Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Summer Work

There's nothing like impending company to get your house in order.  And when it's your Mum, well, let's just say I have been busy this week.  A few weeks ago I thought I wasn't going to kill myself trying to get the house tidied up, after all it is summer and it has been quite a while since the last tidy, so really it will be a lot of work to get things back on track.  I would just do a skim-coat clean so to speak.  I'm not sure how it works, but such skim-coat cleaning often ends up in full-scale house warrior mode, because suddenly it's immensely important that baseboards that haven't been put on yet be put on, and basements still recovering from being turned upside down need to be set to rights: this week. The simple act of decluttering my kitchen counter top ended up taking a meandering path to completion, yet one of the perks of that was getting these made:

Dilled carrots.  Mr. Crafty World and I loved these as kids.  Lets hope we still do because I made six jars!

My basement still looked like I was preparing for a garage sale, even though I had a garage sale two weeks ago.  Stuff got hauled out, thrown out and now it's really starting to look nice down there.  I have been wanting to put some of the more special pieces of art by the kids up on the walls and this pressure to get my act together finally made me do it.

Today I will finally take the computer out of the spare room and make it a nice place to rest; and tomorrow I'll re-acquaint myself with my dust rag.  I will not look at my to- list and the things not yet done, because it really doesn't matter.  I have at the very least stirred up some stagnant energy around here and made a few positive changes. Those baseboards aren't on but the touch-up painting is done!  By tomorrow night I will be happily expecting my Mum and looking forward to the few days she is here before another vacation starts.  My crafting space is in a much better state than before (although not quite picture ready!), and I'm hoping for a little bit of mother-daughter-grandchildren crafting time.

Have a great day!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

More Simple Pleasures

We've had another mini vacation over the weekend: this time to a lovely sandy beach on Georgian Bay.  I didn't think it wise to take my camera to the beach to get filled up with sand, but the water was lovely and I bobbed about in the waves for a good hour.  After getting on the freeway and seeing how slowly it was moving, we got off again just as quickly and wound our way up to our destination on secondary highways.  It took twice as long, but I am so glad we did.  We had lovely views of the rolling hills that ripple through our region, and passed through sweet Victorian main streets that are so prevalent in small Ontario towns.

This was as good of a shot as I could get out of a moving car window, but it sure was purdy.

I mentioned before that we have had a birthday at our house.  Our Favorite Boy turned six on Monday and had a lovely time building all his new Lego.
I made this birthday banner out of card stock on Sunday night: it's really too bad it's in shadow because the colors are nice and bright.  I would ultimately like to make a longer lasting one out of fabric, but it's going to take some time to get just the right birthday-ish fabric.  I hung it up before I went to bed so the birthday boy could see it first thing in the morning.

I received my latest Cross Stitch and Needlwork magazine in the mail yesterday and read it by the pool as the kids took their swimming lessons.

There is a pumpkin ABC in it I would like to stitch, the only problem is I never feel like stitching fall themed things in the summer.  By the time fall comes around it will be too late unless I plan on hanging it up next year!

I am trying to get back to doing a bit of stitching everyday, and for the last week or so have been working on it outside.  It's always lovely to do that because the light is so much better.  I especially need it for projects like this that are stitched over one on 40 count fabric using a magnifying glass.

This is a gift I am working on that has been too long in the making; I am really hoping to make some serious progress on it by the end of the summer.  

Yesterday I purchased two new cookbooks by two of my favorite TV chefs: Laura Calder and Michael Smith.  Thank goodness for Costco for having affordable kitchen inspiration.

I also like Costco for their inexpensive growers  bunches of flowers.  I saw these sweet little tea roses and had to bring them home.  An added bonus is that once they were out of the chilly cooler I noticed they are sweetly fragrant.  The scent reminds me a little of the wild roses from my childhood, and as such puts me in a profoundly happy state of mind.

Have a great day!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Frozen Fudge Pops

This summer has proven to be a hot one and we are going through frozen treats very quickly.  I usually make my own by whipping up some fruit smoothies and freezing them in popsicle molds.  Sometimes though, you just have to give in and give the kids sugar-y, store like frozen treats and avoid looking at nutrition labels.
This recipe is for frozen fudge pops.  I found it in my grandmother's recipe box scribbled on the corner of an envelope.  It's so quick to do and I think compared to some of the store bought frozen treats out there it may be a fraction healthier.  A big plus though, is that you get voted "Best Mum Ever" when you make them.  Now that's something I can overlook a label for once in a while!

1 package instant chocolate pudding mix powder
3 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar

Mix well and freeze in popsicle molds.  This filled all 12 of my molds - each mold is 1/4 cup - and there was probably a mold and a half left over.
I use 3% milk because that's what we drink, but obviously you can use a lower fat milk for a lower fat treat.  I don't think skim milk would work so well though; it tends to freeze in watery sheets.  I have also started to experiment with the amount of sugar used.  I'm sure you could cut it in half at least and still get the thumbs up from the kids.  I am sure instant pudding mix from 30 years ago had less sugar in the mix than they do now anyway.
I have also tried a strawberry version, using a Dr. Oetker instant strawberry mousse mix.  It got a thumbs up as well.

There is half the amount of powder in here compared to the chocolate kind, so I halved the milk and sugar.  It is very sweet, so next time I will cut the sugar out completely as there is enough in the mix already.

Isn't that shade of pink to die for?!

Next up I want to try a vanilla pudding version, and possibly one of those artificially minty green, pistachio varieties.  I have a feeling I would have those all to myself...

Friday, July 16, 2010

Jam and Cross Stitch

I am loving this lax summer schedule we have going on here!  It's giving me time to indulge in lots of simple pleasures, making Felicity's challenge pretty darn easy.
Yesterday I made 6 jars of apricot and vanilla bean jam.

Now until yesterday, I have never eaten an apricot that I liked.  They were always mealey or tasteless and blah.  I do enjoy apricot desserts and jam; both of which we always looked for in France.  The apricots I bought for making my jam actually smelled like peaches and were the most beautiful shade of orange.  I wish I had taken a picture of them before cooking.  Why the vanilla bean? The last time we were in France we were lucky enough to eat someone's homemade apricot jam, and it drove us crazy for three hours trying to figure out what that extra flavour was.  After much looking through and trying to translate French cookbooks, we found a recipe that called for a hit of vanilla.  While I was cooking down the fruit yesterday I added a whole vanilla bean to try and infuse the flavour.  I think it worked; the jam smells like apricots with just a hint of vanilla, but you would really have think about it to identify it if you didn't know it was there.  Of course, the little black dots of vanilla seeds are kind of a giveaway...

I have also been able to do some stitching outside while the kids play in the kiddie pool.  Someone here is having a birthday on Monday, and I have been stitching their card.

Since I started cross stitching almost six years ago I have been making cards for my kids on each of their birthdays.  I am proud to say that My Favorite Boy will now have six of them come Monday.

Yes, life is good in my Crafty World on these lazy summer days.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Hydrangea Hype

Did you ever see something and be so inspired that you absolutely had to re-create it as soon as possible or you thought your head would pop right off?  I'm sure I'm not alone here!  This is how I felt when I saw these cupcakes.  My own hydrangea bush is doing very well this year, after what I can only guess is a year off.  It didn't bloom at all last year, but a week or so ago it started blooming and has been wooing me ever since.

I have been outside daily to check on how it's blooming: every day the shades of purple, blue and cream have blended to a new masterpiece.  If I could somehow paint a room that embodied the colors of these hydrangeas I would never leave it.
Anyway on to the cupcakes.  When I saw them I was smitten. Aren't they gorgeous?!  And wasn't it just serendipity that I happened to have 1 cup of buttercream icing and some vanilla cupcakes in the freezer?

This was our dessert tonight:

 Floral, buttercream ,cupcake heaven...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Floral Tent

I have completed a bit of sewing around here despite the heat.  My sewing machine is in the basement and you would think with last week's heat wave I would have parked myself there and sewn up a storm.  Somehow though, I found myself doing many other things in the heat; stuff like preparing for a garage sale and mopping the floor.  Anyway I did finish off this play-tent and just picked up the dowels for it the other day so the kids could use it outside.
I used the instructions in Emma Hardy's "Sewing in No Time" book.  I have to say (and maybe it was just the heat getting to me), but I found the illustrations to look different than what the instructions said to do.  Namely in the sewing of the pole channels.  I looked and looked on-line to see if there was any errata for the book, or just for anyone elses' experience making it.  I only found one person who mentioned they were making it for their child, but that's as much as I could get.  I find in most book reviews people will say they like the book or not based on having a look through, but there are not many who review books after actually having completed some of the projects.  In the case of "technical manuals" as I like to call sewing and craft books (it makes me feel like I'm investing my money and not wasting it at, you might as we not do a review at all if you haven't completed any of the projects.  I mean really, how helpful is that?  So frustrations aside, I went with the written instructions to finish the tent.  I will say it's OK; but there could definitely be room for improvement.
I used some sheets I bought last year at the thrift store, because this could have been an extremely expensive tee-pee if I had gone to the fabric store.  The sheets are a poly-cotton blend and I couldn't use them for pyjama bottoms or bags.  I felt a little bit guilty that my selections were so, well, girly, considering the tee-pee is for both of my kids; but when I told My Favorite Boy what I had chosen before I stitched it he just sighed and said, "I know Mum".
So, after several days sewing and several more waiting to pick up the dowels the tee-pee tent was finally ready to make its debut:
I can't help thinking that a quirky-colorful granny square blanket would look much better than this Mexican inspired one; it's on my list the next time I'm able to get to the thrift store.
The back and sides:  not having enough of one kind of print I used two sheets for the outside; a pink and white stripe and a rosy pattern.  I trimmed the top of the rose patterned sheet off and sewed it to the bottom of the striped pieces for a bit of continuity.  Kind of anal I know, but it was so pretty I couldn't leave it off!

The inside is made on three sides with a small floral print, and the doorway panels are made of another yellow and pink floral.  When you are inside it's quite charming to be surrounded by so many flowers.  I spent a good hour in here today cross stitching while the kids played in the kiddie pool.  Yes, a vintage granny square blanket must replace that fiesta one.  It's not very Cath K/Laura Ashely  inspired is it?
So far four kids under 8 years old can fit inside (it's about four feet by four feet at the bottom, and four and a half feet tall at the center) and one can stand up.  It's meant to be a little rosy hide-away for times when secret fairy meetings need to be conducted, or just a pretty place to get away from the sun.  I'm not sure if its life will extend past this summer, but it may leave a bit of a memory for a few neighborhood children anyway.

Simple Pleasures: Homemade Iced Tea

I am definitely an iced tea girl.  I prefer it over all other soft drinks and we drink gallons of it when it's hot outside.  Over the years I have noticed that commercially made iced tea has gotten sweeter and sweeter; more akin to soda pop than tea.  I found a recipe for a Snapple knock-off about 12 years ago and have been using it ever since.  It tastes like cold tea flavored with lemon and sweetened with real sugar; just what I  like my iced tea to be.

For one jug of iced tea you will need:

3 orange pekoe tea bags*
8 cups of boiling water
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup, plus 2 Tbsp lemon juice

Pour boiling water over the tea bags.  Cover and let steep one hour.  Stir in sugar until dissolved and add lemon juice.  You may need to tweak the recipe a bit to get it just right for you.

Because we drink so much of this, I didn't enjoy having to make it from scratch every time.  That whole hour steeping thing can  be a pain when you're really thirsty!  I have made multiple batches and frozen them in plastic bags, but then again you have to wait to drink it.  I also experimented with making a concentrate, where I quadrupled the amount of tea, sugar and lemon juice, but left the water at 8 cups.  After making sure the sugar was dissolved I divided the mixture up  into 2 cup units and froze those.  This was a lot of work, and again you have to wait until the concentrate thaws before making up a jug.

 This year I finally found a solution that works for me.  I pour eight cups of boiling water over 12 tea bags.  I let it steep for an hour or so, or really just whenever I get back to it.  After taking out the bags I pour the tea into four, 2 cup containers and put them in the fridge.  Whenever I need to make a new jug, I pour one container of tea concentrate into the jug and add 6 cups of water; 3/4 cup of sugar and 1/3 cup or so of lemon juice.  Doing it this way means it's faster to make jug refills, and I can tell at a glance how much concentrate I have left in the fridge.
*Because I have been giving this to my kids since they were really little, and I let them drink quite a bit of it, I use decaffeinated orange pekoe teabags.  This summer I am going to introduce a bit of regular tea (probably a 1:4 ratio) and will keep substituting for a year or so until I only use regular tea.

This week promises to be another hot one.  We will be drinking lots of iced tea and I'll be reading these:

Oh there's not much better than a good stitchy magazine!

Have a great day :)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Summer Pleasures

My goodness; time does fly when the little darlings are out of school all day.  I have been enjoying all sorts of simple pleasures, but at this point I couldn't possibly list three week's worth without putting you to sleep.
We kicked off the start of summer holidays by going to the theatre to see Toy Story 3.  What a wonderful movie!  If you haven't seen it yet, make plans to do so.  Oh and bring your tissue box because it's a weeper.
My Favorite Girl and I attended the Canada Day parade and wore our patriotic pinwheel brooches. Our special Canada Day desserts this year were strawberry shortcakes:

...and lavender panna cotta with strawberry puree:

I had some of this at a small patisserie in Toronto and have wanted to make my own ever since.  It was very good!
We've had a bit of a mini-vacation as well.  We made our way here:

Despite the crowds and all the vendors/shows/shops anxious to have you deposit your Loonies with them, the natural attractions at Niagara Falls are simple awesome.  

That's one of the Maid of the Mist boats.  The next morning we donned blue raincoats and had a closer look:

Going on the boat tour was worth every penny.  I would definitely recommend going on the first boat though, because after that they really pack you on like little blue sardines.

The town of Niagara Falls has one very touristy street, called Clifton Hill.  It's lined with cheesy souvenir shops, over-priced restaurants and all sorts of child-appealing things that have nothing to do with the natural wonder around the corner.  So, because we have two kids, we had to make a few stops along the way to a "haunted" house; Rainforest Cafe and Brick City:

Then entire room was filled with Lego creations and one little boy was very happy to be there.  He desperately wants to visit Lego Land someday, so we told him this was the closest we think he will get for a while!
Before returning home we took a drive to scenic Niagara-on-the-Lake.  What a pretty, pretty little town.  It's full of lovely shops and beautiful buildings, like the Prince of Wales hotel:
I wanted to take more pictures of the main street, but it was so crowded and I could never seem to get the photos "just right" in the view finder.

It was so hot that week that it was hard to get motivated to do anything creative. Temperatures were around 35 degrees every day, but with the humidity it ended up being around 45 degrees every day.  We are not big on turning on the air-conditioning, but we did have to give in after several uncomfortable nights.
  So that's a bit of a catch-up on our activities.  This week things should return to a bit of normalcy as Mr. Crafty World went back to work and we are settling back into our routines as well.  I am hoping that some sewing and crafting will be part of it!

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