Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Kicking Out the Clutter: Combining Decluttering with Craftiness

One of my favorite bloggers has recently started a 'Kick Out the Clutter' initiative.  I thought it was a neat idea, and I decided to finally take some action this weekend.  I finally threw out some old cardboard boxes I'd been saving; some were for items that I thought I might need to return whose return date is long expired and the others were just good cardboard boxes I thought someone might need if they were moving.  After they were gone, I couldn't believe how much space was freed up!  I'm still on a pretty big sewing kick, and so I combined my next decluttering project with a sewing a project: a memory quilt.  I had planned to do this with high school t-shirts, then undergrad t-shirts, then law school get the idea.  But it just never got done; partly because I couldn't decide which shirts to use and partly out of sheer laziness.  Well, this weekend I picked twelve of my white, grey, and red shirts from my entire University of Alabama experience and slaughtered them with a pair of shears and a rotary cutter.  I saved only squares from the back and any small design that may have been on the front, and this was what ended up on the cutting room floor:

I considered saving what was left for scraps, but I don't like to use jersey material unless of I have to (i.e. when making quilt blocks out of it), so I tossed the pile.  And It.  Felt.  So.  Good.  I didn't really get started on the memory quilt yet (I'm finishing up a quilted sewing machine cover right now), but I did clear out a heck of a lot of drawer space simply by getting rid of the parts of the shirts I didn't need anymore.  I'm not sure what my next Kicking Out the Clutter project will be since I could just walk in my front door and pick a corner or surface, but I hope it feels just as satisfying as this one did.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Name Applique on Towel

I better admit something about myself now: I love things with people's names or initials slathered on them.  I'm into just about anything personalized because, well, I don't really know.  Maybe I just like knowing what belongs to whom?  Regardless, the adorable personalized onesies my sister-in-law received at her baby shower (yes, the same one where she got a personalized wall hanging from me) made me want to go monogram crazy.  However, you can go ahead and add hand embroidery to your list of "Things Amy Can't Do"  and an embroidery machine to your list of "Things Amy Doesn't Have".  So how do I get my fix?  Why, I just go back to the wall hanging I made for Madeline and applique things!  I can't really personalize something small (like a onesie) with anything but a letter, but you know what everyone needs?  Towels.  Sounds kind of dumb, right?  Well, it kind of is, but still, it's an item that gets a lot of use and washing, wears out over time so it needs replacing, and can be personalized with all but the longest of names. 

I tested my towel applique skills out first on Valentine goodies for my little cousins, Ella and Wren.  I loved how Ella's turned out; my biggest quibble with it was a wonky spot on the "A".  (I forgot to take pictures of them, but just trust me.)  I royally jacked up Wren's towel, and she ended ended up with just a heart appliqued on her towel.  It was Valentine's Day, after all.  That little project inspired me, and as I mentioned in my previous post, a very special little boy recently had a birthday, so I made a towel for him, too!  While I was happy enough with it and his mom loved it, there were still things I would have done differently.

Now that I've done this a few times, I've got a few tips I wish I'd had before I started doing it.  (I, hard-headed as I am, just dove in and looked up solutions to my problems later.)

  • Make sure your machine's tension is right for satin stitching.  I've got a Singer Simple, and because I've only ever really done basic straight stitches, this isn't something I have to think about that often.  I had the good sense to adjust the top thread tension, but I kept jamming until a loosened the bobbin tension a little as well.

  • Be careful when cutting, especially if you are using printed fabrics.  Notice that my "N" and "H" could have been more symmetrical.

  • This may seem obvious, but curved letters are much harder than straight letters!  (At least for me.)  Go sloooooowly, or else you wind up with the "O" above.

  • Since the terry cloth fabric of the towel is so thick and relatively sturdy, you can just use a coffee filter for a stabilizer.  Trust me.  And coffee filters are way cheaper than stabilizer!

  • Use some sort of adhesive backing to essentially 'glue' your letters to the fabric before sewing.  For a project like this with lots of little turns and corners, pins are for the birds.
If you want more detailed information about machine applique, visit  She's got lots of great tips on all sorts of craft projects, and her sewing/craft and mom blog are both great reads!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Mexican Ravioli Casserole

Jay, David, Mama, Nina, and I all attended the 10th birthday party of a friend's little boy this weekend.  His name is Noah, and he wasn't supposed to live a few minutes after birth, much less the ten spongebob and happiness filled years he's had so far.  Among a few other less life-threatening issues, he's got hydrocephalus and only makes it every day because of the shunt in his head, so, needless to say, every birthday is a Big Deal.  So what does this have to do with food?  Well, what's a good party without plenty of good food!  This year his mom had the party at her apartment complex's clubhouse, and we were expecting a pretty good crowd, which we ended up having.  Noah's mom brought stuff for a taco bar, another friend of our brought her famous enchiladas, and I decided to bring some kind of mexican casserole.  I love to make this Mexican lasagna type stuff with layered corn tortillas and various fillings, but I also have a great recipe for Mexican Ravioli that I got out of a Lake Magazine (and modified to my tastes) a couple of years ago.

For a 7x11 dish (a weird size, I know) you need:
1 9 oz. packaged refrigerated  cheese ravioli
1 lb. ground beef with a little taco seasoning dashed in after cooking
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can black beans
1/2 medium red onion, diced
Fresh cilantro to taste, I like about a quarter cup fresh, chopped cilantro
2 cans enchilada sauce, I prefer medium, but you can get it mild or hot
1 package shredded cheese, I use the Mexican four cheese blend.

Cook the ground beef and dash in the taco seasoning.
Drain your tomatoes and black beans.  Mix together in a bowl with the onions and fresh cilantro.
Pour enough enchilada sauce into your baking dish to cover the bottom of it.
Layer, from bottom to top, one layer ravioli, half your ground beef, half your tomato/bean/onion mixture, and half your remaining enchilada sauce.  Repeat for your second layer, using the rest of your ingredients.
Bake at 400 degree for about 25 minutes, then take out, cover it with as much or as little cheese as you like, and bake until the cheese is melty enough for you.  (I like it just melted, but others like it a little more browned.)

I hope you like it as much as my family does, and you can always change and swap ingredients for those that your family prefers.  When I found this recipe, it called for chicken instead of ground beef, green onion instead of red onion, and a tablespoon of cumin, which I never put in because, though I love it, I associate it with delicious Indian food and don't know how I feel about it in a Mexican casserole.  I liked it just fine with the chicken and green onions, but my eaters weren't as crazy about it, so I changed it up.  Voila!  A one dish meal everyone can get behind.

And because I know you, just as everyone else, wants to see a picture of our dear Noah, here he is:

This is Noah and I playing the game where I kiss his hand and make loud smacky noise and he gets all giggly and happy.  It's one of my favorites because it's an almost surefire way to get him to smile, laugh, and hug you.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Snow Day Lessons

It snowed in Alabama last week.  (And it stuck for a little while!)  As many of you may know, this is a rare treat for us in the Deep South, and just the threat of snow causes milk and bread to fly off grocery store shelves faster than SEC football gear the week after a big game.  My parents' home is on an open part beautiful Lake Martin, which means that the snow that does come down generally just blows away.  This is why, whenever it snows and I'm home in Tallapoosa County, I go to my grandmother's house in Dadeville, Alabama.  She's in the last house on her street, and it's a big lot with plenty of trees that make for fun snow pictures.  She wasn't feeling well enough to play outside with me this year, so I just took pictures of the landscape.

View from her back porch.

Old equipment out behind her sheds.

Snow in trees looks magical to me.

Woods behind her house.

Snowy yard.

As the character Katherine says in Under the Tuscan Sun, "Never lose your childish enthusiasm, and things will come your way."  Too often we complain about the weather life throws at us instead of embracing it; I for one am guilty of this on a near-daily basis.  "It's too cold" and "It's too hot" are probably two of my most spoken phrases.  I seem to only like weather when it is convenient for me, snow on my days off work, rain when I'm in my pajamas at the house, and Alabama heat when I can be out on a boat on Lake Martin. 

My utter joy at the snow last week has made me rethink my love/hate relationship with Alabama's weather.  I had a professor in college who asked our class what we do in the morning after we wake up.  Everyone said mostly the same things, take a shower, eat breakfast, make coffee, etc.  I added to the list that I check the weather forecast online every morning.  He then asked, "Why don't you just look out the window?", and I told him that I liked to know if it was going to rain so I knew whether I needed my umbrella.  He suggested that I just take my chances and that if I got caught in the rain, to enjoy it the same way I would a sunny, 72 degree day.  I thought about what he said then and learned to enjoy rain and other yucky weather when it suited my life that day, but I never really accepted his comments.  I'm ready for that to change.  Though I can't promise to immediately embrace whatever weather the good earth sees fit to bring me, I'm at least going to try a little harder.  So even though this has been one of the coldest Alabama winters in my lifetime, I know it's going to be very hot in just a few shorts months, and I'm going to appreciate the bitter cold and scarves and coats while they last.  Bring it on.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Jay's sister is having a little girl this spring, and I wanted to give his sister and the new baby, Madeline, a great baby gift, not just another pack of onesies.  Unfortunately, she already had many of the things she wanted and needed, and the things she still needed were a little out of our price range.  (Hey, we're still students after all.)  So I decided I'd try to make something for her.  Jay's aunt cross-stitched his sister's name onto a large piece of fabric and had it framed for her when she was a little girl.  The hanging is still on the wall at my in-laws' house today, and I thought, "Hey, it'd be neat to do the same thing for her little girl!"  Unfortunately for all of us, I can't cross stitch.  Let's be honest:  I can barely straight stitch with my sewing machine.  But the idea had been planted, and I could find nothing in a store that I liked so well as the idea of stitching Madeline's name, and having it framed. 

Then, inspiration struck.  I remembered this framed picture of appliqued fabric flower cutouts that I'd seen at Anthropologie last summer, and I decided that my sewing machine and I, distant friends though we were, could band together and do this for my soon-to-be niece.  I took a trip to my local Hobby Lobby, also known as my dealer, found some cute fabric that I thought might match Madeline's bedroom decor, and went home to start cutting.  I opened Microsoft word, typed Madeline's name in all caps, and changed the font and font size to match my project.  I printed out the letters, and then used my rotary cutter to cut the fabric to match. 

I didn't want to use a satin stitch (very close zig zag stitches) to applique the letters because I didn't want a nice 'finished' look to the project.  I wanted the edges to fray a little, giving it a more childish, crafty look, so I just used a straight stitch and sewed the edges of the letters onto a piece of off-white cotton.  It was not a perfect job, but I was happy with the result because it was my first real sewing project in ten years.  (And I thought it was kind of cute.)  I had it framed at, you guessed it, Hobby Lobby, and this was the final result:

(Pardon the smudges and glare on the glass...I'm not a professional photographer, though it is something I'd like to learn!)

Now the worry was that my sister-in-law wouldn't like it, either because it looked so homemade or didn't match Madeline's room or she didn't have space for it or...something.  I was just very unsure of myself and my work.  However, my worries were unfounded.  She loved it, and it matched Madeline's decor so well!

This is a picture of it hanging above Madeline's bed, courtesy of Elizabeth Duvall and cropped by me.

The point of my little (or not-so-little) story is this: don't let what you can't do stop you from creating something.  You can always learn a new skill, or you can take the ones you already have to do something else that's just as good.  Happy crafting!

Welcome and Introduction

Greetings to all! I have started this blog as a way to keep a record of our lives and interests right now, not as a way to annoy all our friends with tales of homemaking and happy coupledom. I just want to share what I'm doing with cooking, sewing, studying, and everything in between.  I hope you’ll get a little something out of our adventures and misadventures, and maybe you'll enjoy the ride as well. :)