Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from
your favorite crafty kittens. 
the Old Married Ladies

Images from here and here

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Old Married Ladies' Last-Minute Wishlist

What do old married ladies want for Christmas? We know there are a lot of gift guides out there, but we find many of them too expensive, too fussy, and too specific to a certain type of personality.

We did a flash poll among our Facebook friends, and here's what a few people said they want:
  • A proper pair of snow boots and a gift card to Urban Outfitters
  • An iPad Air
  • A smile on a child's face... loljk I just want money
  • Cold weather running gear
  • A weekend alone to read books
Here are a few easy, foolproof ideas for what to give (or ask for) this year:

Satsuma shower gel from The Body Shop 
Cost: $8
Why: To quote a friend: "A totally indulgent yet practical gift, because I get to use it every day, it smells amazing, and it feels luxurious." 

A snarky coffee mug 
Cost: $16
Why: Because mornings, ugh, amiright?! Pair with a package of great coffee beans from a favorite roaster.
Alternatives: For fans of the Bloggess // For cat lovers // For commuters

A funky scarf 
Cost: Varies ($120 for the one pictured)
Why: Because you really can't have too many scarfs. They're warm, you can layer them, you can wear them to work, or not. They turn a boring outfit into one with personality, and in a pinch you can use them as throw blankets on planes or in cold office.
Alternatives: Faux-fur scarf // Blue and white scarf // Plaid scarf

Fancy chocolate
Cost: $8 (as pictured) but varies by product
Why: Because I love chocolate, but it's hard to justify spending $8 on a bar for myself... As a gift, though, I'd eat the hell out of it.
Alternatives: Vosges chocolates from Chicago // Fancy marshmallows // Salted chocolate chip cookie mix

Awesome and/or weird books
Cost: Varies by title
Why: Because books are the new collectible. Books are the new art. Books make me happy.
AlternativesHumans of New York, Maps, The Art of Asking

Amazon (or local bookshop) gift cards
Cost: As little or as much as you want!
Why: If you're not sure whether the person already owns any of the previously mentioned awesome books, or if you're not sure whether they prefer e-reading on a tablet or paper books, you can never go wrong with an Amazon gift card.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Married vs Maiden: What's in a name?

We have relatively little choice on the name people call us. For something so personal and attached to our identity, we're stuck with what our parents deemed right at the time of our birth and a last name tied to family history.

Sure, some of us may opt to adopt nicknames or shortened variations of what's written on paper. Now and then, you hear about the rogue, complete name change or the "middle name swapper" who forgoes their first name in favor of the second on their birth certificate.

Marriage is one of the few times in a woman's life where she faces the question, "What do you want your name to be?" (We suppose divorce is another time, but that's a different blog topic altogether.)

Your humble blog authors have split opinions on the matter, and we know it's an individual decision. What about our friends, many of whom are feminists, working professionals, and upright citizens? Did they keep their names, or stick to tradition and take the man's moniker? So we asked:

Why'd you decide to keep or change your name when you got married? 

Mrs. Nostalgia
I originally wanted to keep my name. However, it seemed to mean A GREAT DEAL to my husband that I take his name. For him, the idea of family was conferred by taking the name. While I had a great deal of my identity wrapped up in my maiden name, I took his, because I think it meant more to him that I took his than it meant to me to keep mine, if that makes any sense. Now, that said, and even though I turned my maiden name into my middle name for Social Security purposes, I really see my name as my whole maiden name — first, middle, and last with my married name at the end. I am still the person I was, name and all, before I married, and now I’m something more, too — that’s where the married name comes in.   

I changed my name for the historical record, so it's uniform and there's no question of whether we actually got married, if we got divorced, etc. Also, if we have kids, I want all of us to have the same last name. AND I think my new name is cute. I did keep my maiden name for my writing, because I've already published under that name. My husband says he wouldn't have cared either way, but he was really excited when I told him I was going to change it.

Becky B. 
My maiden names sounds like you are stuttering if you say it quickly (it always bugged me). And I liked the simplicity of changing it and just having one name for our family/once we have kids. I also have no connection to to my maiden name, as in a longer family history, or big name in my field. I am happy I changed my name. Except that my married name is way too cutesy! The only confusion has been that most friends have kept their maiden name or hyphenated, so everyone thinks that that is what I did.

Mrs. Crafty 
For me, it was something that was important to my husband. I actually preferred to keep my maiden name (saving myself from going through the name change process). However, since it was so important to him and I was going to spend the rest of my life with him,  I went ahead and changed it.

And a few other comments: 
  • I took my maiden name as my official middle name. I never questioned not taking his name... I suppose because I always knew I would take my husbands name. What MASH-playing kid didn't think this ;)
  • It was the thing to do in 1980 when I got married. In the words of Tom Rush, "No regrets, no tears good-bye."

The keepers are in the minority, both in our poll and in the national reports. According to this 2013 article, a mere 8 percent of women keep their maiden name when they get married. 

I worked for my degree in my name and wanted to be Dr. (Maiden Name). Then, I didn't want to do changing my name personally but keeping it professionally

Mrs. Snacky 
I fancy myself a writer (even if mostly in my head), and I prefer the literary panache of my lifelong name as it looks in print. My husband had no objections to me keeping my birth name. But when we had our wee babe, I didn't consider hyphenating or inserting my name on his birth certificate. Since my husband is an only child, he wanted to pass on his family name, and I understand that impulse. Long live the patriarchy, I suppose.  

Photos from the Library of Congress here and here

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Formula for easy living: Travel tips from a frequent flier

Formula for easy living: In this series, we look at shortcuts and hints for our everyday lives. The goal: Create habits for quicker decision making, stylish living, and more efficient daily routines. Today, we're talking about strategies for business travel. 

There are two kinds of traveler: Business travelers and everyone else.

For the last two years, I traveled almost every single week for work. I left on a Monday morning 6 a.m. flight and returned home on a Thursday 7 p.m. flight. I've worked in Minneapolis, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Orlando, D.C., Charlotte, and even Saudi Arabia. It has shaped me into a very efficient (and bitter) traveler. If you find yourself about to embark on a business trip, here are my recommendations.

Monday, October 27, 2014

House hunting and soul searching

Dear Mrs. Crafty,

Let's talk about house hunting. We've seen so many houses: Cape cods with additions stacked on top and closets leading to the roof. Victorians updated in the '80s, with shag-carpeted bathrooms and Pepto-Bismol-pink walls. Mid-century ranches with updated kitchens but the original, 1950s-era furnace and aluminum-framed, single-pane windows. Bungalows with master bedrooms connected to nurseries. Suburban dream houses gone to waste in the downturn, stinking of moldy basements. Finally, we saw our future house but had our hopes dashed briefly: The traditional two-story house with a great floor plan, beautiful lot, and family-friendly neighborhood that got pulled off the market when we wanted to make an offer.

House-hunting led to some soul-searching for me. I'd gotten used to living in the city of Chicago, commuting by train and taking cabs for special occasions, strolling for miles through dense neighborhoods, never more than a few blocks from a neighborhood market, coffee shop or bus stop. I liked being a young, urban professional who tried new restaurants, went to street festivals, and popped in to the Art Institute on random days.

But this whole "return to my Ohio roots" is all about focusing on family, affordable living, a little bit of green space, and a comfortable life. I've been a married, self-sufficient adult for many years now, and I'm starting to see a lot of logic in (gasp) THE SUBURBS. Especially since my office is in the 'burbs, my parents live nearby, and we have old friends in the area. But it's hard to make that transition to a new sort of life.

My teenage self is all, "You're not cool!" And my current self responds, "Correct. I like baking, short commutes, and goofy faces to make my baby giggle." I'm recognizing that I can be a creative, family-focused person, and those two qualities don't contradict each other. Nor do they require me to live in a big city or in a dilapidated house.

Do I still want to try new restaurants and soak up local culture? Sure. But is that my routine five days a week? No. I'm in a pretty dedicated "family and domesticity" phase.

Along the way in this house hunt, I've asked, "How will I know when we find the right place? Will lightning strike? Will angels sing? Will I get a tingly feeling in my toes?"

Just when I was at my wit's end, a tiny glimmer of hope emerged. We grabbed on to the mythical beast called "Suburbia" and rode it to home-buying victory. We made an offer on the traditional two-story and added a heartfelt letter sharing our daydreams for our family. The sellers decided that they were ready to downsize and we agreed on a price. We're hoping to move by late November. It turns out I'm ready for the suburbs.

Dreaming of my future home,
Mrs. Snacky

Photos from the Library of Congress here, here and here

Friday, October 24, 2014

Satisfying a difficult customer: A pattern for "husband mittens"

On my first date with my husband, I showed him some of my knitting. He inspected it, asked questions, and finally told me how cool it was that I could make things. Clearly, an early indication that he was a keeper! Ever since that fateful day, he's asked me to make lots of things for him. Some are reasonable requests (e.g. sweater, hat, mittens) and others only allow me to stare at him with that not-a-chance look (e.g. snake hat that looks like it is eating his head, a complete suit, a life-size lobster, a sand worm from Dune).

His most recent request was better gloves.

I had made him a pair of gloves to his specifications three years ago:

  1. Super soft (made with baby alpaca)
  2. Fingertip-less (to use his smartphone)
  3. Black and grey to match his coat
All of that was a mistake (except the color) and totally my fault. I knew better.

In the end, the gloves became super fuzzy. Baby alpaca is not a great material for gloves because they rub a lot. Also, no fingertips left some seriously cold hands. His proposed (and rejected) suggestion: Knit tiny caps for all 8 exposed fingers. Once again, I just gave him the look.

This summer, I decided to ignore him and knit mittens for him that I *thought* would be versatile enough for taking the dog for a walk and doing stuff on the weekends.

My specifications:
  1. Soft
  2. Not fuzzy
  3. Mittens instead of gloves (easier and faster to make)
  4. Fingerless, but with a cap to cover them
  5. Exactly his size (a customized pattern)
  6. AND one of his specifications: Snug fit
I've been making mittens for quite some time now, so I picked out some yarn and threw it on needles. While perusing my local knitting store, I came across MillaMia, an extra soft merino wool. It was perfect. I bought black and decided not to do anything fancy.

The biggest thing that made these mittens truly customized was the distance between the top of the wrist and the thumb hole. For my husband, the distance was longer than mine and longer than most patterns I had found (granted the majority of knitting patterns I use are for women). So in Mrs. Crafty style, I just kept pestering him to put them on as I went along to get the correct size. Remember my personal rule: Measure never!

Overall he is pretty happy with them, and I really enjoyed making them. The true test will be winter. I'll do an update and let you know how they worked out.

MillaMia 100% Merino Wool, 2 balls of 50g
US 3.25 Double Pointed Needles 
9 stitches = 1" (I knit tightly!)
Yarn needle for sewing on finger cap, stitch markers, and crochet hook for correcting mistakes

  • Cast on 40 stitches.
  • Spread evenly over 3 needles making sure not to twist.
  • Knit 2, Purl 2 all the way around to form rib for 3 1/2 inches (or as long or short as you'd like).

Thumb Gusset
Here you have to add stitches to make sure you have enough room for the thumb.
  • *Knit 18 stitches, place your stitch marker, make one stitch, knit 4, make one stitch.
  • Knit two rounds.*
  • Repeat * section until you have 15 stitches for the thumb.
  • Then continue to knit in the round until the thumb to wrist height is correct for your hands. These mittens were 2 1/2 inches.
  • Slip those 15 stitches onto scrap yarn or stitch holder to be worked later.
Rest of Mitten
  • Knit for an inch.
  • Start rib pattern (K2, P2) for 9 rows.
  • Loosely cast off (beware, casting off tightly will prevent fingers from moving).
  • Pick up the stitches that you placed on the holder and put them on 3 needles.
  • As you begin, pick up one stitch on the inside of the thumb, to help close the gap between the thumb and mitten. (16 stitches)
  • Knit in the round for the length of your thumb, leaving 1/2 inch of thumb exposed when you try it on. 
  • To decrease, K3, K2tog, 3 times (12 stitches). 2nd row, Knit. 3rd row, K2, K2tog (9 stitches). 4th row, Knit.
  • Finally cut the yarn, leaving a long tail. Thread the yarn onto a needles and pull it through those 9 stitches, secure and weave in your ends.
  • Cast on 43 stitches. For a smaller hand, cast on few stitches.
  • Knit in the round for the desired length of your fingers. Approximately 25 rows.
  • Finish the top of the cap by K9, K2tog. Then on the second row, K8, K2tog. Repeat in this manner until you have 16 stitches. (If you leave fewer stitches, your cap will be pointed).
  • Cut the yarn, leaving a long tail. Thread the yarn on a needle and put it through the 16 stitches and tie off. Weave in your ends.
  • With the back of the glove facing you, sew the cap onto the mitten. Match 20 cast of stitches on the cap to 20 stitches on the glove. The best place to attach it is right at the bottom of the ribbing.
Good luck if you try this pattern. Let me know if it needs any corrections. I hope these mittens do indeed satisfy my difficult customer!

Monday, October 20, 2014

All day with the baby...

This comic from Kathleen Founds made me laugh.

The duality of my parenting experience is thus: Some moments you are bowled over with love and awe, and other times you just need to check your email.

Can anyone else relate? 

Kathleen Founds is a writer and illustrator who colors giant squids and obsessively revises her novel in Marina, California. Thanks for letting us share, Kathleen! 

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Get your knit on for Christmas gifts

With that first sip of pumpkin spice latte, I realize that Christmas will be here in no time. And unlike every previous year, I'm not waiting until November to start knitting. I've got a few big-ticket items on a my list to make, and I'm getting started early.

In my hunt to find awesome things to knit, I compiled my favorite sites for inspirations and patterns.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ask an old married lady: What's your skincare routine?

Am I the only one who finds the beauty and skincare section of any store (be it Wal-Mart, Target, Ulta or Sephora) totally overwhelming? I find myself asking questions like: 
  • What should I put on my face?
  • Should I be lightening, brightening, tightening, firming or anti-acne-ing? 
  • Do I need to use a serum? Pore shrinker? Wrinkle reducer? BB cream? 
  • How do I know if I should use one of those fancy facial brush-thingies? Doesn't a washcloth do the same thing? 
  • Once I pick a type of product, how do I decide on a brand? 

Friday, September 26, 2014

Update: Lavender field redux

Fall is here, and with it comes the freedom to dig in new plants, move plants, and tidy up the garden. Until now, I never realized how much fall and spring have in common. There are even plants that are can be grown in the fall as second-season crops.

On the top of my to-do list has been the lavender. I've been itching to continue working on it but the summer heat has kept me away. I knew that if I moved the lavender in July or August, it would just end up dying. With the glorious cool weather of fall (and my husband in Asia for work), I finally started digging.

It wasn't the most difficult gardening I've done (wait for my rant about lily of the valley!), but it is the biggest change I've made to the front of the house.



I carefully dug up each plant, placed them in my trusty wheelbarrow and moved them to the back yard. In the spring, I had planted young lavender plants to fill in the gaps. I thought that would be enough to make the walk look nice but it just didn't work. Too much of the walk was taken up by the plants, making it barely passable. Even my poor dog hated walking down it (apparently puppies are embarrassed if they smell like lavender).  However, those young lavender plants have had some time under their belts and have grown hardy enough to survive the winter (I hope!). So I just moved them so that they were evenly spaced out, giving the walk a neater look.

I didn't just throw away the old lavender. I managed to place a few of the plants in different spots in the back yard. Hopefully, they will get used to their new home and thrive. Some of them weren't worth saving, so I will harvest all the lavender off them and make something.

I was immediately gratified by my work because the mail man came up the walk. He told me how much he appreciated that I removed the overgrown shrubs. From his point of view, I can see how annoying it is to traipse through people's plants to get to their door. It made me feel less bad for ripping out the old lavender and appreciate the slow but eventual beauty that the front walk will have again.

Right now the front walk consists of irises, lavender and poppies. The poppies weren't as much of a success as I thought they would be. They took a while to bloom, and then the blossoms fell off in a day or two. I want to add more plants but I'm going to give it one more year until I've made up my mind.

Any suggestions of what to plant along with the lavender?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Confession: I don't know how to shave my legs

OK, I've had this sad, silly personal confession that I need help with. I am older than 30, and I cannot, for the life of me, shave my knees properly. 

Every time I shave my legs, I think, "OK, go slow. Try a few angles. That's it, just-OW. I NICKED MYSELF." Then when I'm in different lighting, I can see a bunch of remaining hairs, always sticking straight out.  

I asked my sister, who seemed like she should have this thing handled, too, and she said, "The key is the razor. Triple blade is your best bet."

Then I asked my mom, because shouldn't your mom teach you these things when you're, like, 12? Her suggestion: "Best technique: shave legs in shower, carry razor with you, sit in car in bright sunlight and shave knees."

I guess it's time to upgrade from the men's twin-blade razors I usually buy. And keep a razor in my car, like all good ladies? 

Friends, share your shame: What life skill secretly stymies you? 

Photo: 'Young Woman Modeling' from the Library of Congress collection here

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Ask an old married lady: How do you celebrate your anniversary?

This weekend, I celebrate six years of marriage. I wish I could scatter little pearls of wisdom about how to build a great relationship, how to get through difficult times, and what makes a perfect marriage. All I can tell you is, I approach marriage the same way I do close relationships in general. These principles have worked for us so far:
  1. Be kind. Apologize when you're not kind. Forgive other people for their occasional lapses in kindness. Remember to add "please" and "thank you" to requests for household favors. Pack snacks for the first day of work, or fill up the gas tank before swapping cars. Take the morning shift with the baby so your spouse can get an extra 30 minutes of sleep. And when you're the sleep-deprived spouse, try not to snap about silly things. Say sorry if you do. 
  2. Talk about what's on your mind. Listen when the other person needs to talk. When one person comes home in tears about health insurance, listen to her tangent. When another person rants about a terrible, rude customer, nod in commiseration. 
  3. Embrace and support each other's weirdness with joy. It makes life a whole lot more fun. By weirdness, I'm not talking about fetishes or vices. (But you  know, if that works for you, congratulations.) I mean the sci-fi-watching, zombie-card-creating weirdness of a husband, or the not-following-a-recipe cooking, buying-floral-blazers weirdness of a wife. The weirdness of being in the car and the other person saying, "I was just daydreaming about The Hulk being on this road, smashing cars, and how I'd calm him down."
So how do we celebrate six years? For us, it's a baby-free night of good food at a fancy restaurant, with a few cocktails and some quiet conversation about our lives. We exchanged a few small gifts (a book and a vintage honey pot, for example). (Seriously, a honey pot. For honey. Just a reminder, you're at "Old Married Ladies," not "High Fashion Divas" or "The Cool Kids Spot.")

But I wondered, how do other old married ladies celebrate their anniversaries? Here's what a few friends said: 

Married for 3 years 
We keep our anniversary pretty simple each year. The only special thing we do is buy a bottle of champagne from Domaine Carneros, which was the first winery we went to on our honeymoon to California. We've only done it two years running, but it is a nice way to remember the wonderful trip and our wedding.

Married for 5 years 
A nice dinner is our usual celebration. For our 5th, we splurged and went to Next! Awesome, indulgent, but I couldn't drink because I was preggo.

Married for 7 years
We have celebrated the last couple of years in the same way, with the things we love most (aside from our kids, of course): great food, wine/craft beer and running. We always go to a special, expensive restaurant that we wouldn't normally go to and get a nice bottle of wine or a couple good craft beers. Also, the local marathon corresponds with our anniversary weekend, and we always participate in that. Last year, my husband ran the marathon and I did the half marathon. We're registered to do the same this year.

Mrs. Sister 
Married for 9.5 years
We started a tradition of doing a major house project on our anniversary weekend each year. It may not sound romantic, but we get to spend time together and are spending money on projects we both get to enjoy instead of buying gifts.

Mrs. Nostalgia 
Married for 11 years
We’ve done everything from go to a movie to have a ridiculously opulent dinner. I like both, but a long, leisurely dinner is a true luxury for us these days. There’s nothing like feeling decadent with your other half.

"Feeling decadent with your other half?" I love that. Let's all plan a little decadence for our next anniversary. 

Top photo from the Library of Congress collection here, bottom photo from Mrs. Snacky's wedding day 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Through sickness and in socks

When my husband and I were writing our vows for our wedding, we chose to keep the more traditional part that said "through sickness and in health." I had no idea I would be testing that particular vow just a few months after we made it.

On a recent Friday night, I was admitted to the hospital for appendicitis and had surgery to have my appendix removed. My husband had plans to go out with co-workers that evening, and he had an upcoming international trip that Saturday. Needless to say, he dropped all of that to take me to the hospital and figure out what was wrong with me.

It made a world of difference to have him by my side as we met nurse after nurse, the attending doctor, and finally the surgeon. I know there are many benefits to getting married, but this was one I hadn't really foreseen. He was able to take care of me in both practical and legal ways that a boyfriend couldn't. He signed papers, talked to nurses, and through my drug-induced haziness was able to answer questions for me. He also kept me honest when taking medication and doing a doctor-recommended breathing exercise.

After I was admitted to the hospital and given medicine for the pain, I began knitting. I wasn't really able to do much else than knit (other than cry, because having surgery is a scary thought). In the end, it wasn't that bad. It felt like I had done a million sit ups, and my whole abdomen ached.

The project that my husband brought to the hospital was a pair of green socks (pictured below). I bought the yarn for them almost two years ago and was forcing myself to finish them before starting any other project. This is a very real struggle for every knitter. I realized that I didn't have to make any complicated pattern, just use the stocking knit stitch and get them done. They're plain, but I'm happy with the way they turned out.

My husband did end up leaving for his business trip to Asia, at my insistence, after my successful surgery. While I was recovering, I stayed with my in-laws. Pictured below are the first pair of socks I made, which were given to my father-in-law for Christmas. I think they are lovely, but you can tell a novice made them. One big problem: I didn't knit the toes tight enough and skin was showing through. So I redid them, aka paid for my stay in knitting!

The following week, I worked from home. In between conference calls and document reviews, I used up the rest of the yarn making these short socks. I gave them to my mother-in-law as a thank you for taking care of me, once again paying for my stay in knitting!

And finally, I used some of the left over yarn from the sweater I made earlier this year and knit a hat. It took me all of a morning and I was super pleased with it.

I'm all healed up now, with a clean bill of health from the surgeon. It means all the world to me that we were able to live up to the vow we made on our wedding day. And I'm not sad that I was able to get some just-finished knit goods out of the process too. :)

PS from Mrs. Snacky: My knitting is a little rusty, so I like to find free patterns on yarn sites such as Lion Brand and Red Heart to guide me on projects.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Lavender follow-up: Recipes

Hey, Mrs. Crafty,

Just in case you want to cook up a few things with your lavender bushes (before they get evicted), I've got some good recipes bookmarked. Here are my top four:

1. Fresh Lemon and Lavender Ice Cream from Emeril

2. Lavender Vanilla Sugar from Joy the Baker
PS - Joy the Baker is not married, but I feel like she'd be really, totally fine with an endorsement from a couple old married ladies. I adore her blog, and you should read it for decadent baking inspiration, cocktail recipes, or occasional cute kitty pics.

Suggested use: Roasted Pears with Blackberries, Ricotta and Lavender Sugar from Epicurious

3. Lavender Shortbread from Gale Gand

4. Lemon and Lavender Buttermilk Cake from The Cake Blog 

BONUS: Not a food, but this lavender sugar scrub looks pretty good!

Hope that helps use up your lavender stash!

Mrs. Snacky

Illustration: "Lavender" by artist Elizabeth Blackwell, via the New York Public Library digital gallery here

Lavender fields in my front yard

My husband was the first one to see and actually consider buying the house we have today. He took one look at all the woodwork inside and fell in love with it. There was a lot we came to love about the house, and my personal favorite was the lavender that lines our walkway.

When we were still looking at the house, we couldn't figure out what the bushes on the walkway were. At first we thought it was rosemary, but it didn't quite smell right when we snapped off a few pieces to sniff. Finally, the structural engineer we hired to evaluate the house nonchalantly commented that there was a lot of lavender. Aha! Lavender! My husband and I had never seen lavender so big and so woody. It couldn't be a more welcoming way to arrive at our front door. We loved it.

Lavender, like most plants, needs care. With all the hubbub of moving and settling into the house, I left the rows of bushes to their own devices for the first year. I dried some of the flowers and decorated inside with them but that was really it. My mother-in-law cut the bushes back so we could actually use the walk. And then I kept having curious encounters with the neighbors about how they could "help out" with the lavender if I needed. I began to realize that there was something amiss with how the lavender was growing.

Like any good home owner, I sat down to do some research. Here are the few things that I've learned.

1. I have Provence Lavender. This is a type of lavender that will survive the winter and can last up to 20 years if maintained properly. There are 39 types of flowering lavender, according to Wikipedia, so it is important to identify the types that will flourish in your climate.

2. My lavender is misshapen and woody. This comes from not being trimmed back every season. (It is at least 5 years old, so not my fault! Whew!) You have to prune it back for it to maintain a round, bushy shape (think fields of lavender in France). I found a short and excellent video on how to do it called A Guide to Lavender: Pruning Lavender.

3. If the lavender becomes woody, it's time to remove it. Lavender will grow into whatever shape it wants. So right now, my lavender is overgrowing my walkway, making it look wild. And one of the places I am most concerned with the garden looking good is in the front of the house. So it looks like I'm going to have to replace all the lavender!

4. It is drought tolerant and best for full-sun areas with good drainage.

5. Lavender is really good for bees. So before pulling it out to be replaced, I'm going to let the bees have at it for the summer.

For now, my goal is to turn the lavender into cute, fragrant mounds. After a few years, I'd like to start harvesting it and making things like essential oils or lavender ice cream.

If you have experience with lavender, please post a comment or story. Feel free to ask questions.

And don't forget to stop and smell the lavender if you visit me!

Friday, August 15, 2014

Burp-ready baby bibs

Ever since I started sewing, bibs have been high on my list of things to make. They are small, simple, and don't have to be perfect. A baby is going to spit up on them after all, so who's going to notice some wonky stitching through the stains, right?

I resisted, however, because as soon as you start making baby things, everyone expects you to be pregnant. I'm not saying I'm above suspecting that of others, but I didn't want to field any questions, so I just didn't make them. I finally broke down when I got my millionth baby announcement in the mail. It was time.

I found an awesome blog that provided a template for DIY bibs called Alice and Lois. And as with anything I craft, I skimmed the directions and just got sewing!

In true Mrs. Crafty style, the only thing I had to buy were the snaps. I'm too practical to buy expensive fabric or ultra soft lining for the back. Instead, I used my husband's old white t-shirts. They were broken in, soft, and there were a ton of them. He was tossing them at the trash can in our bedroom when I dodged in front of him to intercede and salvage the fabric. They were perfect!

I also opened up my scrap fabric drawer and had plenty to work with. If you're just getting started with sewing, then you might have to buy fabric. However, if you have done a couple of fabric projects in the past, chances are you can whip together a couple of these bibs without ever leaving the house.

The best part of using scrap fabric is that each bib tells a story. The hexagonal patterned bib is from a dress I made when my husband and I first started living together. The hexagon pattern reminded me of the board games we liked to play, so I bought it.The blue and red bib comes from fabric that I bought while I lived in Japan.

I can't wait to be reminded of all those memories as I'm feeding my future offspring! Visit the link above for directions, but again, the message here is just try it! 




Thursday, August 7, 2014

Supper time: Kale salad with lemon-maple dressing

Earlier in the summer, my family passed through a small town in New York where we stopped for lunch at a local restaurant. I ordered a super-healthy (and tasty) kale salad with lemon-maple dressing.

The salad was a nice break from the fast-food road trip meals I usually end up eating, and the dressing was bright and refreshing. When the owner stopped by our table to check on us, she confessed the dressing recipe was only two ingredients: fresh lemon juice and real maple syrup, in equal parts.

Since that lunch detour, I've made this dressing a handful of times, and every time I'm amazed it isn't world famous for its simplicity and adaptability. It's perfect on kale that's been lightly massaged with oil, then topped with avocado, almonds, strawberries and tomatoes (as pictured above), but it's also great on spinach salad. I think it'd pair well with shredded cabbage, grated carrots, raisins and pecans. Crumbled goat cheese would be a good addition to any of these, too.

So to reiterate:

For the dressing:

  • 1 part lemon juice 
  • 1 part maple syrup

Directions and tips: 

  • Combine lemon juice and maple syrup. Shake in a small container or stir in a bowl with a whisk. 
  • For two servings of kale salad (with roughly 1 cup of fresh, chopped kale per person),  I typically juice one lemon, see how much juice I've got, then add an equal amount of maple syrup.
  • Dress your salad with as much as you like. (It's a personal preference, so I'd hate to over-dress you. Or under-dress you. Or undress you. Like I said, it's personal.) I use roughly a tablespoon for myself on a small salad.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Baby talk: More food for thought about breastfeeding

Before World Breastfeeding Week comes to a close, here's some additional food for thought:

  1. Have you ever tried to make your kids eat under a blanket? Relatedly, "Why can't you just nurse with a cover?"
  2. Design Mom's latest "Growing a Family" post was about breastfeeding and one mom's decision to switch to formula after two frustrating months. (I love this series, BTW.)
  3. Celebrity breastfeeding roundup: 
    1. Gorgeous woman breastfeeds; all other moms be like, "STAHP. I'm wearing stained yoga pants." (But kudos on the breastfeeding!)
    2. Blossom, aka Mayim Bialik, is a certified lactation consultant
    3. Not ironic: Alanis supports breastfeeding and is adorable. 
In case you want actual, helpful information on breastfeeding, we recommend visiting La Leche League or A friend also suggested the book Breastfeeding Made Simple when I was pregnant, in case you want to dive into the topic in print. 

Photo: "The cornstock madonna" by Orin Crooker from the Library of Congress collection here

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Carefree quilting

Let me tell you about my craft philosophy. 

I come from the school of Cut Thrice, Measure Never (according to my husband). I want to have a good time making stuff, and I don't want to stress out about it not being perfect. 

When I started trying to quilt, sometimes it was successful and other times it was... not so much. Despite corners not meeting up and stitches going a little wonky, I still ended up with a quilt that I can use (or rather, a child can use). I imagine in time I will learn enough about it to make it look more professional, but for now I just love making

For this quilt, Strips and Whales, I was inspired by a book that Mrs. Snacky gave me called Fresh Quilting. The philosophy in this book was something that called to me: Don't worry, just get quilting. It showed that quilts made with different sizes and shapes could be attractive.

I took some whale fabric (left over from another craft project) and cut it into strips. I did the same for some blue, green, and yellow fabric I had laying around. (Notice a theme with my fabric selection?) 

I decided to make them all the same length but differing widths. Once they were all cut up, I sewed them together, then placed the batting and a large piece of fabric on the back and sewed them together. With the machine, they came out a little puckered, but I went with it and made the lines a little wonky and used the zig-zag stitch for some.


For the back: I used an old bed sheet. I never throw out fabric! I also made the batting and back fabric smaller than the front quilting. Then when I went to finish, I hemmed around it with the quilted front piece. As you can see, the back came out puckered, too, but I kind of like the way it looks. 

It's not a perfect quilt, but it's certainly something I can see my future infant doing tummy time on! And who cares if she/he spits up on, drools on it, etc. It was made from scrap fabric and an old bed sheet. :)

Pinks and Yellows is my first quilt. I was inspired by simplicity of a quilt design in Martha Stewart's Encyclopedia of Sewing and Fabric Crafts. For this quilt, I went to City Quilter in NYC. If you haven't visited, please go. I bought a bundle of fat quarters because choosing the fabric was overwhelming. There was too much great stuff!

I cut the fat quarters into squares using a plastic quilting square, sewed them to batting, then hemmed the fabric all the way around. It was all pretty simple. Some of corners don't match up, especially towards the end, on the bottom right-hand corner.

 For the back, I once again used an old bed sheet.

 Here is a shot of the corners, not perfect but close enough.

 Finally, I had to attach the front, batting and back together, so I started hand-stitching it with embroidery thread and a hoop. Needless to say, I haven't finished yet. I'm just waiting for that rainy day where all my other projects have been finished!

I encourage you to get quilting, too. Use scrap fabric, old dress shirts (which won't stretch like t-shirts), sheets, and see what you come up with. You may not end up with a perfect quilt, but you will learn a lot and hopefully enjoy doing it. :) That's the point really, to just enjoy making stuff!