Sunday, November 27, 2016

Instead of an Advent Calendar, Do This

I wish I could take full credit for this sweet idea, but I will confess that I found it on Pinterest.

Instead of the usual Advent countdown with a daily ornament or piece of candy, this Pinner set aside one book to read each day to her little ones.

This needn't be expensive--you can buy gently used children's books at thrift stores or garage sales. I think it would even be OK to round up a few of the books already in your home library that have not been read for a while. 

Wrap each book in some festive Christmas paper and affix a date on each one. (The packaging doesn't have to be fancy. The kids won't mind).

The holidays are such a busy, hurried time. I can't think of a better way to connect (or reconnect) with your babies than to spend a quiet half-hour with them. It will be good for them, and it will be good for you too.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Family Photos--Don't Keep Them in a Box!

Or worse yet, on your phone or computer. What if your phone is lost or stolen? What if your hard-drive fails (and the backup you vowed to do "soon" never happened)? 

A few years ago I was faced with a box (actually many boxes) of unlabeled photographs--pics from vacations, day trips, weddings, and every day family-life events of my immediate family, my parents, my grandparents. Each of these photos were precious and priceless. And I recognized that one day they would be meaningless unless I put them in order and labeled them. So, one-by-one, I began to sort and identify.

But soon I realized that simply knowing the names is not enough. I believe family is so very important--the things that my parents and grandparents did, the choices they made, and the sacrifices they endured (I am 2nd generation American) are the reason that today I have so many wonderful blessings (home, children, and faith).

Once I'm gone, there will be no one to tell their story to my children, to help carry on the messages and the memories. So, in addition to names and dates,  what I know about my siblings, parents, and their families is recorded on the pages.

Christmas is just around the corner. Promise yourself that, starting today, you will set aside a bit of time to go through those priceless photographs. Just 15 minutes a day would make such a difference. It's one of the best gifts you can give to your children, your grandchildren, and to yourself.

"Yesterday is but today's memory, tomorrow is today's dream." Kahil Gibran

Monday, November 21, 2016

JFK - May 29, 1917 - November 22, 1963
“We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light a candle that can guide us through the darkness to a safe and sure future. For the world is changing. The old era is ending. The old ways will not do.

The problems are not all solved and the battles are not all won and we stand today on the edge of a New Frontier - 
a frontier of unknown opportunities and perils, a frontier of unfulfilled hopes and threats.

--John F. Kennedy

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Thought for Today

“When you are in the final days of your life, what will you want?  
Will you hug that college degree in the walnut frame? 
Will you ask to be carried to the garage so you can sit in your car? 
Will you find comfort in rereading your financial statement? 

Of course not. 
What will matter then will be people. 
If relationships will matter most then, 
shouldn’t they matter most now?” 

--Max Lucado

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Santa Pillows--Fun Gifts or Decorations for Your Home

I'm still eating Halloween candy and roasting of the free-range turkey is still more than a week away, but I'm thinking about Christmas.

When it comes to decorating, every possible nook and cranny of my home is already covered. (My goodness, do we know how to do Christmas! Last year there were 5 Christmas trees). But that doesn't mean that I need to stop crafting. I love to make treats and decorations for those I love. And today I designed a paper-pieced pillow top adorned with cute little Santa Claus figures.

I'll bet there's room for one of these in your home.

Materials You Will Need:

  • 16-inch pillow form
  • 1/2 yard fabric for sashing and back of pillow (I used dark green)
  • scraps of red, green, white, and beige fabric for Santas and Christmas trees
  • 1/4 yard of fabric for background material for each block (I used a white sparkle "Fairy Frost" by Michael Miller fabrics.
  • black fine-tip permanent marker
  • 1/4 yard light-weight non-woven interfacing 
  • cutting mat and rotary cutter (not mandatory, but certainly helpful)
  • neutral color thread for stitching pillow top (I like to use a light gray)
  • dark green thread to match pillow sashing and backing
The patterns for this pillow, and a diagram of how to assemble the blocks to make the finished pillow top are at the end of this post. 

If you have done paper-piecing in the past I think you will find this project to be pretty easy--I would give it a "2" on a scale of 1 to 10. If you are new to paper-piecing, you might want to look at this tutorial by Carol Doak: 

Carol Doak's tutorial on how to foundation-piece

Carol advises using a paper that she markets, made specifically for paper piecing. For this project I have found that light-weight  non-woven interfacing works just as well. It's sheer so the pattern is visible from both sides and it doesn't have to be removed.

Here is a photo of the first steps of Block A. As you can see Santa's beard is piece #1. His suit is made of pieces 2 and 3. I have sewn those in place. Use your neutral thread for stitching.

And here are photos of each of the completed blocks:






Here are the patterns. Each one is assigned a Letter identifier. The numbers give you the order in which the blocks are assembled.

Pattern Pieces:

Block A (one square = 1/4 inch)

Block B (one square = 1/4 inch)

Monday, November 14, 2016

Comfort Food--Easy Chicken and Gravy

cozy fire

If you're anything like me, when the weather is cold and dreary or when disappointment knocks on your door, you seek comfort. 

Sometimes that comfort comes in the form of a good book and warm slippers by a cozy fireplace. Perhaps the beauty of music soothes your soul. For others writing or painting are welcome escape from woes and worries.

And sometimes, we need something rich and satisfying to comfort us inside as well as out. That's when a recipe like this one comes to the rescue.

The card on which this recipe is written is worn and stained (it's been called upon a lot). I'm not even sure where the original recipe comes from--perhaps the back label of a can of evaporated milk. I will be the first to caution that this is not diet food--sodium and fat levels are probably way off-scale, but there are some days that I simply DON'T CARE! 

This is one of those days, and I'm going to make my baked chicken, which makes its own amazing gravy right in the baking pan.

Chicken and Gravy

  • 3 to 3 1/2 pounds chicken thighs, bone in
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1/4 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 2/3 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 can (10.5 ounce) cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 cup grated American cheese (not imitation)
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  2. Coat the chicken with flour, shaking off excess. 
  3. Drizzle melted butter into 13x9-inch baking pan; arrange chicken in pan in single layer.
  4. Bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
  5. Turn chicken pieces over, and bake 15 to 20 minutes more or until tender and browned. Remove from oven.
  6. Reduce heat to 325 degrees F. 
  7. Pour off excess fat from pan.
  8. Stir together mushrooms, onions, milk, soup, and cheese. Pour over chicken. 
  9. Cover with foil; Bake 15 to 20 minutes. Serve over mashed potatoes, rice, or noodles.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

A Time for Healing

"This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal." 
--Toni Morrison

Monday, November 7, 2016

Reusable Shopping Bags--Part 2

I am having way too much fun making these. Today I decided that I wanted an even larger bag than the tote I shared with you last week. I looked online and found this incredibly easy-to-make bag with the clearest instructions I've ever seen.

I already had a supply of canvas (from all of those church banners), and decided that rather than purchase a bright fabric for the main color, I'd play around with sewing together bits and pieces from my scrap bag.

I'll keep this brief -- here are a few photos of the totes I created, and then I will share with you the link for the easy-to-make bag.

Easy-to-Make Tote Bag tutorial

By the way: I followed the directions to the letter on the first of the two bags and encountered a small problem. The instructions state that the lining should be sewn with a slightly wider seam allowance (5/8 inch) than the outer bag. That sounds good in theory, but an additional 1/8 inch on one side results in a 1/4-inch total reduction; that's simply too much, especially if you are working with stiff canvas material which doesn't have the "give" of light-weight cottons and polyesters. I ended up having a slight pucker where the inner- and outer-bags were joined together.

For the second bag I made no adjustment in seam allowance--for both the inner- and outer-bags I used a 1/2-inch seam allowance, and everything lined up perfectly.

I'm already making plans to make a few more of these as gifts. They are so easy!!

Good luck and have fun creating!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Thought for Today

“I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart for so long. If we’re in each other’s dreams, we can be together all the time.” 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Retro Recipes--Butterscotch Biscuits

Do you remember the 1960’s? A decade of changes big and small.
  • North America and the world were rocked by three assassinations and the strongest earthquake in recorded history.
  • The Russians were the first to send a man into space; in the United States the Studebaker was laid to rest.
  • Sam Walton opened the first Wal-mart and gas was an astounding 25 cents per gallon.
  • Knee-high pleated skirts gave way to thigh-high minis and Bryllcreem sales plummeted after the arrival of the Fab 4.
  • Alfred Hitchcock frightened us into favoring baths over showers.
  • Andy Warhol immortalized a can of soup.
  • And, closer to home, every freshman in high school was required to pass a Home Economics course. 

I mention this because today I found, tucked away in my card file, a recipe I saved from my 1960’s HomeEc course—the only recipe that was worth saving.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Being a Child Again Isn't Easy

Today I stumbled upon something that humorist Erma Bombeck wrote when my older daughter was just a few months old. It touched me so much I kept a copy of it my Beth's baby book:

"I had a dream the other night that I can't get out of my mind. The adults of the world became the children and the children ran the world.
"It was terrible, standing down there wedged among all those knees. I couldn't get a drink of water, mail a letter, or open a door. Cars were even worse. If you didn't kill yourself getting to a window, you just sat there on the seat with your legs sticking straight out, staring at the back of the seat.
"At the supermarket, I was just standing there when without a warning, someone whipped me off the floor and forced my legs through a grocery cart seat that was so cold my teeth frosted up.
"I took naps when I wasn't sleepy, ate when I wasn't hungry, had sweaters put on me when I wasn't cold and got thrown into swimming pools when I didn't want to swim.
"I was tossed into the air when I had an upset stomach, forced to the bathroom whether I had to go or not, and ordered to stop crying when I had a perfectly good reason for it.
"I never did anything right. I played with chewing gum, wiped my hands off on my dress, leaned back on chairs, made faces in the toaster, and sniffed instead of using a handkerchief. Once when I came into the kitchen with a comb in my hand, I thought life was over.
"I crayoned when I was supposed to, played with strangers when I was told to, and washed my hands 50 million times a day. I was 'seen a lot and not heard,' given reasons of 'because I said so, that's why' and told with regularity, 'You should have gone before you left home.
"But the worst part was that people kept telling me, 'This is the best part of your life, so enjoy it'. "