Friday, June 29, 2012

A Break - Finally!

If you've ever wanted to make a good, saucy pulled pork recipe, have I got one for you! I found this badboy through Pinterest and served it at my jewellery party last night and it was fantabulous! AND it made enough that we had it for supper tonight and I've still got a meal's worth that I'm going to freeze! Yay for pulled pork!
My party went well and I got to try on lots of pretty things. The trying-on is pretty important since I'm now planning on buying 2 pieces that weren't even on my wish list before!
Well, after two weeks of non-stop busy-ness since we got home from holidays, I finally have something of a break this weekend! And anything I'm keeping myself busy with this weekend is of my own choosing! I have two more Pampered Chef shows next week, plus another trip to Calgary, plus a meeting or two, so I'll be right back into the thick of things on Tuesday, but until then, I plan to fill my time with baking, gardening, farmer's marketing, socializing and rest. I may even get around to finishing my nightstands this weekend - who knows!
But for now, I think I'm going to kick back with a chai latte, sit where I can see the beautiful sunset and maybe flip through my Stella and Dot catalogue and finish picking what I'm going to order!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Cutsie-pie Party Foods?

While I had intended today to be set aside for accomplishing a load of household chores and perhaps some baking that I've been meaning to do for a while, I find it hard to get up out of my chair. Perhaps it's because it's the first day in a long while that I haven't had to rush out of the house to get somewhere, but I'll get out of my chair, throw in a load of laundry and then... I always end up back in my comfy little perch.
However, since I do have a lot that I need to accomplish this week, and my time is actually running low already for some of those tasks, I'm still trying to be productive, even while I sit on my caboose.

How does one do that? PINTEREST!

It's true, Pinterest can be a huge time-waster if you let it. However, it is the number one source that I turn to for meal planning, house keeping, crafting and party ideas right now, and given that a large portion of my life is consumed by such things, that makes it one of the best resources I've ever had the good luck to stumble upon.

For this particular instance, I am using it to plan the food for my Stella and Dot party on Thursday. Given that it's an uber-girly party (I mean, come on, it's jewelry), I've opted to make girly, dainty food! I already mentioned the pulled pork sliders I'm going to make, and while a beer-soaked, smokey pork recipe wouldn't exactly represent the dainty motif, I think I can get away with a slightly-sweet, hawaiian pulled pork recipe with avocado and pineapple slices to keep it more girly than not!

Next I think I'll have little almond tuilles. These delicate lace cookies are a breeze to make and so so so adorable. And did I mention addictive? Really - Matt can eat a whole batch in one sitting (if I weren't standing over him saying 'That's enough already!) The recipe I use is in the Pampered Chef cookbook Cooking for Two or More and they actually use their recipe to make tuille towers to wrap around ice cream. I just lay my little tuille circles flat and roll them up! I may or may not also do espresso shots in sugar-rimmed glasses - we'll see who shows up...

Next I think I'll do inverted coconut cream pie shots, with the cream in the cup, crushed graham wafer on top and toasted coconut flakes to garnish! I ADORE Coconut Cream pie - it's my absolute favorite - so maybe I'm a bit biased when I say I expect these to be a big hit, but I really think they will be!

Lastly (unless I decide to do a dip as well) I'll be serving Crispy Parmesan Zucchini Fries! I'll serve them with a marinara dipping sauce and I think they'll be quite yummy!

I think that's all for now, but if I have any more brainwaves I'll be sure to post!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Party Week

Well, the crazy garage sale weekends done... Now on to the crazy party week!
This one should be more fun than the last though because, well, it's parties!

On Tuesday my boys and I are packing up and leaving poor Matt at home while we head to Calgary to do a Pampered Chef show for my Grandma. This will actually be my first spa show with my sister, and I'm quit excited about it! My sister, who sells Avon products, will be doing mini manis with the guests after I whip up a guacamole with them! I don't expect it to be a very big show, but I'm excited to do our first one together to kind of get our footing.

On Thursday I will be having a houseful of ladies over for a Stella and Dot party that I'm hosting! If you remember, a little while back Matt and I had three days notice that we were going to attend a black-tie formal event. I found a dress at Winners but didn't want to shell out to much money on nice jewelry, so I called up my sister's friend who is a Stella and Dot stylist. I asked if we could work something out and she said that she would lend me any pieces that I wanted for this event, if I booked a show in June - plus, she'd book a Pampered Chef show too! Sweet deal if you ask me! So, I looked great for my event, I've got a PC show for her in July, and this week I'm having a Stella and Dot party!
Like all parties at my house, there will be food - perhaps more than usual since we opted to start the party at 6:30, so some people may not have time for supper after work. I had pulled a pork shoulder to do pulled pork for today and at midnight last nit it was still pretty solid - which sucked, until I decided to save it for my party night and make pulled pork sliders! I have yet to find a recipe but I think they'll be great! I'll probably also do some lighter, fruit-based things, and maybe some Pampered Chef recipes, and depending on the weather, I may also make my new Cinnamon Roll sugar syrup and we'll have steamed milk shots!

But that's all for now, because, frankly, I'm beat. The garage sale took its toll, and before I can plan any more things for my parties, I think I just need some sleep!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Garage Sales

Oh dear. I think I'm in trouble...

I've committed the next three days to working at a massive garage sale fundraiser for one of the charities I volunteer with...

Oh dear...

Foolishly I thought,"I'll be responsible! I won't spend a thing!" After two days of pricing, I had accumulated a wishlist of over $100 - at a garage sale! Now, granted, this isn't just any garage sale. One of our biggest concerns in the planning stages was that we wouldn't get enough stuff donated to sell. However, for over 6 weeks now we've been getting the equivalent of a truckload of donations every workday. We have 2, double garages filled with sporting goods, furniture and electronics, and a whole barn filled to overflowing with housewares and toys. I've seen ping-pong tables, camping stoves, bedroom sets, patio furniture and upholstered rocking horses at this thing, and I haven't even seen everything yet since they got more stuff in since I was helping them yesterday morning!

In light of the garage sale craziness, and in honor of the money that I will undoubtedly be spending, I will be doing a garage sale shopping guide for today's post. These are the top things (in no particular order) you should be looking for at garage sales/thrift stores if you're looking to save money, do a project, or find a treasure!

#1: Furniture! The shabby chic and barnyard chic trends are making huge waves online right now, in large part thanks to Pinterest. Finding old pieces, giving them a new look and proudly displaying them as character pieces is quickly becoming a hobby for many a stay-at-home-mom (like this one!). Since lots of pieces from the 70s and 80s were made with solid wood, it's the perfect time to find a solid wood table just waiting to be stripped and stained, and there are loads of online tutorials for how to give wood that weathered look (like this) or a more antiqued look (like this)

#2: Craft supplies! Look for former crafters downsizing their fabric stash, or someone who had a strong start on scrapbooking and then decided it just wasn't for them. I went to an estate sale on time where half of the basement was filled with yards and yards of fabrics, which they were selling for a buck a yard. Oh, and did I mention that old drapes or table cloths can be great for making pillows or other home decor projects?

#3: Home accents! Be it cute pictures, old mirrors, lamps, or any number of decorative pieces, it seems like there's always at least one good one at any garage sale! Sometimes it may take a creative eye to see the potential in some pieces, but a can of spray paint can go a long way with an interestingly shaped lamp or an old frame! One of my favorite reworkings of an old piece was featured in a magazine a few years ago (I can't remember which one, so I can't even link to it), where they painted old owl statues white and hung some on the wall and placed a white circular frame around it. It was a neat accent in the room, and I see those stupid little owls everywhere I go, and it was really the first time I ever looked at something like that and thought, "I could do that!"

#4: Jewelry! Don't get your hopes up about finding anything too fantastic here - most people aren't in the habit of selling diamonds out of their garage (and if they are, you should really be asking some questions...) But, things that people deem 'old' because they've been looking at them for years, may seem new and exciting to a fresh pair of eyes. Old brooches can easily be turned into hair accessories, and a gold chain may be just the thing you were looking for. A strand of pearls can be turned into a cute bracelet and retro earrings can be made into classy cufflinks, for hubby or yourself.

#5: Books! Very few people collect books today like they used to. There is still a group of people that love flipping through the paper pages curled up in a chair, and who would never dream of parting with a page from their beloved collections, but for the most part, people are either digitalizing their collection, or settling for reading books once and then getting them out of the house. Old favorites like Jane Austen's works, Harry Potters, LOTR and anything by Shakespeare can almost always be found used - and barely used at that. Newer books can also be picked up much cheaper from people who read it when it was just released and then decided they could part with the book. If you have enough books to read on your shelf, maybe you're looking to do some paper art? From wreaths to wall-art, mobiles to modge-podged jewelry boxes - the words from your favorite story can be incorporated into your decor easily. Just search "book pages" on Pinterest for some great ideas!

#6: Antiques! There is a whole group of people who only go to garage sales and thrift stores to find collectors items or things that are worth far more than they are priced. And they actually are more common than you might think... Case and point, while pricing at our charity garage sale I noticed an antique wood stirrup and an antique dinner triangle on the wall that someone found in the barn. Even without knowing the exact date for when they were crafted, I knew we could sell them for more than the $2 and $5, respectively, that they were being priced at. People who grew up with pieces and never considered them special, or someone who inherited a piece and never bothered looking into it may be selling little treasures for far less than their true value - but a word of caution, antique hunting is a risky and expensive hobby to get into. Remember, something is only worth as much as someone is willing to pay for it, so don't shell out $50 for that blue mountain pottery dolphin when everyone in Alberta has a piece and you can find it for $5 elsewhere.

#7: Toys! If you're like us, you have too many toys in your house. It's inevitable when you have the first grandchild on one side, and the first grandson on the other. We are some of those people who donate brand new toys to thrift stores, or sell them at garage sales. And no, we don't look for fair market price - we just want them gone. There's lots of people like us, I imagine. Even if there aren't a load of people around who sell brand new toys, there are lots of toys that were only played with a few times and then the kids got bored of it. Single-child families host great garage sales since their toys haven't even had a chance to get worn out!

#8: Kid clothes! Speaking of those single-child families, did you notice all the clothes they had? Especially if the had a little girl! Stretchy pants, leggings, onesies and tutus galore! And why spend $35 on a pair of kids shoes when you can get them for $1 at a garage sale!

#9: Games! Board games or video games, you can find loads of both at thrift stores and garage sales! If you are like me and don't buy every brand new gaming system when it first comes out, you're quite content with your old xbox and PS2. However, being that there are a lot of people who much prefer to have the newest and latest, that also means that there are a lot of people who sell of their old xbox and PS2 games for dirt cheap. And can you even find a garage sale that doesn't have Monopoly at it right now? Some board games go for up to $60, so it's often well worth your trouble to at least look around for a used one first.

#10: Kitchen accessories! My favorite! Lots of people decided to get rid of a waffle iron or pasta maker because they never use them. Same with old dishes - someone gets a new set, and decide to sell the old one even though there's nothing wrong with it. When I first moved out, this was how I stocked my house. The only things I didn't buy from a garage sale or thrift store, I bought from XS Cargo - a refurbished/liquidation store. Even at the garage sale this weekend I'm going to be getting my pasta maker!

Garage Saleing can be pricey if you just go to look without something in mind, but if there's something on your list that you plan to buy anyway, it can be well worth your time to look for it used first!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Home from the Mountains

I'm back! I'm home! I was gone for a week on vacation, but now I'm back to writing!
Why couldn't I write while I was on vacation? (Goodness knows I would have had plenty to write about!) Because I was in the mountains! I had no internet access all week and I enjoyed every minute of it!

About 20 years ago my parents started the annual tradition of going out to this timeshare on Pigeon Mountain. My grandparents owned the timeshare but let my family borrow it each year and eventually my parents ended up buying their own timeshare. And this past Christmas, Matt and I decided to buy in, too! This is where we got married as well so it has quite the significance for us.

It was a crazy week that was filled with everything from frisbee golf to kite flying, and while I won't bore you with all the details, I will mention a couple of my favorite parts from the week!

My first 'favorite' actually happened on our first day. We had about a 3 hour drive ahead of us and couldn't check in until 4:00, but were still eager to get our day started, so we headed into Calgary and visited Spruce Meadows for their Nationals tournament. I had always been under the impression that Spruce Meadows was a hoity-toity place that frowned upon children and would cost an arm and a leg to visit, but I was so totally wrong. Not only do they offer free parking, free admission for kids under 12 and $5 admission for adults, but when there are no set tournaments running, it's free to come in and use their grounds. Pet are even allowed on leash - even at tournaments! This particular tournament was a biggie, so there were performers around the grounds, dog rally events, a huge tent filled with vendors, exhibits on the Diamond Jubilee and art displays and a lot of food. Oh, and a whole field filled with bouncy castles and free pony rides for the kids! It was wonderful! We were unfortunately running behind in our day so we didn't have time for everything, but we spent 2 and a half hours there and could have spent twice as mujch time there happily. Gabe in particular asked to go back and watch the horsies jump one more time before we left and he was quite content to just sit on the grass and watch.

My second 'favorite' is actually not an event, but things that I bought! Shopping is always on our 'to do' list in the mountains - both for Canmore and Banff. In Canmore I got to hit up two great little shops that had just what I wanted. The first is their specialty kitchen store, Kitchen Boutique. Since I sell Pampered Chef products I don't buy anything that I could order through them, but I did come across something that was just what I needed, and which Pampered Chef doesn't sell: a Ravioli Stamp. I've been wanting to make my own pasta - ravioli in particular - but I've been humming and hawing over whether or not to get a pasta roller. I wouldn't go to all the effort for plain linguine, and without a ravioli tray or stamp I wasn't going to bother trying. But here it was! A beautiful square stamp with a wooden handle that will be perfect for making pockets of yumminess! I can't wait to use it!
The second store that I hit the jackpot in was StoneWaters - a local high-end homewares store. I wanted to just pop in and look like I always do, even though I'd never bought anything from there (but if I had $5000 for a hand carved bunkbed, I totally would have!) and as we were rounding the corner my darling husband said, "Oh look - they have Sophie Conran for Portmerion dishes." Now, it's possible he just read the box and didn't really remember the name, but he recognized the box - not even just the dishes! I love him. Anyway, I was more than thrilled to see it, especially when I saw what a huge selection they had! The store in town that I've bought stuff from has such a limited selection that when I asked about my egg cups they said I'd have to special order them! This place, however, had them. Granted, I was a bit up in the air about whether to get the egg cups, the brulee ramekins or the mortar and pestel, but my first love won out - I got the egg cups. Those I hardly have to wait before I'll use since I'll be breaking those out for Father's Day breakfast tomorrow morning!

Well, I'm glad to be home. It was a great week, and it's always a delight in the mountains, but it's always best to be home!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Movie Rant and Clouds

Do you ever lament the very existence of movie-adaptations of books? Maybe not the very existence, but at least the fact that you weren't the primary decision maker in them? Case and point:
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - can anyone say "botched first kiss"???? In the novel, J.K. Rowling painted the perfect scene, after chapters and chapters of Harry refusing to even admit that he cared for Ginny, where Harry finally confesses, through a perfectly unexpected kiss full of energy after a surprise Quidditch win. Perfect. The movie? Yikes. A melancholy, Ginny-initiated, totally-expected kiss that was glanced over as quickly as possible. They dropped the ball, and I guarantee they heard about it afterwards.
Beowulf - a movie that ought not to have had the same name as the original poem. The original poem's main theme is that strength of character and faith in God will give great rewards and the title character is portrayed as a God-fearing, wonderful leader. And in the movie... yah, the King is the father of Grendel through a sordid affair with Grendel's mother. Beowulf kills Grendel but then instead of defeating Grendel's mother he sires a dragon. (Yah, weird.) Oh, and at the end, after Beowulf finally kills the dragon and dies himself, his right hand man looks uncertainly at Grendel's mother, causing the viewer to question whether or not there were a single man of integrity in the entire film.
And the latest to add to this list: Mansfield Park (1999), featuring Frances O'Connor as Fanny Price. Now, do not think I'm saying this wasn't a good show - it was. It was an enjoyable movie where the plot was based on Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. It had some great additions to it, like putting in snippits of Jane Austen's writing from other pieces and letters as Fanny's own writing. That was fun. My primary issue, however, is with the characters. They changed a couple of them in a way that I was not cool with. First, and probably the biggest deviation from the original story, was Sir Thomas Bertram. In the novel, Sir Thomas Bertram was upright and moral to a fault. He was so wholely focused on propriety that he failed to pay any real attention to the heart of his daughters. In the movie, he is first and foremost a business man, who supports the slave trade and knows that his eldest son is strongly opposed to it but still maintains his slave workers, even after witnessing the abuses to them. Granted, the people who did the movie seemed to have done a lot of background research. It's highly probable that Sir Thomas Bertram was infact employing slaves on his plantations in Antigua. However, for the intent of the novel, Sir Thomas Bertram's propriety and upright conduct is never called into question; secondary to Fanny's own steadfastness, this is perhaps the character trait most integral to the unfolding plot. They changed Edmund a bit too, although those changes I could moreso understand. He was always apparently in love with Fanny. He was less head-over-heels in love with Mary. He was more attentive to Fanny as a whole and was more of a lively character than the novel portrayed him to be. For the intents of the movie, and not having a 10 hour long show, I get those changes. People needed to understand his worth quickly.
My last major issue was with Fanny herself. The synopsis of the movie refers to Fanny's "wit". As soon as I read that, I knew I'd have an issue. One does not extol Fanny Price's virtues by lauding her wit and failing to observe her strength of character. In the novel Fanny is not particularly witty. She's not brave. She's not daring, or lively, or particularly gay. She is a trembling, quiet, easily shaken individual who despite all of these things has an absolutely unshakeable sense of right and wrong and will never consciously err on the side of "wrong". This is the virtue that finally redeems her to Sir Thomas Bertram and Edmund. This is the worth that they value in the end more than wit and charm. This is the entire moral of the story. In the movie, they made her cocky, and surprisingly strong-willed, and more generally fun to be around and sure of herself than the book ever conveyed. Again, I can kind of understand why. Fanny Price is the anti-heroine, even moreso than Catherine Morland (the anti-heroine of Northanger Abbey). Fanny's beauty is always understated compared to the beautiful women around her. She's not supposed to be witty, but grave and pensive, more absorbed in literary musings than the conversation in the room. Oh, and she never was carried away with her fancy. In the movie, Fanny accepts Crawford, only to break off the engagement the next day. (As a note: this was most likely taken from Jane Austen's own experience - she did the very same thing) The Fanny Price of the novel never would have a) said yes, and b) said no afterwards.
OH and there was no William! There's a tall boy that says goodbye to Fanny at the beginning, but that's the closest we get to seeing William Price.
Now, all that said, again, it wasn't a bad movie. Purists - be warned, there are some deviations. Oh, and Puritans, be warned likewise: there's some nudity (you know it's coming, but I didn't think they'd actually show anything... I was wrong.)
WHEW! What a rant. I apologize. And to make it up to you, how about some pretty pictures?
The first: Muffins! I remade a batch of those muffins I posted the recipe to a couple weeks back - and this time I got a picture! Aren't they so nice and peaked???

Second: Clouds! My reimagining of Nathaniel's room is finally taking shape as I finally got that 3D wall art up! But I felt like it needed more, so I put up some clouds! They're merely batting with fishing line holding them together! I've only done a few (the 3 year old wanted to help which seriously impeded my progress) but I plan to put up enough that when you walk into the room it should look like a cloudy day! Fun, no?

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Store-bought Hacks

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, a 'hack' is taking something that already exists, and modifying it into something better, but still maintaining the integrity of the original design (as opposed to an 'upcycle', which would modify the original purpose of the product and make something completely new).

Hacking store-bought products is a popular trend right now, one of the most prevalent that I've seen being Ikea Hacks. People take bookcases, tables, or anything else they can get their hands on, and they improve them through different degrees of painting, cutting, glueing, etc. One person went so far as to order 60 bookcases and lined an entire landing with them, making a built-in library.

However, my hacks that I will be talking about today, revolve a bit more around food. We will be talking about how to buy something from the grocery store, and turn it into something much better, with just a few ingredients.
If you're unclear on what I'm doing still, keep reading. You'll catch on.

First up: canned soup. Mmmmmm, soup. This is what inspired me to write this post actually. A few days ago, Matt was home early from work and I was exhausted with a splitting headache. I hadn't made supper, or even thought about supper, but now was the time to do so. So, I started rooting through my cupboards and found a can of cream of potato soup. I'm not even sure why I bought it in the first place, but there it was. I threw the soup in a saucepan and heated it on the stove. I'm not gonna lie - it didn't smell good. It didn't really look good either. Okay, I was dreading eating it. But I never give up that easily on a recipe. So I did what I always do: keep adding things until it tastes good. Turns out, it didn't take much! I added about half a cup of aged cheddar cheese and sprinkled bacon bits on top and suddenly there wasn't enough soup to go around! Matt adored it and I was more than a little surprised at how good it tasted (especially compared to how it tasted at the beginning). He welcomed me to make that any time, and I suddenly felt the need to keep cream of potato soup as a pantry staple in our house! Don't believe that it was that good? Try it for yourselves! And while you're at it, try these varieties:
Smokey Gouda - 1/2 c. grated smoked gouda and 1/2 tsp paprika (or chili powder if you prefer)
Loaded Baked Potato - 1/2 c. grated cheddar, 1 big spoonful of sour cream, top with chives and bacon bits
Stuffed Potato - 2 tbsp french onion cream cheese (whisk to make sure it mixes in properly!) and chives

Don't like potato soup? Here are some ideas for cream of chicken:
Ranch - 2 tbsp ranch dressing
Waldorf - 1/4 c. plain yogurt, chopped celery, chopped apple

Next: Cake mixes! My mom always made these most fantabulous (that's a word) cakes, usually in bundt pans, and they were beyond moist. And everyone would always ask her for the recipe and she would sheepishly say, "Well, you start with a cake mix..." Cake mixes come in lots of varieties, and many degrees of quality - it's true. Some add more questionable ingredients than others, and some just don't taste quite right. But there are some many things that you can do with them, besides the basic eggs, oil and water that can redeem nearly any box of cake mix. For example - my mom's 'secret' recipe - Company's Coming's Almost-a-Scratch Cake. Take 1 box of cake mix, 1 box (4-serving size) of instant pudding, add 1 cup water, a 1/2 cup of oil and 4 eggs. Mix and bake in a bundt pan at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes. The moistness is most remniscent of a chiffon cake, and you can do this in a variety of flavors - chocolate cake and chocolate pudding, lemon cake and lemon pudding, or mix it up a bit - white cake and lemon pudding, spice cake and butterscotch pudding, chocolate cake and banana pudding... All would taste amazing!
If you want more ideas, check out the testing that Hungry Girl did - they made up cake mixes by adding things like yogurt, pureed pumpkin, and even diet pop, so see how each one tasted!

And then: Coffee! Do you pay extra for flavored coffees that taste stale or have a funny aftertaste? You really shouldn't... Coffee is a super-simple thing to play with. By simply adding fresh ingredients directly into the coffee grinds in the filter, you can make some very yummy java without any funny aftertastes.
Festive Brew - 1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice for 8 cups of coffee
Chilly Morning Brew - 1/4 tsp cinnamon and a 1/4 tsp cloves
Toasted Nut - roast a few hazelnuts in your oven, crush fine
Mocha Java - add 1 tsp cocoa (make sure you stir the cocoa into your grinds, and don't use dutch process to avoid clogging issues)
Christmas Orange - add 1 tsp cocoa and 1 1/2 tsp orange zest

Lastly: Pasta Sauce! I hate jarred pasta sauce :) I've only found a couple that have intruiged me, but none of them have ever wowed me before. There is, however, one pasta sauce that I could eat every day for the rest of my life and I would die happy: my Uncle Doug's pasta sauce. The secret to the sauce is the add-ins, and while you can make it from scratch, the traditional recipe is 1 jar of original flavored Ragu. The secret ingredient? Brown sugar. Now, I could never remember the actual amounts or ingredients so I kind of made up the rest of the ingredients over the years, but the brown sugar makes it. Oh, and make sure you put in the Bay leaf.
Uncle Doug's sauce - 1 jar Ragu, 1 lbs ground beef (optional), 1 - 2 bay leaves, 3 tbsp brown sugar, 1 tsp chili powder, 3 splashes of tobasco sauce.

I'm only posting one Pasta Sauce hack because, well, I've never had a desire to try any others!

Are there any things that you improve by adding a couple of ingredients? Let me know!

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Crafty Projects

Whew! What a weekend! Baking, sewing, crafting, painting, hosting, organizing, cleaning... Lately it seems like my weekends are busier than all of my weekdays combined! In my teaser post on Saturday night I mentioned some of the stuff that I accomplished on Saturday, and I call it a teaser poster because I didn't put up any pictures! How wretched of me! However, I have made good on my promise to deliver pictures the next chance I got, and here they are!

First up are the cardstock 3D wall art pieces I made for the nursery. After making-do with Winnie the Pooh decals for so long, I finally decided to give the nursery a more original look. I came across a picture of these on Pinterest - taken from the Etsy store Gosh and Golly. They were whimsical, adorable, slightly boyish and perfect! However, I'm cheap (read: Scottish), so I opted to make these instead of buying them. Now, if you wish to make these, I have some tips. First tip: don't bother making them - just buy them. They'll look way better. Second tip: if you insist on making them, don't cut with scissors. Use a straight blade and a cutting surface. Third tip: Better yet, use a Cricut with some sort of a balloon template. The real neat part is the 3D, which is done by making 2, folding them at 135 degree angles, putting in some strategic slits and assembling. Fourth tip: save your money on the Cricut cartridge and just pay the $30 from the Etsy store!
They were quite finnicky to make, and they look kind of rough up close, no matter how hard I tried, but they are still adorable. I can't find my sticky tack, so I'm still in the process of hanging them, so the picture above is a completed scene, but the picture below will have 3 more balloons and a few more clouds around it.

Secondly, and more significantly, I finally got around to those nightstands that have been haunting my basement since I bought them last fall! Matt kept telling me that he thought I'd never get around to them and I (finally) proved him wrong! I unsuccessfully tried stripping them with a gel stripper, but after 3 coats and 2 hours it was making zero difference (maybe it was the type of paint? I really don't know why it didn't work - but if you do, let me know!) Anyway, I was so determined to get them done that I got up at 6:30 this morning and started sanding. And sanding. And sanding. It was a lot of sanding. And I wasn't even stripping them entirely!

Since I was painting them and not staining them, I opted to just take off the sheen of the paint and take it down to the primed layer in some of the grooves. Still, a lot of sanding. After about 2 and a half hours, I felt like the sanding was good enough. I cleaned the surfaces, got the kids settled with some games, and then went to painting. I did one coat of primer across all of the surfaces. This was the easy part. Next came the trickier bit where I did my first coat of white paint. I used melamine paint for the white because a) these are for kids, and b) we had a lot of it kicking around. Melamine paints on thicker than a normal paint, but it's super cleanable on furniture and very durable. It does get quite gummy quite quickly, so I had to work fast and make sure I got it on evenly the first time. I had to take a break at this point to deal with a potty issue (not mine) and I grabbed some breakfast (finally). Then I went out with a new brush and painted on the accent color onto the drawers and the trim. I actually had to go get a sponge brush to cut in the trim (after gooping dark brown paint onto places that it shouldn't have been! Whoops!). I went back out after a little bit and did a second coat of the accent color. This evening I'm going to pull the stands into my kitchen and give them a final coat of each color (and a quick, light sanding to get anything off of them that they picked up outside - like pollen from my mayday tree). I've got my dreams for the tops, but I have to let the paint cure for a week before I get to even try that, so now all I can do is try to figure out what types of drawer pulls I want!

I am so, so glad that these things are finally getting done! They've been looming for so long, and they'll help make my boys' rooms look so much nicer! Yay for being productive!! Now, how about some Angry Birds?

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)

Saturday, June 2, 2012


I had a productive day of general craftiness to tell you all about but... no photos! I'm sorry! It's 12:30 as I start writing this and I've got to be up early tomorrow for church, so you're just going to have to settle for text tonight!

My project wishlist started piling up again this past week as I found more and more ideas for things that would a) improve something we already have, b) meet a need that we have, or c) upcycle something we weren't using into something different. We have a remarkable number of blankets in our house. Like, truly, it's astounding how many blankets we keep. I think I always hated sleeping over at someone's house and being cold through the night because they didn't have as many blankets as I would like, so I always vowed to do differently. That, and I love that you can have some beautiful patterns and pictures on blankets that you can work into your decor without any real permenance. However, blankets are pouring out of every closet we own, piled on our futon downstairs, and even stored in bins in the crawl space. That's just too many. I went through them all today and picked out ALOT that I could get rid of, but I came across a number of nice fleece ones that I thought were a pity to get rid of. Really, a fleece blanket is basically a yard and a bit of fleece fabric, which runs anywhere from $10 - $25/yard. Why would I get rid of a whole yard of nice fabric? I thought about making jackets for the boys out of these two CFL blankets we had (one was the Stamps and the other the Esks - mine was the Stamps!) when my darling, genius husband said, "Why don't you just make ponchos?" And you know what I did? I made ponchos!
I made 4 of them, in fact! The two team blankets I made into super easy ponchos; I simply cut a whole for the head and a little "v" opening and voila! A cute little poncho! But while I had intended to make one for each boy, I realized it was just far too much fabric for little Nathaniel. Luckily, I ran across another fleece blanket that was just his size, so I whipped one up for him too!
Then I had one last fleece that was a solid blue color and I decided to do something extra nice with that for myself. I made a cowl-neck fleece caplet to wear around the campfire! It wasn't a hard pattern, and fleece is a dream to work with, but the actual pattern itself would have taken 25 sheets of paper to print off. Not cool. I just couldn't bring myself to do it. So what did I do? I measured the preview picture of the pattern which showed how it would look laid out across 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of paper. I counted 97 16ths of an inch at the longest point, which I divided by 2.588 (to get it to scale in inches), and then I had to account for a size change to 85% of the original size (the medium size link didn't work, so I was working off of the large pattern) and I continued in the same fashion for all of the other measurements! Sure, it took some time, but I didn't have to print off 25 sheets of paper, and it turned out great! Once I had drawn the pattern onto the fleece, it was less than half an hour of sewing, pinning, etc.

After I worked on one of the ponchos, I actually took a break and made a couple of loaves of bread. And while the bread was rising, I took a break and ran out to a couple of stores! I hit up Value Village where I got myself a crochet hook so I can relearn crocheting when I go on family holidays later this month, and then I ran to a dollar store to get popsicle sticks for a Sunday School project. I also found a fine-point glue pen for a couple of bucks that I needed for another project. So after a quick stop at the pet shop as a reward for Gabriel being a big helper on Mommy's shopping trip, I ran home, threw my dough into pans, and tested out the glue pen. If you remember, a number of weeks ago I cut out some 3D hot air balloon and cloud shapes to put up in Nathaniel's room, but I needed something to glue them together - something that would dry clear, hold well and have a fine-tipped applicator. The pen worked perfectly! I'll be hanging them up in Nathaniel's room tomorrow!

I also sold the very first guitar I ever owned today (for $200! Yay!), got some catalogues for a Stella and Dot show I'm hosting in a few weeks, and booked a Pampered Chef show for a girl later in the month as well!

One thing I did NOT get to today was stripping and refinishing my nightstands. First thing this morning I brought them up from the basement and set them in my living room so that I could get to them right away, but the weather looked threatening all morning. And every time I stepped foot outside I got hit with a couple drops of rain, so I bailed on my plan. But, I finally know what I'm doing with them! I've decided to keep them mainly white, but the decoupage some jazz standard sheet music on the tops! I wanted something that would make these look unique, and I was thinking about antiquing, but since they're for our boys' rooms I didn't think all the effort would be appreciated. This, however, I can make to suite them. One of the nightstands will have sheet music from a song called "Morning" that I always sang to Gabriel when he needed one more, good, long lullabye. It was my ringer. The other will have sheet music for the song "Waltz for Debby" which is one of Nathaniel's favorite lullabyes. The boys can grow up seeing the music right in front of them, and I think it will be a neat experience the first time they realize on their own what those funny shapes on their nightstands really are! Monday's weather is supposed to be better, so I think I'll get to at least stripping the green drawers (which will be a walnut brown)_and doing one coat of white paint on top of the rest of the stands.

Since I couldn't spend the whole day doing things only for myself, I also reorganized my sewing corner. And by that I mean, I packed it all up and put it into storage. *GASP!* I know - horrible, isn't it? But the sad reality is, I don't use it enough for it to merit a regular standing corner in the house. A corner which could be put to much better use as a toy work bench for Gabe, or a office space for us. And really, even though I have a sewing table downstairs, I always bring my sewing machine upstairs to the dining room table to do work, so what's the difference if I have to grab a box out of the crawlspace as opposed to a machine and attachments from the adjacent room? Not a big enough one to merit the place of honor, I tell you.

Did I mention I'm tired? And sore. Totally sore. Back in November I blew out my knee doing a workout, and I got through the same deadly workout for the first time on Thursday, but on Friday I could barely move, and today, after rubbing RubA535 on my butt and thighs last night, I can move, but I still ache.
But it's 1:00 in the morning now, and my house is a crafty mess and we have company coming for lunch after church tomorrow, so maybe just one more chore before bed?

Mrs. VanderLeek ;)