Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A New Book

For my birthday last month, I got the Alabama Stitch Book. I love love love this book. First of all, you can make the projects inside without buying any new fabric since they use old cotton jersey t-shirts. "Upcycle" is a catch word I've been seeing more and more this year, and all these projects are upcycled. What is better than taking something ugly or stained or ill fitting and making it into something beautiful? Will has way too many t-shirts, so I've been happy to clean out his drawers. I have a few t-shirts which are either too big, don't look good, or have holes so they've gone to the Alabama Stitch Project pile too. Natalie Chanin, the author, suggests starting with the bandana, but my t-shirts weren't quite wide enough so I began with the journal cover. I made patchwork covered Moleskine journals from Last Minute Patchwork and Quilted Gifts for Christmas gifts this year, and thought the leftover boring brown journals would be the perfect thing for which to make a stitched and reverse appliqued journal cover. The second thing I love about this book, is that you don't need to be perfect. If your stitches aren't all the same length or a line of straight stitching isn't quite straight, it doesn't matter. Natalie also gives you the option of leaving your knots on the outside as a decorative effect. All these imperfections add to the Alabama Chanin look. I loved sitting on the sofa for the past two nights watching movies, sewing the outlines of my petal shapes, then clipping out the insides. When I sewed the last stitch on my journal cover, I was sad because I loved working on this project so much. I need to buy some more colors of carpet/buttonhole thread today since my hands want to get busy again.

2008 was a good year. Agnes was born, and we all love her more than I thought was possible. McLemore Auction Company had a lot of success and the path is continuing into 2009. Will is being recognized professionally and has some new exciting opportunities coming up. Ely started a Montessori school which he adores and thrives in. Listening to the US elect Obama was a moment I can't even attempt to describe. As for me, birthing a baby, becoming a mother again, and watching my children grow and change were all very special. But the unexpected I will take with me into the new year is a deepened joy of working with my hands. The world of craft blogs has motivated and inspired me to make, to sew, to embroider and to create.

I'm looking forward to filling up my new stitched journal with the details of 2009.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Post Christmas Cookies

This is what happens when you never find the time to bake and decorate the sugar cookie dough you made.

They tasted just as good after the holiday, we had the freedom to use some of our non Christmas and Hannukah cookie cutters, and we had an activity to do this week of winter vacation.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The Day After or How I Missed Seeing Nicole Kidman in Person Because I am Tired

I should be working on some gifts thatdidn'tquiteneedtobefinishedbeforeChristmas, but I don't have the energy. Instead I'm contemplating eating another cookie or cleaning up some of the toys strewn around or working gifts for next year, like Amy's cross stitch. Christmas is exhausting. I think this is because I'm a parent with a child who now understands what the holiday and Santa Claus are all about. Before, I could be a slacker. But this year, illusions for two children had to be kept it. Ely is determined that Santa will come again tomorrow night or the night after, and he is going to be so disappointed again tomorrow when the tree is bare underneath and the stockings are still empty. If he knew his mother wouldn't survive two nights of Santa, he might be a little more understanding.

This morning I went shopping in search of some clothes that are stylish and fit me. At home I have some clothes that fit, many clothes that don't fit, some clothes that are stylish but have stains of unknown origin, and many clothes that are way out of style. Having a baby and nursing impacts the amount of your wardrobe you can wear in a bad way. I need the guts to get rid of all the nice clothes I have from 5-9 years ago, because I think I will never wear them again. Maybe in the New Year. Mom told me the mall opened at 8am. I was there at 9am.

My sister in law is in town with her boyfriend, so they did a big tour of Nashville. We met them at Carnton Plantation in Franklin. Carnton was near the Battle of Franklin in the Civil War and turned into a hospital. Several generals died at the house and thousands of men died in the battle. A confederate cemetery sits next to the house. When I first visited the plantation as a girl, there was nothing but fields all around it. Now, there is a country club butted up to the property, and a subdivision (Hearth at Carnton) you have to drive through to reach the drive for the house. There are still beautiful fields in front of the house, and although it was cloudy and a little windy the warmer weather made it pleasant to walk around the grounds and revisit a place I hadn't been to in a long time.

Ely wouldn't let me take his picture:
Agnes didn't mind:
Afterwards we went to another historic house, The Carter House, in downtown Franklin. I was tired and cold and Agnes was cold, so we stayed in the car and I read a few more pages of 2666. When Will came back to the car, he said "Guess who we saw?" and I said "Nicole Kidman." Apparently I guessed right, and she and Keith Urban were on a tour of the house. My mother-in-law saw them a few days ago as well. In the whole scheme of things Roberto Bolano is probably better everyday than a celeb sighting. When Will and Ely ran into Nicole Kidman, Ely was dancing around doing the potty dance and holding his crotch (he refused to go at the last place). Nicole looked right him! She was either thinking "This is what I have to look forward to" or "Get that boy to a bathroom."

So, tomorrow. Tomorrow, I will try and make the 1.5 batches of cookie dough I have in the fridge into post-Christmas cookies. Tomorrow, I will try to put the new socks away and fold the tissue paper. And tomorrow, I will try to sew the rest of this year's gifts. Though I might still work on a cross stitch for next year.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

We had a wonderful day.
Hope you did too!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Our stockings are hung...

and our candles are lit!

Happy Christmas Eve and 4th day of Hanukkah.

Now, I'm going to bed.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I used to want to take picture.

It's funny how things change. I used to be obsessed with photography. OBSESSED. I looked at every magazine and book I could get my hands on. I went to galleries and museums looking for photographs. If I was in an antique store, I would walk by all the glass cases hoping to find a tintype or a daguerreotype. I waited each week for the photo-eye newsletter to tell me about the new books being published. If I traveled to another city, I searched out photography shows at galleries or museums. I would drive to Atlanta the last weekend of a show at the High Museum. I drove to New Haven the last weekend of the MFA show. I spent all day in Chelsea and ended up with a hurt foot due to all that walking. I wanted to be a Fine Art Photographer more than anything else.

But then I got sick and didn't know it for a long time. And I was lonely being by myself all the time. I might have been lonely and depressed because I was sick, but it seemed like a lot of it had to do with photography. I got sick of hauling around heavy equipment and having to load and reload film all the time. And then I moved and lost my darkroom. And then I was pregnant, and didn't want to be around chemicals. And then I was nursing and didn't want to be around chemicals. And then I was pregnant again and still nursing, and I no longer wanted anything to do with chemicals. And the prices of everything went up up up. I have so much film in the fridge waiting to be processed, waiting for me to think we finally have enough money to pay the mortgage, the bills, and develop film. And now we have the digital SLR which is fun and easy. Nothing about my film cameras was easy. I no longer want to be a Fine Art Photographer and that is okay. I've known for a while that is in my old life, the life I left when I chose to be well and be happy. Photographer may still be on my tax return as profession but it probably shouldn't be.
Yet, I still have a strong desire to make. But making to me now is about taking something like fabric or yarn and turning it into something useful or pretty or both. Making doesn't seem to be very related to capturing. The more I spend my time with my hands making, the more I want to spend all my time with my hands making.

I still love to take photographs when the urge hits, though the urge comes to me not very often. There have been some afternoons in the past few months where I saw a tree I wanted to photograph the same way it looked in my eyes or I saw my children playing together and laughing and knew I wanted something that captured their smiles and crinkled eyes and expressed laughing and joy without needed any sound. I know I need to dig out those rolls from deep freeze and see if anything comes to life. I have a feeling I will see a lot I don't remember, and since time passes so much faster now I need something to bring those past moments back to me. I think 2009 needs to be the year of bringing photography back to me. Somehow, somewhere it will be on my resolution list. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I always forget...

how busy the end of the year is!

November has three birthdays and Thanksgiving. December has one birthday, school holidays, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year's Eve. Add that to the normal work, family, school, church, and meeting stuff just means we are plain busy. I've tried to simplify the holidays over the years to counteract the busy-ness. We stay at home - now easy since we live in the same city as our parents. We no longer send cards or have a party. We have minimal decorations and only inside the house. Hanukkah is about lighting candles and latkes. Gifts are pared down. I have always liked to give handmade gifts, which means time spent sewing, knitting, or cooking but not shopping. I use recycled wrappings. We get a real tree, but only the week before Christmas and keep it up for two weeks. We do bake but only one or two special treats like decorated sugar cookies. I'm trying to make family-centered traditions Ely and Agnes will remember fondly.

Last year, Will and I started a new family tradition - Christmas Eve Eve dinner. My mother grew up in a family with Swedish and German roots, so they did most of their celebrating and gift opening on Christmas Eve (though she remembers how much she hated traditional Swedish dinner). We still follow that tradition and cook a special meal and open presents with my family on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day is spent opening presents and eating with Will's family at his parents' house. Will used to have Christmas Eve supper at his great-aunts' house. Aunt Ruth and Aunt Lois would always buy corned beef and rye bread from Schwartz's Deli for sandwiches. He remembers the meals fondly, and we thought it would be nice to have a similar dinner for our families at our house. Christmas Eve and Day are already spoken for, so we decided Christmas Eve Eve would be the night for our Reuben dinner. I've added potato-leek soup to the menu , we now buy our corned beef and rye bread at Goldie's Deli (the successor to Schwartz's), and the evening usually ends in a rowdy game of Mexican train domino's. It's a nice way to spend more time with our families in a fun, but low key way.My parents are gave us new carpet as our holiday gift this year, and it was installed last week. It's hard to believe three years passed while we "renovated" our den, but it is done (well 90% done) and we can use and live in part of our house again. Ely and Agnes spent many hours romping around the new room, and playing peekaboo around and end table. They had so much fun, I had to capture their smiles in a photograph. Looks like I also captured two sweet matching faces. I'm looking forward to lots more fun and memories in the new room.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me!

The ghosts of birthdays past.
Happy 32 to me! Today is going to be a great day - Ely's special day at school is this morning and Will promised to take me to lunch. Maybe there will even be more surprises.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Lesson

Or alternate title: Why You Should Always Prewash Any Washable Fabric.

The first quilt class I signed up for was cancelled. I was so disapointed - all my fabric and supplies were bought, I had a brand new sewing machine, and I was itching to make something. I had enough fat quarters to make at least 2 quilts, if not more, so I decided I could make a simple quilt on my own, and still have enough leftovers for the rescheduled class the following month. My friend, Maya, and I had seen a quilt pattern in a book made up of big squares with sashing of rectangles and little squares. The grid pattern looked easy enough for me to attempt on my own. I decided on how large I wanted the big squares to be, how wide I wanted the sashing to be, and added seam allowances of 1/2 inch to each side to get the measurements for the cut pieces.

We had just gotten satellite tv with tivo and I was hooked on quilting shows. From watching the shows, I knew about cutting the pieces, pinning them, and sewing them together. I also knew I needed to decide if I was going to prewash all my fabrics, or not wash them at all. I was eager to cut into my fabric and decided not to wash any of them. Fast forward a few months...all my pieces were cut and most of them were sewn together into rows. We were moving so I packed up the unfinished quilt top to finish once we were settled in the new house. I had a new baby, but he took naps so I could sneak in some sewing time. I even had a sewing table where I could leave my machine set up, as our office room had a built in desk for the computer. I finished the quilt top, and it looked great. The small squares in the sashing allowed all of the pieces to line up easily. I decided to wash to quilt top as I now was in the camp of pre washing all fabrics before sewing. As I pressed the newly washed quilt top, I noticed some squares seemed as it they hadn't shrunk at all - the batiks. Batiks are washed many times during the dying process and have little shrinkage. All of my quilting cottons had shrunk. It hadn't occured to me that some of the fabrics in the quilt would shrink and some wouldn't. This was going to be an impossible quilt to machine quilt since the fabric won't lie flat. I don't want wrinkles caught in my quilting lines! Why didn't I wait until the whole quilt was done to wash it?!? I love the crinkly quilt look of antique quilts and would have loved the results no matter the shrinkage. I was disgusted with myself and folded the top and put it away to deal with at a later point.

That later point turned out to be today. I pulled the top out and decided I should cut the rows apart, remove the batik prints, recut them, then sew the whole thing together again. Once I identified all of the batik squares - at least one and sometimes up to three in every row - I was less eager to rip so many of the seams in my quilt apart. All of that time and thread would be wasted, and I was less excited about redoing the entire quilt. Suddenly, another solution came to me - I could hand tie the quilt. The extra fabric wouldn't matter so much if it was tied and the ties would work really well with the design of this quilt top. I've always wanted to hand tie a quilt and now I had a good reason. Now, to find the perfect color of embroidery floss...

Friday, November 21, 2008

An Afternoon with Anna Maria

The fabric designer and author Anna Maria Horner lives in my neck of the woods. I've been hoping to run into her at the local fabric store we frequent.
Alas, I've never seen her there until this weekend. Textile Fabric hosted a book signing for Anna Maria, so I was able to get an inscribed and autographed copy of Seams to Me and gush to Anna Maria about how much I love her fabric.
Her aesthetic of bright colors and bold patterns fits my aesthetic perfectly. The birdcage on a chain quilt is at the top of my-projects-to-sew list...I just need to finish collecting all of the fabric. Anna Maria was wearing the cutest yellow and orange fabric cuff bracelet, and I was thrilled to find the instructions in her book later that evening. She is also pregnant with #6! I don't know how she mothers 5 children, designs so many fabric lines (her newest line of quilting cottons comes out in early 2009), sews, writes a book, photographs, and keeps a blog.

Clearly if she can do all that, I can find a little more time to sew.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


...please motivate me to hand sew two quilt bindings! Why do I procrastinate so much on hand sewing?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


I want today to be over already. I'm tired. Will is sick. I think Agnes is getting sick again. Ely was sick over the weekend. And I'm tired. I am dying to know the results of the election. I voted early on October 15, the first day of early voting, since I was worried about the lines and the wait with a baby in tow. It wasn't quite as exciting as voting on Election Day, but my heart pounded just the same as I submitted my ballot. I'm going to try and get a nap in today, because I don't want to quit tonight until it's over. I have hope Tennessee might extend its gubernatorial voting patterns to the presidential elections today.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Sunday Afternoon

With the time change and the earlier start to our day, we had some unexpected free time Sunday afternoon. We went outside to enjoy the mid-70 degree weather, the backyard, and my neighbor's beautiful maple tree. The cold weather will be here for good soon enough.
Ely played ball with Blue.

Agnes rolled around on the blanket and chewed on toys.

I got a chance to flip through my recent stack of craft and cookbooks from the library.

It was a good afternoon.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

November Birthdays

November is a busy month for fetes in my family. My Dad's birthday is this week, my Mom's is the week after, and mine is the week after that. Plus with Thanksgiving, it means we have a lot of celebrations and big dinners in November.

The only problem with all these November birthdays is coming up with enough gift ideas for November and December. We don't exchange Hannukah gifts anymore, but between birthdays and Christmas I still need several good ideas.

One of my favorite birthday gifts, is to bake a special homemade birthday cake. I bake only from scratch. I like knowing everything that goes into the food I make for my family, and I can easily avoid transfats and HFCS this way. We may have fewer baked goods in our lives, but they are much tastier and better for us. I've found it only takes about 5-10 more minutes to bake most things from scratch and the extra time is worth it.

My long time favorite birthday cake is the Chocolate Buttercream Cake from Ina Garten's The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. If you own the book, this cake is the one pictured on the back cover. It's a delicious chocolate layer cake with chocolate buttercream icing. Once you make a really good buttercream like this one, all other icings fall flat (even buttercream using powdered sugar). Ina's chocolate buttercream calls for raw egg whites, which I have used in the past, but now I like to use powdered egg whites, especially if young children are eating the cake. Powdered egg whites are also a lot easier, neater, and cheaper to use.

The cake can be a little time consuming, but it's easy to make the cake one day and the icing the next. You can even make the cake several weeks in advance, and freeze the two layers in the freezer. The cake also doesn't have to be a cake. I turned them into cupcakes for Ely's 3rd Birthday party this year. To make them fun for children (and adults), I added sprinkles and a plastic dinosaur on top:
There was not a single one left over.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

All Hallows Eve

This morning we all woke up with stomach aches. Too much chocolate for all the trick-or-treaters, and too much wine for the adults giving out the candy.

Ely was a cowboy. My mother-in-law made his costume, and took a blue ribbon at her county fair this summer. I made Ely's trick-or-treat tote bag last year. I was in Old Navy in late October and saw some Halloween bags for $3. They were very cute and very cheap, but were made of plastic and I try hard not to buy any plastic or spend money on items my family doesn't need for survival. I realized I could make him a simple bag, as I'd recently taken a sewing class at the local art school and learned the basic "formula" for a tote bag. I already had black kona cotton and orange and black cotton thread in my stash, so all I needed was 1/2 yard of orange kona cotton which I could purchase for less than $3 and maybe would even be enough for two bags.

Tote bags are simple - basic rectangles and straight sewing, with homemade bias tape handles. Depending on how you want the bag to look, the handles can be sewn on before assembly, or at the very end. I wanted a simple bag, so I sewed them on before I sewed the exterior to the interior. I added a fun pumpkin applique to the outside, using wonder under and black fabric scraps. I cut out the facial features, ironed them in place, and edgestitched around them to permanently secure them to the bag. I unintentionally used a dull exacto knife to cut out the eyes, nose, and mouth so the pieces have frayed more than I'd like. Black thread for the edge and topstitching finishes off the bag. The best part about making your own bag is that it can be any size. Personally, I don't think young children need a lot of candy, so I made Ely's bag on the smaller side. A smaller bag is also easier for a young child to carry on his own. Agnes didn't need a bag this year, but I'll make her one next year. I'll probably embroider her name on the outside of her, and add Ely's name to his to prevent any confusion.

This tired lion is looking forward to some rest on All Souls' Day, and trick-or-treating with the big kids in 2009.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Where It All Began...

This is the first quilt I made. And the only quilt I've finished. (However, I'm watching lots of Dexter this weekend and hand sewing the binding on my gift baby quilt, so I will have another finished quilt to show soon. Promise.) I wanted to revisit this quilt, which I made in 2004, because it is the first project I made in the orange and blue color scheme I've become so fond of. Will's aunt talked me into quilting a year or so after she talked my sister-in-law Meg into quilting, and I decided an introduction to quiltmaking class at the local quilt store would be the best way to learn how to sew and quilt. I chose to make the smallest size quilt option, so I could get my blocks made and pieced in the first two weeks of the class. I was in Spain for one of those two weeks, so I knew the smaller the better for me. Once the quilt top was pieced, the teacher helped us pick border fabrics based on the fabrics and colors we liked best. I told her I liked an aqua floral print and an orange floral print in my quilt top best, so she steered me to the orange batik I used for the wide border and the aqua and green print I used for the thin border. My friend Maya made me enter the quilt in the Austin Quilt Guild show which meant instead of my usual procrastination, I had to quilt it, bind it, and make a sleeve for it in a couple of weeks to meet the deadline for the show. The day after the show ended I found out I was pregnant, so this crib sized quilt quickly became the quilt for the baby. When we moved back to Nashville and into our new house, I chose paint and linens for the baby's room around the quilt.
This was Ely's room for almost 3 years and now it's Agnes's room. She will have her own special quilt one day, but for now Ely's quilt still hangs on her wall. Every time I rock and nurse her to sleep in the rocking chair, I get to look at the quilt that started my love of sewing and of tangerine and turquoise.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Splendid Shortbread Tart

It's no secret I'm a huge fan of The Splendid Table and Lynne Rossetto Kasper. The weekly podcast of The Splendid Table is my constant companion on my walks, and I've been known to cook meals for dinner that night I heard about on the show or stop at the liquor store on the way home to buy a recommended bottle or box of wine. Long before I knew about her radio show, my family and I loved her cookbook, The Italian Country Table. Many of Lynne's recipes are staples in the Wolff households, especially her chocolate torte. Lynne's most recent cookbook written with Sally Swift - How to Eat Supper - came out in the Spring and I've been dying to read it ever since. I'm not allowed to buy books*, so I was thrilled to spot it in my library's inventory last week.

I flipped through the book over the weekend, and immediately saw what I wanted to cook first, the rustic jam shortbread tart. I avoid sugar while pregnant, so I've been enjoying my post pregnancy sugar binge for the last 8 months and love easy desserts whose ingredients I have in my pantry or refrigerator. The shortbread tart fit this category. In my first attempt on Sunday, I left out the almonds and lemon zest since I only had walnuts in the freezer and non-organic lemons on the counter. The tart, which I topped with raspberry jam, was very good, though I overbaked it trying to get the jam to the bubbly stage. I also only have a 10 inch tart pan instead of a 9 inch, and the extra room made the crust a little thin. Today, I made the tart again with almonds, lemon zest, and wild blueberry jam and adapted the ingredient amounts for a larger pan. I usually don't have dessert with lunch, but I did today. So did Will, who probably didn't realize how lucky he was this morning when he ran out of time to pack his lunch.

*In Spring of 2005, Will and I decided we would only get books from the library and not buy any no matter how cheap we found them used. We did this to cut down on unnecessary spending and to limit the number of books in our house. It's worked well, and put us in the mindset of buying books is wrong. We are allowed to buy something we can't get at the library or something we can't live without, but we've gone from buying several books a month to buying only several a year.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Coasters Pretty Darn Quick

While Will was at the hockey game last evening and I was movie-less at home, I decided to make some coasters (fun) instead of hand sewing the back of the binding for the baby quilt I just finished (not so much fun). I noticed my glass of water by the computer was dripping all over table, and realized we have no good coasters in the house. I saw these this week, and knew I wanted to try the quilted coasters from Last Minute Patchwork and Quilted Gifts for myself soon. I pulled out some fun, colorful fabrics from my fabric stash (uh make that pile at the moment). I spent an hour ironing, cutting out the materials for 5 coasters, and sewing, finishing two of them before I called it quits for the night. They turned out fairly well, though I'm not sure mine are nice enough to make more for gifts. I find it next to impossible to sew anything into a perfect square, so mine are a little wonky which makes the quilting wonky. I was also missing high loft batting which I substituted with a double layer of low loft, so using the correct batting may make them a little thicker and sturdier. And I realized this morning, I never put a quilting needle in my machine before I started quilting - oh well! It's always nice to try things out on yourself first and for that the tables in my house will be thankful.

(It's a cloudy afternoon and I have no tripod at home, so this is the best I can do. I thought I would like the pink quilted one on the left the best, but it turned out to be my least favorite. Notice the orange and blue quilt in the background? That is the gift in my reoccurring color scheme I need to finish.)