January 30, 2009

Hubba Hubba, Yee Haw

No photos of the Chinese New Year festivities. Have you ever taken a photo of Chinese take-out? Try it. Doesn't do the food justice in any way. The boys did like the chicken and rice. Trevor learned he likes soy sauce. Andy asked for "the brown chicken" for four days (which is way longer than it lasted). It was a fun way to expose them to new food.


On Tuesday, a very wonderful movie was released to DVD. If you are looking for an inspirational film, watch Fireproof. Watch it with your spouse, or your boyfriend.

Watch it twice. With tissues. Because you will sob your frickin' eyeballs out. The message in this movie is profound. The story of faith is amazing. And also, Kirk Cameron is in it - and I don't know about you, but I had 216 posters of Kirk on my walls as a teenager. Hubba hubba. And in this movie, he's the whole package. I am praying God brings the whole package into my life.

I've been culling through the junk around here lately. There's not much - I'm proud to say, but there is some. I need to go through my closet, the hall closet, and the boys' clothing. They have grown out of some duds that need to go to Goodwill. I did take one load of goodies to Goodwill already this week. Can you believe that Mabel's high chair (which I bought for $5) was put right back out on the floor while we were there - for $20? Too funny. She's grown out of the baby style hair chair, so we've been using a restaurant style chair for a couple of weeks. Much better.

I'm also on a mission to reorganize and decorate the family room/play room downstairs this weekend. I already have the shelving, pictures, etc. - just need to put it all together for the boys. I also plan on going through my closet to evaluate what should stay and what should go (have I worn it this year? would I buy it again?) and to hang up the new that accidentally found its way into my house today. It's been a long time since I've really shopped for myself. It wasn't as relaxing as a massage, but with Mabel in tow, it had to do.

I started cutting fabric for my next quilt this week. This one will be about 100" x 100", which is smack in between queen and king size. Perfect. Remember, I plan on layering these on my bed in the wintertime, so I don't really care if it's not exactly the usual size. More to share on that soon.

Also this week, I finished Charlaine Harris' second book in the Sookie Stackhouse vampire series. I've read through them all before, but am reading them again. Good stuff. After I zip through these, I'll start Mary Janice Davidson's Betsy series. I would have told you adamantly that I didn't like vampire books last year, but whoa, Nelly. My taste has changed.

On tap for this weekend: my aunt Barb's delicious chocolate chip cookies and nachos to share at a church Superbowl party. Yee-haw!

January 26, 2009

Happy Chinese New Year!

My boys are obsessed with Chinese culture; they think it is the coolest thing ever. It all began when Trevor had his first "girlfriend" at preschool. She was a lovely little girl, who happened to be Chinese. Trevor - even now - remembers that she was very good at math, and could read and write (at age four). He says he liked her also because she had "very pretty, shiny hair and beautiful eyes. And she was super smart," he says. Apparently all of the little boys in class fought over sitting beside her, or sharing snack with her.

Now whenever anything is on television having to do with China, the boys are glued to it. The Olympics were eaten up with a spoon around this house, believe me. All of the parades and celebrations were of more interest than the sporting events.

At this exact moment, Trevor and Andy are building a pink Chinese jail out of Mabel's blocks, supporting Chinese jail research done by Trevor in the school library.

So, two weeks ago, I marked today's date on the calendar. It is Chinese New Year; the Year of the Ox. The boys asked for food from China tonight as well, so we're waiting on our delivery from the local best Chinese restaurant.

On the menu for this evening:

Egg drop soup
Crab rangoon
Sweet and sour chicken
Shrimp and vegetables

I realize it's not terribly special, but I had to pick something that the boys would actually try. I'm hoping they eat some chicken and rice, at the very least.

Pictures to come, hopefully.

January 22, 2009

Secondhand Store Finds

Mabel and I had to run some errands the other day. During our time out, we (I) decided to stop by our favorite secondhand store. I had vintage pillowcases in mind for some dresses for Moo.

We found some goodies, all right.

This afghan was spotted from about 20 feet away. I literally yelped and RAN. Mabel just held on to the cart for dear life. Of course, as soon as SHE saw it, she grabbed it, ripped it off the hanger and yelled, "Night, Night!" She has her mother's taste, what can I say? It was a whopping $5. It makes me want to SING.

Moo loves it, too.

We love a good deal at the secondhand store.

Organize Your Fabric; Get Ready to Quilt

When I was moving out on my own last year, I came across this beautiful cabinet at Goodwill for just a few bucks. I suppose some people would use it for tableware or books, but not me. I immediately envisioned stacks and stacks of my favorite fabrics, hidden from dust on the shelves of this glass-door cabinet. Once you start collecting fabrics, find a special place for them. I suggest somewhere that is dry and far away from cooking apparatuses (why do so many of us sew in the dining room these days?), and away from dust. Remember, too that your fabric will soak up any smells in your home. Some ladies keeps their fabric in clear, plastic storage bins. This is perfect because I think that you deserve to see your hard-earned money whenever you'd like. So don't stick your fabric down in the basement in a box; keep it somewhere in sight so that you can be inspired when you walk past it!

Hmmm... looks like I need to spiff it up. Oh well, just keeping it real.

My fabric stacks are mostly sorted and stacked (largest cuts on the bottom/fat quarters on top) by COLOR. I do that because I have found that while I am happy to mix vintage and modern prints, I am pretty picky about the colors I am quilting with. I get a certain vision in mind of what I want something to look like. Colors are emotion to me and inspire me that way, visually.

I do make some exceptions.

Some fabrics are stacked together, ready to quilt. The above stack just fell together while I was working on another project. The fabrics were laying there on the floor next to each other and I loved the combination. So, until I decide differently, they were put into the cabinet in that stack. I have no immediate plans for this stack, but it's still pretty.

Below is a fat quarter stack of Amy Butler fabric that was a more recent purchase. The fabrics are meant to go together, come from the same line, and already "match." More to come on this next Amy Butler quilt down below.*


I took some pictures of 3 quilts that I have made over the years. Each one is different.

The first is a quilt that I made about 9 years ago, mostly on the floor of the hotel my ex-husband and I lived in for 3 months when we moved to Kentucky. I cut the pieces (thousands of them) by hand, before I had a rotary cutter. I'm not sure I even know how I did it. It was painful. It took more than a year to finish the top. This quilt was inspired by one I'd seen in a Pottery Barn catalog. I was sure I could make it myself, at a fraction of the cost. That deserves a laugh because (I learned) fabrics can be expensive, and with backing and batting, many bed quilts can cost $300 or more to make. It would have been cheaper to buy the quilt from Pottery Barn. But then, I would have lost out on the hotel-floor sewing experience.

This quilt is also NOTHING like my style these days. I was more traditional then. To be honest, I really don't like this quilt at all anymore. I have kept it because I put so much work into it. Maybe Mabel will want it one day.

This quilt has also not been top quilted yet. In other words, its layers are not yet sewn together. I did bind it, but it can't be used until it's been top quilted. I think I collapsed after I did the binding. I'd been working on it for too long.

The second quilt I have to show you was my first pattern experience. I was very fortunate to have chosen a great pattern. It was a jelly roll strip quilt, so the directions were very easy and quick to follow. Just cut the strips to the length explained, sew five together to make a block, and turn the blocks according to the pattern. I love this quilt; it's the perfect lap quilt.

I also learned a big lesson with this quilt. When the patterns (or the sewing mavens at the quilt store) tell you to allow a 1/4" seam allowance, LISTEN TO THEM. I used closer to 1/8" on this quilt and I have had to repair a few seams already.

The last quilt I have to show you was my labor of love, and it is between queen and king size. This zigzag quilt's pieces were cut entirely on the bias.

Bias-cutting means cutting on the diagonal to a piece of fabric. This allows the fabrics to S T R E T C H, especially when you don't want it to. Spraying the fabric with spray starch helps a bit, as does pinning the ever-loving hell out of the thing. But, you need to know that no matter what precautions you take, your bias pieces (and in this case, every block for my entire quilt) WILL S T R E T C H. You have to have the confidence and the sewing ability to take this into account when top quilting or finishing the quilt. Top quilting stops the stretching because the pieces are then held in place and prevented from stretching.

Anyway, I found this pattern in a book of Mindy's. (If you're interested, leave a comment and I'll look it up.) It said "Advanced Skill Level" and... well, I got a little big for my britches. Bias-cut? Sure, I can do that! Well, this quilt was certainly a learning experience. I am so glad I made it, but I hated it as soon as I'd cut the fabric. This quilt was finished in a labor of love and it is this quilt that I hope to drape over my next person in the nude. Ahem.

For the zigzag quilt, I found I had a LOT of leftover fabric when I was finished with the top. I decided that it was more eco-friendly to use what I had (and wallet-friendly, let's be honest) than buying 5 yards of new. So, I just laid my scraps down on the floor, sewed them together, and they became the back for this quilt. Now I love the back just as much as the front.


I have a few WIP quilts swirling around in my imagination right now. I keep a notebook where I draw pictures and make notes about my Works In Progress. At minimum, I want to make a quilt for each of the boys and Mabel - each will be twin size (unless I upgrade Trevor to a full-size bed). I also know I want to make a few more for my bed (and I realize I have years to do this). Instead of putting a huge comforter on my bed in the winter, I'd like to pile up several quilts on top of me. How homey and yummy does that sound?

I just received Denyse Schmidt's quilt book last week. It is complicated and lovely, but something I wouldn't recommend to a beginner. It can certainly inspire, though. I may not even use the patterns; I may just make them myself.

I love this triangle quilt. Looks like color/white squares made from two triangles. Each square is turned to make the overall pattern. I LOVE this and very much want to use more white in my quilting. I am thinking of using this for one of the boys' twin quilts, or for my next Amy quilt.

I also love this tied quilt. I looks like a scrap quilt, and I love bright colors for a baby instead of boring pastels. (I don't count pink as a pastel, just in case you're curious, lol.) This quilt is remarkably similar to the first Amy Butler lap quilt I showed you, but with irregular strips making up the blocks. This quilt is also tied with white floss instead of being top quilted. LOVE.

So, I picked up some fabrics last week for these quilts in my imagination. I'm going to take my time collecting fabrics. Little boy fabrics, big boy fabrics, robots, cowboys, skulls with crossbones and guitars. Most of the fabrics in the bag below are for my next quilt - they are from the same Amy line as my fat quarter stack. They will look so yummy with white.

I'd also like you new quilters to know that I did not go into the quilt store to buy fabric. I went to schedule my sewing machine's service appointment. Ahem. But hey, I didn't have a spouse in the car waiting!

January 21, 2009

On With Life

Enough waiting around to let Shoes get the message. On with life. And blogging.

Today is self-portrait day, I say. Photos by Trevor (Photoshop by Mom).

January 17, 2009

Hello, Shoes

*rachel cox designs rachel cox blog south dakota*
I have been debating over this for a few weeks. I have decided to be polite. Because, Lord have mercy, I am nothing if not polite.

Friends, I believe (and why not, the internet is public after all) that Shoes has been popping on to the site recently. Let's all say hello. HI, SHOES!

Yep. Calling you out.

Are you looking to take up quilting? Photography? Nosing to see how I'm reacting to life on my own or to your new not-yet-divorced love life? Wondering how I've been describing the crazy? Wondering if I've blogged about the things you're worried I blogged about?

Let me save you some drama. I haven't blogged about any of the crazy or the ugly. Because I have class. Good thing you married a girl with class instead of bushy hair and fake nails!

I should say thank you, I guess. You made me a better woman for the next man God sees into my life, in fact. Hold on though, don't go getting braggy about that; I mean that what you've put me through for the years I've trudged through it has made me ONE HELL OF A GOOD WOMAN. One you no longer have. So, yes, thank you. For transforming me into someone WAY stronger than I ever thought I was. I can certainly kick some ass these days.

But you don't get full credit for my rockstar status. That goes to my kids and my friends.

So, sit back, have a gin & tonic or a Captain & coke and read all you like. But I warn you - in addition to a rousing good helping of the Truth, God is in this place, and in the hearts of all of my friends. So beware. You stop by here and the Holy Spirit might rub off on ya.

Teach Your Daughter To Vacuum

I adore having children for a variety of reasons. One of them is that, when they get old enough, you can give them responsibilities around the house. Responsibilities which, in turn, take a load off of you. I think it is very important that children know they need to pitch in and earn their keep - as part of their way of thanking you for taking care of them. It's the beginning of a good work ethic, in my opinion.

Trevor loves to clean the bathrooms and the floorboards. I have no idea why, but these are his favorite tasks. He has also been helping sort and put away folded laundry for almost 4 years.

Andy likes to dust and wipe things down. He is not good at organizing and that's okay; he does other tasks that are equally helpful. Andy is also the one I ask most to take the garbage and the recycling out. He has been dusting and doing garbage for about 3 years.

I have started to integrate kitchen duties into their lists now - more will be coming soon. I'd like for them to clean up the kitchen after I cook dinner. Nothing elaborate... clearing off the table, rinsing the dishes, and loading the dishwasher. Wiping off the table and countertops. Trevor is tall enough to stand at the sink and clean pots and pans as well. So, that's on the horizon.

It has not escaped my attention that I have another helper coming up. I can't wait to teach Mabel to sew and cook! And vacuum. (Can't trust the boys with the vacuum yet.)

This morning was a cleaning sort of morning. I cleaned the kitchen, stripped beds, and started laundry. I decided to mop. Before I could mop, I had to vacuum. When I had my vacuum out and started unwinding the cord, I noticed a little someone behind me.

Okay. Great! Never too early for a vacuuming lesson. And since one of my in-laws obliged by getting her a toy vacuum for Christmas, we set about cleaning the house together.

First, we put our machines on "bare floors" and vacuumed the crumbs from the kitchen and dining room.

Sometimes it helps to dance it out at the same time.
Ready, set, carpet!

Notice how she's not even as tall as the canister yet? Shoot. That means she's at least a couple of years away from being able to use the real thing.

Okay, back to work. Time to do the hall and the bedrooms upstairs.

Admit it, you've never seen cuter vacuuming in your whole life.

Am I the luckiest mama or what?

January 14, 2009

Something I Love

I just picked this up at the store today. I had some generic version in my cart (can't find a "green" version I like yet) to use for shaving (really makes your legs incredibly soft, so recommended to me by a str1pper friend I used to have) and then I came across this stuff.

It smells like a cake I want to roll around in.

Divine. Try it!
I hate this crap. I tried to like it and used it several times. But it is sticky and clumpy. It doesn't soak in very well and leaves my skin slickery and stains my clothes. No thanks. I actually had to throw it away!

January 12, 2009

Sacked Out and Snowed In

I got a phone call this afternoon, letting me know that school would be getting out at 1:00. South Dakota is good for blizzards in the winter time.

I snapped this picture off of our back deck when I got home with the kids.

See the truck?

Don't see it? It's there.


No thanks. I think we'll stay inside today. I think I'll stay inside and work on Mabel's afghan and watch a movie, and remember when my back view looked like this:

Even Mabel has sacked out.

Sacked out and snowed in. That's what we are today.


There are some changes around me right now, some things I am praying about and for. I cannot share them here, but I would love your prayers. Please pray that God continues to bless my ability to support our family and that His will is done. Thank you.

Make Your First Quilt

I went to bed the other night after my first quilting post all worried because I hadn't said anything about types of fabric. (I am not neurotic, I don't care what you say.)

When you are choosing fabrics to quilt with you want to consider the weight of the fabric, the washability, and the amount of stretch it has. You don't want to quilt with upholstery-weight fabric, leather, tulle or any other thin material. You want machine-washable fabric. You also don't want anything stretchy. Look for "calicos" or quilter's cottons. There will be an entire section at Jo-Ann's - and your local quilting store will have hundreds of delicious bolts of cotton to choose from. Am I the only one who can get lost in the rows of bolts at the store? For hours?


Do not go into the quilt store and leave your spouse in the car. Do not say, "Let me run in for a quick second. I'll be right back." Because you will not be right back. You will be sucked into the quilt store vortex for at least an hour. Prep him with a meal and a magazine, at least. Also, go in as prepared as possible; make a list of the yardage and supplies you need and taking your pattern with you, if you have one.

If you already have a hunk of fabric that you've inherited from your Great Aunt (or you cheated and bought fabric before you had project to work on - we all do that) and you've already assembled your tools... then, why not start with something very simple?

Find some fabric scraps. Cut your fabric(s) into squares. Cut all of your squares the exact same size (maybe 6"x6"). For your first time, you might make only 9 squares and lay them on your table like this:

x x x

x x x

x x x

Note: You are looking at the "right sides" of your fabric if the print is facing upward, which is the best way to organize your squares on the floor. The "wrong side" is the back of the fabric.

Think about your squares as rows:

row 1 x x x

row 2 x x x

row 3 x x x

Begin to sew (using a straight stitch on your sewing machine) the left-most square in row 1 to the middle square in row 1. You want to sew RIGHT SIDES TOGETHER so that the seam you make is to the back of your fabric front. Then sew that pair (again, right sides together) to the right-most square in row 1. You now have one row of squares! Go, You!

row 1 xxx

row 2 x x x

row 3 x x x

Move on to row 2 and follow the same steps, sewing the squares in row 2 together (right sides) until you have a second row. Then, do row 3.

row 1 xxx

row 2 xxx

row 3 xxx

Now, sew row 1 to row 2 (you may need to use straight pins to keep this in place - pull them out just before your sewing machine foot goes over them), also RIGHT SIDES TOGETHER. When you are finished, it will look like this:

row 1 xxx
row 2 xxx

row 3 xxx

Next, sew row 3 into place (right sides together).

row 1 xxx
row 2 xxx
row 3 xxx

Iron your big chunk of squares so that all of the seams are flat.


Once you are quilting and not practicing, you will want to iron as you finish each row. Really. Now, I didn't iron mine - ever - until I started using patterns. It really does make a difference in how manageable your squares are to put together and how easy it is to trim up (see below). Lulu irons her fabric before she cuts it. I don't go that far, but it's all up to you. You may find the fabric easier to control that way.

Now you need to "trim up" or "square up" your big chunk. Lay it on your cutting mat and, using your acrylic ruler as a guide, trim off any edges that stick out or make your edge not straight, on each of the four sides.

So. You just made an itty-bitty quilt top! If you cut your squares large enough, you may have just started a doll quilt! If you want to finish what you've started, find a scrap of quilter's batting or an old polyester or cotton blanket and cut it to the same size as your quilt top using your rotary cutter. You can do this by laying your quilt top on top of the batting. Lay both on top of your mat, place your acrylic ruler on top and trim, using your rotary cutter. While the two layers are still there and all squared up, pin them together with a few straight pins.

Now you need to quilt the thing. Depending on how thick your batting/old blanket is, you may be able to run the entire thing through your sewing machine, using a walking foot. (Ask your quilt store ladies about this wonderful foot.) Since this is your practice chunk of squares, you can just zip a few straight stitch lines and make a grid on top. Or, you can hoop your chunk and handstitch your spouse's name into each square. Or, you can tie knots at the corners of each square with thread or floss. However you decide to do it, you need to quilt something on top in order to hold the two layers together. If you don't hold them together, they will bunch and disappoint you in the washing machine. Trust me. The general rule of thumb is that you need to quilt no more than 6" apart.

To finish the quilt, find some more scrap fabric and trim it into strips that are each 2 1/2" wide. Then follow Heather Bailey's super easy directions on quilt binding to bind your quilt. The Thimbleberries book I recommended yesterday also has a VERY good section on quilt binding. Quilt binding is my favorite part; I love handstitching.

Once your binding is in place, throw your doll quilt into the wash machine on cold/cold. Then into the dryer. Yes, it will shrink just a bit, but you will be left with puckery, quilty goodness.

More to come.

How To Start Quilting

This week I received an email asking me for tips on quilting. Wicked cool because I'm still surprised to learn that someone other than my mom and my handful of friends read this thing. It wasn't the first time I've been asked about quilting, so I decided to throw together a few posts about it.

Quilting is not hard. In fact, it's incredibly easy and relaxing. But it can also be incredibly frustrating. Like if you don't read all of your pattern before you buy fabric or cut fabric (don't do that). Quilting is basically geometry, only easier. You can choose to use patterns or wing it. If you use patterns, they are made of geometric squares or triangles that all fit together like a puzzle to create an overall pattern. You just sew one piece to the next, to the next, and so on - in the order your pattern tells you, and ... that's it!

The first thing I'd advise you do is sign up for a beginner's class at your local quilting store. (A quilting store is NOT Jo-Ann's or Michael's, by the way... you'll have to look through the phone book or online to find one in your area.) If you don't have a local quilting store, inquire at church or at your community bulletin board if you have one of those. You need to find someone who is already quilting and who is willing to tolerate you asking 1,458,476 questions (if you're like me anyway).

I also feel the need to tell you that, while I have made several quilts and blankets in the past several years, it was only in this past year that I actually read and used a pattern for the first time. (A strip pattern and my first jelly roll, as a matter of fact.) There it is, Folks. The naked truth. Before, I always quilted same-sized squares - what old fashioned quilters used to call "Around The World." Just squares. (And actually, 5" Charm Packs - see below - work perfectly for this.) I only did squares because I was a big, fat chicken. I would HAND CUT WITH SCISSORS (told you I was crazy) thousands of squares, each the exact same size and then lay them all out on my living room floor. Then I would sew one to the next, to the next, until a row was done. Then when all of my rows were done, I would sew row to row, to row until the top was done. Good times. Actually, things have come such a long way since then. Rotary cutters became available.

Before you buy fabric or patterns, you really, really must collect these tools:

1. A rotary cutter, like this one from Olfa:
2. A cutting mat - buy the largest you can afford - at least 30"

3. An acrylic grid ruler
4. Straight pins

5. A dependable sewing machine and extra machine needles (I always use denim weight needles; they break less often)

6. Quilter's thread. Dual Duty is my favorite because it was my granny's favorite. I buy lots of white (I quilt only in white; it's just something about me, I guess).

7. A few needles for hand quilting the binding

8. Maybe this book ...

I'd never seen it before last fall, but let me tell ya... everything you want to know about quilting is in this little (big, actually) book. Might check and see if they have it at your local library. Unless you live in South Dakota, because they won't have any cool quilting books. Anyway...

Once you have your supplies and coupons for Jo-Ann's ready, start looking through magazines or online through photos of quilts to find some favorites. Don't pay any attention to how hard you think they look, just find something that makes your heart happy. Colors, size, pattern. You can find quite a few on Flikr (I just did a search on quilting). I save my favorites in a folder on my hard drive. Then, when I'm looking for inspiration I can just click through until I find what I'm looking for.

One of my favorite sites to look through for new fabrics is PurlSoho.com. They have some amazing fabrics.

There are few sites I check regularly for inspiration as well:

Amy Butler:

(I'll be making a quilt with the above fabrics soon.)

Heather Bailey:

Even a dolly quilt...

So talented.

Denyse Schmidt

and the incredibly talented, Hillary Lang:

Check out all of her quilts here.

Some fabric companies make it incredibly easy for you to quilt by making things called Charm Packs (5" squares of coordinating prints) or Jelly Rolls (fancy way of saying a stack of coordinating strips cut to identical widths/lengths, used for making strip quilts). Here is a jelly roll by Moda (available at FatQuarterShop.com):

Jelly Rolls and Charm Packs are wonderful ways to use a pattern for the first time.

... I guess this is plenty for today. More to come.