A Lovely Homemade Life

A Lovely Homemade Life: November 2014

Sunday, November 30

Our Holiday Traditions...2014 Edition


The holidays are such a wonderful, magical time, aren't they?  Spending time with family, congregating in the kitchen to prepare and eat all of the tradtional foods, lazy days in pajamas and a sense of renewal and rejuvenation.

They can also be really stressful when everyone lives in different places and you're having to coordinate travel dates and long trips with small children.

This year, we're planning a bit of a compromise as far as Christmas is concerned.  We want to be with Michael's family for their big Christmas Eve celebration, which is about 10 hours away by car.  Of course that means we get to spend Christmas Day with them also.  To be honest, I was feeling a little sideways about being away from home for Christmas, so I started wracking my brain for solutions to how we could still celebrate with just the four of us, but also spend the time we wanted with his family and my parents and my extended family.

So the solution we devised was to celebrate Winter Solstice as a family.  Solstice almost always falls on December 21st, which seems far enough away from Christmas to cause the smallest conflict with other plans.  It's very important to me that we establish "our traditions" now while our children are young.  I love the idea of Solstice--of the celebration of the shortest day of the year and the assurance that the days will gradually lengthen and spring will return again.  A time of renewal and gratitude for all the blessings of the previous year and a time to start planning where we want to head in the coming year.

This isn't a mainstream holiday by any means, but I wanted to be sure Luca would understand the significance of this day we're choosing to mark in celebration.  I found a fantastic book called The Shortest Day that explains the meaning behind the day and its historical significance.  (Just typing that sentence, it's probably clear that it's a bit above his level, but he's very happy to listen to the story and as the years go by I'm sure he'll have a better understanding)


So here are some of the traditions and plans we have for this year:
 
-We prepared a box of brand new books for the kiddos to read at bedtime each night between Thanksgiving and Solstice.

-Michael and I made up a Lego Countdown Calendar for Luca that is tailored to end the day before Solstice.  By the way...this is a BIG hit already!  I'm looking forward to figuring out a countdown calendar for Isla that will be just as fun for her next year!

 
-Grandma sent an Elf on the Shelf this year, that Luca promptly named Steve, so he'll be keeping an eye out and reporting to Santa, who already knows we'll be at Grandma and Grandpa's for the big day.

-As part of our Solstice celebrations, we will be setting up a real tree outside adorned with popcorn and cranberry garlands and pinecone/peanut butter/bird seed ornaments the weekend before Solstice.  I plan to make cheese and chocolate fondues for dinner that evening (one of my sister-in-law's Solstice traditions).

-My parents (Gita and Pacha to the kids) have graciously offered to get together on the 19th and 20th for our celebration with them, so we'll spend the night at their house and open our gifts with them first to kick things off in style!

-Solstice Eve we'll gather around our new kitchen table (post coming soon!) to enjoy a simple dinner together by candle light and talk about our hopes and aspirations for the coming year.  Luca and I are making our own special beeswax candles for this.

-The kiddos will get a new pair of pajamas that night to wear to bed, along with a Weasley sweater for the morning (if I can knit Isla's fast enough!).

-We still set up a Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving (complete with the 'traditional' Star Trek and Star Wars ornaments and a Weeping Angel Tree Topper for you Dr. Who fans) and we'll gather around it Solstice morning to unwrap our gifts before opening stockings later in the afternoon (I'd like to switch to more traditional stocking stuffers in the future, but for this year there will be some chocolate and socks and small toys)

-We'll spend the rest of the day in our jammies playing with our new toys, and the next day we'll pack up the car for our road trip (this will be Isla's first!)

-We'll depart early in the morning on the 23rd and arrive at Grandma and Grandpa's by evening.

-Christmas Eve will be spent with Michael's side of the family and all the cousins.  I'm sure there will be lots of great food and plenty of Christmas cookies and gifts.

-Christmas Day we'll get up and open presents with Grandma, Grandpa and Great Grandma (where I'm sure the kiddos will be duly spoiled ;).

-And the following day is Isla's First Birthday, so if we're not all stuffed to the brim still, we'll have to eat some cake :)

-And to wrap it all up, we'll meet up with my extended family a few hours away the following day for some wonderful family time.  There are lots of babies that haven't even met each other yet, so it should be a lot of fun!

-Then it's back home to unwind for a busy holiday season.

Whew...I'm tired just looking at that list...but I'm excited that we're building some unique holiday traditions and I look forward to seeing how they will evolve as the years go by.

Wishing you and yours the very best this holiday season!








Friday, November 28

DIY Lego Countdown Calendar


Several weeks ago Michael and I went to the Lego store to get some gift ideas for Luca.  When I saw that they had Advent Calendars out already, I was really excited and ready to buy one, until I started inspecting them a bit closer.  Even though it provides one small Lego build per day, it just didn't seem that exciting to me.

We are a family that has what I like to call "legacy Legos".  Michael's parents have multiple large tubs of Legos they saved all these years and they have already given us some for Luca.  Not to mention all the new Legos this child has received.  Many people in our area have turned their dining rooms into home school rooms, but not us...ours is now a Lego Room.  You may think I'm exaggerating...but I have photographic evidence ;)  But they are totally his favorite thing and I knew he would think it was a really exciting way to count down to Solstice.  (We're doing our immediate family celebration for Solstice this year...I'll have to explain more about that in a future post)

So I made my own countdown :)

Using our nearly unlimited supply of "legacy Legos" Michael and I spent an entire evening putting together mini-builds for each day from December 1 to December 20.  We had entirely too much fun with this part and it was enjoyable to just be creative.  Here are some of our "vignettes" as I like to call them:


So once we had them together it was time to get crafty.  Some are pretty self explanatory and could be put together from a single picture, but others are more involved.  So I worked backwards, photographing along the way as I took the more complicated ones apart and then had the pictures sent off for printing.  The ghost treasure scene was fairly straightforward:



The missile test launch site was a bit more complicated:


Once I had the pictures back, I cut them to 4"x4" squares and assembled the "instruction booklets" for the more involved vignettes.

Each collection of pieces went into a 4"x4"x2" craft box (that I ordered from this Etsy shop) with its instructions and we decided on the order.  Some are smaller and not terribly exciting, so we put those first ;)



I wanted to be able to display this Countdown Calendar in our home, so I had this really neat idea to stack the boxes, with #20 at the top and #1 at the bottom.  I thought I'd use this baker's twine to tie each box with a bow, starting at the top, positioning the bow under the box.  The next one down would have its twine looped through the one above it to create a hanging garland.  Each day Luca would be able to untie the lowest bow to get the box for that day.

That didn't really work though...the boxes wouldn't stay lined up and I was pretty sure the first time he went to take a box off the whole thing would come apart...not to mention there isn't a place we could display it that would be out of reach of our 11 month old who is already walking and getting into everything.

So I compromised and tied the boxes with their numbers using the baker's twine, and arranged them in a basket.  In future years I'm going to have to figure out this hanging garland idea, because I'm pretty sure this is going to become a tradition.




I'm really looking forward to December 1 to show him our fun count down and to help him learn to exercise more patience ;)
 
This is our first year doing a Countdown Calendar--what types of count downs do you do for the holidays? 



Thursday, November 27

Many Blessings


Happy Thanksgiving from The Santopietros!  May your day be full of blessings!


Wednesday, November 26

Yarn Along--Christmas Sea Beanies


It's been fast and furious Christmas knitting around here the past few weeks.  On top of that I have a couple of orders for custom knit Baby Bluejays and I'm working on finishing a new pattern design that I'm releasing in a couple of weeks!  Be sure to stop back to check it out on December 10--it will be a fantastic last minute Christmas knit for anyone on your knitworthy list (baby to adult!)

I can share some pics of the Sea Beanies by Elena Nodel that I knit for the kiddos for Christmas.  It was a quick and easy knit, although I did end up having to do the Bing Cherry one twice, as I started with the toddler size and it came out quite small.  Going up a pattern size to Child for my 11 month old and Adult for my 4 year old came out just right.

My reluctant model...
Have you ever heard the rhyme "Something you want, something you need, something to wear, something to read" as it pertains to Christmas gift giving?  I think it's a brilliant strategy that I hope to be able to adhere to in the future ;)  I always go into this season with the best intentions of keeping it simple, and I have gotten better over the years, but there's still more room for improvement.

In a nutshell, we've chosen a couple of Lego sets for Luca and a vintage Little Tikes dollhouse with lots of accessories for Isla as their main gifts.  It's also our tradition to give new pajamas to wear to bed the night before as well as a special knitted gift from me (Luca has worn a Weasley Sweater each year, and if I'm lucky, I'll get Isla's done in time)  These Sea Beanies and my soon-to-be-released pattern will round out their knitted presents nicely.  And the final cherry on top is a box full of new (to us) books that we'll give them the night we put up our tree to read at bedtime leading up to Solstice and Christmas.

There are a lot of gems in there, so as I haven't been taking much time to read adult books as of late, I'll probably be sharing one with you each week until the new year :)  One of our new treasures is Basket Moon.  It's a very touching coming-of-age story with beautiful illustrations.  I just love the message of standing strong in your heritage even though society might not value your traditions.  It's fantastic (and apparently out of print--though there are lots of used options through Amazon)

Finally, I just wanted to remind everyone that the promotion on my patterns is still running through November 30.  You can pick up any or all of the patterns in my Ravelry Store for 25% off with coupon code THANKFUL.  And all ready-to-ship purchases over $25 in my Etsy shop are eligible for a 15% discount with coupon code BIRDSONG.  I hope you'll stop by and check out my offerings!

Linking up with Ginny--Happy Thanksgiving all!

Monday, November 24

Thanksgiving Recipe Round-up

Happy Thanksgiving Week!

Are you traveling for the holidays?  We're just going across the metroplex to my parent's house this year for Thanksgiving dinner, but I wanted to give my picky eater a chance to try some traditional dishes ahead of time (so we could deal with all the whining ahead of time) in hopes that he would choose to eat nicely and without complaint on Thanksgiving Day.  (I'll have to let you know how that goes...)

So I planned a short version of the traditional Thanksgiving Feast for Saturday and wanted to share linkies for the fantastic recipes I used in case you're looking for something different.  I hope you enjoy and have a wonderful week with family and friends.

MENU

-Chicken (we had to include a 'win' food for Luca--and I took a short cut and picked a rotisserie bird up at the supermarket)

-Sweet Potato Casserole--marshmallows AND pecan streusel?  How can he say no to that?  I put it under the broiler for a few minutes to crisp up the marshmallows, which made it fantastically crunchy!  The streusel was sprinkled around the edge.


-Green Bean Casserole--I concocted my own recipe, because I wanted mushrooms in with the green beans and only had canned beans on hand to use (also Luca can't eat the soy sauce that many traditional recipe call for...not that he managed to actually eat any...). I also didn't need to make enough for an army, so this feeds 3-4 adults, but feel free to multiply!

Ingredients:
-1 can green beans
-1 small can sliced mushrooms
-1 can cream of mushroom soup
-3/4 c french fried onions + more for topping

Combine ingredients in a casserole dish.  Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes.  Top with more fried onions and bake 5-10 minutes more until crispy.  This was fantastic!  Just the way I like it :)


-Pecan Pie without Corn Syrup--I've offered to bring this for Thanksgiving, but I usually cook my best the 2nd time through a recipe so I needed to give it a trial run ;)  And who doesn't like eating pecan pie?  The crust on this is A. MAZING. So crumbly and savory with just the right hint of sweet.  I was able to get the coconut flour and almond flour in bulk at Winco, and the maple syrup came in bulk from Whole Foods. 


-Homemade Brioche Dinner Rolls served with homemade butter and Ginger Plum Preserves (that I canned late summer)--using the Brioche bread recipe in Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day that I shaped into small rolls and placed in a greased 9x13 glass pan.  Homemade butter is completely superfluous on brioche...but the tart jam was just the right foil for the buttery rolls


Luca did try some of the roll and a few bites of chicken.  He ate one small bite of sweet potato casserole but said he didn't like it and we had a complete meltdown over the green bean casserole...so the jury is still out on how Thanksgiving dinner is going to go.  Watch out Gita and Pacha...we tried ;)

Friday, November 21

Thankful

Baby Bluejay
Baby Wren
Sister Wren


To finish out the week of promotions and giveaways, I wanted to offer one final coupon code for my original designs!

From now until the end of November, you can purchase any one or all of my patterns from the Ravelry Store for 25% off* using coupon code THANKFUL.  If you're new to buying patterns, just add the patterns you would like to your cart (you don't have to be a member of Ravelry), then to the left of the big green BUY NOW or CHECKOUT NOW button is a link to 'use a coupon code'.  Click that text and enter THANKFUL there to receive the discount.

I am thankful that my designs have been well received and I appreciate your support!

*this offer is only valid in the Ravelry store and will not work for patterns listed in my Etsy shop

Thursday, November 20

Creative Corner--Fossil Dig


I'm posting this week's Creative Corner a day early...more deals and coupon codes coming tomorrow!

I found this dinosaur fossil kit for Luca and thought it might be something he would enjoy.  (Btw, usually when a toy says 'ages 8-15' I don't worry too much about that--he regularly does the 8-14 year old Lego sets by himself without issue, so it didn't even register that this might be beyond his abilities...let's just say I'm glad Michael was home to help)

Included in the kit were the tools--a mallet, chisel and paint brush, safety goggles, and of course, 'the specimen'.  I was expecting the fossil to be encased in something more like plaster, that would crumble fairly easily, but this was definitely more like concrete and was quite difficult to get into with the tools provided.  He and Michael ended up using a (small) real hammer and chisel instead, as everyone was getting frustrated.

Once we worked out the kinks with the excavation, Luca had an awesome time getting the first glimpse of a new bone, then speculating about what part it might be as it was unearthed.

I think this activity would be even more fun if you made one up yourself and included some small plastic dinosaurs or even gems in a much less sturdy medium, like plaster of paris.  It was only a little messy and it kept him busy for hours, so I would give this project a 3 out of 5 stars.  I am encouraged to make up my own 'dig site' for him in the future though because he really enjoyed the overall idea of this, just not the execution (at his age, at least).

Be sure to check back again next week--I'll be sharing a fun DIY project to do with the kiddos for the holidays :)

Wednesday, November 19

Yarn Along--Baby Bluejay Coupon Code!


It feels like all I've been knitting lately are samples for my newest pattern Baby Bluejay.  But with the help of my marvelous test knitters, it's finally ready for release and it's all been worth it!

I released the pattern yesterday, and it's not too late to pick up a copy for FREE during the introductory promotion!  From now until 11:59pm Thusday, November 20th, you can get your very own copy for free from my Ravelry Store using the coupon code LOVELYNOVEMBER at checkout!

Baby Bluejay is a charming hooded vest for babies and fits sizes newborn to 24 months in 4 sizes.  It calls for any worsted weight yarn (220 yards for the smallest size up to about 440 yards) and size 9 needles.  I provide many suggestions for ways to customize the design, with instructions for using multiple colors, lengthening to tunic-style if desired, single button closure or button band and hoods with or without a pompom.  I have also created a video tutorial to help with the finishing technique if you find yourself needing some assistance.

This sweater would make a fantastic holiday gift for a little someone in your life!  I hope you'll pick up a copy!

(I'm also offering 15% off purchases of $25 or more from my Etsy shop until November 30th with coupon code BIRDSONG in honor of my new line of Birdsong Totes which make great knitting bags!)

Linking up with Ginny today for Yarn Along.


Monday, November 17

Introducing Baby Bluejay and a Coupon Code



Today's big news is the launch of my newest design, Baby Bluejay--a charming hooded vest for little boys and girls with great texture and lots of special design features. You can read more about the specific techniques used on the pattern page.  You can also access a video tutorial to help with the finishing technique here.


This pattern comes in four sizes to fit newborn through 24 months and can be knit in any worsted weight yarn.  The sizes and yardages are estimated as follows (when knit to a gauge of 16 stitches and 23 rows = 4” in reverse stockinette with a single color)

0-6 month size (18”)--220 yards
6-12 month size (20”)--275 yards
12-18 month size (22”)--350 yards
18-24 month size (24”)--440 yards


There are many suggestions included for how to customize your sweater with variations for length, multiple colors and button arrangements, as well as instructions to omit the pompom detail if you so choose.  Baby Bluejay is a versatile hooded vest and will keep your favorite littles warm and cozy all winter!

Beginning TODAY, Nov 18th at 12am CST (which is 6am GMT for our international friends) until 11:59pm on Thursday the 20th, you can download your very own copy of Baby Bluejay for FREE from my Ravelry Store using coupon code LOVELYNOVEMBER.  I hope you'll pick up a copy and knit your own Baby Bluejay for a special little someone!  They make fantastic gifts!

Baby Bluejay Tutorial



Hello!  Welcome to my blog, A Lovely Homemade Life.  My pattern, Baby Bluejay is a really fun knit, but the finishing instructions could be a bit tricky.  I have done my best to accurately describe the most seamless way to finish the turned hem applied edging, but if the description and photo are giving you trouble, please take a couple of minutes to watch this video!  I hope this will make everything clear and easy!


Thanks for visiting--enjoy!

New Product Spotlight--Birdsong Totes


Today I wanted to take a few minutes to share with you a new product line that I've added to my Etsy shop.  I'm calling it the Birdsong Tote and these versatile bags are as useful as they are beautiful!

I made my first tote about five years ago before Luca was born.  It was a great size to tote around all of our baby needs and I continued to use it as a knitting project bag long after he had outgrown needing a diaper bag.  Last year I made another one to prepare for Isla's arrival with some more stylish fabrics and slightly more pleasing dimensions.  The new and improved Birdsong Tote is slimmer than the original version and includes a fabric covered insert that gives the bag more structure and support.

It makes a perfect neutral diaper bag (because isn't it nice to carry a bag that you find stylish?) and is also fantastic for knitting projects or just as an everyday tote.  It is fully lined and has triple pockets across the front for easy organization.

Each bag has a neutral toned, high quality canvas outer with a pop of fun cotton fabric inside.  It's the perfect balance between sophisticated and whimsical.  You can have a simple bag that will coordinate with anything without skimping on fun details with the peek of the lining inside.

Each bag is one of a kind--so snap one up before your favorite print is gone!  You can see the choices here.  I would like to especially thank my dear friend and fantastic photographer Chrissy and her lovely daughter (and our favorite babysitter!) Abbie for doing the pictures for me!

I'll be running a couple of different promotions this week (check back tomorrow for a brand new pattern release with coupon code!).  So to kick it off and celebrate the launch of the Birdsong Totes, I'm offering 15% off purchases of $25 or more* from my Etsy shop with the coupon code BIRDSONG from now until November 30.

Enjoy!

*good for completed items that are ready to ship--excludes commissioned or made-to-order items




Friday, November 14

Creative Corner--Precious Gems


Luca is an incredibly active, intelligent and inquisitive 4 year old.  I don't know about you, but I find that it takes a lot of energy to keep him entertained in positive ways.  I would love to start a weekly link-up of ideas for other families to share fun activities that they are doing at home!  Wouldn't it be great to get a bunch of fun ideas all in one place every week?


Each Friday for the rest of this year, I'll be sharing a small activity that I've planned for our family, and then after the first of the year, I'd like to invite you to share your family-friendly activity ideas in the weekly link-up (it's super easy, and powered by In Linkz--more details as the time approaches). 

For my premiere Creative Corner post, I want to share a very simple activity that has kept Luca busy on many occasions.  I ordered 2 lbs of Brazilian Tumbled Polished Natural Stones on Amazon a couple of months ago that I thought we could use for a variety of projects.  Before we glued them all somewhere or otherwise started using them up, I wanted Luca to have a chance to work on his sorting skills.

I pulled out a couple of divided trays and explained what to do, then let him go to town.  He had a great time examining each stone and deciding which pile to add it to, according to its attributes.  When he was done sorting, we counted them up and made a bar graph, while talking about the different varieties we had received in our assorted bag.

He had a great time doing this activity the first time around, and has enjoyed it several more times.  If you have a great rock bed as part of your landscaping or live near an area brimming with interesting stones, you could do this project for free of course!


I hope you'll consider participating in my Creative Corner link-up in the coming weeks!  It's going to be fun!

Wednesday, November 12

Yarn Along--Brioche!



I was so excited (and also a little intimidated) to see that the Westknits MKAL had a two color brioche knitting section this week!  I've never done any brioche knitting before, but after the very helpful video and a little practice swatch, it was a breeze!  One more tool in my toolkit :)  Maybe it's time to try this hat I've had in my favorites forever--the Brioche Hood Hat.  So cute!

If you've never tried brioche, I highly recommend it!  It's very squishy and spongy and in tosh merino light it's completely heavenly.

I'm a bit stalled out on Outlander.  I got to what seems like the pivotal part of the book, but haven't taken much time to read this past week.  Between getting the week's clue done, Christmas gift making, and trying desperately to complete my Once Upon A Time sampler for Isla in time for her birthday, I've been pretty tired when I finally head towards bed.  Maybe this week though :)

(I apologize if I ruined the mystery for anyone last week...I didn't even think twice about posting spoiler pics on my blog.  I've tried to maintain a little more mystery with my lead photo this week)

Linking up with Ginny this week.

Monday, November 10

Dark Chocolate Mousse


 Today I wanted to share my recipe for one of my absolute favorite desserts!  Our family really loves dark chocolate, and this definitely hits the spot when we get a craving.  It's super simple to whip up and can be customized to your tastes!

Ingredients (for 2-3 portions):
--1/2 c heavy whipping cream
--3 T cocoa powder (we use Dutch processed)
--2 T sugar (we use pure cane sugar)
--scant 1 T instant coffee powder
--pinch of salt


Instructions:

Measure all ingredients into a mixing bowl.  Whisk together until mixture becomes thick and everything is evenly incorporated.  Spoon or pipe into bowls.  Add any toppings you would like.  We love topping with fruit (clementines, raspberries, diced strawberries especially) but you could add any "finishing touches" (as Luca likes to call them) that you like.  Enjoy! 


(Don't you just love these beautiful pink antique dessert bowls from my grandmother!  
They're my favorite!)
 




Are you salivating yet?  The higher ratio of cocoa powder to sugar gives it the dark chocolate taste, but feel free to use just 2 T of cocoa powder if you prefer a less dark flavor.  And adding salt may seem strange for a dessert, but it really brings out the sweet flavors.  You won't really taste the coffee--it just accents the chocolate and gives it a richer flavor.  Seriously...try it.  It's the best.  :)