Monday, October 31, 2011

Nook Bag

Gabriela never leaves home without her Nook. 
I've been so nervous that it'll eventually plunge to its death on one of our outings.
Yesterday in church, I noticed that she was taking sermon notes on her Nook, so it gave me an idea.

I've made a couple of messenger bags recently using a tutorial that I found.
I promise that I listened to the sermon yesterday, but I was momentarily distracted as I figured out in my head how I'd use what I already know to make a smaller bag for the Nook.
I couldn't wait to get home and start on it!

I called Gabriela into the sewing room and asked her if she has any favorites among my fabrics. Apparently, she's had her eye on a particular combination ever since I made this.
I didn't tell her what I was planning to do, which made it even more fun.
While Gab watched football with her daddy, I worked happily on my idea.

This morning I quickly made a tissue pouch to match her bag. I mentioned recently that the tutorial for the tissue pouch is no longer available; but I should have mentioned that the author has made the pattern available for purchase. (I just figured it out on my own.)

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Trying Again

I love to cook;
but if I walk into the kitchen and find a mess, I can't even slice an onion or boil water without first getting everything organized.
(I am my father's daughter.)

Not so in the sewing room!
I've been itching to conquer this project (and to get it done in time to post on Amy's Sew & Tell for this week).

When I entered my sewing room after breakfast this morning, I had a moral dilemma:

Clean first?
Or just dive into the project?

It was a hard mess to resist...

... but resist I did!

I made a similar messenger bag a while back. It was intended for a friend, but I wasn't pleased with the results. Today I was determined to try again. I'm pleased this time. I just love this tutorial.

This toile fabric was used for the exterior of the first bag. I still had plenty left, so I used it for the lining of this one. I "heart" the black exterior fabric, but it sort of reminds me of the test that the eye doctor gave to assess my astigmatism.

And now I have some cleaning to do...

Friday, October 28, 2011

Happy 16th Birthday, Craig Grayson

I'm sure that I should include a more recent photo for his birthday, but I'm feelin' this one right now.

Sixteen years ago today, the Lord gave us our first male child.
What a privilege it's been to have this treasured arrow in our quiver!

"Be strong and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in His ways and keeping His statutes, His commandments, His rules, and His testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn"
1 Kings 2:3

This is the best birthday cake I've ever eaten (aside from my parents' home-baked treats in Pittsburgh), and it's worth every minute in the gym!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pumpkin Granola Bars

I finally fell asleep last night after brainstorming some breakfast ideas, and I want to share one with you here.

Although we're still wearing shorts and sleeveless shirts in late October here in the Houston area, there are pumpkins seemingly everywhere.

If you don't roast fresh pumpkin, you should. It's far superior to the stuff in the can, and there's little labor required. Simply cut it in half, scoop out the inside (being sure to save the seeds for roasting separately), and place each half face-down on lightly-oiled baking sheets. Roast at 350°F until the rind begins to sink in the middle. Let it cool, scrape away the rind, and store the pumpkin in freezer bags for later use.

Anyway, as I was lying in bed unable to sleep (my to-do lists tend to rob me of slumber), I suddenly thought of a granola bar recipe that I wanted to convert.
The friend who gave me the recipe uses either honey or orange marmalade in hers, but I've always substituted with apricot preserves.

This morning, I decided to try using pumpkin pureé.

I can't say enough how thankful I am for baking stones. They truly are a kitchen wonder!

To be honest, my bars don't always maintain their shape. It may be a tell-tale sign that I haven't added enough moisture to the mix. This morning was no different. Most of the bars fell apart when I removed them from the pan. When this is the case, I simply dump them all into my big granola jar to be served later with yoghurt! 
Everybody wins.

I managed to set this relatively-intact bar aside for a quick phone photo before dumping it into the jar with the rest.

Pumpkin Granola "Bars"

4 C oats
(pulse in food processor to resemble quick oats)

3/4 C melted butter

1/2 C sucanat
(or honey granules, aka "Savannah Gold")

1/2 C pumpkin pureé 
(mixed with 1 T agave nectar, if you prefer it sweeter)

1 C chopped pecans

1/2 C flax seeds

1/2 C dried cranberries

(Feel free to use other nuts/seeds of your choice.)

Bake at 400°F for 15-18 minutes.

Cool and cut into bars... or dump into your granola jar!

(If you're a coffee drinker, check out our friend's site. This is what completed my yummy breakfast this morning.)

ETA: I posted a revised version of this recipe here with some tweaking of the details for better results, thanks to my sweet friend, Lauren. :-)

Friday, October 21, 2011

I Did It! (Finally)

I mentioned earlier that I've been planning to make a duvet cover for Gabriela, but I had hoped to surprise her.
I've had my eye on this fabric for a couple of years, and I finally bought it recently at a 50%-off sale.
The only thing I still lacked was a window of time with Gabriela away from the house, so as to surprise her.

Today was that day.
After searching a bit online for some direction, I had it all figured out in my head and just decided to wing it. I ended up saving the striped fabric that was supposed to be the accent. I'll use that for pillows, instead.

Anyway, it turned out that, after taking the girls to work with him, Craig decided to come home early.


I wasn't quite finished, but I was on the last step of assembling the cover. The older children tried to create a barrier in the doorway of the sewing room. Not realizing what they were doing, Gabriela crawled between their legs to come and ask me a question.

Oh well.
She was surprised. It just happened in the sewing room, rather than in her bedroom like I had planned.

I love giving her new things. She gets so excited. I felt sorry for her when she realized that she had inadvertently ruined her own surprise. I assured her that it was perfectly OK, and she spent the rest of the day thanking me and talking about how exciting bedtime would be tonight.

This was my very first time ever making piping. I actually made this way ahead of time and set it aside. Gabriela thought that I was planning to use it in my room. Tee-Hee!

Hats off to all those heroes who can perfectly match a directional pattern when piecing fabric together to make up width. I aspire to achieve that status some day... but not anytime soon, please.

I used a yellow sheet from Target for the backing.

Time to make pillows...

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Wow! Thanks, Penny!

I've taught my children that it's not nice to pick favorites when it comes to people - whether friends or family.
So, I won't call Penny my favorite bloggie buddy; but she definitely has what it takes to be anyone's favorite!

Today she solved a dilemma for me.

Before we moved from Moçambique last year, I learned that my beloved Grandma Betty had passed away.
When we moved back to the States, my mom & aunts had decided that I should inherit Grandma's needlecraft supplies, which included some crocheted squares that never made their way into afghans.

Not having learned to crochet, I really didn't know where to begin to use these squares, but Penny has offered the perfect idea!

I hope to soon turn these:

Into something akin to these.

Thanks for the fabulous idea, Penny!

My New Fall Purse

 The tissue holder tutorial is no longer available, but it's super easy to figure out; so I just whipped it up.

I've had my eye out for a new fall handbag, but I just haven't found anything affordable that appeals to me.
On Sunday, I took the girls to the fabric store to get supplies for some sewing projects that Caelyn will be doing with Gabriela. While awaiting our turn at the cutting table - we were #28, and they were serving #8 - I killed time by browsing.

I know that I never should have even picked up the latest issue of Stitch magazine; but I did, and it was love at first sight.
I've had my eye on this wool houndstooth fabric since it first came out; but I couldn't imagine a use for it in Texas.
I'm no longer wondering.

I just love the side pockets! I ended up personalizing the design of this bag a bit, as I wasn't terribly impressed with the handle instructions. Changing the handle also altered the overall shape somewhat. There's one embellishment that I still need to make and add to the purse, but after our move, I'm missing a crucial tool. I'll add an update later.

I used cammo fabric for the lining of the matching wristlet.

I'm so pleased with how spacious this bag is, and I just can't wait to fill it and show it off in public!

*Linking up to Sew & Tell*

ETA: My mom pointed out that I didn't include a photo that shows the handle:

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Green Goodness Dip

It's been a while since I've said that I love my Vita-Mix, so I'll open with that thought.

Yesterday we gathered with all of the cousins again for a multi-birthday meal, as several of us have recently entered a new year of life. 
I haven't been feeling well lately, so I got away with only being asked to bring a salad. However, I do have a "staff" of helpers, so we added a fruit salad to our contribution, and instead of a green salad, I decided to take crudités with remoulade and one other dipping sauce

I wanted the second dip to be green, but I couldn't find the "Green Goddess" recipe that I printed long ago. An online search yielded a seemingly infinite number of choices, so I decided to trust my culinary instincts and wing it.
Here's what I ended up tossing into the Vita-Mix:

Green Goodness Dip

(plain, fresh, homemade)

(bad news for my male family members)

a few garlic cloves
(this may sound scary, but I believe garlic can't be overdone; besides, it's a natural immune booster)

a chunk of fennel bulb
(my new favorite vegetable; jicama is my other new favorite vegetable; but I digress)



sea salt

freshly-ground pepper

juice of one lime

dash of cayenne pepper

ground celery seed

I didn't write down my ingredients as I added them, so a day later it's possible that I've forgotten something. The beauty of it is that it's mine, and yours can be yours! Change whatever suits you.

By the way, it tastes just as wonderful on Day Two; and if it accidentally mingles on your plate with the remoulade, worse things have happened.
Just go with it.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Feeling Mediocre/Blogging-Sewing Envy

It's been a long time since I've had anything to share for Sew & Tell, but I still faithfully check in to see what's new with Amy and her friends.

I'm so jealous of all who attended this fabulous event. Amy blogs about her experience here.
I must find a way to qualify to attend the next time.

Reading about the great time Amy had at the summit made me reconsider something I've been resisting since 2002. I had gone through burn-out from quilting (perhaps because I'm a novice), and I vowed not to even consider quilting again until 2004.
Well, what year is it now?...

Anyway, Amy has inspired me to pursue mini quilts as an option. They seem like they'd be much less stressful. I like small projects that can be completed quickly. I think mini quilts may be the solution for me.

My project wish list just keeps growing.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Mom That Could

The children and I had the pleasure of hosting a couple of very special ladies for lunch in our home today. As I decided what we would have on the menu, I was craving chicken salad. The only problem is that whipping up "good" chicken salad is not my forté.

There was no one I could turn to for this task. Caelyn was at the store buying ingredients for the rest of our lunch menu, and she's the next best thing to my mom, whose chicken salad is restaurant-worthy. 
I needed Morgan to make the sandwiches and Gabriela to make dessert, and the boys were finishing their school work.
I had to rise to the occasion.

I deliberated over it quite a bit and came up with something that my family declared "excellent".

First, I convection-roasted a few boneless/skinless chicken breasts at 350°F, using olive oil, a little butter, herbs, salt, pepper, seasoned salt... That may be all. I basically seasoned it the way I do when I roast a whole chicken.

When the chicken was done, I shredded it and transferred it to a bowl. One thing that bothers me about some chicken salad (e.g. the grocery store deli variety) is that the meat, itself, isn't flavorful, which throws the whole thing off. So, I ran the pan drippings through a sieve into the bowl with the shredded chicken. This made it moist, but not runny, and got all of that yummy goodness from the pan into the meat.

In my opinion, "good" chicken salad is a harmonious blend of colors, textures, and flavors. 
For crunch, I added:

Fennel (1/4 bulb, chopped)

a few big red grapes (chopped; for a sweet "pop")

Celery (my mother insisted over the phone, and I can't imagine chicken salad without it)

Red bell pepper (a few thin slices, chopped)

Next, I added some chopped fresh herbs:

I knew that the seasoning on the chicken was just the beginning, so I added freshly-ground black pepper, dried lemongrass, a hint of curry powder, and a dash or two of Greek seasoning with the other ingredients before adding mayonnaise.

*Important note*

I've drastically reduced the amount of mayonnaise in my life, but I do still occasionally use Hellmann's Canola Mayonnaise. I'm sure it's not healthful, but it has its place. For many things, I use a wonderful product called Vegenaise (the grapeseed version). I highly recommend it.

When it was time to "poison test" the finished product, Morgan and I agreed that it needed a little more sweetness, but I was afraid of choosing the wrong sweetener. The idea of just sprinkling or drizzling seemed so blah.

I ended up dropping two generous dollops of apricot preserves into the bowl, and it was the perfect solution. No one could have figured out the ingredient that balanced out the flavors, but we could certainly tell a difference.

We had a marvelous time of fellowship with our guests, and the menu was a hit:

Chicken Salad
Greek Salad
Chocolate Power Bar Balls
(because everything's better with chocolate)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A Sewing Check Up

I tend to dwell in either feast or famine. Hot or cold. Burning or Freezing. You get the idea. I live life on a pendulum, swinging from finding no motivation whatsoever to being overwhelmed with a list I can't possibly fill in any reasonable timeframe.

I've talked before about lists, and mine tend to haunt me at night.
When we moved here, it took me WEEKS to get back into sewing. Although I still find it a challenge to squeeze in time for many projects, "many projects" are flooding my mind, and I don't know if I can live up to my list of ideas.

Quite a while back, I mentioned that I aspire to meet this challenge.


But Liesl is so sweet. 
She hasn't given me one ounce of grief over being a horrible slacker. She aims to encourage, and has assured me that her sole purpose is to get people sewing more (and spending less).

Although I haven't exactly kept my end of the Craft Book Challenge, I have slowly moved toward finishing some projects that I owe to others. I think there's only one left. No, two. But the second one doesn't count because it's a surprise. So, really, if I don't get around to it, no one gets hurt, right?

I've taken sort of a Round-Robin approach to tackling projects. I can't decide which one is more urgent, so I act on inspiration. Whatever strikes me at the moment is what I end up doing.

For instance, I've been waiting for a certain decorator fabric to go on sale so that I may make new bedding for Gabriela's room. Well, I finally bought it, and there have been about two more sales since then; but I have yet to cut into it. I did, however, make the piping to edge the duvet cover I plan to make for her.


I'll be using these for the duvet cover, but ssshhhh! Gabriela doesn't know that I bought the fabric already. I want to surprise her.

I hopped from that project over to something I was inspired to do for the guest room, which was the logical progression of an idea I had for my room. I wanted to take my old white matelassé coverlet from the guest bed and return it to my bed, which was its original home so long ago that I don't recall, exactly.
Taking the coverlet from the guest room would have left a void there, but I'm not willing to buy replacement bedding. The only recourse was for me to take the one remaining unused duvet cover that we had and give it a facelift.

Several years ago, when we moved from Georgia to Alabama, I went on a Potterybarn Kids binge. I can't even bring myself to look at one of their catalogs now (although I still like their stuff). Anyway, I decided to start recycling the leftovers of that decorating season in my life.

So, I started with this: 

(Taken from the archives)
Then I removed that pink pom-pom fringe. Since the guest room usually hosts male guests (and because the wall color is blue), I wanted to give this white duvet cover a piped edge that would welcome a man with dignity. 

I remembered these curtains (from guess where!) that used to be in the boys' room in Alabama:

Bed, quilt & sheets also from Potterybarn Kids
We still have these, by the way. It's time.
With Gabriela's project, I found that making piping is a lot of fun; so I did this:

I found these fabrics on clearance & thought they'd make nice accessories. I'm still searching for other coordinating prints.

The impulse then struck me to do something for my room, so I made a bedskirt to go with the white matelassé coverlet. Something that my heart just can't ever release is toile. And I have lots of it. Even longer ago than the Potterybarn Kids binge, I went on a toile kick. I bought yards and yards of La Dolce Vita by... some designer (I forget now). This eventually became kitchen curtains two moves later, but it is now my bedskirt (and two seat cushions like the one at the beginning of this post):

I learned with this project that a serger is a wonderful thing!
As if I don't have enough projects already on my list to keep me busy until next summer, I'm also considering doing one of these.

Then there's the nagging issue of our sofas. 
I'm sure that I should just have them cleaned; but I really want to have them replaced. I had considered getting new upholstery, but that costs almost the same as new sofas.

I've started hinting around to the girls that I may employ them in helping me to make slipcovers.
The trouble is that I don't know what I'm doing. I did an online search for tutorials, but I'm terrified of going for it.

If anyone out there lives in the Houston area, knows how to make slipcovers, and takes pity on me, I won't refuse help.

In the meantime, I'm flopping over to a new project. Pillows maybe? Or kitchen accessories? Perhaps a purse or a baby gift? We'll see.

P.S. I wonder what it would be like to have her as a neighbor/best friend.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Weekend Wrap-Up

Craig and I recently had our bikes serviced so that we might begin to explore the territory around our neighborhood. I was so excited when he sent me a text on his way from work on Friday, telling me to "get changed" for a bike ride.

I hadn't ridden for a while, so I'll just say that after a moderate ride, I was hoping that my weekend wouldn't involve much sitting.
The soreness didn't last long, thankfully. I enjoyed "breaking in" my new seat.

We had a marvelous evening ride, complete with some bird spotting. My camera is broken, so I'm having to use my phone for now. (Please forgive the quality.) Sadly, I didn't get any bird photos.

At one point, we came upon a flock of water birds that flew up and circled overhead, leaving me motionless in awe. 
It was magnificent!
Just as they began to take flight, Sara Groves's rendition of "Breath of Heaven" began to play in my earphones.
The piano intro was the perfect segue to what seemed like a choreographed dance in praise to our Creator.

It brought tears to my eyes.

I felt a little like this guy.

Suddenly I realized that Craig hadn't stopped with me. 
It took some effort to catch up with him.

At this point, we realized that we were approaching a private residence, so we turned around and headed back.

Although I was thrilled to move to the Houston area, I was afraid that I might never see anything green. To my great joy, I learned of this place, and our family headed into the city for their get-acquainted-with-the-outdoors event.

We enjoyed a birds-of-prey demo, which was the biggest highlight for all of us.

Craig couldn't wait to see a falcon, since he's wanted one for several years. This one is rather young and still in training for doing demos; but we enjoyed every minute!

We got to see this hawk "hunt" for the "prey" on this leather lure. What a treat to get a close-up view. It was literally right beside us.

This is probably cheating, but our boys were glad to see an airsoft booth at the event. I'm sure they meant this for younger children, but Craig Grayson & Graham couldn't resist the challenge of target practice. Graham walked away with the record for the most targets hit in the least amount of time.

Craig Grayson did well, too; but he couldn't keep up with his younger brother.

He's always a good sport, though.

Gabriela wanted a turn, too. She did well, considering that she hadn't shot before.

There were many other exhibits, including this wildlife center that had a few reptiles on display. We miss our ball python, "Kaa", which we gave away when we left Alabama.

The Hunter's Education booth was a favorite of the guys. They're anxious to get "legal" in the state of Texas.

Craig was intrigued by this gentleman's tales of hunting in South Africa.

I'm still amazed at the idea of electric cars. This booth was advertising "charging stations", two of which are already available in the city.

Snow cones in the shade

On Sunday, we were privileged to join our friend, Leo, in watching his son's team play (and beat) the Texans here at Reliant Stadium.

With my puny iPhone camera, I managed to at least show proof of Stefan talking with his uncle/coach, Steve Wisniewski, before the game.

Football fans really are a rowdy lot. My ears were ringing long after we returned home.
We had loads of fun, though.

We were especially grateful for the stadium's roof, as it rained quite a bit yesterday.
After the game, I ended up taking off my shoes, which were irritating my feet. We had a long walk in the "cold" rain to where Craig had parked, but I felt like a kid splashing barefoot through the puddles and dodging rocks.

A shower never felt better.