Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sewing: Village Frock and Portrait Dress

The Village Frock dress was worn afterall! I dressed Audrey and Scarlett in their coordinating dresses for church today: Scarlett in her portrait dress and Audrey in her Village Frock. Since it snowed this weekend I thought it was ok not to dress springlike. These dresses look great together I think--and not too "matchy matchy."

Easier to get a picture when I say it's all about her new stuffed toy...

Monday, March 15, 2010

Knit: Audrey's Molly Dress on Scarlett

I dressed Scarlett today in one of the first things I knitted for Audrey, a little tank dress, "Molly," from the Jaeger #225 (Scarves & More) booklet. I used Debbie Bliss' yarn, Cashmerino Aran, in this beautiful rose color, #603.

I always thought the proportions weren't quite right for a dress--a bit too short and too wide through the shoulders. But it's darling as a tunic over leggings.

I love the little bows in front, and they're integrated into the knitting--so no strange knots and they stay tied.

The yarn is fuzzing and pilling a bit (wish I knew a solution to that!) but still cute and cozy. It suited Scarlett just fine.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sewing: Village Frock Dress

I was bound and determined to finish this Village Frock dress for Audrey in time to wear to church today! I ordered the pattern from Sugar City and cut out the dress last Fall to match Scarlett's portrait dress for our family photos, but alas, I ran out of time and was lucky to finish Scarlett's dress in time. Since then this dress has sat in my project drawer practically forgotten. Christmas and some other things too precedent (not to mention morning sickness).

So I finally pulled out this week to finish. March is very tempermental here so there are plenty of cool days to justify a Fall-ish dress, but April seems to demand spring-like colors. So I used what little spare time and sparse energy I could find and I did it!

But not without a bit of drama, and some irony to go along with it. So first the drama: I was working away during Scarlett's nap yesterday afternoon to take advantage of that little break to get something done. It had been snowing all day but nothing serious, nothing was accumulating on the streets. Scarlett woke up and my plan was to put her in the car and run to the fabric store for the three buttons-to-cover I needed to finish the project. I stalled a bit after she woke up to get everything else on the dress finished and when I looked outside the streets were white. Not a snow plow in sight. I thought "maybe the main streets will be clear" and bundled up baby Scarlett and pulled onto the roads. I test the brakes. I slid. I tested again. I slid further. I got to the four-way stop where the roads are busier and they too were snow covered. It had been a wet snow all day so the roads were a mess--slush and ice and snow on top. I decided to abandon the trip across town (it's actually all the way across town to get to a mainstream fabric store that would carry notions!) and went to the corner grocery instead where I stocked up on foods as if we were snowed in.

I could have, should have let it go, but no... When the girls were in bed I went hunting through my button odds-and-ends to find three buttons the 3/4" size to match the one I had covered. I sewed them on, and inspired by Juicy Bits wall dots tutorial, I made my own covered buttons! "This must be how they did it in the old days," I thought! I am pretty pleased with my resourcefulness in the middle of a snow storm. I think they turned out very nicely, perhaps even better than using the kits.

Now for the irony: Sunday morning was perfectly cold and wintry to wear the dress, which I had heroically finished, but Audrey was too sick to go to church! Sigh... We stayed home and wiped our noses (all three of us girls have bad colds) and thought of better days. Hopefully there will be a chance for Audrey to wear her Village Frock before its summer and she has outgrown it.

By the way, I saw this dress first on Made and loved it, also the variations she shared from the Flickr group. It's a beautiful, classic pattern.

I used the same ivory microsuede I used for Scarlett's dress, and also the chocolate brown cotton velvet for the trim. This microsude has a beautiful hand to it! It's silky on the inside and soft on the outside, so hopefully comfortable for Audrey to wear, when she wears it...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Rooms: Basement Playroom--Hooray!

I couldn't be happier about this project! Finally, a playroom of our own! I feel so lucky to have a room we can dedicate to a playing space. Up until now (well, for the past three and a half years anyway) the toys have been strewn throughout the house and mostly piled in our family room, which has been fine, and pretty convenient, but the piles kept getting bigger, and as the kids get bigger and there are more friends and cousins around we were really wishing for a room they could play in and not get into too much trouble, and to be honest, not be in the middle of dinner in the dining room or whatever we have going on when they're all over.

So we took the plunge! Before Christmas we engaged a great contractor and talked about our basement space. This house was built in 1969 and the space had always been unfinished. It was convenient for storing large boxes and things we didn't know what to do with but was really a waste in terms of the value we could get out of it. So we made a plan for play room, large "storage hall," and art studio (which may end up being a storage room but I had to dream a little!).

Here is what this space looked like before construction: Totally frightening! And this was after we cleared out the empty boxes, and random things we were storing, and hadn't unpacked since moving in eight years ago. Feels like such an accomplishment to conquer this space!

Now we have built in storage and lots of space to run around in. We're even happier about it since learning we are expecting our third child later this year--phew! We'll need it more than ever.

I wasn't sure what to do about color scheme or theme... So far our girls aren't typically girly. Purple is Audrey's favorite color but pink doesn't show up all that often. We don't really have fairies or princesses or many dolls around. They prefer stuffed animals and live ones. Then with the baby news I thought I should hedge a bit on the girl stuff in case we have a boy and go with something that would be fun for girls or boys.

They say you should start with the rug, and we did. David gravitated towards these great wool rugs at IKEA. So vibrant and fun, and great quality (and great price!). So we decided to do interlocking foam mat tiles on the floor for cushion and top them with these rugs. The rugs have so many colors to choose from but I really wanted to emphasize red and orange so I ordered red and orange strapping storage from Land of Nod. I love these baskets--great sizes for shelves and floor and no hard edges for kids to get hurt on. I'm using the smaller ones to organize toys (baby toys in one, musical toys in another, wood blocks in another...) on shelves and the large ones to hold puppets, costumes, and aprons and kitchen play accessories.

We decided on this great sky blue color for the walls. I was really hoping to be able to cut in some windows but when they got into it they discovered a powerline running right along our foundation--bummer. So we brought the sky indoors. With the lighting and the colors the room is bright and cheery so it all worked out.

We moved the play kitchen down from Audrey's room and the girls were lucky enough to get a cute little grocery stand and a table and chair set from Santa for Christmas to add to it--now they can do the full play: shopping at the store, fixing dinner, setting the table, and sitting to eat. Hmm, who do you think is more excited about that?
I also love the idea of the puppet theater, which could double as a post office, or veterinarian, or some other thing... I hope the girls will play with it. We got a funny sound machine from my sister to go with it--all kinds of funny and strange effects (another good reason for a basement playroom!).
The little tent and giant ladybug came from IKEA too. (LOVE that place!) The tent is our best investment yet. We can fit the whole family inside and the girls love it. They fill it with toys, turn it upside down, you name it. We got some other things too for more acrobatics--swinging rings to hang from the ceiling and a rope ladder, but haven't figured out whether they're a good idea or not. Certainly increases some risk during unsupervised play but maybe we could just hook them up for short periods of supervised time. We'll see...
My favorite thing is this little "hideaway." We had a funky little corner in this room and weren't sure what to do with it so I asked for it to be finished with a little lookout window and lamp ( IKEA again). I'll hang a curtain for better hiding and would like to find a little ladder to attach on the inside wall beneath the window, and maybe one of those play telescopes to attach to the window. Audrey and her cousins filled this little space with a bunch of pillows and any soft thing in the room so they could stand on the pile and look out the window. It was pretty funny. Looked like a good place for a nap too.

Another thing I'm glad I thought of are these open bins in the storage area. It's great to be able to toss the bigger toys and balls in here and not have cleanup be such an effort.
We put full-light doors on the playroom and studio room in hopes of getting some light transfer from the windows in the studio, which will likely be closed and locked most of the time. I also thought it would be good to have the ability to peer in and out of these rooms without opening the doors. I love the look. A little concerned now about the practicality after having a bunch of nephews over, but we'll hope for the best. Thank goodness for tempered glass! And the doors are at a funny angle--would be hard to have anything come at them too hard (I hope).

And then there is the storage hall. Exciting in itself really. We stained the concrete floors for a simple, modern look. I'd like to eventually find some low-pile runners to put down, but I like this look as is. This hall space was too wide to just be a hall and not perfect for a room so put deep storage closets along both walls. I've got fixed and adjustable shelving behind all the doors and am hoping this is what I need to have a place for everything and put everything in its place. Hard (for me at least) to judge whether the space is adequate for the things we've had in boxes. I'm excited to tackle the organization project.
This was the hall before:
We've already debuted the playroom with cousins and friends and they seem to approve! So far they love playing down there and it made for a much quieter extended family dinner--hooray!
Now, in addition to organizing the storage hall, I would love to come up with something for the big blank blue walls. I was thinking of painting a mural but was worried about it being too much. Then I thought of paintings in painted frames on the walls... I'm not sure, but it would be nice at some point. It's on the list and we'll see...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Cooking: Mom's Chicken Cassoulet for Sunday Dinner

We had my extended family for dinner this evening (and debuted our new playroom! more on that later...) and a cold day in March seemed the perfect time for my mother's Chicken and Sausage Cassoulet recipe. I always loved this when she made it and it's an easy one-pot meal for a crowd. I served it with an antipasto salad--and received a bit of grief from my husband from mixing my menu with European countries, but I was in the mood for this type of salad, and again, very little work... The salad is simply:
  • Romaine lettuce (I cut it...)
  • Marinated mushrooms, sliced in half
  • Marinated artichoke hearts, cut in 1/8ths
  • Good olives, sliced (not the canned black ones...)
  • Roasted red peppers, sliced (from a jar)
  • Grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • Balsamic dressing (bottled, or 1/2 c olive oil, 1/2 c balsamic, 1 Tb dijon)
  • Combine and toss...
Here is my mom's recipe for the Chicken Cassoulet (serves 6):
  • 1 whole roasted chicken
  • 6 spicy italian sausages (cut into large quarters)
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 14-16 oz. cans stewed diced tomatoes
  • 1 can (14 oz) chicken stock
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • Pinch red pepper flakes
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 15-19 oz. cans white beans (Navy, Great Northern)

* add more wine/broth during simmer 

 1) brown sausage, fully cook, and set aside (when it is cooled, slice into 1/4" pieces)

2) sauté garlic and onion in olive oil 

3) add tomatoes with juice, thyme, salt and pepper, and bay leaf. Cover and boil 

4) reduce heat to medium and cook, covered, for 10 min. 

5) rinse and drain beans and add to pan with wine and chicken stock 

6) Let mixture simmer for 4-6 hours 

7) An hour before serving, add roasted chicken (torn in pieces) and sliced sausage and let warm through

Garnishes: toasted bread crumbs, chopped bacon, chopped parsley, parmesan.

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