Wednesday, February 27, 2013

perfect winter beef stew

Every year, as spring approaches, I find myself trying to squeeze in as many "winter" meals as I can to our weekly menu.  Things that I would never make in the warm months.  Things like beef stew. 

I've been using this beef stew recipe for years now and it is super easy, so I thought I'd share it. 
Perfect Winter Beef Stew
3/4 cup Italian dressing
2 lb. beef chunks
3 cups sliced mushrooms
1 cup chopped onions
3 cups sliced carrots
1 1/2 lbs potatoes, cut into large chunks
1 14 oz. can stewed tomatoes, undrained
1 14 oz. can beef broth


Pour dressing over meat and marinate for at least 30 minutes.  Remove meat from marinade and discard marinade.
Saute mushrooms and onions in a large soup pot over medium high heat 10 minutes until tender. 
Add meat, carrots, potatoes, tomatoes, and broth to pot. 
Bring to boil, stirring occasionally.  Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 1 hour 15 minutes.  Uncover and simmer an additional 15 minutes or until sauce is thickened. 

As with all soups, this recipe is super flexible.  Today, I'm adding celery, because I happen to have some.  Sometimes I also whisk in some corn starch towards the end to thicken the broth a bit. 

We've only got a few more weeks of winter left, so enjoy this while you can!

Monday, February 25, 2013

the best parts of the weekend

Our weekend was kind of rainy, kind of sniffle-y (it's cold season!), but also several kinds of good.  We had a rare chance to meet up with a whole slew of my extended family and we took it.  I hadn't seen some of them in a year, four years, eight years, nineteen years.  This was a visit long overdue. 

One of my favorite parts was seeing so many of my cousins, who I spent lots of time with as a child, but not so much time with since then.  I love getting to know them now, as adults.  They're even cooler than they were when we were kids. 

The other highlight of the weekend?  Our new slippers arrived in the mail.  If you recall, we're kind of serious about slippers around here. 
I chose these sweater bootie slippers from Land's End for optimal warmth.  My current slippers are clogs and the back of my foot and ankle get way too cold.  Land's End has their slippers on sale right now, plus I found a coupon online, but I'm telling you these things would have totally been worth full price.  I'm trying not to brag about them too much right now, because Steve's new slippers didn't fit and we have to exchange them.  It seems cruel to gloat over how toasty my feet are when he's still scuffing along in his six year old slippers. 

So today (while my feet are nice and warm) I am working on bow ties again.  We've got a lot of fun new things planned for the shop this spring and, with some luck, the first items will be rolling out early next week!  Stay tuned for more details!

Friday, February 22, 2013

sneak peak: bow ties

This week, I made my very first bow tie.  It is reversible.  I had never ever thought of reversible bow ties until this week, when I saw one and my world bow tie views were rocked. 

The coolest thing about a reversible bow tie is that if you want- and only if you want- the middle of the knot can show up as the contrasting color.  Or you could just tie it regular and have the whole bow be one color.  With reversible, you've got options. 

Steve and I have both been practicing how to make a great bow.  We found an awesome, illustrated tutorial here, plus some helpful YouTube videos.  It is not nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. 
I've got a mile-long list of new products to try out over the next few weeks and you'd better believe that a big stack of bow ties in a rainbow of colors is at the top of the list.  Along with matching pocket squares, of course. 
Hope your weekend is bow tie-fancy!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

if it's going to be cold, it had better be snowing

We went outside early Sunday before church to enjoy the snow before it was gone.  I'm so glad we did, because by the time we arrived home later, the only snow left was in the shady spots. 

I love how snow makes all the other colors outside appear more vibrant.  We snapped picture after picture of snowy branches against the blue sky. 

Despite the fact that all the snow is gone, this week has been super chilly.  Today, I'm thankful for my layers to keep me warm as I do some organizing and work on business plans. 

Yesterday, I spent a chunk of the afternoon creating a sale section in my shop.  We are in need of some extra closet space and have way too many tote bags hanging around, so I have marked them all down 40%!  Not only are the original market totes on sale, but all the local totes as well.  Quantities are very limited, so be sure to pop over soon and see which ones you want- I think they'd make great graduation/teacher gifts to have on hand this spring!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

painting success story

Just as I had hoped, I have great news to report today about our successful weekend of painting.  It would be almost impossible for me to describe to you how much I dislike painting, so for me to call the weekend successful is a pretty big deal.  After mulling over what makes painting less miserable, here's what I came up with:

The Right Painting Partner.  And no, I'm sorry, but you cannot borrow mine.  Steve did way  more than half the work and kept on painting while I did stuff like get lunch together and put away laundry.  It was great to have a few small breaks, while knowing that we were still making progress!

The Right Tools.  We picked up a few new brushes on Friday night, made sure we had more than enough paint (don't you hate running out when you're almost done?!) and cut out part of a vinegar jug to make the perfect paint holder.  We also brought in plenty of lamps so we could see what we were doing and a CD player to keep things peppy. 

Impromptu Snow Storm.  I guess this is only a good thing if you love snow.  We haven't seen any all winter, so I was thrilled when it started snowing really hard on Saturday afternoon.  It looked so beautiful and made it seem like just the right thing to be cozy inside, painting away. 

Meat Picnic.  That's right- meat picnic.  We finished up for the day right before dinner time and ran out to pick up food from our favorite barbecue place.  We ordered the biggest thing on the menu, which included pulled pork, beer can chicken, beef brisket, and ribs, among other things.  It was like heaven. 

We sat on the floor and watched a movie while we ate and it was so much fun that I almost forgot that we'd been painting all day.  And that we still had more to do. 

But now the brushes have all been washed and we are done for reals and that is the best part of any painting project. 

Friday, February 15, 2013

choose love

One of the most valuable life lessons that I have learned and am still learning is to focus my energy on things that I can change, as opposed to things that are out of my control.  I think that this lesson is especially pertinent on Valentine's day. 
I can't make anyone love me, but I sure can spend the day showing love to others.  And it's almost impossible to have a bad day when you spend all your time thinking about how you can make the people around you smile.  Just try it- I bet you'll love it too. 

Steve and I cooked a special breakfast together yesterday morning.  He was in charge of making mochas and I made the eggs. 

Then I dropped him off at the train station and set out to run a bunch of errands and drop off treats and surprises along the way.  I was, of course, wearing red. 

During my few minutes at home, I set up a table by the fireplace in preparation for dinner.  The daffodils are from our yard- they just bloom earlier every year!

After a lovely afternoon that included more friends and raspberry almond bar deliveries, I picked up dinner and my sweetheart and we headed home.  We feasted on fancy cheese, blue cheese meatballs, cajun sweet potato wedges and lots of other treats from Whole Foods while we sat by the fire in our pajamas. 

The best thing about the evening was being unhurried.  We lingered over each course and caught up with each other and drank lots of sparkling water and tangerine soda. 

It was a great day and it ended with a canoli.  We didn't even get into the fancy chocolate that I bought, so it looks like we have a fun weekend ahead as well. 
In between chocolate, we're painting (ick!), running errands, and Steve will be getting a much-needed haircut.  Luckily, Monday is President's Day, so we have an extra day off to get everything done.  I'll meet you back here on Tuesday, hopefully with a successful painting story!  Hope your weekend is full of opportunities to share love (and chocolate)!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

the bump

You may remember a couple of weeks ago when I was cutting out triangles until my hands hurt.  I think I ended up doing about 800 before I decided enough was enough.  As you can imagine, I really made a dent in my scrap boxes. 

The triangles (all 800 of them) were then grouped by color and sewn into party banners.  I love party banners.  We've used them to decorate for Easter, birthday parties, and weddings that we weren't invited to

These particular banners are now being sold at The Bump Maternity Boutique, so I imagine they will mainly be used for baby showers and nursery decor.  The Bump is a locally owned store that has such cute and unique items for mom and baby.  Like these fancy banners! (And other great stuff too.)

Most of the items I sell don't really require packaging, but I wanted to keep all the little triangles extra safe, so I put each banner in a plastic sleeve and then Steve designed really cute stickers for the outside. 
I was telling Steve the other day that there are so many great qualities he has that I didn't even  think to look for in a husband.  I mean, I had a running list in my head, but "designing really cute stickers for product packaging" was not on it, surprisingly enough.  I sure did get lucky. 

I also took my stock of stuffed balls to The Bump, so you will notice that I no longer have a "baby" section in my online shop.  One of my goals this year is to narrow my focus, so I'll be phasing out some items in the coming months. 
Today I'm excited to be working on a whole batch of these canvas and leather lunch bags.  Steve has been using his every day for about three months now and it's still looking great- product testing at its finest! 
Will you be making any last minute Valentine's today?  Here are some card ideas for inspiration!

Monday, February 11, 2013

fancy thumb tacks

Last week I completed a super fun, super cheap, super quick project for my office.  I have been on a hunt for colorful thumb tacks since I made my bulletin board strip last fall.  I didn't know it would actually require much effort, but sadly, all the thumb tacks I found were either boring or too expensive (how could I pay $15 for 20 tacks when I knew I'd want to tack much more than 20 things?). 
But then I came across this tutorial on the ModCloth blog for decorating your own thumb tacks and my life was changed.  As much as one's life can be changed by pretty office supplies. 

I already had this pack of 70 white thumb tacks that I believe cost $.50.  They are not super sharp, so I can't use them on walls, (I have slight obsession with tacking things to the walls that Steve finds really worrisome) but they are fine for a bulletin board. 
I purchased four mini nail polishes in colors that matched my office for $.93 each at Walmart.  I would have just used my own nail polish, but I'm strictly a pink and red girl. 

I spaced the tacks out in one of the pieces of cardboard they came in and raised them up so the heads were not touching the cardboard.  Then I painted two coats of the base color on each one.

The next day, I painted the designs.  I stuck with dots, stripes, and hearts, because I'm not much of a nail polish brush artist.  On most of them, I ended up doing two coats of the top color as well so that the base color didn't show through. 

Probably my favorite part about this project was the lack of clean up!  Because you are painting with nail polish, there are no brushes to clean or paint containers or anything.  I kept everything out on my work station and would just work on it for five minutes at a time whenever I had a chance. 
Today I'm plowing through a long to-do list (Monday's list is always lengthy!) and roasting a chicken.  Is anyone else getting excited about Valentine's day?  Here are some ideas for treats to make if you're thinking about baking this week. 

Friday, February 08, 2013

the loot

When we arrived at the Maker's Summit last Saturday, we each got one of these cool tote bags.  They were filled with all kinds of stickers, notebooks, pens, and other fun samples. 

They were also full of monkey hats.  That's right- Steve and I now have in our possession matching knitted monkey hats.  If you live in our neighborhood, you should be very afraid.  We will  be wearing these on winter walks.  Along with our Smittens
The hats were a gift from MailChimp, one of the sponsors of the conference.  Before I realized this, I thought they might just be giving out random animal hats and was secretly bummed out that we'd both ended up with monkeys. 

Mid-afternoon, they drew names for the sponsor giveaways.  Here is a little known fact about me: I usually win these types of things.  It's weird and I don't know why it happens.  If there is a contest that takes actual skill or action to win, count me out.  But a random name drawing?  There is a 80% chance that I'll go home with a prize. 

So, needless to say, I won an awesome craft kit.  Most of the items in the kit are from Knot & Bow and now I want to buy everything in their shop.  For now though, I will be content with using up my big box of free supplies. 

I've been oogling baker's twine for the better part of a year and am now the proud owner of two big spools.  You may wonder why I didn't just go ahead and buy some earlier (it's not a high investment item) and the answer is that I couldn't decide what color to get.  So now the decision has been made for me and I'm thrilled!

Washi tape is another item that's been on my "want" list and I literally almost bought some last Thursday.  There were four lovely rolls in my gift box in various stripey and polka dot patterns.  Perfect. 

And just when you thought that gold and white striped tape couldn't be cooler- it came with this awesome wooden camera tape dispenser! 

Now, let's talk chalkboard tags.  What do you tag with them?  I know they'd be super cute on gifts and will probably use some for that purpose, but I also want to display them around the house.  I'm thinking of tagging my kitchen canisters or maybe writing secret notes to Steve on them. 

If you'd like to see a bit more of our weekend, check out this cool video of the conference and craft party.  See if you can spot Steve and I- we're actually in there several times!

Today I am finishing up a craft project for my office that I will be sharing with you next week.  I'm also making soup (this one) and waiting for my brother to arrive.  Hope your weekend is cozy!

Thursday, February 07, 2013

The Best Craft Party Ever

When Steve and I were making our plans to attend the Maker's Summit in Greenville last weekend, we had to decide if we would stay Saturday night, or head back home as soon as the conference was over.  But after the conference, in the very same space, was The Best Craft Party Ever, which included dinner, craft supplies, and access to some awesome printing techniques.  So we decided to stay.  How can you turn down something called "The Best Craft Party Ever"?

Dinner was catered by a local restaurant and it was lovely.  We sat at long tables and met people who we hadn't gotten a chance to speak with during the day. 

While we waited for the food to be served, we got to check out some 3D printer demonstrations.  I had never seen a 3D printer before, but they must be the next big thing because I just read about them on Design Mom yesterday too! 

After dinner, we went to the screen printing station, where we got to print our own t-shirts!  We learned about how they prep the screens and I was amazed that you can use a special heater on the ink that makes it dry almost immediately! 

I'm super excited about my new shirt: a) because it's gray, and b) because it's inspiring.  It seems like you're setting yourself up for a successful day by putting on a "Make it Happen" shirt in the morning. 

Next, we went to check out the letterpress and print our own posters.  The letterpress was interesting because the ink goes on a disk on top of the machine and then as you pull the lever, two rollers grab the ink, roll it over the stamp part, and then the whole thing squeezes shut to make the print. 

Again, both cute and inspiring. 

And the fun didn't stop there!  We picked up our craft supply boxes and got to work on the individual projects that we'd chosen. 

While we worked, we had a chance to meet a few more people, including Stephen Fraser, one of the founders of Spoonflower.  You know that we already love Spoonflower for printing our own fabric designs, so it was amazing to get to hear more of the story behind the company. 

Steve chose to make the beeswax candles.  They were really easy and kind of addictive.  You just cut the sheet of wax to the size you want, put the wick near one edge, and roll very carefully.  I love how they look and am not sure if I want to burn them, or just enjoy them whole. 

I chose the paper wreath project and opted for hearts, in honor of the month.  I'm actually still working on it to get the look that I want, but I came home with lots of cool paper to use. 

If you can believe it- there's more!  Tomorrow I'll share pictures of some of the items we got in our gift bags, plus the giveaway that I won while we were there. 


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