Friday, January 28, 2011

We will miss you J.R.

Your papaw passed away this week. No one knows for sure what happened, he went to his barn to work and did not come home for supper. It appears to have been quick and we hope it was painless, but for those of us left behind there is pain that he is gone and the healing will certainly not be quick.
Your papaw was a good man. Your daddy practically grew up at the house he built for your mamaw. JR was your daddy's best man when we got married. I don't know many men who consider their grandfather their best friend, but your daddy did.
JR stood for Johnny (not John or Jonathon ..... he was always Johnny apparently) and Rufus. No offense, but with a name like Rufus I can understand the use of the initials. Apparently that is a family tradition too. JR's dad had gone by his initials (EG or EW I think) and your daddy was always called by his initials, too. (Even though I think Peter Joshua is a beautiful name wasted on a child who was to be PJ from birth!)
Losing loved ones in inevitable, but I hope you will not loose many, that they will not go too soon, that the old will go before the young, that in the end it will be quick and painless, and that we will not be truly saying "goodbye", but "see you later"

Monday, January 17, 2011

Momma Got a New Phone!

Dear Lydia:

As I write this you are playing Angry Birds on my new phone... all by yourself. I think you will learn how to work my new phone quicker than I will and I am frightened to think about how soon you will have a phone of your own and what form it will take. (I think in a decade or two they will just be implanted in your teeth!) Anyway, I wanted to tell you about technology in 2011. Future you will probably read this and laugh. And that is why I am putting it down in writing. I would LOVE to hear from my parents about their first TV, their first color TV, etc. (Mom and Dad, feel free to comment!) For now, let me tell you about my first smart phone.

I am amazed because my new phone (which was free with a 2 year contract and an applicable data plan) is really a computer. I have been e-mailing and checking websites on it as much (OK more) than using it as a phone. That makes me thing, not only about my first phone, but my first e-mail account, first computer, etc.

Let me preface this by saying that I am not overly technological. I left home for college with a word processor that would show me 4 lines of text at a time. I wrote all of my college papers on that thing up until I was almost a senior! I don't remember much about buying my first computer. I know I had it to write my thesis and kept it for a LONG time after that. I do remember not having a computer, but it not mattering much. I used the library computers and the UTC Honors Program computers for e-mail and projects and I am sure a day came when I was using them so much that getting my own made sense.

I distinctly remember my brother introducing me to e-mail. I remember him explaining over and over how great it was and me NOT getting it at first. Everyone I knew was at UTC with me or available by phone (from the wall phone in my dorm, for 10 cents a minute... no cell phone yet!) I think at that point e-mail was rare enough that I had to go to some one's office at UTC and ask to be given an account. Within a year or so, they were automatically assigning freshman an e-mail address upon arrival, which also seems weird today because everyone has an e-mail account, so I doubt colleges have to assign them anymore. I remember that it was a big enough deal to have free e-mail access that a young teacher at my mom's school borrowed mine (with my permission) for a short period of time to e-mail his girlfriend back home. I promised not to read his e-mails and he promised not to read mine. It seems so strange as I write this, because today free e-mail is pretty easy to find. It makes me wonder what else we struggle to pay for today, that might be free and easy in the future. I hope energy, education, and sweetened condensed milk are so plentiful in the future that you will laugh at us struggling to pay for them!

So, I got e-mail and eventually my own computer, graduated from college, got a job, moved to Washington DC with my fiance (um... more on that when you are older!) and did not have a cell phone. I knew people who had them, but most of those people had busy live or well paying jobs. I had a home phone and payed for long distance and now I could e-mail people too! (but only from home or from a bank of 5 computers in the school library that I shared with ALL the teachers at my school... not computer in my classroom in 1999!) Then one day a guy decided to jump off the I495 bridge connecting DC and Maryland. I lived in Virgina and took a different bridge home, but this one event slowed traffic to the point that my 20 minute commute took 4 hours. During that time I listened to my car radio, thanked God that I had a full tank of gas, and decided I was going to get a cell phone. It was huge and it lasted longer than any phone I have had since. It only struggled to work one day, September 11, when I and several of my students joined the rest of the DC population in trying to contact loved ones working in or near the Pentagon (more on that when you are older too!)

Since then there have been a string of new phones, new computers, and new programs to run on those devices. And now I sit with a phone that does most of the things I use my computer for. It probably does more things than that first computer could do. And it makes me wonder, how amazing will the advances in your lifetime be? I hope that more advancement will make difficult and expensive services inexpensive and easily accessible for you. And yet, as I write this blog and think about older technologies that have become obsolete, the cassette tape, the VHS tape, etc. I hope you will be able to access this blog and read what I write to you, for you, about you. In the back of my mind, I wonder if I should also invest in a low tech backup and have some of this printed on good old fashioned paper. Just in case!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Lydia's FINISHED Big Girl Room

Remember this fabric? It was the first thing that I bought for creating Lydia's Big Girl Room. I bought it SO long ago and it has caused as much frustration as it has inspiration. Here's the story.I often begin various designs with a piece of fabric (my wedding was inspired by a design on a pillow at Target) because the fabric usually has several colors put together in an interesting way. I can find a fabric quickly that has the "feeling" I want a project to have and the fabric designer has already done the work of finding the right co-ordinating colors. I am often lost on a project until I find something made out of fabric to base my design on.
So I fell in love with this piece and they only had a little bit left on the roll AND it was on sale so I bought all they had. And then I bought a coordinating fabric in an amount that I thought would be enough to make anything I wanted. And then I came home and regretted everything I just bought.
I loved the patterns but I really should have measured a few things, like how big IS a bedspread, and then come back to the store. I ended up with 2 coordinating fabrics, that I LOVED and NO idea what they would become. Both were too small for a bedspread and if I couldn't use them to make accent pieces until I knew what the bedspread (the largest visual piece in the room) would be.
I searched and searched and bought and bought (a total of 4 bedspreads at the same time) and am SO glad I kept looking. This was the last one I tried. (isn't it always? You tend to stop when you find what you want!) I was ready to give up and work with one of the 3 I already tried and wasn't sure of and then I decided this might work. It looked so different in the store and so RIGHT in the room. I love how the blue in the background is a match for the cheerful blue sky painted on the wall. And I love that it is fun enough for a little girl but not something she will outgrow in a few years. It has the purple from the inspiration piece, but the pattern was so different that I didn't think it would work. I just had to use the fabric on something other than the bed, which was fine because I had plenty of areas that needed fabric, like this table and chair. The chairs were in my room as a kid. My sister kept them and was kind enough to donate them to Lydia's room. They were apparently my dad's when HE was a kid! The table is just something old that we had in our garage. Pretty ugly but a good size for the chair.
Did I say ugly? I meant waiting to become fabulous! The table is covered in the entire piece of the inspiration fabric. I could have used some other random fabric, but it fit and not cutting it means I have the whole piece and can easily use it to make something else later. I am SO proud of those chairs. They are fully upholstered with every bit of upholstery detail that I would have included on a normal sized chair. They are padded and tufted and used WAY too much fabric, but there are two of them and they match perfectly and I LOVE them.

Here is a random shot of the furniture arrangement. I ended up blocking the window to get the bookshelf up where it belongs, but I think it fits the space and like that it is now really dark for mid-day naps. Can you see the clouds in the sky? They are subtle, but I like them that way. Real clouds are thin in places, too.

Here is the finished owl pillow, sitting on the bed. The pillow behind him was bought years ago on vacation, but the color and pattern are a match for this room.

Another view of the bed. Notice the bed skirt. I found that fabric at Walmart. It is EXACTLY the colors in the room and they only had exactly the amount I needed to make the bed skirt. All for the bargain price of $2 a yard. So lucky! I have owned this bed for decades now and have always wanted to make a bed skirt for it because it is SO tall and I store stuff in those giant plastic bins under it. Regular bed skirts only fill half the space. I am SO happy to have Lydia's toys and out of season clothing NOT visible under the bed.
The wall painting are the only element I might call a work in progress. I ran out of time to add more details, but I have also put the paints away for now. I think they are so charming, that I want to add more charming details.... like a tree... and pendants.... and more deer.. and a row boat in that lake.. and a hot air balloon!

For now, there are hills and clouds and deer and a house with a kitchen. And a comb and a brush and a bull full of mush. And a tired mama who is whispering hush.
Good Night Room!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hot Chocolate on a Cold Day

Lydia and I have been at home from work and daycare, playing in the snow, for 3 days now. We have gone sledding, built a snowman, gotten warm by a fire, and today I decided it was time for HOT CHOCOLATE!Let me preface this by saying that I have a severe sweet tooth. As in, if it were socially acceptable, I would drink sweetened condensed milk straight out of the can.
I know, that is WRONG...........
and so is the following recipe. (Also wrong.... is being off work for 3 days as a result of 2 inches of snow!)
As a result of my snowed in with a toddler watching WAY too many cartoons, I bring you the sweetest hot chocolate recipe in existence. Lydia seems to approve! Let me also preface this overly indulgent recipe by saying that I once had a perfect cup of hot chocolate, on a very cold day, in the very beautiful city of Florence, Italy. If you have never experienced Italian Hot Chocolate, you have no idea the lies that are being perpetrated on us by the companies that sell us those powdery packets that mix with WATER to make a thin sort of chocolaty drink. In Italy, hot chocolate is thick like pudding and tastes like, well, melted CHOCOLATE!!! I looked up the recipe today and it is basically milk, sugar, unsweetened chocolate and a thickening agent. I don't do well with measurements and directions, but I LOVE when something is simple enough to remember because it just makes sense. So I had some sweetened condensed milk and unsweetened chocolate left over from the crazy cupcake contest, and I got to thinking....Sweetened Condensed Milk (SCM) is really just thick milk and sugar. Add the chocolate and that is pretty much the recipe for Italian style hot chocolate. So, I mixed one can SCM with 3 squares of unsweetened baking chocolate. I heated them until melted. Sprinkled in a little salt and tasted it. I decided to add a little milk to thin it and you could add more or less milk to get the consistency and taste you like. Keep in mind, the Italians eat it with a SPOON!

Drinking this concoction while watching yet another episode of Dora the Explorer can not compare with that cafe in Florence, but the taste (and the approaching sugar coma) are helping me not really care!

Monday, January 10, 2011

SNOW, snow, and MORE snow!

We have had more snow over more different days than we have had in a LONG time. Snow is rare in East TN, and I sort of believe that if it snows, even if the roads are fine, the town shuts down just to celebrate and enjoy a rare event.This year, we got snow before Christmas, enough to cancel one day of school and give us a delay on two different mornings. We got snow ON Christmas, enough to cancel our annual trip to Chattanooga. We got snow the week we went BACK to school from Christmas break, enough to go home early on Wednesday, get a two hour delay Thursday, and we all THOUGHT we were getting more on Friday.
The Friday snow was delayed until Saturday, pretty but not as much as they were predicting. Today, we have another round of snow and it is cold, so the snow does not seem to be disappearing as sometimes happens here. Places south of us got more snow than we did. It is always fun when my friends in Atlanta are enjoying the same snow that we are.
Speaking of enjoying the snow, here is the snowman Lydia and PJ built Wednesday night. We got a quick, heavy, wet snow that was PERFECT for snowmen.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Smocked Dresses

My mom took a smocking class last year and Lydia is reaping the benefits this Christmas. A while back my mom transformed some fabric I found at Walmart into this beautiful dress. I felt that if was the perfect choice for her trip to see Santa Claus. Unfortunately, this is one of the best pictures from that visit! At this point, Lydia was still excited about meeting Santa and I had visions of her actually being able to tell him what she wanted. Needless to say, her enthusiasm for the man in red soon wained, tears were shed, and she did not go anywhere near his lap! Because I bought the fabric, I knew this dress was coming, but my mom surprised me with a smaller version of it for one of Lydia's dolls. As if that wasn't cool enough, she also made the doll a winter coat out of the same fabric as Lydia's coat!
This was another surprise. We had exchanged gifts with my family early, so when mom gave this dress to Lydia on Christmas morning, I was blown away. So many cute details! She can't wear this one until spring/summer so I have time to find some cute shoes to go with it. Hmmm. That also leaves time to make dolly a matching dress. (hint, hint)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Christmas Crafted Gifts

I don't think I have given this many hand made gifts since I was a college art student and giving away my class projects. I was able to attend the TN Art Educators Association conference this fall and had a LOT of fun in my mosaic class. I couldn't share it until now because I was giving it to my mom for Christmas.Some of the tiles are real, but most are made from Sculpey/Fimo oven baked clay. The clay is sticky so you could dust it with metallic powder and it picked up the color. You could press stamps and beads into it and then bake it and glue it in place. So much easier than hard ceramic tiles! Some of the elements in this piece are found objects, old jewelry parts, and buttons. The central tree figure started out as a chess piece. I made a mold with a lump of the clay, baked it, then pressed more clay in to make a figure that I could manipulate before baking.

I have 4 kids on my Christmas list who are all close in age and live next door to each other. So I tend to get them all the same thing. This year I made them each a simple drawstring bag. No pattern here (but you could probably find one here). I simplified mine by not lining them. I just cut 4 folded rectangles, so that the fold made the bottom of the bag. I sewed the side seams stopping about 3 inches from the top. That way when I folded the top edge to the inside and sewed it down, I had an opening through which I could thread a ribbon drawstring. I was able to use fabric and ribbon I already had on hand. So each bag took about 20 minutes and cost me $0.

Each kid also got a personalized notebook inside their bag. This is one that my cousin Cait showed me how to do and it is SO easy. Fortunately, I had 4 of those black and white composition books that I bought in late fall when all the back-to-school supplies finally were on clearance. I used scrap booking paper that I already had on hand. For the letters, I was given a Silhouette machine for my birthday and this was a great reason to test it out. It cuts shapes and designs like a Cricut machine, but can work off software and fonts that are already on your computer, so no cartridges to buy! I just glued a piece of paper over the notebook front and back, trimmed to size, and decorated with each kid's initial.

There is one much older sister in the bunch of kids, so she got something different. I had seen lots of pearl and leather jewelry at the beach this summer. I had some pearls from an earlier project, so I bought some leather and quickly realized that pearls have small holes and leather is REALLY thick. This was my compromise before I found the tool that is used to make pearls have bigger holes. I ran a thin wire through each pearl, around the leather strap on top, through the next pearl, and around the leather on the bottom. I finished it off with a button that goes through a loop on one end of the leather. I may need to make a second one for myself!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Owl Pillow

So I still have a TON of crafting and family stuff from December to post. I keep thinking I should go in order (Birthday, Christmas, New Years), but my birthday gift was my new art studio and i have to get that clean and organized before I take pictures of it... so it may have to wait a while... or maybe a LONG while! It IS much appreciated as evidenced by how much I am using it as evidenced by the fact that it is RARELY organized enough for a photo session!

So we are limited to what I have pictures and time to tell you about! So here is my owl pillow post. Remember this CUTE face? I thought an owl pillow would look SO good in Lydia's new big girl room and it is one of the MANY I came across on my google search for ideas. (If you LOVE that particular pillow and don't want to make one like I did, you can buy it here.)
I didn't want THAT pillow, I wanted my own design made out of the PILES of fabric I have amassed to coordinate Lydia's room. So I gathered up all the fabric I had, and then I bought some more in the form of a $3 thrift store velvet skirt that was 50% off. (Seriously, I don't need more fabric, but WHERE would I EVER find that much purple velvet for that price?)
I sketched out an owl shape on a piece of paper and then used that paper as my pattern. (Sorry the image is sideways! I have tried several things to upload it correctly and it keeps doing that. Act like an owl and turn your head sideways!) You can see my basic design here. I wanted an oval body and big round eyes. Drawing it on paper really helped me figure out the sizes for everything. I had 2 rectangular scraps of a fabric (recycled from a thrifted dress) that I wanted to use on the wings, so that sort of determined their shape. I ended up turning them so one point was the bottom corner of the wing. One side of the rectangle was gathered and hidden behind the eye, so that left me with a horizontal edge of the wing wrapping around the back. Does that make any sense? I could have easily used a triangle, gathered at the top and not had it wrap around the back, just point downward.
Here is the tip that was SO helpful. I picked this up from the fabulous Anna Maria Horner's blog. When sewing on an applique type shape, so that you need the raw edges to tuck inside and it kind of matters that the shape be correct, she cuts the shape out of thin board (I used a cereal box). Then she cuts the fabric a little bigger than needed and also gets a piece of aluminum foil. Use the foil to fold the fabric over the shape and then iron it. The foil heats up and presses the fabric and then sewing was pretty easy.
OK. Not the best picture of the finished produce, I know, but you can see the finished Owl pillow in his proper place on Lydia's bed.. which is not usually covered in books... OK sometimes it is covered in books....and cloths...and dolls. THIS particular time I was taking a picture for another contest. Whooooo Whoooo, Who can figure out what the contest is for? Hint: Dolly Parton has a BIG (get your mind out of the gutter!) Imagination.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

One Down, Nine to Go!

Are you tired of hearing about cupcakes yet? I really am not THAT much of a baker, but if I keep finding cupcake contests I may have to become one! The folks at Scharffen Berger Fine Artisan Chocolates are holding their annual Chocolate Adventure Contest. I heard about it last year, but it was so open ended, create any kind of a recipe using chocolate and several "adventure ingredients" that I didn't know where to begin. This year, it is a cupcake contest. Just cupcakes and one of the special ingredients was molasses. I JUST made up a cupcake recipe that involved chocolate and molasses! I was ready to enter and then I read the rules. Grandma Wulfers' number one rule for entering contests is READ the RULES carefully! Any recipe that has been involved in any other contest could NOT be entered. Makes sense, so I scratched the idea of entering the Gingerbread Hot Cocoa Cupcake. Unfortunately for my family, who on the down side has not seen me.. nor had a home cooked meal.. not had any laundry done in two days, I was already hooked and thinking about chocolate and cupcakes and molasses and cupcakes and bee pollen and ricotta and chili powder and beets and all the other cookoo crazy adventure ingredients. I definitely function better when presented with a limiting challenge.

So here is cupcake #1, as in my current favorite cupcake/breakfast food (oh yeah, we TOTALLY ate these for breakfast today!), as in my first entry into the contest. This is the Buttermilk Bacon Cupcake with Chocolate Maple Molasses Frosting topped off with a piece of BACON!!! I took a buttermilk biscuit recipe and added egg and sugar to make it more cake like. Wish me luck and stay tuned. I can enter up to 10 recipes and with a TEN THOUSAND dollar grand prize why not increase my odds! I have until midnight tonight to enter all of my recipes, and to get ready for school to start up again tomorrow, so I am about to dive back into the kitchen. More on what I come up with later.