Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Finding the right tree

I guess she was feeling sentimental because my mom started this email exchange this morning:

Mom: Remember when we all used to go to Wolfe's Nursery and get a tree? And it always took forever. But it was such fun. I sure do miss that. I love you all so much!

Me: And how every year we'd beg for a flocked tree ... and then FINALLY, after years of begging, we got one. And picking out a Christmas CD from the display at the checkout.

Mom: And by the time Christmas came, the flocking was everywhere! Oh, yes, we had to have a Christmas CD. And new hooks every year. LOL.

David: This makes me smile J

Vanessa: And remember how we always felt sorry for the kind of ugly Charlie Brown trees? and we were always picking the super-tall trees that would never fit in our living room? J

Me: Yes, I was thinking about that, too! I think this year I might actually buy one of those Charlie Brown trees. Poor things.

It made me smile, too. I love Christmas time, not for the presents (though they are nice, of course), but because of Jesus, the reason we celebrate, and because it’s a chance to spend a lot of time with family. I am amazingly blessed to have a large (and growing!) and absolutely wonderful family. We’re not without our issues, of course, but we love one another and we love to be with one another. I remember those December mornings (usually the weekend right after Thanksgiving) when we’d all bundle up and head down to Wolfe’s Nursery in Dallas. We’d spend far too long wandering up and down aisle after aisle looking for the perfect tree. We’d think we found it, my stepdad would lift it upright and fluff it out so we could get a good look, and inevitably, we’d find some “fatal” flaw and decide to move on. Eventually, we’d get to the end and decide the tree we’d seen 12 aisles back was probably the best after all, and then we’d wander down that aisle again to try to “re-find” it.
As the tree was getting bagged up, the sisters would head inside to warm up and peruse the Christmas CD display conveniently located by the register. Even though they all sounded the same and included the same songs, save one or two, we were convinced we needed a new one for that year it was Christmas, after all, and we wanted a special treat. Then, we’d head home and spend the afternoon decorating to the sounds of Christmas joy.
I haven’t bought a real tree in a long time. When I was single and living in small apartment, I decided it was best to just buy a plastic one I could set up easily and reuse. And I’ve used the same tree for 5 or so years now. Each year, I debate with myself (and occasionally include Matt) over whether to get a real one. I love real trees, but should I spend the money? Will it mess with my allergies? Is it too much trouble? What about the environmental impact? But it’s so wonderful to have a real tree in the house! Maybe this is the year I bring it back. Plus, it would be an excuse (not that we need one) to visit Ted Drewe’s (known best around these parts for frozen custard, but also a purveyor of Christmas trees in the fall).
P.S. Apparently, you can now buy a (plastic) Charlie Brown Christmas Tree at Target, Urban Outfitters, or a gazillion other places. What?!? Doesn't that kind of defeat the purpose of "saving" an ugly real tree. Hmmm.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Spreading the holiday cheer

I love Thanksgiving, but one of the great things about it being over is the fact that I get to embrace the Christmas spirit full force — decorations, music, baked goodies — you know what I’m talking about. I can’t wait! And one of the things I look forward to every year is sending and receiving Christmas cards. Almost from the time I got my first digital camera, I’ve been using Shutterfly to store and print photos and to make amazing things using the photos I’ve taken. I used to be into scrapbooking, but over time, the time commitment and money required to keep it up just became too much. Plus, after I made my first photo book at Shutterfly, I was hooked. My husband and I used a Shutterfly photo book to showcase the pictures from our wedding rehearsal, and I’ve since used photo books as gifts and travel scrapbooks. I also love, love, love the cards Shutterfly makes. Last year, we used this cute design for our holiday card:

And this year, I’ve got my eye on
one of these designs:

What do you think? I love the red and light blue color combo. Ooh, or maybe this
They have so many cute ones, it’s hard to decide! Plus, there’s always a debate between the photo card or the more traditional paper card. Maybe I’ll just have to do both this year.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The leaves they are a changin'

I love, love, love this time of year. The fall colors are on their way out, but it's been a beautiful couple of weeks!
Outside my office building -- fall colors can make even an office park look inviting.
My lunchtime bench at a nearby park. Not bad, huh?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A big achievement

A few years ago, an office mate and her husband started doing the Couch to 5K program. Before then, I never really had an interest in running (and, honestly, I didn't really think I was cut out for that kind of exercise), but I saw how much she enjoyed it and how far she came in a really short period of time, so I mentioned it to my husband one night (also not a runner), and we both decided to try out the program with the goal of running a 5K in a few months. It was truly amazing how quickly we progressed. Every time the training run got harder, I thought for sure, this was going to be the time I couldn't do it, and then every time, without fail, I was able to. Sure, there were setbacks, but we both kept pushing through. And I came to love the feel of running how it's totally powered by your body and nothing else. It feels so natural, even when it hurts. :)
Well, we lived in Houston at the time, and as the end of our training plan approached, the weather got too warm, and we never got around to signing up for a race. Then we moved to St. Louis, things got busy, and we stopped running for a while. Last winter, we got back into it, and it was a wonderful feeling. Long story short(er), my husband skipped the 5K and went straight to the half marathon! He completed his first one a few months ago and is already planning on a marathon in the spring! I'm so proud of him. I, on the other hand, wasn't able to run nearly as much over the summer (it's just too hot for me outside, and I hate running on treadmills), so I wasn't ready for a half and decided to stick with our original goal  a 5K.
My friend Susanne agreed to run it with me, and we signed up for a great local race supporting an organization called Girls on the Run. As they say on their site, their mission is “to educate and prepare girls for a lifetime of self-respect and healthy living. And, based on this race, which is the culmination of the training program for the girls in the program and a chance for the community to get involved, they do a great job. There were thousands of runners, and it was a great first race.
Because of a slow start (due to the huge crowd), I didn't make my best possible day time, but I did really well, and it felt great to be out there with everyone. And afterwards, the ladies and husbands (who had cheered us through the race) had a wonderful breakfast. I'm hooked ... when's the next race?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Family weddings are the best

Keeping in tradition with the past few years, the past year has been a year of weddings. But unlike the previous years, which were mostly filled with friends’ weddings, this has been the year of the family wedding (full disclosure: there have also been three friends’ weddings, but that’s a serious decrease over previous years). In the past 12 months, three cousins, all on my mom’s side, have gotten hitched, and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to attend all three weddings.
Until recently, much of that side of the family has been pretty spread out, and although a big chunk of them have recently reunited and settled down in Atlanta, my immediate family remains the Texas outcasts (with Matt and I, of course, now in St. Louis). Needless to say, I don’t get to see these wonderful people nearly as often as I’d like, so this past year has been a special blessing, not only because I was able to witness the union of six wonderful cousins, but because I also had the opportunity to spend so much time with my amazing family.
The most recent wedding was in October, and my mom was lucky enough to be able to join us. She flew up from Dallas and accompanied Matt and I on our drive over to Indiana. It was a wonderful two days of laughing ‘til my sides hurt, playing games, dancing, eating, and just smiling at the cousins, aunts, and uncles that have had such an impact on my life and my person. I am endlessly thankful for the blessing of my family and can’t wait for the next family wedding and it’s a big one … my older sister, the one we thought was never going to get married (by choice, mind you), is tying the knot in March. It’s another reunion and a chance to go home this time, back to Dallas. I can’t wait.
Oh, and did I mention we passed the Weinermobile on the way home?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Gussets aren't so scary

A while back, my mom called me up to tell me about a friend at work who wanted me to make her a bag. She described what she wanted and eventually got Amy, the friend, to send me a picture of her current purse, which she was looking to replace. The bag looked like this, more or less, only with a rounded bottom. It was a bag I knew well, as I have a larger version myself. The problem was that I had no idea how to make it or even what a bag like that is called, which led to a lot of Internet searching for a tutorial, all to no avail. What I ended up settling for was this tutorial, with some major tweaks, of course. I took the basic look and design from the tutorial and followed the instructions, the most helpful of which was learning how to sew a gusset (so useful!).

The problem was that this bag didn’t really look like Amy’s on the top, so I needed to tweak it. In order to create the look of the continuous strap in the first link above, I decided I'd just make the gusset become the handle, so that I cut one long, circular piece. And it worked pretty well. That is, until I tried to turn the bag right side out (after sewing the inside) and realized I couldn’t because the handle was one piece that couldn’t be pulled out one side. I ended up having to snip the handle in the middle, flip the bag, then topstitch the handle back together at the top, which actually worked out ok but wasn’t ideal. The other problem that didn’t really click with me until the end was the width of the strap. The gusset was 4” wide, which worked great for the bottom of the bag but was really too wide for a comfortable strap. If I tried this method again, I’d definitely taper in the gusset as it becomes the trap, which I think would work fine. However, I almost certainly won’t try my mishmash method again, because, as luck would have it, I found the tutorial in the first link some weeks after finishing Amy’s bag, and it is, of course, exactly what I needed. Doesn’t it just figure? Oh, well, Amy was happy with her bag, and maybe post-Christmas I’ll give it another go with the new tutorial.

It still turned out pretty cute, don’t you think? I also like the addition of the button/loop closure, another of my modifications. I love the feeling of figuring out something on your own! All these little sewing tips I’m learning piecemeal are starting to come together, which kind of makes me feel like I actually know what I’m doing. Ha!

Oh, and as I mentioned in the last post, I sent Amy to Hawthorne Thread’s site to pick out the fabrics. The outside fabric was one of her picks, and I chose the lining to complement, based on some other colors/styles she chose. I heart HT!

Monday, November 15, 2010

It's a real, live bag!

My mom’s birthday was a little while back, and I wanted to try to make her something special. I’m still pretty new to sewing, and I’m only really beginning to stretch myself in terms of project difficulty. I was underwhelmed by the bag patterns in the books I own, so I went in search of a great everyday bag pattern and found this one from Jen Giddens. I snatched it up and was so excited to get to work.
Around the same time, my mom had asked me to make a simple tote for one of her work friends, so I sent her friend a link to Hawthorne Threads’ color grid, asking her to pick a few fabrics she liked. I slyly asked my mom to do the same, you know, “for future reference.” The problem, of course, is that my mom didn’t know what I was making, so while she picked some cute fabrics, none of them were right for the bag. With some input from my sister, I ended up taking the color scheme from one of my mom’s fabrics and choosing something more suitable for the bag, Valori Wells’s (for Free Spirit) Tapestry in Cinnamon. The lining was from a local shop.
This bag was a first for me in many ways: first bag from a real pattern, first time installing a magnetic snap (great tutorial here), first time using duck cloth (recommended in the pattern to add some nice weight), first time making pleats. It was really fun to make, and I loved seeing it all come together. But I did have some issues along the way, most noticeably with the duck cloth. I bought the only stuff they had at the local shop, but I’ve since discovered a much less stiff version available at Joann’s. Anyway, the stuff I bought was terribly hard to work with – very stiff and thick – and I was really worried when I finished the bag because the whole thing looked awkward, and the handles were particularly thick and stiff. Thankfully, after my mom had used it for a week or so, the duck cloth started to “break down,” lending the bag just the right amount of structure and weight, but I’ll definitely use the Joann’s version next time around, which looks far more supple and like normal canvas, plus it comes in multiple colors, which is a lot more fun. All in all, not a bad first effort. What do you think?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A rainbow of colors

I love thread. Just looking at all those colors makes me want to make something (not that I need extra encouragement in that regard). Back to the Christmas presents...

Friday, November 12, 2010

A better cupcake?

In a previous post, I mentioned my love affair with Crave Cupcakes, a Houston establishment that has the best cupcakes I’ve ever had. Last weekend, I was back in Dallas, my hometown, to help my sister find a wedding dress. My sister and her fiancé, like me, are definite foodies, so I was excited about them taking me to some of their favorite new places. After our final lunch, they mentioned a nearby cupcakery, Sprinkles. Apparently, Sprinkles is the world's first cupcake bakery (it started in LA), and its Dallas location is just one of a growing list. Never one to turn down a cupcake, I jumped at the chance, expecting to find a perfectly satisfactory offering. What I found instead was Crave’s clone. It was a-mazing.

From the look of the store to the design and taste of the cupcakes, Sprinkles is the pink twin to Crave's blue. What’s more, several obviously knowledgeable customers claimed Sprinkles’ best cupcake is strawberry (a flavor that weren’t serving that day), which I contend is also Crave’s best. It was too much excitement to handle! I ended up choosing the salted caramel cupcake, which was heaven on a plate, and the only reason I still rank Crave slightly higher (aside from its cuter blue décor) is because they serve their milk ice cold in glass milk bottles. It’s delightful. Sprinkle’s milk comes in a paper cup. Boo. But I love you now, too, Sprinkles!
The cupcake was so good that I couldn’t resist trying to bring one back home to my hubby in the Lou, which resulted in an amusing request for a paper coffee cup and lid to carry it in (I was flying home, and there was no way that cupcake was going to survive in the gift box they tried to sell me for $1.75 — please).
P.S. So after doing a quick Internet search (full disclosure, I was looking for some conspiracy theory about the similarity between the two chains, like the Crave owner worked for Sprinkles and left after a falling out, but I didn’t find anything), I discovered that since I left Houston, H-Town has gotten a Sprinkles of its own, apparently not far from the original Crave. This, of course, has set off a furious (only a slight exaggeration) debate over which place is better, with both sides getting a pretty equal share of the votes. All this reminds me of the continuing debate over Layne’s vs. Cane’s in our own family (ahem, Layne’s obviously wins this one). There’s no definitive answer, of course. I just wish I could get my hands on one of those strawberry cupcakes here in St. Louis!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

My bologna has a first name ...

… it’s O-S-C-A-R. In one of those funny moments in life, I was driving back from a recent family wedding (more about that in another post) with my mom and husband when we happened upon this sight driving down the Illinois interstate:

The Oscar Mayer Weinermobile!? Awesome. I was driving and, with my husband and mom waving their cameras and iPhones dangerously about the car, proceeded to spend the next five minutes first tailing the Weinermobile close enough to get a decent shot of the license plate and then pacing alongside him while they both frantically tried to get the perfect shot of the side. The driver just laughed at us. I’m sure we’re not the first people to endanger lives trying to take pictures of the Weinermobile. J I mean, that’s a once-in-a-lifetime shot.

I'm a Pepper

A few weeks ago, I was visiting my little sister at a bowling tournament in Springfield, MO. I ended up leaving pretty late that night, so I stopped at the gas station for a little caffeine and saw this sitting in one of the aisle displays:
Bottle: Dr Pepper "Made With Real Sugar"
(Source: AP)
What?? Real sugar you say? Now, anyone who knows me knows I love DP. I’m not a big soda drinker, but when I indulge, it’s almost always with an ice-cold Dr. Pepper. And any DP fan knows the absolute best version is what’s called the Dublin Dr. Pepper, which is made in Dublin, TX, at the oldest DP bottling plant and uses real cane sugar. It’s not easy to find, even in Texas, and outside of Texas, it’s nearly impossible (save online). So when I saw this bottle, I immediately got excited. I bought a few bottles and only upon bringing them home did I read the label more closely: “Made with real sugar.” The Dublin DPs have a distinct “Made with real cane sugar” label, so I knew something was fishy. Apparently, I was on the tail end of a summer-long campaign to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Dr. Pepper. Now, while this stuff might not be the Dublin deliciousness, it’s pretty darn good and noticeably better than regular DP, which is, of course, made with high fructose corn syrup. So, if you’re a DP fan and happen to notice a few lingering bottles of this stuff in your gas station, I highly recommend snatching them — I wish I’d grabbed more! And next time you’re in Texas, look for the bottle (often glass) made with real cane sugar. Yum!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A take on the scarf

I often spend lunches at work perusing my favorite sewing blogs and looking for the next project to add to my ever-growing and never-shrinking list of things to try. One day I happened upon this little lovely. Not long before, my little sister had specifically requested I make her a scarf, and when I saw this, it seemed perfect. I love the gathers, and I LOVE the little balls on the end. Too cute. The only hang-up was the fabric – my little sister’s not really the fancy, white scarf/wrap type, so I needed to find a way to make it a bit younger and a lot more fun. When I found this plaid, I knew it was exactly what I needed. Aside from being super-duper easy, you know what the nicest thing about this pattern is? It requires two yards for the length, but you only use half the width, meaning there’s plenty for a second scarf for someone special … like me. J
Isn't she cute?

Greet the day with a ... quilt?

I’m so excited to be so close to starting work on my very first quilt. Several months ago, I fell in love with the Early Bird collection from Cosmo Cricket.

I mean, who wouldn’t love a pattern with happy toasters and singing birds on it? “Greet the day with a song!” “If we were meant to pop out of bed, we’d all sleep in toasters.” It’s too cute. And I love the color pattern. Needless to say, I wasn’t the only one who fell in love with it, and it’s taken some time to gather up all of the fabrics. The red cherry pattern was especially elusive, but I finally obtained it a few weeks ago. Step 2: picking out a quilt pattern that I (1) could do without going crazy (this is, after all, my very first quilt EVER) and (2) actually liked. I wanted it to be a little different, but I didn’t want to get in over my head.
Recently, Elizabeth Hartman of Oh, Fransson!, a pillar of the modern quilting world, has been on a blog tour promoting her new book, which reminded me to check out her blog again. It had been a while (and before I found Early Bird), and the last time I looked, quilting wasn’t high on my to-do list. But this time, I found exactly what I was looking for! The birthday cake quilt is perfect — great design, not too hard, just the right size, and it’s going to give me big blocks of this wonderful fabric to enjoy looking at. I can’t wait to get started. If only it weren’t for all those holiday sewing projects in my way….