Wednesday, January 28, 2015

4 Season Wreath

I have had wreath envy lately.  A friend and neighbor of mine has had the cutest wreaths throughout the year, and so I finally asked her if she made them. She said she did, then she showed me her big, BRILLIANT secret. She has VELCRO on the wreath and changes out the flowers! I asked her if she would mind if I shared her genius on my blog, and she was gracious enough to allow me to. 

What you'll need: 
  • 1 wreath form
  • sewing pins
  • 1 skein of yarn (something that will go with each season/holiday you plan to do)
  • Flower making supplies: Felt / fabric; needle and thread; beads/buttons; fabric/hot glue
  • Velcro--preferably something close to the color of your yarn
  • hot glue gun and glue sticks
1. Tie a knot in one end of the yarn. Put a sewing pin through the knot and into the wreath form.

2. Wrap and wrap and wrap. Here's what I learned that sped this process up: (1) Wrap several loops around the form without trying to keep them close together, then stop every 10 or so loops and push them together; (2) As the skein starts getting more small, it will get looser. I would pull out several feet of yarn then wrap it around the center of the skein in tight loops. Then I held the wreath form between my knees and used both hands to wrap the yarn more quickly around and around. 

3. Once you have covered the form, cut the yarn off and tie another knot in the end. Use another pin to secure it. 

4. Hot-glue Velcro to the wreath where you will be placing flowers.

Now to make some flowers.I will share one tutorial for felt roses. 
Here are some links to other flower tutorials: 

I decided to share this  rose tutorial for one reason: I avoid using hot-glue whenever possible, and the method of flower making I will show uses a needle and thread. Why go to the trouble, you ask? Isn't a hot-glue gun easier?  I say NO. It is hot and messy. And using a glue gun to put something together that could be done with a needle and thread is asking for it to fall apart over time. A needle and thread is quick, clean, and secure. No glue clumps to pick at or hide. 

1. Begin with a square-ish piece of felt. Round or scallop the edges. 

2. Cut a swirl from the outside in. The larger you make the width of your cut, the deeper the rose will be. If you want a rose that is more wide and flat, make a skinnier swirl. This was a deep, small one.

3. Beginning at the center of the swirl, start a tight roll and work outward.  **For the roses that I did a wavy/scalloped skinnier width cut, I started on the outside and worked inward with my rolling. Both ways work and achieve slightly different looks. 

4. Continue rolling. Felt is great for these because it kind of sticks to itself as you go, so holding the rose in place as you work is easy.

5. Once it is all rolled up, turn it upside down. Using a needle and thread with a knot in the end, push through all layers of the base of the rose. On larger roses, I pushed through half of the layers to the middle first, then worked my way around.

6. Continue sewing back and forth through the bottom of the rose, working your way around the whole circle.

7. Tie off the bottom once it is as drawn in and secure as you want it.

8. Hot-glue (yes, it has it's purpose because it is a PAIN to sew through Velcro by hand) small squares of Velcro to the bottom of the flowers you make.

9. Arrange and re-arrange over and over again on your wreath! 

I did a blanket stitch around some felt to make the leaves for this Spring/Summer wreath. 

My neighbor let me borrow her Fall flowers to show this (I haven't made my own yet). Aren't they pretty? I was lucky they matched my yarn!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Slow-Cooker Beef Stew

I came to conquer the blah-blah-blues of January. Those chill-you-to-the bone winds along with the sad realization that the holidays are over and not to return for an entire year are a definite call for comfort food. 
This, my friends, is the ultimate comfort food. It is in the same class as fluffy buttermilk biscuits, hashbrown casserole, and chicken-noodle soup. But, unlike it's classmates, this Slow-Cooker Beef Stew will fill up your husband as a stand-alone meal. And when the man is full, the mom is happy. And when the mom is happy, everybody's happy. Am I right?

Here's the winning line-up: Stew beef, red potatoes, celery, carrots, beef broth, tomato soup, olive oil, tomato soup, Italian seasoning, and garlic powder.

Brown stew meat in a heavy skillet coated with olive oil. Sprinkle generously with seasoning salt while it's browning. Don't cook through--just brown.
Add the meat to your slow-cooker. Reserve the juices in the pan.

Add the chopped potatoes and carrots to the slow cooker.

Sauté the chopped onions and celery in the reserved juices until onions begin to look clear. 
Add this (including juices) to the slow cooker. Stir in beef broth, tomato soup, Italian seasoning, and garlic powder.

Cook on high 4-6 hours. Serve warm. 
This is some of the yummiest broth you'll ever have in a soup, and the meat is perfectly tender. This is one of those staple recipes you'll come back to again and again! 

(Full recipe below)

Slow Cooker Beef Stew
Serves 8

1-1.5 lbs beef stew meat
1 tablespoon Olive oil
2 teaspoons seasoning salt
3 medium red potatoes, chopped to 1 inch pieces
25 baby carrots , chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 medium sweet yellow onion, chopped
3 cups beef broth
1 large (26 ounce) can tomato soup
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons salt-free Italian seasoning

1. Coat a heavy skillet with olive oil. Add stew meat and sprinkle all over with seasoning salt. Sear the meat by frying on high, turning meat over until outsides of are just browned.  Use a slotted spoon to add the seared meat to a slow cooker. Keep the juices in the skillet.
2. Add the potatoes and carrots to the slow cooker.
3. Sauté the celery and onion in the leftover meat juices until onion starts to look clear. Add this to the slow cooker.
4. Stir in broth, soup, garlic powder, and Italian seasoning. Cook on high 4-6 hours. Serve warm.

Participating in these link-ups. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Chocolate Avocado Brownies

I bought avocados last week to make some guacamole for taco night. Well, taco night came and went, and my avocados were still sitting in the fruit basket. I forgot to use them, and they were ready to be used. 

Meanwhile, my family was hankering for me to make a treat. I'd taken a break from treat-making since the new year, and they were starting to forage (eating chocolate chips right out of the bag, melting marshmallows on crakers, etc).  So I tried to find a brownie recipe that called for avocado. Sound crazy? I thought there HAD to be one. I made a chocolate mousse with avocados as the base a few years ago from the Deceptively Delicious cookbook that was incredible. Surely someone had incorporated avocado into brownies. 

Well, my search didn't turn up much in the way of brownies. I found some chocolate puddings and cupcakes, and some layer-bars. But I was hoping for brownies. So I decided to give it a go myself.  And I'm so glad I did! I made brownies (using avocado!) that have what I consider to be the perfect brownie consistency: slightly crispy on the outside; dense, moist and chewy on the inside (but not under-cooked). These were a crowd-pleaser AND a mommy-pleaser! My kids were getting all kinds of hidden nutrients as they gobbled them up!

Here's the recipe: 

Chocolate Avocado Brownies
Makes 24 


1 1/4 cup avocado puree (about 3 medium avocados)
3/4 cup cocoa powder
2 eggs
1 stick butter, melted
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour (I used whole wheat!)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet, but milk is fine if you prefer sweeter)


1. Preheat oven to 400°. Prepare a 9"x13" baking dish with cooking spray.
2. In a medium mixing bowl, beat avocado puree with cocoa powder. Add eggs and beat at medium speed just until mixed. If you are using a stand mixer, use the paddle/cookie dough attachment from this point on. 
3. Mix melted butter with white sugar and add to avocado mixture. Mix in brown sugar and vanilla.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Add to wet mixture and stir well. Stir in 1 cup of chocolate chips. 
5. Spread evenly in prepared dish. Sprinkle remaining 1/2 cup of chocolate chips on top. 
6. Bake 20 minutes. Serve warm or cooled. Perfect with a scoop of vanilla ice cream!

Participating in these link-ups.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Why Pursue Domestic Excellence?

Blogging has been a welcome and fulfilling new hobby.  Friends and strangers making dinner rolls or éclairs from scratch for the first time in their life while following my directions makes me think I'm making a difference.

Outside of the blog, but as a result of putting my hobbies “out there,” I have been asked to develop recipes for specific needs, to alter neighbors' clothes, and to help friends with sewing and craft projects. 

As a result, my reason for blogging changed from simply a way to share some of what I make, into trying to create a venue for anyone wanting to improve (or find) their domestic abilities to come and learn. And I love the expansive community of bloggers out there that seem to have that same goal in mind. Not everyone had a mom who taught them how to sew and bake—but it's not too late if you want to learn!

Then my bubble was burst (well, at least deflated slightly). I read an opinion article in the NY Post recently, and I've been stewing over it since. So, I am going to address my side of the issue here today.

In the article “Modern Moms Looking for Perfection in all the Wrong Places,” author Karol Markowicz laments the “proliferation of crafting, baking, clothing-making, all photographed to dreamy perfection in perfect light with a perfectly designed (and clean!) home as the backdrop.” She refers to Heather Havrilesky's piece in The New York Times a few weeks prior in which Havrilesky says, “I like violins and knitted tea cozies and themed birthday parties as much as the next Earthling. But before I get to that stuff, I need to clear a path through this dirty laundry so I can get to the dishwasher. I’m hesitant to throw myself into any high-maintenance child-related activity too enthusiastically lest I doom myself to becoming a specialist in an unpaid field that might cut into the time I spend on things like, I don’t know, making a living? Staying in shape? Seeing my friends occasionally?”

Can you see why these opinions were troubling to me? Can a woman seek perfection--or at least excellence--in her home and still have a psyche that is in tact, a body that is fit, and healthy relationships?  I say YES.

I get the point they are making. As mothers (as women!), we put too much pressure on ourselves, then get down when we fail.  This isn't really news, though. We all see an ideal and wish we could have it, but more often than not, fall short. My boys want to shoot hoops as well as LeBron James. Will they ever? No, probably not. I'd like to have a six-pack (on my stomach), an alphabetized pantry, and musical talent (any kind...I'm not picky). These are all things women I know have; I don't. But knowing about them is okay. Working toward having them is okay—even healthy. Why not be grateful for the standards of excellence that are paraded all around us? We should have them in our sights, taped to our bathroom vanities, written on our New Year's Resolution lists—we should be reaching for them!

Now, don't get me wrong here. I'm not suggesting that the content on my blog is a standard of excellence. It is far, FAR from. But knowing something I wrote inspired someone somewhere to try something new and have a personal victory is a good thing. I never EVER want anyone to feel inferior because I can sew a shirt and they never have. And I believe all the domestic divas out there adding to the “proliferation of crafting, baking and clothing-making” aren't out to make anyone feel down on themselves. If seeing someone else's achievement makes you feel bad about yourself, your problems are deeper than a messed up Mod-podge or sunken soufflé.

To back me up here, I'm going to pull out some real mommy street cred and quote Ms. Frizzle from The Magic School Bus, “Take chances! Make mistakes! Get messy!” We encourage our kids to try new things, not to give up when they fail, and to understand that it's okay to not be the best at everything. Maybe as women we need to give ourselves a good pep talk. When we see success in others, let's applaud, take note, learn, and move forward. When we have success ourselves, let's share, teach, and assist. And when we have or see failure, let's pick each other up, decide if it was worth it, and move forward with new understanding.

Excellence is a worthy pursuit. I believe we have an innate need to create, to improve, and to master skills. Let's not sell ourselves short just because it's hard and frustrating sometimes, or because we see others doing it better. We ALL struggle--even the seemingly unreal people with living rooms straight out of House Beautiful and themed birthday parties with homemade tutu party favors and gluten-free fare.

Let's make a conscious decision right here and now to stop what my mom calls "Stinkin' Thinkin'." This includes, but isn't limited to:
  • Comparing our weaknesses to someone else's strengths
  • Downplaying our accomplishments 
  • Giving up when we have a set-back
  • Scoffing at apparent excellence/perfection as fake or unattainable

Now that those are gone from our psyche, replace them with "Positive Perceptions."
  • Using mistakes as springboards for growth
  • Sharing our skills and talents freely and unabashedly
  • Seeking out excellence to emulate
  • Focusing on what is important to us as individuals
So, from now on as you are perusing Pinterest or surfing the blogosphere, think about what an incredible resource we are to each other. No one is excellent at everything.  If we all blogged about our weaknesses and shortcomings, while we would never run out of material to write about, what a stagnant, thwarted world it would be! So let's keep the excellence coming!

Participating in these link-ups.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Mermaid Maxi Skirt Tutorial

Easy, cute, and comfy! I love how this turned out! I already have the fabric to make myself one, too. I decided to let my little mini-me model so I could get this tutorial published.

I've seen similar tutorials on Pinterest, but I was concerned about how comfortable the skirts would be to walk in. Adding a seam around the bottom of the already-snug skirt when attaching the ruffle would eliminate the awesome stretchy feature that makes maxi skirts so comfortable. I knew my daughter would want to MOVE in her Mermaid Maxi, so I created my own process to make this as comfy a skirt as it is cute!

Here's what you'll need: 
  • Jersey knit fabric (amount depends on size)
  • Coordinating Thread
  • Elastic Thread
1. Measure the circumference of the hips (widest part around the boot-tay), and add an inch. This is the width of your main piece. 
Measure from the belly-button to the ankle and subtract 4 inches. This is the length of your main piece. Cut this piece.
Then, cut a piece of fabric twice the length of your hip measurement, and 5 inches wide. This will be the ruffle. 

2. Fold each of the pieces in half as shown, and cut 5" curves (as shown) through both layers on each piece. I cut the ruffle curve, then laid the triangle pieces over the skirt piece to use as a guide in cutting it. 

3. Sew a lettuce edge along the curve and across the bottom edge of the ruffle piece.  I have an easy tutorial for sewing a lettuce edge here
This is an optional step, but it does give it a nice, finished edge that will help it last longer. 

4. Fill your sewing machine bobbin with elastic thread. Use regular thread for the top stitch. Sew a single gathering stitch (regular straight stitch with 4+ stitch length setting and no tying off at beginning or end) across the top (non-lettuce-edge) of the ruffle. Pull the elastic  thread to make a ruffle the length of the curved bottom of the skirt. 

5. Turn the ruffle upside down (right sides together) along the base of the skirt piece, matching up raw edges. Pin in place. Don't skimp on the pins here. Sewing on top of a ruffle is exponentially easier based on the number of pins you use to guide you.  

6. Sew the ruffle in place using elastic thread in the bobbin and tying off with a back stitch at each end. This is the key to a skirt that will move with little legs!  Turn right side out.

7. Fold right sides together lengthwise. Pin the long edge (not the ruffle edge).  Replace the bobbin with all-purpose thread. Sew with a 1/2 inch seam allowance, or serge if you have a serger.  

8. FOR THE WAIST:  Two options--First (the one I did here): make a shirred waist using rows of elastic thread along the top of the skirt. This works well if you have a small-medium waist. Instruction for the shirred waist option are found here
Second option: Make a yoga-style waist. This requires extra fabric. This tutorial shows how to make a yoga-style waist band to attach to the top of the skirt. **Note: the seam on this skirt goes in the front. If you add a waistband, the waistband seam should be in the back--opposite the front seam. 

 And you are finished!  Stretchy, even around ruffle! My little lady was running around, laying on the floor flapping like a mermaid, and wrestling her brothers in it already! And she wore it to church the next day! LOVE! 

This post is visiting these link-ups.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Creamy Kale Dip

Do you like spinach dip? I'm a total sucker for it. I have had spinach dip as the main course for some of my eat-alone meals (with sides of tortilla chips, crackers, and carrots).

But as good for us as spinach is, it has been trumped. Move over Spinach; Kale is the new Super Food in town.

I don't know about you, but I've had a harder time with kale.  Spinach is delicious with virtually no work. It can hold it's own in fresh salads. Kale tends to be bitter and tough. It kind of HAS to be cooked or steamed. I've tried making kale "chips"--where you drizzle fresh kale leaves in olive oil and roast them in the oven. They were edible, but hardly competition for any other "chips" I've eaten. 

So I am SUPER excited to share a version of kale consumption that is not just tolerable, but down-right enjoyable. And it is super easy to make. You don't even need to tell anyone it is kale until they've raved about how yummy it is. 

My idea began with this. Look for it in your grocer's freezer section. It is inexpensive and cuts so much work out of preparation.  All you need to do is cook the kale according to package directions. Drain and cool.

Add one package of Knorr Vegetable Recipe Mix, 1 cup of mayo, and one cup of sour cream. Mix well and store in the fridge for about an hour before serving.
We ate ours with chopped veggies (red bell peppers, cucumbers, jicama, and carrots), and tortilla chips.

 It doesn't taste exactly like spinach dip. But it doesn't taste like any kale recipe I've ever had either. It is better. It is perfect to serve at football game parties, book clubs, baby showers, or just to snack on for the heck of it!

Creamy Kale Dip
Makes about 4 cups


1 12oz package chopped frozen Kale
1 1.4 oz package Knorr vegetable recipe mix
1 cup mayonnaise 
1 cup sour cream


1. Cook kale on stove according to package directions. (Note that it cooks longer than most veggies--about 20-25 minutes of simmering). Drain well, and cool.
2. Mixed drained kale with remaining ingredients. Cover and put in fridge for at least 30 minutes before serving. 

Participating in these link-ups.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Blackeyed Pea Salsa

How many of you grew up eating blackeyed peas every New Year's Day for good luck?  I think it must be a Southern tradition, because I mentioned it to my neighbor, and she'd never heard of such a thing. 
Well, wherever the tradition came from, (I searched the tradition on Google, and didn't find a certain origin), I am continuing it with my family. 

This year, instead of traditional blackeyed peas with bacon over cornbread (as it is usually served in the South), I made Blackeyed Pea Salsa. Super delicious, easy, and very healthy! Perfect for your New Year's health resolutions!

I pulled a bowl of it together in about 15 minutes. We devoured it during the afternoon football games! Lots of good fortune for us this year....though apparently our favorite football team didn't eat their blackeyed peas before the game. :(

Here's the recipe:

Blackeyed Pea Salsa

1 (15.5oz) can blackeyed peas, drained and rinsed
1 (15.5oz) can corn, drained
5 Roma tomatoes, chopped small
1/3 cup red onion, chopped small (about 1/4 whole onion)
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped small
1/3 cup finely chopped cilantro
Juice of 1 lime
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cumin

Mix all ingredients in a medium bowl. Let sit about 30 minutes before serving. Store covered in refrigerator. 
Serve with tortilla chips, tacos, fajitas, or just a spoon. :)