Thursday, February 26, 2015

A Practical Place to Sew: My Sewing Storage

I dream of a craft room full of color, beautifully arranged fabrics, adorable vintage items repurposed into clever storage solutions, and oozing with inspiration. Don't we all? Well, at least all of the crafters/sewers/scrapbookers do. All the rest of you, maybe you dream of some other kinds of room. I wouldn't know.

I have a Pinterest board with lots of great eye candy, but the reality is, I don't currently have a craft room. The other reality is, I probably won't have a craft room in the near future. Or maybe ever. I highly doubt John would agree to transform our formal living room into a craft room for me like her husband did, but a girl can dream.

So, I make do with what I've got. Right now, I do most of my sewing at the dining room table and messier crafts at my kitchen counter. The good thing about this is that I'm right near all the action. My kids are often playing while I'm working and creating so they can be right by me if they want. I am free to step into the kitchen to get supper going or check on it. Part of me doesn't like the idea of crafting in an out-of-the-way corner of the house. I like being in the mix of things.

That being said, there are obvious downsides to my current set-up. First of all, most of my sewing supplies and fabric is stored in our second floor guest room/office. When I want to sew, I have to gather my materials and bring them down. Sometimes this means a little, but when I'm sewing for a craft sale or beefing up my inventory for my Etsy shop, this means I'm hauling down a lot. Second, it means that when I'm in the midst of sewing, we have a permanent mess in the dining room. This isn't always that big of a deal since we have an eat-in kitchen we use, but still, who likes a mess that never seems to end? And then there's the eventual clean-up. It's back to the first problem...just in reverse. After carrying all the stuff back up to the guest room/office, I often just let it sit on the floor or bed to be put away someday later. Not a good thing either.

I had previously read Callie's post about organizing for sewing at your kitchen table. More recently, I was inspired by Meg's craft cabinet in her dining room. See those sewing machines tucked inside her lovely green cabinet? I thought...why can't I do something like that?

Currently, I have a hulk of a buffet in my dining room which stores all the usual suspects. I decided to do some reorganizing to see if I could make space in there for my sewing machine, my sewing box, and thread. I knew I could easily tuck my cutting mats behind the buffet. That way, I would only have to bring down my fabric when it was time to sew. It would also make it easier when I wanted to do a quick alteration or fix to a piece of clothing.

Lo and behold, with not much effort, I accomplished just that! Don't you love it when organizing/reorganizing is quick and easy and oh-so-satisfying? Makes me want to keep going, finding new ways to organize things so our house functions in a way that works for how we live.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Eat Your Veggies...For Breakfast

Last May I wanted to lose a little extra weight so I decided to step it up with my workouts and put more effort into eating right. The first thing I had to do was just start eating LESS. Portion size definitely matters when you are trying to manage your weight. Then I started focusing on healthier breakfasts that would leave me fuller longer and getting in plenty of veggies during the day. Eggs became my new best friend for breakfast. I didn't do anything fancy, just cooked up two eggs each morning. I ate more salads for lunch and chose fruits and veggies as snacks over carbs. I will say, my taste buds are evolving and I am trying foods that I thought I didn't like only to find that they are very good.

In the fall, I did a few clean eating challenges. This made me search for even more healthy recipes for my daily meals. One recipe I tried during my challenge was for sausage egg cups. Basically, you just cook scrambled eggs in muffin tins, adding in turkey breakfast sausage, red peppers, and onion. They were great and got me thinking about adding vegetables to my eggs in the morning.

Throughout the process I have tracked my eating with the My Fitness Pal app. This recipe popped up on my feed and I had to try it. It is a winner! It will be in my regular rotation of breakfasts.

Brussels Sprouts and Bacon Hash with Eggs

1 slice of bacon, chopped small
7-9 Brussels sprouts (trim off bottoms, discard), chopped small
1 Tbsp. chopped nuts, optional (I used pecans because I have them on hand)
1 to 2 eggs
Olive oil to coat pan
Salt/Pepper to taste

In a small pan, cook bacon. When edges begin to crisp and brown, add Brussels sprouts. Stir to mix and sauté until some of Brussels sprouts begin to brown. (This will leave you with a nice mix-some of them will be softer and others will still be a bit crunchy.) Stir in chopped nuts and then place "hash" on your plate. Coat your pan with olive oil, as needed and add egg(s). Cook to your liking. I prefer to cook it medium so the yolk is still a little runny. Place egg on top of "hash". Enjoy and give yourself a pat on the back for already getting in a serving of vegetables!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

A Crowd-Pleasing Treat

It's that time of year again...Super Bowl time. Do you watch the game or the commercials? I like some of both, though it usually becomes a time for me to catch up with friends. Super Bowl parties usually mean lots of yummy food. I made an easy treat that is always a hit--caramel puff corn. It has been a family favorite for a long time. We usually make it at Christmas and it never lasts long. It also makes a great treat to fill goody bags.

My kids love puff corn so adding caramel to it only makes it even better. It's an easy recipe and is gluten free (just double check your the labels on your ingredients).

Caramel Puff Corn
1 8 oz. bag of puffcorn (plain or butter flavor)
1 C. butter (not margarine)
1 C. brown sugar
1/2 C. light corn syrup
1 tsp. baking soda
Pinch of salt

Put puff corn into a large roaster pan or large aluminum bowl. In a 2 qt. sauce pan melt together butter, brown sugar, corn syrup, and a pinch of salt. Immediately after melted, cook for exactly 2 min. Add baking soda (it will foam up). Pour caramel mixture over puff corn and stir until mixed well. Place in 250 degree oven for 45 min. Stir well, ever 10 minutes. Remove from oven, pour onto wax paper and break apart. Allow to cool. You can save the puff corn bag and store caramel puff corn in it or store it in an airtight container.

Do not double, rather make multiple batches.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

A New Year:First Things First

Each year in January, many of us make resolutions to better ourselves and our lives. We're going to stop doing all the things that are bad for us and start doing all the things that are good for us. I like the idea of a fresh start as much as anyone. The promise of a new year always holds so much possibility. I've always had mixed emotions on resolutions. We all know that most of them are doomed to fail. Not because they are impossible, but because change is HARD. Whether it's change that we want and have chosen, or change that we would rather have skipped over.

Still, at this time of year, I find myself dreaming of what I want out of my life, how I want to spend my days, ways in which I want to grow. I keep being reminded though, that the best place for me to focus on is my relationship with God. I know from the past that when I make reading my Bible and prayer time a priority it sets the right tone for the whole day. I feel more calm and am reminded that I don't go through life on my own. I can't do it all on my own and I'm not expected to. There is grace and there is time for me to grow with God into the woman He has planned me to be.

So before I get too busy making to do lists and endless goals, I'm going to spend time doing what matters most. I know that it will have the greatest impact on my days and my family.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Shortbread Cookies

Anyone else been waiting for the newest Downton Abbey season? If you're a fan, I know you have been anxious to see what happens in the new season. If you haven't jumped on the bandwagon, come on up, you'll love it! There are lots of ways to catch up on past seasons. Most libraries have them or you may find a friend or neighbor who owns them. Some seasons are also available on PBS's website, as well as Amazon and Netflix. I had hoped to watch last season again before the new started, but I didn't get it done.

Last year I made cucumber sandwiches and scones for the Season 4 premiere. Last Sunday, I tuned in for Season 5 and was not disappointed. What did you think? Last season was pretty quiet in a lot of ways (especially after all the drama of Season 3), so I liked that there was a lot of promise of things to come this season. It seems like it will be a season of secrets and some scandal--all the things we love about the show. For this week's episode I made up a batch of shortbread (super simple!). I can't seem to watch without a cup of tea. I feel so British.

Bonus points if you dip the shortbread in chocolate. (I'm an over-achiever.)

from Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook

1 1/4 C. all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp. granulated sugar
1/2 C. butter

Combine flour and sugar; cut in butter until mixture resembles fine crumbs and starts to cling. From mixture into ball; knead until smooth. Press mixture into square glass baking pan. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until edges just begin to brown. Cool in pan for 5 minutes. Cut shortbread into strips or pieced sized how you like. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool completely.

To dip in chocolate: Melt chocolate of your choice (I used dark chocolate chips) in microwave, as directed. Dip ends or bottoms into chocolate and allow to cool on wax paper-lined cookie sheet.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Rewind-The Rest of 2014

A new year is here and while I have a lot I could say about the rest of 2014, I'm ready for a fresh start on my blog. I'm setting some blogging goals for myself so I can share more often and share a greater variety of things. Most of my posts in the last year have just been about my family and events in our life, which is great, but there are other things I'd like to share about too.

So, here's a final look back at the fall and holiday season of 2014.

Levi started kindergarten. He loves it and is learning so much. One of his favorite things is that he gets to ride the bus. He and his bus friends are always hatching plans for playdates and parties. I'm so glad he is meeting friends he will be in school with for a long time.

My mom and I sold at our second barn sale at Little Prairie Girl in Holland, IA. It is always fun to create things that you like and find someone who likes them too. I also held a holiday sale in my home in November and enjoyed completing various custom orders. If you haven't already, be sure to like our business page on Facebook. I'm looking to add more to our Etsy shop and always welcome custom orders.
Right after that I hopped on a plane and headed to Charleston, SC where I met up with my BFF Joanna. She flew down from Pennsylvania. What a treat to have a WHOLE week together. We have been friends since high school and spent a majority of our friendship away from each other. We stay connected with phone calls that are often interrupted by our little ones and cut short by preschool pickups or errands to be run. Charleston offered us plenty of cool things to see, yummy things to eat (and drink), and time to just lay around and talk.

Fall fun in Lake Carroll with friends.

The kids and I spent Halloween in Iowa. Levi was Batman and Lillian was Elsa. I made Levi's costume (complete with muscles--a fun project!) and my mom made most of Lillian's costume. I made her wig using this tutorial.

It took Lillian a little while to adjust to Levi being gone every morning. They play so nice together and are so loving towards each other (most of the time). I'm so glad they have a built-in playmate at home.

Thanksgiving was also celebrated in Iowa. We went to a UNI wrestling meet with family.
Once again, we cut our Christmas tree at Oney's with John's parents. It's a fun Christmas tradition and it was a beautiful tree.

The kids visited Santa in Cedar Falls after Thanksgiving and Mrs. Claus when we got our Christmas tree.

We baked sugar cookies. Lillian ate more dough than she actually made into cookies, but it was fun. John also built a log cabin out of pretzel rods and the kids helped decorate it.
Christmas morning fun...Santa brought Levi a shovel (He plans to dig holes and a pond) and Lillian got Elsa, Anna, and Olaf. Like lots of little girls her age, she had a Frozen themed Christmas.
On New Year's Eve we went bowling with our neighbors then we hung out at one of their houses to ring in the New Year. My little party animals made it all night!

I hope you had a great holiday season and I look forward to seeing you here more regularly.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Rewind : Got Milk?

Another "rewind" post as I get my blog caught up on life in the last few months...

In August, we made a trip back to Iowa to visit my family. It is always great to just spend time with them, but it's also fun to play tourist there.  We have found plenty of fun things for our family to see and do while we are there. The highlight of this trip was a visit to Hansen's Dairy in Hudson, IA.

Hansen's Dairy is a locally owned and family-operated dairy. Most days you can schedule a guided tour where you can learn about their farm, their cows, the process of milking, and get some "hands-on" experiences. To top that off, you can meet and feed their pet kangaroos and wallaby, as well as taste some of the delicious products. The kids absolutely loved this hands-on field trip, as did all of the adults.

After riding in a tractor-pulled wagon from the visitor's center to the farm next door, we first visited the kangaroos and wallaby. They are the mascot of Hansen's Dairy, added to the farm after one of their sons took a trip to Australia. You can pet and feed them.

Next, we got to bottle-feed calves. As a child, my brother and I often did this on our uncle's dairy farm. It was fun to see my kids doing it.

Aunt Steffoni taking a turn
The day we visited, a calf had just been born. They mentioned that they were looking for an 'A' name since they name the calves with the letter that begins the mother's name. They were thinking August since she was born in August. I suggested our last name, which is a rare name. There surely hadn't been another cow named Ardente in their farm's history. Sure enough, they took our suggestion and there is now a cow named Ardente growing up on the Hansen farm. We even got to take a turn bottle feeding her.

Next we learned more about how they care for the herd and manage the different parts of the farm and milk business. We visited the milking parlor and took a turn trying to hand-milk one of the cows. Both myself and Lillian were quick learners and could have gotten hired for an opening they had.

One of the highlights of the visit was the tasting back at the visitor's center. We got to shake a small amount of cream in a jar to make butter. Levi loved it and ate a TON of the butter with crackers. We sampled chocolate milk and each got to pick one flavor of their ice cream to enjoy. In addition, they had hands on activities for the kids.

We liked their milk products so much, we now bring them home to Illinois and have my mom bring it to us when she visits. The kids cheer when we have Hansen's Dairy "kangaroo milk". I'm happy to support a "local" business and get a better product too. If you're in the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area, I would definitely recommend a visit to both their farm and one of their retail locations.