Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween, friends!  We were hit with our first nor'easter of the season on Saturday, so strangely enough, we are having a White Halloween this year.  For those not located in the Philadelphia area, this is very rare, considering we normally don't have a White Christmas let alone a White Halloween.  We got about 5 inches, but it's been quickly melting, so who knows how much will be left when the kiddies go trick or treating tonight.

To spread the Halloween cheer, each year I make these toosie roll pop ghosts for my co-workers.

Ghost Lollipops

They're insanely easy and quick to make, which is great since there are about 40 people working in my office.  Just wrap a tissue around the top of the lollipop, tie with something (I used raffia this year), and then draw on two eyes and a mouth.  Making ghosts out of two bags of tootsie pops took me about a half hour.

What do 40-odd ghosts look like?  I'm glad you asked.  Here they are hanging out on the sofa before being thrown into a bag.

Ghost Lollipops

Last year was the first Halloween that we were home in our house and we were shocked that we only got a handful of trick or treaters.  We bought a decent amount of candy again this year not wanting to be in a situation where we run out of candy.  I'm hoping to see some good costumes!  If you are going to be out and about tonight, be careful!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Pretty Things Thursday: Fall Mums

I mentioned before that I am a huge fan of Fall and all of the colors that come with it, including in mum form.  On Sunday while I was ripping out the seams on my blouse muslin, I noticed Flick staring intently out of our sliding glass door.  Then I realized that he was staring down a grasshopper that had hopped onto the pretty mums that we have on our back porch.

Flick looking at mums

I decided to go outside for a closer look.

Grasshopper on Mums

I think this color of mums is my favorite.

Grasshopper on Mums

A couple of weeks ago, Nick surprised me and picked up the mums from our back porch and the mums and pumpkin below.  The purple mums and pumpkin brighten up our front door...

Fall Mums

...along with these mums that Nick got me for our anniversary.

Anniversary Mums

It certainly is a pretty sight to come home to each evening!

Fall Mums

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sew U Blouse Muslin

Back in the beginning of September, I started working on a muslin of the blouse in Sew U. Everyone else in my sewing class was working off of a commercial pattern and I was the lone wolf working out of a book. It turns out everyone else had the right idea. I would have bought a pattern but I missed the $.99 Simplicity sale and I was not about to pay full price for something if I had something equally as useful on hand (so I thought).

The instructions are pretty confusing and sparse at times, making me thankful that I have an instructor who I can go to with questions. The collar section was especially confusing, and at times my instructor shook her head at the instructions and decided we should go rogue and do things the right way. Again, I am thankful that she is there. 

SewU Blouse Muslin Front

At times it felt like I was sewing without instructions, a challenge I am not completely up for at this point in my sewing experience.  But this is not why it took me so long to put the muslin together. I haven’t worked on the blouse during non-class time and I missed a class a couple of weeks ago.

SewU Blouse Muslin Back

I ended up taking in the side seams and back darts a tiny bit and changing where the point of the bust dart fell. Overall I think it looks pretty good!

Last week I made the hard decision to put aside all other sewing projects besides my blouse so I can get started on the gifts that I’ll be making for Christmas and the holiday season.  The blog might be a little quiet over the next couple of months while I’m stitching away. Some of the gifts are for non-readers so I'll post them when they are finished, but I need to keep a few under wraps until they’re gifted.  I can’t have them seeing the gifts before they receive them!  And no I will not tell you if you are going to be receiving a handmade gift, so don’t even ask!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Great Western Adventure: Day 8

Interested in what we did before we got to the Tetons?
Days 1-4: Chicago, The Corn Palace, The Badlands, and Wall Drug
Day 5: Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, and Devil's Tower
Day 6: First Day in Yellowstone
Day 7: First Camping/Kayaking Day in the Grand Tetons

Day 8: Grand Tetons Camping Day #2

Our guides kindly woke us up at 7am with a cutesy rhyme that I couldn’t really hear, let alone remember.  The point was that it was time for coffee and some breakfast.  They made us delicious blueberry pancakes and served them with bacon and fruit.

Camping in the Grand Tetons

After packing up our tents and the rest of camp, we paddled a short distance from the island to the mainland.  We saw a bald eagle during the paddle.

Bald Eagle in the Grand Tetons

Once we reached the shore we were off on a hike led by our guides.  One of them had to stand in a cold stream and help us all across a tree.

Hiking in the Grand Tetons

They showed us the awesome design that the pine bark beetle makes while essentially destroying a tree.

Hiking in the Grand Tetons

And we saw some bear scratches too.

Hiking in the Grand Tetons

We got a closer look at the Tetons and while resting everyone tried their hand at skipping rocks.  It is addictive.

Hiking in the Grand Tetons

We eventually made our way to a small lake that is formed from the runoff of the glaciers.  Some brave folks, including Nick, jumped into the 40-degree water!  You couldn’t pay me to jump in there!

Hiking in the Grand Tetons

Nick said it was very refreshing and I’ll take his word for it.  After our hike we returned to the shore where we left our kayaks and ate a delightful lunch that was prepared by our guides.  They had made tuna salad sandwiches, but since I’m not a fan of tuna fish, I had a delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  They also served fruit and cookies.  They really think of everything!

After lunch we set out on our kayaks again for another short paddle, this time taking a rest along shore so that we could go swimming in the lake.  The water was a little cool for me so I didn’t go in, but it was relaxing just sitting on the edge of the lake and taking in the wilderness.

About ten minutes after we started paddling again with our campsite as our destination, we noticed some hefty storm clouds moving in over the peaks.  We caught up with our guide, who, upon noticing the clouds, said, “That doesn’t look super friendly.” 

Kayaking in the Grand Tetons

He suggested that we all paddle hard to get to camp before the storm hit.  Thankfully we all made it to shore, unpacked the boat, and set up our tents in record time before the storm rolled in.  After the sky basically turned black, we actually ended up only getting a drizzle.

Camping in the Grand Tetons

Once the clouds passed by we were gifted with a triple (and quadruple at times) rainbow!  It started out as a double rainbow and we all had a good time saying “What does it mean??” 

Camping in the Grand Tetons

I got some great shots of bees feasting on this flower.

Camping in the Grand Tetons

Camping in the Grand Tetons

Camping in the Grand Tetons

Once the rain stopped the bugs came out to feast upon us.  At that point we were covered in two days’ worth of sunscreen and bug spray, but the mosquitos were biting us like we were freshly bathed.  I ended up putting my windbreaker on and securing my hood and sleeves, but they still managed to get me.  It was the first time I had ever gotten mosquito bites on my face (about 6 of them).  It was not pleasant.

Camping in the Grand Tetons

One poor family didn’t believe in chemical bug spray and they suffered the worst.  They stayed in the water until the very last second before dinner and then went promptly to bed after they finished eating.  It was only 7:00!  The rest of us relaxed around the campfire again, which, if you sat close enough, kept some of the bugs away. At least we got an awesome sunset!

Camping in the Grand Tetons

We asked our guides about their worst clients and they told us some great stories.  We enjoyed hearing about some of the questions that previous guests asked, like “when do the deer turn into elk?”  One guest called the guide over because they said they saw bear tracks and they turned out to be elk tracks.  Another guest, whose husband was a meteorologist, told the guides that the moon was self lit, like the sun.  Where do they find these people?

After some good laughing, we turned in and had one of the worst nights of sleep that I’ve had in years.  I think we set up our tent on a few rocks and a slight hill, so neither Nick nor I could get comfortable.  Again, I was very thankful when I heard our guide make the first call for coffee the next morning.  We would soon be on our way back to running water, and that meant no more mosquito feasts on my fair buns!  Hurray!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pretty Things Thursday: Plus Ultra Tile

For our first wedding anniversary, Nick and I paid a visit to the Fonthill Museum, much like how we did on our second wedding anniversary.  We decided to commemorate the day with this Plus Ultra tile.

Plus Ultra Tile

It now lives in our upstairs hallway.  Plus ultra means "more beyond" and is also represented on the family crest that Nick made for us a couple of years ago.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Dinner Party!

Nick and I had some friends over for a delicious feast on Monday night.  These friends nicely loaned us their house in Guatemala for our honeymoon, so we wanted to make something extra delicious.  Since we were working all day Monday and it was a “school night” for us, we spent Sunday preparing the dinner and dessert. In the course of 5 hours, I baked chocolate chip cookies, made the famous O’Neil ice cream, made spaghetti sauce, and baked a roasted vegetable lasagna. 

The great thing about lasagna is that you can prepare it in advance and, as it waits to be eaten, the flavors will meld together nicely and it’ll taste even better than it would have if served immediately.  I used the Joy of Cooking recipe using my own spaghetti sauce, which calls for 45 minutes of baking (30 minutes covered in aluminum foil and 15 minutes uncovered). I simply baked the lasagna for 30 minutes on Sunday and then baked it for another 45 minutes on Monday so it would finish baking and also be nice at hot to serve.  The original recipe calls for only an additional 15 minutes of uncovered baking, but since the lasagna was cold from being in the fridge all night, it needed some extra time to get all gooey and delicious.

The recipe includes roasted eggplant and zucchini, which adds a nice depth to the lasagna.

Eggplant and Zucchini

Eggplant and Zucchini

I roasted these a tad too long and some of them got too crispy to use. No worries though as there was more than enough to fill out the layers.

Roasted Eggplant and Zucchini

Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

The only time our dining table ever sees anything besides my sewing machine is when we have dinner guests over. We actually sit at the table to eat!  I made pretty placemats and napkins last year which brighten up the table nicely. And they go so well with our dishes!

Dinner Table

After dinner I served the ice cream in my vintage ice cream bowls while we showed them our photo slideshow from our Great Western Adventure. Ice cream is so simple to make I can’t believe I don’t make it more. I have vowed that the next time I make chocolate chip cookies, I will make a batch of cookie dough ice cream!

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Homemade Ice Cream

Monday, October 17, 2011

Five Alive!

Does anyone else remember Five Alive, the delicious fruit drink?  My grandmother used to have it in her fridge all of the time and I loved it.  I was delighted when Nick and I had dinner at the swanky BonsoirĂ©e
in Chicago and they served us their representation of Five Alive with the palate cleansing course.  It was delicious and way better than the actual drink would taste to me as an adult.

Anyway, here is panel #5 for my knitted afghan.  It's pretty sad that it took me since May to finish this!

Fifth Panel for Blanket

I guess I'm just not in the mood to knit in the Summer.   

Fifth Panel for Blanket

I think it's pretty certain that I won't make my goal of knitting 10 panels in 2011.  That's OK though since I think I'm on track with everything else!   

Fifth Panel for Blanket

Friday, October 14, 2011

Great Western Adventure: Day 7

In case you missed it, so far I've recapped the first few days of our Great Western Adventure, including our visit to Chicago, the Corn Palace, the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Devil's Tower, and our first day in Yellowstone.

Day 7: Grand Tetons Camping Day 1

After eating our usual breakfast of oatmeal, bacon, and a biscuit, Nick and I headed south to the Grand Tetons for a two-day kayaking and camping trip with OARS (we went on the Jackson Lake trip).  We arrived at the Signal Mountain boat ramp (near Signal Mountain Lodge) on Jackson Lake at 10:30am and packed all of our stuff into giant dry bags that would be transported by OARS on a boat. 

2011-8-25 002

This is the beauty of a kayaking/camping trip with OARS: they haul all of your stuff and they prepare all of your meals.  It’s not cheap, but it’s the only way I agreed to go camping.

After a short orientation about where we would be going over the next couple of days, we set out on our kayaks.  Traveling with us were two families from Chicago (they didn’t know each other), one with two kids, the other with one, and a couple from Mount Laurel, NJ, which is, amazingly, right across the river from us in PA.  What a small world! 

2011-8-25 008

After a half-hour paddle, we arrived at a small island for lunch.  The guides let us explore for about 10 minutes (that’s really all the time we needed because the island was that small) while they set out lunch, which consisted of make-your-own bagel sandwiches, apple slices, cookies, and chips. 

2011-8-25 020

The guides told us that while we eat lunch, we either have to stand in ankle-deep water or make sure we cup our hands underneath our food well enough so that no crumbs drop onto the island.  They explained that bears can smell food from up to a mile away, and if everyone who visited kept dropping crumbs, bears would know that there is regular food there and would be more likely to be on the island when we were.  Nick and I, and pretty much everyone else in our group, opted to stand in the water.

2011-8-25 046

We then hopped back in the water for what should have been an hour-long paddle to our campsite Grassy Island, right at the foot of the mountains. 

2011-8-25 112

Unfortunately for us, the wind picked up while we were eating lunch, causing almost 3-foot swells on the lake.  The guides had given us splash skirts before we left from lunch, so we were nice and toasty in the sit-in kayaks.  We got to Grassy Island three hours later (!) and were completely exhausted.  A short hike had originally been planned for the afternoon, but because we took so long to get to the campsite, it had to be scrapped. 

2011-8-25 086

We all helped unload the boat and then the guides showed us how the island would be set up.  Right near where we parked our kayaks was the kitchen and the living room.  If a bear did come on the island, it would be coming from the mainland, and they wanted to ensure that the bear wouldn’t have to go tromping through our tent area to get to the food.  We then went a little farther into the center of the island where the guides showed us how to set up our tents.  After minimal struggle, having never set up a tent before, Nick and I set ours up and we headed back to the beach to relax and get in what one of the guides called our “wilderness mellow.”

2011-8-25 066

The guides interrupted our wilderness mellow to introduce us to “the Groover,” aka the #2 area.  The Groover is basically a toilet seat on a container to hold the waste and they set it up right on the shore but far away from the kitchen and tent areas.  We were told that if a boat drove by while one of us was on the Groover, then we should just smile and wave.  A container with toilet paper was left near a hand washing station near the living room.  If the container was gone, that was the signal that someone was using the Groover.  It’s a pretty good system, I must say. 

We all enjoyed chatting in the living room while dipping into the hors d'oeuvres, a sampling of crackers and goat cheese.  Then dinner was ready: caesar salad, vegetable lasagna, and garlic bread.  They even made brownies for dessert!  Dinner was delicious, and I’m sure we would have thought it was delicious even if we hadn’t been exhausted and starving from paddling.

The guides set up a system so that we could wash our dishes after dinner.  They had four buckets: one for rinsing the plate and scrubbing the food off, one for soapy hot water to clean the dishes, one with clean hot water to rinse off the soap, and one with clean water and a tiny bit of bleach to disinfect.  We then put our clean dishes in a mesh sack to dry.  Brilliance!  And the kids thought it was so fun that they ended up washing their parents’ dishes.

2011-8-25 440

It was getting dark, so the guides explained how we were going to bear-proof our tents for the night.  They gave each tent a “bear football,” basically a bear-proof box, and we had to put anything that had the smallest hint of a scent in it.  This got annoying.  We had to basically dump everything from our packs into this small box, all the way down to our chapstick, which I am addicted to and can’t live without it in my pocket.

After packing up our bear football, we all sat around the fire.  A few people told some scary stories and jokes and I brought out my knitting for a bit, which was the only bit of crafting that I did the entire time!  Eventually the families went to bed and we got to ask the guides about the “must sees” of Yellowstone.  They gave us a few tips for places that we hadn’t come across in the guidebooks.

When we were just shy of falling asleep at the camp fire, Nick and I got up and checked out the stars before going back to our tent.  Being afraid of the dark, I was not thrilled with standing in the pitch black in bear country, but it was amazing to see how bright the stars are out in the middle of nowhere.  Nick and I both saw shooting stars, and then we headed to our tent for the night.  Convinced that a bear was going to attack us, I had a very bad night’s sleep and was thankful when the sun started to come up.

At 7:00am I heard one of our guides make the morning call for coffee, and we got up to start another fun day in the Grand Tetons.  We actually got to go on a hike!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Pretty Things Thursday: My Wedding Ring

Since my engagement ring was so special, I knew that my wedding ring also needed to be since they would be spending their lives next to each other.  After searching at all of the local jewelry stores and a few online, I didn't find one ring that I thought was worthy of being on my finger every day.  That's when Nick and I decided that we should just custom design my ring like Nick did with my engagement ring.

I had always loved the rings that my parents gave each other when they were younger.  They are spoon rings and I love the detailing that is etched into the metal.  We sent a picture of the rings to the same jeweler that made my engagement ring and they sent us a sketch.  It was perfect!  They designed it so my engagement ring would lock nicely into it.  Isn't it perfect?

I am super pumped because I just realized that my ring is one of the featured rings on the Leber custom rings page!  They even have the sketch that they originally sent us and an explanation of the design process in the sidebar!

Like my engagement ring, my wedding ring is made from recycled platinum.  The scary part of the process was that I had to ship my engagement ring back to them so they could ensure that the slot in the wedding ring was the correct size.  I love how they fit together and I think the classic style of my engagement ring compliments the fanciness of my wedding ring perfectly.


I love wearing them every day!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Celebrating Our Second Wedding Anniversary

Each year, Nick and I like to visit the Fonthill Museum, where we had our wedding.  It's fun that we can visit and remember the day and actually have a purpose for being there, since it is open to the public.

Last year we went on a behind-the-scenes tour of Fonthill, which was built by Henry Chapman Mercer as his home.  He built the entire structure with poured concrete to protect his artifacts that he collected from his travels around the world.  The structure was finished in 1912.  The behind-the-scenes tour, and any tour at Fonthill, is fun because to visit the 8 bedrooms and various drawing rooms, you have to wind up and down the 32 staircases that Mercer included in the design.  Pressed into all of the concrete are his artifacts, including tiles that he picked up from around the world and his own tiles, made at the Moravian Tile Works, which is located next door.  Unfortunately, photography is not allowed in Fonthill, but check out Atlas Obscura's page on Fonthill for some pictures and more history.

Since we had already toured Fonthill a couple of times, Nick and I decided to tour the Tile Works this year.


It was equally as fascinating as Fonthill but we got to take pictures!  The first stop on the tour is a large room that, like Fonthill, contains Mercer's artifacts and tiles.  I could have stayed in here for hours looking at everything.


We got to sit in front of this huge and amazing fireplace while we watched a 17-minute video on the history of the Tile Works, which included a demonstration of how the tiles are made.  The Tile Works is still in operation today and they use the same exact methods that Mercer invented back in the early 1900s.  It really is fascinating how they use molds to make traditional tiles, as well as the mosaic tiles that Chapman was famous for.  Chapman was commissioned to use his mosaics to design the floor of the Pennsylvania State Capitol building.


There were even more artifacts hanging above the fireplace.


After the video was finished, we proceeded up a very narrow staircase to a room that displayed some tiles and further explained the history of the Tile Works. Even the staircases have tiles on them.



Here is one of Mercer's famous mosaics next to the cast that was used to make it.


There were shelves stacked high with tiles, giving the impression of what the storage rooms would look like when Mercer was alive.


We then weaved through some hallways holding kilns.  Next we descended down a spooky and narrow staircase to a room where artisans were making tiles for the present day. 




In a cellar beneath the tile-making room was the clay storage room.  It had a gravel floor and was pretty humid, which kept the clay nice and moist while it was stored.


On the ceiling of the clay storage room was this saying, displayed in tiles made at the Tile Works.


We weaved through another hallway of kilns and an explanation of the firing process until we reached a showroom of the different tiles made at the Tile Works. 




The showroom was beautiful.  Many of Mercer's tiles told famous stories, such as stories from the Bible or classic folklore.





Even the exterior of the Tile Works features Mercer's tiles.  Aren't the chimneys and Spanish-style roofs beautiful?


We found an old bird's nest in one of the window nooks!


I love how the trees are reflected in the window panes.


After our tour at the Tile Works, we headed next door to Fonthill for a short walk around the grounds. The drive up to Fonthill is gorgeous and made for an excellent backdrop for our wedding photos.


Next to the main house is the carriage house.  The upstairs is decorated with tiles just as Fonthill is, and served as our very awesome cocktail hour location.  As I mentioned yesterday, our guests were able to mill about the grounds and visit the inside of the carriage house and its balcony, as well as the ground floor of Fonthill Museum.  Near the end of the cocktail hour, Nick and I were able to make a quick visit to the museum!  Our guests really enjoyed being able to see the inside of Fonthill and were also thankful to get inside for a few minutes since it was a chilly October evening!


The Fonthill grounds are filled with gorgeous old trees.  I absolutely love it there.



We even spotted a woodpecker!  He was going to town on this hole, which appeared to have been formed when a branch snapped off.



After our visit to Fonthill, we headed across the street to the Cross Keys Diner.  It's pretty small, but we love its classic diner food and hometown feel, even if it's not located in our town.  They make the best grilled cheese and we always split a black and white milkshake.  While on vacation, we realized that "black and white" flavored milkshake must be a regional thing, but it really is the best choice for a milkshake—it's vanilla and chocolate.  Yum!

We then ventured into Doylestown proper to visit Quilt Art: International Expressions at the Michener Art Museum, the very first showing of the exhibit in the US!


Photography isn't permitted in the exhibit, but it was awesome!  If you are in the area I highly recommend that you visit before it leaves on December 31.

Even though we have visited before, we also took a walk around the Michener.  One of our favorite spots in the Michener is the George Nakashima Reading Room, which was constructed after the death of the famous woodworker.


The lighting and the clean lines of the furniture make it such a peaceful place to sit. While we were relaxing, a museum tour came in so we stayed and listened.  George Nakashima had a woodworking studio in New Hope, PA, which is a short drive from Doylestown.  He and his family were sent to a camp in Idaho during World War II, where he started making furniture.  Eventually he gained a sponsorship from Antonin Raymond and he and his family moved to New Hope, where Nakashima worked on Raymond's farm.  Soon he opened his workshop and the rest is history.

In the 1970s, this chair would have cost around $600.  Today, it is worth about $10,000!  Have you ever sat in a $10,000 chair?  I have and it is VERY comfortable.  We could have sat there for hours without having sore butts.  This man knew what he was doing.


Nakashima also made sure to keep the elements of the wood that made it unique.  Most furniture retailers would refrain from using pieces of wood with cracks or holes, but thinking that each piece of wood had its own personality, Nakashima kept those elements to give the furniture character.


Once we left the Michener, we were in need of a short nap before we headed downtown for dinner at Tinto.  Jose Garces, the newest Iron Chef, has a bunch of restaurants in Philly and we had been to almost all of them except for Tinto.  Nick and I love to order the tasting menu at his restaurants because we get to taste the dishes that the chef hand picked.  Tinto was good, but it wasn't nearly as good as our favorite of Garces' restaurants, Distrito, which is Mexico City themed.  We get an amazingly delicious meal every time we go there and the atmosphere is fun too.  

After all of that culture and good food, we returned home happily exhausted.  We'll have to come up with something good to top this anniversary celebration next year!