Monday, April 30, 2012

Plastic Canvas - My first attempt

Well, I vowed to run right out and buy some plastic canvas after seeing an amazing post by Diane Gilleland on how to make some cute modern things out of the stuff, and I DID.  What a great way to use up the buckets of extra yarn I had laying around from my regular crochet crafty madness.  I also discovered plastic canvas (going to call it PC) is cheap, thus making any project I might try pretty close to free!  

The only trouble now was, what to make first?  Online there were patterns for simple bookmarks, magnets, picture frames, but I thought I'd start with something I could use, like a little bag for my cell phone that could double as a little purse for one of my girls if they took a shine to it.  I really didn't have a pattern, I decided to just cut the canvas to the dimensions of my phone and then whip stitch the pieces together to make a little bag.

Now I must warn you that I have never done plastic canvas.  I did cross stitch in high school and colllege, but technically never needlepoint before, so I don't claim to be an expert.  I just wanted to post my experience of trying to make my first project, and maybe help my niece (who lives in another state) to see how I did it.

Ok so if you are like me, you know nothing about plastic canvas... that it comes in different sizes, shapes, etc.  I found a little tutorial on beginner PC with a simple happy face pattern if you want to learn some basic terms and stitches.  I bought a few sheets of 7-count plastic canvas, which I believe is the most common size people use (There is also 5, 10, and 14 count).  The size refers to "squares per inch" so the higher the number, the smaller the squares, and the finer the stitches will be.  First gather your materials

I used red heart yarn and size 7 count plastic canvas, along with a 7 count plastic canvas needle
Also did you know that plastic canvas comes in many colors?  I wasn't sure what I wanted so I did buy some pink colored canvas but in the end opted for the regular white or "clear" canvas.  Next, I laid out my phone and measured with a ruler the size of a bag I thought it would fit in.
Don't mock my phone, it's a pre-smart phone.  We call them our G.E.D. phones. lol Luckily I have a cute case to cover it up

You have a few choices I figured out, you could either go by inches, or you could go by how many boxes.  Since fractions terrify me, I decided to go by number of boxes.  I used 28 across and 36 tall to fit my particular phone.  If you are making something measure around it so you know it will fit when you are done.  Next, I used the sharpie to mark where the cut lines should be and hesitantly cut out my first piece.

Cut close and straight as possible next to the canvas beam without cutting into it
Instead of measuring a 2nd time, I just used my cut out as a template and laid it down on the canvas and marker around it with the sharpie.  I also used the sides of the "front" piece to mark the length of the side sections of the bag
                               Trim off any bumpy ends                        I used the base as a measure to make the bottom the same length
If you get an end with bumpy knobs you can just cut them off and trim close to the edge as possible.  I wanted to make sure my sides AND bottom of the bag would be the same width, so I cut three the same length and height.  But the bottom was going to be a tad shorter, so I lined up the strip, measured and cut it so it would fit perfectly with the side it was going to be attached too.

Next I laid out all my pieces in the way they would eventually be attached to each other.

Ok, now to put some yarn on the canvas.  I was nervous.  My original plan was to do squares of four in a checkered-type pattern.  So here goes nothing.  I thread my yarn in a rather long strand.  I start in the back 4 boxes up and stick the needle through, pulling it down to the box in the lower right corner.

The "tail" of the yarn I placed about an inch on the back side and stitched over it to secure the yarn to the canvas

Starting from the BACK again I start up at the 4th square and bring it down to the bottom for the 2nd stitch.  My plan is to make four of these in a row to form a little light pink box.  Then I just made that a pattern, skipping four spaces to add another color later

If you go up a row for the next 4-pattern then down to the bottom row again, you will avoid a long yarn line across the back of the canvas between blocks of 4, hope that makes sense... like this _ - _-   ( instead of -  -  -  -  along the bottom)

I just kept going until the yarn ran out.  Then reloaded the needle with new yarn and kept going until the whole thing was covered in pink squares.  Then I went back with a very bright "shocking" pink and filled in the spaces I had left the same way

Soon my checkerboard pattern was taking shape.  I kept going until the whole thing was filled up.  Near the top the pattern wasn't going to end up being a full stitch like the others, so I switched to a single row type stitch to fill it up to the top.  I thought it made a nice border/ridge where the straps would go.  I guess that's the beauty of this medium.  You can design it however you want, if something isn't going to work out, you can change the plan

Next, I needed to do the sides and bottoms.  I decided to do one big long stitch down the length.  It was quick and a lot faster than the small squares.

I did this long stitch for both sides and the bottom of the bag
Now comes the attaching of things together.  Take the two pieces (I started with the front and the bottom as shown above) and hold them with the wrong sides together, right sides facing out.  Put your needle through BOTH holes and up the next hole

I must apologize for the dark picture.  I was doing this part later at night while watching TV and the lighting was weird.  If you want a more detailed pic of how to whip stitch pieces together, go to Diane's project on making a PC box, she has very clear pictures AND how to tie in loose ends

After that I stitched all the pieces together and did two simple crochet handles (chain the length you want and half double crochet back and finish off).  Attaching them was a little tricky I think next time I will attach the handles before I assemble the pieces (my phone purse was pretty narrow and hard to reach inside to tie things off)

And there you have it.  My first attempt at plastic canvas.  Cute little hot pink purse.  I have to tell you my 4-year-old took one look at this the next morning and claimed it for her own.  She's been carrying around little trinkets and treasures non stop since I finished it.  No worries.  We are about to get our first ever smart phones next week, so I will need a new sized carrying case anyway.  

So... do not be afraid of plastic canvas, go out there and try a new project today.  From the looks of it, there could be TONS of fun and useful applications you could make with this stuff!

Friday, April 27, 2012

On line Fun - Puzzles

Have I mentioned our family loves puzzles?  We made sure that the girls, even from a small age had tons of puzzles lying around to play with and I am proud to say they are all whizzes at puzzles now (and mazes too).  Hubby and I even spent a lot of our honeymoon in a rustic cabin on the Oregon coast relaxing and doing puzzles.  Puzzles have been an awesome learning toy through the ages for parents and kids alike.  They are not just for fun and games though, as they also provide a number of benefits as well, such as increased memory, problem solving, eye-hand coordination, spacial skills, visualization, and keeping your mind sharp as you get older.

I just found a fun online puzzle site I thought I would share.  Once you register, you can submit your OWN photos and either make them private just for you, or you can share and make them public for other people to enjoy.  You can design them with just a few pieces or with many, it's up to you.  You can also browse other people's submissions, and the site is family friendly.  If you have a competitive streak, you can try to do them in the fastest time and have your scores posted up with other puzzle makers.  If you don't care about time or scores, you can just enjoy your puzzle at your own rate.

Click here to go to Jigidi puzzles and check them out!

I really like that you can select by category (outdoors, animals, nature, etc), plus check out the category for kids.  My girls have had some fun doing on line puzzles with the Disney characters, princess, Mickey Mouse, and cute puppies.

So challenge yourself with some mental gymnastics and do a few fun puzzles today!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Cutting Apples - The Easy Way

I was cutting away at an apple the other day when my friend stopped me mid slice and said, "why are you cutting them like that"?  I didn't realize I was doing anything out of the ordinary but it turns out she had never seen an apple cut that way, and she really liked it.  So, now wondering if I was the only one who slices apples like this, or if she alone had been blissfully unaware, but just in case you haven't tried this, I thought I would pass it on.

I know you've all seen Martha Stewart, with her little pairing knife cutting the peel off an apple in one perfect long thin strand, then lovingly slicing the apple in half, trimming away the seeds with a little "V" shaped wedges, blah blah chorus.  Ok so I don't have that kind of time.  I've got kids who want apples NOW and they don't want that yukky peel either.  Or sometimes I'm making a big ol' apple crisp in a family sized pan and it's going to take all day to slice up all those apples.  Here's a time saving tip:

First, peel the apple with a vegetable peeler.  It's quick, it's easy, it's just like a potato.  Take off the stem to get as close the the top edge as you can.  Once the whole peel is off, stand the apple up right and place the knife slightly to the right of the stem, and make your first cut

Next, lay the apple down the the flat side you just created, and slice again (narrowly avoiding the stem area)

Next, keep flipping the apple down on the flat side you just created

and... one last side

All that remains behind are these wacky, but fun square cores.  If you need a fun activity for the kids using these cores, check out our amazingly unexpected apple art here.

Now you have a perfectly flat, SEEDLESS surface to make even slices from

It makes quick work for the rest of the sides

Next, toss the slices in a bowl of cold water to wait while you finish cutting up the other apples (this will help them from turning brown too fast) and without having to use lemon juice.  

Look at these lovely even apple slices!

When ready to use, drain off the water and start your baking engines.  I'm thinking of making a crisp with these, so I will post that very recipe soon.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

New Craft Alert! - Plastic Canvas

So because of all the crocheting, let's just say I have a lot of extra yarn lying around. How much is a lot?  Well I could easily fill a few (OK, seven) large bins with different colors and types of yarn. In my defense, some were given to me, and others I have amassed on sale over the last few years.  But hey, having a large variety of colors comes in handy if, say, you need that perfect color of burgundy and cream yarn to whip up a strip of play bacon or the perfect shade of red to whip up an Angry Bird stuffed animal at a moment's notice. 

I was looking for ways to use up all this left over yarn when I came across a craft from yesteryear; plastic canvas.  One Google search will turn up tons of pictures of extensive needlepoint snowmen and Christmas ornaments from what I can only guess is the 60's and 70's? Surely there must be modern applications for such a versatile medium.  Then, I came across this blog from Diane Gilleland over at Craft: featuring something that was cute, useful, and looked fun too.  It was a custom storage bin for craft objects.  

photo by Diane Gilleland  She also has an amazing blog called CraftyPod found here

How cute is that?  Love the colors too.  Of course you don't just have to make boxes for craft supplies.  Immediately I could see using this idea in a number of cool projects.  Also, I am a total newbie to plastic canvas, Diane's play by play tutorial on how to make it looks easy and fun.  It made me want to run out and try it.

Plastic canvas art typically uses needlepoint stitches to make the designs.  I, being a former cross stitching guru back in my teens and college years feel like I can maybe pull this off without much training.  Also she suggested not just doing tedious small traditional stitches, but think outside the box at using longer stitches and even different mediums like satin ribbon or paper raffia to make unusual patterns and designs

Photo by Diane Gillelan - she is inspiring me here!
Not only are these lovely, but the long stitches would make a project wiz by in no time.  So inspiring. Plus, upon a quick search, plastic canvas is super cheap, comes in a variety of colors and sizes, and with my current supply of yarn would make projects almost free to complete!  Also this might be a great craft for kids, tweens and teens to help learn basic sewing stitches and make fun gifts for their friends and teachers.  I was so excited I called up my 13-year-old niece Maddison and told her all about this, we might even learn how to do it together.

Plus, who knew that my random find of a new interest would be so hip and in trend with the Hollywood set?  If any of you out there are Big Bang Theory fans, you will see Dr. Sheldon Cooper is the proud owner of a rubix cube tissue cover made of... gasp... plastic canvas and yarn.

Uber-geeks will be pleased to know that those are not just random squares in the correct colors, but the actual exact placement of squares if you took a real rubix cube and messed it up.  My 80's lovin' geeky hubby might need one of these really soon!

So now I'm off to the craft store to track down some plastic canvas.  I'll keep you posted...

Monday, April 23, 2012

Homemade pizza and cheesy bread

Thank goodness for Pinterest!  With it I have found the perfect fail-proof pizza dough recipe from Lauren over at Lauren's Latest.  She is a genius.  She has a play by play of an easy pizza dough/cheesy bread stick recipe using a stand mixer, along with great pictures of all the steps.  I highly recommend that you try this recipe out, because with it, you can make the following:

Yes beautiful ooey gooey cheesy pizza-ie goodness.  Once you have Lauren's perfect dough completed, gather your favorite sauces and toppings, and you can go to town making whatever kind of pizza you like.  This one above was a Canadian bacon and pepperoni, one of my favorites.  It is always a bonus if you have adorable pizza topping helpers to assist you along the way.  One warning though, they eat more cheese then they put on the actual pizza...

 We also tried my hubby's favorite, the "Hawaiian" (Canadian Bacon & Pineapple), which as most of you know is what I consider to be an "abomination", due to fruit blatantly consorting unabashedly with meat

Both these pizzas turned out absolutely delicious (had to take hubby's word on the Hawaiian).  We bought some non-expensive simple pizza pans (from Walmart) with small holes in the bottom that came in a 2-pack of sizes that made the crust both crispy on the bottom, but still with a great texture in the middle.

I think what turned out possibly the best and thus, the closest to a restaurant style item was the amazing cheesy bread sticks recipe that Lauren posted about in the same post with garlic, butter and cheese.  We tried it, and can attest it came together so easy and was amazing! 

Crispy, crunchy, and great flavor with that garlic butter base.  We cut this up and dipped in in some extra pizza sauce and it was a hit with everyone!  So if you have never attempted your own crust before, you should give this one a whirl!  I personally love when a recipe has been tested by a few people, so I know that it actually works and tastes great.  Next I might try a BBQ chicken pizza or one of those bacon chicken artichoke pizzas that are all the rage.  Now, go and get your Italian on then come back and tell me Grazie for finding Lauren's rockin' dough.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Strawberry Banana Trifle

What dessert did I make for Easter dinner this year you ask?  Well I made a fun, fabulous, floofy dessert otherwise know as a Strawberry Banana Trifle (thanks for asking). Do not fear!  Though Easter is already passed, you do not have to make it just for holy holidays though, no sir!  A trifle makes a nice, beautiful, easy dessert anytime through the spring and summer months with any seasonal fruit of your choice.  Kids love it, grown ups love it.  It is a sure fire win and has that elusive "wow" factor that cookies or cupcakes just can't deliver.

Ain't she a beaut?  Well the nice thing about this one is that it is a very family friendly recipe.  My 4 year old helped me put it together, which is why is doesn't quite have that military precision of a super fancy Martha Stewart concoction such like this:

Wow.  Now that's precise.

The other nice thing about trifles in general is that you can make them just as fancy as you want, or you can just chill out and layer as you go.  Choice is up to you.  

Mine above is a tad more casual and laid back.  Of course I could spend extra time and effort aligning all the berries, but my brother and nephews are just going to scarf it up as fast as humanly possible anyway.  Plus it was rather fun to let my little one dump in the layers as we went along and help me.  She was having a blast and let me assure you it will taste the same regardless. The only caution about trifles is to NOT do what Rachel did on Friends, where two pages of a cook book stuck together and she made half trifle, half shepherd's pie.  Ug I believe the layers were lady fingers, jam, beef, custard, and peas.  I think the verdict was it "Tastes like feet".

For a non-foot tasting trifle, gather the following plus bananas (not shown).
(click here for a printable recipe )

angel food cake, strawberries, 2 large boxes vanilla pudding, cool whip, bananas, and milk
*Make this entire recipe sugar free by having sugar free versions of cake, pudding mix, and whipped topping 

First, you want to prep your ingredients beforehand.  Take your store bought angel food cake and cut it in half.  Turn each half into one-inch cubes. 
Make your vanilla pudding mix and set aside, wash and chop up strawberries but save bananas until right before you start layering.  Also the size of your trifle bowl will determine how much of each ingredient you will use, because you want enough room for 2 full layers.  For a extra large family trifle I will put half the angle food cake, half the pudding, half the fruit and half the whipped cream and layer that twice, but for that you will need a pretty big bowl.  My mom's trifle bowl that I borrowed turned out a bit on the small side, but I came up with an ingenious solution that I will show you in a minute.

Next start the layering process.  Drop in angel food cake then cover with pudding...
    Add a layer of strawberries and then a fresh cut layer of bananas.

Next add a layer of cool whip (this can also be home made whipped cream) Then repeat the process for a second full layer of angel food cake (tip: once the 2nd layer of cake is in, press down gently to help lightly pack down the first layer), then continue with the pudding, strawberries, bananas and finish off with whipped cream.

By the end you should have something that looks like a fancy dessert.  Now what do you do if you do not have a trifle bowl on hand?  Well I came up with a perfect solution when I started to stare at the container the angel food cake came in from the store.  If I turned it upside down it could easily become a make shift trifle bowl.  What?  I'm a genius!
Presto!  Upside down angel food cake container becomes a trifle bowl
This really came in handy for me because my mom's trifle bowl was a tad on the small side for our big family,  so all the left over ingredients went in here for a second trifle.

Next all you have to do is store it in the fridge for a few hours to let the flavors meld.  Matter of fact, you can make this the day before and let it set overnight.  Then on Easter all you have to do is whisk it out of the fridge and throw it in the car for the trip over to grandma's house.

And here it is safely at Grandma's house next to the other Easter goodies.  Super easy, super fun, and super delicious!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The VERY long walk...with ninjas

So I have one of those funny frazzled mom stories.  Well, not necessarily funny at all while it was happening, but after the fact you just can't help but look back and chuckle. It could also be called the long walk, (with ninjas).

It had been a long day.  I had spent 2-3 hours making a dinner that nobody completely liked and even complained about (a lovely creamy chicken and rice dish with mild flavors, we're not talking liver, onions, and brussel sprouts here but alas, I digress).  After dinner we ran out for an errand and were driving home in the car. The girls were a bit over tired by this time.  Everything from the back seat was an argument, a tattle, a complaint.  There was sobbing, there was crying, there was weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Were these justifiable life altering things we were upset about? Um, NO!  Near the end of our short trip lets see, one was upset that she couldn't see the rainbow I had pointed out and was weeping uncontrollably, one was hot and wanted some fresh air, so she rolled down the window, which sent the baby into shrieks that she was so "cold", which sent the oldest into a tantrum of why she needed it down because she was so hot... you get the picture.

We pull into the driveway and I've had about ENOUGH.  So I announce I am leaving, I need a break.  Please call me when you stop crying, stop fighting, stop complaining.  I am outta here.  I get out of the car and start walking down the street.  My hubby (driving) puts the car in the garage and gets the 4-year-old out of her car seat, who is now sad I am leaving and didn't get a chance to say goodbye.  She runs inside in a panic and grabs our puzzle of the United States of America... (first thing you would do, right?)

She is begging my husband to tell her where I am headed.  Poor thing.  I was just going to get some fresh air and walk around the neighborhood and she thinks I'm gonna hoof it to New Mexico or something.  When I returned and heard this I was both touched and tickled.  Not to mention the fact we have a long standing joke in my family entitled "I don't walk that far" so if she knew me at all, the thought of even walking to the back yard, let alone another state was outright hilarious!

So, back to the moment in the driveway when I announce my departure.  I start to walk down our street, breathing in deeply, counting to 10, admiring the clouds, calming back down into regular mommy mommy mode, and think I will walk over to our little park and watch the sunset.  So I'm half way down the street in our little gated community and I turn around and the older two are following me.

Only they don't think I can see them because they are hiding behind two different trees like statues.  I walk a bit further, turn around, and they are 20 paces closer, behind a new set of trees.  I really didn't want them to follow me so I told them to go home.  I watched them turn around and run for home.  I even waited a couple extra seconds to make sure they were not doubling back.  Now convinced I was talking a solitary walk, I continued to our park.

It was quiet and lovely there, so I sat on a bench and looked at the sky for 10 minutes.  After a while I was looking in all directions around me and when I gazed directly behind me 20 yards away,  I was very surprised to see to sets of legs and hands behind two of the park trees.  They followed me all the way to the park!  That was some pretty good stalking I thought in the back of my mind.  I didn't see or even hear them.  Pretty stealthy.  I had no idea I was dealing with expert, professional hide and seekers.

So now instead of sitting there and relaxing like I needed, I am now worried that they will either just stick around and stalk me, or worse, try to head home by themselves.  The worry gets the best of me and I head toward the park fence where I had seen them last.  Surprisingly, they were not there.  I looked around the whole area, scanning for ninja "hand" trees, but, nothing.  I think oh no, they have heading home alone.  I decided to walk home quickly, while still looking all over for them along the way.  I ven stopped and turned around to see if they were following at a distance, still nothing.  I get all the way home and my hubby was out in the driveway putting out the garbage cans for the next day.  I ask where they are and he says they are still following me.  I turn around and sure enough, like little ninjas, I see them hiding in the distance...
Seriously, I was so IMPRESSED by their skills of deception and stealthery!  I had not seen nor heard them the whole way home!  Yet there they were, making sure I was "safe" from 20 paces behind.  Aw, they DO care.  Hooray.  After my much needed (but a little too short) fresh air break, things mostly went back to normal and we got them ready for bed.  Apologies and hugs were the icing on the parenting cake.  Next time I go on a walk though, I am definitely thinking of bringing my ninja security team.

Friday, April 06, 2012

Rice Krispie Bird Nests

So with spring and Easter in the the air, I knew I wanted to make some little edible bird nests as a craft with the girls.  In years past I have used both shredded wheat and Chinese crunchy noodles as the nest base, and both of them taste pretty much like you are eating actual twigs. Not good.  So this year I decided we would use rice krispies to make the nests, because who doesn't LOVE rice krispy treats!

Easter egg rice krispie bird nests - how adorable!

These turned out really cute and here are the supplies you will need to make them:

Think just like regular rice krispie treats, only we are going to make a slightly larger batch than normal, and add jelly beans or Robin Eggs at the end to complete the "nests".

First find a large bowl and spray down with cooking spray.  Fill with 9-10 cups of rice krispies (Tip: put in 9 cups and keep a reserve cup to the side so that after you get the marshmallows in, you can gauge if you need the 10th cup).  Set bowl aside and off to the stove to make the marshmallowie goodness

Melt five TBSP of butter in a pot (also sprayed with cooking spray), and then add the marshmallows.  I used the extra large 16oz bag, and even added a few from another bag to make sure there was enough ooze to go around.

Once the marshmallows are melted down to goo, pour them over the bowl of waiting rice krispies. (Tip: if you spray your spatula with cooking spray the mess won't stick to your stir stick).

Now here's where it gets ooey gooey and messy Bessy. The kids LOVED this part, but take a small amount of butter and rub it on your hands like soap.  It's a weird, greasy feeling, it might even feel very wrong, but believe me it will really help you have the sticky mess stay off your hands and where you want it to go.  Let the mixture cool to a reasonable temperature that kids can handle (just nice and warm) and form into balls.  Have some sheets of wax paper laying near by and place the ball of crispy goodness down on it.  Gently, while keeping one hand on the outer shape, use your thumbs or fingers to make a nest shape with an indented center

Slather more butter on your hands if needed and work quickly before the krispies have time to set too much.  My girls were having so much fun with the butter.  We were done with this part but my middle child grabbed an extra pat of butter just to squish between her fingers.  Ug.  But she was having fun so I let her have her fun.

Next grab the little jelly beans or mini robin eggs (I liked the speckled look) and place them however you would like in the nests.  We tried all one color (like the baby blue bird eggs) or multi colored too.  Three eggs looked best but there were many number combinations throughout all the nests.

Then just let sit for a while and set up into a solid shape.  They pop right off the wax paper and I stored them in a lidded cupcake storage container with wax paper between the rows so they wouldn't stick together.

So cute, fun to make, delicious, and great not only for Easter and spring time, but anytime you want your kids to have some textile tasty fun!

Here's the printable directions:

9-10 cups rice Krispies
5 Tablespoons butter
16oz bag of marshmallows
Robin Eggs or small jelly beans
extra butter for hands
wax paper
cooking spray

Spray large bowl w/ cooking spray, add in 9 cups (+1 reserve cup) of krispies
In a pot, melt 5 TBSP of butter and add large 16oz bag of marshmallows (plus a few extra if you got them)
Once melted pour over waiting rice krispies and stir (add extra reserve cup of Krispies if needed)
When cooled to a temperature a child can handle, form into balls
Place balls on wax paper and gently form into a nest shape with indented center
Place jelly beans or small Robin Eggs in the center and let them set
Store in an air tight container and enjoy!

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