Monday, August 31, 2009

Another SWAP progress update

Hubby said this is the best thing I've ever fact, he said it looks like something you'd buy at Dillard's (which is the most expensive place he knows of, so that was a major compliment)!  I bought this stunning cherry blossom fabric on eBay a few years ago and loved it so much that I couldn't use it for anything. I finally got over that and this was the perfect project for it.

I used the "Pink Daisy" overalls pattern from Ottobre (3/2009 #8) for the dress, but modified the lower half to be a skirt, rather than pants.  The main fabric is a nice heavy green twill I had left over from a baby carrier I made my cousin.  It's fully lined with the cherry blossom quilting cotton...I had originally planned to line only the top half, but I'm glad I lined the whole thing. It makes for a nice, warm jumper for fall/winter/spring!  I wasn't sure what to do for buttons, so I snagged some navy blue ones from my stash, covered them in fabric, et voila! matching buttons! (By the way, they are non-functioning...didn't think it was necessary with the long zipper and wide armholes).  I prefer taking pictures in daylight, but hubby forbade me from putting it on her till he came home so he could see too.  The close-up of the buttoned shoulder is most true to life.

I added 2 whole inches to the sleeve length of the Garden blouse (Ottobre 1/2008, #6) and it's still a tad on the short side. I always have to roll up Miss M's sleeves anyway so she doesn't get them in things; now I won't have to.  I also changed the collar to a mandarin collar; I thought it fitting for this print.  I was intimidated by the pin tucks, but they turned out to be so easy that I just had to laugh at myself for ever sweating it!  (By the way, you can click on the pictures to view them bigger. This blouse shows off the cherry blossom print so nicely!)

I wasn't sure if I'd like the back pockets on a dress as well as if it were actual overalls.  I had some trouble with the binding on the pockets.  You're instructed to gather the tops of the pockets (both front and back) to the length of the binding, but the binding is the same length as the ungathered width of the pockets!  Once I got the binding on the pockets (I shortened them by about an inch each), they were still longer than the pocket placement marks, so I ran a piece of 1/8" elastic through the binding and pulled in the fullness that way.  It turned out very nice, but next time I'll see if I can shorten the binding enough to make the elastic unnecessary.  Did anyone else who has made this run into the same problem? Or did I do something strange when cutting out?

My SWAP will be complete after just two more garments!  BUT...I am definitely going to add some more leggings and some pinafore dresses for layering.  I'll see what I can use from my stash.  I am also thinking about another jacket for playing outside on chilly days.

No-spend week outcome

Our no-spend week turned out to be an exercise in both self control and negotiation.  I'm not sure hubby was quite as sold on the idea as I was to begin with, especially for the weekend.  All day Saturday he said things to me like, "You don't have to cook tonight.  We can just go out.  You deserve a break.  Wanna just order pizza?  Let's just go order from the $1 menu." etc., etc., etc.  I made a conscious effort to not be frustrated at his attempts to sabotage our no-spending his unwillingness to cooperate. Instead, I tried to understand why he was being this way.  I was first tempted to say he simply lacked self-control.  My husband was raised Catholic which instilled in him a strong sense of "it's easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission."  In other words, his natural inclination is to do what he wants and deal with the consequences afterwards, like going to Confession Sunday morning after partying all night Saturday.  I, on the other hand, was raised in a fundamentalist Christian home (and school) where great emphasis was placed on "spiritual discipline" which translates to personal, internal strength of will.  So maybe he just doesn't have the discipline -- the strength of will -- to make a plan and stick to it.  But I realized this wasn't a very fair assessment of him either.  It's more accurate of his parents -- in the almost-5-years we've been married, hubby's dad hasn't kept a job for more than 6 months at a time.  Hubby is much more disciplined than I am when it comes to things like exercise (he runs 3 miles a day on the treadmill), music (practicing on his saxophone), work (he gets up every morning at the crack of dawn to go work at a boring job), even budgeting (we're currently living debt free, thanks to him!).  So maybe he and I are disciplined in different areas, which I think is definitely accurate and not necessarily bad; we compliment each other.

I think the real reason is that hubby simply didn't want to do a no-spend week.  He agreed to it because it sounds like a good idea (spending less money always sounds appealing!) and because I wanted to.  But he was never really dedicated to it.  When I came to this conclusion, I was faced with a decision...force him to continue through the weekend, or negotiate a different ending.  We decided to end our no-spend week early, both because he never really wanted to do it in the first place and because we realized that no-spending for both days of a weekend is not very practical for our family since we do live a distance away from the shopping centers.  For example, I've been waiting for felt-by-the-yard to go on sale at JoAnn's because I need some to finish a Christmas project.  It went on sale this weekend and the sale runs through this week.  We could have completed our no-spend weekend and gone to JoAnn's some night this week.  It would be the same cost for gas and take the same amount of time to drive there and back, but it would take place at a different time of day, with much lower levels of energy and patience...overall, it would be less pleasant for all of us to do it on a weeknight rather than a weekend.  The same is true for any errands we want or need to run.  So Sunday we lifted our no-spend ban, went to JoAnn's, ate Chinese takeout, and enjoyed the gorgeous cool weather together as a family!  It wasn't the outcome I was looking for, but it was a very satisfactory one anyway.

I'm not sure we'll embark on another no-spend week anytime soon.  I think a better method for our family might be to set spending limits.  We could set aside a specific amount from each paycheck for "fun stuff" (which for hubby usually involves food! Ha!) in addition to our set amounts for putting into savings.  We basically started over financially a year ago when we moved to Missouri from California.  The cost of moving wiped out our previous savings and we've had to spend a lot on "extra" things like a bed, a kitchen table, and some costly car maintenance.  But after a year, we're well on our way to our two-part goal of having a 6-month "float" and saving for a house.

Many thanks to Eilleen for prompting this no-spend week. It's been a wonderful learning experience for our family!

Friday, August 28, 2009

No-spend week update

Well, we made it through our no-spend week weekdays...just two weekend days left.   Those'll be the hardest!  I convinced hubby to pick up his video game on his way home from work Tuesday instead of coming home first and going back out for it (he likes to have us with him when he shops).  So he didn't need to fill up his gas tank this week!  But we had a major blowout today...McDonald's was kind enough to provide our supper...for a fee!  Actually, hubby called me on his lunch break today and asked if he could go to Dairy Queen for lunch.  "Didn't you pack your lunch?!" "Yeah, but I feel like eating something hot."  Anyway, I convinced him to just eat the lunch he packed, but he insisted we go out to McDonald's tonight.  I must admit I was secretly glad because it meant I could sit at my sewing machine a little longer instead of getting up to make supper.  Plus, Miss M didn't take her nap today and was in need of special love and attention before bedtime.  Still...if we can get through the next two days without anymore frivolous spending, I'll consider the week an overall success!

If it's as beautiful out this weekend as it was today, maybe we'll take a walk to the park together -- that doesn't cost anything!  If we do, I'll be sure to bring my camera along.  We always run into some sort of wildlife around here.  Last night it was a big ugly opossum.  The other day it was a whole flock of wild turkeys!

Yes, those are two young cats down in the front of the picture.  They don't belong to anybody, but the local Cat Lady feeds them here every day. It may have been the pans of cat food that attracted the turkeys.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

More completed SWAP garments

I've finished up four more garments for the Ottobre Fall SWAP (sewing with a plan).  I'm really pleased with how wonderfully this whole sewing plan is going!  I've done most of the "easy" garments and am starting in on some of the more complex items.

The fabric I used in the Muru tunic (Ottobre 1/2009 #6) was taken from an old t-shirt cardigan of mine that magically grew shorter and shorter on me.  I even re-used the ribbing and buttons.  I swear, I had a bad case of preggo brain when sewing it because I must have ripped out every seam at least once. It wasn't the pattern, just me.  In fact, the pattern was really quite simple and I enjoyed making it!  I nixed the whole clear elastic thing though 'cause the knit was so tender and the elastic so just wasn't working.  I gathered it with old fashioned basting threads.  I'm not sure if I'll try the clear elastic again next time I make this pattern; it will probably depend on how sturdy the fabric is.

I haven't decided how to fasten the Ladybug vest (Ottobre 1/2008 #5).  I would eventually like to invest in a snap press, so I may go ahead and do that now, or I may just do buttons. I was even thinking of doing some sort of toggle-button closure. Any suggestions?  I think it's kind of funny that it's made of green polka-dotted fabric in the magazine and I ended up making it out of green polka-dotted fabric. I originally thought about making it out of polar fleece (no contrast panel, of course), but the green polka-dot twill just insisted this is what it wanted to be made into.  Who am I to say no to strong-willed fabric?

I made the Candy pants (Ottobre 1/2008 #9) once before and knew I liked them. I used cheap calico then and they wore thin in the back pretty quickly. I'm sure this twill will stay nice much longer and be warmer for fall.  I tried them on Miss M before turning down the waistband since I had a feeling I'd need to turn them down a bit more than called for to keep the crotch from hanging too low. I'm glad I did. I ended up almost doubling the amount I turned them down and am very pleased with the way they fit her.

The leggings are my own pattern.  I made them just a bit too long on purpose 'cause I know a growth spurt between now and spring is inevitable.  Since they're made of rib knit, I also made the front and back identical. The ribbing stretches enough in the back to fit properly and isn't too loose in the front. That way Miss M can dress herself without getting them on backwards.  I'll definitely be making more of these.  They're so easy, so comfy, and so versatile!

Miss M's grandma and auntie bought her this pair of brown shoes -- they  haven't even seen her fall wardrobe plan yet!  Aren't they perfect? A little more casual than the ones I bought...which is perfect and between the two pairs she should be all set for fall and spring. She may need some boots of some sort for winter though.  Not that I for cute boots will be great fun! Tee hee!

Here is my current SWAP plan, and the other garments I've completed so far.  Next I'm making the Pink Daisy overalls (Ottobre 4/2009 #8) as a dress rather than pants.  Do you think I should keep the pockets on the back, or just the front ones?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Eating Nilaga and Playing in the Rain

I'm happy to announce that the nilaga turned out quite well...sufficiently like my mother-in-law's to pass the critical "Hubby Test." It makes enough to feed an entire clan, so we'll be having it again a few more times this week.

I based mine off of this recipe.  I added one seeded jalapeƱo from the garden 'cause I know my mother-in-law does.  It only stayed in while the meat cooked (which took way longer than the 1 hour the recipe says!); I took it out before adding the other vegetables.  Miss M only ate rice and broth, no veggies or meat; hubby ate a plate of rice with veggies and meat, but no broth; and what you see above is my bowl before I added rice.

When I woke up this morning, the weather forecast said 90% chance of rain and while it didn't rain very hard, we did get a bit of a shower. Since there wasn't any thunder, I let Miss M play outside with her "bra-lella."

She's wearing her "Wendy" dress.  When I first made it and put it on her, she looked down and said, "I look like Wendy!" (from Peter Pan).  It's her favorite and always gets worn as soon as I do laundry. She also picked out her "rain boots" which are really boy's snow boots that I bought her last year 'cause they seemed so much warmer than the girl's styles.  She looked so cute I couldn't help but get out my camera.

I wanted to post pictures of the new garments I finished for my SWAP, but it's getting late and a thunderstorm is getting closer and closer, so I'd better hold off until tomorrow.  Rest assured, there are four new garments to be seen, I've taken pictures already, and I'll post them up tomorrow!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Meal planning and grocery shopping

Today's the first day of our no-spend week. I did what I could this weekend to plan and prepare, so we'll see how it all goes!

But first...  We went to a parade Saturday!  Miss M has been begging to see a parade (and, in fact, "seeing" them in the most unlikely places), so when I heard there was to be a parade at the Parkville Days celebration, we decided we just had to go. There were two marching bands, clowns, a carnival, pony rides, and one very happy toddler!  You couldn't have asked for a more gorgeous day.

We got hungry, but opted to buy a small snack rather than spend an arm and a leg for carnival food that most likely would have been less than satisfactory portion-wise.  That saw us through the rest of our errands and we ate at home.

I made my meal menu that night. I doubt anyone plans meals quite like I do, but who knows, maybe my way could be helpful to someone else at some point.  Instead of planning specifically what I'll cook on each night of the week, I plan out a week's worth of meals, but then I decide exactly which one of those meals to cook sometime during the day. Here's this week for an example:

I got this nifty menu planner paper for $1 somewhere. It has a magnet on the back to stick right on my handy!  (I have another one like it, but for making a shopping list; I jot down things I use up during the week so I can replenish my supply next shopping trip.)

Just because Wednesday says "Chicken Fajitas" doesn't mean I'm actually planning to cook fajitas on fact, that's what we had for supper last night since my tomato was ripe and I needed to use it right away.  For me, the point is to have enough meals planned (i.e. enough ingredients on hand) to last till hubby gets paid again.  That's another thing...he only gets paid once every two weeks, but I only have 7 meals planned, how does that work?  Well, for some reason or another it just does! Whether we eat leftovers or get invited to eat with family or opt for "popcorn supper" on a hot summer night, I find that planning 7 meals gets me through two weeks quite well. There are only three of us, after all, and Miss M eats like a bird.

It really helps me, once I decide on a meal, to write out the ingredients needed for that meal right on the menu plan. I'll use that to make my grocery list. So "Arm Roast and Rice" (hubby's going to love me for this one!) lists the following necessary ingredients: roast, rice, onion, onion soup mix, red wine, garlic, salad. The roast is already in my freezer from a different week; I have onion from the garden; there's still some red cooking wine in the fridge; I have garlic a-plenty; so all that had to go on the grocery list for this meal is onion soup mix and a "bag-o-salad" (they were advertised in the store flyer for a good price this week).

I usually write out the whole menu first, along with the ingredients, and then when I'm done I go right down the menu and make up my grocery list.  Once that's done I think of other things not on the menu that we need to buy -- supplies for hubby's lunch, breakfast food, baking basics, paper goods, personal hygiene products, toddler food, and this time I added in bedtime snacks.  Hubby doesn't like much variation in his daily lunch, so that's pretty easy. Breakfast is about the same...unless I've baked some sort of pastry, hubby and Miss M will usually eat cold cereal and milk. I usually opt for tea and toast.

Our fortnightly grocery budget is $125 for the three of us. That includes paper products and personal hygiene products, etc. We usually do well staying in-budget, but we never before intentionally included bedtime snacks and since that's a euphemism for preservative-filled junk food, they're expensive and add up quickly. So I was totally stoked when we got out of the grocery store yesterday with $10 to spare! Of course, I did forget to buy hotdog buns (it somehow didn't make the jump from my menu to my grocery list), so we'll probably be having pigs-in-blankets instead of hotdogs, but that would have only added less than a dollar. (Or I may attempt to make hotdog buns...hmmm...)

We got home mid-afternoon, took a nap, and I threw ingredients for the week's bread in the bread machine. I use it to mix the dough for me, but I usually take it out and bake it in loaf pans in the oven so it's a more convenient shape/size for making sandwiches. Et voila! We're all set to embark on a week of no spending.

Hubby is home now, so day 1 is basically done -- no reason for us to go back out this evening -- so we'll call Day 1 a success! It looks like Eilleen, Eco-chic Mummy, and Voice of Many Colours are off to a good start too!

Friday, August 21, 2009

No-spend week - August 24-30

We've decided to start our no-spend week Monday and carry it through next weekend. Today was hubby's payday, so that gives us a chance to do our grocery shopping and other errands this weekend.

When I was single, I was very frugal, mostly because I didn't have any money to spend! A shopping trip to Target to buy shampoo, deodorant, and other female necessities usually cleaned out what was left in my checking account each month. At that time I was only getting paid once a month -- talk about needing to budget well! -- so I simply had to plan ahead for rent, utilities, and groceries.  After I got married and started working full time, hubby took over most of our budgeting. Sadly, he's really good at it because his parents are so bad at it. We got all our (my!) debt paid off and saved up for some big-ticket items (a used car paid for in cash and a refrigerator).  We had a double-income then, and though living in Orange County, California is anything but cheap, we did pretty well in our $930/month one-bedroom apartment! (I shudder to think that that was actually a good deal!)

Fast forward a few short years and you find us plus a kid and minus an income. We were still able to keep up with our responsibilities, but we didn't have anything extra to put in savings once I quit working to stay home with the baby. We really wanted to get out of California (I should definitely write about that sometime), but didn't see how it'd ever be possible.  Although hubby was born in the Philippines, he is a total California (city!) boy. I grew up in Nebraska, but the chance of getting him to move there was -- and is! -- extremely slim.  So when my dad offered to let us live in the empty side of his duplex rent-free while we save up for a house, I didn't think hubby would go for it.  The Lord must have been working in his heart, however, because when I mentioned it to him, he was totally in favor of it! I truly believe it was an answer to prayer because everything fell into place so perfectly! Hubby wouldn't think of leaving California without his parents. He's an only child and they're basically all the family he's got. It was a year ago last month that we packed up six people ages 18 months to 83 in two cars and drove all the way from California to Missouri.

Hubby was concerned that although the cost of living in Missouri is lower, so would the wages be significantly lower, but again God provided and he's making more money now that he ever has before in his life. I'm still able to stay home (my dream!) and we're putting aside money to buy a house. But somehow in the past year we haven't been doing as well as we were with our "extra" money. Sure, we're putting some in savings every two weeks, but we're also spending loads more on those little extras that drain away a good portion each month. We're particularly bad about eating out. Hubby loves McDonald's...and KFC...and Chinese take-out...  Since we live in a small town and go into the city to do most of our shopping, we tend to be gone at least half, if not a whole day at a time.  That usually only applies to weekends, but lately there have been lots of weeknights too that we find ourselves out and hungry.  One weekend I actually planned ahead, packed a picnic lunch, and had everything ready for us to take with us on our Saturday outing....boy, was hubby upset! Apparently he cherishes those eat-out meals more than I realized.

So my goal in planning this no-spend week is to stay home (or at least stay in town!), eat home-cooked meals (no getting lazy because I'm pregnant and hitting up the local diner!), and basically avoid all those little extras that add up so quickly.

We'll go grocery shopping tomorrow (or Sunday, just depends).  I always do menu planning beforehand, but this time I want to specifically include our bedtime snacks so we won't end up making extra shopping trips for junk food.  I also need to be a little more effort-conscious than health-conscious at this point because I really do run out of the energy it takes to prepare a healthier meal rather than a quick-but-still-basically-healthy meal. In other words, from now until sometime after the baby comes, we'll have to eat less "gourmet" and more "basic." Another thing I need to be really careful about is making sure hubby has everything he needs to make his lunches for work. He tends to get lazy if things aren't just-so and wants to grab fast food for lunch. That means I need to have bread made by Sunday night (if not sooner), cheese sliced, and everything else in stock.

Hubby has a video game coming out Tuesday that he "has" to go get, so that'll be one trip into the city that's "unavoidable."  He budgets for his video games, so that part isn't "extra" and as long as we don't go anywhere but Gamestop, we should be fine. It may seem silly, but it's quite important to hubby, so that'll go on our exemption list.  But that one trip does mean that he'll probably have to fill up his gas tank sometime before the end of the week, so that'll go on our exemption list too. Thursday there's a downloadable expansion pack for his boxing game (if there are two things this man loves it's videogames and boxing! combine the two and we're talking serious dedication!), so that'll be $5, but at least we don't have to go anywhere for it.

I'm looking forward to seeing how this goes and how we work around anything that does come up during the week!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fall SWAP progress

I finally have some progress to report on my Ottobre SWAP.  There are actually six garments finished, but I only have pictures of four of them so far.

You can see that the brown Maya blouse is lacking buttons. I didn't have anything suitable in my stash, so I'll "have" to go find some at JoAnn's.  I'm thinking something to match the medium pink in the trim, but we'll see. I almost never buy buttons...I usually always make do with what I have on hand.

The cream Maya blouse is made of a vintage pillowcase I picked up at Goodwill a while back ($0.50).  It carries that oh-so-fresh smell that I love on my pillows and is super soft. I have a bit left that I'm going to hoard until just the right project comes up.

I'm delighted with how dressy the little skirt came out! It's made of chocolate brown stretch velvet.  Miss M thought it was great fun to pet it like a kitten.

Modeled by the lovely Miss M...and just before naptime (what was I thinking!)

When I'm done, there will be more mix-and-match options. (Of course!  That's kind of the point of planning a wardrobe!)  I'm very pleased with how these turned out...but I'm thinking I may add a pinafore dress or two to layer over the blouse and sash pants for warmth.  I'm also planning to add more undershirts and tights to her wardrobe before truly cold weather hits. The tights I'll probably buy, but I may make the undershirts.

It's bedtime now, but tomorrow I hope to share the other two finished garments and talk about the no-spend week hubby and I are planning as inspired by Eilleen at Consumption Rebellion.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

In the Works

When I was pregnant with Miss M, I was working full time in accounting. I didn't have to take care of anyone other than myself and hubby (although he's pretty self-sufficient too). Welived in a teensy weensy one-bedroom apartment in Southern California -- not much to keep weather to speak of...and hubby did the laundry.  So I don't remember this "slowing down" where I can't seem to get anything done during the day.

In general, but even more so when I'm pregnant, I feel best about myself when I get at least a decent amount accomplished in a day. I hate going to bed at night feeling like the entire day was wasted 'cause nothing got done. Those feelings seem to be even stronger during pregnancy. Monday Miss M and I had dentist appointments. When we have something to do in the middle of the day like that, it seems to throw off our whole schedule and I usually don't get anything done at all. But I did pretty well a load of laundry finished, made spaghetti for supper, and designed the advent calendar I want to make. Yesterday was like our Monday, so I jumped right into the housework. I put all Miss M's toys away (with a bit of help from her!) and vacuumed her room.  I also finished the laundry and straightened the living room. The bathroom and kitchen still need help, but at least I got something done. But, man oh man, did I pay for it!

About midday I started having serious back pain. I have a pretty high level of pain tolerance, and I'm telling you, this was bad! Tylenol didn't help a bit (which I hate to take during pregnancy anyway even though the doctor said it's okay). I used a cold compress as the chiropractor had instructed me last time and that felt good while on, but didn't last long. And then I started throwing up! I don't know if the pain caused the digestive malfunction, or if it was the other way around. I couldn't keep anything down for about 3 hours...which started to get me a bit concerned. I knew if the vomiting kept up, I'd get dehydrated despite my best efforts and I'd have to seek medical attention. Thankfully, it stopped around 11:30 last night and I was able to rest and drink periodically through the night. According to the scale this morning, I'm 5 pounds lighter than I was late yesterday morning.

So today I'm banned from doing much. I don't want a repeat of yesterday and hubby has me under strict orders to "be lazy."  I think I'll still manage to hem a skirt I made for Miss M and do a few buttonholes to finish off the shirts I've been working on a few minutes at a time all weekend. Then I'll finally have something to show for my SWAP (Sewing with a Plan).

Aside from the SWAP, wanna know what else is in the works? Christmas presents! I've been making Christmas gifts all year thanks to the Holiday Handmade Crusade over on Craftster. I have quite a few finished up, but I still need to get the playmat done for my nephew.  I'm also dying to have an advent calendar this year.  Miss M will be three and I want to start an advent tradition. This weekend I designed the nativity characters I'm going to use; I just have to find time to get it made! (And if this admonition to "be lazy" becomes a common recurrence, I may have to get them done by handsewing rather than machine). I also have a pair of socks and a sweater on the needles for Miss M and there's that Regency style dress for me.  Oh, and I promised her a Cinderella dress for her birthday -- not cut out yet, but I washed the fabric!

Quite a bit in the works, and I'm not ready to throw in the towel yet. If this little guy comes as early as Miss M, I still have at least a couple months to go. I'll go nuts if I can't do something in all that time!  (And please, please keep my in-laws away! They stress me out more than they could ever help...but that is a story for another day).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Frosted Fudge Brownies

Yesterday afternoon Miss M was asking for sweets  (nothing new there!), since I was in the mood to bake something, I pulled out a cookbook and handed it to her. "Find some cookies and I'll see if we have the ingredients to make them." She picked Frosted Fudge Brownies from the Taste of Home's Contest Winning Annual Recipes 2005. (By the way, it's a pretty good cookbook, if you're in the market for one).

I'm not a huge brownie fan or even much of a chocoholic, but I had (almost) all the ingredients and was willing to give it a try. I was short an egg, but it didn't seem to matter too much. I was also out of powdered sugar, but since we were doing our fortnightly grocery shopping last night, I figured I'd just pick up some then and frost the brownies afterwards. Miss M loves running the electric hand mixer and she did well this time -- meaning she didn't fling batter all over the walls. She was very excited to announce that "we're making chocolate brownies, Daddy!" the minute hubby walked in the door.

If you like sickeningly over-sweet chocolate desserts, you might want to give this a try. They sure beat brownies from a box!

  • 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons butter

  • 3/4 cup baking cocoa

  • 4 eggs

  • 2 cups sugar

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract


  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened

  • 2 2/3 cups confectioners' sugar

  • 1/2 cup baking cocoa

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup milk

In a saucepan, melt butter. Remove from the heat. Stir in cocoa; cool. In a mixing bowl, beat eggs and sugar. Combine flour, baking powder and salt; gradually add to egg mixture. Stir in vanilla and the cooled chocolate mixture; mix well.

Spread into a greased 13" x 9" x 2" baking pan. Bake at 350°  for 25-28 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean (do not overbake). Cool on a wire rack.

For frosting, in a mixing bowl, cream butter, confectioners' sugar, cocoa, and vanilla. Add enough milk for the frosting to achieve spreading consistency. Spread over brownies. Cut into bars.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Keeping a toddler entertained

The night before last I was haunted by visions of a Regency Era dress for maternity wear and when I saw the flat bedsheet Miss M was using to make a tent, it told me it wanted to be that dress. So yesterday, when I was supposed to be working on my SWAP, I cut out a dress for myself instead. It turns out, a queen sized flat sheet is perfect for the Regency dress pattern (especially since I needed to hack off 5 inches in length).  I cut out the whole thing and the rest of the garments for Miss M...good thing too 'cause I was having a few contractions bent over on the floor like that. I'm listed as "high risk" for pre-term delivery (Miss M was born at 36 weeks), so I don't need to be having contractions at only 6 months pregnant! Now that all the cutting out is done, I won't have to get down on the floor like that anymore!

It seems I woke up one morning, turned around, and my baby girl had morphed into a sponge, soaking up every bit of information and stimulation she could find. She's completely outgrown her baby toys and is in need of new things to do. Just about every day last week I came up with a new activity for her. One day it was a "sand" table consisting of my 9x12" cake pan and some old (uncooked!) rice.

Another day she asked to make pizza, so we she did. I really didn't do much other than premix the spices and even up the cheese at the end.

Her lola (grandma) had a birthday this weekend, so little Miss M made her very first greeting card. She even put the stamps on the "envelope" all by herself.

Miss M has always had advanced fine motor skills for her age. Even before she could walk, she'd crawl around and pick up the tiniest pieces of debris from the carpet -- amazingly, they didn't usually go in her mouth either!  So I've been wanting to get her some lacing cards since she first turned 2 -- even though they have "for ages 3-6" on the box. The cheapest ones I've seen are about $10 (Disney princesses, ick!) and they go up from there. I just couldn't bear to spend that much and it suddenly dawned on me to make my own!  I used a double-layer of cardstock, clear contact paper, a 1/8" hole punch, and some lanyard for the laces.

After I finished the first one, I was a little concerned that the holes were too many and too small.  Oh how wrong I was! All it took was showing Miss M once how to "find the next hole" and next thing I knew, she laced up a whole card!  I'll definitely be making more of these! In fact, I think I might make up a tutorial while I'm at it. These would make great gifts for a huge range of ages...both boys and girls.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

My picky eater and deer

I don't know how people with kids eat vegan. I really don't. We're not vegan or vegetarian or anything, but I am having such a hard time getting Miss M to eat healthy. She won't touch vegetables or fruit. She eats bread (especially crackers and pasta) well. She loves cheese. She does moderately well with chicken and beef.  And she takes a daily multiple vitamin. But she has a serious sweet tooth (thanks to her father!) and is constantly asking for sweets instead of eating her real food. Asking for sweets, not getting sweets, mind you.

Here's how the morning went.  She had a bite of my "midnight snack" last night -- a bowl of oatmeal -- and liked it. So she asks for some this morning. She stirs it, nibbles a bit, and asks for juice. Okay, so I give her apple juice. She's allowed to have 2 half-glasses a day (any more than that and she gets the runs).  Next thing you know she's asking for chocolate (as if I ever give her chocolate for breakfast)!  Then she's asking for a butterscotch hard candy...then cookies...then M&Ms...then more juice...  I don't mind giving her a small treat once or twice a day. What harm could 4 M&Ms do?  But she has to eat real food too!  I know she's just testing her boundaries like a normal 2-almost-3-year-old. But it wears on me...especially with my patience level already compromised by pregnancy hormones.

Just before naptime, Miss M looked out the bedroom window and shouted, "Deer!" Sure enough, there was a doe and her fawn strolling through the backyard having a clover snack. They meandered long enough for me to actually grab my camera this time.

Doe and Fawn

The quality's not too bad for having been taken through a dusty, screened, UV-filtering bedroom window!  It sure is fun seeing God's creatures like this right outside.

Both last night and this morning I spent some time cutting out the garments for my sewing plan.  No pictures yet of the progress, but here's a revised storyboard complete with my fabric choices. The only thing I need is a coordinating ribbing for the "Bubblegum dots skirt."  The main fabric I'm using is a delicious chocolate brown velour, but the ribbing I have doesn't go at all.  I need to buy thread this weekend anyway, so I'll pick up just 1/8 to 1/4 of a yard of something that matches better. That shouldn't cost too much.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Fall Wardrobe SWAP (Sewing With a Plan)

I was inspired by the good ladies on the Yahoo! group for Ottobre (English) to make up a sewing plan for Miss M's Fall wardrobe.  She has a few things from last year that'll still fit her, but for the most part, she needs a little of everything. Since I'm due with #2 in November, I figured joining the SWAP with a deadline of having everything finished by the end of September would probably work in my favor.

[caption id="attachment_5" align="aligncenter" width="499" caption="sewing plan for Miss M's fall wardrobe"]sewing plan for Miss M's fall wardrobe[/caption]

So far I have all the patterns traced and cut out.  I got the final yardages in the mail yesterday and washed 'em up so I can cut out some garments today.

I'm still not sure about the knit pants in my plan. I love them! It's just that I'm trying to not have to buy any more fabric than what I already have on hand, so I'm not sure I can find something suitable to make them out of. I did, however, scrounge up an old shirt of mine that I'll be using for the knit top you see there with a big question mark on it. AND I'm almost certain I can use the delicious chocolate brown velour that came from Chez Ami yesterday to make another  -- only I might lengthen it to a dress.  I'm sure there'll be a few other changes before I'm done, but at least it's a start!