Friday, February 28, 2014

Crafty fun with really bad lighting

As you have probably noticed, our house has really bad lighting it's either way too bright (yay Florida sunshine!) or there's none, so most indoor pictures come out quite badly.  But oh well I've never professed to be a master photographer or even particularly "artsy" so my badly lit snapshots will just have to do :-p

I mention this because below are some of my favorite projects ever but captured by some of the worst photographs ever because all taken on no light-stormy days.  And they were all gifts so not like I could just re-photograph on a better light day you'll just have to take my word that the colors are much more vibrant in person, sorry about that.

First off is a new baby present for Erin's teacher; which for some really strange reason Blogger insists on uploading upside down *sigh*)

 This was fun because I wanted it to match the style & colors of their nursery.  As you can tell the colors are pink & grey, & Erin's teacher said that she's into the "Shabby Chic" style which is almost complete opposite of my own style.  I was thinking of how to do this when I got the perfect paper set made by Pink Paislee in a Box of Scrap (compliments of my dear hubby :-D ) - all in shades of pinks & greys with a shabby slight Parisian country look to them, what serendipity!  The paper lace doily in the upper (err lower) corner is fussy cut from one sheet & the other papers are simple rectangles layered.  The ribbon is Tim Holtz crinkle ribbon dyed with peach & primrose Color Shine then crumpled up while wet.  I added a Victorian-esque metal charm to visually anchor the ribbon opposite the paper & tweed flowers.  And nothing for little girls is complete without a little bling that came in the form of rhinestone swirls & glittered letters.  ... Extra fact the title was originally going to be "A daughter is a gift of love" but it wouldn't fit on the 8 x 10 page :-p

Then I remembered that the hardest part of a first baby isn't the sleepless nights, it's all the "thank-you's" you have to send out or you feel like a total heel (even though you rationally know people would understand!).  So I decided to make some pre-made Thank-You cards as well, but I only had 2 days left so I made it easy on myself & used Monday Craft Madness #7 card sketches as the blueprint to design.

The not pictured envelopes are boring, just plain grey cardstock, but I did make some custom monogram seals to go with them.  "S" is the first letter of the little girl's name, filled the letter with soft grey dots on pink background (isn't the print & cut feature of Silhouette awesome?!)

Now you'd think that's it correct? - Well the cards have to be stored somewhere until ready to be used!  So I made a little canvas tote bag to put them in.  Cut a stencil & inked the design on the canvas, once dried hot glued fabric flowers on.  I like this because it can be used after the cards are gone!  Even better Erin's teacher loved them & said the colors/ style were spot on - SCORE :-D

Next is a birthday card for a friend's son, he loves Spider-man but I see to reason to buy what I can make.  So I looked online, found a free spider-man coloring page, imported it into design studio, resized, traced the main design, separated it from the background & viola a spiderman ready to be cut.  Then cut out some spiderweb & attached it to a plain red card base.  Finally I altered a speech bubble, using Comic Sans font, so that his favorite hero could deliver the message.

And finally a mini chevron album for the above mentioned friend, the cut design is from the Silhouette design studio. The paper & embellishments here are Pebbles Family Ties & from the same Box of Scrap mentioned above.  Since it's so small, I kept the layout design very simple so as not to overwhelm any pictures she may want to put in.

It's 5 designed pages in total, but I was interrupted photographing it with the needs of the minions :-P, but you can see a peek of the other papers in the corner.  Honestly I wasn't sure of this paper collection at first but by the time I was finished I feel in love.  My favorite by far is the cover, with butterflies half cut out of the paper & backed by a coordinating paper.  Originally I wanted that really subtle look but then decided the butterflies needed more definition brought by some added vellum.  The title is cut from Silhouette's new corrugated paper & came out quite nicely I think.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Lackluster days need improving on...

This was one of those days that wasn't exactly bad but just MEH.  Lots of rude people with their heads up their own rear ends, lots of supposedly helpful but actually puerile busybodies & lots of little trip ups.  But as the same time it was one of those days that love & admiration for my little man filled me up near to exploding (**I'm not playing favorites here - really I swear! - just the girl was in school all day ;-) ).  All day he was his most adorable, charming, precocious self; an exhilarating change following his latest health issue.  He told me stories about the (USAF) jets flying overhead, pointed out simple words ('hot', 'go', 'stop', 'bug') & told stories about those too, he waited patiently through grocery shopping, didn't whine/ beg/ complain & almost always used please/ thank you/ you're welcome/ may I.  So by the end of the day I *wasn't* thoroughly exhausted, I didn't want to just hide until bedtime & I was still a fully engaged parent for Erin once she was released from daycare kindergarten.  So all of this led up to me being in charge of dinner while John & Erin were lining the soccer fields.  And I went all out...

Not only did I make this light, nutritious & fresh chicken tortilla soup with fresh made seasoned tortilla strips (based off this if you're curious), which was granted rave reviews by spouse & children alike ...

But I also made dessert...And not just any dessert but a brand-new off-the-cuff dessert of my own design.  I hereby dub them "S'mores Cookie Cups":

Recently my dear chocoholic hubby was in the mood for skillet cookie, as I was trying to find my favorite recipe I came across several recipes for stuffed cookies that sounded interesting but usually involved peanut butter, a huge NO NO in this house.  But the idea kept bouncing around in my head until I came across another recipe claiming to be "s'mores" but had no graham cracker in it.  I mean come on! S'mores without graham cracker?!  That's got to be sacrilegious or something :-P So I came up with these, kind of a cross between graham cracker crust & chocolate chip cookie dough (w/o the chips) & stuffed with Nutella & marshmallows.

 Seriously tell me that doesn't look AMAZING!

As I mentioned I made these with Nutella but if you're to make them (& you really should because YUM!), I recommend Hershey's Chocolate Spread w/o the hazelnut taste because again that's not really in the classic s'mores flavor profile.  But Nutella was on sale & had  BOGO coupon so it's what I had on hand ;-).  And the ones from the first batch (pictured above) don't have nearly as much marshmallow in them because I wasn't sure how much they could hold. But seriously these are just heavenly & the perfect end to a 'meh' but love filled day - And if you don't believe me, ask the chocoholic in training:

The one MAJOR downsides to these is they are completely, irrevocably, without question not Dillon safe with copious amounts of both dairy & soy :-(.  But don't worry he wasn't left out, I pulled some coconut milk ice cream out of the freezer for him & don't think he could've been happier! :-D 

S'Mores Cookie Cups (Makes 18 full cupcake size cups):
2 sticks (236g) unsalted butter, half melted half softened
1 C Sugar (I prefer "natural" cane sugar vs refined white sugar)
3/4 C Dark Brown Sugar, packed
2 Large Eggs
2 Cups All-Purpose Flour (again I use the unbleached kind)
1 Sleeve of Graham Crackers, smashed into crumbs
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
18oz jar of Nutella (or Hershey's)
Mini Marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350F, line a cupcake pan with liners - I ended up using 3 different kinds because it didn't have enough to do all the same & found the Reynolds Stay Brite ones to work the best & not stick. Smash a sleeve of graham crackers into crumbs, this is a great job for small children to do - put the crackers in gallon bag & let them "go to town" on it, or you could just send them through the food processor.

Beat butter & both sugars together until smooth, then add eggs one at a time until fully combined.  Then mix in the flour, salt & baking soda just until combined.  Now it gets slightly tricky because I didn't measure out the crumbs, if I think about it I will next time & update, pour in about 80% of the crumbs & stir until combined.  Take a small amount squeeze it into a ball & then flatten out - if it holds its shape & flattens out smoothly then you have enough, if not then add a bit more.  For my dough & house humidity levels I ended up using about 95%.

Scoop two spoonfuls (or use a disher) into each liner.  I found it easiest to put a little canola oil on your fingers to gently flatten the dough into the bottom & 2/3 up the sides.  Then top with a spoonful of chocolate spread & 4-7 mini marshmallows (make a flat layer).  Finally take another spoonful of dough, flatten it out & gently press it on top.  Bake for 13-15 minutes & enjoy :-)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Caste Systems...unavoidable?

When we were kids, our parents taught us to treat everyone equally, not to judge those who are different & see a person as a person not a color/ religion/ accent/ personality. These are great lessons to be learned & of course ones that we strive to teach the next generation as well.  But are they the full story?...

To preface: I'm certainly not saying we shouldn't treat everyone with respect & kindness - that should always go without saying!

What I am saying is that the older we get the more we realize (or at least should) that not everyone is equal or on the same level.  A white collar millionaire & a down home country girl will rarely make a good couple; their life experiences, political viewpoints, spending habits, hobbies etc are all (quite likely) so far apart that there will always be disagreements & unhappiness that will grow as the differences cause more problems.  While this is an extreme example (& subject to exceptions) it applies to everyday life as well.  As adults, our closest friends are usually the ones that have the most in common with us.  They think as we do, have similar parenting views, similar education levels, similar professions - and thus they understand us so we feel a kin & comfortable.  Interestingly people seem to be ashamed to admit this, they'll exalt that they're "friends with everybody" & "don't judge others" but yet they do; they compare their kids against others in grades & behavior charts, they talk about he said/she said, the virtues or viles of tv time/ electronics/ car seats & the like.  It seems to me that as long as you are living by the cardinal rule "Treat others as you want to be treated" then it shouldn't be a point of shame to prefer certain company over other or admit there is 'X' trait you dislike.

Real life example 1:
We had a close friend Beth* who at the time I met her was working as a technician* with a high school diploma & few college courses, the other 3 of us had baccalaureate degrees.  Viewed her as nothing more then a sweet, likeable woman with a wry sense of humor & similar interests.  She was a good, dependable friend & likeable company but as soon as conversations turned anymore 'serious' then what's on tv tonight she'd either space out or do just about anything to steer the conversation back to her liking.  As she set about getting her Associates degree, she'd complain how difficult college math was (to 3 engineers/scientists) and grew increasingly frustrated that we couldn't commiserate it with her difficulties.  Never once did any of us belittle her abilities or talk about how easy her problems were really but we also couldn't lie so still she felt less then worthy due to differences beyond her control.  This chasm only grew bigger as kids started to arrive until it erupted into a huge fight with her accusing us of "always making her feel stupid" & "lording our abilities over hers".  You can be a as friendly & nice as you want but differences matter despite our intentions.

Real life example 2:
In VPK my daughter had a good friend named *Jane, after hearing about her for several weeks I finally had the opportunity to meet her mother *Kristy, both mother & daughter were a few of the sweetest people I've ever had the pleasure to meet.  So both mothers encouraged the friendship between girls & also maintained friendly conversation between ourselves.  I have a lot of admiration for this young lady because she's a single mom with a minimum wage job, even with so little she always strove to provide *Jane with everything even if that meant she had to do with less.  One morning the teacher asked how I was doing on GRE review, Kristy overheard & asked if that was a variant on GED.  I replied that it was for entrance to graduate school (a year later still a dream sigh!), she poorly hid a surprised expression & asked "so you already have a bachelors".  After I relied that I did, had worked awhile after graduation before choosing to stay home with kids, she stopped having extended discussions with me then the basic pleasantries.  Then at VPK graduation the teachers did a "who's who" of the kid detailing unique facts about them, Erin's was that she had completed every puzzle in the classroom & read on a first grade level. *Kristy told me the next day that she had changed her mind about play dates over the summer & wished not to be contacted again.  Another case of friendship began with the best of intentions, 2 little 4 year old girls bonded over My Little Pony & a love of Rapunzel without a notice or care of any difference in their lives - the way we teach it should be but obviously don't live by (perhaps unconsciously but still).  End result was a sad (now) 5 year old who couldn't understand why her friend went away - made even worse by the fact her zoning waiver was accepted & *Jane's wasn't :-(

I could go on with several more examples, recent & not, but that would be tedious to all I'm sure.  My conclusion is thus; if we're honest with ourselves & admit that some differences do matter from the start while still adhering to the Golden Rule we'd save ourselves a lot of pain & guilt. Opposites may attract but birds of a feather flock together for a reason!