quilting practice piece

30-day challenge check-in

greek yogurt topped with strawberries and granola

Have you joined me in a 30-day challenge? I’ve heard from a few of you–taking on challenges of your own. I still have my streak going of tracking my food with My Fitness Pal everyday. It hasn’t been easy though. More than once I’ve had to “backtrack” the previous day –and we all know that is never going to be as accurate or effective as tracking your food as you go. But that was a lesson in itself.

My own challenge has brought to light several interesting insights. The first is, as expected, my portion sizes have gotten out of control. This always seems to be the case, no matter how long I’ve been at this. At some point I start deluding myself about what a reasonable portion size looks like. Weigh, measuring, and counting have brought this in high relief and it’s no wonder I’ve been gaining weight.

salad for lunch

The second is that on days where I would have said, “I had a good day. I ate very reasonably”, turn out to sometimes be my highest calorie days. For example, the day I drove down to San Diego to pick up Chloe for spring break I ended up eating two meals on the road. The first was a very calorically responsible breakfast sandwich from Starbucks and the second was a less responsible pita sandwich–but no fries or anything else with it. When we made it home, I had a (well-deserved) glass of wine and pasta and salad for dinner (no bread). This day clocked in at over 2100 calories! I had no snacks and what I thought were reasonable portions. Yet, it was one of my highest calorie days.

In contrast, the day we celebrated Chloe’s birthday at Cheesecake Factory, I did some decent planning. I ordered Chicken Tacos from the Skinnylicious menu and we all shared a few pieces of cheesecake. I tracked that I ate 1/3 of a piece of cheesecake and this day came in at several hundred calories lower that the day I picked up Chloe. It just shows that a bit of planning really goes a long way to staying on track.

roasted veggies

I haven’t dropped a bunch of weight (or really any) yet, but it is getting easier to spot the areas that I need to focus on to get some success in this area. One area that I am going to focus on is tracking in the moment (not leaving it to the end of the day) and being more accurate in my tracking. When things are hard to track I sometimes do a mental tally and then throw a big number at it–like 500 calories for a lunch out. At least I’m paying attention enough to do a mental tally, but this is happening to often and I need to get more diligent with tracking the actual foods.

So, how about you? Have you kept your 30-day streak going? What have you learned? Let me know in the comments.

quilting practice piece

hand pieced quilt progress

patchwork quilt along fat quarter shop

I’ve always known that I like hand work–I love to bind quilts, I knit and embroider a little–but I really had no idea how much I would love hand piecing. When I started this crazy idea, I wasn’t at all sure that I would be able to see it through. About halfway through my first block I thought, “What have I gotten myself into?” But I pushed through, and now, a mere three months into this project, I can very clearly see my progress.

The actual motion of hand piecing is becoming second nature, and it feels so good to just slow down. I tend to do things very quickly–I walk fast, talk fast, and do most tasks as if I am getting a medal for speed. I’ve made a big effort this last year to slow down my machine sewing as well. I am always working on improving my accuracy, and slowing down is a big part of that for me. I hear about these sewing machines that sew 1500 stitches a minute and wonder how in the world someone can sew that fast without careening out of control.

patchwork quilt along fat quarter shop
I kind of love the crumpled mess of the blocks before the final (only) pressing.

Hand sewing takes time–something that always feels in short supply these days. I do all my prep work up front–I cut out all six blocks for the Patchwork Quilt Along and then mark the stitching lines on the back of them (I wrote about my favorite hand piecing tools here). This takes a good evening or two–usually while listening to a podcast or watching Netflix. Then I just keep everything I need to hand sew in a basket.

I drag this basket from room to room–or even in the car, using found moments to sew a seam or two. I think that this is one of the most unexpected parts about hand sewing–all the memories that are being sewn into this quilt. I will always remember that I worked on it in the car as we drove up to do a college tour for Jonah, that I binge-watched and cried my way through the entire season of This is Us, and that I worked on it pretty much every night when we gather as a family to share a TV show together before bed.

patchwork quilt along fat quarter shop

At first hand sewing a whole quilt seemed a little daunting, but now I realize that just like everything else–it is so much more doable when you break it down into small chunks. In this case, six blocks a month. I seem to need to be reminded of this over and over again–break it down and tackle it one bit at a time.

 

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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.

 

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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

quilting practice piece

how about a 30-day challenge?

Using a bullet journal to track habits

I’ve been thinking about goals lately. I know it’s getting to be late March and normal people think about these things in January–but this is about the time that most people have abandoned their goals. And I am not making progress on a few of the things that I mentally made a list of back in the dewy-eyed days of the New Year.

One of those goals is to lose some weight (original, I know). But as I passed a rather significant birthday milestone last year (I won’t say which one, but it rhymes with “nifty”), I have begun to think more about the health aspects of losing weight than the “I want to look good in skinny jeans” reasons. Honestly, my blood sugar has edged a bit into the pre-diabetic range and since my dad had Type 2 diabetes–this is a reality that I can’t ignore any longer. Clothes are tight, and my joints are getting achy and I don’t want to just accept this as inevitable.

I’ve had success losing weight, with Weight Watchers twice in the past. But obviously not keeping it off. I swore both times that I had learned my lesson and this would be the last time that I had lose weight. And both times I was wrong. This time there will be no grand gestures and overly restrictive plans. This time I want to build some solid habits–one by one. And the first one–as much as it pains me to say it–is tracking my food.

I hate to track my food (see Weight Watchers above). However, I do actually know that it works when I do it. It makes me stop and think before I eat something. Sometimes knowing that I have to stop and track it makes me realize that it’s not even worth it. I almost ate a half a piece of pizza at 10:30 am this morning–but because it was going to be hard to track, I just grabbed an apple instead. A much better choice.

So, I am committing to tracking my food for 30 days. I hope to keep it up even longer, but for right now I am only looking at 30 days. I’m using My Fitness Pal–which you can access both on your computer and as an app on your phone. I use it both ways. The app is nice because you can scan the UPC code of an item and it pops right into the food diary. I am on Day 2 and so far so good. I am not going to beat myself up if my calories are high–that is not the point yet. The point is just to track. Even if that means taking some wild guess on restaurant meals. Again–the point is just to record it. Here is what it looks like:

My Fitness Pal to track food

My intent here is to habit stack. Focus on one good habit a month and continue to build on them.  I already have a little checklist in my bullet journal (pictured at the top of this post) to help me remember to do things each day: devotions, exercise, vitamins, water, and now track. This works well for me because I love to check things off of lists and writing them down each day helps to renew my commitment to do them.

I will be sure to give you a progress report and hopefully this accountability will help me to actually do what I say I am going to do.

Anyone care to join me? Is there a 30-day challenge that you would get you on the right track for a goal that you want to achieve? Let me know!

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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?

quilting practice piece

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

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fifteen minutes of creativity a day

What can you accomplish in fifteen minutes a day?

In the spirit of “little things add up to big things”, a piece of wisdom imparted by my best friend in college, I’ve been participating in something called Marchalong this month. All this means is that you to commit to setting aside fifteen minutes a day for creativity. That’s it. Fifteen minutes. But if you do it–how many hours of creativity does that add up to by the end of the month? Actually, I’m terrible at math, but I’m pretty sure it’s a lot.

I’ve tried this “fifteen minutes a day” idea before with cleaning and decluttering–and honestly, it has never stuck for the whole month. But doing something fun and creative? I think I can make that happen for fifteen minutes a day.

So, how have I been spending my few minutes of creativity so far? First, I finished up my February hand sewing project that I am doing along with the Fat Quarter Shop. I am really loving hand piecing these blocks–I’m almost sorry when I’ve finished the six for the month. But the March blocks will be coming out soon, so I don’t have long to wait. I’ve been stitching away on these in the evenings while we watch Grace and Frankie and This is Us. I’m all caught up now with This is Us and it is agony to wait a week between episodes. I clearly need to find a new British drama to become obsessed with–any suggestions?

patchwork quiltalong, fat quarter shop, hand pieced quilt blocks

In the meantime, I cast on some shorty socks. I got a little obsessed with knitting socks over the summer, but have not cast on a pair in months.  It was clearly time to do so. I cast these on while listening to The Off-Kilter Quilt podcast–which is my favorite quilty podcast. Frances is charming and chatty and just plain entertaining. It’s a great way to spend your fifteen minutes.

knitting, knit picks, knitting project bags, podcasts, tea

Don’t you love this knitting project bag? My friend Minki made it for my birthday last year and I smile every time I reach for it.  People went a little nuts over it on Instagram the other day, but I can’t take any credit for it, except for the little pink knitted patch on the front.

I’m also working on a new quilt design–and honestly the jury is still out on how I feel about this one. I am in absolute love with the fabric line, Sundrops by Cory Yoder. That fact is not in doubt. However, I have rearranged the blocks in a million different ways and I hope I landed on the best one. Stay tuned.

sundrops, moda fabrics, quilting, alphabitties

I like having a few different projects at hand–because sometimes I just don’t feel like sitting down in front of the sewing machine. Or the only way that I’m going to get my fifteen minutes in is in the waiting room at the doctor’s office–so I’m glad that I can pack a sock to knit. But one thing is sure, I’m always amazed at how quickly a project progresses when you actually work on it! Even for just fifteen minutes a day.

What’s for dinner?

Because thinking about what’s for dinner is never far from any woman’s mind, I thought I would share that we are having Jonah’s favorite: Chicken Piccata Pasta Toss. You should try it 🙂 What are you having?

quilting practice piece

Interview on String & Story

quilt blogs

 The delightful HollyAnne of String and Story sent me a few questions to answer for her FriYAY Friends post. Pop on over to learn a bit more about my creative journey and where I find inspiration. You can read it here.

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.