Wednesday, October 10, 2012


Friday, March 23, 2012

Best Pillow Yet!

For anyone who stayed tuned in to see what the pillow surprise was - here it is! This was an apron from Anthropologie acquired on clearance. The first time I saw it I thought "what an amazing pillow that would make!” Against my instincts I put it back and left the store without it. Due to my Anthropologie addiction I was back a few days later and had decided that if it was still there I would buy it. And lo and behold, there it was! It’s a burlap sack (probably not authentic) with French printing, pockets and embroidered flowers. Just the most gorgeous piece of fabric I think I have ever seen. Its so itchy and rough it would make a terrible apron but so gorgeous it makes a perfect decorative accessory. The trick was figuring out how to cut it and finding the right size pillow insert. Trusty IKEA had just the ticket - a 16 in. square down pillow. I used it as a guide for cutting the top of the apron off and because of the slope of the upper portion, had to use a couple of pieces of the excess to make it square. I used natural linen for the back and whipped it together in no time. Until I realized I hadn’t sewn in an opening. Obviously my zeal to complete this fabulous new pillow got the better of me and I sat there kicking myself for rushing and making such a junior varsity mistake. I undid the seam on top enough to wedge the rolled up pillow inside and sewed it closed. Unfortunately, due to this mistake the cover is not removable but I decided that it would do because its a purely decorative pillow. If its too itchy to use as an apron it is certainly uncomfortable as a pillow. I am so pleased with the end result I would really like to go back and grab another of the clearance aprons - there are 2 left... uh oh!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Peonies, Pansies, Renunculus...Oh My!!!

Do you get spring fever? I never really have. Living in a place that often feels like the surface of the sun I relish winter. I love the short, cold days, the holidays and I suppose, if I’m laying it all out there, because my husband is home. However, the past year has been unlike any other in my life and I am welcoming any new beginning I can find. It seemed like the first and most logical step in deciding to welcome spring with open arms was to plant flowers.

Planting flowers or anything in the desert really, is a challenge for me. I wouldn’t say I have a green thumb, its more brownish – like the color of dead leaves. I don’t have a great track record with keeping plants alive despite the fact that I am descended from a long line of successful gardeners. I enjoy gardening and LOVE a beautiful garden and can really appreciate the beauty of plants and flowers. I just cant seem to keep them alive. I decided to give it a go anyway. One thing I have realized is that I have to give up on planting varieties I see in magazines or those I remember from growing up in northern California. I have to stop fighting the desert and go with it. I also realized that this time of year Home Depot puts out all the plants that will actually thrive in our climate. Quite a revelation, I know. On top of that, all the plants come with little markers that tell you where they like to be planted and how they liked to be cared for. Ingenious!

So I drug my husband and kids to the Depot and wandered the isles, for what probably seemed to them like an eternity, until I found the right plants, colors and prices that would satisfy my new spring fever. I had also decided that instead of trying to make my little desert garden look like northern California I needed to appreciate all the southwest has to offer and chose succulents to make a nice little “ode to the desert” garden vignette. Back at home Gracie, Max and I slapped on gardening gloves and got to work on our flower design plan. Adding new potting soil to all the pots we watered each with a tiny, children’s watering can so as not to splash all the soil out with the hose. We sat back and admired our work amazed at how gorgeously peonies, pansies, renunculus and asylum compliment each other.

I came home the next day to find a fabulous gift of a new lime green (which I adore) watering can and garden sheers. My husband has always been thoughtful but I suspect he was also trying to do his part in keeping our investment from withering away. And he might have been tired of hearing me complain about having to fill up the tiny watering can a dozen times to water everything. But that is just a theory.

Later that week I chaperoned my son’s 4th grade trip to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum. Having taught 4th grade for many years this was not my first time visiting. However, I was fascinated by all I learned that day about the desert and its abundance of plants. My fascination was probably due to the fact I was suddenly trying to acquire a green thumb and because I got to be a mom instead of a teacher. I soaked it all in like dry soil and took a ridiculous number of photographs. Max and my little troupe of some of the coolest kids I have ever met, which is saying a lot from a veteran teacher, explored the trails, naming a multitude of plants, cacti and flowers. We were all overjoyed at coming upon butterflies and the rare site of a humming bird nest full of babies. You would have thought it was my field trip with the way I went on and on about what we had learned over dinner that night. I had picked up a tiny cactus, called Hen and Chicks (which I chose from the seemingly hundreds available because I thought the name was hilarious) to add to my succulent garden. As well as Arizona wild flower seed packets to sprinkle in the back yard. I was so taken by the way Mexican Poppies grow willy nilly all around the arboretum grounds that I wanted to try to replicate it at home. After almost a week of watering nothing has sprouted but I am still hopeful.

I have changed so much over the past year that I have to relearn myself step by step. It feels sort of like experiencing adolescence again, when we discover new things about the world that peak our interest and shape who we are. I am realizing that there are things that bring me joy and peace which I have had little interest in previously. Gardening and being outside in the quiet with my thoughts is so therapeutic now. Even pulling weeds in our yard isn’t the tedious task it used to be, which seems a little disturbing. I will keep you posted on how my garden grows. Pray for me that my brownish thumb transforms a bit.

Peonies, Pansies, Renunculus, Iclandic Poppies and Asylum
Succulent garden - the little cacuts is Hen & Chicks, named for the little sprouts that grow off the sides.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Too Good Not to Share....

In mid February we had our first family photo session in 3 years. Shawna Yarbrough of Studio 7 Photography took us to downtown Chandler at sunset. I know what an artist she is (our pictures 3 years ago were phenomenal) so I wasn't worried at all about the location - she knows what she is doing. But I never in a million years would have picked that spot. If I had just driven by I wouldn't have even looked twice. There was nothing about it to me that shouted "take pictures here!". The first location looked a little like a worn down warehouse. We laughed as Shawna kicked litter out of the way of her shot. Contrary to my type A personality I just went with the flow. Let the kids sit in the dirt and posed however they suggested. We were silly and took some very candid shots in addition to the ones that Shawna orchestrated but made look totally natural. As the 2 or so hours went on we moved through three amazing locations - the warehouse, a restored historic brick building with the most amazing door and an old rickety fence with peeling white paint. By the time we got to the fence my patience for the silliness, especially Gracie's waning desire to follow directions, was wearing thin. Shawna pulled out all the stops and used her "Chucky" voice which had us rolling and helped the kids finish out the session. By the time we were done we all were thankful to head to Smashburger and recharge.

2 weeks later the pictures were ready for viewing and I couldn't contain my joy. We spent hours pouring over the almost 300 shots, deciding each new one we looked at was our favorite. I am sure at this point Shawna is probably getting sick of hearing how amazing she is but what I hope she knows is that not only did she give us this invaluable gift of capturing, so, so beautifully, this moment in time of our family but also the memory of that evening. The fun, the bonding and the silliness that will be a family memory for our 6 and 9 year olds, hopefully into their old age.

My Quest for the Perfect Pillow

When we moved into our house 6+ years ago we went from one living area to two and it became necessary to buy a set of family room furniture. Having just had our second baby we opted for the indestructible brown leather couch and arm chair that, as we suspected would be necessary, were capable of surviving throw up, pee (both baby and dog), marker, smashed snack foods and who knows what else. The only problem with this miracle furniture was the new need for throw pillows. The fabulous pre-baby cream, chenille and leather couches in the living room came with their own so this had never been a consideration before. We started the quest at Costco. Not really on purpose but on a shopping expedition we came across inexpensive micro fiber pillows in a pleasing pallet so they made their way home with us. They were ok. Just ok. They were stiff - polly filled - and did not have removable covers which, with toddlers, is not adequate. Sometimes those things just need to be washed. Shortly after, on a trip to Ikea, I came across nice feather filled pillows with removable corduroy covers. It came to my attention, abruptly, that these new pillows were not down filled but contained the feathers of some other sort of barn yard fowl which didn’t like to stay in the pillow. They shed feathers like crazy making our family room look like a chicken coupe. I attempted to fix this problem by sewing an extra cover over the pillow insert which really just prolonged the inevitable. The now double walled insterts only held the escape feathers for a short time before they found their way out again. So I could wash the removable covers but couldn’t keep the essence of the pillow in the pillow. Our pillow issue became somewhat of a topic of discussion and a family joke. We bought a dog that didn’t shed but couldn’t keep our pillows from shedding. The next Christmas my mom joined the fun and bought us fabulous big pillows with zippered French linen covers. They were polly filled, once again (I think everyone was a little down-shy at this point) and really rather stiff. We used them for over a year trying to mould and shape them to fit comfortably behind the back or under the head on the couch. To no avail. These are some seriously good quality pillows that do not do that annoying poly pillow thing where all the stuffing comes apart, separates and ends up making the pillows look like they have cellulite. This 6 year process made me realize that I had to take matters into my own hands if I was ever to have comfortable, washable and aesthetically pleasing pillows. My friend Megan began "Operation: Pillow" by finding actual down filled pillow inserts for me at a ridiculously affordable price. Next, I busted out the sewing machine - after many, many years - and whipped up some linen and African print pillow covers. As optimistic as I wanted to be they hadn’t stood the Elvin Nina Pillow Squish Test yet. He has a way of contorting and manipulating the best pillows into submission which often times forces them into early retirement. But now, 2 weeks in I can say we may have solved the great pillow mystery - finding the perfect pillow has been neither easy nor cheap but somehow in the long run it’s been worth it. It makes a great story and creates in us a deep appreciation for how far we have come. In addition to all of that it’s gotten me back to the sewing machine. Stay tuned because I have another nail biting pillow idea in the works!

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Valentine's Day Mompetition

I've admitted my newfound excitment over Valentine's day before. So I decided to come all the way out and share just how crazy I have gotten this year. My kids are in 4th and 1st grades and in all their years of choosing and passing out class valentines I have never gotten creative and helped them make something from scratch. We have always gone for the obnoxious Star Wars or Princess boxes of valentines that come with a sticker, pencil or in the worst case, a tatoo. In recent years its come to my attention that class valentines have become somewhat of a mom competition. Last year my kids came home with cards that included their classmates photos posing with something exploding in pink and red, homemade heart-shaped crayons and my personal favorite, the original poem complete with photo AND candy. This year I was having no more of those all inclusive boxes from Target. I felt the need to jump on the creative bandwagon and go for something that would throw me in that competative mix. Browsing Pinterest I came across a great idea to create a flower with card stock and a sucker. Now one thing I dont think I have shared before is that I rarely just take an idea and go with it. I like to make some changes, add a twist and make it my own. I decided to go really old school and use doilies instead of card stock and let the kids help - since they were their valentines after all - and go nuts with glitter foam stickers. A little marker and tape later we had bouquets of dum dum flowers all ready for classroom shoe box mailboxes. I am already plotting next year's creation - just in case I need to start a couple months early to really go over the top in the valentines "mom"petition.
Red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting and red Hawaiian sugar hearts.

And for the post competition celebration drink - pink champagne.

Kids' Valentine's Day surprizes in tin mailboxes.

The Evolution of the Eternity Scarf

Not long ago I wrote about my excitement over learning to crochet an eternity scarf. If you remember, the "eternity" part eluded me but I figured
out how to fake it with well hidden stitches connecting the two ends. I kept messing around with my crochet hook and, to my extreme joy (and mostly by accident), made an actual eternity scarf. Through several skeins of yarn and about a week, my Frankenstien scarves turned into beautiful, seam-free, creations complete with the quirky twist I love so much. The excited recipients who benefited from my trial and error are now sporting these all around town. I may just go into business...

From left - slate blue stitched together with no twist, grey stitched together with twist, indigo and moss green both no seam, no twist - and the masterpeice - cream, no seam and with a twist.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Leo's Story - Part 1

When our children were 4 and 7 my husband and I decided it was time for a family dog. We had survived babyhood, the kids had grown somewhat independent and that longing for a four legged 3rd child gnawed on both of us. Well, maybe just me but when I remember it I like to think it was him too. We began researching breeds and looking at listings for puppies on Craigslist. My husband was set on a boxer but considering that we travel 4 months out of the year and drive as well as fly across the country, there was no chance I was making that trip with a boxer on my lap much less carting one on an airplane. Looking for an alternative, much smaller dog, he fell in love with miniature schnauzers and schnoodles (schnauzer, poodle mix). We couldn't find either near us but that put me on the track of other poodle mixes. I discovered Yorkiepoos and was sold at first sight. We found our Phoebe girl, an all black Yokiepoo, right before Christmas that year. She stole all of our hearts right away, along with that of anyone else she came in contact with. She was gentle, sweet and tolerant of the kids' "affections". Over the next couple of years we became full fledged dog lovers. Phoebe went to obedience school and, though she was very smart and could do anything asked of her, she stayed true to being a Nina and was stubborn enough not to do what she didn't want to. We took her everywhere with us. She traveled all over the western US and while she loved the car she was intolerant of flying. She chewed through 3 travel carriers on a 2 leg flight from Montana to Sacramento. We learned quickly that Phoebe had tons of energy and was always up for playing. If we didn't oblige immediately she would sit on our laps, nose to nose and make it almost impossible not to engage with her. If further denied she would "talk" to us in her best Chewbaca voice until we couldn't ignore her any longer. We came to the realization that just as we had survived babyhood, we had survived puppy-hood as well and it might be time for a playmate for Phoebe. Someone to share her days with while we were at school and work and who could be her constant companion when we couldn't be with her.

Now at that time the idea of a second dog was merely a suggestion. A thought we had over dinner. It was nothing we were seriously considering in the immediate future. My husband came home one night and said he had seen an all white miniature schnauzer and I could tell instantly that he was smitten. We daydreamed about a tiny white puppy and talked about names. I mentioned Leonidas and his eyes lit up like kid on Christmas. So it was all set. We had a breed, knew we wanted a boy, to keep the peace with Phoebe, and a name. The puppy would come later.

A few weeks later as I was on drop off duty at school one of our long time families came through the line with a beautiful white schnauzer hanging out of the window. As they drove away I mentioned that I was going to take their dog home with me and found out that they had bred him and the puppies would be ready to be adopted in a week. It was like God opened a door and said "I am just waiting for you to walk through it". I immediately sent a text to my husband and had already adopted a puppy in my mind. I spoke to the owner several times over the next week and arranged for Elvin and the kids to go see the puppies. Elvin took a video of the puppies, 4 boys and 4 girls, all pure white, and we could tell right away which would be ours. The little boy with the red collar. All the puppies swarmed the kids but when the rest wandered off, "the red one" as he was dubbed, sat on Max's lap and didn't leave. A few days later I went to pick him up and take him home. Somehow in the space of just a few weeks our "daydream" of a second dog had turned into a reality and this puppy had just fallen into our laps. We were thrilled.

Leonidas fit into our family right away. He loved to snuggle which is important when the princess of the family thinks everything smaller than her exists for her to baby. He worshiped Phoebe and, though she was gentle, she made sure he knew she was the Alpha dog and he was okay with that. He made himself at home in our bed, just as Phoebe does. We were one big happy family. For a while.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

I'm No Professional

When my friend Megan got married we somehow decided I would bake her wedding cake. It was years ago and I think there was a bottle of wine involved so I dont even remember how it came up or how either of us thought it would be good idea much less possible. Nevertheless, I made the cake and she was thrilled with how it turned out. It was a small wedding and a charming little cake with giant lillies that hid any flaws quite well.

Last fall as our friend Felecia planned her wedding I received a text message asking if I would make her wedding cake. I think I was out shopping having and great time and in an amicable mood so of course I said "Sure, I would LOVE to!". Come to find out her wedding would NOT be small. A charming little cake for 40 wouldnt work for the 250 guests she was planning. Uh oh. Too late to back out and crush her I steeled myself for the task. I took the day off from school (but sent the kids - of course), got up early and set all the supplies out. I paced in front of the many boxes of cake, cartons of frosting and cans of filling. No way would this cake be from scratch. I developed a plan of action and put it work. 6 boxes of cake in I sent my husband to the store for more cake mix and eggs. I am pretty sure he thought I was crazy and was laughing on the inside waiting either for my meltdown or the kitchen to explode. I got all the layers baked by mid afternoon. I carefully cut their puffed up tops and flipped them over doing my best, as my husband critiqued from the couch, to keep them level. As they cooled I frosted them one by one with the crumb coat. I spent 30 minutes rearranging my fridge shelves and contents to find room for 5 layers of cake - not yet assembled of course. By then the kids were home from school and we had to get moving to the rehearsal and dinner. Did I forget to mention that on top of cheif cake baker I was also the mother of the flower girl? 5 hours later I arrived back home and added the second coat of frosting - back in the fridge went the segregated layers. I fell into bed and had nightmares about frosting melting and the cake falling over. First thing in the morning I was back at it. 3rd and final layer of frosting and carefully into the back of my SUV and off to the reception hall. I carried each layer in one by one praying I wouldnt trip. Or sneeze. I inserted the supports and added the spacers and assemble the cake. The last step was to decorate. On went the topper - a sparkly snowflake and bejeweled monogram of the happy couple. Silver ribbon around each layer. Oh crap - forgot the pins for securing the ribbon. Had to improvise. The snowflake decorations would have to hold the ends of the ribbon in place. That worked out to be a happy mistake because it looked perfect (and I wasnt really sure what I was going to do with those snowflakes anyway). Finishing touch - sugar crystals. Phew! I had pulled it off. I got lots of compliments and heard that it was delicious - though I never even got to taste it. I had an exhausted flower girl who had reached her limit hours before the cake was cut and had to be taken home to bed. The moral of the story is that though I am no professional I learned to have more faith in myself. I think that when I set my mind to something I can pull it off. Within reason...