Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Do you "carrot" all?

"Your sacred space is where you can find yourself again and again." (Joseph Campbell)

I guess I spoke too soon about only making one gift this year. I did knit three carrots, using this pattern from Jimmy Beans Wool (They're supposed to be rattles, and there's a eggplant, banana, orange and cucumber, too.) I made them a little bigger so they resemble real carrots, though now I wish I'd made them smaller.

The carrots are the first in what I hope are a bunch of "softie" food for Sam, who got a new-to-him kitchen for Christmas. I was super tempted to get this cute retro pink one, but aside from being pink, it was $239. The above bright-colored one was $25 from my friend Staci, whose boys had outgrown it. The IKEA table was a gift from Sam's godmother Kristin, and the two white chairs I got at a garage sale a few years ago for $1 each. This little set-up is in the corner of our dining room.

He loves pretending he's cooking. It's so cute!

While on the Jimmy Bean's site, I found this cute hat pattern. I've just started the first of a pair of them for one of Ed's friends who had twin boys the day after Christmas.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


"It's not so much that we're afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it's that place in between that we fear... It's like being between trapezes. It's Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There's nothing to hold onto." (Marilyn Ferguson)

I only made one gift this year--probably a record for me. Of course, I still made several batches of toffee to give away, but only one crafted gift. It was this cashmere blankie for my new nephew with the Christmasy name of Nicholas.

I made it out of felt from recycled sweaters--but all cashmere, so it's super soft. I've only made one of these before (one I donated to a Chinese orphanage), and that time I zigzagged the squares together, but this time the cashmere was too slippery for that. So I had to do two lines of straight stitch instead. It's a little messy, but I guess that's just the "handmade" look.

I used an interesting combo of bright colors, since Nicholas' mother is not into traditional boy baby blues. I did some red highlights, with large rick rack and polka dotted ribbon with a few loops for sucking on. And I hand stitched his name on it.

There was a little boy here who wanted it for himself. I really should make some of this stuff for my own kids!

P.S. We made it home safely from a lovely Christmas in Wisconsin, despite lots of snow here, there and in between. I know most people take a blogging break during the holidays, but this is when I finally have some time to read and write blogs posts. So hopefully I'll do a little catching up on the (few) creative projects in my life lately.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas 2009

"For unto us is born this day a Savior who is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:11)

Merry Christmas, everyone. I hope everyone had a wonderful, safe, and relaxing holiday.

This is Sam playing with the newest "toy" in our house--a beautiful, hand-carved nativity set from the Holy Land. Of course, I saw these when I was there in 1999, but didn't buy one. My parents gave it to us as an early Christmas gift this year. Sam loves it, especially the star, which winds a music box that plays "Silent Night." (I know the Palestinian artisans are really suffering because of the decreased Christmas tourism these past years, so I'm glad my parents supported them by buying this.)

When I ask him what happens on Christmas, Sam has been saying, "Jesus born." But tonight, after a long fun Christmas Day of presents and playing with his cousins, he said, "Santa born." Oh well.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Cookie Baking Weekend 2009

"Many hands make light work." (John Heywood)

The annual Schlumpf Women Cookie Baking Weekend was held a week later this year (it's usually the first weekend of December) because I had a work party and a baby shower. Plus, I had to miss half the say Saturday because I was teaching. For that reason, it was also moved to my sister's in Aurora--though with some finger-crossing, because the last time we had it there, my sister's dog died. Buddy, their current pooch, survived this year.

According to the official counter (my mom), we baked 2, 225 cookies this year--our second highest number in history. However, my mom arrived with some three kinds already baked for us, so it's kind of cheating.

We had an extra pair of hands this year. He rolled, cut out and sampled a few. He also played with Grandpa, Uncle Andy and his cousins.

Once home, he chose a sugar cutout snowman that had black frosting on it and made a bit of a mess. But he loves the cookies. His favorites are the cutouts (especially the candy canes) and the creme de menthe balls, which he calls "Christmas balls." It's a simple, unbaked cookie that we've made since I was a little girl. The recipe is from "The Electirc Company Christmas Cooky Book," from 1964 put out by Wisconsin Electric Power Company (here's one for sale on ebay).

Creme de Menthe BonBons
1 c. vanilla wafer crumbs (Nilla Wafers--we grind in a meat grinder, but you can use food processor or even buy as crumbs)
3/4 finely chopped pecans
1 c. powdered sugar
2 Tbsp. light corn syrup
1/2 c. green creme de menthe
Green food coloring
Powdered sugar for rolling

Mix crumbs, pecans, sugar, syrup and creme de menthe. Add a few drops of food coloring. Chill dough. Shape into 1-inch balls; roll in powdered sugar. Refrigerate. Makes about 5 dozen.

This is a great cookie for little hands to help with the rolling in powdered sugar.

**Our family loves creme de menthe. I remember us pouring a bit on vanilla ice cream for dessert, or having (weak) grasshoppers. My mom also makes a yummy creme de menthe cake topped with fudge topping and cool whip that is a favorite at family birthdays.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

"A prison cell, in which one waits, hopes... and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

We have been a bit slow on the Christmas preparations around here. There were final papers to write (for Ed) and lots of final papers to grade (for both of us). In the midst of the end-of-the-semester madness, we also have had to deal with Sam have a major reversion on his sleep progress. It's been exhausting.

Little by little, I've put up some decorations, but it wasn't until Friday--yes, less than a week before Christmas--that we finally made the trip (to Home Depot, I admit) to get our tree. Sam helped pick out this Blue Spruce for $24.95.

Ed did the all-important straightening adjustments at home.

Sunday we finally decorated it. I carefully sorted through all my silver, gold and crystal ornaments and packed them away for about 10 years. Instead we decorated with every old and unbreakable ornament I had. It's a mish-mash, but it looks festive--and I don't have to freak out every time Sam plucks an ornament off the tree, which he did a lot at first, but a little less so now that we've blocked it off.

Once finals were done, we started trying to catch up with friends. I was happy to use a vintage tablecloth for a simple supper of quiche and Tom & Jerrys with our former neighbors. (At the condo we didn't have a dining room table.)

* It turns out I've used this title before. I guess after three years, you run out of clever titles.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


"Don't pray when it rains, if you don't pray when the sun shines." (Satchel Paige)

I didn't mean to disappear for a whole month. This semester has been crazier than ever: I'm teaching two classes, plus Ed is teaching one and taking one. So we have a lot of papers to write and grade these last weeks.

Thanksgiving was also an adventure. We went to Kentucky to meet our new nephew Nicholas (snuggling with me in the above photo). On the way home, we had car trouble (on Saturday afternoon) and ended up stranded in Indiana until a mechanic could look at it on Monday. We've had about $1,500 in car repairs in the past four weeks. I hope we're done for awhile. Still, it could have been a lot worse, and at least we broke down near Lafayette, so we were near a hotel and many fast-food joints!

There has been very little Christmas readying around here. No tree yet, no cards, just some thinking about presents, and a few batches of homemade toffee. Some friends are coming over tonight, so I'm going to try to make a batch of Tom and Jerrys. And this weekend is the annual Schlumpf Women Cookie Baking event. I'll have more to report after that, and more Christmas fun after my last class (Dec. 19, grades due Dec. 22). No homemade gifts this year, though.

I hope life settles down soon. It's just too crazy. All the more reason I enjoyed just snuggling with a month-old baby on Thanksgiving! Isn't he so cute?

Monday, November 02, 2009

Halloween Post-Mortum

"From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast,
Though gates of pearl stream in the countless host,
And singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!" ("For All the Saints," by Anglican Bishop William Walsham How)

With Sam's birthday the week before Halloween, I can see that the end of October is going to be a busy time for our family. Luckily, I already had a costume for Sam--a cute dragon that my sister had bought him last year but we had not used and still fit. Is he cute or what?

I tried to make him a little pumpkin bag out of orange felt, but I ran out of time and I didn't make it deep enough. Luckily, he only went to three or four houses so it sufficed. Our new neighborhood is so, well, neighborly. Everyone gathers in costume at the park and parades through the neighborhood before trick or treating.

I'm using this yet-unpainted and unstained tall shelf that used to be in our condo entryway (now in our dining room) for holiday themed decorations. It helps that Sam can't reach the high shelves. Here are our simple Halloween items.

I found these two little copper molds with acorns at a thrift store in Aurora last week. Aren't they so cute? I don't know why I love acorns so much. I guess I'm a sucker for anything fall-related. They're about two inches across. Not sure what they're for, but I think they fit with the orange metal wine pitcher from Greece.

It's not going to get any less busy, as I just started teaching two new classes--both of which I have never taught before, so lots of prep. In addition, I have tons of freelance writing projects, including an interview with Mary Gordon tomorrow night. Looking forward to that.

Now, on to Thanksgiving and (yikes!) Christmas.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Felt birthday garland

"Begin to weave, and God will give you the thread." (German proverb)

As you can see, it was a very felty birthday celebration for Sam. My final handmade touch to the birthday celebration is this felt garland or banner--again, another idea I've seen all over craft blogs for years. This was a quick and easy project anyone could do (even you, Amy!) Even better--like the crown--it was made completely from stash materials.

I cut the triangles out of brightly colored felt (from recycled sweaters, but you could use regular craft felt). I made them 5 inches across and 7 inches deep. Then I used stick-on felt letters leftover from this project. Then I sewed them together with jumbo-sized red rick rack, reinforcing back and forth in between each flag. You could glue the rick rack if you don't have a sewing machine (or I could do it for you, Amy). It used less than one package of jumbo rick rack.

Add a few helium balloons and the Moon Festival lantern still hanging from last month and you've got instant party atmosphere. The new red chairs add to the bright decorations. (Yes, those funky wood squares are topped by an incredibly ugly 80s floral wallpaper, but it will be awhile before we redo the walls in the dining room.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Felt birthday crown

"Complete possession is proved only by giving. All you are unable to give possess you." (Andrew Gide)

My favorite gift to Sam on his birthday was this birthday crown I made from felt from recycled sweaters. I'd seen these throughout blogland and wanted to start the tradition with our family. I also wanted decorations that weren't plastic and covered with characters marketing to children. I know it's the thing to have theme parties these days (Thomas the Tank, Elmo, etc.). I know our kids will insist on that someday, but for now the theme is just "birthday."

I used this tutorial from Frontier Dreams and went with a sun/moon/stars theme and used all my bright colors from my stash (now organized in a dresser in my new craft room. Pictures of that soon!) I blanket stitched around the shapes and to hold the outside and inside together.

My favorite part is the fabric-covered elastic in the back. It makes the whole thing look so neat and finished. Also notice that I went with the initial "S" instead of spelling out "Sam" so that Sophie can use it too. Good thinking, huh?

I was afraid Sam might not want to wear it so we practiced a few days before and he loved it. When he wore it around the party, everyone thought he was so cute. The perfect little birthday boy.

One more birthday craft to share tomorrow.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Crayon cars

"What do you plan to do with your one, wild precious life?" (Poet Mary Oliver)

Today was Sam's 2nd birthday, and we celebrated with a party of 65 people (including 26 kids) at our new house. I went with easy food: hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches, deli potato salad and chips. I made the cake (from a box). But I did manage to get creative with a few touches.

I wanted to offer something nice in the goodie bags without going overboard. Then I saw this idea for crayon cars on Craft Apple. I ran out to Target and got the car cupcake pan, bought some dollar-store crayons and started peeling them. I had no idea the party would get so big, and ended up making 24 of them. That's a lot of peeling.

But they turned out so cute! I dropped them in these cute blue robot bags from the Target $1 area, with a Halloween pencil, box of raisins, package of fruit snacks and a handful of Dum Dum pops.

Luckily I have a few left over for Sam.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The hunt for red chairs in October

"A quiet patience has taken us this far." (Adrienne Rich)

Because we didn't have a dining room in our condo, we didn't own a dining room table and chairs. In our new house, the dining room is the literal center of the home--and I wanted it to be the figurative one too. So I didn't want a formal dining room set. When we discovered that the previous owners had left a beat-up but solid dining room table in the basement, we brought it upstairs. I had visions of refinishing it, but decided not to when Sam started pounding on it with his silverware.

But we needed chairs. I have always loved the chairs at Starbucks, which look a lot like the "Schoolhouse Chair" from Pottery Barn ($200 apiece). I even like the mismatched color look. I considered trying to collect mismatched chairs from garage sales, thrift stores, etc., but wouldn't you know: once you're looking for something specific, you never see it.

I tried Ikea. Nothing good there. Craig's List? I found one nice set, but they were already sold. I went to the unpainted furniture store (where the owner was SO helpful) and found exactly what I wanted (I could stain/paint them whatever color I wanted--by this time I was thinking black would be nice), but even with a "buy one, get one half off" sale, it would have cost over $500 and taken 4 weeks.

Then last Thursday night, I was checking out the Chicago estate sale listing, peeking at the photos of sales I couldn't go to because I wouldn't have a car that day--when I discovered one in my neighborhood. And the first picture was of four red chairs. EXACTLY THE ONES I WANTED!

So the next morning, I got up and walked almost 2 miles in the rain (the bus never came) with my son in the stoller, wondering the whole way how much they'd be. I had decided I'd like to pay $100 but would be really happy with $80. That is, if they weren't gone already. I arrived 15 minutes into the sale and grabbed them immediately! They were $65. For all four.

I love, love, love them. And they really cheer up the old table and our dining room. I had hoped to paint that room a pumpkin orange, which won't go with these chairs. But on the other hand, I am thinking maybe red accents in the kitchen, when we redo it and include an eat-in area.

On top of that, the sticker on the bottom of the seat says Heywood-Wakefield, which means they may be antiques or collectible. The estate sale was for a former college professor (who had thousands of books) and his artist wife. I imagine she painted these "old chairs" to brighten their colorful house. And gave them several coats of varnish. They're nice and shiny.

This has to go down as one of my best estate sale purchases ever. (And I bought a few other things at the same sale too!)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Owls and Moons

"Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy." (Abraham Herschel)

I made another felt owl as a birthday gift, this time for my godson Lincoln, who just turned 3. I paired it with the Caldecott Medal-winning Own Moon, a book a friend gave Sam when we first got him. Using my Borders coupons, I can pick up nice children's books for gifts.

I've been into owls lately, and I'm also into a moon motif. In fact, I'm thinking of a second tattoo--a moon. We got Sam during the Moon Festival in Vietnam, and now Sophie's name means moon.

The owl pattern is from Button It Up and calls for triangle buttons as "claws," but I can't find any anywhere. Suggestions anyone? I don't think these hearts work that well. (Lincoln's name is on the back.) I need to make one of these for Sam.

We're getting more and more settled into our house. Every day we try to do a little more unpacking and organizing. Tomorrow I have a very exciting estate sale find to share!

Vote for my sister's tote

"If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need." (Cicero)

My sister, who is a librarian at Aurora University, has entered a contest sponsored by the American Library Association to design a tote bag to promote libraries. Although she is not a graphic designer, I think her theme is very clever. Would you please go to here to vote for her tote? You vote by adding it to your faves on Flickr. Thanks!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

It's a girl!

Big news over at our adoption blog.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bungalow before

"With time and patience the mulberry leaf becomes a silk gown..." (Chinese proverb)

Here it is: our new home, as of Sept. 10. A beautiful red brick bungalow (read about Chicago bungalows here) with the original stained-glass windows in the octagon-shaped front.

The living room (with the previous owner's furniture--these are the realtor's photos). A Japanese-American couple raised four children in this house and lived here almost 40 years.

The dining room (check out that arch from the living room). The realtor claimed many who looked at the house wanted to keep the mid-century wood squares, but we're going to get rid of them. Ditto for the floral wallpaper above them.

The kitchen is the first order of business. It's quite small but has a pantry and back porch where we plan to expand. It will be a big project, but we hope to do it next summer. It will be nice to be able to make it the way we want it. In the meantime, I hope we get a dishwasher soon!

The "master" bedroom on the first floor will be Ed and mine--until we redo the upstairs. That's a longer-term project. There's a second bedroom on the first floor, where Sam is now, and two upstairs, but they need a lot of work. We hope to "dormer" up there someday and make a master suite with bathroom and office. Until then, it's our office and my craft space!

We love the vintage finished basement, complete with wood paneling, orange vinyl barstools and piano--all of which they left. There's also tons of unfinished storage space down there--and a small bathroom and separate shower. Hopefully someday there'll be a guest room down there.

View from the back. You can see the porch on the right that we hope to make into a bright kitchen that leads to a deck. It's a nice, city yard--takes about 7 minutes to mow!

We haven't done much except unpack boxes and arrange furniture, but I will slowly have some small steps of "after" to show soon.

Friday, October 09, 2009


"Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future." (Nobel Peace Prize Committee)

Kind of makes up for not getting the Olympics!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

I'm back

"The important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part; the important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well." (Pierre De Coubertin, father of the modern Olympic games)

Well, it's been over a month, and I'm sure any readers I had left have given up on me. But I'm back. The good news is that we've moved into our new house, and we love it. The bad news it that it caused Sam to revert to not sleeping well--not going to sleep, refusing to sleep in the crib, and getting up multiple times during the night. And it lasted more than a month. I was exhausted.

So I haven't had a minute to do anything creative, except unpack boxes and start to put our place together. We' got the first floor in good shape in time for a visit from my in-laws last week, and on the second floor I get to have a craft room. I'll be posting some before, during and after photos of our house soon. And I may even pick up the knitting needles soon.

P.S. Yes, I was bummed about Chicago not winning the Olympic bid. Many Chicagoans opposed it, because they figured it would mean higher taxes. But I was excited about the possibility of a once-in-a-life experience of the world's diversity in our own back yard--for me and for our kids. Plus, it was a little humiliating (or humbling) to come in last. :(

Friday, August 28, 2009

Garter Stitch Cardigan

"Every person born in this world represents something new, something that never existed before, something original and unique." (Martin Buber)

This is pretty much my only summer project--a sweater and hat for little Cecilia born to our friends William and Maria in July. It's the Garter Stitch Cardigan (Ravelry link) from Simple Knits for Cherished Babies. They had a shower specifically for pink clothes since their first child is a boy. Too bad I don't have a close-up of the buttons, because they were really cute. It's in a bumpy cotton yarn that was a pain in the butt to knit.

But I like this pattern and would like to knit up some yarn I got in Kentucky as a sweater for my own kids (with the button band and sleeve bands in the "Popcorn.")

Now back to packing. I have way too much craft crap. But I will have a craft room in the new house. Moving day is in less than a week.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


"The value of a marriage is not that adults produce children, but that children produce adults." (Peter De Vries)

Even though it's August, it still feels like summer around here. In fact, Chicago is finally just getting some real hot summer weather. I finally finished the book I was working on this summer--or most of it anyway. But my fall class starts in three weeks, and I have a lot of prep to do. Oh, and we are probably moving before Labor Day.

Before summer is over, here are a few pix from the past month. Sam and his cousin Elena during a visit in July. Aren't they so sweet? There are more pictures of the kissing cousins here.

I made a strawberry-rhubarb pie from the strawberries Sam and I (and Amy) picked in June. It was yummy!

The Butler boys and their kids at Millennium Park. Both expecting to be daddies again this fall. Boy, will we have our hands full then!

Monday, August 10, 2009

"Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is." (German proverb)

You've got to love an almost three-minute commercial for knitting needles--featuring male knitters to boot! You've got to love Germany.

By the way, I don't own a pair of Addis, except some I got at an estate sale.

Oh, no! I'm just watching "The Colbert Report" and Stephen is dissing knitters! He's interviewing Chellie Pingree from Maine's First Congressional District ("the fightin' first!) and notes that she has written books on knitting, then falls asleep while she tries to defend knitting as not boring. Say it ain't so, Stephen! You can mock everything, but not knitting!

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Busy weekend

Condo sold.

Offer on new house accepted.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Condo for sale

"Any idiot can face a crisis; it is this day-to-day living that wears you out." (Anton Chekhov)

Wow. It's been more than a month since I last blogged. Here's what we've been doing:

*I finished teaching my summer class. Five days later, Ed started taking two classes for ESL certification.

* We put our condo on the market. I don't have a link to our listing, but it's a lovely top-floor two bedroom, two bath in Lincoln Square in case you know anyone who's interested. It's $269,000. To get it ready we had to do a few last fix-ups and throw out and store a bunch of our junk--and now keep it spotless for any last-minute showings. So far, there's been decent interest.

* In tandem, we have been looking for a house: either in the city or in the nearby suburb of Oak Park. We need to find a deal, since our price range is under $350,000. So far we've seen two we like, but we need to sell our place first.

* We spent the 4th of July with my parents in Wisconsin. Sam did not like fireworks. He did like riding in Grandpa's boat.

* We had visitors from Kentucky: Ed's brother, sister-in-law and niece Elena. Cute pictures of Sam and Elena soon.

* We've been to the pool, to the park and played on the deck a lot. But mostly I've been working on a book project that's due August 1. And Ed has been studying. Not the relaxing summer we hoped for, but all stuff that needs to get done before we get Baby #2.

* Not a lot of time for being creative, but I did knit one baby sweater and hat for a friend who just had a little girl. Photos to come.

We're a little sad about leaving this condo. It was our first place as a couple and as a family. And it really is an awesome place--just on the third floor and no elevator. That's hard enough with one kid; it will be nearly impossible with two. And even though Oak Park has an urban feel, we're very conflicted about leaving the city. It probably makes sense not only for my job but for Ed, who is interested in teaching in the 'burbs. But we are really city people. We've fallen in love with a cute bungalow not far from our condo. If our place sells soon, we might have a chance at it. Prayers to St. Joseph (some people bury statues) appreciated!