Thursday, February 28, 2013

Great Grandma's quilt blocks

Last year, my great-grandma passed away, and since hardly anyone in the family sews, I inherited a big box full of random fabric.  I really don't know how long it's all been sitting in that box.  But, from the vintage look and feel of the fabrics, (not to mention the dust layers on the box) I think it's safe to say several decades.  Then, buried in the middle of her stash, jackpot!  I found all these old quilt blocks she had made and never put together into quilts.  Some of the bow-tie blocks are even hand-pieced.  I love thinking about my grandma sewing together these same fabrics and the story behind them--how old she was, what was happening in the world when she made them.  I love this generational connection that quilts can create.  I'll be working with these same blocks to finish her quilts years later.  And, I plan on making a baby quilt for my next little one, so this quilt will connect five generations in my family.

I haven't been doing any quilting or sewing recently, but I've been wanting to start a new project and these blocks might actually get me excited enough to start.  I want to make a lap quilt with these white-background blocks.  I love how vintage and antique quilts use fabrics and combinations that I would never choose today.   Look at the two below:  green triangles and red floral?  weird brown squares and pick floral??  It's hard to tell if Grandma had really different tastes than I do, or if she was just being thrifty and using up all the fabric she had on hand.  Either way, these blocks have a completely different look than I would ever create.
I don't know what to call these blocks.  Does anyone know the name of this pattern?? 

These are some of the squares I want to make into a baby blanket.  Again, very different fabric choices than I usually make, but that adds to the charm and beauty of using vintage blocks!

The slowest part of starting these projects has been planning the quilting.  I decided when I first saw the blocks that I want to learn to hand-quilt, to add to the vintage feel.  That has taken some time, and I really, really need to keep practicing so that my quilting will do justice to Grandma's quilts!

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Pulled Pork in a Crockpot

I like to cook, but sometimes it's nice to throw everything in the crockpot after breakfast and magically have dinner ready at 5 o'clock.  This sweet and savory shredded pork recipe is one of my family's favorites. (It's one of my favorites, too, since it's so easy!)  I also love that it has so many veggies, which makes it taste yummy and adds an extra serving of veggies to our dinner. 
Served on hamburger buns, this pulled pork is practically a one-dish meal.  To complete dinner, I usually just whip up some sauteed green beans.   Easy, fast, delicious, cheap, and healthy--all in one meal!

What you need:
  • 3 1b pork roast
  • 14 oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 Tbs Worchestershire sauce    
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar 
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder 
 Let's get cooking:
1.  Add the tomatoes, onion, carrots, bell pepper, spices, and sugar to the crockpot and stir together.  Add the pork roast on top.

 2.  Cook on low for 8-10 hours or high for 4-5 hours.  Use two forks to gently shred the roast.
And that's it, two steps and you can enjoy your delicious pulled pork dinner!

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Should I Homeschool Preschool? Part 4: money

My son Buddy recently turned 3, so my husband and I have been deciding whether to send our son to preschool or do preschool at home.  In Part 1 and Part 2, I talked about the top two reasons why other moms seem to be sending their kids to preschool:  socialization and time alone for mom.  In Part 3, I discussed what kids are learning in preschool and how I can easily teach a preschool curriculum at home.

In this post, I want to talk about one of the major reasons my husband and I decided not to send our son to preschool:  money.  Let's face it, preschool is expensive.  I thought that it was pretty expensive before we started looking into the pros and cons.  Now that I know I can easily teach everything at home that my son could learn at preschool, it means that preschool is a luxury, not a necessity, and I think it's extravagant.  

I looked up some local preschools, and it looks like for 2 days a week, schools charge around $300.  So, if I send my son for 9 months out of the year, we'd be spending $2700!  And that doesn't include other expenses that aren't included in tuition, such as gas to drive him back and forth, snacks for the class, supplies, etc.  Taking an honest look at our budget, we do not spend $300/mo on any other luxury.  We didn't even budget "fun money" until recently.  After all, we're living on one income since I stay home with the boys, and we don't have hundreds of dollars to spend on luxuries.  

Remember, this series is about my family and how we've come to the decision not to send our son to preschool.  For many families, the pros may outweigh the cons.  And, many families may have more discretionary income to spend on school.  Those families may decide to send their kids to preschool rather than homeschooling.  I'm not trying to be judgmental--I'm just presenting the idea that preschool is not mandatory.  Many moms (myself included) automatically think we have to send our kids to preschool without really thinking about whether it's necessary or beneficial.  I don't want to make decisions about this much money based on "everyone's doing it".  
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Monday, February 11, 2013

Spider-Man Birthday Cake (Tutorial)

For my Buddy's 3rd birthday recently, I made him this delicious, awesome Spider-man cake!  He loved it, and it was actually a lot simpler to decorate than other cakes I've attempted.  I admit that I'm just an amateur who dabbles in cake decorating.  So, anytime I find a super-cute, super-easy cake design, that's the one for me!

My son really wanted the cakes colored.  He still talks about the rainbow cake that I made for my Little Man's birthday a few months ago!  He wanted a rainbow cake, too, but I knew that he would love this superhero cake, so I told him I'd make the cakes red and blue--Spider-man colors!

Let's get decorating:

1.  First, I made two cakes mixes, one for each 9" layer.  (That way, my cakes turn out plenty thick, so that later I can level them for stacking and still have some cake left.)  Prepare the cakes mixes in separate bowls.

2.  Stir in blue food coloring gel in one bowl and red in another until you have nice colors. 

Unfortunately, I ran out of red and my top layer looked suspiciously like pink, but my son never noticed.

3.  Bake your cakes.  If you use one cake mix for each layer like I did, this will take longer than the box directions.  Just bake until a toothpick comes out clean.  After the cakes have cooled a little, remove them onto a wire rack to finish cooling.  After they're completely cool, use a cake leveller or a knife to level the tops of the cake so you can stack them.

After the first layer, put a thick layer of icing on top.  I used white because I guess I hadn't mixed my icing colors yet, but you could also use red.

4.  Use food coloring gel to make red and black icing.  (Warning:  you have to use a lot of dye to make true red and black colors that don't look pink or gray.)

Stack the second layer on top, and cover the entire cake with red icing.

5.  Load a piping bag with black icing.  Using a writing tip, draw a small circle in the middle of the cake.  I used a toothpick to lightly mark 10 lines equally spaced around the small circle.  Then pipe lines radiating out from the small circle, all the way down the sides of the cake.

6.  After you've drawn all 10 lines, connect them with arches to make it look like a spider-web.  I used two rings of arches on the top of the cake and one ring around the sides.  I also connected the lines in a ring around the top edge.

7.  Draw two large eyes with the writing tip.  I started mine just under the small circle in the center.  After drawing them and making sure I was happy that they matched, I filled them in using the writing tip.  After the icing dried, I just used my finger to smush the lines together a little bit.

8.  Fill a 2nd piping bag with white icing.  I made the top of of the eyes just like I did the black layer:  I drew it with the writing tip first, then filled it in.  After the icing dried, I smushed it a little so the lines weren't so obvious.

Finally, I piped black shells around the bottom edge. 

And that's how you impress your superhero-loving husband 3-year old!

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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Should I Homeschool Preschool? Part 3: Academics

My son just turned 3, so my husband and I have recently been deciding whether to send our son to preschool or do preschool at home.  In Part 1 and Part 2, I talked about the top two reasons why other moms seem to be sending their kids to preschool:  socialization and time alone for mom.
By now, you might be asking the same question that I am, "What about academics??"  After all, this is the 3rd post in this series, and I haven't once used the words "curriculum" or "literacy". When I first started considering sending my son to preschool, I thought that academics would be the most important thing to consider.  After all, it is pre-school.  I guess I was worried that if he doesn't have the same math and writing curriculum as his peers, he might be behind forever.  But, when I started asking my friends why they send their kids to preschool, it was "socialization and time alone" over and over.  I was really surprised, almost no one mentioned anything that had to do with actual schooling or academic learning.  So I started looking up websites from local preschools, trying to get info on their curriculum.  It seems that kids at preschool are learning literacy, writing skills, critical thinking, math, science, and fine- and gross-motor skills development.  What?!  I thought, it's just as I feared, my son will be behind forever, we don't do any of that! 

But, then I asked some friends what their kids actually do at preschool, as well as thinking more critically about our time at home.  The truth I learned is that kids learn by playing and through hands-on activities, and I am already teaching my boys everyday:
literacy = reading together
writing/fine motor skills = drawing, playdough
critical thinking = pretending, puzzles
math and science = nature walks, cooking together
gross motor skills = playground, running/jumping

I've also had several people ask me if I plan on doing a lot more "preschool activities" if I homeschool.  I'm assuming this means workbooks and formal lessons.  For now, the answer is no.  I see no reason to give worksheets and schoolwork to a three-year-old.  He learns by playing, by doing, and by watching and helping me.  There's no rush for schoolwork.  He has years ahead full of academics and studying, but only a short time to be a little kid :)
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Friday, February 1, 2013

Quilted Words for a Flannel Board (Tutorial)

I made these quilted words as a custom order on Etsy several months ago, and this tutorial has been sitting around way too long on my computer.  It's such a cute idea, and I definitely plan to make a set for my boys when they're a little older.  I love, love, love these quilted words, and as a bonus they'll be so fun for young readers.

I don't actually have a giant flannel board, but I may have to make one just for this.  If you don't have a giant flannel board either, maybe you could buy a large flannel blanket and play on that.  Or, you could just lay the words out on the floor.
 Part of the fun is the whimsical shapes and bright, bold fabrics!  If you're feeling adventurous, you could even try triangles, circles, or hexagons rather than sticking to boring old rectangles :)  I think another fun option would be to make an entire alphabet set, so little ones can learn to spell out words.

 What you need:
  • Assorted cotton prints
  • Batting
  • Felt for backing
  • Velcro (optional)
  • Fusible web
  • All-purpose thread

Let's get sewing
1.  Cut your cotton prints, felt, and batting into shapes for your words/letters.  I made mine into rectangles about 11 x 5 inches and 13 x 7 inches for the long words.  Any smaller and I couldn't fit a whole word on them.  If you're making short words or individual letters, you can cut them smaller.  (I cut my squares about 7-8".)  These measurements include 1" on each side for a 1/2" seam allowance. 

2.  If you are making words for a flannel board, I suggest sewing one or two 2" pieces of the "hook" side of hook-and-loop tape (velcro) to your felt backing, which will help it stick to the flannel.  Sew the velcro about 1" down from the top of the felt and 1-2" from the sides.

3.  Draw the letters for your words.  If you look at the pictures, you can see I made some "rounded" letters, but if I did this project again I'd use all straight-edged letters like in the pic below.  The round letters were much more difficult to zig-zag stitch in step 8. 

I free-handed my letters, but you could also print off letters in a huge font on your computer, then trace them on the fusible web. (Make sure to trace the reverse of the letters--see my "F" below).  Peel off the paper backing and stick them on the wrong side of your fabric.

4.  Cut out the letters, peel off the paper, and arrange them in the center of the rectangle.  I tried to leave space at the top so my letters wouldn't overlap the velcro when I assembled the words.  You'll be sewing the letters down in step 8, and it's annoying to sew over velcro.  Follow the directions on your fusible web to fuse the letters to the fabric.

5.  Make an "inside-out" quilt sandwich:  cotton with letters facing up, felt right-side down (with velcro against the letters), and batting on top.

6.  Sew around the rectangle with a 1/2" seam allowance.  Leave a 3" opening in the bottom for turning.  Clip the extra fabric at the corners so it will lay flat after turning.

7.  Turn out, then topstitch 1/4" from the edge to sew the opening shut and to help the word lay flat.

8.  Using a zig-zag stitch, sew around the edges of all the letters.  This secures the letters, and it also functions as quilting.

9.  If you want, you can also add some cute decorative quilting with a straight stitch.
Repeat steps 1-9 to make a bunch of cute words that your kids will love to play with again and again!

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