More than you wanted to know: Part 1

Wondered what's inside this bag under the tree? It's the biggest and baddest Christmas present I've ever made. Or, I suppose I could call it the most time consuming, most frustrating, most rewarding. It's a QUILT, people. Overachiever, anyone? Over here! Over here!

Luckily, I had the right mind to start this thing back in October knowing full well what a beast it could prove to be. And beast it was.

But, let's start at the very beginning. A very good place to start. When you read you begin with A-B-C. When you sew you begin with scissors, a stack of fabric and a migraine. To reduce it from a migraine to a run of the mill headache, I used this Lemon Squares pattern for measurements. And let's be real. I'm not 95 years old. Scissors are for crazy people. Rotary cutters are where it's at. You slice the fabric like you slice a pizza.  A couple hours later, here were my stacks.

Oh, hold up. I forgot to mention that I wasn't just making a QUILT. I was making a PICTURE quilt. So the first step was wrangling pictures from all of John's siblings. Then formatting them, converting them to black and white and printing them on fabric paper (fabric lightly adhered to paper which peels off after having run through the printer). I went with a brand which marketed its color-fast quality, so I had the extra step of treating the fabric post print. Here were some of my prints laying out to dry.

And I suppose I also ought to mention that the picture sizes I needed left a lot of white space and that paper ain't exactly cheap. So, I pulled together a few "text pictures" on Photoshop to get the biggest bang for my buck.

My stacks of fabric stayed nicely organized until I was about 80% finished and Annie came to help me reorganize. So kind of her. Things got ugly after that. I couldn't find pieces I needed and had only bought enough fabric to barely make it. So I ended up working into the quilt a lot of mismatched scraps.

The piecing took me a couple of days. I sewed each individual block before I layed them all out on the bed and played around arranging them.

Like I mentioned in this post where I made our bedroom pillows, I'm not usually a perfectionist when I sew. But for this project I was pretty militant about ironing after each new seam in order to really keep my lines straight. I hate looking back at a quilt with mismatched corners that could have easily been remedied with a few extra seconds of attention.

Plus I had this girl keeping tabs on me and pointing out any inconsistencies. She's a tough cookie. Don't let the happy-go-lucky stripes fool you.

As you can see in that above picture, things got funky. The body of the quilt bored me. But that was also the point. I didn't want the photographs to be swallowed by the fabric around it. The quilt border gave me a chance to be bold. And Kaffe Fasset is my homeboy. His fabric makes me drool. These were all remnants I had from his collection...maybe ten years ago? Yes, that means I bought it in high school. What can I say? I was a dork. But at some point I had a temporary hiatus from being weird and quilting as a fifteen year old. And therein lay the reason for a handful of quilt blocks I never used and a stack of already cut Kaffe Fasset fabric. I incorporated those into the backing and border of the quilt. Layed it out, sandwiched in the batting and basted the layers together.

Then it dawned on me that I didn't actually know how to quilt. (Sorry John, I'm about to sell you out.) So, John and I sat down and watched tutorials on how to quilt. He was clearly bored that evening. And he and I jacked around on scrap fabric realizing how terrible we were and how it was going to cost a fortune to get this thing finished if I had to hire it out. (For all you cool people out there who don't know. Piecing is sewing the blocks or strips together. Quilting is securing the top, the middle batting (what keeps you warm) and the backing together. It's the hard part. The long part. The pull your hair out part.)

After practicing for not enough time, I took the plunge. I buried the layers under the neck of my machine, with the bulk of the quilt swallowing our dining room table, and I began free motion quilting. Wearing gardening gloves with rubber finger tips to grip and guide the layers. What? Lay off. I know it's weird. But it helped. A lot. Besides it was my mother-in-law who gave me those gardening gloves several years ago. I'm a terrible gardener and only used them but once. Given that this quilt was for her and John's dad, I felt like the usefulness of the gloves came full circle. BAM.

Okay, this post has gotten a little too lengthy. Let's do the reveal tomorrow.

(Pssst...here's The Reveal)


Poppy Seed Bread

Some people say that I care too much about the house I'm living in. And sometimes I think, maybe you're right. Then, John and I move into a crappy rental and I realize, IT MATTERS. You should get to walk through your front door and be able to breathe. You should get to gaze upon some killer artwork. And you should like to have people over. You feel me? Or maybe you think that spending money on interior design is a waste, but then who of you would hesitate to have Nate Berkus come flip your house? Not a one, I bet. Because where you live MATTERS.

That's all semi-irrelevant to this post. It was really all just my lead-in to saying that when we live in a place with a nice, open kitchen, we cook a lot more than when our kitchen is the size of half bathroom. Like it currently is.

Anyway, that beautiful cousin of mine whose wedding video is seen in this post had an idea a few years ago to update our huge family's cookbook (which can be bought here). A few of us cousins got all inspired and made a bunch of phone calls and chattered all about how we were going to make a ridiculously awesome cookbook with PICTURES, people. And I was all like, yeah, I've seen Pioneer Woman's recipe pictures - no biggie, I got this - and I volunteered myself as photographer of our never-actually-happened new cookbook. My thought was to begin photographing whatever I was making that night - as I always cooked from our family's book AND as we were living in a space in New Orleans with an awesome kitchen so I was cooking every night (unlike now - quesadilla, anyone?) 

I happened to be making Poppy Seed Bread that night, thus it was my first go. It took me all of four hours to make a twenty minute recipe. BAM! Project over. Hopes dashed. But atleast we had some great bread to eat as we mourned my lack of quick photography skills. NOPE. Apparently, you can overstir the s@%* out of batter until it tastes like rubber when it's cooked. And that's what I did - take after take - while I blindly adjusted knobs on my camera that I didn't know existed until I got a decent shot. And by the way, does Pioneer Woman have three hands? I mean for reals, or does she have a feather light camera that she can hold in one hand while adjusting settings with one finger, steadying with another and shooting with still another? I nearly dropped my camera in the batter thrice. 

Okay, so these pictures were taken two years ago. And I forgot all about them. Because we all bagged the cookbook idea and did various things like get married, move half way across the country from California, have a baby, etc. Then I came across this picture file last night and thought - this project will be redeemed. If only for one lousy blog post. My blood, sweat and tears will not be for nothing.

So here it is. Perhaps the only recipe post that will ever grace this site. Perhaps. 

Poppy Seed Bread

Combine flour, salt and baking powder in a large bowl. 

Crack some eggs. (Photographed to eliminate any possible confusion. Huh?)
 Pour some sugar on me the eggs in a separate bowl.
 Add in the flour, milk, oil, and extracts.
 Stir it all together.
 Grab a few spoonfuls of poppy seeds.
 Pour into a greased bread pan and pop it in the oven at 350 degrees for an hour.
 While it's baking, whisk vanilla and almond extract with orange juice and powdered sugar to make a glaze.
Brush this glaze over the still hot bread.
And assuming you (unlike me) didn't overstir the batter and transform it into rubber, slice up some goodness.

And because this is how the PROfessional recipes bloggers seem to do it, here's the condensed version of the recipe for ya.

Poppy Seed Bread

3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups milk
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 cup plus 2 T. oil
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 tsp almond
1 1/2 tsp butter flavoring
1 1/2 T poppy seeds

1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp almond
1/2 tsp butter flavoring
1/4 cup orange juice
3/4 powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350. Grease bread pan. In large bowl, combine flour, salt and baking powder. In separate bowl, combine eggs, milk, sugar, oil and extracts. Add to dry ingredients and mix well. Fold in poppy seeds and spread in prepared pan. Bake 1 hour or until toothpick comes out clean. Whisk together glaze ingredients. Remove bread from pans and brush with glaze while still hot. Cool on rack.

P.S. I know I overemphasized how not awesome this bread tasted due to my inordinately lengthy stirring, etc. but this bread really is good. So make it. Don't make it. Whatever. Just so long as my labored for pictures don't die unceremoniously.


The Patch

Just came on to say that I didn't cherish the autumn days enough. Now it's cold. So cold. And leaves don't crunch under our feet on walks because they've all been swept away by now.

The city's trees seemed to turn in stages this fall - not all at once. Armour Hills and then Southmoreland. Parts of Mission Hills and up to Fairway. Skipped a few blocks and spread throughout the Westside. A lot of leaves had browned before our neighbors' ever went red. And I kept waiting for that full-fledged golden glow, but the longer I waited, the colder it got.

There was that day though. Our two families split - the boys tucked in one car, and the girls in another. Out beyond city limits, we crawled into the country. Hopped on hay bales thrown atop tractor beds. Rolled past pumpkins and straw.

And on that day all the trees were all aglow. Every one. And I only took one picture before the less majestic glow of my camera battery flickered - and died.

Anyway, here's that one picture. And here's me wishing it was autumn every day.


Thankful for Seventeen Months

It's that time again. Ok, I'll stop lying. It WAS that time again at the beginning of November and I spent three weeks moping around with a lack of creativity and inspiration. So she's more like 17 months and 25 days old. But who's counting?

The extra time gave me extra reasons to be thankful for her though.

So here we go. Annie, I'm thankful for your chubbiness. Cheeks. Thighs. Swollen belly because you don't know when to stop eating. Ever. Chubby fingers between those button knuckles. Stuffing fat feet into little leather shoes. Love the chubs. 

 I love how you eat. You scoop yogurt out of the bowl with your fingers. African style, says your daddy. Slurping and sucking your fingers, your palms, your wrists. Stretching out your tongue to grab yogurt off your nose and your chin and your cheeks. Food always on your face.

I like your busyness. Busy, busy, busy. Always off to explore. A loner - and a social ham. All at the same time. Off to your room - close your door. Playing for days with your books. Then straight to my lap - around the dinner table. Friends over and you sit and stare and giggle and clap your hands with company. Taking it all in. You run up to stranger's kids and offer them your sippy cup. Sometimes you mistake their movements for an invitation to borrow these strangers' kids toys. And they yank them back and start to cry. And you, girl, are resilient - and compassionate. You look confused and then offer them your teddy bear. 

Sometimes your dad and I catch you standing, staring off - making funny faces. Leaning one way, then the next. Your eyes are locked and your mouth is pushing smirks and pouts. Often, we catch you stealing away to the piano. Already like your daddy. Clapping when you hear music.

You like to touch things that you aren't used to and then turn around in search of approval. Sometimes you aren't looking for approval. Sometimes you are looking to get a rise out of us. Already. At seventeen months, you can be devious...

We're thankful for your generous spirit. Always putting crackers in our mouths. Sharing your half-eaten food. Wrapping clothes around our necks. Feeding the dog. Even when he's already eaten. Always when he's already eaten. He's always already eaten because, Annie, you are ALWAYS feeding him.

You're fun. You make us laugh. You're silly. And adorable. Are these too generic? But they're the truth. You're real bad fun.

I'm thankful that you run and crawl into my and daddy's laps and let us read you stories. I'm thankful that every night before bed we get to rock you and sing Jesus Loves You.

I'm thankful that you forgive us. We're not even into the hard part of parenting and yet we're already screwing up. But you can stare at us in desperation one moment and then pull up and kiss our faces the next.

We're thankful for seventeen months of waking up to your coos and cries. We're hopeful for hundreds more. We're thankful God is letting us raise you. We love, love, love you, Annie.

***For more of Annie's weekly/monthly picture posts, check out these: 13, 14, and 16.
*****For all 17 months of weekly pictures, check out this page.


Tree hanging and table setting

For anyone taking bets (Lynn), it's true. We did rearrange the apartment yet again. The opportunity was too ripe to ignore.

My sister Kristin called a few days ago and said she couldn't find her husband. My mom asked who that man was talking in the background. Kristin said, I don't know but it sure isn't my husband, because this is the most motivated man I've ever seen. I felt the same way on Saturday with John. Five minutes after walking through the door, he had the furniture all moved to one side and was vacuuming, mopping and scraping paint specks off of the floors with a blade. Me lika this version of my husband. 

Anyway, why move all the furniture back as it was? That would be majorly BOR-ING. Plus we had a Christmas tree to work into the mix. So we swapped the living room for the dining room. Yep, you heard. Didn't think those rooms were interchangeable? Well they're definitely not. Now we absolutely have a dining room table that is squat in between the couch and the TV. Roll with it. John has learned to. And Annie is shaping up nicely to being a girl as into doing and undoing as I am. 

What with a fresh floor plan, we decided to go shopping. Free shopping. My favorite kind - when you gather and spend all the gift certificates you have tucked away from the past year. (like this time)

Annie got a bag full of fake food out of the deal from U.S. Toy. I don't know - is that akin to Luke 11:11 when Jesus asks which of you fathers, if your son asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion instead? Handing your child a bag full of chocolate bars, sunny-side up eggs and pineapple slices only to watch her pop them in her mouth and discover that they're funky tasting, painted plastic. Annie, they're for your play kitchen. You know the one where water doesn't come out of the faucet and you can lick the stove and not burn your tongue. 

Next stop was Sharyn Blond's in Fairway where mommy got a set of super gorgeous napkins. And what do you know but we were having friends over the very next evening. Jackpot. Only problem is that I've worked at one too many restaurants and just couldn't decide how to fold the napkins. 
What the hey. I just left each plate different. Because making them all the same would be BOR-ING, people. 

Want to hear a funny story. We ran out to World Market to buy candles for that table centerpiece and came home with the only ones that were the right size - gold dipped, tapered candles. As I started peeling off the plastic wrap, the gold paint came streaking off as well. Major bummer. So, we left the rest in the bag to return. Well, not before my mom - to whom I had mentioned this disappointment on the phone - dropped by unannounced five minutes before our guests arrived and left a package of white candles on our doorstep. Anyone that knows Mindy won't be surprised at all by that. Funny story, huh? No, silly. I haven't gotten to the funny part yet. 

The funny part is when the fire alarm went off - count em - THREE times during our dinner party from these long-stemmed, white candles. Got to keep people on their toes.

Also, just to be cruel, I put the salt and pepper in the middle of the centerpiece because grinding pepper over your food is just another way of saying, thank you, host, but your dish isn't well seasoned. I thought, if they're going to be that bold, the least they can do is stick their hand through a ring of fire. No, not true. We just have a small table. Salt yourself silly. I won't judge.


On flipping and flopping and other such things

Big Cedar Lodge. If you haven't heard of it, listen up. If you haven't seen it, look. If you haven't been, go. It's at times the scene of crazy beautiful weddings like my cousin Jennifer's this fall. Watch this video. It'll be good for your soul. But be careful. The Lord commands us not to covet. And covet this wedding you will. So promptly repent. (By the way, she married a professional bull rider. Who does that? Cool people, that's who.)

Luke + Jen from Something Blue Cinema on Vimeo.

At other times, in between the minivans full of Kanakuk families and cabin after cabin packed with vacationers, Big Cedar is the backdrop which becomes the foreground on a hundred artists' canvases. And on one such occasion - Plein Air Paint Out 2012 -  my mom and cousin Laura road tripped down to Tablerock Lake to watch them all break out their oils and acrylics. Needless to say, after a full weekend of watching art made, Laura was inspired to boldly paint some herself. 

Thus our enrollment in Artichoke's Abstract Acrylics workshop last month. 

And yes, if you are wondering, when a wedding video is as darling as the aforementioned and aforeshown, any good lady can find a way to weave it into an utterly unrelated post. BOOM. We're in the middle of my story's part 2 and you're still wondering how you can lure your husband into renewing his vows. Bam, thank you ma'am. 

Anyway, here we are. Following the Plein Air weekend, Laura invited me to do this class with her. And I'll be frank. We probably should have taken a happy hour first. The creativity was a little hard to squeeze out as we stared at our white canvases. A cocktail would have helped. Live and you learn. 

Let me tell you a secret. Each of our paintings are based off of the very same image. Huh, maybe one of the two of us did take a happy hour prior to class.

Moral of the story here is that anyone can paint. And everyone should paint.

I didn't think I'd hang mine. I usually throw things I make into the back of the closet until a few months later when I pull it out again only to paint something new over it. But this time I don't totally hate it. So I hung it on our nice new white wall.

The best part about abstract art is you can often turn it upside down and get a fresh new look. You can also pull a Kylie and turn NON-abstract art on its side, completely to the dismay of the artist, I'm sure. Sorry, Marjolyn van der Hart.

But, again, a little flip flop never hurt anyone. Except when it did and tonight Annie totally flipped over a big toy and smacked her bum to the ground. A flip and a flop and a huge rush of tears.

"Abstract" as it may be when I painted it, I've decided to name it Touch Down. Because I love the NFL. Who dat. Or, really, because upside down I think it looks like a red tornado touching down on a field in the middle of an electrifying storm. 

So there you have it. From a gorgeous wedding to slapping up some paint.


The Dog and Now The Kid

Before Annie was born, it was just me, John and the dog. And before John, it was just me and Griffin. I'd say I know this dog pretty darn well. Many a night he slept in bed next to me - before John stole his spot. 

As the years passed, I watched something odd happen. Suddenly, Griffin wouldn't necessarily come when I called him. John says it's because I would annoy him and get him all wound up when he came. Anyway, over time it became obvious that while Griffin would hop up on the bed when I called him most of the time, he wouldn't do it all the time. And when John called him up any time, he would come every time. 

I'd call and I'd call and I'd call and that lazy lump would just stay curled up in the corner. I'd raise my voice, quicken it, deepen it, sing his name. And he wouldn't move. Then John would barely utter the first syllable of his name and suddenly a tail was wagging in our faces. That dog had no loyalty. So that was the year I lost my first kiddo to daddy.  

But Annie was my girl. And she loved her mama. I know that I know that kid better than anyone else. Pops included.

Here's the thing. I've noticed lately that on occasion John will be holding Annie and I'll squeeze her chubby little thighs to make her laugh. And what do you know but that John starts tickling her belly at the very same moment. And Annie explodes with laughter. Everything's fine, right? Wrong. 

It dawned on me last week that I don't have that special touch anymore. Daddy does. Because when I tickle her she only sometimes giggles and when daddy tickles her she always giggles. So when I reach for her thigh, John comes in for the kill on her belly and I'm the fool standing there thinking its me causing the joy.  John knows what's up. He pities me! It's like when your little toddler wants to push the doorbell but isn't strong enough so you press his finger in to ring it and then clap his hands and tell him what a good job he just did.

I haven't told him yet that I'm on to him. So, when he reads this post, he'll know the jig's up. I'm no longer the fool. He can stop feeling bad for me and my failure to get laughs. I guess both our kiddos have swung to John's side. So what's a mom to do but get out her camera and at least record the moments?
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