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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Hey there, faithful readers...

I am debating moving this blog to a different host. That would mean that my site address and feed address would change.

So, I have a question for my friends who use a news reader or other RSS feed source to keep up with the blogs you read: how often have you had to/been willing to update your feed reader settings to follow a favored blog to a new feed? Just curious.

And, here's another question for my friends who are also bloggers. Have you ever moved your blog from one host to another? Got any tips? Any horror stories? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Monday, December 29, 2008

New Year, New Studio

2008 has been, well, something, hasn't it? To say nothing of political dramas and global economic panic, for me this year brought a big job change. My new job is emotionally and intellectually challenging, stimulating, draining, and rewarding all at once. And yet, now that I have settled into my new, more demanding job, I seem to have more energy at home for my design and craft projects than I have in years.

Still, I have fretted over the last few months about the ceaseless packing and unpacking of tools and materials that I've been forced to do because my "studio" and my dining room have been one-and-the-same.

It was all brought to a head on Christmas morning, as we began preparing to welcome a most excellent house guest this weekend. I had packed up all my crafty bits and stuffed them into my husband's upstairs office for the umpteenth time in order to ready the house for our families. As I surveyed the damage and the 2 square feet of remaining unspoiled floor space, I realized that in a few short days I would be inflating an AERO bed in the same space. Hm. What to do? But I didn't really have time to think about it, as family began streaming in. It was only the next day, when I thought back on our excellent Christmas Day (the near totality of which was spent by each of us in pajamas!), that I realized not one of us nor our guests had set foot in the sunroom directly off of the living room, in spite of the fact that it had plenty of nice spots for sitting in the sunshine. And I thought some more. And realized that the sunroom has doors that can be closed. I made a silent deal to reclaim the space for myself.

A little while later, I published this silent deal to my husband who was wholeheartedly for it. Score!

I went to work that afternoon space planning, trying to maximize the stuff we already have. And now that tables have been moved, usb ports have been plugged in, sofas have been rearranged, rugs have been swapped, and a piano has been relocated sans hernia, I can't believe we didn't do this sooner.

There are still a few things left to do. We've lived here 2.5 years, and I have still never put curtains or blinds on the downstairs windows (They leak! That's a good excuse, no?). But now I feel like I'm working in a fishbowl, so I am getting motivated. Unbleached muslin is $3 a yard and will make a perfect blank canvas, I think. So that's easy enough. One of our favorite pieces of art, a collage done by a friend's second grade class 5 or 6 years ago, is no longer perfectly centered over the piano, but I think I'm leaving it where it is and will just add some other inspirational bits on its side to balance out that wall. The drop-leaf table that was just sort of taking up space in our living room is now a great, big workspace; and when it's time for company, the front leaf drops down and can conceal about 24 cubic feet of stuff!

Did I mention I get to keep the couch in my office? How fancy is that?

I think I'm gonna like it here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Last Minute Gift: Free 2009 Printable Calendar

**HI, TIPNUT FOLKS! - Since I posted this, my web site address has changed, so if you click on the downloads here, they may not work properly. Come on over to my new site, and you can grab the files HERE!**

So, if you are like me, a couple of things are true for you today. 1) You are committed to giving handmade this year; and 2) you are in a panic because 3) you just realized you forgot about your sister-in-law or your third cousin; and 4) the person you forgot will be at your house within the next few hours.

What to do?! What to do!?

How about a lovely calendar? 2009 is almost here, after all. And though your local Big Box Bookseller™ will probably have loads of very nice ones to choose from, there's still time to make your own.

So here's my gift to you, Internet: A downloadable, totally free PDF calendar for 2009!

Each page features a wee illustration by moi and is 95% likely to have the correct dates on every page--what a bargain, no?

And, hey, even if you are morally and practically superior to me, and you have been finished preparing for the holidays since October, perhaps you've been neglecting yourself. Maybe YOU need a snazzy new calendar for your wall.

Putting this little guy together is a snap:
  1. Print the calendar on nice heavy-weight cardstock.
  2. Cut down the center of the calendar (at 4.25" to be exact).
  3. Fasten the pages together with a tiny binder clip or punch two wee holes at the top and "sew" the pages together with festive yarn or floss.
That's it!

If you print the calendar as a gift or keep it for yourself, I'd love to know--just drop by the comments to this post, and tell me what's what. While you're at it, you could make me feel better by telling me your worst last-minute crafter-disaster!


Tuesday, December 23, 2008


A few people from the Spoonflower Flickr group have asked how I tile my seamless patterns and whether I have any tips for seamless patterns. Well, I do it based on the way other people who have shared their great tutorials on the subject do it; add to that a dash of my own discoveries through trial and error.*

I use Adobe Illustrator for turning my designs into seamless tiles. I would use Adobe Illustrator to cook my food and vacuum my floors if I could figure out how. (I bet there's a tutorial out there...) The Spoonflower folks have also recommended several free graphics programs that may do most or all of the same things I am going to describe here.

Basically, a seamless pattern relies on the same principles that MC Escher used to create his stunning tesselations: if you take something away from one edge, you have to add it back to the opposite edge. So, here's a simple starting tile for a Christmas tree pattern:

But we're getting ahead of ourselves. There may be a speedy way to create seamless patterns, but I haven't found it. I usually decide how big I want the pattern repeat to be BEFORE I have all the designs put together--otherwise, with a set of complex shapes like the concentric circles (below), it's hard for me to backtrack to figure out what the repeat should be (does that make sense?) unless I just make it bigger than what I already have, which means there's a lot more space to fill and a lot more designing to do. And most of the time, when I choose the size, it is in either half or whole increments of inches or in multiples of 50 or 100 pixels. More about this later.

Back to our tile. You see that the Christmas tree on the top over-hangs the edge of the square exactly as much as the tree on the bottom invades the square. And although I have been known to eyeball alignment correctly down to the pixel (I claim to have a laser level built into my brain), I don't leave anything to chance, because even the slightest mis-alignment can lead to yucky seams running through your work.

There are a couple of ways in Illustrator to ensure that the alignment of any objects that extend past the tile shape's borders is perfect. You can use the "Transform" live effect to make a copy of your design element and move it a set distance. This is where having predetermined a nice round number for the size of your tile can make your life easier. If you have a tree on one edge of a 2-inch square and you need to make its twin on the opposite edge, you would just enter "2 in" in the distance box and you're good to go.

That's probably the better way to go--there are whole tutorials about using the Transform effect to speed up your work. Here's one I highly recommend.

Still, that's not how I do it. Once I decide on the size of my tile, lets say 400 pt, I go into the Preferences panel, to General. In the Keyboard Increment option, I put "400 pt." Then I can draw a shape that overhangs one edge, select the shape, click "option-downarrow" (or alt-downarrow for you Windows people), and there's a perfect copy of my shape 400 pts from where it started. Snazzy, no?

I don't think we'll be winning any awards for this tile, but you get the picture, yes?

I don't think there's any right or wrong way (we could have a heady discussion about the file size benefits of symbol instances versus copies, but, um, no thanks). I like my way because I never leave my keyboard for my mouse. I mostly make patterns in a semi-reclining state on my Mac laptop. When I do work at my husband's iMac with the Wacom tablet, I might be more inclined to use the Transform method because the mouse is better. Just depends.

When I'm working on a more complicated pattern, once I have decided how big the repeat will be, I start working in an organic way, placing things where I think they'll look nice, not worrying about the edges of my square. Then I go back and make sure that each overhanging shape has a twin on the opposite edge. This can get complicated when you have a lot of shapes layering over one another as in this loony design:

Finally, a couple of tips:
  1. Did you know that you can make a repeating pattern tile in Illustrator out of a rectangle instead of a square? Makes for a nice change of pace sometimes.
  2. Stand back from your pattern and squint. If all you really see are imaginary square lines connecting your shapes, you probably have more work to do.
  3. Consider designing your patterns for a half-brick or half-step repeat--in these, the alignment of the shapes along the x- and y-axis, respectively is off by 50% of the total size of the shape. So that means that your repeats are more like diamonds than squares.
  4. Consider, without allowing yourself to become obsessed or depressed by the fact that there are, in fact, as many as 17 (SEVENTEEN!) symmetry types upon which you can base a repeating pattern. For most of these, Illustrator's handy pattern swatch will not do the trick without some manual manipulations on your part (you will need to rely on the Transform Effect, which can handle x- and y-axis reflections and rotations, too). There is also a pattern plugin available for Illustrator that can generate all these types of symmetry. But I think that takes all the fun out.
I hope that helps a bit. I'm happy to answer more questions related to seamless vector patterns. Just leave them in the comments, and I will answer them for everyone on the blog whenever I can.

*Also see Rachel Galloway's very detailed posts on designing fabric for Spoonflower at her Mamma Made blog.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Her First 29th Birthday

I Want that Wednesdays will be back with a consumerist vengeance next week.

Today what I want is to be able to give my baby sister a squeeze. But I'll have to wait till she gets home on Christmas Eve.

Happy Birthday, sistah! I am so glad you were born!

You know that saying that the cobbler's children have no shoes? That's sort of like being the crafty girl's sister. I have bunches of projects in various stages of completion designed with my sister's precise aesthetic (and it is precise!) in mind, but her birthday falls so close to Christmas (my DIY-binge-procrastination apogee) that I am always last-minute finishing her gifts. Roll into this the fact that she lives in New York and that I, alas, do not, and the last-minute thing really does not work. So she always gets shorted on her birthday, and then I try to lavish her as soon as she gets off the plane at Christmas. Which often means wrapping presents in the car on the way to pick her up or see her at my mom's house.

So. If you're ever in my car and you wonder what the hell the tape is doing there in the back seat, it's a good bet I was wrapping a last-minute gift with it. Last year. I don't have as good an explanation for the single flip flop or the random lamp shade. What?

Anyhoo, being my sister's sister is a great privilege full of surprises (not the why-is-there-a-random-lamp-shade-under-the-car-seat kind--the really good, i-had-no-idea-this-is-how-cool-you'd-turn-out kind) and laughter.

Plus? 29? Totally a prime number. And that's just cool.

P.S. I was going to use this opportunity to plug my sister's lovely Etsy shop, but she's gone and sold nearly everything she had listed (including the necklace I was eyeing--drat!), so I'll wait till she puts up some new stuff in the new year...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Rudolph the Red-nosed Christmas Tree

So, by now I am sure you know how to make a covered button thumbtack or magnet. If not, see the excellent, super easy thumbtack tutorial here.

I whipped up this little tree while thinking about the limitations on christmas decorations presented by my sister's New York apartment and her naughty cats.

For this little project I used scraps of one of my Spoonflower fabrics and a piece of felt I had lying around. I used 3/4" covered buttons, but if I had had great big ones I'd have done that in green with teeny-tiny wedding-dress-sized red ones wedged between. I am going to search through my fabric stash for something to be a tree trunk, but in the mean time, I think this is kinda cute.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Something Shy of a Tutorial

Well, I really, really wanna show you, the Internet, what I did this weekend. Not the part where my entire diet on Sunday consisted of chocolate chip cookies. The other part. Where I made something really, really cool. I want to, but I have to wait because, of the six people who read this, four are likely to receive said nifty thing or a variant as a gift this year.

Instead, I have decided to show you a couple of other things. These are not so much tutorials as suggestions for things you may have forgotten you already knew or something, right? What I mean is that if you already have the tools for these things, you should be good to go; if you do not already have these tools, I don't anticipate a run on the craft stores at the end of this post. You follow?

So. I believe I have mentioned here before the awesomeness that is the Xyron laminating machine. I have a big one (a 900?), which, aside from laminating 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of paper can make stickers and magnets from all sorts of things you find around the house. I think most people who have these are really into scrapbooking. Me, not so much. I have never so much as "scrapped" a page. Just not my thing.

I digress.

Nifty Thing #1: Snowflake Magnets

Among the myriad cool things about the Xyron is that you are not limited to using it with paper. I've used fabric, cork sheets, lace, and even tinfoil! Yes, tinfoil. So the first wee thing I thought I would show you is that you can make cute little snowflake magnets with your Xyron.
  1. Rip off some tinfoil.
  2. Run it through the Xyron with a magnet cartridge
  3. Use cute snowflake punches to make snowflake-shaped magnets. Push hard. Those suckers take elbow grease!
I made a bunch of these, and they look sweet scattered on the fridge or dishwasher. I also made a colorforms-esqe christmas tree with tiny hole-punched red magnets for my little boy to decorate--it's cute-ish but not ready for primetime.

Nifty Thing #2: Patterned Tape

Over the last year or so, I have seen cute patterned tape promoted in lots of places. People in whose taste I put a fair amount of stock positively swoon over it. It's cute as an idea, but I just don't use that much tape. Am I doing something wrong?

Anyway, my minimalist tape habits notwithstanding, I do think there are some cute applications for this stuff, but I wanted more flexibility. And to not pay like $10 for a roll of tape. Enter: tissue paper. I have been known to stockpile swell printed tissue paper. Like all things flat, I have run it through my Xyron. And I have discovered that if you cut it into strips, you get neato patterned tape!

  1. Cut off some tissue paper.
  2. Run it through the Xyron using an adhesive cartridge, being careful, if you are neurotic like me, to keep it from wrinkling on the way in.
  3. Slice your sticky tissue paper into strips (I used a rotary cutter with a pinking blade. Because, why not?)
Et voilà! I have only done this with the permanent adhesive, but it might work just as well or better with the repositionable flavor. Although the adhesive does give the tissue paper a little more strength, it is still fragile stuff, so don't use it to secure packages in the mail. I used it today to seal boxes of cookies I took to the sherrif's deputies at the courthouse. Because, you know, they are really at the center of the patterned tape demographic.

The Thing Where You Start to Feel Better About Yourself

It is the holiday season, a stressful time for many. A time when people can feel frazzled and inadequate. Well, consider the feeling of superiority about to wash over you a Christmas gift from me to you. I took some pictures tonight of my workstation. Which is to say my dining room. I am an itenerant crafter--I have to pack up all this junk every few days to let real life happen around our house, so clear plastic bins are what pass for organization. And because I have the attention span of a drunk mosquito there are always somewhere between three and ten projects in various stages of completion strewn around the room and lots of empty plastic storage bins. Also, in the shot where you can see into my kitchen, you can see that I have conceded the battle to keep crap off of the refrigerator, a battle which I waged successfully until my son started bringing home drawings from school (thus my embrace of seasonal magnets in this post).

I keep thinking that if I just had a space where all my stuff could be spread out it wouldn't be such a mess, but my husband says that there is no such thing as a room to contain my projects. I guess he is leaving out the padded alternatives. He must really love me.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Why am I thinking about re-decorating my son's room at 6:55 on a Saturday morning? I could be working on the huge custom order I have to finish before December 25. Or I could be trying out prototypes for my handmade Christmas gifts. Wait! Here's an idea...I could be sleeping. Yeah, no dice.

So, redecorating the room. He will be three in four months. Which means that I am going to be forced sooner rather than later to concede that he is no longer a baby. Further complicating the emotional trauma associated with acceptance of this fact, I am facing a stylistic dilemma. Kids don't sleep in cribs forever. Especially not kids at the top of the height-weight charts.

When we move Mr. Kid to a big boy bed there will be sheets and comforters and things that will need to be handed down, made, or bought. All of his baby bedding was bought by a group of my friends, one of whom had a 40% discount at Pottery Barn at the time. I know, I know, Pottery Barn. But, I tell you, farm animals! Quilting! What is not to love? In fact, nearly three years later I am still in love with it and will be so sad to take the quilt down from the wall. But it really is a baby-ish item for a very kid-ish kid.

So what now? The problem is not a lack of inspiration. It's a lack of commitment. (I know. We've discussed this before.) The list of things I'd like to incorporate includes, but is not limited to:
  • solar system bedding from Land of Nod--the colors, the quilting, the humor (commemorative former planet Pluto pillow? Come on!) are all there. I have been coveting this bedding since I saw it more than a year ago.
  • this airplane illustration I did based on the plane ("Little 372") my great-grandfather built with his students at Clemson University*
  • a reproduction map of "Folkloric Peking" from 1936 brought to Mr. Kid from China by one of my co-workers--he pores over it at length, looking for the rickshaws, asking "what dey are doing?" in the Forbidden City, and trying to find Africa.
  • dinosaurs, because, ROAR!
  • some of Mr. Kid's dad's paintings--I think kids should be exposed to abstraction early. Especially if they're gonna make it in this family.
Individually, each of these things could be the starting place for a nice, clean, simple theme. But I'm just not one of those dwell modern parents who can have an all white room with two letterpressed cards in frames, an eames chair, and a cashmere polkadotted blanket that the kid will somehow never throw up or pee on. I am in awe of those people,** but I'm not one and I am finally comfortable enough with myself that I don't want to be. Still, I don't want to just throw a bunch of things I like together and, because I can't edit all my impulses, end up with something that looks cluttered. In my experience as a messy person, it is much easier for mess to get out of hand in a room whose design is cluttered. I want it to be easy for the kiddo to play and have a good time and feel at home in his space and still be able to clean it up in a hurry with a minimum of tears.

So as I'm trying to edit the above list of inspirations, I can see a theme of exploration/adventure emerging. Which is very cool in theory but cuts across my actual preference that my kid stay inside away from bugs, snakes, and other deadly pursuits until he is 30.

Thoughts? Advice?

*I get a lot of my crafty/engineering bent from my great-grandfather, who died the year I was born. I'm going to be writing more about him and about Little 372 soon.

**I have a question. You know those people--the ones with the houses that look like perfectly curated modern boutiques? Do they not have relatives who give them snowglobes from Myrtle Beach or Dora the Explorer sheet sets? If so, where is the closet where they put that crap, and can I have a corner?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I Want That Wednesdays #5

Oh precious CMYK, I still love you, but I think we should see other colors.
This week I want something that I am pretty sure does not yet exist but that I think, based on my, ahem, expansive understanding of print engineering,* is entirely do-able.

I want an inkjet printer that prints spot colors. At home. I want to print in white ink on black paper. In gold on silver. And I am willing to make some concessions in return.

See, my understanding is that opaque white and metallic inks have fairly large particle sizes, particles which will clog up the sprayer nozzles on your home inkjet. But isn't that just because your personal inkjet has become so advanced that it can print like 1440x1440? Which, for the record is more than 2 million dots per square inch.

So what if people like me were willing to sacrifice photographic dpi for the flexibility of printing in opaque pigmet inks, dare I say, in Pantone spot colors? I'd happily accept something more like 144-300 dpi. I think with the evaporation of the gocco as a home printing alternative there is a small but potentially mighty market out there for an alternative to screenprinting and letterpress. Of course, it would get cost prohibitive to offer every color in the Pantone spectrum as a dedicated spot color cartridge. But I'd be happy with 24 or so colors!

Who's with me?!?

*I grew up in a print shop when xerography was the apex of print technology. Oh. And ten years ago I wrote a buying guide to commercial printing services for small business owners for my job at a now-defunct tech boom startup. That makes me an expert, right?

I'll Take an Egg with That

The egg looks sort of like a dollop of whipped cream here. That's not far off...
Friends, aren't little children supposed to hate eggs? Aren't they supposed to run and cry "ew, gross!" when confronted with a runny, yellow yolk?

Maybe I need to try the whole pairing-lettuce-with-a-favorite-food thing with eggs instead of strawberries. Sweet Fancy Moses, people! The kiddo loves an egg product--any egg product. Quiche filled with spinach? Check. Omelets full of otherwise forbidden vegetables? Check. Runny poached eggs on pasta? Check.

What? You've never put a poached egg in pasta? Oh, please, please, please run right out and try this! You will not be sorry.

I make a kind of stand-by pasta dish which is a grown-up version of buttered noodles (adapted from Mario Batali's bavette cacio e pepe, a staple at his restaurant Lupa--do not punish yourself by missing his restaurants because you are too cool for school--they rock!) and which I adapt to whatever I have in the house: pasta, pecorino romano, pepper, olive oil, and butter to which I might add toasted breadcrumbs, roasted cauliflower, cavolo nero (God has never made a better tasting green thing!), shrimp, pancetta, olives, capers--you name it, I've added it.

Tonight I was feeling like being healthy, so I used spinach and roasted cauliflower and eased up on the butter. And then at the last minute, I got a decadent impulse, and I poached an egg for each of us. Heaven. As soon as you get your steaming bowl of noodles, you mush up the egg so that the runny yolk oozes out into your pasta and makes a thick, delicious sauce that even butter can't hope to match. It's like carbonara without the public safety warnings.

Is it bad that we ate two hours ago and I am still salivating?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Merry Fishmas

We are slowly, veeeerrrry slowly, decorating around the house for Christmas. I have seen shiny ornaments dangled from chandeliers to far greater effect than is on evidence here, but my "chandelier" is an ugly piece of junk that my spec-house builder spent $69 on at Lowe's, so, you know, domino this ain't. (Note how I have deftly edited around the chandelier for this pick in a bid to deny its ugly existence.) Still, I'm pretty happy with the way this turned out. It also helps to make my (still deftly unpictured) chandelier not seem so freakishly far above the table. The cheapo fixture came with only enough chain to hang it at a proper length in a house with 8' ceilings. Our downstairs has 9' ceilings, so it's like the clamdigger of chandeliers. Lovely.

Pizza Night

So, faithful reader (Hi, Momma), I could try to impress you. But I won't do that. I'm gonna tell it to you straight.

Here at Casa del Cottage, pizza is a frequent menu item--it represents three or more food groups in every slice, requires no silverware (unless my dad is eating--he uses a fork and knife on fried chicken. Really.), and can be prepared with a minimum of effort on a weeknight.

Minimum of effort? What about proofing the yeast, and letting the dough rise, and simmering the sauce for hours?

Yeah, that's right. Frozen pizza. Oh, I still have my flour-crusted notebook from a certain Puckish restaurint containing said restaurant's famed dough recipe. And it is a damned fine recipe. And I make it from time to time. But not on a Tuesday.

Since giving in to frozen pizza about a year ago, I have tried every brand of "natural" or "organic" pizza available in our town. (Along with the occasional Tombstone with pepperoni, but only when my husband buys it.) Hands down, my favorite is the store brand from Whole Foods. Three reasons: it has a really good crust (medium thickness), features excellent toppings (in about 6 different styles), and is cheap, to boot! Now, it's not a large pizza, so I usually do one of two things to supplement: either add sliced chicken sausage or shrimp for some extra heft or, as I did tonight, make a tasty salad.

The kiddo, of course, is anti-salad, so tonight I thought I would try a new tactic. I put one of his favorite things on earth, strawberries (Out of season, yes, I know. I'm only human.) in the salad. I told him he could only have the strawberries if he ate some lettuce. Shows how much he likes strawberries. No salad, no way. His loss.

I marinated the strawberries in balsamic vinegar that was brought to me from Italy two years ago and is aged to a near syrup consistency. Yes, please. Tossed that with the salad greens. Topped with goat cheese. Seriously? Why did I even make the pizza? The only thing that would have made the salad better would have been 1) pistachios, because, come on, PISTACHIOS!, and 2) no freakin' cilantro in the greens mix. WHO PUTS CILANTRO IN MESCLUN MIX? Gah. No. Me. Gusta. Cilantro. Anyhoo, once I removed the offending greenery, it really was a lovely salad.

The best thing about this little meal is that it gave me more time to talk to my kiddo. We only have about two hours together every night before he goes to bed, and I can get so absorbed in cooking that I am not much company for him. It's a tricky thing to navigate because, of course, I cook for our family because I want us all to be well-nourished and healthy, but part of being nourished is being attended to emotionally, and so my tendency toward overwrought multi-course feasts is sort of counter-productive when I spend an hour or more cooking a dinner we will sit together to eat for less than 20 minutes.

Hooray for letting go! Hooray for pizza!

Monday, December 8, 2008

M&J Blog

How am I just learning that M&J Trimming has a blog?

I was looking for DIY Christmas Tree projects (yeah, I want to make my own Christmas tree. I have an idea for one from reclaimed branches, but I lack the engineering prowess to make it happen.) This is the cute project that brought me to M&J's blog.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Under my Thumbprint

I was talking with a co-worker* yesterday who has a daughter the same age as my son. She said that she had decided last year to start a Christmas tradition with her daughter of decorating cookies. She is way more brave than I--there is no way I would have done kitchen play with my kid before about six months ago, but now that they are doing some things like that at school, I'm more excited about it. It's not that he can't handle it--it's me. I am sooo uptight and nervous, and I have been known to be, as has been previously noted here, a bit of a symphonic cook--tons of ingredients, multiple methods--which doesn't really lend itself to cooperative cooking with a toddler.

But yesterday, inspired by my co-worker's sunny enthusiasm, I told my son that he and I were going to do something special today. He got a choice: children's museum or making cookies. It is clear that these were not evenly matched alternatives, and I had stacked the deck in favor of empty caloric consumption. Obviously, he chose making cookies.

We got a very late start this morning (thanks, husband's holiday office party!), but eventually our list was made, our pajamas were retired, our shoes were laced, and we made our way to the grocery store. My list reflected a grand vision for three types of cookies (chocolate chip, sugar, wedding) all whipped up in one morning. By the time we got home it was after 11 AM. Since the whole family had to be at a party at 1 PM, I had to revise my expansive plans. As I was pulling out all the ingredients, I decided to chuck all the other recipes and make a jam thumbprint cookie recipe from Cooks Illustrated.

I spent an entire summer overseeing and preparing a dessert menu at a well-regarded Los Angeles restaurant. Which is shocking, given that I have an almost constitutional opposition to measuring ingredients. See where this is going?

Okay, so Mr. Kid and I got started. I measured (!) the dry ingredients and he stirred them with his mini-whisk. I creamed the butter (cold, not room temp as indicated by the recipe) and the sugar. Just as I'm getting ready to add the egg, I look back at the recipe and, it says "cream cheese." Yeah. I don't have any cream cheese. Because I never planned to make this recipe. And also, I didn't read it before I started. (Life metaphor, anyone?) So. We improvised. I found some whole milk greek yogurt in the back of the fridge with a March '08 expiration date. So that's, like practically cheese, right? The recipe called for 6 T of cream cheese, so I just sort of eyeballed half the container of yogurt, dumped it in, flipped the switch and hoped for the best.

While all of this is going on, Mr. Kid is getting more and more enthusiastic in his stirring, and I am admonishing him on a roughly second-by-second basis not to spray flour all over the kitchen. Finally, realizing that the combination of cold butter and weird, wet yogurt products is never going to result in a smooth, "creamed" texture, I let Mr. Kid start pouring the flour into the mixing bowl, and it came together surprisingly well.

The recipe calls for 1 1/2 tsp balls of dough per cookie. Ok. Why can't the ball be the size of a spoon I actually have? Screw that. So I eyeballed it (shock), and we made balls about 1 inch in diameter. I think I need to do more clay play, because Mr. Kid was pretty flummoxed by whole notion of shaping the dough into balls. But he didn't seem offended when I reshaped them for him, so disaster was averted there.

Now, for the thumbprints, the recipe eschews, you know, thumbs, in favor of the back of a measuring spoon. I have to say, I kind of liked that part of the recipe, so after some power struggles over who was going to do the smashing of the balls and who was going to do the ineffectual "helping," we ended up with 16 pretty good looking dough balls. These cook for 10 minutes before you pipe the jam in. Did I mention that I didn't have any raspberry jam or preserves? You know, kinda the sine qua non for jam cookies? No worries, I had some strawberry preserves. I don't even really like raspberries, so this was one of those happy accidents.

During the first 10 minutes, we plopped down in front of the oven to watch the cooking. Which was a lot of fun--we talked about how there's a fire in the bottom of the oven, and Mr. Kid explained to me that the cookies were getting big because of "da bakin powdah." Did I mention that the cookies were getting REALLY big? Yeah, these are the biggest thumbprint cookies I've ever seen. Like more than 2 1/2 inches across. After I filled the thumbprints, the kiddo sort of lost interest and began acting out a drama with his dinosaurs in the living room. By the time they came out of the oven, he had completely forgotten we were making cookies. Which, if you think about it, is the ideal cookie baking situation, because you get time to let them cool without a crazed two-year-old begging and wailing for a cookie that would burn the roof of his mouth off.

For all the absurd missteps, I have good news: these cookies taste awesome! And the texture is crispy at the edge and cakey in the center. We will definitely make these again. Not sure if I'll try to make them the right way or my wackadoo way next time.

When he finally got around to eating one of the cookies, Mr. Kid was duly impressed with his handiwork, but he explained to me that next time "we must" go to the museum before we make cookies. Kid drives a hard bargain.

*Technically, we do not work together--she is a county solicitor (i.e., prosecutor) and I am a county public defender, but we all work in the same building and spend our days working opposite each other as adversaries. So we're not co-workers, but I thought typing "opposing counsel" made me sound like a law twit.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I want that Wednesdays #4

Today I decided to feature two crafty items for which I have long held a torch.

Such a Cut-up
I cut a lot of paper. Not in clever, nifty shapes. Not into amazing pop-ups or silhouettes. Nope. I cut a lot of rectangles.

My first real foray into designing cards or stationery was when my husband and I designed and made the invitations for our wedding. All 100+ of them. And, of course, because I'm me, it was an elaborate affair of paper on paper, of odd shaped cuts requiring surgical precision, of nightmarish color matching (try matching colors onto cream stock using a solid ink printer--try it!). But we (I) got exactly what we (I) wanted. Although I do look back with some dismay on the font I chose (Lithos) and the way the full justification added some imperfect, wonky spaces between words, I am still proud as hell of my first stabs at digital illustration (hooray for the perfect simplicity of cherry blossoms) and my custom maps. And the color palette holds up four years later, too, I think.

I digress.

Anyhoo. That was only the first of many, many long nights of cutting, of obsessing over slivers of an inch.

I have two different tools for cutting straight lines from paper: a standard guillotine arm trimmer (with two missing pads on the bottom--not nice for keeping things steady), and the little thingie that came with my Xyron 900 laminating machine (which is one of the world's greatest tools/toys.) I can only cut one sheet at a time with either of these and with varying degrees of accuracy. This does not suit me.

See, I am a very messy (not dirty--just messy) person, but I crave order and precision. Making perfect cuts is my version of coloring in the lines. When I'm in the groove, it's soothing to see order spring up out of the chaos that is my creative process. When I'm not, every missed milimeter feels like a symptom of the disarray that threatens to consume me at any minute.

So this heavy duty ream cutter is my idea of a good time. Perfect, precision cuts. In, like, MORE THAN ONE PIECE OF PAPER PER MINUTE. Insane.

I want that.

They Don't Make 'em Like They Used To
It was the Christmas of either 1982 or 1983. That Christmas was a craft bonanza. I remember paintable suncatchers; collage assortments of pipe cleaners and pom-poms and dyed pasta; and awesome marker sets that smelled like blueberries and limes or somesuch. But without a doubt, the most memorable gift of that year (and nearly any other year) was the Fisher-Price weaving loom my parents gave me.

This was no rinky dink potholder loom (not that I don't enjoy those). No, this was a real, full-fledged loom. It took a multi-page manual to describe its proper use and no small amount of patience (as measured against the typical amount of patience possessed by a seven-year-old) to prepare the warp yarn. It had two shuttles (two colors of weft--shut up!), and a hand crank that made the weaving part pretty easy. It was packaged with a skein of hideous, scratchy blue acrylic yarn, but you could use it with any worsted-weight yarn, of which my grandmother had a plentiful, if cigarette-tinged, supply.

The only project I remember ever making to completion on the loom was a clutch-style pocketbook featuring the complimentary blue yarn, but I do also distinctly remember weaving with some of my grandmother's substantially more hideous variegated brown yarn (Shout out to the Naval commissary!).

I held on to the loom for years before my mother finally made me give it up. The only picture I could find of one is from a now-expired ebay listing, where the damned thing went for $4.99. Unbelievable--it was one of the best-made, most educational and entertaining toys ever. Given my outsized affection for this thing, I guess it's not surprising that I had grossly misremembered its size: in my memory the loom was huge--two or three feet long. Not so much. According to the listing, it is acutally 10 inches. I can only believe that means 10" across and more like 18" deep, but still, it's much smaller than in my memory.

But it's not so much the specific toy that I want (though, you know, for $4.99, I will definitely take one off your hands!). What I really hope is to be able to provide for my child the same joy and wonderment from toys that teach and inspire him--whatever his passions may be. Yeah, I want that.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Giveaway Winner

Thanks to everyone who participated in my stationery giveaway this week!

Congratulations to Dodie, the winner of the personalized stationery giveaway. I loved what each of you had to say, and I wish I could make all of your ideas into stationery for you. For now, though, I will get to work on Dodie's request for cards inspired by the Pink Sari Gang in India.

Happy Tuesday!