Advent calendar progress

As I discussed in my earlier post, I’m finally making the Advent calendar that I’ve thought about making for years. I was initially inspired by the one that they are selling at Pottery Barn Kids. So, I got all my felt from Prairie Point Junction. They sell mostly 20-80 and 35-65 wool felt (meaning it’s 20% wool and 80% rayon, etc.) It’s significantly less expensive than 100% wool felt ($8-9/yard instead of $20/yard) so I decided to use that in order to save some money. (It arrived super-fast, by the way, great service.) It’s definitely not as nice as 100% wool felt, let me say that right up front. However, it’s an Advent calendar that will be hanging on the wall, and since I had to buy so much felt, it’s fine for its purpose. I did soak the wool in hot water, and then dry it in my dryer until just damp in order to give the wool a more boiled texture, and soften it up a bit. That made the wool nicer to use, and I’d definitely recommend this step.

After cutting out my tree in a shape similar to the PBK one, I decided that I didn’t quite like it. I was concerned with the integrity of the tree structure. Was it going to be nice and straight on the wall, or would the end of the tree boughs be floppy? So, instead, I decided to just cut a straight triangular shape. I might still shore it up a bit with some interfacing, but I haven’t gotten that far yet. I still haven’t decided how it’s going to hang, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it! I’m thinking maybe some sort of dowel across the middle, but we’ll see how it looks when it’s done.

So far, I’ve made seven of the 24 pockets. I noticed the PBK calendar has 25 pockets, but personally I don’t see the need for a pocket for December 25th. Maybe that’s just me. But, it’s my Advent calendar and I can make it however I want! I’m really happy with the pockets so far. I’m doing a mix of felt applique and embroidery. My youngest son loves penguins, so the first pocket I made was of a penguin. I used his Magic Tree House Penguins and Antarctica research guide to design a penguin. It turned out great! I also made an embroidered snowflake and a tree.

Then, last night I made a Matryoshka doll, a cardinal, some holly and a mushroom. I still have plans for some more birds, a snowman, a bear, a lobster, an owl, and then maybe some simpler designs of just ribbons or presents or dots. I do have to make 24 after all, and December 1st is on Monday!

Doggy chew/tug toy

So, I ran across the idea for this braided fleece dog tug toy on another blog the other day. I’m currently blanking on which one! It was on a list of “ideas for handmade gifts for your animals this holiday season” type of thing. Hmm…I really like to give credit. I’m sure I’ll remember eventually.

In any case, I loved the idea, and we don’t have too many toys for the new puppy, so I quickly whipped one up. It was very quick and easy. And it’s been surprisingly durable. I’m actually pretty shocked by that. They are having a great time playing together and are becoming quite the little buddies. I made it rather long, and I tied the knots really tight. I also tied extra knots in the middle (three of them) to hopefully add to its durability. I didn’t fringe the edges, once again from a durability factor. I also made a second one that had double strips of fleece (so this one is three strips braided together, but I made the second one with strips of two braided together for a total of six strips). So I will break that one out when they destroy this one.

Advent calendars

I wish I had started my advent calendar project weeks ago, but of course, I didn’t! After some searching around on Etsy this afternoon, I finally committed to recreating the felt Christmas tree Advent wall hanging that was in the holiday Pottery Barn Kids catalog (now sold out). I did find this ultra-cool idea on Etsy of taking a 24 space mini muffin tin, then make little chipboard and scrapbook paper doors for each muffin spot, using magnets on the back. That would be so cool and fun to make. But, I have been really wanting to make a felt advent calendar for a long time, so I’m just going to go for it. It may not be done in time, but that’s okay. Maybe I’ll make the little muffin tin one too! I just bought a ton of wool felt from Prairie Point Junction, so now I’m committed! I splurged and bought the wool felt sample pack of 78 6×6″ squares in every color that they sell. How can you resist?

So, I am going to go for their basic tree shape, and then I’m going to embroider and embellish the little pockets as I will. They have their number embroidered underneath each pocket, and that’s probably a good idea. I will hand embroider those of course. I think I will machine sew the tree to its backing, and the little pockets onto the tree, just to make things a little easier. I will keep you updated on my progress.

Right now, I need to go wrap some Christmas presents. I’m using fabric, using Japanese Furoshiki methods. Someone on a forum I read suggested using playsilks to wrap odd-shaped gifts. So, not only do you get the gift, you get a playsilk too. How totally clever is that?

The Daily Blog

I’m a bit of a compulsive web searcher. My friends email me questions that I don’t have answers to because they know I can find out more information in a 10 minute Google search then they can if they searched all day. Or maybe they just figure that it’s quicker to ask me….I’m not sure if this is a ‘talent’ I should be letting people know that I have. In any case, I love to read crafty blogs too, which is all part and parcel of the whole compulsive web searching thing. Finding a new blog can be very “six degrees of separation”-ish. I follow a link here to this other place, read some things, follow another link, and another link, and voila,…I’m somewhere new and cool!

So, I ran across a blog today that I hadn’t seen before. HOW had I not seen this blog?! It’s awesome! Lollychops. Papercrafting, sewing, food, fun free downloads and giveaways. She even has the most adorable bird banner! Birds are great. I totally want to make her Wendy the Bird stuffed little birdie pattern. Check it out. Okay, I need to stop reading blogs and work on that birthday crown for the swap that I keep talking about. It’s almost done! And the little embroidery work I did on it turned out super-cute. I will share once it’s completed. Which needs to be soon because it has to be mailed out sometime in the next week or so.

Muffin tin meatloaf

Nope, no Muffin Tin Monday around here, but we did have muffin tin meatloaf for dinner! And it came out so well, that I wanted to share. I was talking to a friend this afternoon and she has recently gone back to work outside the home after being home with the kiddos for several years. She was commenting on how hard it is to make dinner when you aren’t home during the day. Even crock pot meals don’t always work well because many recipes say to cook for 6 hours, or some variable of time that does not match up to how long you are going to be gone from home. As I was scrounging for something for dinner at 5pm, having not wanted to go to the grocery store today with my two kids in tow (Veterans Day holiday), and not wanting to leave the new puppy at home for over an hour (puppy-sadness), I was hoping there was something in the freezer. And, lucky me, there was!

Last month, I made some meatloaf. I really like my meatloaf, as does the hubby and the kids. Well, hubby had bought the meat, and it was really too much meat for dinner for just the four of us. Normally, I’d just make it all, and have leftovers. However, I remembered something from somewhere (can’t recall right now, maybe a forum I post on?) about making mini meatloaves in a muffin tin. So, I decided to do that with the extra meatloaf and freeze it. I mixed up my meatloaf first. Stuffed meat in a six-portion muffin tin, covered with aluminum foil and froze. Then, took the leftover and made my meatloaf as normal.

So, this afternoon when I opened the freezer, there it was, staring at me. That little muffin tin filled with mini meat loaves. I wasn’t sure how to cook them since I had been winging it when I made them in the first place, so I just cooked them on 375 covered for about an hour. Took the aluminum foil off, spread on some bbq sauce on the tops, and cooked uncovered for an additional 10 minutes. Yum! Tasted just like my meatloaf always tastes! But, I didn’t have to make it today, and it took less time to cook! Hooray! I’m going to make an entire batch of these to store in the freezer!

These are perfect for that, “What should I make for dinner” quandary. I pulled them out at 5pm, pretty much ignored them until they were done. Made up some frozen peas and Stove Top stuffing in the microwave in about five minutes, and I had a yummy dinner on the table with extremely minimal prep time. Which is great because I was busy making glass marble magnets with the kiddos.

I’m normally a “recipe” person, but surprisingly, I sort of wing-it with meatloaf. Very odd for me. So, I am going to share my meatloaf recipe, but I’m not going to be able to perfectly tell you how much ingredients to use. You’ll just have to wing-it too.

Tina’s Meatloaf (enough for a good-sized loaf, and a six tin muffin tin for later)

1.25 pounds of ground pork
1.75 pounds of ground hamburger (80-20) ** see meat note
Italian seasoned bread crumbs, maybe a cup or two?
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 small/medium onion, diced rather small
Worcestershire sauce, umm…maybe 1/4 cup? I like Worcestershire sauce.
Dried oregano, umm…2 tsp?
Garlic powder, umm…2 tsp?
Dried basil, umm…1 tsp?
Lawry’s seasoning salt…ummm…2 tsp?

Meat Note: I also like to use a combination of ground hamburger, pork and lamb, but you can’t always find ground lamb where I live. Just keep the same total quantity, and get enough meat based on what you can find. Maybe .75 lamb, .75 pork and 1.5 hamburger.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

1. Saute your diced onion in a little bit of olive oil until softened. (This is way better than crunchy onion in your meatloaf. If I’m in a hurry, I’ll use Tastefully Simple Onion, Onion but sauteed onion is better.)
2. In the bottom of a big bowl, mix up the egg, plus the Worcestershire sauce and all the seasonings.
3. Add in the cooked, softened onion.
4. Take off your rings (ick…meatloaf in your engagement ring)
5. Put in the meat, mix it around a bit with your hands to incorporate the wet ingredients and seasonings.
6. Add in about a cup of bread crumbs and start mixing it up with your hands.
7. You want a nice dry texture, but you don’t want it to be too dry or crumbly.
8. Add in some more bread crumbs until it feels right. No longer wet, just moist, edging towards dry.
9. Fill up your muffin tin (pack meat to the top of each muffin cup, they’ll shrink when they cook), cover with aluminum foil and freeze.
10. Shape the rest into a freeform loaf, and put on a broiling pan.
11. I use my broiling pan, with aluminum foil in the bottom to catch the grease, and I usually spray the top part of the pan. I’m sure there are other ways! I don’t like to use a loaf pan as I like it to have a nice crunchy texture on the entire outside, but that’s personal preference.
12. Time to cook will depend on how big your loaf is. I use a digital thermometer, and just cook it to the right temperature. A big loaf could take up to 2 hours.
13. Cover with aluminum foil and bake until the thermometer reads 145 degrees.
14. Uncover, and spread top with barbeque sauce (I like Bull’s-Eye Original, Cook’s Illustrated taste test winner, on my meatloaf).
15. Continue baking uncovered until 165 degrees, usually another 20 minutes.
16. Let rest for about 10 minutes before slicing and serving.
17. Yummy with veges and mashed potatoes!

I don’t think I’d make a good cookbook writer. I’m a bit too verbose! (AKA, wordy and rambling). In any case, make these muffin tin meat loaves for that next night when you are at a loss as to what to make for dinner! And if you don’t have one, ask Santa for one of those digital thermometers. They are awesome! And a subscription to Cook’s Illustrated too. Also extremely awesome.

Our new golden retriever puppy

I couldn’t not share this adorable picture of our new puppy! And here is also a picture of our 8yo Golden meeting the new addition. Isn’t it funny how different they look? Our 8yo Golden is bred from the field line, and has shorter hair that is very dark-colored. The new puppy is really light in color.

Montessori apron for harvest time

I made a harvest-themed apron for J’s Montessori class last week. I decided it needed a little sprucing up, so I embroidered a little pumpkin on it. I thought the pumpkin turned out very cute. It is made with wool felt and embroidery floss, using a blanket stitch. I sewed the lines on the pumpkin with my machine. Next on the “apron” list are the little gingerbread boys/girls fabric that I bought. You can see all the fabric that I bought for Montessori aprons on my earlier post.

Scroll saw birdies

I convinced (it wasn’t too hard) my husband to buy a scroll saw a few weeks ago. I want to make little wooden toys! And, he’s always game to buy new woodworking equipment. I promptly made the little birdies described at Make-Baby-Stuff using some pine scraps that we had laying around. Then, I hand sanded them with some 150 sand paper to round the edges and corners, and to give them a nice smooth surface. It was so easy! I will admit to popping the saw blade off a few times, but it just takes practice to learn to use a new tool.

I showed them to my younger son, and he loved them. But immediately asked for a penguin. That kid loves penguins. Little does he know that I had already made one and it is currently hiding in my closet upstairs pending a matching mama penguin. I need to figure out how to finish them. I’ve been tossing a few different options around, and we’ll see what I decide to go with. Any ideas?

The pine is a bit lightweight and soft. I’d like to make some toys with some higher quality hardwood, but for now, the price is right for practicing on the pine.

Mario Costumes

Well, I completed the costumes with hours to spare. (Like about three hours, but that still works!) The boys loved them, and they got tons of compliments on them while we were out trick or treating. Everyone thought it was funny that they were BOTH Mario, but as I said, I couldn’t convince either of them to be Luigi. Luigi just isn’t as cool as Mario. I learned a few things about patterns along the way (e.g., do not expect them to be accurate nor understandable), and when they say to trim the seam allowance in the crotch area, do not listen to them. Jack had already ripped the crotch after only wearing it for three hours at school yesterday morning. Thankfully, since I had made them, I fixed it in a thrice.

I’m not sure what I was thinking when I thought to myself, “yeah, I’ll make the overalls, it will be fun.” I must have not had enough caffeine that day. It was fun to sew them, if it hadn’t been a week before the holiday and if I hadn’t had a nasty cold (that is still hanging on). It was certainly not cost-effective in any way, shape or form when you consider the value of my time, but I’ll consider it a learning experience and move on. While I didn’t find the pattern instructions intuitive at all (Burda pattern for boy’s overalls), I was able to do it, and I think I’ll be able to make my next item from a pattern with a bit more ease. It’s just practice I guess.

The hats are totally adorable, and were of course the easiest part of the costume. They are actually Patriots hats, and I just basted the felt M patch on them, so down the road, we can take off the Mario M and they will have Pats hats. Although, at least for now, they much prefer them as Mario hats than Patriots hats.

The weather was a bit cool, about 45-50 degrees, but other than that, it was perfect with little wind and a nice clear night. We ran into many of K’s friends while were out and about, and the boys had a lot of fun chatting with their friends and doing the trick or treating. Our neighborhood is quite the trick or treating mecca. Unfortunately, we live right on the edge of the neighborhood and we had not ONE trick or treater. I guess that’s not a terrible thing.

Now that Halloween is over, I’m gearing up for the holidays! Woo-hoo! I am participating in a toy swap and I’m making someone a birthday crown and some wizard wands in exchange for someone else making us a crocheted chain mail hood (similar to this). Can’t wait to see the chain mail hood. I need to get my side of the swap done in the next two weeks, so that is my project for this weekend.