A Lovely Homemade Life

A Lovely Homemade Life: February 2015

Wednesday, February 25

Yarn Along--FYA2

~ Two of my favorite things are knitting and reading (though not at the same time!), and the evidence of this often shows up in my photographs. I love seeing what other people are knitting and reading as well. So, what are you knitting or crocheting right now? What are you reading?  ~Ginny of Small Things

I'm totally stalled on my Follow Your Arrow 2 shawl.  I got stuck on Clue 3 and couldn't decide whether I wanted stranded arrows or smocking stitch and I have yet to figure it out :(

Everyone's shawls on the spoiler thread in Ysolda's Rav group are lovely, but I still can't decide.  I'm not sure why it matters so much to me...either option is fine.  I just can't commit.

In other news, we've been snuggled up at home for the last two days because of the ice, and now a beautiful blanket of snow is coming down.  We rarely see snow here in TX and it looks rather magical.  Luca's pretty excited...

Linking up with Ginny for Yarn Along.  What are you working on?

Monday, February 23

New Camera!

I've been wanting a new camera for a long time.  I wasn't sure that we'd ever choose to purchase a DSLR due to the price, but I've been especially unhappy with my pictures for a while now and I really love seeing other people's pictures taken with 'nice' cameras.

So....we bit the bullet and bought a Canon T5i bundle on Amazon when our tax refund arrived!  We went back and forth between the T5i and the SL1...and I was waffling about the choice right up until we completed the order...but once it was done it felt like we'd made the right choice.

Unfortunately, it doesn't ship Prime, so we're in for a bit of a wait for it to arrive.  I can feel the anticipation building already.  I have never used a DSLR before so I'm excited to learn and play with the settings.

We ended up choosing a bundle deal (you can see it in the link below) that includes the camera, an 18-55mm lens and a 75-300mm lens.  I figured if we didn't get the second lens in our original 'kit' we'd probably never buy it separately, so we went for it.

So...bear with me as I figure out this camera.  I have to believe it can't be any worse than what I've been subjecting you to already.  As a dear friend recently pointed out, I'm not a 'true beginner' as I've been taking (awful) pictures for years.  So that's something at least ;)

And another sweet friend offered to loan me a photography tutorial book.  There may be hope for me yet!

Friday, February 20

Week in Review--A Boy and His Tree

Spring is definitely not here yet...but that's not deterring us from venturing outside a little more each day.  We finally found a pair of shoes that Isla will keep on her feet, and she's become much more adventurous in the backyard with her new footwear.  And Luca is so fearless!  There's never a dull moment around here.

Year 2 with our tree--a Red Oak I think?  I'd have to check with Michael to be sure.

Growing like weeds they are...the boy and his tree...Now that I look at the side by side, it doesn't seem that either of them have grown at all...but I think that's a trick of the eye somehow...we'll have to try again when it leafs out.

(As a side note, I am really enjoying all the hard work Michael put in last year to pressure wash and stain our fence.  It's so much nicer now!)

Have a wonderful weekend Friends!  This is what I'll be up to...

Wednesday, February 18

Yarn Along--Sample Heap!

~ Two of my favorite things are knitting and reading (though not at the same time!), and the evidence of this often shows up in my photographs. I love seeing what other people are knitting and reading as well. So, what are you knitting or crocheting right now? What are you reading?  ~Ginny of Small Things

What you're looking at here is a heap of work!  I've got about 7 designs in various stages of completion and this is just a selection.  It's nice to have more than one thing going at a time, so if there's some detail I need to ruminate on before I can proceed I have a backup project on the needles to toil away after...but I'm admitting that 7 might be too much.

As for reading, I've been making more of an effort to get back to the gym in the mornings, so I'm back to Outlander.  It's a very enjoyable read, although I feel like I'm a bit behind the times as everyone else has read it already.  Oh well...  And I see as I am linking this book back to Amazon that the TV series is going to be out on DVD in a few weeks...I may just have to pick one of those up :)

Linking up with Ginny for Yarn Along this week!

Monday, February 16

The Great Bedroom Makeover Part 2--Bedside Tables and Decor

I introduced my big project for the year a couple of weeks ago in this post.  In a nutshell, I'm updating both of the kiddo's bedrooms and my deadline is whenever Isla starts crawling out of her crib.

I'm starting early, so I can work a little bit at a time on these projects and enjoy the process, rather than feeling under the gun to get them finished right away.

This week, I'll share the bedside tables that I have completed for each of their rooms.  I'm moving pieces in as I finish them to free up some garage space so it's going to look like a hodgepodge right up until the last minute.  :)

For Isla's room, I found an octagonal side table at a Sale Barn for $0!  (I bought a few other items, and the seller threw it in for free).  It's not solid wood, and it started off in pretty bad shape, but I liked the shape of it and the feet, so I thought I might be able to transform it into a workable piece.

Of course I forgot to take a picture of it in all its miserableness, but here it is cleaned up with wooden appliques affixed with wood glue and clamped for several hours.

Mostly painted here.  I used Folk Art Chalk Paint in Sheepskin that I picked up at JoAnn with a 40% off coupon.  It was an 8oz bottle and I used the entire thing.  At 40% off $7.99 that wasn't too bad, but I'm planning to paint 4 more pieces, so I've taken the remainder of the bottle to Lowe's and had it color-matched for an entire gallon of Valspar flat paint that I'll turn into Chalk Paint with plaster of Paris.  (The link for the paint will take you to the same product in a larger size sold through Amazon...full disclosure since I'm an affiliate :)

After I gave the entire thing two coats, it was time to antique it.  Ha!  Not that I did this or anything, but if you're antiquing over chalk paint, please wax it first.  So after a quick repaint of one panel and a wax of the entire piece with Minwax Clear Finishing Wax, I was ready to try antiquing for real.

The Folk Art "wax" I picked up wasn't like wax at all...it was very thin and more like a glaze.  Rather than ordering another product, as I was ready to see the finished piece, I used a small craft paint brush and 'highlighted' the areas I wanted to accentuate with the antiquing medium.  Once I finished one panel, I went back with my blue shop towels (better than t-shirt rags as there is less fuzz) and wiped away almost all of the antiquing product.

The result is very subtle, but it really brings out the details of the applique pieces and gives it a lot more character.  I am not a fan of distressing furniture (I just spent hours painting it...now you want me to unevenly sand it off?  What???  No thank you...), so I think this antiquing process was a happy medium for me.

I finished the side table off with a silvered tray from Target, a small globe vase with a pink burlap peony flower and tissue and a hand crocheted doily out of Knit Picks Curio in Tea Rose.

Luca's bedside table was much easier.  I picked up this beautiful octagonal table on our local garage sale site for $15.  It's in excellent shape, except for a few mars on the top, so I washed it thoroughly with Murphy's Oil Soap and filled in the dings with a Wood Finish Touch Up marker.

I made a circular quilted topper (mostly to cover up the marks and protect from future dings) and added a classic looking Crosley alarm clock and faux potted succulent for a little flair.  I will be releasing the instructions for the mini star quilt and a baby/lap sized version later this year, so stay tuned for that!

Looking good, right?  I'm so excited about the progress I've made so far.  Check back in a few weeks for the next installment!

Friday, February 13

Creative Corner--DIY Frog Funny Valentines

This year I wanted to do something a little extra special for Luca's Valentines to share at school.  His class only has 6 students, so it was the perfect year to go a little overboard.

At a recent trip to Ikea, I found these adorable finger puppets for 99 cents each.  I thought the Frog Prince theme would be super cute and easy to come up with a quippy little Valentine's Day saying...boy was I wrong!  I pitched a whole bunch of ideas having to do with frogs and kissing and princes and nothing was quite right.  :/

While I was searching for the right phrase, I gathered together the supplies we'd need to make the cards.  I used Heavy Cardstock, permanent markers, two types of stickers and chocolate lips in addition to the frog puppets

I cut each sheet of cardstock in half and then used my blade tool to score the paper to create a crisp fold.  I decorated the edge of the card and wrote out the saying Luca helped me decide on.

We taped the lips in the right spot and using a hole punch, we threaded some baking twine around the frogs legs and made a bow to hold him in place.  What do you get when you kiss a frog prince?

Fly breath! (of course)  Can you tell I have a 4 year old boy?  He thought it was great.  Once we had the cards put together he had a really fun time signing each one and decorating with the heart stickers.

As a bonus, I used these strawberry hearts for an extra small card to give out to teachers and family.  You are 'berry' special.  Pretty much everyone I showed it to had no idea what I was going for there...oh well.  At least the chocolates are really good.

Hope you have a hoppy Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 11

Yarn Along--Tidepool Baby Sleep Sack

~ Two of my favorite things are knitting and reading (though not at the same time!), and the evidence of this often shows up in my photographs. I love seeing what other people are knitting and reading as well. So, what are you knitting or crocheting right now? What are you reading?  ~Ginny of Small Things

My photographer friend who purchased the Lady Slipper Sleep Sack requested a matching one in a green-blue for a couple of baby boy shoots she had scheduled.  I only had 6 days, but I got it done in time and it turned out great!  I can't wait to see pics of tiny babies all snuggled up inside.  :)

Since our local gym just began offering child care for a few hours a day, I've been able to work out at a reasonable hour, and thus I picked up Outlander again.  I left off just before the 'magic' starts to happen, which was a perfect place to pick it up.  I'm really enjoying it and find the protagonist charming and relate-able.

Hope you're have a fabulous week!  Lots of projects in the works that I'm looking forward to sharing in the coming weeks...hope to see you back!

Linking up with Ginny.

Monday, February 9

From Scratch--Vegan Spent Grain Stout Brownies

Heavenly.  These are just heavenly.  

We are not vegan around here, but we definitely appreciate good vegan recipes from time to time.  I can tell already that this is one that we'll be making again and again.

I had a special order pop up that I worked furiously to finish last week (pictures on Wednesday for Yarn Along!), so I'll be sharing the next installment of The Great Bedroom Makeover next Monday.  Until then, console yourself with brownies.  :)  

The rest of this post will be written by a very special guest blogger--my amazing hubby Michael.  Enjoy!


I am a homebrewer. Making beer (alcohol of any kind, really), is very simple. All you need is sugar, water, and yeast. Yeast consume sugar, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide. For beer, we get our sugar from malted barley, and add hops for bitterness. Malted barley is steeped in water at a certain temperature (usually around 145°F-155°F), which converts the starches into sugar. This process is called mashing. The resulting liquid, called wort, is then boiled for around an hour. Hops can be added at several points in the boil to impart bitterness, aroma, and flavor.

After boiling, the wort is cooled to room temperature. (Ales ferment best at 68°F-72°F, while lagers prefer 45°F-55°F.) Yeast is added and the magic begins. Fermentation takes 1-3 weeks for most styles of beer. Once the yeast have eaten all the sugar that they can, the beer is bottled or kegged and carbonated, either forcefully with a tank of CO2 or naturally through a second mini-fermentation in the bottle.

Several weeks ago I was making a Foreign Extra Stout for an upcoming homebrew competition. Foreign Extra Stout is like a big brother to your standard Guinness: a little more hops, a little more malt, a little more alcohol. And a good stout can make some excellent brownies. Having recently read this article from the American Homebrewers Association, I thought I would take that idea one step further: use the spent grains from the stout to make flour, and use that flour to make stout brownies.

Spent grain flour is pretty simple; just dry out some grains in the oven, and grind in a coffee or spice grinder. The linked article goes over it in more detail. I scooped out about 3 cups of wet grains, and ended up with about 1 cup of finished flour.

Traditional Guinness Draught brewed in Dublin is not vegan-friendly. While many commercial brewers use gelatin or Irish moss to clarify their beers, Guinness is fond of using isinglass, which is derived from the swim bladders of fish. You can use nearly any other stout you please, however, if "Guinness" brownies are your goal, there is an option. Guinness Extra Stout is brewed in Canada and does not use isinglass for clarification. We're not vegan, but this is the beer we went with.

We ended up making them twice, once with the spent grain flour, and once with spelt. The spent grain brownies ended up with a noticeably grainy texture, which could probably have been avoided by grinding the flour more finely.  The spelt flour however (which we are able to get in bulk at our local grocery store) created a wonderfully smooth texture.  Without further ado...the recipe!

Vegan Spent Grain Stout Brownies

-2 Tbsp flaxmeal
-6 Tbsp water

-1/4 cup almond or coconut milk
-3/4 cup Guinness Extra Stout
-1/2 cup melted coconut oil
-1 tsp vanilla

-1 cup spent grain stout flour (or spelt flour if you don't have access to spent grains)
-1 cup Dutch process cocoa powder
-1/2 tsp salt
-1/2 tsp baking powder
-1/2 cup brown sugar
-1/2 cup pure cane sugar

-2/3 cup mini chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 330 degrees F.  Begin by mixing the flaxmeal and water together in a small bowl.  These two ingredients need to sit for 10-15 minutes to "gel".  If you're not familiar with 'flax-egg' it's a substitute for chicken eggs that will provide the right consistency for the batter.  This amount is roughly equal to 2 large eggs if you'd prefer to use those.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine wet ingredients, whisking to incorporate.

In a large mixing bowl, add the dry ingredients and whisk thoroughly to evenly distribute.  When your flax eggs begin to look sticky, add them and the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir with a wooden spoon, adding the chocolate chips just before everything is well mixed.  Do not overmix.

Spoon batter into a greased 9" x 9" pan (we used a dark metal pan and coconut oil spray).  Bake 20-25 minutes in preheated oven or until set.  (It's alright if they're still a little gooey...there's no raw egg to worry about!) 

These are fantastic with a little sprinkle of powdered sugar or, if you're not vegan, a dollop of whipped cream!


Friday, February 6

Week in Review--Fresh Air

I know lots of areas of the US have been having blizzards and freezing temps, but it's been so pleasant here!  We were all going a little stir crazy so we were so glad for the chance to get outside and run around, even if it was just our backyard.  Luca is thoroughly enjoying his new bubble blower, and I am enjoying not having to constantly blow bubbles for an hour :)  Win-win.

I'm so looking forward to Spring and opening up the house to let the fresh air in.  And Spring Cleaning.  It's time to declutter around here and get some simplifying done  :)

Have an awesome weekend!  We've got lots of projects planned, and I'll be sharing another installment of the Big Bedroom Makeover on Monday!  See you then!

Wednesday, February 4

Yarn Along--Feather and Fan

~ Two of my favorite things are knitting and reading (though not at the same time!), and the evidence of this often shows up in my photographs. I love seeing what other people are knitting and reading as well. So, what are you knitting or crocheting right now? What are you reading? ~Ginny Sheller

Recently I got in touch with a local photographer looking for some newborn photography props.  She liked the look of a baby sleep sack I knit a while ago and was also looking for a white textured blanket.  I can't wait to see some of her work using these knitteds--newborn photography is so adorable!

I've been trying to make some more time in my day this past week to read.  I used to be pretty good at fitting in a half hour before bed, but my evenings have been taken up with hand quilting these days and I work until I'm about to drop.  So this week I've been carving out some time here and there to work on Little Women.  I read it as a girl and I'm appreciating it all over again as an adult.  It doesn't hurt anything that I found this gorgeously bound copy at Half Price Books for $7 either...

Linking up with Ginny this week for Yarn Along.  Head on over there to share your wips, check out her current projects and so many other beautiful works by very talented bloggers!

Monday, February 2

Greeting Card Organization Tutorial, Or How to Never Buy a Belated Birthday Card Again!

I have a confession to make...sending out greeting cards hasn't always been my favorite thing.  While I'm typically a very organized person, this one task used to always get the best of me.  I'd forget to buy the cards...if I bought them, I'd forget I'd done so and didn't get them mailed out in time.  I'd have it all addressed and ready to go, and I couldn't find a stamp.  Aarg!  It may seem antiquated to send out paper cards through the mail, but it feels so great to receive a birthday card that I love being able to give that small joy to others.

I've been working on perfecting a card organization scheme for a few years now (although things have slipped a little the last couple of years...sorry family) and I think this year will be the most successful one yet.  Let me share with you how I plan to send out birthday, anniversary and special occasion cards on time to all of the important people in my life all year!

Step 1:  Organize your address book.  This year, I wanted to ditch this old address book/card organizer.  It has served me well for many years now, but it's just so bulky and cumbersome and so many of the addresses have been scratched out and rewritten.  It looks cluttered and so it makes me feel cluttered and I can do better.  Cue the brand new Moleskine Address book.  It's small and neat and doesn't have any 'form' structure inside so I can add whatever information I choose about each person without having empty fields. Once all of my contacts were accounted for, I was ready to move on to Step 2...

Step 2:  Prepare for your shopping trip.  You'll need a list of all the people and occasions you need to purchase cards for that you can take with you.  I sat down and wrote out all the birthdays and all the anniversaries and their corresponding dates.  This is a form I can use from year to year, so I made a couple of copies to keep.  I took one copy with me when I purchased cards and checked each name off as I went to make sure I didn't miss anyone.  You can download this form I used as a FREE PRINTABLE through Google Drive!  Just click on the image below to print or save.  Enjoy!


Step 3:  Buy all of the cards for the whole year at the same time.  Now, if you're a loyal Hallmark shopper, this might be a hefty chunk of change to drop all at once.  I am personally of the opinion that it's the thought that counts, and not how much you spent on the card, and I would prefer to write a special message inside in addition to the sentiment of the card to increase it's 'value', so I buy all my cards at Dollar Tree.  They're 2 for $1, so I spent about $20 for the entire year on birthday and anniversary cards.  I also picked up several sets of blank notecards to keep on hand (8 cards in a pack for $1--that's a great deal!)  I will also need Mother's Day/Father's Day cards, and Thanksgiving and Christmas cards to send to the family members we won't be seeing this year, but those can be purchased as they become available since they're seasonal items.

Pro Tip 1:  If you're having trouble deciding on just one card for one person for one occasion, you can also buy extras and save them for future years.

Pro Tip 2:  Don't forget the envelopes--and make sure they fit!

Pro Tip 3:  As someone who worked at Hallmark many years ago, help the cashier out by slipping your card face down under the flap of its corresponding envelope.  That way the cashier doesn't have to flip each card over to scan the bar code on the back (which isn't a big deal for a few cards, but takes A LONG TIME if you're buying a bunch)  They will thank you for it, and so will everyone behind you in line!

Step 4:  Organize!  I DO NOT write a personal message in the cards until I'm ready to send them, but I DO sort, order and address the envelopes right away.  I place each card into it's proper envelope, and then write who it's for and what occasion on the inside of the flap along with the date it should arrive by.  I DO write out the address on the front and stamp it with our return address stamp (stickers are also great!).  I DO NOT put a stamp on it right away, although you definitely could with Forever Stamps.  (If for some reason I did not send the card, I wouldn't want to have wasted the stamp or have to scrape it off to reuse)  I DO keep a couple of books of stamps in the storage box with the cards so I always have some handy.  Once each envelope is prepared, I order them by date, with their flaps open so I can see what card needs to go out next.

Step 5:  Figure out the best place to store them.  This one is tricky at our house.  We have a curious little one who likes to get into everything and a decided lack of horizontal spaces.  I purchased a small box at IKEA to store the cards in.  The stack of cards that are ready to mail out are propped vertically against the surplus cards I have in reserve to send 'as needed' (such as thank you, get well and sympathy cards).  You should choose a storage area that is accessible but not in the way.  And don't put them so far OUT of the way that they'll be 'out of sight, out of mind'--then all your hard work will be for naught!

Step 6:  Pat yourself on the back for being so on top of things.  You'll feel good knowing you're prepared to send out cards for the whole year!

What's your organizational strategy for commemorating important dates?  Share your tips below :)