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!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Baby talk: Hooray for breastfeeding!

Oh, hey! The first week of August is world breastfeeding week, and one of us old married ladies will participate this year. While we know that breastfeeding is a personal (and sometimes medical) decision, we think it's important to help educate everyone about the benefits of this natural human process.

Did you know... 
  • Breastfeeding reduces the risk of ear infections, diarrhea and stomach problems for kids.
  • The metabolic energy needed to breastfeed a baby each day is the amount you’d use to walk seven miles.
  • Adolescents and adults who were breastfed as babies are less likely to be overweight or obese. They are less likely to have type-2 diabetes and perform better in intelligence tests.
  • Breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer in moms.
  • Almost three-quarters of moms produce more milk with their right breast (and it has nothing to do with being right-handed).
  • U.S. breastfeeding rates were lowest in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when only 20 to 25 percent of mothers breastfed.
  • In 2011, 74.6 percent of U.S. babies were breastfed (ever).

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

Facts came from the Office on Women's Health, the World Health Organization and The Bump