I hesitate to say always for fear of the exception trolls, but in my experience, always. Parenting comes with some tough decisions: cosleeping, feeding, discipline, teaching, potty training... Others know what worked for them, what worked for the majority, or what works scientifically, but only you know what works for your family.  With that, ignore any conflicting advice, including the ones listed here as it applies.  Tell pushy advice givers that you will "take that under consideration" to get out of agreeing with them.

9) Your nursery does not need to look like it fell out of the pages of a magazine.  Buy stuff that you can second hand, so long as it is safe, in good condition, and not recalled or anything.  Not everything has to match or follow a theme (or even be gender appropriate colors).  It will be a whole lot easier to dress your baby in a fancy dress that will probably be pooped and spit up on inside of 5 minutes when you only paid $5 and not $50 for it.  It will stress you out much much less when something does get ruined.  Plus, other babies only stay in clothes for about 5 minutes, too, so many used clothes look brand new because they were only worn once!  And trust me, your son doesn't care that he is eating off of bunny rabbit plates and got dried off with a pink towel.  It will not scar him for life.

10) He/She is just a BABY.  Babies don't do naughty or annoying things on purpose.  They don't wait till you are eating to be hungry or wake up 6 times between 1 and 5 AM just to spite you.  It will feel like it.  But when you are at the end of your rope, take a break and tell yourself that he or she is just a helpless little one and that you mean everything to him or her, and that is why he or she wont sleep unless you are right there.  Remember how you looked forward to meeting him or her and relish the sweet moments where you are the center of his or her world.

Well, those are my top 10.  What is your advice for new moms/dads?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Orange cranberry rice recipe

Hey everyone!  I am super excited to share a tasty recipe I MADE ALL BY MYSELF.  That's right.  I rule.

Downside.  It was a last minute weeknight meal discovery, and I have no photos.  But I am sure you will do just fine.

Orange-cranberry rice with toasted almonds
1c almonds
1/2 c dried cranberries
2 c white jasmine rice (brown jasmine would work great too, but the cooking times will be different)
3 1/2 c water
1 orange

1) in a medium saucepan, combine the water and rice.  Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.

2) Rinse the outside of the orange off and remove labels, etc.  Zest the entire orange over the pan.  Cut the orange in half, and use a citrus press or your hands to squeeze the juice of the orange into the pan.  Add cranberries and gently fold to combine everything, being careful not to bruise the grains of rice (over stirring will make the rice very sticky). Cover the pan and cook about 20 minutes, or until rice is tender and all the water has been absorbed.

3) Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350.  Coarsely chop the almonds with a knife.  I have not yet found an "easy" way to do this that keeps my fingers safe, so just chop each one, one at a time.  You don't need to cut them really finely, just into 3 or 4 pieces from each almond.  Bigger gives more crunch!  Spread the nuts out on a baking sheet and bake the almonds about 7 minutes, or until they are lightly golden brown and fragrant.

4) Fluff the cooked rice with a fork and scoop onto a plate.  Sprinkle the nuts on top of the rice and serve.

I made this VERY impromptu side with Caribean Jerk Chicken that my hubs grilled up along with some veggie kabobs.  The sweet rice went very well with the spicy chicken, and the smoky grilled flavor of the veggies.  I wouldn't pair it with anything bland as I think the flavor will be really off, but with something spicy, it is perfect.  Hope you like it!

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

30 second workout

Okay, okay, I admit.  I sensationalized the title in hopes of getting some extra interest.  But wait!  Don't leave!  You really can work out in 30 seconds!

Back story: I had a baby almost a year and a half ago.  I've since lost my baby weight and I fit in my clothes, but I feel like my body is not the same.  My abs look stretched out and I have really let myself get weak and have basically no tone.  Last spring and summer I was way too overwhelmed to do anything about it, so I got myself a one-piece swimsuit and called it a day.

I'm not pale, I'm porcelain...

Now I am not saying I ever want to show off my playboy bunny print bikini again since I am someone's MOM after all, but I'd like to avoid letting myself go just because I am "too busy" to care about my health and my figure.  I REALLY REALLY don't have time to work out.  I know lots of people use that as an excuse, but I see it more as a hurdle to be overcome than an excuse.  I have a lot of obstacles to doing traditional workouts: we only have one car, so during the day I can't get to a gym and at night I try to spend time with the family; we live in a climate that has seasons, so its often too hot or too cold to work out outside; we have a small condo, and I don't have room for exercise equipment or even much room to do regular floor workouts; I am very busy between caring for my family and running my small business, and I don't have large blocks of time in my day, so it has to be quick; I don't have money in the budget to pay for basically ANY equipment, even the cheap ones; and finally and probably the most "overcome-able" is the fact that I HATE HATE HATE working out in the traditional way.  I hate lifting weights, if you want to see me run, mention a treadmill and I will run AWAY from it, and just about every workout bores me to tears.  That was fine when hubby and I were ballroom dancing all the time and I could trick my body into working out, but now, well, no time, no sitters, etc etc etc.

So let's see. Has to be at home, preferably indoors, no large (or really even small) equipment, can be done in a small space, can be done quickly, and isn't mind numbing.

My answer is doing simple PE style workouts throughout the day.  It sounds silly, and to be honest it feels silly while I am doing it, but its the only way I could cram a real workout into my incredibly busy schedule.  I do things like lunges, squats, jumping jacks, planks, and something that is apparently called a burpee pushup (saw it on TV once and had to google it to figure out what it was called) randomly throughout the day.  I keep a list that I check off daily on Remember the Milk, a great little app that I use in general for to-do lists, and it automatically repeats for the number of sets I decide on every weekday - I take weekends off to rest and play.

The best part is, I don't do them all at the same time.  I don't do a solid 20 minute workout.  Its hard for me to carve 20 consecutive minutes out of my day, but it is remarkably easy to take 1 or 2 minutes here or there to do a set of lunges.  I do a 30 second plank while heating up my son's lunch in the microwave.  When the timer on the microwave goes off, I can get up.  Its super silly, but that is dead time in my day, anyway!  I do 50 jumping jacks during play time in the mornings and afternoons with little man, and he bounces up and down right along with me.  I feel like a good mom, setting the example of being active and not just being a couch potato.  We turn on some music and bounce to the beat!

By the end of the day I have anywhere from 5-20 minutes of workout under my belt, depending on how many sets I do.  Each set takes about one minute, and I am so out of shape, it usually is only about 10 reps, but over the course of the day I get in a decent amount of exercise.  Is it going to transform me into a bodybuilder? No.  Is it the ideal way to work out?  Probably not.  Is it better than nothing?  Man, I hope so!  Even though its not the fat burning, butt busting Insanity workout, its something realistic I can do and let me tell you, I really do feel the results.  I have sore abs the next day, I feel the strain in my legs, and the hubs swears I look better.  (I think he is just trying to get a little lovin, but I will take a compliment no matter what the motivation!)  It's several weeks in and I am actually sticking with it, although I do better some days than others.  I try not to feel guilty, and just keep making it a part of my routine.  As I go, I am increasing the reps per set and adding new exercises to the mix.  Wall sits are the next thing on the list!

Now I get to pick your brain.  What quickie exercises do you like that I can add to my routine?  I initially wanted to do something about my legs and abs, so I am pretty light on cardio and arms.  Any suggestions?  I'm looking for something that doesn't take any equipment so it fits in the budget and that can be done quickly so it fits in my day.  There are lots of great ideas out there, though, so keep them coming!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Homemade Sugar Free Applesauce

I started making applesauce for my son because I didn't trust commercial applesauces to actually be healthy and sugar free, and those little jars of baby food are way overpriced for just applesauce.  And then my husband tried it, you know, just licking off the spoon while feeding the baby.  Or something.  And now I am not ALLOWED to buy the store stuff haha.  Admittedly, I sometimes add a little brown sugar to get the apples to release their juices faster and add that caramel flavor, but its really not needed and I love the taste without.  This is a rough recipe because I usually make it "till it looks right" but I absolutely hate it when people say that in recipes, so I have done my best to measure things and time things at least generally.  Feel free to tweak where needed! :-)

Homemade Applesauce

4 Lbs of Apples - a mix of varieties is fine, and even recommended as long as they cook at roughly the same speed.  Choose a bagged bulk apple to save money.  Avoid using flavorless or overly tart apples like red delicious and granny smiths.  Try McIntosh, Pink Lady, Gala, Golden Delicious, or another tasty, firm fleshed variety.
2 t cinnamon
1/2 c raisins
Paring knife or peeler
chef's knife/santoku
Large stockpot or saucepan with a lid
food processor, blender, or potato masher
containers for storage

That's it!

1) Peel your apples using a paring knife or a vegetable peeler.  I prefer a knife because I think it actually goes faster while doing a better job and giving me more control, but I do tend to waste a little more apple.  If using a knife, make sure it is good and sharp to avoid slipping and cutting yourself!  Sharp knives are WAY less dangerous!

2) Once all your apples are peeled, use your chef knife to cut them into thin slices.  Rather than coring them the traditional way (cut into fourths and cut out the core with a paring knife, then slice into tiny wedges) which makes it hard to get even slices, try my way.  Put the apple on the board and place your knife about 1/4-1/2" away from the core.  Slice away that piece.

Put the apple cut side down on the cutting board and slice the same 1/4-1/2" away from the core on each side.

Turn to one side and cut out the last chunk.
I cut into the core which leaves hard pieces in the applesauce. Ick...
Hopefully you will have cleared the core!  If not try out a little farther on the next apple.  Slice each piece into thin slices (about 1/8" or so).  Try to keep your slices even.  If you have to, it is better to cut larger slices than to have uneven slices, because they will all cook at the same rate.  If you are very unsure of slices, cube them up.  Cubes work fine, but takes a little longer to cook.
Had to show off my good slicing!
3) Preheat your saucepan/stockpot on medium.  After all the apples are sliced, toss them in the pan.  They should sizzle just a tiny bit.  Cover the pot.  Stir them every 5 minutes or so, but try to keep them covered to keep in the moisture.  If the apples are sticking to the bottom, add a small amount of water (a Tablespoon or so) to loosen them up.  You may need to add more water if you have less juicy apples, but you would be surprised at how much water the apples release, and you are just diluting flavor when you add water, so hold off unless its absolutely necessary to keep them from burning!

If you don't see any steam, add a little water to the pot.
4) Cook about 15 minutes until the apples are starting to break down.  Add cinnamon and raisins to the pot. Cover and cook another 10-15 minutes until the apples are nicely broken down and the raisins are plump.

5) Dump the apples into a food processor or blender, or leave them in the pan and use a potato masher to smash them up (they may need to be a little more tender for the potato masher... use your judgement.  This is part of that "cook it till it looks right" thing haha).  Blend or process until the apples are in small pieces or completely blended if you want to use as a first food for babies.  I leave it chunky now because my 15 month old can handle it, but when he was first starting solids I added a little water or 100% juice and pureed the heck out of it!  It is delicious warm, or you can refrigerate 5 days or so, or freeze it in portions and thaw when you want it.  Makes roughly 5-6 cups. (10-12 jars of baby food)

Just add spoon.

If you like, you can add other dried fruit, add ginger or nutmeg with the cinnamon, or add some sugar.  Play with it and make it your own!  Hope you like it!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Live Well Network

I have been so stuck on TV lately.  Its the end of winter, but its still cold, I am getting stir crazy, its grey and dark and not energizing... TV soothes me.  I am a bad person, I know.  Moving on.

I discovered a new network.  Its probably only local, but its part of my channel 4 band - I don't know what to call those "dash" channels yet...  Anyway, for me it is 4-3, part of NBC I think.  Locals, correct me if I am wrong.  I don't really watch the regular channel enough to know lol.

Anyway, it is like PBS for grown ups.  Its a lot of silly, cheaply produced shows with a crap load of content. The hosts are unpolished, there are repeats and obvious filler episodes from time to time, the editing is so so at best and often times it shows, as the commercials cut off some of the transitions, but the CONTENT.  Damn!  It spans everything I love from AMAZING cooking shows (admittedly my favorite) to interior design shows (admittedly my least favorite).  There is even a show called Deals that has great (and some not so great) ideas for how to save money.  Its like they reached in my brain and decided to make a network for me.  I actually like the not so polished look and feel as it is less produced and more human.

My favorite shows are the cooking ones, which are fantastic.  I still love America's Test Kitchen on PBS, but I have to say, Best Recipes Ever, Mexico: One Plate At a Time, and the best one, Let's Dish, are creeping in as my favorites.  I have made several recipes from Best Recipes Ever so far, including an apple, cabbage, and bratwurst braise that was fabulous!  I am dying to try out the decadent mexican recipes.  The host of the Mexico show is a master chef down in Chicago and his recipes are awesome and totally from scratch, but I have to go hunt down some of the ingredients.  Let's Dish is the perfect fusion of fancy foods and less fussy stuff.  They have great tips on prep and how to do things like slice an onion like a chef, which I love watching, but they have everything from microwave meals (not my speed) and simple, modern french fancy foods.  I can't really explain - just watch!

The cooking shows aren't all of it though.  Many of the other shows have great DIY projects, like Mirror/Mirror which is a fashion and beauty show, the kind of annoying talk show, Steven and Chris, and of course, Deals.  I love DIY ideas, and while many of them are not earth shattering, I have gotten some good ideas.  And its not Divorce court during daytime hours, which in itself is worthwhile!

Okay, now that my newest secret is out, I will start crafting again soon.  I have been busy making stock for a  friend's business (I put things in her shop on consignment) so check that out at, but I will post some new tutorials someday... I promise!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sheer clothing and etiquette

Now that sheer tops are all the rage (again) I feel that I need to send out a PSA. I know this is not in the vein of most of my posts, but fashion is actually really important to me. And since this is my blog I can do whatever I want.

I was at the bank last week and I saw an adorable teller wearing an equally adorable top. I had to restrain myself from calling it 80s for fear of offending her, but that's totally what it was. It was a sheer white top with a collar that turned into a tie. Just like every dress shirt in my mother's closet. Her mantra: If you hang on to anything for 30+ years it will eventually be popular again.

The problem was, she was at work. She couldn't very well show any skin, so she opted for a white spaghetti strap tank underneath. All you could focus on was the tank, which may as well have been outlined in red chalk. It totally stole the focus.

When wearing sheer tops, modesty is still important. We don't want to end up the talk of the town because we skipped the undergarments. Ahem celebrities.

But we also don't want those undergarments to take center stage, unless done purposely like a teal bra with a black top. So how do we keep the shirt the main attraction?

Nude. I don't mean streaking. Wear something underneath that is skin tone. I swear it makes all the difference. You still get covered up, and actually LOOK covered, but you leave the eye drawn to the details of your top, not to the lines of your straps.

The proof is in the pudding: here we have a great turtleneck that I love. I also have one in black. But they are very thin cotton and stuff shows through.  So, what color bra do you wear with a white shirt?  White!

Hello.  Everyone now KNOWS that I chose a white bra.  How lovely.

But the correct answer is, choose a NUDE bra.

MUCH better!  You see, the nude bra is closer in shade to your skin tone, so it blends beautifully.  The white one just emphasizes the contrast between the fabric and your skin, leaving an unsightly outline.  And I am REALLY white, so don't use that as an argument.  This bra isn't even close to my skin color, but its a heck of a lot closer than stark white.  The same principle is true with a black top.  Which may leave you wondering, why do I have so many black and white bras if they can both be replaced by one, nude colored bra?  Goooooood question... ;-)

Friday, February 22, 2013

Local Ethnic Groceries

I have been really uninspired lately hence the lack of blog posts and boring posts that I do post.  Then today I did a crap ton-o-running around and it hit me - I have GOT to share my little secret with you!

I went to my favorite little secret spot.  My local Indian grocery.  The people there are very nice, its family owned, and it has amazing GEMS for sale.  I get "weird" (read: Indian or Thai) food there every once in a while, but I mostly hit them up for spices.  They have GREAT deals on good quality spices.  Granted they come in a plastic baggie that I have to store somehow to keep them from getting all cakey, but that is why I obsessively hoard empty spice bottles.  That is another issue for another day, however.

Anyway, I bought a whole ounce of bay leaves, a giant bag of mustard powder, mustard seeds, pink Himalayan salt, and a bag of cinnamon sticks.  All for like $12.  Whoa.  And it's not just the Indian groceries that rule.  Back in California I used to hit up the Korean groceries and the Japanese ones.  So much yummy stuff.  The coolest part is they carry unusual items that for foodies is just too interesting to pass up.  And its always affordable.

But wait, there's more!  I also used to go to the Indian section of town to check out all the other cool stuff, like saris, other clothing, bangle bracelets, Indian music CDs and movies, and all the other AMAZING stuff that you just can't find anywhere else.  I admit that I didn't brave the clothing shops and henna salons without my Indian friends as guides, but everyone was really nice once they got over me being interested in their culture.  Usually, they were a little like... why?  Oh, ok, cool.  Here's some neat stuff! Just remember that in many cultures bartering is the way to go.  Some times its okay and sometimes not.  When in doubt, ask a native!

So, go.  Explore.  Enjoy!!!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


I like great companies. I love small businesses. I feel good about buying US made. I like crafting supplies. I seek out good prices. I demand good customer service. I am impressed by sincerity.

Dear reader, this may not interest you in the least, but I felt obligated to tell you about the new and improved wazoodle. It's a website that sells cloth diapering and other supplies to the general public. Let me take a moment to disclaim: I don't work for them I get no money from them and I get no stuff from them unless I pay for it. Which I do. And will continue to.

Anyway, if you are into making your own cloth diapers or accessories, you may have heard of them. They used to be a Canadian based company, but after scathing reviews because of poor customer service and slower than slow shipping, they went up for sale. It is now run out if New Jersey and the new owners seem so awesome! They have scads of new products, all made by the same factories to keep the product quality high (that was the one good thing about the old wazoodle), but such a better attitude. The prices are great, shipping is much more affordable, and I don't have to feel guilty buying from a foreign company (business? In NJ. Products? Manufactured in the states. Yay!)

I get my PUL there, barrel stoppers, drawstring cord, and various other items. They have a great selection of organic fabric, including tons of bamboo.  It is a great resource for natural diapering options, especially.  Looks like they are carrying KAM plastic snaps and presses, too. I used for that, but who knows?! I may switch! Anyway, this may not affect you at all, but I felt moved to shout to the world that a crappy supplier of great products is now a customer friendly, US company. They deserve a second chance. My newest order is placed. Hooray!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Tee Shirt Nightie

In honor of St. Valentines day, I am posting a totally frivolous project!  On the plus side, it is super simple.  On the down side, it is fussy, which is something I hate in projects.  I like quick and clean and neat and exact... But making over something into something else usually comes with some fudging that you have to clean up later, so deal. Haha.  But seriously.

I have been seeing all these tutorials all over Pinterest on how to make over a tee shirt into something else: a cowl neck tee, a slouchy shirt, a ruffled something, a multi layered maxi skirt, a portable jungle shanty... okay maybe not that last one.  So instead of hating, I joined in the fun.  I wanted to make something SEXY.  A sultry nightie comfy enough to sleep in, but hot enough to make Gisele and Heidi beg to slip it on.  And because I used lace I already had and an old tee shirts that belonged to hubby it was COMPLETELY FREE.  I am totally using this as his V-day present.  How nice to me to give him something that already belonged to him.

Oh Yeah!
Tee Shirt to Nightie Makeover
One Tee Shirt
Sewing machine and thread
Edge lace in a fun color (optional)

Step 1: Make sure your tee shirt is large enough.  I know this sounds stupid, but I am a small or x-small and I used a large and it was only just barely long enough.  I would have rather cut off the bottom hem of the shirt, but I had to leave it on to leave a little something to the imagination. That is the point of lingerie after all...

Step 2: Remove the sleeves and the neck hole binding.

Step 3: Slip on the tee and stand in front of a mirror.  Pin the sides of the shirt to match the sides of your body.  Pin under your arms first, and make sure the armholes are small/large enough, as well just fitting your bustline. Next, pin the bottom and the natural waist.  If you are unlike me and actually have hips, you may want to put in a pin at the widest point of your hips as well to make sure the curve of the tee hugs yours.  Repeat on both sides.  Make sure that you keep the sides perfectly centered and that you are not tugging the center of the shirt to one side or the other.

All pinned in place.
Step 4: Pin the shoulders where you want to cut the straps to.  You may want to put in more than one to get the right shape.  I used a v neck tee so it gave me an awesome neckline automatically, but this is when you would want to pin the neckline, too.  Just as a warning, if you do choose to use a v, the point of the v is a weak point and may tear... not that mine did... yeah.  That is what that pin in the middle is doing...

Step 5: CAREFULLY take off the shirt without unpinning it.  Lay it out flat and cut away the excess to the outside of the pins leaving about 1/2" as a seam allowance.

Step 6: Fold the tee shirt in half long ways so the left and right sides are matching up.  Line up the bottom edges of the tee and fold it so the front and back are overlapping.  Round off the corners.

Step 7:  Unfold the tee shirt and line up the side seams, right sides together (it should be inside out).  Pin them together, easing them together and trimming them as needed to even them out... this is the fussy part I hate.  But stick with it.  Perfection isn't imperative. That's what I kept telling myself and it turned out fine... :-)

Step 8: Stitch the side seams.  Try on your creation.  If you like, you can end here.

Step 9: Pin the lace to the bottom edge and the neckline and stitch.  You will have to miter the edge at the v in the neck (if you have one) and at the point where the side seams meet.

Mitred edge on the side seam
Step 10: Now you have a truly hot little number.  Wow your man.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

slimming down my life

I just finished reading a book that changed the way I look at the world and at life.  7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, by Jen Hatmaker, is just that, an experiment.  Written journal style, she goes through 7 months of reduction in 7 areas, one for each month.  Things like stuff, stress, media, food, and more... things we all probably have too much of.  It made me look at life in a completely new way.  And I really mean that.  I look around my home and see all the stuff on all my shelves, the food in my pantry and my fridge, the leftovers in the garbage, and I cannot bear to have it there any longer.  I feel like such a hypocrite.  I see all the need around me in my immediate community and in the global community, and I say that I love these people, that I care, that I wish I could help, and yet I hoard my things, comforting myself with the material, and feeling empty and hollow inside.  I don't know if this will fill the emptiness and discontent in my heart, but I do think it is a first step in the right direction.

I have decided to get rid of some stuff.  Things I like but don't need.  THIS MAKES ME UNCOMFORTABLE.  I am taking baby steps.  Please don't judge me too harshly. I am just learning to let go. The first thing on the chopping block is surprising to me.  Its something I LOVE.  It is what made me feel part of a group in high school when I was too terribly awkward to fit in anywhere.  It is my manga collection.  I know, I know, I am a closet nerd.  Manga, for those who are unfamiliar, is the term for Japanese comic books.  Its the print companion to anime, Japanese cartoons.  It is all in english, but it doesn't come cheap.  Each volume ranges from about $10-$20 a piece, and there are often 10, 20 or sometimes more volumes per series.  And I have like 8 different titles.  THAT IS A LOT OF MONEY.  I rationalize saying I got good deals from going to conventions and buying them from half price books, which is true, but even half of that is a crazy huge amount of money.  And I do think that most of them I bought brand new at full pop...

So, here is the thing.  I don't want to just give all my stuff away.  After all, I paid really good money for it.  And I feel that that money could go to a good cause.  I picked Kiva as the organization I would like to give my Manga money to.  That being said, I am going to sell them all at a STEAL (yes that means I haven't figured out how much to charge yet).  But I want them to go to the right person if possible... Someone who will love them, someone who will enjoy them.  Someone who maybe loves Japanese culture because it is the only thing that makes them feel a part of a group during an impossibly awkward point in their lives?  So much to ask for, I know...  So I am appealing to you, dear reader.  Help me find the perfect recipient.  I'm also posting them on Craigslist as a fail safe, but hey, I'd rather have a face and a story to go with it all...  Post comments on this post if you know of someone.  Thanks!

Oh and stay tuned.  I may need your help.  I think DVDs are next.  Seriously, God help me...