Thursday, December 27, 2012

My Homemade Christmas

Merry Christmas, everyone!  I hope you have all had a wonderful holiday with your family and loved ones and are now recovering, like me and Mike.  Turbo (the Cat) is not recovering yet.  He is still cowering under the bed.

I don't know about you, but the last couple of weeks have been a flurry of baking, sewing, feasting, and parties in our world.  I like to make my Christmas presents, and this year I was pretty busy.  I did buy a couple of items (like the model airplane and art supplies for my nephews), but I made them art smocks to protect their clothes while they paint, draw, glue, and cut things.  The art smocks were actually a really fun project I suggest you try sometime!

I found children's plain t-shirts at my local craft store in really bright colors.  I cut those up the middle of the back (remove the tags... makes it a lot easier!) and used iron-on velcro as a fastener.  This way the kids don't have to pull the shirts over their heads when they are messy, they can just stick their arms through the sleeves and go.  Then I used fabric scraps in fun and funky patterns to make pockets on the front so they can store pens, chalk, and any other art supplies, frogs, bugs, etc., that they find.  I also appliqued their first initial on to each shirt... just for fun!
Orson's smock (I think he will grow into it!)

Enzo's Smock

Reney's Smock

I made a sock monkey for my youngest nephew, too, since the older two got sock monkeys last year.  All kids need sock monkeys.  It is just one of those things.

I made a couple sets of dish towels for friends and family... these are another fun and easy project.  I used dish towels from the dollar store, and fabric scraps to add neat details to the towels.  Cat heads and paws for my friends and their furry companions, and a nice Italian feast scene for my Dad and his wife, to match their Italian country kitchen.

I then tackled my smallest and most challenging present: Salat Esse.  This is a special salad dressing that my Mom used to eat when she lived in Switzerland.  The Swiss call it "French Dressing", but it is unlike any French Dressing you find in the US.  This past May, when we visited, I had the opportunity to try the dressing myself.  She is right, it is delicious.  When we got back, I tried to find some online to buy.  No go.  So then I tried to find a recipe for it.  Another epic fail.  I finally found a recipe that looked like it had the right ingredients to produce the flavor I was looking for, so I mixed up a batch.  And then I poured it down the drain.  It wasn't just bad, it was AWFUL.  So I scrapped that and decided to try and make it according to taste.  I think what I have finally managed to make is pretty close.  Close enough that when my Mom opened her gift, which I had put in a Spice Islands jar labeled "Bay Leaves", she instantly knew that it wasn't bay leaves.  Better yet, when she opened it and tasted it, she announced "Salat Esse!  Oh my God!"  So I think it is close enough.  We think I may need to use a little less white wine vinegar next time... or maybe use champagne vinegar instead, but I think we are just about there!

Then I baked.  A lot.  One of the main gifts that I give to everyone is a jar of peaches and a jar of pears that I can each year.  I pair that with a plate of baked goods.

This year the plates featured Buckeyes (chocolate covered peanut butter balls), rum balls, mini hot cocoa cookies, chocolate fudge peanut butter cookie stuffed cookies (I know, that's a mouthful!), and poppyseed bread.  I need to give credit where it is due... the mini hot cocoa cookies came from one of the blogs that I like to follow:  Two Peas and Their Pod.
This is the photo from the Two Peas and Their Pod blog.

The link to the recipe is here, and I strongly suggest you give it a go!

The Chocolate Fudge Peanut Butter Cookie Stuffed Cookies came from another blog I like to follow:  Picky Plate.  This recipe takes a few bowls and a bit of time, but is SO worth it.  Delicious!
This photo is from the Picky Palate blog.
Here is the link to the recipe.

And just for fun... here is some of the mess that I made baking!
Poppyseed Bread


Rum Balls

My Peanut Butter Fudge Cookies

My Mini Hot Cocoa Cookies

Stay tuned for the next episode... I think it might feature some home-brew fun!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Christmas is Coming... and I have a Master Bathroom Again!

Happy December, everyone!  It never ceases to amaze me how time flies when the holidays are coming and I am absolutely nowhere near being ready.  I am pretty sure if I had the patience to read the entire list of Murphy's Laws, that would be on there somewhere. 

I am pleased (oh so very pleased) to publicly thank Mike for the incredible master bathroom that he just finished.  As promised... some photos:
Dreamline Shower Doors, glass shelves and a teak bench to finish it off
Detail of the diamond cut-out
Love the teak bench, love the shower floor!

Here you can see the glass shelves and how the travertine transitions into the tumbled marble.  Pretty!
This shows the porcelain tile floor and the travertine base-boards that Mike installed.  And his flip-flops.  And the mess of tools that still need to be put away!
We still have quite a bit of clean-up to do and tools to put away, but I couldn't have asked for a better present!

I am so excited about the bathroom that it actually motivated me to get some holiday decorating done!  The tree is up, the few presents I have managed to finish so far are wrapped and under the tree, the wreath is on the door, the garland is on the bannister... now I just need to get to the Christmas cards (if you don't have one from me yet, it is because I haven't started them!), the holiday baking, and the eggnog and rum.  Oh yes, the eggnog and rum.

My tree skirt looks lovely under the tree!

Decorated with ribbon this year instead of garland or tinsel.

The whole shebang.  I think I am pleased.
I am also pleased to announce that my birthday present to myself (okay... one of my birthday presents to myself!) has arrived... my new shirt complete with my logo!  Thank you so much to the folks from Down The Line Sports ( for designing something so very me!

My newest tennis shirt.

And all this... just in time for the Holiday Tournament I am playing with my friend Fumi!

I will write more soon - just as soon as I get those Christmas cards done, the presents handled, and the eggnog and rum ingested!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

My Name is Auntie and I Like to Do Drawrings

Another big gap between posts... I apologize for the absence.  Lots of fun things happening lately, though!  In November I started giving "Art Appreciation" lessons to my sister's oldest son, Reney.  These lessons consist of studying an artist, learning about aspects of art, and then trying to apply what we have learned.  This sounds like an excellent plan, but the major challenge becomes apparent when we mention that Reney is six.  He will be turning seven this year, but he is still six.  He is in that particular phase where he thinks "poop" is hysterical, learning to write correctly is a waste of time, and his Mom and his Auntie don't know anything.  It is my understanding that this phase may last well into adult-hood, but we are doing our best to cope in the meantime.

The first artist we picked to study is Vincent Van Gogh... that master of Post-Impressionism.  Van Gogh has some personal interest for us since we visited some of the places that were important in Van Gogh's life when we were in France.  We have pictures of the cafe he painted, spent a few days in Paris, and we spent some time in Arles, where Van Gogh spent some time trying to start an artist commune.  Reney probably doesn't remember this (he was 20 months at the time!), but we have some pictures of him there, so that made it a little more interesting for him.

Some of the aspects of art that we talked about were contrast, perception, and texture.  We looked at dark vs light, how perception shows distance (near vs far), and how texture can be used to create both contrast and perception. 

Van Gogh did quite a few self-portraits, so that was our first attempt at art.  Unfortunately, I do not have a picture of the self-portraits, but I was pleasantly surprised with Reney's attention to detail and image of himself.  And my sister tells me that his subsequent self-portraits show an evolving image of himself and more seriousness in the artwork.

The next step was to look at some of Van Gogh's art and then create our own interpretations.  One of the pieces that we studied was the famous "Starry Night" painting (shown below).

We created our own individual interpretations of this painting, using the medium of chalk on black construction paper.

Reney's Midnight Christmas Tree

Reney used the side of the blue chalk to create contrast and the appearance of texture in his drawing, in order to emphasize the dark night.  The blue is the sky that is near, and the black behind is the sky that is far away.  The light colors used in the stars and the moon are meant to create the contrast of bright vs dark and make the stars and moon appear to glow.

My Interpretation

 As you can see, my interpretation has quite a bit less imagination than Reney's.  My favorite part is the lit windows in the small town.

The following week, we used Van Gogh's Sunflowers as our inspiration.
The Van Gogh version...
My version

Brigitta's version

Reney's version
I painted this lovely scene on construction paper for Brigitta

Reney created himself as a flower
I think our next artist will continue the Post-Impressionism studies... Paul Cezanne?

Friday, October 19, 2012

October Musings

So here we are in mid-October and I am finally getting around to another post.  It has been an eventful month so far.  Some cooking, some home renovation, a quilting retreat, and lots of sports.  My nephew participated in the 2012 Gorge Kids Triathlon.  This was his first tri ever (not bad for a 6 year old), and one of the coolest kids activities I have seen in a long time!  It had a swim/wade, a bike, and a run, and Reney did it all by himself - a born DIYer... makes me proud!
Reney showing off his hard-earned t-shirt, and more important, the Subway cookie that he did not have to share with his Mom!

The bathroom is coming along... shower floor is in and Mike is starting on the tile on the walls.
 In this picture you can see how the shower floor has come together with the curb.  Mike has included a brushed stainless tile trim on the curb where the shower doors will go, and I think it is looking great!

No grouting has been done yet (that will go in a dark grey on the floor and a sand color on the walls of the shower), but you get the idea.  You can see in this last photo the diamond shaped cut-outs that Mike is including in the upper row of tiles.  Small diamonds of the floor mosaics will go in there to help tie it together.  This will look pretty cool, I think, since the tile above the shower has the diamond accents in it as well.  I would love to take credit for this design, but it is all Mike.  ;)

While Mike was hard at work on the bathroom, I was out gallivanting around Hood River with my quilting friends for our annual quilting retreat.  The last couple of years we have gone to a great bed and breakfast in Astoria and rented out the whole facility for our group.  This year we decided to do something a little different and rented a vacation home in Hood River for the weekend.  The place was fantastic, and we had a lot of fun!  We did some wine tasting, some eating, and lots of quilting!  I am working on a tree skirt for Christmas time.

This project has incorporated quite a few "firsts" for me:  my first angled cuts (9 degree, in case you are interested), my first ruffle (gathering is not fun, emphasis on the NOT), and the first time that I have layered it in such an odd order... apparently (according to the directions) I will sew it all together leaving a small opening, then pull it all through the opening and it will magically be in the right order.  I am skeptical, to say the least.  ;)

I think, though, that since it is turning out so beautifully, I should share the link.  This is a free pattern that I found on the Sulky website, and I have been having a lot of fun with it!  I will post the finished product when I am done, but in the meantime, for all you DIYers out there... here is the link:

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Shower Pans, Garage Door Openers, and Kitchen Sinks... Oh my!

I apologize for the length of time between updates... it has been a crazy couple of weeks.  Last Thursday night, just as Mike was getting all geared up for a busy DIY weekend, the garage door opener ground to a halt.  Actually, more specifically, it made a horrible grinding noise, stopped, and dropped the chain.  Mike and I stared at it, then at each other, and then back at the opener.  Finally Mike said, "I will buy a new one on the way home from tennis tonight and install it tomorrow."  Little did we know it would take 3 hours to install, with the last hour consisting of mostly cursing and flipping through the three different manuals to determine how to program the thing so that when you pushed the button, it actually opened.  Novel idea.

Once the install was complete, the programming accomplished, and we were happily pushing the button and enjoying the almost silent belt-drive on the new garage door opener, Mike said, "You know, it was really only twelve years old, and we don't use it that much.  It really shouldn't have broken."  I nodded, and thanked my lucky stars that my verbal filter was functioning well.  If the filter hadn't been in top form, I might have blurted out a reminder that there was that one time a few years back when I drove into the garage with the bicycle on top of the roof rack, and subsequently the garage door itself had to be replaced, and really the opener was never the same after that.  But the filter worked, so I said nothing.  I guess this is where I find out whether or not he reads this blog.

He did manage to get quite a bit of work done over the weekend, with the cement board going up in the shower and on the floors, and the waterproof membrane going in to the shower pan.  Mike built the curb for the shower, then put in the second layer of the shower pan and built up the height on the curb.  This weekend, he started laying the tile on the floor of the bathroom while we are waiting for the shower pan to dry.  It took 5 days for the first layer of the pan to dry, and it isn't even supposed to be as warm this week.
The waterproof membrane
The finished (although still wet) shower pan and curb

So this morning, we get up bright and early, grab a bite to eat, and get ready to start the day.  I start doing the dishes, and the next thing I know, there is water pouring out from under the kitchen sink and soaking my feet!  Of course, I do the only logical thing:  turn off the sink and holler for Mike.  Fortunately, it turned out to be an easy fix.  We had a large container of 409 cleaner shift and knock a pipe connector out of place.  Mike replaced it, tightened the fitting, and we were good to go. 

We borrowed a tile saw from Mike's Mom (thank you, Charlotte!) and started laying out the tile and making cuts.  I was actually somewhat helpful in this phase, since Mike decided we should put my overly-detail-oriented (some might say "anal") nature to good use, and he put me in charge of running the tile saw.  He made the measurements and marks, I made the cuts.  Even though we worked as a team, it was still slow-going.  We did manage to get some down, though.  Here are some pictures for your viewing pleasure. 

And just so nobody gets the wrong idea and thinks that I am just sitting around eating bon-bons while Mike works, I managed to get some stuff done these last couple of weeks, too.  I finished the top of the charity quilt I was working on and am now putting the backing and batting on so I can quilt it this week.  I also canned 50 lbs (28.5 qts) of peaches with my friend, Kristi, got quite a bit of cutting done on the red and white quilt I am working on, dried 5 lbs of apples, and made Steak and Ale Pie for dinner.  So there.  :)
The top for the charity quilt

Steak and Ale Pie... it's what's for dinner!

Monday, September 3, 2012

"Is that a Crack?"

It seemed like such a simple question.  As I was showering one morning, I noticed a line on the floor of the shower.  I bent closer to get a better look.  And then I asked "Is that a crack?".  As it turns out, yes.  There are several cracks.  Our builder grade fiberglass surround in our master bathroom has bit the dust.  It is time to replace it. 

After much discussion we determined that we didn't like the idea of replacing it with another fiberglass surround.  If we are going to go to the trouble to replace it, we should replace it with something we actually like.  There is a novel concept.  :)  And you know, if we are going to tile the shower, we should tile the surround for the soaking tub, too.  And we should probably put in shower doors that we actually like, instead of the ghetto ones we currently have.  And you know, we might as well tile the floor while we are at it...

And so it begins.

We drew a diagram of the bathroom and started measuring.  We measured in inches, and calculated square inches.  Then, over a fabulous lunch of Panda Xpress, I attempted to convert to square feet so we could buy the tile.  I ran the numbers and then proudly announced to Mike that we were going to need 1300 square feet of tile for the shower walls.  Mike just stared at me.  Finally he pointed out, very calmly, that our entire house was 2600 square feet.  How could we possibly need 1300 square feet for the shower walls?  I rechecked my calculation.  "Well, I take the square inches and divide by 12 to get square feet.  I get 1300 square feet." Mike smiled and suggested I google to see if there is a conversion chart for that.  Turns out we needed 88 square feet.  Should have divided by 144.  Who knew?

After that initial set-back, we have finally procured all the tile and supplies for this project.  Travertine for the shower walls and tub surround, mosaics for the shower floor, and tile "planks" for the bathroom floor.  We had Dreamline shower doors (all 237 pounds of glass) delivered and they are waiting to be installed.  We have more grout, thin-set and cement board than I ever imagined would be necessary.  So it is time to demo.

Here are some "before" shots:
The original vinyl floor
The horrible shower doors and shower with the cracked floor.

The soaker tub with the current boring white tile surround.
The toilet and shower doors are out.

Mike, hard at work with the sawzall.

Mike's handywork.

The shower is out!
The vinyl floor and toilet are gone.

The first layer of the shower pan has been put in.  You can see where Mike has built the curb and reinforced the studs in the walls. 

The carpet (yes... our builder put carpet in our bathroom in front of the sinks and tub.  Gross.) and the vinyl floors have come out.  I helped with those, because as I mentioned in an earlier post, I am an expert at pulling staples, flooring nails, tack strips, etc.  The fiberglass surround has come out.  The studs have been reinforced, and the curb has been built.  This weekend Mike has poured the first layer of the shower pan, and he has been working to install the cement board flooring.   I stripped the old caulking off the tumbled marble tiles above the shower, tried not to complain about the dust and debris, folded five loads of laundry, pieced together a quilt top, and in general, I have done an excellent job of staying out of the way.

Stay tuned for the next installment, where cement board will be installed, the moisture barrier will be put in, and the second layer of shower pan will be installed.