Friday, December 23, 2011

Tutu Cute

After all the commotion around here with E's 1st birthday a few weeks ago and Christmas this weekend, you'd think I'd take it easy. Or at least finish that crib teether guard that I've been working on since OCTOBER. More on that later.

But, alas, the elves have been hard at work putting together a little something for my adorable niece. She's a big fan of the Disney princesses and Minnie Mouse, so I wanted to make her a couple tutus for Christmas.

First up is a Beauty and the Beast Belle tutu. I used 2 yards of shiny yellow tulle and some gold ribbon for the tutu body and about 1/8 of a yard of shiny yellow stuff for the swag.

To do the swag, I just bunched up the fabric and fed it through a couple of the slip knots at the top of the tutu. (I used the basic no-sew slip knot method - Google it for tons of tutorials or visit my sister-in-law Holly's site) To finish it off, I glued some red roses at the same points where I fed the fabric through. It helped secure the roses and keep the swags in place. I used Tacky Glue - hot glue would probably work well too.

To make it easy to knot the tulle onto the ribbon and to satisfy my OCD need for symmetry, I tied the ribbon to two chairs to help space things out. This really helped to ensure the knots were tight and all the embellishments were evenly placed.

 Second, I did a Minnie Mouse tutu. I found a roll of red tulle at Hobby Lobby, and also added in about 1/2 yard of sparkle tulle and a few different kinds of red, black and white ribbon. I've seen tutorials using both rolls of tulle and tulle off the bolt, and I have to say that the rolls are much easier to work with. But if you want fun sparkles, you typically need to buy it off the bolt.

 I love how these turned out! I'm adding in a couple red hair clips and voila - instant princess party. Everything was on sale so I'm sure I did both tutus for less than $20. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Time for Tea and Sweets

My beautiful daughter is turning one this week and we had a birthday bash for her over the weekend. One of her favorite toys is her little singing teapot, so we decided to have a tea and sweets party. And of course I'm in love with the turquoise and pink combination so I couldn't resist splashing the house with color.

Thanks to my good friend Pinterest, I had lots of ideas for baking and decorating for the party. It could be said that I went a little overboard, but how many times does your precious baby girl turn one year old? (I'll try to add links for all the projects and recipes soon!)

First, the food. We started off with a massive sweets table, including cake, cake pops, homemade peppermint patties, rocky road fudge, raspberry almond jammies, peppermint-chocolate marshmallows, caramel brownie cheesecake, snickerdoodle mix and sugar cookies.  Oh yeah, and tea, coffee and punch.

I also put together these great candy machines using a flower pot and a glass bowl. They were really cute and so cheap and easy to make! I filled one with chocolate and placed it on a table for a centerpiece and filled the other with gummy cherry slices and placed it on the sweets table. For the tablecloths, I took advantage of some great after-Thanksgiving sales at JoAnn's to get some pink and blue felt. We cut a simple scallop pattern to make an easy runner. I think we covered all the tables for less than $10 and they looked so much better than those cheap plastic tablecloths.

For the favors, I filled baby food tubs with chocolate pieces and added a ribbon and a tag. For the kids, I put together some treat bags with animal crackers.

I made some tissue paper pom poms for above the treat table and photo backdrop and also made an adorable garland banner using scrapbook paper and some photos of my daughter. We made a tutu for her high chair using tulle strips found on clearance at hobby lobby. We knotted tulle slips onto pieces of elastic and affixed them to the high chair using binder clips.

Not so simple and easy were the ribbon topiaries. Well maybe they were easy, but they definitely were not quick. You take a styrofoam ball, loop a bunch of ribbon into little circles and use straight pins to stick them in place. Then stick a dowel in one end and stick it in a styrofoam block in a box, or bag on the bottom. They took much longer than expected and my poor thumbs were so sore from sticking in hundreds of pins.

Side note - at Hobby Lobby, in the ribbon aisle by the fabric, look on the bottom shelf. You can buy a bag of 15 ribbon remnants - 2 yds long each - for $1.99!  I really like how these turned out and they were a nice centerpiece for the extra tables.

Finally, we really like documenting milestones in our daughter's life, so we put up a photo backdrop (using the same felt as the tablecloth and the same tissue poms as above the table) and asked our friends to take pictures with the birthday girl so she could celebrate the day for years to come. We also laid out some of the photo books from the past year so people could flip through and see how much she's grown. And, we put out a matted photo frame where people could write their birthday wishes. (Thank you Auntie Janet!)

We had a wonderful day and it was so fun to see all of our family and friends come together to celebrate! (And a special thanks to Holly and Lily Bella Photography for all the great photos!)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Sprucing up the House

Our shutters and paint were peeling and fading, so we decided to spruce things up a bit. We're still working on a few things, but it's looking much better these days....


Friday, November 25, 2011

Sneak Peek...

The crafting fairies have been hard at work in our dining room, getting ready for a very exciting first birthday party! There are lots of projects in the works, including ribbon topiaries, candy machines, birthday hats, tissue pom poms,  garland and more.  I'm hoping to wrap up all the crafting this weekend so I can get started on all the baking. YUMMY!

Here is the current state of things in our dining room. It's messy but fun! (And a big thank goodness that Wednesday is cleaning day!)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Shake your booties

My college roommate S4 is having a baby soon and last weekend I went to her baby shower in Minnesota. I don't get to see her too often so it was great to see her cute baby bump and meet her extended family. (Who by the way have to be the most fun family I've ever met.) S4 and I had a lot of fun times together at NU, and I wanted to do something special for her that was reminiscent of our time together.

A while back Hobby Lobby had a 99 cent sale on all simplicity patterns and on a whim I bought this really cute baby shoe pattern. I liked the monkey shoes, and thought it would be fun to swap out the monkeys for Willie the Wildcat, NU's mascot.

These were actually much easier than I thought they would be. You start with your outer fabric, and use a fusing called HeatNBond to adhere it to the lining. I used a purple flannel for the outer fabric and a dark purple felt for the lining. Once the layers are fused together, you cut the pattern out of the new fused piece. After that, it's really only a few stitches to put everything together.

To do Willie's faces, I found an image online and then tried to replicate it in gray and white felt. I cut out the head, cheeks and nose individually to add some depth and again heat bonded them to the purple. Then I used embroidery floss to stitch on the eyes, nose, mouth and whiskers. The stitching definitely took some practice. I think the first face took about five times longer than the second face because of all the trial and error. And at the end of the night my thumb was sore from pushing the needle through all that felt.

But I think they turned out so cute! I'm really happy with the finished product and it made for a fun and unique baby gift.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Polka Dot Cuteness

Here's how E looks in the jumper I made. I'm glad I put it on her when I did because it's already getting too small!

Smelly Washer

We've been having a few problems lately with our washing machine. Unfortunately we inherited it when we bought the house, so we didn't pick it out. After the washer showed us some interesting dance moves, burped out some suds and flashed some error codes, it was time to get it fixed. Turns out we needed a new rotor position switch. Just expensive enough to be annoying but not so expensive to warrant a new washer. Great.

So while the repairman was installing this very expensive yet very small piece of plastic, I asked him a few questions about all the things I hate about our washer.

1. Why does my washer leave a flaky brown residue on my clothes? Turns out this is from overuse of fabric softener. But I don't use liquid fabric softener, I said. Apparently the previous owners did, and when the washer sat idle for a few months after they moved out and before we moved in, it had a chance to congeal into the lovely sludgy residue that gets all over everything. Turns out a lot of these types of detergents can leave buildup over time. Residue builds up between the drums and can get into the washer and onto your clothes - especially if you don't clean the filter. Also, the drain tube in the back was pushed down too far, which means air could get trapped in the tube and prevent the tub from draining completely.

2. Wait, what do you mean I have a filter I'm supposed to clean? Yep, my washer has a panel in the lower left corner of the machine. You know, the panel with no labeling and no visible access point. Pry it open with a flat screwdriver and inside is a filter that kind of resembles a brita filter. Pull it out and run it under the faucet to clean it off every couple weeks. Again, lots and lots of gunk poured out. Gross. The repairman said this simple step can greatly extend the life of the washer. TIP: Put a towel down when you open the panel because a bunch of water will pour out.

3. Why does my washer smell so bad? Again, the residue. I have an LG front loader and you have to leave the door open or it STINKS. The door is surrounded by what the repairman called a hood - I think it's more of a gasket. Well the gasket gets all mildewy and sludgy over time because some water can sit in some of the crevices. Nasty.

4. What's the best way to clean the smelly washer? In the past I've bought all kinds of things to try to curb the stench - Washer Magic, Tide Washer Cleaner and just plain old bleach. They've had various levels of success, with the bleach being the most effective against the smell by far. And the cheapest. However, nothing has been able to get rid of the residue. According to the repairman, the bleach will kill the mildew but it won't remove the residue. Vinegar is an acid, and so it will dissolve the gunk.

We set the washer to high temp, high soil, with prewash and then filled the detergent and prewash dispenser drawer with vinegar and turned the machine on. After the washer had filled, we opened the door (it's an HE washer so "full" is still only a couple inches a water) and poured in about 1/2 gallon of vinegar into the drum and into the crevices in the gasket. He recommended doing this vinegar wash about once every couple weeks or so, depending on how bad the buildup is. I'm thinking of doing alternating vinegar and bleach cycles each week until the residue goes away. I am hopeful this will work - and thankful that vinegar is cheap!

5. Why does the spin cycle make the whole house shake? Whoever designed our house thought they were being so smart putting the laundry room upstairs next to the master bedroom. And it certainly is convenient. But the room is small and it echos and the washer doesn't stand as solid on a wood floor as it would on a concrete floor. Anything beyond a medium spin will cause the whole house to shake. The repairman suggested opening the window. Not sure that's the greatest advice, but who knows. He also suggesting putting some of those foam floor puzzle pieces under the washer to absorb some of the vibration.

6. What kind of washer would you recommend buying? He suggested a basic toploader with mechanical and non-electronic buttons and knobs. They're cheaper to buy and cheaper to fix and there isn't enough of a difference to warrant a more expensive machine. Good to know.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A bug-tastic birthday bash

Last weekend we went to Minnesota to celebrate my nieces' birthdays. They were having a nature-themed party, so I wanted to make them a special cake. They requested frogs and ladybugs and drew me a picture of what they wanted the cake to look like.

 My nieces were great helpers and they added a lot of great touches to the cake. They were especially great at cutting out all the circles for the ladybug's spots and the frog faces and making the grass border on the bottoms of the tiers.

As an added unexpected surprise, we added a different food coloring gel to each layer to create a rainbow cake on the inside. 

Overall, I think the finished cake turned out great!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

More pickles!

When I was a kid, one wall in the garage was dedicated to my mom's canning jars. She would can all kinds of things - peaches, tomatoes, cherries, applesauce, etc. and we would get to eat the fruit year round. Since I have all this extra produce from my garden, I thought I'd try canning some pickles.

I ordered this handy-dandy canning discovery kit from (By the way - Amazon Prime is the greatest thing ever. I never have to leave the house!)

The kit includes a canning rack, three jars with bands and lids and an instruction booklet - for about 10 bucks. The booklet outlines three easy steps - boil water, fill jars, put jars in boiling water.  And voila, instant pickles!

Ok, so it's a little more complicated than that - you have to make sure your pot is deep enough to fully submerge the jars. (Thanks to Mary for lending me her pot.) And you need to make sure that you have the right amount of space in the top of your jars before you put them in the water. And you have to boil the jars for the right amount of time. But this is not rocket science.

For the brine, I used the Ball dill pickle mix recipe from the side of the mix container. Super easy. Pour the brine over the sliced cucumbers, add lids and bands and boil for about 15 minutes. I also threw in a little dill from the garden for kicks.

The mix says the pickles will be best in 4-6 weeks, so I'm looking forward to cracking them open. I have a bunch of tomatoes in the garden now, so I'm thinking of canning some salsa, bruschetta or tomato sauce next.

Sew Easy?

When I was little, my mom used to make adorable dresses for me all the time. I wanted to see if I could make something for Eliana, so I started with a pattern that had EASY written all over the front.

I picked this cute little jumper from McCall's (#M6193) and found a fun multicolored polka dot fabric.

The whole process was only 8 steps long. How hard could that be? Well, kinda hard. I'm not going to be winning Project Runway any time soon. But this is certainly doable.

Step 1: Use the pattern pieces to cut out the fabric. Since I think I may want to use this pattern again, I had to figure out a way to cut out the fabric without cutting the pattern size lines. So I used a yellow sharpie to trace the pattern onto the fabric and then cut on the markings. Since the part you cut ends up inside a seam, you won't see it at the end.

Step 2: Stitch up the sides of the main jumper body.

Step 3: Iron the interfacing. I had no idea what interfacing was. It's really just a stiffener that you iron on to the back of a fabric to give it more stability. Iron the bumpy side of the interfacing to the wrong side of the fabric.

Step 4: Stitch the interfaced pieces to the main garment. Stitch with right sides together and then flip it around. This part was a little challenging because I'm only good at sewing straight. Rounded edges are still a bit tough.

Step 5: Topstitch the neck and arm holes. This took me way too long. Probably because I thought it would be fun to use a contrasting thread color. I used pink instead of brown so I had to redo it a bunch of times to get it to look right. Again with the rounded edges.

Step 6: Hem the bottom.

Step 7: Add the buttons and button holes. My sewing machine instruction book had a couple good tips here - by taping the buttons in place and taping a pin to the machine foot to create a shank, it helped make the button process easy. I dropped the feed teeth and used the zigzag setting to get the machine to stitch the buttons in the right spot.


Step 8: Add button holes. I used the button hole maker steps on my sewing machine. Again, I had to do this several times to get it right. I am getting quite handy with the seam ripper, however.
There were a couple of extras steps involving adding patch pockets to the front, but I decided to leave them out. I started to make the pockets but got frustrated when I couldn't make them perfectly round.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. There were a few things that were difficult to understand, so I'll probably stick with the "easy" patterns for a while.

The pattern also included an adorable little jacket - we'll see if I can pull it off.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Tis the Season

It's that time of glorious time of year that I look forward to all winter long - blackberry season! A few years ago, Ben's wonderful Grandpa Milt passed away. He was an outstanding person and we all miss him very much. One thing we shared was our love of blackberries. Fresh blackberries are difficult to come by in the Midwest, and Grandpa Milt had a berry bush in his backyard.

After he passed, I wanted to make sure that we could still enjoy those summer berries. So, we transplanted the bush into my backyard. It took a couple years of TLC to get it to produce, but we are now enjoying the fruits of our labor. The berry bush is overflowing with ripe, juicy blackberries.

No holiday in the Walter family is complete without a blackberry pie, and it is a tradition I intend to continue. I didn't have quite enough ripe berries yet for a whole pie, so I used this cobbler recipe from Williams-Sonoma and added in some nectarines and a dash of nutmeg as well. I made one for me, and one for Ben's grandma.

I have to say that every recipe I have ever tried from Williams-Sonoma has been a smashing success. I have about seven of their cookbooks and the food is always delicious and the recipes are easy to follow. It looks like I'm going to have a large amount of berries this year, and they have a few other blackberry recipes that I may try this year. YUM!

The 40 day clutter challenge

I'm embarking on a new challenge. I found the idea on pinterest, and it is brilliant. You write out a list of 40 areas in your home that are full of clutter and need a little organization help. They can be as simple as your underwear drawer or as extraordinarily cluttered as the garage. Each day you tackle a new area and in 40 days you have an organized house.

Today is day three and I'm loving it! I couldn't believe the amount of junk we hauled out after just doing our sock drawers and the master bathroom cabinets. Sometimes it's hard to get rid of stuff - even stuff you didn't know you had - but it's safe to say that sunless tanner wasn't going to give anyone a sun-kissed glow anymore.

I'm working my way through the master closet right now, and *sniffle, sniffle*, 10 pairs of shoes are about to find a new home. I haven't worn any of them in at least a year, and so out the door they go!

I hope we can keep this up for the next 37 days. It feels so good to purge. As you can see from the list, big projects await!

Friday, July 29, 2011


Until a couple years ago, it never occurred to me that you could make pickles at home. I think I just assumed they were another wonder brought about by the industrial revolution. Brilliant, I know.

Then, Ben's uncle Mike brought some fantastic dill pickles to a family gathering. Oh. my. goodness. So yummy. So, I figured if Mike could do it, I could too!

Last year, I decided to grow some cucumbers and dill and give it a go. Well, the cucumbers were a colossal failure. Not a single cuke emerged. I have this horrible habit of planting seeds way too close to each other so the plants strangle each other and nothing survives. How fascinating.

This year, I expanded the garden and spaced things much better. For the most part at least. The mesclun is a thick mess. But that's beside the point. My cucumbers are growing like crazy!

I also grew some tall beautiful dill. Sometimes I think I plant dill and basil just so I can walk to the garden and smell their wonderful fragrances. 

The pickle recipe is really quite simple. You make a hot syrup by boiling vinegar, sugar, salt, mustard seed and celery seed.

It will look something like this.

Pour the syrup over sliced cucumbers.

I sliced the cucumbers using this handy dandy slicer thingy that I found in the kitchen drawer. I have no idea where it came from but it makes the pickles look fancy shmancy.

Throw in a sliced onion or two and a few dill heads.

Put a lid on it and stick it in the fridge for 3 days to let the pickle magic happen. After three days, open up and enjoy! So easy to make and quite tasty.