Thursday, April 30, 2009

Stroller Tote

I'm quite pleased (and a little relieved) to be telling you about this Stroller Tote. I started it in Tucson and, despite having only one small step left to do at home, I wasn't sure I was going to follow through and finish it. But I did finish and here it is!

I wanted a reusable shopping bag (and book bag and whatever bag) that I could clip to my stroller. All my reusable bags have narrow tops that won't hang on my stroller. This one is not only shaped correctly with a wide opening, but has a clip on each side that attaches over the handle. There is also a shoulder strap for carrying it normally. There is a little pocket inside, made out one of the corners that were snipped off when we created the box-bottom shape.

The fabrics are two coordinating prints in upholstery weight cotton. It's pretty sturdy stuff with a canvas type feel. My mom frequents a discount fabric place that has such fabrics for $3 - 6 per yard. We found these and really loved them; at $6/yard they were a really good buy. The clips are made out of some repurposed clips from baby's overalls. I discovered that you can reuse the clips and adjusting rings, but not the buttons, so I bought new buttons.

The design was based on my measurements for what I wanted to end up with. Mom and I came up with the plan for making it a bit ahead of time and a bit as we went along. I've already been using it, despite just finishing the clips today, and it is very handy. It's large enough to hold a gallon of milk and a selection of other groceries, a big stack of library books, or plenty of fabric and supplies to start a few more projects I might not finish!

I'm toying with the idea of making more, which means I need to transfer the notes we made as we went to something I'll be able to decipher later (and do it now, before I forget what they mean). I'd be interested to know if others are wanting a bag this shape as much as I was!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Gift Tag

A little re-purposing project today!

A couple of weeks ago I was at a lovely baby shower with stacks of little china plates (not all matching - just several sets stacked together!), pretty little footed glasses, and silver forks wrapped in little cloth napkins and tied with ribbons. This was not a little party, so being able to use all reusable items, and pretty ones at that, was quite a feat. The ribbons around the fork and napkins sets were so pretty. A wonderful lady, and blog reader, Ruth, handed me hers and said, "There! See if you can do something with that!". Who could resist such a fun little challenge?

This is a gift tag I made from the front and back of a greeting card I'd received. The insides were written on, but who could tell after I glued them together and rounded the corners? The fern motif was part of the original card. The words "To:" and "From:" were stamped on the back with a little silver flourish and the ribbon finished it off. In keeping with the party: little and pretty! Happy gifting, Ruth!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Guy Stuff

They are born this way, aren't they?

The very first time Sammy saw the four-wheeler, he wanted it. He automatically loved Grandad, and Grandad's truck, and Grandad's truck toolbox, and every other quintessentially guy thing around. There's no logical reason I know of that he was drawn to a rumbly engine and diamond plate. But it reminds me that Zack was the same way. Check out this shot of him and Grandad on the four-wheeler at the same age:

That look on his face is intensity, one of his specialties at the time. He was no less intense about "being the driver" of any truck, about any "machinery", and about Grandad himself.

When I pictured having children, I imagined having girls and tea parties and pink fluffy dresses. It never occurred to me that I would be having boys. Not having been around little boys, I really didn't know that the love of things boy wasn't society's influence. Now I know better - about boys' innate love of guy stuff and about my life as a mom of boys. My boys don't object to playing with a toy purse... briefly. But they loooove a toy truck. Or better yet, a real truck.

I may not have been expecting it, but I'm on board now.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Some Sewing

'Member my whining about not being able to do any sewing? Well here's my solution - visit my mom! While we were in Tucson, I took along several projects for things I wanted to fix or learn to make. Here you see Mom helping me with a couple of clothing alterations - yay!

The non-clothing projects we did together, designing as we went. The first was a liner for a small basket that I wanted to use to hold fabric napkins. The liner that came in it was hideous. The colors were fine but it was made of this nasty synthetic stuff that unraveled more every time we looked at it, the strings sticking to everything in the room. It was snagging on the slightest rough spots on my hands (and sheesh, it's not like I'm a cowboy; my hands are not that rough!). So, we used Mom's fabric stash and made up a new one.

We started by measuring the old one and matching the measurements. The project has only seven pieces plus four tie strings. Once we had the plan, it went together very quickly with no tricky gotcha moments. I wrote down the plan and have ideas of making more for other baskets. And if I do, maybe I'll be able to find the time to make a tutorial. Can't you just see all the possibilities?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Army Quilt

My family has this Army Quilt. It is something my Dad made when he was a kid, maybe in high school, from gathered and repurposed army khakis. He is the oldest of five: four boys and one girl. By the time his sister was born, I think she was the darling of the family. He recalls making her some doll clothes (a high school boy making his baby sister doll clothes? Nothing could say love more!) and shortly thereafter deciding to make this quilt. It is sewn irregularly, in overlapping groups, out of bits of shirts and pants. You can see the flat felt seams (those double seams on the sides of jeans that don't show a seam inside or out) from the pants, some embroidered names we don't recognize anymore, and places where patches have been removed. Where it has been torn or worn through (or maybe those were worn-through knees to start with?), you can see other random fabrics inside, a blue plaid here a red check there, though Dad doesn't remember what they were from.

This quilt has been on innumerable camping trips. We've used it in the bottom of the tent, on the ground, on tables, everywhere. It is the heaviest quilt possible, bulky to fold and lug around. But it's so handy to have that sturdy, heavy fabric at the ready.

Last Saturday, we took the day to go up to the foothills of the Catalina mountains and take the kids on four-wheeler rides and have a picnic. The area was prettier through the gates where the four-wheeler could go but the truck couldn't; in the area where we could park the truck it was a little dry and stickery. So, we spread the Army Quilt in the back of the truck and that became play-pen, lounge area and picnic spot. Sammy crawled all over it, loving the truck bed and everything "guy" in it.

It struck me what a great repurposing project this quilt was. I had to photograph those seams, the crooked quilting, the leftover strings from patches removed. Maybe someday we'll have the materials to make another, but I would have to have a heavier sewing machine than mine to be able to sew it! In the meantime, I'm marveling at how many years of use the quilt has given, and how many more it has left to give, and I'm impressed with my Dad for making it.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Back. Full.

We're back from our trip!

I'm feeling full of heart today. Full of joy from a wonderful visit with my parents and home to Tucson, full of restfulness for being home in Austin, full of gladness to be with James again, full of amusement for these kids I'm watching jump and spin and shout and mimic, full of excitement to finish the projects we started and show you the projects we finished. There's a bit of sorrow that it's over, but I'm full of knowledge that there is more good to come.

And my memory card (cards, actually) are full. 616 photos downloaded; 253 to go. Don't worry, I won't make you look at all of them.

p.s. Did I mention a counter full of mail, a laundry room full of laundry, and a machine full of messages?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Zoo

Thisweek we took the kids to the Zoo in Tucson and had a great time wandering around and playing. It was a beautiful day, just slightly chilly in the shade. The sun was toasty and the animals were all out and about. We took a picnic and enjoyed every bit of awake-time we could squeeze out of Sammy's day.

When we started, Zack had a copy of the Zoo map. He was really thrilled that he could read the animal names and figure out where we were. We were less thrilled to find that he was so interested in reading the map that he was ready to go to the next animal immediately after arriving at the present animal! When he lost his map, he was bummed but we were a little relieved. After that, we got to enjoy each animal a bit before moving on!

Oops, I forgot to post this the day I made it! Well, here it is anyway.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Ready for more chickens?

Ok, are you tired of chicken pictures? Because I'm loving this set. Check out Mr. Zack marching purposefully out to the chickens' area with his little cup of scraps. He really gets a kick out of bringing them "treats".

And after Mom went through the Funky Chicken Coop pictures with me and saw our friends' young son picking up his chickens (he told us each one's name and breed in turn), she decided hers needed a little hands-on treatment as well. So, we've been trying to pick them up a little at a time and get them used to it. We had some comical moments getting ahold of them. Here, Zack got to hold this silky black one. Look how pleased he is! They handed it to me next, but I got her wing kind of scrunched and as I was trying to smooth it back down to her side, she escaped my arms. Missed my photo op!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

More Desert Beauty

Today we have a guest photographer, my mom. She doesn't know she's my guest photographer, exactly, but she did say I could post whatever pictures of hers I wanted. Just before we arrived she and my dad were camping nearby and I really enjoyed seeing the photos. There's a lot of life shining in the desert.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Some Easter Photos

We had a lovely Easter, despite some ups and downs to the day!

I made the above bunny from this tutorial. It was fun and pretty easy. And I felt great to finish a little sewing project, no matter how small.

Zack's favorite easter basket item was this little hole punch. Whodduve guessed it?

After a great time at church, the boys got to have more egg fun at Grandma and Grandpas. The easter outfit looks pretty interesting after the shirt comes untucked from the pants and the pants become tucked into the snazzy boots (a gift from Grandad!).

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

In Tucson

Here we are! After half a day, Zack's already keen on taking out bit of scraps and treats to the chickens. They are not chicks anymore, but aren't full grown either. They don't lay eggs yet and make sort of babyish chicken sounds. There may be three roosters rather than two, but none of them crow yet. The coop has progressed since the pictures I showed here, but the decorative elements aren't done yet.

The desert is looking especially beautiful today in the stormy light and with the little bits of desert spring. I'm eager to share of photos of that in the coming days too.

The flight (flights, since they got rid of our direct flight) was challenging with two little ones, but it really went as well as I could have hoped. All set for fun with Granny and Grandad!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

No, no, thank YOU for keeping it funky

The funky chicken coop tour was great! We saw many backyard coops. These are people who live in city neighborhoods, on regular small city lots. They have coops in the backyard and a few chickens running around as pets. It was all very doable and made us long for some chicken pets of our own! They get some eggs, but mostly have them for the manure for the compost heap and the entertainment of them.

We ran into some friends at one house and they let us come see their coop too (not on the tour). It was really fun to have the chickens running around our feet and watch the young son catch them each in turn to tell us their name and breed and let us pet them (the feathers were really soft and silky!). Just so you know, they were not noisy (no roosters) and not stinky (clean up after them, a little like having a dog, but also change the nesting material) - it seemed a very reasonable amount of upkeep.

I'd love to tell you all about our Easter but it will have to wait until after I pack for our trip. I'll be gone through the end of next week, but I hope to pop in and out with some occasional posts during that time. Happy trails!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Chicks, Coming Right Up!

Since we're headed out on the Funky Chicken Coop Tour of Austin today, I thought I'd show you a chicken coop that's closer to, and farther from, home!

After we started talking about having chickens over Christmas, my mom decided to go for it! Her seven chicks, above, were new in early February. Chickens can be shipped by regular US Mail, but these were local. They lived inside with a little bulb for heat for several weeks, getting a box clean-out every day. Chicks are a little fragile, but they have been doing great!
Meanwhile, Mom built her own chicken coop, almost totally by herself and almost totally from recycled (upcycled!) materials. The exception was new hinges and help from my dad to hang the door. Here it the work in progress in its lovely desert setting. I think it was so cool to have made everything from scraps. I wish I had an ongoing set of descriptions and pictures of the process. She also made the other stuff chickens need, like the feeder below. Mom grew up with chickens and said she didn't remember much about keeping them, but I guess it's coming back to her, becasue between her innate knowledge and a collection of library books, she's all set up now.

And these are the chickens, almost grown up! When you get chicks, you can't tell what mix of hens and roosters you will have. These turned out to be five hens and two roosters, which was great. Mom is planning on giving the roosters away due to the noise factor, but she won't hear of eating them ("I've fed them out of my hand!"). The hens should start laying eggs soon, but they don't lay well in the heat and it's getting hot there. So, there may be a better egg production in the fall. In the meantime, I think they are pets. I need to ask if they have names!

We're excited to see everything next week when we visit, so I think there will be more pictures to come.

Friday, April 10, 2009


I've really been wishing I could make some time to do a little sewing. I'm not an accomplished sew-er (seamstress? that sounds like alterations). I only know how to sew straight lines, not follow patterns to make clothing or anything like that. But, I'd like to learn. And I have some cute vintage fabric, flour sack pieces that were my husband's grandmother's, that I'd like to use for something. I put one little scrap of each in a miniature quilt for James' family reunion (though it's not quite finished, *sigh*)and used some in these activity pads. But, some of the fabrics are only in fair condition so I don't really plan to use them in highly involved quilting projects (for the future "someday" when I'm doing highly involved quilting projects).

I finally got my hands on a copy of Bend The Rules Sewing by Amy Karol and have been so excited to try something (just look at all the stuff people made!). It's about at my level. Challenging for me, but probably doable. I say probably because in the three times I've "set aside" for starting in the past few days, I got about ten minutes in before screaming children took over that time. Oh, screaming children and a towering mountain of laundry, when I have a ten day trip to pack for. I finally gave in, in a great grouchy grumble, and folded all (well, most) the laundry instead of sewing. Reminds me of Forever Folding Laundry (who has a yummy looking recipe today, by the way). On the bright side, I made one of those screaming kiddos help me!

In the total of twenty minutes that I did sew, I got to make two of these "Mixy-Matchy Napkins" (see the ones other people have made here). The project is just cutting out a piece of fabric and hemming it on all sides. They are cute, but I'm wondering if I'd rather make them bigger. The project says they are a lunch size, so I knew they would be different than my other napkins, but now I'm wondering if it's going to bug me that they are so different than my others. Although, it makes me want to make play-kitchen-set-napkins! I'll get to that in my next bit of free time, ha.

Thursday, April 09, 2009


I've been working on my photography skills. I've never had any training at it (I know, neither have most) and pretty much just took snapshots that had people in them. After I had this great photographer come take shots of our family when I was pregnant with Sammy, I started wondering what made her style so appealing to me.

Lately, watching the beautiful photos on all your blogs roll by, I've been inspired to try to get better. I click around Flikr (apparently Mondays are bench Mondays. Who knew?) and see what people are doing. But, I tell myself, I can't squeeze in another online time sink. So I take a lot of shots. Sometimes I'm happy with the result; sometimes, not so much.

But hey, here are some I like. I shamelessly copied a look that a friend of ours used in a framed picture he gave us of Zack at two months old. We have it on our mantle and I never get tired of looking at it. As you can see, this current two-month-old is highly photogenic. I hope the printed copy comes out well, as it is all set to ship to the sweet parents!

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

What is it?

These seed pods must have blown into our yard during the windy weather we've been having. They don't come from any of our trees and I don't recognize them. We first thought they were mushrooms, but then turned them over, saw the little stem and leaf, and realized they weren't attached the the ground. Zack broke one open and it's filled with tiny, dandelion-like seed fluff. I don't know how easy the scale is to discern here, but they are a little bigger than golf balls. They are also surprisingly light.

Now that I've been thinking about Vintage Chica's Summer Unschooling Project, I've started thinking we should pursue these little mysteries. Unschooling is the idea that kids (and everyone?) learn best by pursuing interests in a more natural way. It's learning, but without traditional schooling methods. It is a type of homeschooling but Vintage Chica is working on it as a "summer school", a method of exploring and learning through the summer with her children (who attend public school). [There is a lot of unschooling information around. I hope I've represented it correctly, being new to the concept. But there are links on the site I mentioned above if you want to understand it better than I could explain it. I guess that was a disclaimer.]

Maybe we'll be able to track down what these are - hey, we might learn something!
Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

One last chili dinner...

...before we loose the cool nights completely.

I love living where it's warm or warm-ish most of the year. I don't mourn the absence of seasons; the way I see it, we have seasons, they're just warmer ones. But ever since I was pregnant with Sammy, I've been a soup crazy mamma. And I can't really see serving a hot soup dinner when it's 102 outside. So we may not be having chili and cornbread much more until it turns cool again in fall. I had to squeeze one more chili dinner into the spring during our current cool snap. Easy, tasty, accompanied by salad from the garden. Can't beat that!

My cornbread recipe is as simple as they come. I bake in a thrifted 8" cast iron skillet that my mother reclaimed from a thick scale of rust and dirt for me early on in my days of living in Austin. I would say this is my mother's recipe, but her recipe is in her head and in her hands. She doesn't have to look at a card or measure much. I, on the other hand, decided I would make cornbread more if I put it on my Recipe Cheat Sheet. It's a work in progress, based on Amy Karol's (from Angry Chicken; I don't know her personally but as she is neither angry nor a chicken, it seems more fitting to use her name. And, as she did, I plan to share the whole cheat sheet when I get it just right). I do make more cornbread now, much to the boys' delight. I was never much for cornbread but I can say it's really grown on me. Maybe it goes along with my pregnancy soup obsession, but I'm so glad I can look at the side of the fridge and throw this together.

1 c flour
1 c cornmeal
2 T sugar
1 T baking powder
1/2 t salt
2 beaten eggs
1 c milk
1/4 canola oil

Preheat the oven to 375 (I leave the 8" cast iron skillet in while it's preheating).
Mix the flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl.
Here's how I avoid extra dishes (it's easier to me but if it isn't easier to you, just add in the wet ingredients): Break those two eggs into a 2 cup measuring cup and break them up with a fork. Add a cup more of milk, then a 1/4 c more of oil into the measuring cup (what I mean is that the eggs are usually about 1/2 c so I fill the milk to the 1 1/2 c line. Then I add the oil to the 1 3/4 c line).
Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until just combined.
Swirl a pat of butter around in the cast iron skillet (or grease a pan) and pour in the batter.
Bake 375 for 20 minutes.
Enjoy accolades of all nearby men and boys - or is that just at my house?

And after seeing this post about this recipe, I tried it with my leftover chili, heating the chili through in an oven safe bowl, then adding an egg and baking. I topped it with cheese and a slice of red pepper. It was delicious! But, it holds the heat a really long time and I burned my mouth. Darn. I was warned, even.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Tricky Baby

Sammy gets into these hyped up moods when he just . doesn't . stop .

He's into everything all at once, pulling containers out of the cabinets, crawling bulldozer style over Zack's train layouts, pushing anything he can around the floor. He's bending the books backwards and launching himself backwards out of my arms. He's pulling his socks off and trying to find something to eat off the floor (but he can't, because my floor is always immaculate, right??). All at once. Zack follows him around hollering. Sometimes I think it's that hyper stage before they crash that we call "crazy-baby". Sometimes I call him Trouble, and sometimes Tricky Baby. But mostly I figure it's not doing any harm.

But do you see that little grin? He knows exactly what he's doing, doesn't he?

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Do the Funky Chicken

Is it only Austin that would have a Funky Chicken Coop Tour? We do love to Keep It Weird. Either way, this tour looks cool to me. We hope to go this coming Saturday, and if we do I'll be sure to share some photos here.

We would definitely love to have chickens at our house, but so far it's still not legal for us. People keep telling us it's not legal at all, but actually it just depends on if you have enough space. We don't. I'm thinking that since more urban communities have been changing their laws, it could happen here too.

I never thought I would want to have chickens. I've seen enough of farm life to know it's a lot of work. I prefer to work in the kitchen rather than the field! And have time left to "work" on the computer! But with my recent interest in local and sustainable foods... well, my thinking has shifted a little. And, James is pretty content to divide the labor with me along mutually agreeable lines: You grow it and I'll cook it!

Just before Christmas, James picked up a book on poultry farming. He had gotten it, along with half a dozen more that had been my Grandad's, from my Granny a few years ago. He carried it around with him all during our Christmas trip, reading bits of it to the rest of us (I guess my mom got the bug, because she has since begun a chicken adventure as well. More on that to come, but for now I'll say that chicken coops are a point of family interest these days!). James and I are an unlikely couple of wanna-be-farmers. He's got little experience besides romantic notion of rural life and farming; I have preferred to be inside with a book in hand from toddlerhood on. But we've started with gardening for now and hey, if Austin goes further into the way of the weird, maybe we'll get to add chickens to our lives. Just in case, we'd better go get some funky coop ideas!

Friday, April 03, 2009

Friday Favorite: Sandwich and Snack Saks

Check out these awesome little reusable baggies! I found them at this shop just clicking around on Etsy (oh no, that's not a time sink...). I kept thinking I should try to make some, but (a) I didn't have all the supplies, (b) my un-done project list is way too long, and (c) the way these are made is beyond my present sewing skills. I finally just requested a custom set in greens and browns - my favorites! - and I'm so glad I did. They are working out really well.

I got one sandwich size and two snack size. They are cotton outside with a nylon lining inside and a full strip of velcro as a closure. The nylon is loose from the cotton so that it can be turned inside out and the velcro is sewn in very securely. There are several shops that sell this type of item, but I am really enjoying these!

I've been filling them with our little snack mix or crackers or sandwiches. When I use them for snack foods, I just shake out the crumbs and keep going. After a sandwhich, I either turn the nylon lining inside out and rinse it in the sink or run the whole thing through the washing mashine. In addition to being easy to use and reuse, I love that they are so easy for Zack to spot in our bag and close back up himself. And, really, seeing the fabrics makes me happy.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Papaya Primer

The kids are loving papaya! It's been just recently that I've started buying and preparing this tropical fruit. Before then, my main association with papaya was way back when James and I were young-un's. We ate it each morning in our first course fruit plate at the bed and breakfast in Vancouver where we stayed for our honeymoon. The quirky host would describe how he found the varied and delicious produce at this little market or that one along the streets of the neighborhood. The first morning after we returned home we awoke to boxes needing to be unpacked and our workdays looming over us; James turned to me and whined, "I need my papaya!" We laughed, but we really did miss those lovely days!

Since then I've discovered that papaya is very high in Vitamin C - higher than oranges - and has a lot of other benefits. But mostly, it's easy to prepare, soft enough for Sammy to chew, and delicious!

I got the papaya above for $.88/lb on special (regularly $1.27/lb). These are big fruit - this was a smallish one at 3.6 lb. and it made seven cups of cut fruit! I try to get the smallest ripe one they have. To check for ripeness, look for one that is somewhat soft and has some yellow areas on its green skin. If you pay attention to how far food has traveled, I'll mention that they seem to all come from Mexico.

To prepare, cut in half and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Then slice into wedges. I lay the wedges on their sides and cut off the peel, just like I do for cantelope. I serve the wedges, or cut into pieces for the kids.

Since it is a lot of fruit, we eat what we can in a few days, then we drop the rest in the freezer to use in smoothies later. Yum!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Rosemary Bread

Today I took a big salad and my favorite herb bread to a luncheon. I used the Ranch dressing from this post to dress the salad and it went over well. I definitely enjoyed it myself! It could have been the other elements of the salad - James' lettuce from his garden, or the sliced olives, or my favorite manchego cheese. But the dressing was good. I think it's even better after letting the flavors marry in the fridge.

The bread is one of our family favorites. When James heard I'd decided to make it for the luncheon, he immediately requested I make more for home. Of course, I had planned to do that, but it was nice to get the request! For a brief time, I thought we would have enough left over and I wouldn't have to make more immediately. But, not so:

This is a bread machine recipe, but I think that enough people have bread machines to make it worth sharing. It works fine for delay bake options.

Rosemary Bread
Makes 1 large loaf (1.5 lb)
1 1/4 c water
1 T butter, room temperature
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 T (about 3 stalks) rosemary leaves, chopped
3 1/4 c flour (or bread flour)
2 T sugar
1/2 T salt
1/4 t dried thyme leaves
1/4 t dried basil leaves

1 3/4 t dry yeast

Add ingredients according to your bread machine instructions (mine specifies this order). I slice it with the electric knife, which makes it fast and easy. Enjoy!