Thursday, December 5, 2013

A House for Us

On a recent November day, while trying to find a family photo to send to my aunt for the annual family calendar, I stopped by this (my) little blog called Domestic Bliss: In Pursuit of a Happy, Heavenly Home.

I was suddenly struck by the title I had chosen a goodly number of years ago. Apparently I don't always read the fine print, even my own! The title caught my eye this time because, while I am certainly of the perpetual mindset to create a safe and comfortable haven for my family, we were, at that very moment, actually in physical pursuit of a happy, heavenly home...

We have been living with my (kind, generous, patient, & forgiving) parents for the past five months, in a sort of real estate purgatory (read: a great situation, but not our ultimate goal). We have been hunting property that entire time (and for months before!). In the course of our search, we made offers that weren't accepted. We saw listings for houses we loved that were snatched up before we could even get in to see them. I even fell in love with a house that was very much too small for our family, and grieved over that fact for a few weeks. I saw one particular house that I never ever wanted to see again the first time I went in. But in a twist of reality that has made me grateful that I am not the mastermind of my own life, that very same house is the one we just bought.

Q: So, if I really don't like the house, why am I SO VERY EXCITED about moving there?
A: Because I know I will love it.DSC_9175

The sellers of this house have lived there for almost 40 years, and have made the house their home in so many ways. They raised their children there. When a son passed away tragically, their friends planted a tree in the backyard in his honor. They have maintained and kept the house well, and were only selling now because the upkeep was becoming too much for them. They loved this place and their kids and grandkids and great-grandkids came back to visit them here. That is the future that my husband and I want. A house for entertaining friends and family, a space to be cozy and safe, and a place that our kids will want to come back to with their friends and (in the future) their own families.

Even though this house was unapologetically uncomfortable to me as a home buyer at first because of the sheer number of images of THEIR family and faith life literally covering the walls, refrigerator and mantel, I have come to realize that that is what we should have been looking for all along. We WANT a house full of life and joy - one that openly shares our Catholic faith and love of family with everyone who enters - and that is exactly what they were advertising. There was no home staging here, and clearly they did not attract throngs of interested buyers, but I believe this house was being saved for us, and we were waiting for it. I think we were as much a blessing to the sellers as they were to us.

I am thrilled that we will get to be the next stewards of this place, and I look forward to pouring on the energy and elbow grease to make it OUR home now. And, even though we will make many cosmetic and functional changes to meet our family's unique needs, I want to preserve the atmosphere of hospitality and generosity that clearly thrives here.

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I should have no shortage of material to blog about in the near future, but I have an inkling that there may not be quite as much available time until we are settled in. I guess we will see what happens. But I am committed to taking before-and-after pictures, and I might just make 2014 the Year of the New House. Prepare yourself, the work fun has already begun...

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Monday, September 16, 2013

Flower Girl Dresses for Two

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Both of my daughters were flower girls in my brother-in-law’s wedding, and I was so glad that the dresses I hacked stood up to the occasion. Their little brother wasn’t my project, but doesn’t he look handsome too? It was fun to see them so dressed up (we are normally the definition of casual).

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The bride and I trolled the interwebs for some inspiration, and came upon the dress above right. She loved it, and it looked pretty straight forward with tubular bodice and gathered A-line skirt. Lots of layers and overlays, but not complicated pattern-wise. I measured the girls and drafted skirts on the computer with Cochenille. I made a muslin out of an old sheet to get the proportions right, and making a side by side photo comparison like the one above really helped me to adjust the bodice length to match that of our inspiration dress. I ordered wide lace online (and I apologize that I am too lazy to look up from whence it came, since the details have since been packed up in our move or lost in the great Comcast Fail of 2013). The double faced 1.5” navy satin ribbon for the sash came from The Ribbon Loft on Etsy. The lining and skirt was taffeta in ivory from Joanns. The overskirt was ivory organza.

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There was A LOT of rolled hemming involved, since each dress had three gathered circle skirt layers. Practice makes perfect. They really turned out as well as I could have hoped (though there was seam ripping involved, to be sure). These dresses took quite a bit of time, but they were absolutely worth the effort. The sparkly pink shoes came from Target, the headbands from The Children’s Place Outlet, and the orchid pomanders were arranged by the amazingly talented Ruth Monteith at The Wedding Fairies in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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Even lovely dresses and having an amazing photographer doesn’t guarantee that you can capture 4 kids smiling at the same time. Still, I appreciate having a real-life reminder of this very special day.

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I almost forgot… I also made a matching teeny 0-3 month baby dress for my adorable little niece from the remnants. I used the Baby Geranium Dress pattern from the very talented Made by Rae. Sadly, the lack of vent in the skirt made it impossible for her to get into the dress on the day of the wedding (I noticed this before I made it but ignored my gut instinct). The pattern is great and certainly worth sewing, but this combination of bigger girly and no dress egress was doomed from the start. It was still a fun project and maybe someday a treasured doll will get to wear it. Regardless, I’m over it, and glad I took pictures :)

I also made the fancy little man cuffed pants and suspenders (and bowtie) my little guy is wearing (he was playing baseball out back during the reception). So much cuteness. And he DANCED for us! Good stuff. I may eventually put up a pattern for the pants. Maybe when I’m settled into my own house again :)

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That about concludes the wedding details. I don’t know what I will write about next, but I have a lot of real life going on around here and we may need some less glorious subject matter after the elegance and style of this summery wedding. The wedding may be over, but the good times have only just begun…

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Handcrafted Chapel-Length Wedding Veil

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She’s gorgeous, isn’t she? My new sister-in-law! It was a beautiful wedding from head to toe. She had lots of ideas and, unlike many Pinterest dreamers, she actually made A LOT of them happen for the big event. One of the details she hoped to incorporate was a chapel-length veil, edged in lace, to match her ivory lace dress with a chapel-length train. I was delighted to be able to help with that! In true hacker fashion, I sized up a similar veil at the bridal shop and drew up my own plan.

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I bought some matte ivory tulle at Joann's, and ordered 10 yards of lovely lace the bride selected from The Lace Place (which was originally white and I dyed it to a matching ivory with a hot vinegar/espresso bath… in retrospect, tea-staining might have been an equally effective solution).

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I cut a rectangle 6 ft long and the width of the fabric (probably about 4 ft, but I don’t recall exactly). I rounded the bottom edge to a semi circle shape. I then lapped the lace (now fully aired out, pressed, and a lovely shade of ivory; scallop side out) over the edge of the veil (down the long edges and around the bottom) and machine stitched it down with a large wavy stitch. The stitching is barely noticeable on the lace, and the excess tulle was easily trimmed off after sewing. I gathered the raw top edge and attached it to a 4” metal comb. The bride was able to take the finished veil to the bridal shop to be steamed and stored with the wedding dress until the big day, so it was safe from accidental mishap and wrinkles.

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She also needed this long veil to be able to bustle for the reception (dancing, anyone?), so we played around with options and came up with a great solution. Halfway down the veil (~3 ft from the comb) and about 12” from either side, we threaded a 4” loop of heavy duty thread through the airy fabric and pulled the middle bulk up in gathers, then hooked the loops around the ends of the comb. This formed an inconspicuous fold beneath the veil (you can see below right at the height of her elbow), and allowed the edging lace to still drape in a flattering way. And, after the fact, we simply reversed the process and the veil has no holes or hooks left as evidence. Perfection!

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Tea Party Bridal Shower Favors

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It’s a tea bag. It’s a shower favor. It’s a glassine bag with a sugar cookie in it.

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I will admit that I think these favors turned out really well and that I shamelessly stole the idea from countless other online sites that have made the humble tea bag idea into a very cute, giftable concept. Pinterest, Pinterest, Pinterest. I believe MarthaStewart.com had some feature about making your own tea bags (full of tea). Something obviously inspired the glassine bag, but I am sadly not recalling what that was. And I had made present cookies at Christmas, so making them in approximately the wedding colors was an easy jump. Overall, I was glad to have something unique and also theme-y to give at our bridal tea party. I made the cookies and assembled the favors several days in advance, and the glassine bags kept them perfectly fresh.

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I made the tea bag labels in MS Word (I later added a red hand-drawn heart in the middle as well), printed on cardstock, cut, folded, mini-hole-punched, and threaded. The 4x6 glassine bags and red baker’s twine came from Amazon. The cookies were made from my standby sugar cookie recipe, with royal icing. I cut freehand rolled dough rectangles roughly 3.5” by 3” to make the present shape.

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Stuff cookies into the envelopes, fold into tea bag shape, attach the label-on-string, and display in old wooden crate.

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The process was a little crumby, but not too complicated with the right materials on hand. Certainly crafty enough to suit our girly gathering :)

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Scrumptious Bridal Shower Tea Party

Bridal showers have a mixed reputation. On the one hand, we all love to celebrate the upcoming wedding and enjoy tasty treats with friends. On the other hand, we are not (with the exception of the little girl quotient) terribly excited to participate in mock-competitive games for token prizes. I was cohosting the bridal shower for my sister-in-law-to-be (now my sister!) at my house with my two other fun and stylish sisters-in-law, and we decided that a tea was just the ticket for elegance and delicious snacks. We opted to keep the games minimal and funny. It was enjoyable and - I flatter myself - a successful gathering.

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I was able to try some new and exciting recipes, made in advance inasmuch as possible. Included in the new attempts was an honest to goodness croquembouche. The choux pastry puffs did puff, were simple to fill with a pastry bag, and I didn’t burn myself making the caramel “glue” while assembling. Awesome. My Martha Stewart moment came when I successfully made the caramel curls I used to decorate the top, and spun sugar around it in the traditional nest-like manner. I am convinced that we should all throw showers occasionally to have excuses to make such decadent concoctions to the delight of those we’re entertaining.

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We made a lemon cake with buttercream icing, cheesecake pops, espresso fudge bars, French macaroons, Caprese skewers, deviled eggs, cranberry feta roll ups (in Helga Bread), pretzel bites with whole grain mustard dipping sauce, raspberry lemonade bars, chicken salad on mini lettuce, and fresh fruit.

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I used some simple stitched scrap-paper buntings to decorate my staged house (since we had recently just accepted an offer but had not yet moved out). I loved the cake bunting. It is an item you see SO MUCH OF on Etsy, but it was a fun and festive touch. In addition to hot tea and coffee, we also offered iced tea served in canning jars with bakers twine tags and retro paper straws. Pure fun. I found a great “vintage” coffee urn at our local Kiwanis Club sale and cleaned it like the dickens to use for hot water throughout the afternoon. It was a nice find that will serve me well in future entertaining events, and has a brilliant silver retro vibe (you can sort of see it in the upper right corner of the second photo below). All the beautiful mismatchy tea cups and saucers and silverware were borrowed from friends or salvaged from local thrift establishments.

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Tomorrow I will show you the tea-themed bridal shower favors…

Monday, September 9, 2013

Summer Wedding Fun

In addition to selling our house and the Big Move Out, the other major excitement of this summer was my acquisition of a new sister-in-law! She is a perfect match for my brother-in-law, and we really enjoyed showering her with good things this summer and helping to get ready for the August wedding. Here are some pictures of the cute couple. In the next week I’ll focus on a few of the handcrafted ways in which I was involved.

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Their gorgeous wedding photos were all done by the ever-amazing Melanie Reyes. If you are in need of a photographer who can capture the spirit of the occasion and the personalities involved, call Melanie! She travels, is fantastic with kids, and can work magic with everyday surroundings.

See you tomorrow!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Homemade Caramel Sauce

Fall is almost here! It doesn’t start until September 22 (Google tells me), but school is in session and it’s hard not to notice that the mornings here in southern Michigan are a bit nippy at 7 AM. Bring on the comfort food.

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Sometime last year amidst the crazy of major life changes, a whopper of a flu season and our preparation for moving, I felt the need to incorporate some dessert sauce recipes into my life. Today I am featuring the delicious caramel sauce that saw me through a couple rough months last year. Perfect with apple slices, poured over ice cream, mixed into your morning oatmeal, or just by itself on a spoon. It has concentrated flavor, so if you can exercise restraint, a little caramel can go a long way.

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Homemade Caramel Sauce

Ingredients:

1 cup sugar

1 tablespoon corn syrup

1/4 cup water

1/2 cup heavy cream, heated until warm

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

½ teaspoon fine grain sea salt

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions:

Measure sugar into a heavy saucepan of medium capacity.  Pour syrup and water carefully on top, making sure the sugar is completely moistened.

Heat on medium to high heat until the sugar dissolves, stirring as necessary with a silicone spatula to avoid sugar burning to the bottom of your pan. Avoid splashing grains of sugar onto the sides of the pan, since they may result in the caramel re-crystalizing later. When the syrup is at a rolling boil, stop stirring completely and allow it to boil undisturbed until it turns a deep amber. Quickly remove it from the heat and slowly and carefully pour the hot cream into the caramel. It will bubble up rapidly and create a lot steam, so keep your face back!

Stir the mixture until homogeneous, pulling the thicker caramel on the bottom up to the top to make it smooth. If you notice lumps, some of the sugar has re-crystallized, so return the pan to the heat and stir until they fully dissolve. Stir in the butter and salt until the caramel is again uniform in consistency.

Allow the sauce to cool for 3 minutes, then stir in the vanilla. Pour the caramel into a glass jar while it is still warm and store it in the refrigerator. Reheat in the microwave to make it pourable, if necessary.

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Settle in for a yummy snack with some good reading material! Today is going to be better than you think.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Very Best Bruschetta Recipe, with Love from Fieldstone Farm

I am still here. Homeless, as it were, while our house-hunt continues, but doing well generally and enjoying the last balmy days of summer before school starts up again. We are currently residing with my parents on their 50 acre property north of Ann Arbor. This little plot of heaven encompasses a large garden and some plowed acreage, and we  have been spoiled - simply spoiled - this summer by all of the mouth-watering organic produce grown by the laborious efforts and watchful eye of my mother (a master gardener and local market vendor). Right now she is picking buckets of lunchbox peppers, haricots verts, herbs, onions, beets, potatoes, and squashes and tomatoes of all shapes and sizes. Sometimes the tomatoes she brings in are beautifully ripe but not quite market material, and those we dub “bruschetta bait”. Mmmm… bruschetta.

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This recipe is so simple. In years past, I toyed around with a variety of other bruschetta recipes (they abound, folks), but when I settled on these proportions I have no need to mess around anymore. The best tomatoes to use are supersauce tomatoes, but since I don’t think you can find those reliably anywhere but here at Fieldstone Farm, you will want to use something meaty and with as few seeds as you can find. Supersauce tomatoes are basically giant romas… lots of flesh with few seeds and minimal skin-to-volume ratio. Incidentally, if you happen to go to the Dexter Farmer’s Market on Tuesdays or Saturdays, you *might* be lucky enough to snag some just like these (and some fresh basil too!). Ask for Marlene. These babies are worth the trip… but I digress.

Supersauce Tomato from Fieldstone Farm Ann Arbor

Supersauce Tomato – few seeds, not much liquid, sweet flesh

Beefsteak Tomato from Fieldstone Farm Ann Arbor

Beefsteak Tomato – delicious but watery with lots of seeds

The best bread to use for this, should you choose to make toast for serving your bruschetta, is Jimmy John’s day old bread. Seriously. You can buy them in quantity for 35 cents apiece and use what you need that day, then wrap and freeze the rest for the next time you get a hankering for bruschetta (which will be sooner that you might think!). Otherwise a regular, not-too-dry loaf of French bread will do. Slice it in thin, bite-size rounds (1/4-1/3” thick), then broil it carefully on both sides so it is still somewhat moist in the middle but has a nice crunch, and is lightly browned.

Karen’s Favorite Bruschetta

Ingredients

4 cups diced tomatoes

2-4 cloves garlic, minced

1/3 cup finely chopped fresh basil

3 tbsp olive oil

3 tbsp balsamic vinager

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1 loaf French bread, sliced and broiled

Directions

Mix all of the ingredients and chill in fridge for at least an hour before serving. Serve on toast rounds.

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