Tuesday, January 31, 2012

easy floral arranging tips

It's true- one of my required courses in college was Floral Design.  And, as with any serious science course, (you didn't realize that floral design was a science?) the class involved both a lecture and a lab.  In my case, a night lab. 

I don't know about you, but I always considered night labs one of life's real cruelties.  To have to go to class at night?  When it's dark out?  During my dinner time?!?

Somehow, I made it through that semester.  And there have actually been multiple occasions over the past twelve or so years since (how can it have been that long?) that I've been glad I did. 

So, without any further complaining about missing dinner, here are, what I consider, the five key points of floral design:

Lesson 1: any container can be a vase.  For the arrangements we made over the weekend, we used one actual glass vase and four smaller glass jars.  I believe that the glass jars all came from candles we have purchased over the years, finished, cleaned out the jar, and saved it for just such a moment.  Much like the Scouts- we like to be prepared. 

We cut thin strips of burlap and wound them around each jar, securing with a straight pin.  This not only looked cute and went with our color theme, but it unified the dissimilar containers to look like a group. 

Lesson 2: you will need help keeping your flowers in place.  You can use any number of things- a chunk of florist's foam, a flower frog, or tape.  We used regular old scotch tape and made a grid over the top of each container. 

Lesson 3: greenery is your friend.  And it's cheap.  If you were to make a flower arrangement using all flowers, it would not only be very expensive, it would be so full of flowers that you probably couldn't appreciate them each properly.  Before you start adding flowers to your design, you want to fill in the outer edges with green stuff.  In this case, we raided the yard and clipped eucalyptus, cedar, and sprigs from a nice green bush. 

Using the holes in the tape, I put greenery around the whole outer edge of the container.  I tried to have some hanging over the edge and some standing straight up.  A good rule of thumb is that your highest piece in the arrangement should be no more than two times the height of your container. (I can hear Dr. McDaniel cheering me on right now...)

Lesson 4: add flowers in layers, starting with the big ones.  We bought three bouquets of different types of white flowers from the grocery store.  If you are worried about your skills as a flower arranger, or you don't have a great flower selection to work with, just choose flowers that are all the same color.  Using one color flower in different shapes and textures always looks good.  I somewhat evenly spaced my first flowers throughout the container, keeping the flower heads fairly close to the top and letting them rest on the greenery. 

Lesson 5: fill, fill, fill!  An attractive flower arrangement is a full flower arrangement.  Instead of seeing individual flower heads, you want to see one solid shape of flowers.  This shape should be slightly rounded, with a few longer pieces sticking out as accents.  You also want to stuff in enough flowers to hide your tape or floral foam.  Don't forget to add a few that can peek out under your greenery around the sides.  Turn your vase as you work so that you don't leave any bald spots. 

And, done!  We made five flower arrangements in one hour for about $12.  Not too shabby.  If you want to see some more pictures of the finished arrangements, you can check out the photos that were taken at the shower

Happy arranging!

Monday, January 30, 2012

a proper welcome

This weekend, we celebrated with some good friends the arrival of a new baby in our midst.  I was in charge of decorations. 

After fighting a cold for several days, Saturday arrived and I was still in charge of decorations and Steve, as it turned out, was in charge of feeding me medicine at regular intervals and helping me stay upright through the whole event.  And decorations too. 

Our biggest task was making flower arrangements for all the tables.  Floral options in January are fairly limited, even here in the South, but I was quite proud of what we came up with. 

You also may spot a familiar party banner in the background.  It worked out perfectly that I just happened to have one in Levi's colors.  We strung it right up, set out the flowers, and then settled in for a good time. 

I had been working all week on some burp cloths for the occasion.  I may not be a Clemson fan, but I have to admit that paw print is pretty cute. 

There were lots of great gifts.  Isn't it fun how people just love to buy things for babies?  I find baby shower gifts infinitely more fun than wedding shower gifts.  It's hard to make a cheese grater exciting. 

While we oohhhed and aaahhhed over each miniature bib and tiny pair of socks, Levi worked the crowd.

He was content to lay on shoulder after shoulder, sometimes awake, sometimes asleep. 

Mostly asleep.  But I love that he'll be able to look back, when he's older, and see what fun we had celebrating his arrival. 

After the shower, Steve took me home and parked me on the sofa, where I rested and rested and I think it worked because today I am feeling much better.  I've been doing housework all morning and haven't contemplated taking a nap once.  The sure sign of health. 

We're still enjoying the flowers that we arranged and tomorrow I thought I'd share a tutorial on how we did it.  If you can believe it, I took a floral design course in college and I was actually able to use some of what I learned! 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

no place like home

Our mantle right now is filled up with silver and red and white lights.  It looks celebratory, like we're gearing up for some holiday.  Maybe Valentine's day or Presidents day or just coming home to a cozy house at the end of the day.  That's kind of like a holiday too. 

I have a couple of lovely red glass pieces that I've received as gifts that I was excited to pull out.  All of the silver candlesticks and bowls were purchased last January.  And the lights- well, you know- they're just hard to put away.  I think that white lights are in order for any months during which it gets dark before 6pm. 

I enjoy this season of the year, when the house looks rather bare.  It's an opportunity for me to think up new furniture arrangements or to see the beginnings of a new color scheme.  I do my best household thinking in the winter. 

Last winter, I moved my sewing station all the way upstairs, only to move it down again a few months later.  This winter, what do you think I've been dreaming about?  Moving everything back upstairs, of course.  It's a good thing Steve is a patient man.  I certainly can't move all that furniture by myself. 

Today I am happy to be home, making soup.  It's potato leek and we're all properly excited. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

class is in session

I taught my first sewing class this morning.  It was even more fun than I thought it would be. 

Yesterday, I was so excited to get started that I made pin cushions for each of my students. 

Today, my dining room filled up with intelligent, funny, creative women and we spent most of the morning doing one of my favorite things.  It was so, so great. 

I love to teach and, more than that, I love to share things with others that bring me joy.  Hobbies, skills, information, food- I just like to share.  I think I probably made a really great preschooler. 

We talked about sewing terms and learned how to wind a bobbin and thread the machine and my favorite part was when someone would comment, "I can't believe I'm actually sewing!". 

Watching others learn inspires me to learn. 

The sun is out today (finally) and I am ready to be outside a bit after all the rain we've had.  I'm also almost ready to show you the mantle- I can't believe that January is almost over!  This is a wintry mantle though, that will keep on going through February.  I've been tweaking it a lot, but I think it's almost done, so I'll plan to show pictures later this week.  

Monday, January 23, 2012

if you're not hungry, you will be soon

There's something about our new kitchen lights that makes me feel like I'm on a cooking show.  Food just looks great under bright lights! 

As I looked back over our pictures from the past week, I noticed that they were mostly of food. 

You know what I like to do. 

We've had some pretty great meals recently, but this weekend especially amazing.  It was cold and rainy and we barely left the house.  In fact, on Saturday I was only out of my pajamas for a couple of hours.  Just long enough to run to the store and pick up a few more groceries. 

Friday night I made macaroni and cheese with chicken and we enjoyed it all weekend long.  It's one of those casseroles that gets better with each reheating. 

On Saturday, we decided to make brunch together.  Cooking with Steve is one of my favorite things.  We both love eggs Benedict, but have never made them at home.  Feeling ambitious, Steve watched this cool You Tube video and learned how to make poached eggs for us.  I did a little Internet searching and found this easy blender Hollandaise sauce recipe and it turned out great on the first try!  I'm not sure what we were happier about- the delicious food, or the new skills that we learned! 

Our cast iron skillet was in almost constant use, and we pulled it out one more time to make a berry crumble on Saturday night. 

Berry crumble + Haagen-Dazs vanilla bean ice cream + fire in the fireplace + watching Mary Tyler Moore with my sweetheart = the best kind of weekend entertainment

After listing everything out like this, I'm a little shocked that we didn't have to roll each other out of bed this morning.  I promise that we ate very reasonable portions of everything, and also threw in some apples and oranges for good measure.  And tea- always lots of tea.  Our new favorite is Celestial Seasonings Lemon Zinger.  It's pink! 

The rain continues and today I'm feeling thankful to be dry at home, working my way through a pretty fun list of Monday tasks. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

if only I had an open fire

Have I told you about another one of our favorite Christmas gifts?  Steve's mom bought us a bag of Italian Chestnuts and I think that chestnuts will be a new holiday tradition from here on out. 

Neither of us had ever prepared or eaten chestnuts before, but the bag came with instructions and we have also been learning with eat batch we make. 

First you cut a slit in the rounded side of the shell.  We actually found that it works best to cut two slits, like a cross. 

We started out roasting them on a cookie sheet, but have since progressed to cake pans.  That way, the nuts aren't sliding off the edges when you pull them out of the oven.  We usually roast about 15-20 for the two of us.  There are always a few bad ones, or overcooked ones, so I like to account for those and make sure we have enough.

We roast them in a 475 degree oven for 18-20 minutes. 

Halfway through the roasting, the nuts need to be flipped over.  They start out laying on their flat side with the rounded side up.  Flipping them to get the rounded side down is somewhat of a challenge.  Remember Weebles?  

When they're ready, we put them in a big bowl and let them cool for a few minutes.  You want to peel and eat them while they're still pretty hot, so the trick is to find that perfect moment when they won't burn your fingers anymore, but are still quite warm.  It's like a game. 

Chestnuts taste unlike any other type of nut.  They are slightly sweet and have the texture of a baked potato.  They are also the only nut that contains vitamin C. 

Chestnuts are slow food.  The cutting ,the roasting, the peeling- all to get this little bit of nut meat.  I think that foods with a process are fun and love a snack that can turn into an event all it's own. (What do you want to do tonight?  Let's roast chestnuts!)  We have had so much fun adding chestnuts to our usual winter evening activities- watching movies, quilting, playing guitar, playing games.  All better with chestnuts. 

I had the good fortune of winning a free yard of fabric this week from Sew, Mama, Sew!, so today I'm going to take some time to pick my prize.  What fun!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

lights...camera...more lights

I'm not going to lie: we have been talking about replacing the two light fixtures in our kitchen for the past four years now, but it wasn't until one of them fell from the ceiling and hung by the wires on Sunday that we actually did it. 

Nothing like a little motivation. 

One of the fixtures in our kitchen hung low over a table in a past life.  As we chose not to place a table in the particular spot, our taller friends and family have been ducking around and walking into this light for, as I mentioned, four years. 

We got a simple ceiling mounted light for this spot and if you're tall you can come back now.  Let's try it again.  I promise your head is safe. 

The kitchen light came with a buddy, so we also replaced the unattractive fixture in the laundry room.  It was pretty dark in there while we were working and I kept wanting to turn on the light. 

The real beast of a project was this fixture over the island.  The directions estimated 45-60 minutes to install.  I estimate that it took us 3-4 hours. 

It is not my dream light fixture.  We had a lot of parameters to work within, the main one being that the old light was placed near the back right corner of the island underneath it and I have this silly desire for lighting to be centered. 

But- dream or no dream- it is up and we are getting used to it.  Pictures don't do justice as to just how much light we have illuminating our kitchen now.  This thing takes six halogen bulbs.  Six!  Halogen!  Do you have any experience with halogen lights?  They are very bright and sunny. 

Over lunch on Monday, I tried to put into words just how bright our new setup is:

"It's like I'm in a...."

At the same time I was saying "tanning bed", Steve threw out "dentist's chair". 

So there.  Now you can picture it for yourself.  And I'd like to clarify that I've never actually been in a tanning bed. 

So the lamp- we bought this wire container from a flea market years ago and originally filled it with white Christmas lights and tulle.  When all the lights burned out last week, we decided to make it into a real lamp.  We got a lamp kit and a cool filament bulb from Lowe's and Steve had that thing finished before I knew he had started.  It gives off a very warm, yellowish-orange glow, much like we are living in the 1920s. 

All this change is getting me motivated and I think we will be on a home improvement streak for a while now.  This week I'm working on one more shop project, plus a few personal projects that I'm excited about.  I love it when the shop is pretty full and I have time to sew things to keep! 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

the next best thing to sunshine

Of the many things we did over the long weekend (and there were many), the one that I am most proud of is that pot full of starchy goodness that you see above. 

I learned to make risotto. 

Risotto is one of those foods that I never exactly understood, so I just chose to order it at restaurants and call it a day.  But the January issue of Better Homes and Gardens had a recipe for Butternut Squash Risotto and, upon hearing that somebody else had successfully made it, I decided that I would too. 

Did you know that the whole trick is how slow you cook it and did you know that I'm finding that to be the trick of many delicious foods?  While you do need to use a specific type of rice (Arborio) for extra starchiness, the real key is that you add the broth, a half cup at a time, over the course of 30 or 40 minutes.  And stir, stir, stir- always stirring. 

The butternut squash gave the dish a lovely sweetness, without being overpowering.  I chose to roast my squash in the oven, as opposed to the microwave method suggested in the recipe.  Both because I love roasting things in the oven, and because I wasn't sure if the squash could fit in our microwave. 

And that was just Friday night!  On Saturday we wandered around the South End and checked out some thrift stores.  I love thrift stores.  Even though they're crowded and disorganized and I want to wash my hands immediately upon leaving, I still love the possibility of finding the perfect unique item. 

We didn't find anything, but had lots of fun looking.  And I got the strong urge to rearrange all of our furniture and paint the house.  You know, the usual. 

As we walked, Steve diligently took pictures of the new day bag I was carrying so that I can post it in the shop later today.  I am especially excited about this bag because of the matching accessories that go with it- both a wristlet and a zipper pouch!  I think that the day bag and zipper pouch set would make a great baby shower gift- what a fun diaper bag!  And I love making wristlets to match larger bags so that you can just grab out the wristlet with your wallet and keys when you don't need all that other stuff.  I recently introduced my mom to the idea of carrying a wristlet instead of a big purse on long shopping trips.  I think it may have changed her life. 

So we had a great weekend.  I think that all the time spent indoors this winter has us both wanting to tackle some major household projects, so we did some of that too.  To be specific, we installed three new light fixtures and made one lamp.  Is there a chance we're overreacting to the lack of sunlight in January?  Perhaps. 

Tomorrow: I'll share some pictures of all our lighting projects. 

Today: I'll hardly notice that the sun never even came out. 


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