Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Stockings

I still have two stockings from my childhood. One is from my grandma van der Werf, which was carefully knitted in red, white, and green with a santa on it and my name across the top. The other was quilted with random fabrics from my grandma Janzen. Both have very different meanings for me and were part of different traditions. Nevertheless, I treasure both, especially the memories they bring.

I decided this year that stockings would be a good tradition to start with my family. I didn’t have the time to really plan out the patterns for each stocking, so in essence, they made themselves along the way. I made four stockings, since I am pregnant with boy number two, and cut out pieces for another one, just in case. I’m sure if I get pregnant again, I might not have time to make another stocking with two boys running around, and I didn’t want child number three to have the quickly boughten commercial stocking.

I wanted to make each stocking similar, but yet individual. This was easy for Jonas. He loves tractors and anything that has wheels. The patterns for the other stockings took a little more thought, and if the boy on the way doesn’t like cars, I’ll have to make him another stocking. Here’s the how to:

1. I first went to the fabric store and bought a bunch of Christmas fabric that matched well together. Then I made a pattern for the stockings (I laid down a sock on a piece of paper and drew around it), and cut out all of the socks out of red Santa suit like material.

2. Then I cut out squares of the other fabric and ironed Wunderunder on the back of it. I drew stars and circles on construction paper and used these as patterns. Then I laid these patterns on the Wunderunder and drew around them. Finally, I cut out the stars, balls, stocking toes and heels out of the Wunderunder-ironed material and placed these on the stockings where I wanted them. Then, they were ironed into place.

3. Since the names were ironed onto a piece of felt, I had to sew the felt onto the stocking. I then used the sewing machine to sew around some of the stars, the toes and heels, etc. so that they looked like they had been sewn on and not ironed on.

4. I used some white chenille fabric for the tops of the stockings. Sewing this onto the tops of the socks was like sewing a cat (Sorry, but, it’s the first thing that came to mind). I had never sewn chenille before, and you really can’t see what you are doing at all through all that hair. In the end, luckily, it looked alright.

5. Finally, I laid the reverse sides of the stockings together and sewed around the original sock drawing and then turned them back right-side-in. Now, I could see the finished product. I possibly could have made them bigger. I don’t think an orange would fit in the toe. But, then again, who gets an orange for Christmas anymore? I hung a little loop at the top and then voila they were finished. Maybe next year I’ll get them hung up before the 23rd of December. By then, Jonas will be big enough to look forward to what’s inside.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Advent Wreath

One of the traditions I always love in my husband's family is the lighting of an advent wreath the Sundays before Christmas. My husband Matthias's parents have a tree farm (they do forestry) and therefore not only cut their own trees for Christmas, but also have plenty of pine to make great decorations around the house. My mother-in-law makes advent wreaths for all of the children out of a circle of pine with red candles.

This year my husband and I will be spending Christmas in California. Decorating a palm tree is nice, but doesn't smell as good as fresh cut pine. Luckily, I was able to get my hands on some fresh cut pine and decided it was time for my own traditions. Nevertheless, I still got some tips from my mother-in-law on how to prepare a wreath since it was my first time.

I think it turned out pretty well. The only thing it is missing is candles. Normally, there are four candles placed around the wreath, which are lit each week until Christmas. However, with a one-year-old who just learned to walk, I thought this year candles in a glass might be a big more practical. Therefore, I will still light the candles one by one, just not on the wreath. In Germany, many people also put real candles on their Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. It looks very pretty, but coming from Kansas, I've just seen too many fires first hand to completely enjoy the spectacle, especially when there are kids running around. Hopefully, my children won't hold it against me. When they are older, we can get riskier with the Christmas deco.

Here's the how-to on the wreath:
1. Get some thick wire and make a ring. This is the base for your wreath.

2. Then take some newspaper and wrap it around the ring until it is about an inch and a half thick. Use some thin wire to hold the newspaper in place looping the wire around the ring in a circular fashion. Make sure the wire ends are securely fashioned and not sticking out.

3. Now take small branches, 6-12 inches long, and begin on one side putting the ends of the branch under the wire on the base. Make sure the branches all go the same direction or your wreath will really look silly. You may have to circle around a few times until you can't see the newspaper anymore.

4. Finally, if you would like to add some accents, tie a ribbon around the wreath or add some candles. If you have some holly, dress it up a bit. And, now all you need are some matches...

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Homemade Advent Calendar

Having lived over in Germany for so long, I really grew fond of the German Adventskalender, or in English advent calendar. Most Americans are familiar with the calendars that you can buy at Aldi, which are filled with little pieces of chocolate behind little doors for every day of the month of December until the 24th. However, there are a lot of other calendars that are far more creative. I've seen friends pack a basket full of gifts all numbered from 1 to 24, sew up little pouches that are hung up on a string, or even give a case of beer where each beer is numbered. There are endless possibilities.

The calendar that I decided to make is a very traditional one, which is often hung up on the back of a door or above the fireplace. It consists of 24 little pouches which can be filled with different gifts every year. I decided to make this kind of calendar, because it will allow me to vary the gifts from year to year. This year, for instance, I have a combination of chocolate for my husband, and cheerios for my one year old son.

How to:

1. First, I did the numbers and letters. I decided to cut a few corners on this project and use Wonderunder and material for the letters and numbers. Wonderunder allows you to take normal material and iron it on to other material, without having to sew anything. I figure, if I have time next year, I can always sew around the numbers and letters. But, it's not necessary.

2. Then, I did the number pouches. I cut out little squares of black felt to add contrast to the pouches. The pouches were sewn up out of little squares of colorful material. I ironed all of the corners first, which really helped to make the sewing go faster, and then sewed the pouches onto the felt.

3. Finally, I used some quilting backing and sewed up the background just like a little blanket. I kept a piece at the top open for a dowel (not pictured).

This project actually went a lot faster than I had anticipated and now I have an advent calendar for many years to come. It's worth the time and kids and adults love the anticipation of opening a gift every day. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Hungry Caterpillar

Jonas loves to play with strings, threads, and any little bit of fuzz that he can find. Therefore, I decided I would make a caterpillar for his first birthday with lots of strings attached.

As you can see from my absence the last month, it took me a lot longer than I had anticipated. Between having my German in-laws stay with us for three weeks and morning sickness, I just didn't get as much done as I had hoped for. But, thankfully, I did finish just in time for Jonas's birthday on October 14.

How to:
I really wish I could give a how to on this one, but I think it is almost impossible. This was a work in progress from the beginning. It started out with some pretty material and the bottom dangly strings from an old curtain (which I washed and to my surprise came out nice and white and in really good condition).

1. First, I sewed the curtain by hand into a yellow hem ribbon so that only part of the curtain was hanging out. I cut this into five pieces.

2. Then, I cut out 12 circles of material, 6 green ones for the bottom of the caterpillar and 6 colored ones for the top. I then took the colored circles and cut them in half. The yellow ribbons (with curtain pieces) were then sewed into the middle of these halves. After that, I sewed the green circles to the colored ones, leaving spaces at both ribbon ends for stuffing.

3. The legs were by far the simplest of the whole project. I took red satin material, sewed together and stuffed 10 legs, and then sewed two legs each between two pieces of yellow hem ribbon.

4. Now the fun part, the face. I took pieces of felt and sewed on the eyes. The pupils of the eyes are black ribbons tied in knots. The mouth is a piece of red rickrack. The antennas were made by braiding a thin red shoelace. I figured, my son would also like chewing on them.

5. Finally, I had to sew the whole thing together. This was really really hard. I ended up having to sew the leg pieces into the body pieces by hand. If I were to do the project again, I think I would do it all differently, in order to make this end part easier. Nevertheless, I did get it finished and I was proud of my achievement.

Jonas loves his caterpillar. Just as I thought, he loves to suck on the curtain strings or the antennas. Since he is still cruising and needs both hands to walk, he puts the caterpillar in his mouth and then cruises along the table. It's nice to know that the work has paid off. Nothing is better than a happy child.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Nursing Mother's Muffin

Nursing a 10 month old sure can make me hungry. So that I don't reach for sweets too often, I try to bake up a bunch of healthy snacks as often as I can. These muffins are a good combination of sweet and healthy. The fiber also helps to keep you going, which I need since my baby is now learning how to stand up and walk.

Here's the recipe:

The Nursing Mother’s Muffin
Banana, Walnut, Chocolate Chip, Grape Nuts

1 C flour
1 C Grape Nuts
¼ - ½ C Sugar (depending on how sweet you like it)
4 t baking powder
¼ t salt
1 t cinnamon
¼ C oil
1 egg
¾ C milk
1 ripe banana
1 C walnuts
1 C chocolate chips

1. Mash ripe banana with a fork in a large mixing bowl.
2. Add egg and mix well.
3. Add sugar and oil and mix thoroughly.
4. Add flour, Grape Nuts, salt, cinnamon and baking powder. I like to mix the dry ingredients a bit on the top before I mix it into the liquid underneath.
5. Add milk (add more if needed) and mix well.
6. Add chocolate chips and walnuts.
7. Bake at 350 degrees for about 15-20 minutes. Makes 12 muffins.


Monday, August 23, 2010

Thunderstorm Quilt - A little Donnerwetter

Rain. Rain. Rain. As a child, I always liked rain. It felt good, it smelled good, and it meant that my dad didn’t have to work on the farm. I remember seeing the horizon turn white in the distance as a storm approached. We only had about three minutes to get inside before we all would get terribly wet. Often, we kids would just make it inside and my mom or dad would get drenched only 30 seconds behind us. That was rain!

I loved the colors and sounds of a good thunderstorm and often spent hours sitting and watching the clouds build. You could often see extraordinary lighting storms while the sky above you was bluer than the sea. Other times, the dust turned the clouds brilliant colors in all directions. A Kansas thunderstorm is always breathtaking.

Later, when I moved to Germany my feelings about rain changed. I got tired of drizzle and days without sunshine. I realized, that it wasn’t so much the rain that I loved, but the storms that carried it. When I got pregnant, I decided that I wanted to make a quilt for my unborn child which also told a story. This thunderstorm quilt is the result.

The How to:

1. For this quilt, you need lots of old jeans! I saved up mine for a while and was amazed at all of the different shades of blue and black to be found. The only non-jeans material, is the sun. This is an old tablecloth.

2. For the pattern, I laid out a piece of brown packing paper and drew the design. Then I laid my jeans down on the paper and started cutting pieces to fit.

3. At this point, I just started sewing the pieces together. Then I would lay them back on the pattern, cut out some more and sew again. I’m not too much of a planner when I sew, and often change my pieces as I go.

4. The sun was made with an old tablecloth and yellow ribbons. I only added it later, because I thought the quilt needed some color. Thank goodness I did!

5. I used a large piece of blue fleece for the back of the quilt and some polyester backing. My friends at my sewing group helped me to tie the quilt with blue thread. Then, I used the rest of some yellow material for the edges.

6. Finally, the cloud details were quilted at the end with blue thread. This is still a work in progress. Maybe, I will quilt some more at a later time.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Colorful Burp Rags

Before I had a baby, I was told that babies produce a lot of laundry. I couldn’t imagine that such a little thing could produce a lot of dirty clothes… until I had my own baby. I hadn’t realized that babies could spit up so much and so often! It wasn’t just my baby’s clothes that needed washing, it was mine as well. Therefore, I got accustomed to bringing along a lot of burp rags with me at all times.

I found the best burp rags to be cloth diaper material, since it was soft, absorbent, and bigger than most you can buy at the store (These rags were bought in a department store over in Germany). In order to make the rags a bit prettier, I began stitching around the sides with bright embroidery thread. I used the same stitch that my grandmother had used on a quilt that she once made. I’m afraid, I don’t know its name. My mother-in-law also helped me out a bit, so that in the end, I had a whole supply of colorful cloths.

I still always have a couple of these burp rags with me, even though Jonas is already almost ten months old. They have proven to be useful for more than just cleaning up small spills. I lay one on the carseat when I go shopping, so that it doesn’t get too hot. I hang one in the window so that the sun doesn’t get too bright. I throw one over my shoulder when I want to nurse in public. I put a piece of ice in it when Jonas was teething. Finally, Jonas uses one as a comfort rag and loves to suck on it and hold it until he falls asleep (see photo). I love these rags and never leave home without them.

This stitch is also pretty easy, so no how to is necessary. Just look at the pictures and stitch away.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Homemade Crispy Crust Pizza Dough

Last night I decided to make some homemade yummy pizza using the great pizza pan that we got at our wedding reception from Rachel Epp Buhler (Thanks again!). Having often ended up with dough that wasn't done in the middle or crispy enough, I was so excited for it to finally turn out the way I had hoped. This time, it turned out so good, that I thought it would be a shame not to post the recipe.

The how to:

Pizza Dough:

circa 2 C flour
3/4 C warm water
3 T sugar
Plenty of olive oil
Garlic powder
Parsley flakes

1. In a big bowl, mix yeast, sugar, and water and let stand until foamy.
2. Drizzle some olive oil over the top and lightly mix in.
3. Add spices.
4. Add flour. Knead until you get a soft semi-sticky dough. You may need to add more flour, but don't add too much or your dough will get too dry.
5. Form into a ball, cover, and let stand until twice the size.
6. When dough is ready, flatten, pull or do what you need to do to get it to cover a medium pizza round pan or baking pan.
7. Let rise again if possible for about a half an hour.
8. Bake in 350 degree oven for 10 minutes and take out.
9. Using a barbecue brush, brush entire surface of crust with olive oil. Let sit.
10. Now add your tomato sauce (I used leftover ragu yesterday and it tasted great). Here's a little tip. If you buy the already portioned pizza sauces from the store, use only half. If you use it all, your dough gets too soft and doesn't cook through.
11. Now add your favorite toppings and bake at 375 degrees for about 20-25 minutes.
12. Enjoy!!!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Red Rocking Chair

I’ve always wanted a rocking chair, especially the old fashion kind that people used to sit on while on their porches like in those movies about the deep South. When I started nursing, I decided it was high time to get one, since I was probably going to spend a lot of time rocking a baby and I wanted to be comfortable.

Since we didn’t have a lot of money to go out and buy a new rocking chair (I hadn’t realized that they could get so expensive), we decided to look around at local thrift shops. To our surprise on half price day at the Salvation Army, we saw an old wooden rocking chair on sale for only 20 dollars. The finish had worked its way off most areas and it was wobbly in places, but with a little work it would do.

The how to, or how I got it too look like what it does today:

1. After buying sandpaper, brushes and some paint, I got started sanding down the old finish. It took me a bit longer than I had figured sanding around all of those round edges, but not as long as it would have taken if I had completely sanded off the varnish.

2. Then I washed off the dust left from sanding, let it dry completely and got ready to paint. The paint I bought was a bit translucent, which meant that I had to paint the whole chair about 3 to 4 times. In the end, I liked the look of the wood through the paint. Nevertheless, if you want to save time, make sure you buy paint as opaque as possible.

3. Finally, I added a seat cushion I bought at IKEA. Someday, I’ll sew a new one and post it. For the time being, I like the cushion I got and the reds match great.

I put Jonas in the rocking chair to take a picture, but it was hard to get him to sit still enough to take it. I wouldn’t advise putting a nine-month-old baby in a rocking chair without a lot of supervision. However, as an adult, they are the best and if you are nursing, you have to have one. I’ve put myself to sleep nursing in mine a few times.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Beef Jerky and Teething

Beef jerky for teething? I'm not kidding.

The other day I was at the pool talking to another mom about how my son was teething. She told me that she just gave her kids all cold beef jerky out of the fridge and it worked every time. ??? Yeah, that's what I thought, too. Somehow, I don't want to know what she did for colic or diaper rash.

Either way, it's amazing now that my son is getting his teeth what ideas people have for how to ease his pain. From frozen carrots to beef jerky and from Tylenol to homeopathics there are a lot of opinions out there.

Here is a cute little pic of my son's two bottom teeth. He is currently getting three teeth on the top at the same time. Poor little guy. If you have any tips for me on how to ease his distress, please let me know.
Here is an update for those of you following along.
July 20, 2010
As you can see from the pic on the left, the top three teeth are making their way through. Keep up the good work Jonas!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Baby Sleep-Sack

Over in Germany, all babies sleep in Schlafsรคcke or sleep-sacks. Since Jonas was born in Germany, he has gotten very used to sleeping in his sleep-sack. This worked very well until he was about 3 months old. Then he got too big… or should I say too tall. I couldn’t buy a bigger sleep-sack, because the arms and neck were too big, so I decided to make one myself with an extra lot of leg-room.

My first sleep-sack project was for winter and it was made from a piece of cotton material with soccer players on it for the outside(I figured he would still fit in this sack when the World Cup was on, not thinking that by that time, it would be way too hot) and a red towel for the lining. It was very thick and comfy and Jonas almost fell asleep as soon as I zipped in it.

My next project was a sleep-sack for summer. I made this one out of a bed sheet, a blue zipper, and used some blue embroidery thread to make it pretty. Now he can go to bed in just a diaper or T-shirt and still be covered no matter how much he flips around in his bed. The whole project (except for the decorative trim) only took an afternoon to make. Once you’ve made one, the rest are really simple and go fast.

Here’s the how to (some sewing skill is required as there are no pictures with these directions as I wrote them down after the fact. Sorry!):

1. If you don’t already have a sleep-sack to use as a pattern, lay down a baby-tanktop on a piece of newspaper on the middle fold and trace around the top of it. Then lay your baby down on the newspaper and make a line where the feet end. Fold your newspaper in half and draw a half of a pear starting at the armpit and stopping about 10 inches past the foot line (kinda like making those paper hearts in school out of a folded piece of paper). Now you can cut out your pattern and then fold it back so that your pattern is symmetrical. (Pattern A)

2. Cut out another pattern out of newspaper the same size. Cut this pattern in half vertically. (Pattern B)

3. Cut out two pieces of material using pattern A and four pieces using pattern B remembering to leave a quarter of an inch all around.

4. Lay the zipper down on the cut out pieces from pattern B and mark where the zipper ends. Now sew the top two B pieces together from this point down to the bottom of the sleep-sack. Then do the same for the bottom two B pieces for the lining.

5. Now sew the zipper into these two pieces. If you want to know how to make a seamless zipper, ask your grandma or one of the ladies at church. That’s how I did mine and it really wasn’t too hard.

6. Now the tricky part. Lay down the cut out A piece for the outside with the right side up. Now lay down the sewn-together B pieces with the right side (for the outside) down on top of the A piece. Now lay the other A piece for the lining with the right side down. This seems strange, but if you now sew around from armpit to armpit and the tops of the tank, you can actually fold the correct side back out and have a seamless inside. Yeah!

7. In order to keep the inside of the sleep-sack seamless, I just folded in the armpit and neck pieces, ironed them flat, and sewed them together. Now your sleep-sack has no hard edges for your baby to get upset about.

8. Finally, you can decorate your sleep-sack by adding trim or decorative elements. Finished!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Guacamole for Baby and Mama

Having grown up in Kansas, I never knew that not only do babies love avocados, they are also very healthy and good for them. I love guacamole and make it often, although my version is sweeter than what you get at most restaurants.

The other day I decided to make two kinds of guac, one for my husband and I and one for the baby. Since Jonas wants to try everything we have at the table, it was a great way for him to take part at dinner. You can see in the picture just how much fun he was having!

Here are the recipes:

Baby Guacamole

Half an avocado, a fourth of a banana, cilantro, a few drops of lime juice

1. Mash avocado together with banana until nice and mushy.

2. Add finely chopped cilantro and lime juice.

3. (Optional) Puree all ingredients until smooth

Mama and Papa Guacamole

2 avocados. 1 T brown sugar, cilantro, about 1/8 to 1/4 cup lime juice, some salt and pepper, a fourth of a red onion, a dash of cumin

1. Add all ingredients to a food processer or puree until smooth.

2. (Optional) Add finely cut tomatoes

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Flashcards of Family Members

Since my husband is German, our families are in two parts of the world. So that Jonas can remember who everybody is, I decided to make flashcards of family members with their photos. He's still a bit too young to recognize everyone, but that doesn't seem to bother him. He already loves the daddy flashcard and enjoys putting the flashcards all around the room.

How to:

Print out 5 x 7's of family members (crop the pictures so that it is just the heads). Paste photos onto construction paper. Then laminate and cut out. Finally, punch a hold in the corner so that you can easily put all of the cards on a shower curtain ring. Done!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Elephant Mobile

Elephant Mobile

This elephant mobile is one of the first baby crafts that I made. Matthias and I were about to move and I was going through all of my art stuff trying to figure out what I could throw away. Since I had still had a lot of leftover material from other projects, I decided to sew up these little elephants. I figured it would be a one afternoon project, but in the end, I did two and made about 8 little guys. They were really super easy.

Originally, I thought I would use all of the elephants for one mobile, but I only needed four. I took a cheap musical mobile, cut off the hanging animals, and hung up my elephants in their place. Very cute and Jonas loved the music. I attached an old plastic pearl chain at both ends to two more elephants and then hung them over the baby stroller so that Jonas had something to look at. The last two elephants ended up just hanging in his room on the wall.

This is really a great starter project, since you can’t mess it up.

Here’s the how to:

Take an index card and draw an elephant on it. Take another card and draw the ear. Cut out the ear and lay it on the elephant. Now draw a line where the ear should go on the elephant and then cut a slit through the index card. Now cut out the elephant. Your patterns are ready.

I used leftover material and some blue fleece. I used the fleece as the back of every elephant and for all of the ears. This way all of the elephants had something in common. Lay the elephant pattern on a piece of material and draw around it. When you cut out the elephant make sure to leave about a quarter inch. Make sure to also draw a line where the ear should go through the slit. Then cut out the elephant ears out of the fleece.

Now sew the ears on each of the elephant patterns making sure you sew it on the front of the material. I only sew the part where the ear attaches to the elephant so the ear can flop. Then put one fleece elephant and one material elephant together with the ears side touching. Sew all the way around leaving about one inch unsewn on the butt of the elephant. Then turn it all inside out. You might need to use a tweezers to pull the legs through.

Stuff the elephant with polyester filling. I use a pencil to stuff the fillng down into the legs and trunk. Then sew up the butt of the elephant. Add a tail with some yarn or embroidery thread and sew an X for an eye. Finished!