something small

We visited friends about a week and a half ago, and told them how much we enjoy their little house and their decorating style. They sighed while admitting they were only able to accomplish one small task a week in beautifying their home.

One per week? I thought one every few months was pretty ambitious.

The idea of doing something every week was inspiring. Naturally, we went home pondering what small thing we could do that very week, but came up dry. I hit upon it this past weekend.

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Every time I go to the hardware store I scope out the mailboxes. Ours left much to be desired. It was just a little black rectangle, faded from age, a little rusty in the corners. Buying a new one wasn’t in the budget, but a can of spray paint would only set us back about 4 bucks. Bingo.

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There were about 25 different colors ro choose from at Home Depot. I knew I wanted the opposite of what I had: I needed something bright, something that would pop. I thought about orange or green, but Pete liked the idea of yellow. After hemming and hawing in the paint aisle for about 20 minutes, I settled on a color that mirrors the color of our porch. I kind of like the idea of tying the outside in with the inside.

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Even though the paint I bought included primer, it still took many coats to cover the black. Because I am notoriously bad at spray painting, I tried to really take my time and ensure I was coating it evenly without making drips.

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I’d call it a success! If you try a similar project, just note that the USPS prefers flags be red or orange (if you have a mailbox flag at all…as you can see, I do not).

Thanks to Julia and Ryan for inspiring us to do small things that make a big impact!

how does your garden grow?

Hey, guys! I’d love to say that life is so super busy that I never have time to post all of my amazing things that I do, but sadly, that is not true. In fact, after 7pm, life gets downright boring. I watch TV, pay bills, do a load or two of laundry, and call it a night. And you know what? I kinda love it. It’s nice to veg out after a day of work or play. So, I haven’t been MAKING anything lately, and it was nice to have a break. BUT! It’s not like I haven’t been doing anything at all. Though today you wouldn’t know it (cold and rainy in NH today), the past couple weeks have been downright beautiful. It’s been great weather for digging outside.

What have I planted this year? Garden phlox, astilbe, and hosta, so far! I’ve also got some hanging petunias and a few things that were already planted when we moved in.

I took some pictures the other day when it was sunny and warm. Join me on a tour of my tiny yard! You can click on any of the photos to enlarge it and view as a photo gallery.

Up there you’ll see geraniums, the bud of a hydrangea, azaleas with killer color, a little carpet rose that hasn’t bloomed yet but is looking nice and green, and a giant, twiggy plant that blooms in the prettiest shade of light pink. When the phlox blooms it’ll be a purply color, and the astilbe (that tiny little thing that looks like a weed next to the stairs)? Who knows! I bought it at a garden club plant sale, so I’m excited to see if it thrives and spreads. Oh, and that’s my little garden helper relaxing by the pool. It sure looks like lots of pink, but the hydrangeas are white, the roses are red, and…well I could really use some yellow, I think. Buying plants is addictive!

My next endeavor, if I can manage to make time for it, is to plant some herbs in containers. My parents got me this great little greenhouse but it’s been hard to find a sunny spot for it. My goal is to fill it with edible plants this week.

My little garden(s) is/are a work in progress, but it’s so fun to do and satisfying to admire. Hopefully you’ve been able to get outside, too.

do you wanna build an elsa costume?

I know, I know. I talk pretty much ALL. THE. TIME. about how the movie Frozen left some things to be desired. I just really love Disney villains, and there isn’t one in this movie. Elsa’s not a villain–she has powers and she’s misunderstood, but a villain she is not. That one guy who wants to marry Anna? I guess he’s the villain. But he’s not some menacing Scar-like figure, or even a lovable jerk like Gaston. He doesn’t have a villain song! But, I digress. The point of this post is to talk about my upcoming FROZEN PARTY at the library, and as always, I am getting super into it!

Picture this: your library’s children’s room transformed into Arendelle, with purple, gold, and green banners hanging all around. Then, you are ushered to the meeting room, which has been turned into Elsa’s ice palace! Icicle lights, snowflake wands, troll bowling, Olaf snowball toss, and then…A GIANT SING-ALONG. Guys, I am beside myself with excitement about this party! And just like with the Star Wars party of yesteryear, I need a sweet costume to really get in the zone.

 

Leia on Hoth!

Leia on Hoth (2012)! And Pete the Jedi!

Have I mentioned that I love costumes? I’ll take pretty much any opportunity to dress up. Obviously, this Frozen party is no exception.

After scouring the planet for a turquoise or teal or basically blue/green formal dress and not finding any in my size, I was pretty much ready to give up. I figured I’d just get one at the local Savers that was two sizes too small and try some alterations. I mean, it was only a $15 dress. I was hemming and hawing about it when my mom came to the rescue.

“Don’t you have that dress you wore to like, three dances?”

I drew a blank. A dress I wore to three dances? I couldn’t at all remember.

“You know,” she continued, “the one you wore with sneakers. It’s in the attic in a box that’s for dress-up clothes.”

Ah! Yes! Of course I remember that silver gem. I wore it with sneakers to junior prom. Other notable memories of junior prom? I choked on a meatball at dinner, and I believe that’s where “DJ Mullet” made his first appearance. I seem to remember comically large sunglasses, as well. Anyway, yes! The dress was there, in the attic, and it wasn’t teal but it was free, and that made it good enough.

Other cheap finds for this costume:

-Free tulle from work! It’s old and white and ratty, but since “free” trumps pretty much everything else in my costume-making adventures, I figured it’d be fine as long as there weren’t big gross holes.

-$4 sparkly blue tulle on a roll

-$4 sparkly snowflake buttons that will go in my braid

-Glue that I had on hand

-Thread that I had on hand

So, aside from the hours and hours it took me to make the cape/train, it’s really just an $8 costume!

I planned to also make a mesh shirt with long sleeves to go under the dress, but after all that work on the train, I just can’t be bothered. Kids will get the idea! I also went back and forth over whether or not to paint or dye the dress. It’s mostly polyester, so I guess typical dye (like Rit) is a terrible idea according to many blogs I ended up reading on the subject. Paint would have worked great but would have taken forever and it probably would have looked ugly. The dress remains an icy silver.

Here’s a million pics of the process:

The dress and the very long length of tulle before any alterations. I just kind of put the tulle on top to see how long/wide it really was.

The dress and the very long length of tulle before any alterations. I just kind of put the tulle on top to see how long/wide it really was. Answer: longer than I thought, which ended up being great. I had enough to cut two side pieces in addition to the middle part of the train.

As I said, I had enough tulle to kind of fill out the train and add some pieces to the side for a rounder effect.

As I said, I had enough tulle to kind of fill out the train and add some pieces to the side for a rounder effect. I just eyeballed this. What did I have to lose? The stuff was free!

I made this discovery after I'd cut the sides. I told you it was ratty! Luckily I had enough that I could cut a new one.

I made this discovery after I’d cut the sides. I told you it was ratty! Luckily I had enough that I could cut a new one.

I sewed the two sides on (it wasn't as hard to sew tulle as I'd thought!) and then gathered the top. I attached that to a piece of Velcro, and put the other side of the Velcro on the dress. Presto, changeo: the dress now has this magnificent train/cape thing.

I sewed the two sides on (it wasn’t as hard to sew tulle as I’d thought!) and then gathered the top. I attached that to a piece of Velcro, and put the other side of the Velcro on the dress. Presto, changeo: the dress now has this magnificent train/cape thing. I was worried after this, though, because it’s so WHITE. I feared it was a bit too bridal.

Enter: elements of blue! I figured if I added a bunch of blue in different places it would trick the eye into seeing the dress as more blue than white or gray. This is when inspiration struck after about two hours of staring at the blue tulle and going, "WHAT THE HELL DO I DO NOW?" Make a giant snowflake, of course!

Enter: elements of blue! I figured if I added a bunch of blue in different places it would trick the eye into seeing the dress as more blue than white or gray. This is after about two hours of staring at the blue tulle and mumbling, “WHAT THE HELL DO I DO NOW?” It took me a while to make the jump from imagining Elsa’s dress as teal to imagining my dress as an interpretation of that dress; one that’s within the same  color family but not an exact replica. I decided to make a giant blue snowflake. It made me happy.

This also made me happy.

This also made me happy. Starting the giant snowflake!

Giant snowflake complete and attached with glue. Kind of crusty and ugly, but hopefully from far away nobody will notice.

Giant snowflake complete and attached with glue. Kind of crusty and ugly, but hopefully from far away nobody will notice the glue crust.

This part actually took the longest: sewing six little snowflakes onto the tulle. I didn't like the look of the glue, so sewing seemed a good option. I tied each on in three places. It was painstaking and horrible.

This part actually took the longest: sewing six little snowflakes onto the tulle. I didn’t like the look of the glue, so sewing seemed a good option. I tied each on at three points. It was painstaking and horrible. But look! I also added blue to the top to hide the Velcro.

 

Still hand sewing. Ugh.

Still hand sewing. Ugh. This is probably right before I pricked my finger for the 15th time.

Finished! I think having sleeves would really help the situation out, but as-is, I think it's passable. Don't mind my really messy kitchen. Oh! And I will FOR SURE have a blonde wig.

Finished! I think having sleeves would really help the situation out, but as-is, I think it’s passable. Don’t mind my really messy kitchen. Oh! And I will FOR SURE have a blonde wig. I frolicked around the house like this for at least twenty minutes. I LOVE DRESSING UP. I also love trains.

Look out for an update after the Frozen party next Wednesday!

wowie cake and buttercream frosting

There are lots of varieties of cakes that have “missing” ingredients. Vegan cakes, depression cakes, cakes that use a can of soda instead of oil and eggs… the list goes on for all the ways you can make that quintessential dessert. Today was another blustery and snowy day in New Hampshire. In other words, it was the perfect weather for baking a cake!

The view out our front door this morning.

The view out our front door this morning. Pretty! And menacing?

Alas, we had no eggs. And no powdered sugar (for frosting!). And I had eaten the last of the chocolate chips. The cupboards, as they say, were a little bare.

No matter! It was my sister Ally, of The Kitchen in Stereo, to the rescue! I had texted her with my dilemma. She said, “Make a wowie cake.” I paused. I furrowed my brow. I had no idea what she was talking about. After a very quick search, it became abundantly clear. A cake you make with stuff that’s definitely in the pantry! A cake that requires no eggs! A cake you could make on wartime rations! A cake that makes you say, “Wowie!” This I could do.

The recipe I used was incredibly simple. Just some sugar, flour, oil, vinegar, baking soda, vanilla, cocoa powder, and cold water. These were all ingredients I had on hand.

Easy, tasty, chocolatey, and egg-free.

Easy, tasty, chocolatey, and egg-free.

But what would I use for frosting? I had no powdered sugar for dusting, and no powdered sugar to make frosting. I felt stuck. I’ve tried using recipes that call for powdered sugar and substituting it with granulated sugar instead, but that has never, ever worked. It’s disgusting and grainy. It’s like putting a big spoonful of sweetened beach sand in your mouth. Perhaps you half expect a cigarette butt (maybe it’s just me, but doesn’t the beach just seem to turn into a giant ashtray?). At any rate, I wasn’t sure what my searching would produce when I typed “frosting with granulated sugar” into my Google search bar.

Turns out there are plenty of frostings without powdered sugar. I was feeling adventurous, so after looking through a couple recipes I landed on this (there are many versions of this same recipe online…the one I used actually called for 3 tbs of flour, but everything else was the same. I couldn’t find the link after I had closed it.). Um, frosting that you cook? On the stove? I was a tad doubtful but decided I had no choice. It was either this or have a plain Jane cake.

Stirring the milk and flour until it bubbled and thickened. It only took a few minutes.

Stirring the milk and flour until it bubbled and thickened. It only took a few minutes.

Let me cut to the chase: it was the perfect compliment to the cake. Perfect amount of sweetness. Light and fluffy and smooth as whipped cream. Not a hint of grainy, sandy granulated sugar (though it contains a whole cup of the stuff). It wasn’t even that hard to make. I think the keys to success are as follows: 1. Do not melt your butter. Just soften it. In fact, just leave it out and let it come to room temperature. You need to cream the butter and sugar together, and the butter just can’t be liquid if you want to do this. 2. Have faith. When you pour that flour/milk mixture into the mixing bowl, it is going to look gross.  The whole things stays wet for quite a few minutes, and it takes a while to combine. Prepare yourself to blend for a good five minutes while you wait for the frosting to get stiff. But it will! Just have patience! And then you will try some and your eyeballs will pop out of your face because you’re so surprised that the granulated sugar virtually disappeared, leaving only a smooth, buttery frosting in its wake.

My parents stopped by for a visit and they agreed it was quite good. Saving this recipe, for sure.

My parents stopped by for a visit and they agreed it was quite good. Saving this recipe, for sure.

Would make both again, and again, and again.

What’s your favorite cake recipe?

new stuff: serger edition

Is there anything more fun than a new power tool? This magnificent machine gets ish done.

Truth be told, I was hesitant about it at first. I already have a sewing machine that I love, and it has a serging stitch, so what more could I need? I’ve been able to finish most of my projects pretty nicely.

What I didn’t realize until yesterday, when I finally pulled the Singer ProFinish serger out of the box, was that my 2-4 step “finishing” process (sew garment, trim seam allowances, go back and sew over the allowance with a serging stitch, then clean up any stray threads) that got me a nice, homemade-looking product was a major part of why I have trouble actually finishing projects. It takes a long time to do the final steps that make a project look good, and I don’t always have the patience.

Sergin' it.

Example of sergin’ it with my sewing machine. This is a Christmas stocking. I had already sewn this once, and had to go back and finish it up, thereby sewing it a second time.

Not anymore!

This puppy does it all in one fell swoop, and it does it with a more professional look. I’m sure this is old news to anyone who has a serger, but good grief, this is going to change my crafting life FOREVER.

What a beauty!

What a beauty! Note the differences between this and a traditional sewing machine: two needles instead of one, and four spools instead of a single spool and a bobbin.

The learning curve is a little more steep than a regular sewing machine (it took me about a half hour just to thread the thing), but once I was finished with that, I quickly realized how magnificent it is. This is one Christmas gift I will be taking excellent care of so I can have it for a very long time. Thanks, Mum and Dad!

Threading this sucker took some doin'!

Threading this sucker took some doin’!

The results! I still need to play around with tension, as the loops are a bit loose, but that's all with practice. I can think of a million projects that will be easier and more polished all in one go. Hooray!

The results! I still need to play around with tension, as the loops are a bit loose, but that’s all with practice. I can think of a million projects that will be easier and more polished all in one go. Hooray!

Do you have a serger? Any tips or tricks I should know? I can’t wait to give it a real spin this Friday night with my cousin Bethany!

christmas card stringy thing

The finished product. Not great if you've got a kid that walks and grabs.

The finished product. Not great if you’ve got a kid that walks and grabs.

Pete’s started calling it a “card tree” but I don’t think it’s really an accurate description of this thing I just created out of necessity. When we lived in our old apartment, a lovely third-floor number in an old three-family that had been redone and was quite quaint, we had tall wainscoting in the kitchen that was a great spot to tape up our Christmas cards. They just kind of got taped around the room and became instant decorations that were fun to look at.

Last year we were in our new-to-us house for the first time and we didn’t know what to do with those cards anymore. We tried taping them to the edge of the staircase but they just kept falling down. When people sat down on the bench that’s in front of the stairs, the cards would fall on their heads. It was a hassle.

This year, I decided that I had to create some kind of card solution because I just love displaying them! Cute little kids and adorable pets and pretty illustrations and sentiments…cards are the best. Mail is the best. Luckily, the bare basement door is the perfect place for display where everyone will get to see them (the door is in a high-traffic open area). So, I found the perfect spot, but…for what? I roamed around A.C. Moore for about a half hour before the gears started turning. I like teeny tiny clothespins, so I wanted to use them. So how about just a string with the cards hanging on them? But that seemed too easy (although it would probably be prettier…a garland of cards! Maybe next year…). I opted instead for a vertical display: strings hanging freely from a dowel, dripping with holiday cheer. Yay! It was crazy easy. I also got to use the glue gun, a task I truly enjoy.

Materials! Some wood, some ribbon, some twine, and some glue. And don't forget the tiny clothespins! Now that I'm thinking about it, a nice thick twig with twine would work well, too.

Materials! Some wood, some ribbon, some twine, and some glue. And don’t forget the tiny clothespins! Now that I’m thinking about it, a nice thick twig with twine would work well, too.

Glue the ribbon to the wood. Cover that sucker. Don't worry about it being messy on the back.

Glue the ribbon to the wood. Cover that sucker. Don’t worry about it being messy on the back.

Tie the twine however you like. Knots, bows, beads...who knows? I encourage creativity! I'm a fan of bows, myself. I added a dab of hot glue to tack it down.

Tie the twine however you like. Knots, bows, beads…who knows? I encourage creativity! I’m a fan of bows, myself. I added a dab of hot glue to tack it down.

Tiny clothespins!

Tiny clothespins!

My helper elf.

My helper elf.

And that’s it! How do you display your holiday cards?