DIY dishtowel hack

Advent Calendar for Moms

Advent Calendar for Moms--such a fun idea!

I came across this fabulous idea online the other day. An advent calendar for introverted moms. Now, I’m not truly an introvert (though I seem to be inching that direction more and more each year), but this is really a self-care advent calendar.

Advent Calendar for Moms--such a fun idea!

I find this time of year so overwhelming. So having a little built-in downtime seems just about right. Here are a few examples of activities that you might pull from this:

  • Make your favorite holiday drink and sit down and drink it without multi-tasking
  • Light a candle, put on your favorite Christmas music, and sit down to draw or journal for a few minutes
  • Free choice: Do whatever you want!

Advent Calendar for Moms--such a fun idea!

I don’t want to give too much of it away, but you get the idea. You can download it here. Cut them out and put them in something festive. And most importantly, take 15 minutes each day to pull one out and slow down a bit. And if you miss a day? No worries! There’s always tomorrow.

Advent Calendar for Moms--such a fun idea!

 

DIY dishtowel hack

Free Tea Cozy Pattern and Tutorial

Tea cozy tutorial and pattern kristinesser.com

I have a deep and abiding love for all things tea. From the ceremony of it, to the delicate tea cups and tea pots, to the beautiful utility of the tea cozy. I have several teapots, all different sizes and shapes, and they all need different size tea cozies to keep that cuppa warm while you chat with a friend.

So, instead of a tutorial on how to make a tea cozy for my teapot, I thought it would be more useful to give you some instructions on how to make a tea cozy to fit any teapot. And if you are anything like me, you’ll need more than one.

 Materials

Tea cozy tutorial and pattern kristinesser.com

Note: The exact amount of fabric needed depends on the size of your teapot

  • ¼- ½ yard linen or neutral cotton fabric
  • 25-30 squares of various prints for patchwork, cut to 2 ½ ”  (a mini charm pack is perfect for this)
  • ¼- ½ yard cotton fabric for lining
  • ¼- ½ yard Insul-Bright (insulated batting) or cotton batting (such as Warm and Natural)
  • 1 ½ yards of cotton trim (optional)
  • Freezer paper or several sheets of printer paper

(Seam allowance is ¼”, unless otherwise noted.)

Instructions

 Measure Your Teapot
  1. Measure the width of your teapot around the widest point and jot down the measurement. Mine is 18.5″. 
  2. Measure the height of your teapot all the way around, top to bottom. Mine is 15.5″.Tea cozy tutorial and pattern kristinesser.com
  3. Take the width measurement, divide by 2 and add 1.5″. For mine this is: 18.5 ÷ 2 + 1.5= 10.7
  4. Take the height measurement and divide by 2 and add 1.25″. For mine this is: 15.5 ÷ 2+1.25= 9.
Make the Pattern
  1. Take a length of freezer paper and fold in half. You can also use plain printer paper taped together, but freezer paper has the advantage of sticking to the fabric when you iron it, eliminating the need for pinning the pattern to the fabric later on.
  2. Mark the height of your teapot on the freezer paper. Mine is 9″.
  3. Divide the width measurement by 2 and mark on the freezer paper. Mine is actually 5.375″, so I rounded to 5.5″
  4. Draw a curve from one point to the other. Cut out on the line and unfold. I like to write which teapot this is for and what the formula was, for future reference.Tea cozy tutorial and pattern kristinesser.comTea cozy tutorial and pattern kristinesser.com

Continue reading “Free Tea Cozy Pattern and Tutorial”

DIY dishtowel hack

Energy Bites–The Perfect Snack for Kids

No bake energy bars. Perfect snack from growing kids. kristinesser.com

I’ve got two teen boys in the house (ages 15 and 17) and we are at that point in their lives where I struggle to keep food in the fridge. My old weekly grocery shopping habits don’t hold up anymore. The way I shopped for years has us running out of food a couple days before my designated shopping day.

So, the grocery list is evolving, and I am always looking for easy snacks for the boys to pack in their lunch or grab after school. This recipe is a hit on all accounts. Full disclosure, I did not invent this recipe, but I have seen variations of it all over the place, so I feel comfortable posting it here. I often see these rolled into balls, but that is too much work for me. I found that doubling the recipe and putting the mixture in a 7 x 11 glass baking dish (8 x 8 works too) makes the whole thing a lot easier.

No bake energy bars. Perfect snack from growing kids. kristinesser.com

No bake energy bars. Perfect snack from growing kids. kristinesser.com

The boys ask for these every week  and along with lots of fruit, hard boiled eggs, and cut up veggies–they are a welcome addition to our snack rotation.

No bake energy bars. Perfect snack from growing kids. kristinesser.com
Print

No Bake Energy Bars

Ingredients

  • 2 cups oatmeal
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  • 1 cup peanut butter
  • 1 cup ground flaxseed
  • 2/3 cup honey
  • 2 tsp vanilla

Instructions

  1. Mix all ingredients together. Press into a baking dish sprayed with non-stick spray. Place in refrigerator to set. Cut into bars.  Or, simply roll into balls about 1" in diameter. Enjoy!

DIY dishtowel hack

all of a sudden she’s nineteen

 

birthday gifts

Nineteen years ago I was a first-time mother who just went through twenty-one hours of labor, astounded that I was about to be entrusted with a tiny human life to raise into a responsible adult. And as cliche as it sounds–I cannot believe that it has been nineteen years since I brought that little girl home. And yet, here she is, a responsible college-attending young adult.

Born at the end of March, Chloe has had the charmed privilege of never having had to go to school on her birthday. It somehow, magically, always falls during spring break. and this year was no exception. I was hoping she could take the train home from college, but since we inexplicably had not planned ahead, the trains were sold out. This is not really a huge problem because I have a very flexible work schedule and I actually love to drive down to San Diego. Hand me a latte and a phone full of podcasts and I am set for a 3 1/2 hour drive. Plus, the return trip is another 3 1/2 hours to sit and chat with my girl, whom I have been missing. So, not a problem at all. She did, however, take the train back 🙂

I am so grateful that even at nineteen she doesn’t seem to mind spending her birthday with her mom. We started the day with high tea at this charming little tea house. We discovered this gem right before she left for college, when we spend her last month home having mother-daughter adventures like having high tea, visiting the Getty museum, and making a return visit to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The tea/lunch was so beautiful and delicious we knew we wanted to come back again soon.

high tea with scones and finger sandwiches

high tea with scones

After tea, we headed over to the movie theater to see Beauty and the Beast (so good!), and a quick stop for coffee on the way home. The boys had spring break last week, so they still had their normal activities going on this week–which means that Jonah is gone every evening until 9:30 preparing for opening night of the high school production of Les Miserable (he’s playing guitar in the pit band). So we had a simple birthday evening at home of dinner, cake, and gifts. Chloe requested one of her home-cooked favorites–homemade pizza and yellow cake with chocolate frosting.

save the cat book

I tried something this year that I’ve never done before. I cook respectably well, but baking cakes is not my strong suit. I’ve tried mixes, I’ve tried from baking cakes scratch, but they just are never impressive. I even picked a copy of the Cake Bible at a yard sale. So years ago, I let go of my preconceived notion that I had to make homemade birthday cakes. And since then, I have been happily outsourcing birthday cakes to Costco. But this year Chloe wanted the yellow cake with chocolate frosting of her childhood (and mine).

So I bought two boxes of yellow cake mix (sadly I had to bake them separately, since I only have two round cake pans). This gave me four cake layers to work with. That seemed a bit excessive, so I wrapped up one round for the freezer (for the day in the future that I will pull it out, thaw it, whip up a quick chocolate glaze and feel so very smug).

Back to the birthday cake: I made a three layer yellow cake with homemade chocolate frosting–and having that third layer made the whole thing so much more…impressive. It didn’t look like the sad little homemade birthday cake that I have been making all these years. I feel that I have discovered the secret–one box of cake mix is not enough! Buy two! And not only do you have a great looking birthday cake, but a little secret dessert ready to go in the freezer. And it tastes pretty good too. Though I think that the other secret is to make twice the amount of frosting than you think you need. You can never have too much frosting.

yellow cake with chocolate frosting

I still cannot believe that I have a nineteen year old child– and I could not be more proud of this girl. She is so smart and kind and hardworking. I can’t wait to find out what she does with her talents. As hard as it is to accept that these children of mine are growing up–it’s true that every age has its own special wonder. And at nineteen it involves coffee, tea, movies, and lots of great conversation.

 

DIY dishtowel hack

a little story about throw pillows

Can throw pillows change a room? Maybe.

I have never felt great about my decorating skills. Over time I think that I have created a home that is fairly cozy–but I have never decorated a room and thought, “Done!” It is always a piecemeal affair with grand plans for some future date when I will be more grown-up and confident in my decorating skills. Because of this, I always take advantage of the free interior designer service when we buy furniture. In the past, this has worked fairly well, but I never really completed whatever plans they set out–which usually involves buying $10,000 worth of furniture.

As I pieced together our family room over several years–one year replacing the sofa and a chair, another year another chair–I began realizing that this room was not coming together. We have a neutral sofa, and a dark brown leather chair. This was the first problem–I felt the sofa was too light and the chair was too dark. So we bought a “medium” chair to fill out the room and to help bridge the contrast gap. Well–that chair sort of read “gray” when the sofa was reading “tan”. Ahhh! This room was not coming together–even with the help of an Ethan Allan designer and a bunch of expensive furniture.

I can’t afford to start over–so I invited my friend Terri over for tea one day. She has a model-home perfect house and just has a knack for this type of stuff. I don’t know why I didn’t get her involved earlier. The first thing she noticed was that the throw pillows on the sofa were contributing to the problem–they highlighted the tan in the sofa instead of the gray than is actually in there.

netural sofa with colorful throw pillows
Though I love these pillows–this arrangement was just so–blah!

Next stop–Pottery Barn to look for throw pillows to solve my problem. (Full disclosure: this “next stop” actually happened about a year later.) This was actually a hilarious scene, as we found a neutral sofa in PB (not hard) and Terri started grabbing pillows from all over the store, trying them in different combinations. Several sales people approached us to help, but backed away once they realized that Terri seemed to know what she was doing. I fully expected that I would get some pillows that added some color to the sofa (isn’t that what throw pillows are for?!)–but ended up with more neutral pillows that actually bridge the gap between the tan and gray.

Pottery Barn throw pillows

Pottery Barn throw pillows

I was skeptical. I kept telling her, “There is no way  my husband is going to go for all these pillows! He hates throw pillows! The kids will just throw them on the floor! (Is that why they are called throw pillows?)

Pottery Barn throw pillows with neutral sofa

Terri assured me that these were feather pillows and made the sofa more comfortable (she was right! Our old pillows are as hard as rocks compared to these). Also, we realized that we have enough color going on in that room with the oriental carpet, brink fireplace, and paintings, that keeping the sofa a bit more neutral actually helped to calm things down a bit.

Pottery Barn throw pillows with neutral sofa
I really do think these pillows help the sofa and chair make friends.

My next neurotic fear was that now that we have five (!) pillows on this sofa that are all scrunchy, comfy–I was going to spend the rest of my life fluffing them. Because this is what it looks like when everyone leaves in the morning.

what happens to feather throw pillows

And I think it may be true about the constantly straightening (sigh). But they really are so comfortable and I now feel like I’m living in a PB catalog. And I was already folding all those quilts that everyone leaves on the floor each morning anyway–so what’s a few (5!) pillows.

I mentioned over on Facebook the other day that Terri also took down all my decor items in the family room and living room and put back half of them. And it all looks so much better now. Everyone should have a Terri.

Now that I have solved the Throw Pillow Problem, I guess I can move on to other life and death matters like why I can find a rug the right size for the living room. First world problems 🙂 Oh, and I found the perfect place for those pillows I love–in the living room aka my office. And Teddy loves them too.

netural sofa with colorful throw pillows

DIY dishtowel hack

these actually are your grandmother’s quilts

handmade antique quilts

The phrase, “Not your grandmother’s quilt” is so prevalent in articles about quilts these days–as if our grandmother’s quilts are somehow “less than” what we are creating today. I could not disagree more.

So today, I’d like to introduce you to three quilts made by my husband’s grandmother, Lettie Maude. As is the way it goes, his mother did not inherit the sewing gene and sadly had little information about them. But he remembers them on the beds in the house all throughout  his childhood. And then he brought them with him when we got married. Even though they were threadbare even then, we continued to use them for many years. I just noticed them in the linen cabinet recently and pulled them out to appreciate them with new eyes.

We don’t really know when they were made, but I’m guessing the 1930s and 40s. I’m no expert, but the fabrics seem consistent with that and it makes sense with her age as well. They are all utilitarian scrap quilts and my husband says that he actually remembers some of the fabrics coming from his grandmother’s dresses. Though the are meant for use and using up bits of old clothes and bits of fabric–each quilt has a unique design that prevents it from being to chaotic.

This little gem was on my daughter’s bed until she left for college last fall. And while it is clearly scrappy–I love how the light and dark purples really give it pattern and structure.

antique quilt

It is worn through in many places, but this didn’t actually stop us from using it until recently.

All three quilts are all machine quilted, but the stitch length on the piecing leads me to believe that these were all hand pieced. The quilter definitely wasn’t worried about points either!

This totally cracks me up. Three of the four corners are curved, but that fourth one is totally squared off as if to say, “I’m done with this already!” This one is machine bound with a crazy zig-zag stitch–another sign that this quilt was meant to be used.

This next one is a very simple scrappy Nine Patch. The design is calmed down by a couple of factors. One is the white snowball block that alternates with the nine patches. But the other I found really interesting. Every nine patch has either green or yellow patches in the corners and center square. This provides a unifying color scheme. Now, our quilter did not arrange these green and yellow blocks in any order–they are totally random–which I find totally charming, but not at all anything I could ever do. And, do you see that hole?

This one is also machine quilted and the design is so uniform that for a moment I wondered if it was computer generated–but obviously not! I guess the quilter just had made these designs so many times that they are amazingly uniform.  And I know I said that every block was either green or yellow–but can you spot that rogue yellow square in what was supposed to be a green block? A humility block, perhaps? Or ore likely, she just ran out of green fabric.

It’s fun to look at the quilting pattern–I remember asking my mother-in-law how they were done. I was not a quilter yet and had no idea about free motion quilting. Achieving this shape on a domestic sewing machine seemed impossible to me. All she said was, “She sent them away to be quilted.” So, I have no idea if they were done on a longarm or a domestic machine–but the designs seem to be in long columns, so I’m thinking a longarm–which was called a “quilting machine” in those days.

Here is the last one. While also a scrap quilt, the design really unifies the scrappiness..

I actually love the way that fabric on this one is just literally wearing away in a swiss cheese fashion.

And there is that same quilting pattern!

antique quilt pattern

All three of these quilts have been retired from active use and are now happily folded on a bench in our family room to appreciate in a new way. I would like to think that Lettie Maude would be happy to know that these labors of love have been in use for the last 80 or so years. And we continue to appreciate them to this day.

I am actually thinking about remaking one of them in contemporary fabrics–but I haven’t decided which one yet. Which one would you choose?

DIY dishtowel hack

how to stay on top of your busy life :: reminders

how to use the reminder app to remember stuff

I was doing something that I do every month (or so) the other day–throwing out my old contact lens and opening a new pair. Believe it or not, this action kicks off a conundrum every time I do it. I am supposed to change out my contacts once a month, but I can never figure out a way to keep track of it. By the time I go downstairs to write it on the calendar–it has long ago flown from my head. I’ve tried to put a post-it note in the medicine cabinet, but if falls off and I can never find a pencil to write with anyway. I try to do it on the first of the month–but then a contact rips and I need to start over in the middle of the month… you get the picture.

So, the other day, when this issue reared its ugly head once a gain (and I’m pretty sure it had been well over a month since I changed my contacts, because they felt like sandpaper). I had a brainwave. I reached for my iPhone, held down the home key and said, “Remind me to change my contacts in one month.” Boom! How Star Trek is that?

using the reminder app for productivity

I have come to love and rely on the Reminders app on my phone to get things out of my head and into a format that helps me accomplish what I want to each day. I set a reminder to:

  • Take my vitamins (daily at 7am)
  • Drink water (a reminder twice a day–morning and afternoon)
  • Meditate (daily at 3:30)
  • Give the pets their flea treatment (once a month)
  • Get dog food when I leave home
  • Pull meat out of the freezer when I get home
  • A million other things

Isn’t that cool? You can set reminders that are location dependent! My kids set them to help them remember to get a signature from a teacher or turn in a form when they get to school. Or a reminder to ask me something when they get home.

I don’t know about you, but there are so many little things to keep track of in a day–and though I am a pen and paper girl (I love my bullet journal)m there are some things that digital calendars and reminder apps just do better–those pesky one-off activities (like thaw the meat for dinner tonight) and those recurring activities that are a pain to write a million times on your calendar (like take vitamins). And ever since I discovered voice-to-text, I barely ever type on my phone anymore (how do the kids do it so fast?!).

So unless your memory is a lot better than mine (which wouldn’t be hard) you might want to give it a try,

If you are on Android, here are a few choices for you.

Also, these Trader Joe’s daffodils are making me so happy right now.

Trader Joes' daffodils make me happy

cowboy grub

the humblest of meals

 

My dad dropped in unexpectedly this week. And what I mean by that is that he lives in Idaho, and I live in Southern California–and he called me at 1 pm to say that he would be there by dinner. That’s the way my dad rolls. I was so happy he was coming–I don’t see him as much as I’d like. My first thought went to what we were having for dinner. A quick check of my menu plan confirmed one of my deepest fears about hospitality: that what we were having for dinner wasn’t “company worthy”.

I cook nearly every weeknight (I have cleverly worked it out that my husband and kids cook on the weekend). I am not a bad cook–I know what I’m doing in the kitchen, even if I’m not as creative as I wish I was. But I often don’t think that what we eat day in and day out at home is anything special. In fact, I have several friends who basically don’t cook anything more complicated than boiling pasta and heating up a jar of sauce, but they each have these fabulous, signature dishes that they regularly pull out when they need to entertain or bring a dish to a potluck. I have no such dishes. I just cook decent, humble food on a daily basis.

This particular day, when my dad was on his way, revealed my deepest insecurity. This was an especially busy week, with some activity or another–mostly music performances almost every evening. So the meal plan was fleshed out with the quick and easiest of meals. A quick look at the calendar revealed that on tonight’s menu was Cowboy Grub (worst name ever). I never would have even tried this recipe if I hadn’t seen so many rave reviews online about it. In fact, I’m feeling bad because I was going to share the recipe with you, but I just realized that it s from the Trim Healthy Mama cookbook (again, with the terrible names!) and I can’t share it here. But it basically ground beef, brown rice, pinto beans, corn, diced tomatoes with chili powder, and cumin. It’s chili with rice and corn added in. The simplest of ingredients, thrown together and simmered for a few minutes–it is fast, easy, nutritious, and actually quite tasty. I was skeptical the first time I made it, but we all commented during dinner that it didn’t look like much, but it was tasty!

I asked my husband, who was home for lunch, if he thought I should make something else for dinner. He wanted to know why. “It’s just not really company food, is it?” Now this is my dad–I don’t need to impress him or anything, but still. He looked at me like he had no idea what I was talking about, so I made Cowboy Grub (cringe–please can someone come up with a better name than that?!) for dinner.

And you know what? It was tasty and my dad was appreciative, especially after several days of eating in restaurants. The dinner was fine, the conversation was good and I need to learn to let my perfectionism go.

In fact, it made me think of visiting my dad years ago. I was there in Idaho with the kids and we were heading home in a couple of days. We decided over morning coffee to invite all the local relatives to come over for a barbecue that night–totally last minute. If it had been my house, I would have been freaking out–madly cleaning and rifling through cookbooks to make something “special”. But not dad. He got up and went to the grocery store and came home with a package of frozen hamburgers, a couple of tubs of pasta salad and potato salad from the deli, and a few bags of chips. He didn’t clean the house. He didn’t make anything from scratch. And you know what? That get together was my best memory of that trip–friends and family and food. There is a lesson that I need to remember.

DIY dishtowel hack

Your precious handmades. Do you use them?

tea, tea pot, handmade coaster

It all started with this coaster. I was having coffee with my friend Minki the other day and as always, we talking about sewing and the things we love to make. Then she said the nicest thing to me.

“I learned from you to actually use the things I make. Not just take a picture of them and then put them on the shelf.” Aww. To think that I have had an influence on a talent like Minki’s was a nice moment for me. But then I had to confess.

“I’m kind of having trouble with that now. You know that hand embroidered coaster you gave me a couple of years ago? I do use it. And it’s a bit of a stained mess now and I feel bad about it.” I didn’t tell her that sometimes I actually tuck it away in a drawer when she is coming over, so that she won’t see what has become of her hard work.

Then she told me, “I actually think that stained linen is beautiful.”

hand made coaster, Minki Kim

And you know what, she’s right. (This coaster actually looks worse in real life, for some reason.)

That got me thinking about all the handmade, everyday use items I have around that house. Knitted dishcloths are my absolute favorite, but I am always a little sad when one starts to come unraveled. I actually usually merely move it to the rag drawer until it is nothing but a pile of string.

grandma's dishcloth

These are the coasters we use every, single day. They are about eight years old and I hope that I have learned to sew a gap together better than I did in those days. But this illustrates my point exactly. When you use things–you use them up. And sometimes that’s fine, but sometimes its hard–like not saving your fancy china for that dinner party you’ll never actually have.

quilted coasters

I’ve spent countless hours embroidering these tea towels, and they are stained and faded and have holes in them. I will never be able to bring myself to throw them away–so I’m already starting to think about what I can do with them when their useful lives as tea towels is over. Any ideas? What I need to do is start planning for that day now and simply make some more. That’s what we makers do, right? It’s just an excuse to make some more.

dish towels, handmade dish towels

My favorite table runner has definitely seen better days

quilting, linen, patchwork

And so has my favorite tea cozy. Okay, maybe a trip through the wash might help this one.

high tea fabrics, lecien

And even my first quilt, only eight years old, is already looking like this. But this is the most loved quilt in the house. It is exactly the right weight for our warm southern California weather and is the first thing that every family member grabs from the quilt basket each morning. It gets washed because I pick it up from the floor a dozen times a day and it comforts the child with the flu. And over Christmas it cradled my dying cat. So, I’m looking at those frayed edges a little differently now.

French General quilt

So, what to do? I think the only thing to do here is to embrace the beauty of the well-loved and worn. There is a story behind every handmade item. A story about the person who made it and what was happening in their life as they sewed each stitch. There are the stories of the everyday life of the people who are blessed to use it daily. To wash the dishes after a regular, weeknight dinner. To wrap the child reading a book. To set the morning coffee cup on, before dawn everyday.

And if they are not as perfect and pristine as they once were–it’s because they bear the marks of an everyday life well-lived. And I can live with that.

DIY dishtowel hack

I’ve changed my name to Simple. Handmade. Everyday.

 

hand sewing and drinking tea
{photo credit: Minki Kim}

I just wanted to pop in to say that I’ve changed this blog’s name from They Grow Up Too Fast to Simple. Handmade. Everyday. to reflect the types of things that I want to write about. I started this as a Mommy blog about six years ago to document my children growing up. As sewing and crafting became a bigger and bigger part of my life, and as my children became more and more reluctant to having their lives shared in this space–the blog evolved. Which is totally fine–but the name just didn’t work anymore.

My desire now is to share my love for living an intentional life. Filling your home with handmade goodness that you actually use every day, living simply, cooking from scratch to feed a family of teens, parenting those teens, and all the other tidbits that make up a simple, intentional life are all things that I am looking forward to sharing here. I hope that you will join me on the journey.

xo. Kristin