Thursday, December 20, 2012

Jonas' Nursery

We are now the proud parents of Jonas, a beautiful baby boy. During this pregnancy, I nested like CRAZY. Most of the madness centered on creating the perfect nursery for our sweet baby boy. Here's a few pictures of the (almost) finished room!

I chose Alexander Henry's 2d Zoo fabric for the main print in the room. It's the animal print in the crib skirt and the blanket (both came from myfrecklesshop on Etsy.) The crib sheet and changing pad are from Target and are a great match to the zoo print.

The talented Mary Johnson put together these awesome canvases for above the crib.

I put together these prints using Microsoft Word (and some scrapbook paper for the whale.)

The fabric bins also use the 2d Zoo print and are the perfect size for holding diapers and wipes.

And they fit in the cubeicals from Target!

 I'm still working on the art above the changing table, but the prints are also a Microsoft Word creation, printed at Office Max with some scrapbook paper animals that match the zoo print fabric. Eventually there will be something above the mirror as well. I'm thinking it may involve the chevron print from the letters above the crib.

I do plan to post some more about the individual projects in the room, but we all know how I am about getting things done in a timely manner! So look for them in the not too distant but still somewhat far away future. If there's anything you'd like to know more about, leave me a note in the comments.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Cupcakes for my Cutie

My baby girl turned two last week. Since we also have a three-week-old boy at home, we wanted to give her a fun celebration but still keep things low key and easy to manage.

We decided on a cupcake theme, where the guests did their own decorating. That way I just had to whip up some cupcakes (from a box!) and some buttercream (using the awesomely delicious and easy Wilton recipe), throw some sprinkles on the table and call it good!

For the buttercream, I made the basic Wilton buttercream recipe, chocolate buttercream,  raspberry buttercream (using my own freezer jam - so good!) and a peppermint buttercream using the basic Wilton recipe plus about 1/2 tsp peppermint extract. This sounds more elaborate than it was - it only took about an hour using my KitchenAid mixer. How did I ever live without it?

I also made a few sugar cookies using my cupcake cookie cutter. I had been wanting to try decorating with royal icing for a while, and while I was too tired to give it my full attention, I think they turned out okay. I read a few tutorials online, and they all said that the consistency of the icing is key to flooding the cookie properly. I think they're right, and I was too impatient to figure it out, so I ended up just smearing the icing around on most of them. Fortunately the icing dried to a nice smooth finish. I'm sure I'll try again when I'm back to sleeping through the night because there's the potential for some really fun designs.

After last year's b-day extravaganza, I saved a lot of the decorations. This year, they all came back out of the basement, making it look like I spent way more time preparing than I actually did. We reused the tablecloths, runners, centerpieces and candy dishes. Score!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Window Valances for the Guest Room

Wow, how time flies. I can't believe that it's already the middle of November. AND that we're having a baby this week. Did I mention that already? Well it has been project city around here lately, but I'm not quite ready to share all those with you yet. But when I do, I promise there are LOTS of fun things going on. Mostly projects for the boy's nursery and E's big girl room. Exciting stuff!

But until then, check out this awesome home decor fabric I found in the red tag section at Jo'Ann's for $4 a yard. I got enough to do new valances for the bonus room windows for $8 and probably have enough left over for a pillow or two. Score!

I had been looking for some fabric that would go well with both the new dresser and the new headboard. I had found some Waverly fabric that I really liked for about $20 a yard, but the swatch wasn't quite right. The white wasn't white enough to go with the stark white in the headboard. This new fabric is a little more angular than I was looking for, but after putting it all together, I think it will still work great. I found a DIY tutorial on Pinterest (where else?) so hopefully we'll have them done sometime early next year.

I want to add in another color in the room too. I'm thinking about coral, after being inspired by this posting by Centsational Girl. We'll see how that goes. I've been perusing a lot of fabrics over on the Hawthorne Threads site. It's a great site to waste time and get ideas. Or maybe I'll get lucky and score another great deal in the red tag section. Fingers crossed!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Steaming a Pumpkin

Fall is officially here, and while I'm crazily nesting as we await the impending birth of The Boy, I thought I'd give you a quick overview of how I stock the freezer with pumpkin every fall. Like many other foods of my childhood, pumpkin never came from a can. Because if you can get it fresh, you should buy it fresh.

We took the little Bugaboo on her first pumpkin patch excursion this year. She picked out two "baby pumpkins" and we steamed them at home to use for our Thanksgiving and Christmas pies, breads, muffins and other goodies.

Here's the simple how-to overview for steaming a pumpkin: Cut it up. Get rid of the guts. Throw it in the steamer. Remove the skin. Mash it up. Use it in your recipe in place of canned pumpkin.

For those that like a little more guidance - here's some more thorough instructions.

Step One: Put that canned pumpkin back on the shelf and head to the produce section or the pumpkin farm, where real pumpkin can be found. Pick out one of those little pumpkins, sometimes called pie pumpkins. I have no idea what makes one pumpkin better than the other but I usually go for smooth skin and good orange color. One small pumpkin should give you about two cups or more of pumpkin.

Step Two: Cut off and discard the stem and cut the pumpkin in half. Keep the skin on. Cut the pumpkin up like you would an apple or a melon and scoop out all the nasty guts and seeds in the middle. Try to scoop or slice enough out so that you don't have a lot of strings behind.

Step Three: Put the pieces in your electric steamer. I learned early on that this is way easier than using the pot and steamer basket method. (And cheaper too if you kept burning up pans like I did!)

Step Four: Add water to the steamer, turn it on and let it do all the work. Mine takes about 30 minutes for two small pumpkins. You know your pumpkin is done when the flesh will easily separate from the skin. Stick your fork in and twist a little. It should easily come off of the skin (like in the picture above) and mash up easily. If you find it is still a little tough or crunchy, just give it a couple more minutes to steam. This will also help with the next step if you're (like me) too lazy to get out the blender.

Step 5: Use a fork to slide the pumpkin away from the skin. Throw the skins away. See how easily it separates when it's thoroughly cooked? Use a potato masher or a fork (or a blender for best results) to mash it all up.

Step 6: I like to measure out how much I need for each recipe before I freeze it. Mom's pie recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups of pumpkin, so that's what I put in each Ziploc container. Then I just stick it in the freezer until I need it. 

It tastes so much fresher than the canned stuff and is not that difficult to whip out ahead of time. Then when you need it, it's just as easy to pull it out of the freezer as it is to find your can opener. Tastier too!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Best Snack Mix Ever

I have a major weakness for candy corn. The stuff is so good and so addicting. (And like conversation hearts in February, it MUST be Brach's brand. Nothing else measures up.)

Years ago the fam decided to fatten up the snack some more by adding in a couple of our other favorite things - semi-sweet chocolate chips and salted peanuts.

Just dump it all in a bowl and shake it up so the salt from the peanuts gets on the candy corn and chocolate. It creates the perfect blend of salty sweet goodness. Yum, yum.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Easy Low-Sugar Freezer Jam

I've never been a fan of most jarred jams. They taste too sugary and gritty for me. I grew up on homemade jam from fresh raspberries and was never able to make the switch to the mass-produced stuff. Since moving away from home, I've settled for Smuckers Organic Raspberry Preserves, but it still isn't the same as the homemade stuff. 

I recently discovered a local berry farm that has raspberries. Hooray! And better yet, the raspberries are ripe around September. So after my blueberry and blackberry fix in July and August, I get to binge on raspberries. Score!

I took my daughter to the raspberry farm a few weeks ago and we picked a few pints. Most ended up in her stomach before we left the farm, but I did save enough to make a batch of freezer jam. Most jam recipes have TONS of sugar in them, often more sugar than berries. That seems just plain wrong to me. So here's Mom's low-sugar recipe, which uses considerably less sugar and still gels nicely. And in my opinion doesn't taste low-sugar at all. Best yet, it is super easy and only has four ingredients!


  • 3 cups crushed raspberries, strawberries, boysenberries, blackberries or marionberries
  • 1 box pectin (just the regular stuff, not the low-sugar recipe stuff)
  • 1 ¾ cups sugar
  • 1 ½ envelopes unflavored gelatin


Measure berries into 3-quart pan. Sprinkle with pectin. Stir and let stand 30 minutes. 

 Stir in sugar.

Dissolve gelatin in ¼ cup warm water. (Not really quite sure the best way to measure the 1/2 packet of gelatin, so I just cut the packet in half and eye-balled it.)

Bring berry mixture to just under a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add gelatin and stir.

 Pour into freezer containers and cool. Refrigerate or freeze. Makes 4 ½ cups.

This recipe can be doubled, tripled, or made with as many as 27 cups of berries at a time.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

September Already?

I saw a school bus go down the street yesterday. How did that happen? Seems like the summers go by so fast around here.

There's been a lot going on around here. At the beginning of the summer, I put together a quite ambitious project list, and I'm happy to say that (with a LOT of help) we've knocked out most of it.
I've also decided that when I say that I can do something, it's ok for that to mean that I can ask or pay someone else to do it! Because at the end of the day, sometimes it just needs to get DONE!

Here are a few of the projects...

New Deck Lattice
My brother is a talented deck builder in Portland, Oregon, and when we bought our house a few years ago, he flew out to Wisconsin and built us a gorgeous deck. Fast forward a few years, and we now have both a toddler and a family of wild bunnies in the neighborhood who are very curious about what goes on under the deck. So we put up some lattice around the bottom to hopefully keep curious critters at bay. Not that I actually did any of the work. My father-in-law did it all. I supervised :)

And the finish on the deck will be restored to its former glory before the end of the summer. It is in desperate need of re-staining, but the deposit check has been mailed!

New Painted Dresser
A while back it seemed like we needed furniture in every room. Dressers, kids furniture, etc. Then we scored some deals on Craigslist and at the Elkhorn flea market. Now it seems like we have more furniture than we know what to do with and we're constantly moving it around from room to room.

As part of the Great Furniture Shuffle of 2012, I found this great antique dresser at the flea market. I loved the look of it, it was in decent shape, the drawers slid pretty well, and it was only $60! for the dresser and mirror.

I thought about trying to fix this one up myself, but alas, I am pregnant and tired. So I wisely decided to have Jorie at 63rd Avenue do it for me. (She's also the one who painted our awesome dining room furniture!) She used Annie Sloan Chalk Paint in Aubusson Blue and then hand painted the white based on a design I gave her. Then the whole thing has a coat of clear wax to seal it.

And here's how it turned out! I love it! The mirror is also blue now too, we just haven't gotten around to putting it back up yet. Although I may wall mount it instead of mounting it to the back of the dresser. We'll see.

Martha's Fabulous Pumpkin Cookies
The other day I found some pumpkin in the freezer from last fall that I needed to use up, so I made these cookies off the Martha Stewart web site. They are amazing. Drop everything and go make them now. Seriously, do it. You will not be disappointed.

I'm working on putting together a new project list for the fall - can you tell I'm nesting? So far, there's the boy's room to work on, some window treatments for the guest room and the kitchen, and a makeshift mud room for the garage. Oh yeah, and I'm sure rearranging more furniture. Why not? If it all gets done this fall, I will be so thrilled! Coming up next on the blogosphere, a preview of the boy's room so far, a quick and easy (and low sugar!) freezer jam recipe from Mom, and maybe a few simple projects I've been doing with E. Stay tuned!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

DIY: Painted Ikea Erslev Rug

I've been seeing a lot of DIY painted rugs on Pinterest lately. People take the $40 white Erslev rug from Ikea and use some paint to jazz it up. E has been getting more creative with her snack time lately, leading to some added artwork on our somewhat white, but nevertheless recently cleaned, carpet.

We were at Ikea a couple weeks ago and picked up the Erslev rug. It's a nice rug and very inexpensive but it is WHITE. Not exactly the ideal color for a toddler. One day and a cup of mandarin orange juice later, and I knew we needed to add some color or something to hide the inevitable stains that will come.

First, I used an old box lid to make a stencil. Just make three rows of marks every nine inches apart (horizontally and vertically) and connect the lines diagonally. Lowe's has a much better chevron how to on their Creative Ideas site. (That's piggy in the picture - she's our moral support.)

Once I had the stencil, I used it to tape out the lines on the rug. I probably could have just freehanded it with the paint, but again I have a toddler. A toddler very interested in moving cardboard. So I used the tape. I did have to make some marks on the rug at certain points to ensure I maintained a consistent width - and didn't add an extra inch because of the width of the tape. And the tape helped keep the lines straight and crisp. Also, I started a little into the pattern just to satisfy my own need for symmetry. What would happen if I started at one part in the pattern at one end and ended at a different part at the other? I couldn't handle it. I'd have to throw it out and start over.

I have a lot of extra paint in my basement from various rooms in our house that I used here - what better way to make sure your new room matches your color scheme than to use that exact color?  The green is from my kitchen. The blue is from my master bathroom. The pink/red is combo of two $3 samples from Home Depot. I also mixed in a bit of textile medium from Michael's ($6 for 8 oz but less if you use a coupon!). It turns any paint into fabric paint and hopefully avoids the crunchy dried paint feel. I probably should have used more than I did - the bottle says two parts paint to one part medium - but I only bought one bottle and was too lazy to go back to the store for more.

I used a combo of a foam roller ($3) and sponge brushes (7 cents each on sale at Michael's) to paint the rows. It took a bit to make sure the paint got into all the grooves, but it wasn't a painful process. I was a little nervous to pull the tape off in the morning, afraid that the paint had bled underneath. I was pleasantly surprised that the lines were crisp and clean.

There were some spots where the paint didn't fully penetrate the rug - it is woven, after all.  I thought about putting on a second coat, but decided against it. It's a rug, and it's only going to get walked on, adding to the worn-in look. I've decided to embrace it.

Here's how it looked when all the tape was removed. I love it. It's fun and bright, and yet still matches everything else in the adult side of the family room.

And here's how it is with the room all put together again.

This project was a bit intimidating to me - who paints a rug? That's crazy. But it only took about six hours total, and that included time out for dinner, bath time and bed time. I started before the evening news and I was done by the end of Leno. And cheap too - less than $60 for the rug, paint and supplies. It has me thinking where else I can do this - a baby room maybe?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Peace, Love and Zebras

This week Ben's cousin Rachel celebrated her 11th birthday and she asked me to make her a cake for her family party. She asked for a two-tier zebra cake with pink peace signs on it.

I googled "zebra peace cake" to get some ideas, thinking I'd get lots of results for zebra cakes or peace sign cakes. I was surprised to find hundreds of pink cakes with zebra print AND peace signs, most for tween girls. What's the deal with all the zebra peace stuff? Did Justin Bieber wear a zebra-patterned peace sign on national TV or something? I guess I am just out of the tween loop.

Anyway, back to the cake. I saw a neat method on pinterest where you layer chocolate and white cake to get a zebra effect on in the cake. I thought I'd give it a try, which meant baking a lot of cake. Way more than I needed, in fact.

But that's OK. Fortunately I have a couple willing eaters in the house to help me take care of all the excess.

It was pretty warm in the house this weekend, so I was worried about the fondant melting. I typically crumb coat the cakes in buttercream, then put them in the fridge to set before applying the fondant. Then after applying fondant and decorations, I usually put it back in the fridge. I realized today I had been doing things ALL WRONG.

Apparently fondant will naturally acclimate to whatever temperature it is, so as long as it's not excessively humid, the fondant is just fine unrefrigerated. But if you have a cold cake, and you put room temp fondant on it, and leave it out, it will start to sweat while the cold cake warms up. Not fun to work with!

After a while, however, when the cake and fondant adjust to room temp, the cake will dry out and be fine. So if you don't have a perishable filling, keep the cake at room temperature!

Here's the sweaty cake before I realized I shouldn't keep putting it in the fridge.

Oooh, shiny. And when that black fondant gets shiny, it gets messy and the color transfers everywhere. Black-tinted fondant really is a pain, in my opinion.

So this morning, I took the cake out of the fridge and let it sit on the counter for a couple hours. What a huge difference!

The gooey, slimy fondant dried out and became much more stable. Hooray! That means I could apply more disco dust (that's edible glitter!) to all the pink areas. Disco dust and slimy fondant don't get along.

I used a printout of a zebra pattern and a pastry cutter to make the zebra stripes and a circle cutter to make the peace signs. I also used the fondant to make a number 11 for the top. I stuck some toothpicks in them and left them out to dry overnight. There they are on the side.

And here's the final cake all put together.

And here's how the inside looked. Not exactly zebra striped, but close enough.

 And tasty too!