The Third Wheel

Yesterday I hosted a friend’s baby shower. The new mom and dad are avid cyclists – their wedding theme was “a bicycle built for two,” so what could be more fitting for their baby shower than tricycles?

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The Invitations

I used pingg.com to send the invitations,because I wanted to use my own graphic and evite wouldn’t let me. You’ve got to try it. It has so many useful tools for event management, and the whole thing is very intuitive. Favorite feature? If you know that Great Aunt Sue doesn’t use email and won’t get the digital invite, pingg will print and mail her the invitation. For a fee, of course, but what a helpful tool!

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The Food

Lunch was Trader Joes Red Pepper soup in lidded-bowls (I didn’t want ladies at a shower ladling out sloppy red soup.) and toppings: meatballs, cheese, rice and sour cream. The white balls on the right are rice, scooped out with a cookie scoop into neat little portions.

We also had peppermint bark (red, white, and black – perfect!), a veggie tray and cuties (for those who made New Year’s Resolutions) and popcorn balls.

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The Hot Drinks

We had a hot chocolate bar (thanks Kelly for providing it!) on this warm January day. You can see what we did for the cups: we took a set of glasses, dipped the rim in melted chocolate chips and then sugar sprinkles. (Hubbs and I did a trial run to make sure that this wouldn’t cause melty chocolate to get all over your face. It doesn’t.) Then we took paper coffee sleeves which were slightly too big, cut them open and hot-glued them to the glass.

This seems like it would take a long time, but mom and I sat down and did all thirty cups in about a half-hour. So really not too bad, considering how fun and sparkly they turned out.

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The Decorations

Dad’s new red wagon was up front to put the gifts in. I got a few feet of astroturf from the hardware store to use as table runners over the white tablecloths. And then I pulled out all the red, white, and black that I had and put it out all over the place: japanese lanterns hanging from the ceiling, red cranberries in the water, red glasses with tea-lights in them, black rocks in vases with white candles.

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The Favors

Little cello bags with red and white candies, sealed with matching stickers.

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And there you go! A tricycle baby shower. I’m hosting another shower in a few weeks for my sister, so the fun continues.

One Bowl at a Time

When my sister and I were little, my mom signed us up for these local children’s cooking classes with cookbook author Marion Cunningham. We’d go to Marion’s house each week and learn about ingredients (like butter samples that had just arrived from France) test out typewritten recipes for her children’s cookbook, taste whatever cooking project she had been experimenting with that week, and then play with her dog Rover while she and my mom chatted in the kitchen.

One thing that I remember Marion teaching us was that jam didn’t have to be a big complicated project – in fact, it could be made just a bowlful at a time.

If there’s fruit that’s a little mushy and on the verge of turning, don’t let it go to waste. Cut it up, put it on the stove with a little bit of water and a few tablespoons of sugar, and cook it up until its thick and syrupy. Then put it in a covered bowl in the refrigerator and you’ve got a jammy fruit spread to enjoy for the next few days. Its ten times (at least!) more pleasant to see jam than moldy strawberries in the fridge.

At the top you can see yesterday’s breakfast — strawberry jam on a leftover popover. {sigh} if only breakfast could be like that every day…

Aside

Put numbers on your make-up (with stickers, paint pen, sharpie, whatever) in the order that you apply it. Then its easy to grab and lay everything out in the right order before you begin. I also lay out my brushes, so I can work right down the line and apply the right thing in the right order with the right brush. No more fumbling around in the make-up bag trying to figure out what’s what or what comes next when I’m sleepy and distracted in the morning. One less thing to think about!

note: this system was begun after a recent unfortunate incident with the blush as I was rushing to get ready to go… Hope it helps you avoid similar disasters!

How to Make Sweater Felt

Making thick, wooly felt is really easy – all you need is a sweater and a washing machine, and enough guts to disobey laundry instructions.

What you need:

  • 100% wool sweater (any color or pattern, get from thrift store, garage sale, closet, etc… bright, ugly knit sweaters are fun because the images shrink up really small)

What to do:

(Its kind of fun to take a picture of the sweaters before you do this so you can be amazed at how much they shrank. But then I’m always a sucker for before-and-afters)

  1. Throw the sweaters in the washing machine on the hottest setting you’ve got; you don’t need any detergent. When they’re done…
  2. Pull them out and throw them in the dryer on the hottest setting.
  3. Remove from dryer, laugh at how small they are, and do it again – wash and dry on hot. And then do it again.
  4. By the time you pull them out of the dryer for the third time, the sweaters should feel stiff, heavy, and be very short. Any pattern or design that was knit into the sweater will be miniature, and the fabric will be really thick.

Now you have wool felt, ready to use for all sorts of projects. The great thing is that you can cut it and the fibers are shrunk together so tightly that it won’t fray or unravel at all, so you don’t need to hem or do anything to the edges. And its so stiff that it will hold its shape once its cut.

In the past I’ve taken this felt, glued paper to the back and cut out little sweater-y gift tags, I’ve sewed the arm-tubes into knitting needle cases, I sewed a pair of slippers… this stuff is very versatile and very forgiving.

This time I made little birds with feathered tails (thank you chickens for contributing to this project!) The feathers catch every little breeze and spin the birds right around, which makes them very entertaining for little Ellie.

Gallery

Hungry Caterpillar

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Or, Ellie is One Month Today (well, yesterday). Sister gave us a thoughtful shower gift: a copy of the Hungry Caterpillar book with some special modifications. She made 12 little stickers, one for each month of Ellie’s first year, held … Continue reading

Two for one Canning

First things First

Before anyone gets any crazy ideas about me, let me begin by clarifying that this canning project was done in the late weeks of September, before Ellie was born. At this point I’m not sure how it works to squeeze peeling, coring, straining and boiling into a busy day of bottling, swaddling, changing and swinging.

Also, the canning tools have been reassigned to the never ending job of pulling bottle parts out of the sterilizing pot. And let me mention here that if you ever want to sterilize plastic baby bottle parts in a steamer on the stove, make sure there’s water in the pan beneath. Otherwise you may find that the parts just melt right to the pan. (Don’t ask how I know that.)

Back to canning…

In late September, I used a small portion of our apple harvest to make and can apple butter. The two-fer mentioned in the title was an accidental byproduct of the butter. The apples cooked for a long time, and were ready to can, except that there was still too much liquid to make the butter really spreadable.

I scooped the hot apple butter right into a flour-sack towel, twisted it tight, and rich, golden, syrupy juice which tasted a lot like apple cider poured through into the bowl beneath. A little cinnamon and sugar later, and we had apple cider concentrate to can as well.

What to do:

I’d put a recipe down, but its so easy that it seems silly. Peel and core apples, put them in a pot on the stove with some water, cook over medium heat until the apples are soft. I had a vanilla bean on hand that I added while it cooked.

When the apples are soft and enough water has evaporated that you’re happy with the consistency, its apple sauce. Sweeten with cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla or sugar to taste, if you’d like.

Keep cooking it, adding a small amount of water if necessary to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pot. When the mixture has turned deep brown color, the sugars have caramelized and you’ve got apple butter. Again, sweeten or season to taste.

If the butter is soft and and still too soupy, strain out the liquid and you’ve got apple cider concentrate, which you can either can or freeze in ice cube trays for single-serve, just-add-boiling-water cider storage.

Gallery

Introducing Eleanor

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Hubbs and I welcomed our daughter into the world three weeks ago, and not knowing her gender beforehand, I can’t tell you how delighted I am to have been given a little girl! Her name is Eleanor Verity, which means … Continue reading