Monday, 3 June 2013

Best Money Saved Is At Home

I don't know about you, but I have been taking a tally recently on the amount of time I spend dining out, and thinking more, and more if I am really getting my monies worth. Is it me or has the quality in food gone down? Perhaps it has been this way, and I have been very forgiving. Forgiving why? Why am I compromising? I guess for a long time, I have been giving a blind eye because I am too busy caught up in the moment. Whether it is the drinking scene, the vibe, being surrounded by people, I find that I have been feeding into a fix at my expense, and it needs improving.
The other day I was at a popular spot, and ordered a cream of chicken that was served in a Crate and Barrel soup bowl. You know the one I am taking about, it is the one that is 3 times larger than the 1/2 cup of soup that is poured into it. It was actually comical, even the waitress gave me a smirk as she served me. We made eye contact as we both stared at the bowl with an outrageous basil leave in the center, there was a knowing without words. I am a big wine drinker, so yes, wine was a must. My $10 dollar glass of red was served in a huge goblet with the obvious cheap fill that I have now started to become observant to. Granted, the place is a chic eatery in the city, but come on.....In the end, who is the joke on?
The experience has not been the first, and I have been taking a genuine effort in being a critic than the customer. Meaning the times I have gone out to eat I have been on guard, watching the picture repeat itself over, and over. I have a thing about complaints at a restaurant. Unless I plan on not eating anything, I usually just settle for what is served or ask to have the platter removed off the bill....if I only touched it a couple of times. I have come to the conclusion that it is time to make time at home. It is sad when you have to make a run for a Big Mac after dinner.
By no means am I boycotting the dining out scene. I love it! There are many great places that serve with a smile, and deliver to perfection. Unfortunately, those places are either too far, and out of the way or just too expensive for a Tuesday night out. For me, I am just tired of wasting hard earned funds on a meal that I am only taking bites from. I might as well just walk into a restaurant and hand over a $20 dollar bill, and just leave. I know for me, the choice to eat out has always been impulsive. I do it, just because. Well, just because does not serve anymore. It is time to be sensible. The kitchen is the heart of the home. If your kitchen is missing a beat, then work to make it tick again. What is keeping you out of your space? Look at what draws you out of your house, and bring it in. Is it a certain style, design, or paint color. This you can fix. It can be as easy as a new dining room set.

I should be ashamed of myself because I have a wine rack of bottles that are just sitting there while I am wasting my money on less than a 1/2 a glass at a swanky wine bar, and I happen to be a good cook when I do. This experience cannot be mine alone, and I am sure that others agree, as well as can relate. So, if you are like me, make an effort to take the time out for a home cooked meal. You wind up enjoying it more, than signing a bill for mediocre. If wine is your thing, and I know I am not alone with this a bottle or open the ones you have in your rack. Do not wait for the company to arrive to open that expensive bottle of wine. Just go for it. Treat yourself to it. If you are like me, you are spending the same amount of money on a few $10 dollar glasses of wine anyway. What is the point in waiting? Pay yourself first!
The more you push yourself for a good dining experience at home, the less time, and money will be spent having a bad one somewhere else. Home improvement begins in the kitchen and starts with you. Give yourself a night out at home. Turn off the lights, and get those candles ready. Sometimes we are paying for an experience that we can replicate in our own homes. Plan a fun night, whether it is pasta night or open a cook book, and be creative. Just because, you cannot cook, it does not mean you do not know how to read. Trust me, you can do it. You may even surprise yourself with a hidden talent, 2nd servings, and with some monthly savings in the end.

5 Biggest Home Renovation Mistakes

So your mind is made up, and you are ready for a home renovation project. You have met several contractors, some referred, others you found, reviewed many estimates, even laughed at a few, and feel you have nailed it. Countless pictures have been shown to you, vision has been sold, and you have enough samples in product selection to open your own home improvement store. Are you as ready as you think? 

True, it took you weeks, maybe even months of researching to help make that final decision, and you feel that the contractor of your choice is going to bring your vision to light. This all may be true, but there are mistakes you do not want to make that tend to get overlooked. If you are looking for your upcoming home renovation to be headache free, these are 5 mistakes to avoid running to the medicine cabinet.

Thinking you have enough money

1.       Some home renovations can be a dollar for dollar experience, and you walk away with what exactly you wanted, and paid for. There are times when you may not be so lucky. One should always be prepared for an unexpected surprise. The bigger the project you are doing, the higher your chances are in unforeseen obstacles that may add to your already paid for renovation. You will be surprised what you encounter when you open walls, things like mold, termites, rotted beams, leaky pipes, are some to name a few. 

Ask your contractor to give you a small list of the unexpected for a home like yours. Not all homes have the same issues, there may even be a common occurrence with all the homes in your community since they were constructed at the same time, and more than likely by the same company. Your contractor may be aware of them if he has done work in your area. Thinking you have enough money may not be enough. Have an  emergency fund ready just in case. Your contractor is definitely not going to pay for it or he may be able to add a 10% contingency to be withheld in the event that something arises. If all goes well, the funds withheld are reimbursed back to you.

When size does not matter to you

2.       You have a small bathroom, and want to take it to the next level by replacing your standard tub with a swanky jacuzzi tub. Yes, they are beautiful. They are also space eaters, like that “must have” vanity at Home Depot that is 2 sizes bigger than your existing one. Yes, it can fit, and so does a golf ball down a P-trap. The size may not matter to you at the time, but it will, it always does.

Trend seeker

3.       Yes, that royal blue square shaped, see-through basin looks amazing on that black granite counter-top. Just because, it was mentioned as the top 5 sellers for 2013 does not mean it will be nominated for an Oscar next year. Fads disappear rather quickly, chasing the latest trend can have a short shelf life. When trend seeking, go with a style that does not have to be re-invented annually. Your contractor will love it, but debt seeking is not a trend.

Taking on too much

4.       Home renovations should never be a burden, always have a specific idea in mind, and do not make it complicated by adding on to it with a knee jerk decision. Give careful thought to a process, and what it means to alter them. Changing your kitchen cabinets is one thing, but then deciding on moving your plumbing, and placement of light fixtures can be an overwhelming experience. Taking on too much can leave you with regrets, and a financial obligation to a decision that could have stayed an easy and less costly one.

Blind eye to your home’s bones

5.       So you live in that wonderful cozy cape in the suburbs. The one that was passed down from your grandparents. Yes, an upgrade may likely be in the future. You do not want to ignore the home’s bones, discounting the outside style of the home and going with a modern Italian retro look in the inside can become a cast for a broken bone that will never heal. That white marble floor in your kitchen with the swanky, eat-in white leather nook may work elsewhere, just not in your home. This can also be a hindrance if you ever need to sell the property. Over the top personal customization only serves the owner, and will be an expensive transition back to normal.

Friday, 1 February 2013

Watercolor Friendship Stars

Friday is normally my day off.  It's the day of the week when my teaching partner comes to the classroom, takes over, and gives me a little time with my own kids.  My kids' school district does an early release every Friday, so it's nice that I get to be home when my kids come home early.  I spent the morning sewing with my daughter's second grade class.  Then, at dismissal, I picked up 9 eager Girlscouts to come to my house for some Friendship Fun!  Our theme this week was friendship, and since I've been sewing Friendship Stars, I decided that the girls should make their own Friendship Stars.  I had originally planned to help the girls sew their own pillows, but at 8:00 on the night before, I just ran out of steam.  Watercolor paints to the rescue!!!

We used a crayon resist method to paint our Friendship Stars on watercolor paper. I sketched the block onto the watercolor paper ahead of time.   The girls chose a crayon to do their outline.  I asked them to use a heavier line around the border and around the star.  Then we painted.

They turned out very pretty.

Each star was different, just like each of our friends are different.

If you don't have time to sew Friendship Stars, painting them is the next best thing. 
I'll show you what we turned them into on my Literacy Blog tomorrow..
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The Class Quilt - A Little More Progress

Remember the class quilt I told you about?  I'm helping my daughter's second grade class sew a quilt for the upcoming auction.  We're using Moda's Double Chocolat fabric.  I'm in love with the colors!  Apparently, the kids' teacher feels the same way about the pretty fabric.  She told me that she's been having nightmares about someone else finishing up the quilt and using horrid fabrics that don't go with our pretty Double Chocolat.

The kids finished sewing their stars during our first sewing session.

This week we started work on the sashing, sewing all of the stars together.  I had help this week.  Yes, I called in the reinforcements.  Thanks for coming to help the kids sew, Jenny!  As the kids were sewing, we kept giggling to ourselves. (giggles with a slight bit of a panic) You see, when kids take over the sewing, perfection is not the name of the game.  There were blocks that finished up at a half of an inch larger than other blocks.  We did a lot of scooching as we tried to line the blocks up. In the end, they'll never notice the small imperfections.  They'll just have good memories of sewing their friendship quilt.

One more sewing day and I'll be able to show you the finished quilt.  I can't wait to take pictures of the kids cuddling in the finished quilt!

Happy quilting!
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Monday, 21 January 2013

Baby It's Cold Outside - Time For Soup

We've had nothing but really cold weather and lots of fog for the past week.  Usually, we all get super excited about the cold temps, because it might mean a rare snow day.  Sadly, the only moisture in the air is in the form of REALLY thick fog. 

I couldn't resist snapping a few photos of the frozen trees.

A cold day, combined with feeling under the weather, calls for some homemade chicken soup. I used my new electric pressure cooker.  I'm kinda loving this new appliance.

Breville Fast Slow Cooker

Here's what I did:

I used the saute feature first.
I put a little olive oil in the pot,
followed by 1/2 a diced onion,
2 cloves diced garlic,
1 diced carrot, and
1 diced celery stalk.

Then I added some leftover chicken I had in the freezer,
6 cups of chicken stock,
 about 1/2 cup uncooked brown rice,
and turned the pressure cooker on high for 9 minutes.
After 9 minutes, I let it cool for about 15 minutes to release the pressure naturally.

Maybe it's because it's cold outside, or maybe it's because I don't feel too well, but that soup tasted so good!  I asked my hubby if he loved it as much as I did because it's really good, or if I was just loving it because I'm feeling pathetic.  He thought it might be a little of both.  My kids on the other hand, thought it was the best soup they'd ever eaten.  They both went back for seconds.

(Side story:  When my son was just learning to feel himself, as a baby, if he really loved something, he'd start kind of humming as he was eating.  You could just tell he was perfectly content and loving his meal. I was almost like he was saying, "Yummm, yummm, yummm." as he was eating. To this day (he's almost 12 now), when he eats something that he really loves he does the humming thing when he eats.  At the dinner table tonight, my hubby and I just looked at each other and burst out laughing because my son was in his humming mode as he was eating this soup.  Needless to say, he really enjoyed this recipe.)

Stay warm, friends!

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Saturday, 19 January 2013

Vintage Rectangle Quilt

In my opinion, there are several different types of quilters.  There are people who like to find a pattern, pick their fabric, and then follow the instructions.  Some people like to fly by the seat of their pants and buy pretty fabric and then just start sewing.  There are also quilters with an eye for design.  They find beautiful fabrics, get inspired, and draft out their own pattern.  I tend to be a follow-the-instructions type of quilter.  Flying by the seat of my pants is just way too uncomfortable for me.  I've tried it, and I just don't like it.  I tend to freeze and then my quilting project ends up looking really pathetic.

I've always admired people who can design their own patterns, figuring the yardage they need, keeping seam allowance in mind, and always creating with an artists' eye.  Over the past few months, I've been trying my hand at designing quilt patterns.  Although I don't think I will EVER have an artists' eye, I've certainly been having a lot of fun creating.  I've been buying fabric, or using fabric I already own, and then designing from there.

Last week I showed this quilt top to you.

I had purchased this Honeybun from the Moda line and really didn't know how I wanted to use it.

It sat on my shelf for a really long time, because as much as I loved the fabric, I just didn't know what I wanted to do and I didn't want to waste it or start something and make a mistake.  Well, I finally got inspired.  I found a Jellyroll pattern that I liked.  I knew it would be slightly different, by using a Honeybun, so I needed to plan it out. (Remember, a Honeybun is a smaller version of a Jellyroll.)

Here's the picture I created to help me wrap my head around the way I wanted it to turn out.

To make this quilt, you need one Honeybun and 1 5/8 of a yard of light fabric.

I started by sewing the Honeybun strips together, in pairs.
Then, I cut the strips into 2 1/2 inch blocks.
By sewing the 2 1/2 inch block to another 2 1/2 inch block, I got the little "block of four".
Finally, it was time to sew the blocks to white rectangles (2 x 4 1/2 inch rectangles).
It always makes me happy to sew the strips together because the quilt finishes up so quickly. A little 2 1/2 inch border on the edge and the quilt top was complete.

It looks like a lot of work, but because I used the strip piecing method, it actually came together very quickly.

Happy quilting!

Because I Needed Another Hobby!

I came home with yarn and knitting needles one day and my hubby just looked at me, shook his head, and asked, "Why?"

To me, the answer was obvious, "Because I needed another hobby!"

It's cold out and I can't garden in the winter.  I'm trying not to bake as much because we really don't need to be eating warm cookies all through the winter.... those soft, warm, yummy cookies... sorry... got distracted.  Anyway, my hubby and kids say I always have my nose in the computer and I thought knitting might keep me busy when I just feel like I need to sit down for a bit.  (I tend to curl up with my iPad and start pinning fun ideas when we're watching movies or relaxing in the evening.  I call it multi-tasking.  They think I'm being anti-social.)  Well, my friend at school helped me get started and I'm happy to report that I have a pretty new scarf!

I bought the chunkiest yarn I could find and some really big knitting needles.  I bought a size 13 needle, if that means anything to you knitters out there.

Yep, feeling kinda proud of my new hobby!

Happy knitting!
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Friday, 18 January 2013

The Class Quilt

Most of you know I'm a teacher and most of you know I work in a job-share.  I feel so lucky to be able to have a great career and also have one extra day off each week.
(So thankful for great teaching partners too!)

Today I spent the day in my daughter's second grade classroom.  I taught second grade for many years, before moving to kindergarten, and I really do miss the independence and confidence that second graders bring to the classroom.  Well, it's auction time at my kids' school and I'm helping out with our class auction project.  We're making a Friendship Quilt, with Moda's Double Chocolate fabric line.  Oh, how I love those colors!

I pulled out a few of my favorite fabrics from the bundle and precut the squares that we needed for the project.

After a quick introduction in the classroom, I started pulling kids out to the hallway to start sewing with me.  They LOVED sewing!  I've gotten pretty good at sewing sideways.  I let the kids sit right in front of the machine and they really do the sewing.  I just make sure to sit right next to them, looking sideways at the machine, and help guide them when they need support.  No one will  be sewing their fingers into the quilt on my watch!!!

Once we had the triangles pieced, the kids started arranging the squares into the Friendship Star.  

It always amazes me the way some kids just "see" how shapes fit together and others really have to work at it.  I'm one of those that really needs to work at it, so I think I'm a bit envious of those people who can quickly make beautiful arrangements with shapes.  I love the conversations the kids have as they are arranging their shapes too.  Working with these little guys just makes me happy!

Once they figured out how to arrange their pieces, we were ready to sew the small blocks into a larger block.

I'm kind of in love with the colors in this quilt!

Some kids talked about how their moms or grandmas sew, and others had never even seen a real sewing machine before.  Some kids talked about the old fashioned foot pedal machines that they had seen in cartoons, and others talked about family members who own multiple machines.  Regardless of kids' experience sewing, they all had a great time!  There were happy giggles, lots of questions about how the machine works, and lots of kids who were eager to convince their parents to let them sew at home.  One little boy even said, "I'm totally going to ask for one of these for Christmas!"  How cute is that?

Twelve little Friendship blocks are ready to be sewn together.  I'll be spending my next day off finishing the blocks with kids who were absent, and working with kids to sew the blocks together.

The quilt will be auctioned off at the school auction, in March.  I can't wait to hear which lucky child will get to take home a quilt made by all of his or her friends!  I think it's turning out pretty enough that the parents will be excited to have this in their home too!

Happy quilting!
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Thursday, 17 January 2013

My Two Favorite Sewing Books - Right Now

I stopped by the library the other day to pick up a little inspiration.  As I've mentioned a time or two, I really love Moda Fabrics.  Camille Roskelley is one of their designers.  I was introduced to her blog by my friend whose house looks SO much like Camille's.  Anyway, I love the light and bright colors she uses in her quilts.  Suddenly, my own quilts felt very dark.  She inspired me and I want to try something new.

(And is that polka dot chair the cutest thing EVER?)

I own the first Moda Bake Shop book and use the quilt patterns all the time. When Sweet Celebrations came out I was dying to get my hands on it.  I was not disappointed.  The projects are so pretty and I was excited to see a few of the fabrics that I already have in my stash. 

Sweet Celebrations with Moda Bakeshop Chefs: 35 Projects to Sew from Jelly Rolls, Layer Cakes, Fat Quarters, Charm Squares & More

Quilts, runners, bags, and gifts.  Oh, where do I begin?

Happy sewing!
what i'm reading

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Moda Fabrics

Dear Moda,

I really, really, really love your fabrics.  You have a jellyroll to fit every season and mood I'm in.  Right now I'm loving Double Chocolat.  French General is always right up there with my favorites too.  Tans, browns, and reds just make me happy.  Throw in a little icy blue and those little stacks of  loveliness are just about perfection.

I don't know what I'm going to sew yet, but I'm sure your designers will have some new patterns to inspire me.  Jellyrolls, Layer Cakes, and Charm Packs make me so sew happy.

Your Friend,
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Monday, 14 January 2013

Cinnamon Sugar Pull Apart Bread

Saw it.  Pinned it.  Tried it.  Loved it!

I made the cinnamon sugar pull apart bread that I saw on Pinterest, for our Seahawks football watching morning.  I changed things up from the original recipe and used my bread machine on the dough cycle.  Mine doesn't look quite as pretty as the Pinterest version, but WOW was it good..

Happy baking!

Sunday, 13 January 2013

A Quilting Kind of Weekend

I've spent quite a bit of time in my sewing room over the past few weekends.  Two new quilts tops are products of the quality time with my sewing machine.

This one is made from a Moda Honeybun.  (A Honeybun is like a Jellyroll, with strips that are a bit thinner.)  I love the vintage looking fabrics.  I've been inspired by some fun new quilting books and really wanted to add lots of white to these fabrics.

The Salt Air Jelly Roll (also from Moda) has been sitting in my sewing room since Summer.  I couldn't decide what I wanted to do with it, so I did nothing.

A few weeks ago I decided to use the Jellyroll in my favorite "go-to" quilt pattern.  I love colorwash quilts, and I'm loving the way this one turned out.

Happy quilting!
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Sunday, 6 January 2013

Individual Chocolate Chip Cookie Cups

Recipe for 4 individual Cookie Cups:

 8 tbsp Melted Butter
4 tbsp White Sugar
4 tbsp Brown Sugar
1/2 tsp Vanilla

1 Cup Flour 
1 small pinch of Salt
1/2 tsp Baking Powder
About 40 chocolate chips - 10 per cup

Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl.  I used a cereal bowl.
Divide mixture evenly into small microwavable dishes.
I added a few extra chocolate chips to the top, just so it would make a pretty picture.
Microwave all 4 dishes, at the same time, for 1 minute.
If it looks too gooey, try 10 more seconds.

 Easiest Dessert Ever = Happy Kids (and happy mom)

Happy cookie making!

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