Ocean-Themed Baby Activity Mat

Since I’m a woman of childbearing age, Land of Nod has been advertising to me mercilessly. When I saw an ad for their “Be On the Sea Activity Mat” I just about died from cuteness overload. So, naturally, I decided that I needed to make one for my future bambinos.

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The mat isn’t QUITE finished, but it’s close enough to being finished that I can share it with you. ta-da!!

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After the jump, see some close-ups and hear about my techniques and materials.

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Creamy Avocado Brunch Quesadillas

 Flavorful yet healthy chicken sausage combines with well-seasoned eggs, creamy avocado, and crispy tortillas to create an easy brunch for lady Saturdays

Ingredients:

  • 2 burrito-sized flour tortillas
  • 1.25 links Johnsonville Chicken Sausage in Chipotle Jack flavor
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1 small avocado
  • 1 cup shredded reduced-fat mild cheddar cheese
  • Garlic powder, to taste (trust me, this is the secret to delicious eggs)
  • Salt, to taste
  • Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning (or black pepper if you aren’t from Louisiana), to taste
  • Fresh or dried chopped cilantro leaves, to taste
  • Parchment paper
  • Nonstick cooking spray

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Cover a cookie sheet or baking pan with parchment paper. Set one tortilla on the paper.
  2. Slice avocado. Set slices aside.
  3. Cut sausage into slices. Sauté on medium heat in a skillet coated with nonstick cooking spray until slightly browned. Remove and set aside.
  4. In a small bowl, combine eggs, egg whites and all seasonings except cilantro. Beat together with a fork.
  5. Add more cooking spray to the skillet and heat it over medium-high heat. Add eggs to skillet and cook them flat until done as if you were cooking an omelet (except don’t flip the omelet). Trying to keep the egg in as few pieces as possible, flip the egg if needed to finish cooking it. Turn off heat.
  6. Use a butter knife to spread the avocado over the flour tortilla you set out earlier. Add a layer of eggs. Add a layer of sausage. Top with a layer of cheese. Sprinkle with cilantro. Top with the other flour tortilla, and press it down a bit on the bottom one.
  7. Bake for about 8 minutes or until the tortilla is slightly browned. Let sit for a minute or two before cutting into 6 pieces.

Serves: 1-2

Some Digital Art (For Nancy)

I’ve recently received some encouragement about my blog from a very kind friend named Nancy, who told me how much she looks forward to my posts. As a partial thank-you to Nancy, I’m posting some of the older and more recent digital artwork I’ve created on my iPad with retina display using various digital art apps (Paper, Sketches, and ArtStudio). Some are completed pieces, and others are preliminary sketches or works in progress. Some things pictured are recognizable, while others are just creations from my imagination or have come from one of my dreams (fair warning: I have some very vivid, bizarre dreams).

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WALL-E (created in March 2014 using Paper for iPad)

A while back, I had an accident with my iPad (I fell asleep holding it, and the screen cracked when it fell on the ground), and had it repaired. Unfortunately, the repairs weren’t perfect, so there are a few areas of my screen where it doesn’t respond properly (e.g., i try to draw a straight line, but in certain areas, the line will always curve). So when I do my digital art now, I’m often having to work by moving the drawing to odd corners of my screen so that I’m avoiding the bad areas of the screen. Fun times. But iPads are expensive, so I’m dealing with it.

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Created using paper for iPad. I drew this when we were still living in the one-bedroom apartment and had very loud upstairs neighbors.

If you follow my blog, you know that I have a lot of different hobbies and interests that I enjoy. I also enjoy being a lawyer. But, ever since the sixth grade, I’ve wanted to write and illustrate books for children and young adults. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been thinking more seriously about using my free time to pursue this dream in earnest – which is one reason why I’ve been experimenting with digital art.

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Luna Moth with its Cocoon and Caterpillar (2014; Paper for iPad)

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Top 10 Ways to Escape from the Elf on the Shelf

I don’t have kids, which means that I (and everyone else on the internet) am entitled to give you parenting advice.

A few criticisms of the Elf on the Shelf have recently come to my attention. Some parents resent the peer pressure they feel to participate in the Elf on the Shelf “tradition.” Some psychologists consider the Elf on the Shelf to be a “dangerous parental crutch .” There’s even a digital technology professor out there who thinks that the Elf on the Shelf is preparing your child to live in a future police state.

So, whether you just don’t have time to create marshmallow hot tubs for your Elf, worry that your kids will grow up believing that they should be rewarded for good behavior, or are more paranoid than Fox Mulder, I’ve created a handy list of ways for you to get rid of that blasted Elf without admitting to your kids that you’ve been lying to them. And don’t worry – each method also teaches your kids a valuable life lesson, so you don’t have to worry that ejecting the Elf will damage your parental street cred.

Top 10 Ways to Escape from the Elf on the Shelf:

10. After years of budgeting, saving, and making wise investments, the Elf is able to retire comfortably. Every year after his retirement, a piggy bank and a framed photo of the Elf on a beach appear on the mantle. Bonus points if the kids are required to place money in the piggy bank.

Life lesson: Savings are more important than cute things.

9. The Elf now has four kids and can’t afford childcare on his salary of “visions of sugarplums,” so he’s quitting his job to be a stay-at-home dad. Bonus points if the parent who explains this to the kids is a stay-at-home parent.

Life lesson: Childcare is expensive. Also, even Elves believe in gender equality.

8. The Elf has been injured in a sleigh accident and can no longer work. Bonus points if he appears on the mantle wearing a neck brace.

Life lesson: Invest in good insurance.

7. The Elf quit his job to work for a nonprofit group dedicated to ensuring fair labor standards for all Elves. Ten points to Gryffindor if the nonprofit is named S.P.E.W.

Life lesson: Choose a meaningful career path. Oh, and J.K. Rowling is my spirit animal.

6. Due to a civil war occurring at the North Pole (polar bears vs. reindeer), Santa and his Elves have been evacuated to Germany. The Elf left his passport at the North Pole and can’t travel anymore until he becomes a German citizen and gets a new passport. Santa, of course, will still be coming on Christmas Eve. He’s a head of state and doesn’t need a passport. Bonus points if your kids can identify Germany on an unlabeled map.

Life lesson: Keep state-issued identification on your person at all times in case you need to flee from a war zone.

5.  The Elf quit his job with Santa to become a social media personality via YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, and his personal website. Turns out there are a lot of Elves out there doing the same thing, so the Elf couldn’t distinguish his “personal brand” from that of the other social media Elves. The Elf asked Santa for his old job back, but Santa refused to re-hire him.

Life lesson: You are, indeed, a wonderful, unique individual. Just don’t expect people to pay you for existing.

4. After becoming a worldwide sensation, fame has gone to the Elf’s head. Now he thinks he’s too good to come hang out at your house. Bonus points if you leave photos of the elf being mobbed by a gang of screaming teenage girls or setting a gold-rimmed swimming full pool of money on fire.

Life lesson: Justin Bieber is, deep down, a very unhappy young man lacking in meaningful personal connections. Fame and money don’t guarantee you a happy life, kids.

3. The Elf was chosen as his District’s tribute for this year’s Hunger Games. Unfortunately, he headed straight for the Cornucopia. He wasn’t the winner of this year’s games…

Life lesson: Run away as fast as you can, and, for goodness’ sake, avoid the Cornucopia.

2. The Elf is running for President as a political outsider. Bonus points if you make campaign buttons and yard signs for the Elf. Extra bonus points if the Elf’s campaign slogan is “Put America on the Nice List.”

Life lesson: Take your civic responsibilities seriously. Also…Elf on the Shelf for President 2016!! You have my vote, Mr. Elf.

1. Befriend a police officer. Have the officer come to your house in uniform and arrest the Elf for criminal mischief. Elf is escorted out of the house in handcuffs and spends the rest of your kids’ childhood in jail. Put a new Elf mugshot on the mantle every year. Bonus points if the officer finds “drug paraphernalia” (Pixy Sticks) during the Elf’s routine pat-down.

Life lesson: Kids get to learn what happens when you’re bad in the real world.

If you hear. “Well, so-and-so’s Elf made all kinds of mischief and didn’t get arrested for it,” the appropriate response is: “When a stranger breaks into my house and tears things apart, I call the police. I guess so-and-so’s mom doesn’t mind it when strangers mess up her house. Remember that if you’re ever invited over there.” That’ll take care of that peer pressure for you.

0.5. Elf leaves a note explaining that he has gone with Obi-Wan Kenobi to Alderaan to learn the ways of the Force and become a Jedi like his father. If your kids understand the note, you win at parenting.

(For the record, this post is meant to be satire, i.e., a joke.)

Why I’m Starting A Hope Chest Before Starting A Family

No, I’m not pregnant. No, we have no plans to start a family any time in the near future. That’s why I’ve decided to start a hope chest. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but hear me out.

Wayy back in the day, young women used to spend a lot of their spare time making things that they would need once they were married and had children. Fortunately, we can now just buy most of the things we’ll need for all of that. But if you’re like me and actually ENJOY making things, you’re faced with a dilemma: 9 months just isn’t enough time to make all of the cute things I know I’ll want to make for our kids. Oh, and I also like to make things for myself and for other people, too. So, it makes sense to me that I should start making things for our future children long before we think about starting a family – I can just add them to the rotation of projects I’m working on.

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Child’s Gingham Puppy Nap Pillow

Did you know that you can use the squares on gingham fabric as a base for cross stitching? Me neither!

Centenary College in Shreveport has an annual book bazaar fundraiser every September. Throughout the year, people donate old books to the college, and the college then sells the books to the community in a two-day book bazaar at very low prices. People line up outside the Gold Dome in the heat waiting to go inside and get to the best books before anyone else. I rush in there like a kid in a candy store – a candy store with lots of books! with mountains of books! forests of books! cascades, swamps of books! more books than you could ever read in a lifetime! (that was a Beauty and the Beast quote if you didn’t catch it)

This year, my first stop was the needlework section (they organize the books roughly by topic). Yes – they have a needlework section! I loaded up my bag with tons of vintage needlework magazines and leaflets for only $0.25 each.

The pattern for this child’s gingham puppy dog nap pillow was in one of the leaflets. LOVE! The simplicity of the design appealed to me, because it reminded me of the kinds of things my mamaw made for us grandkids. I was also astounded that I had never before realized that gingham squares can be used as the base for a cross stitch design.

Gingham puppy nap pillow

I made this little pillow as a 1st Birthday gift for the child of my husband’s cousin. When I was a toddler, I had a “pink pillow” that I insisted upon bringing whenever we traveled, so I naturally thought that a nap pillow would be the perfect gift for Cooper as he grows.

The original pattern didn’t call for a monogram on the reverse of the pillow, but I was so excited about cross stitching on gingham that I couldn’t resist. I just grabbed a booklet of cross stitch alphabets and mapped the design out on graph paper.

Gingham nap pillow

You can easily make your own pattern for a simple, classic cross stitch design on gingham.

Here are a few tips for making a successful gingham cross-stitch design:

1. Choose the right colors.The key when cross stitching on gingham fabric is that your main thread color should be a much darker shade of the color of the gingham. I used classic blue gingham with navy embroidery floss, but you could use gingham in any light color – lavender, pink, yellow, light green – with embroidery floss in the corresponding dark shade. If you’re having trouble deciding between floss shades, go with the darker color. It will show up better! (On second thought, you can probably be a little more adventurous if you use yellow gingham and use another color, such as red or blue, as your base embroidery color. I’m picturing a simple red apple stitched on yellow gingham.)

2. Use a limited color palette. Too many colors will disrupt the look of the finished design. Keep it in the 1-3 color range. I used only 3 colors: navy with very small red and black accents on the eyes, nose and mouth.

3. Use simple lines and simple designs. The “look” you’re going for is classic simplicity. Don’t fill in too many areas with heavy cross stitching. Let the gingham shine through! Also keep in mind that monograms stand out much better on gingham if you outline the letters in backstitch.

4. Work with your chosen pillow shape. One thing I loved about this design was that the curves of the pillow shape “complete” part of the cross stitch design by suggesting the shape of the dog’s back. (Forgive the imperfect oval shape of the pillow – I don’t currently have a working sewing machine, so I had to sew it together by hand.)

5. Work with your chosen pillow size. The size of this pillow was about 16 inches by 10 inches. Make sure your design is neither too big nor too small for the size of the pillow you’ve chosen.

I loved the way it turned out so much that I think this is going to be my new go-to handmade gift for the 1-3 year age range.

Hope this gave you some fun ideas for projects of your own!

Healthy Crockpot Chicken Saag

Minimal prep work and no pre-crockpot cooking make this recipe easy, and light coconut milk keeps it healthy!

The first time I ever tried Indian food was after I moved back to Shreveport in 2011. Turns out that I LOVE Indian food.

One thing I love about Indian food is that it tricks me into eating my veggies. I know it’s not in vogue to admit it, but…I really just don’t like the taste of vegetables. But Indian food is so full of flavor that I will happily pig out on any Indian veggie dish that you put in front of me. So I decided to try making Indian food at home. Frankly, I’d prefer making saag paneer but I don’t think I could get my husband to eat it, so I’ve made chicken saag instead. I have no idea how authentic this recipe is, because I combined about 5 different online saag recipes to make it.

Healthy Crockpot Chicken Saag

Serves: 6-8

Ingredients:

  • 3 lbs. skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into small pieces
  • 3 (10 oz. each) boxes frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1 can (15 oz.) light coconut milk
  • 1 c. frozen chopped onion (or 1 onion, chopped)
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (15 oz.) can crushed tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 cardamom pod
  • 2 tsp. garam masala (I found it in the spice section at Albertsons)
  • 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 tsp. ground coriander
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 tbs curry powder
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper (depending on your taste)
  • 1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
  • 1/4 – 1/3 c. chopped fresh cilantro (again, depending on your taste)
  • fresh cilantro (for topping)
  • Basmati rice (cooked, to serve with)

Directions:

  1. Combine all of the spices, except the cilantro. Pour the coconut milk in the crockpot, and whisk in the spices. Whisk in the crushed tomatoes. Stir in the onion, spinach, and chicken, making sure to combine everything really well.
  2. Cover and cook for 4-5 hours on LOW. Stir in the cilantro. Serve with Basmati rice and garnished with cilantro.

After the jump: pictures of the super easy steps in making this, plus a pic of the best way to thaw and drain frozen spinach.

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Life’s Little Speed Bumps (plus, some future post ideas)

The wood floor of my house looks like it has speed bumps.

It has something to do with poor drainage under the house and a month of unusually wet weather followed by two months of unusually dry weather. Every time I look at it, I want to cry. So the good news is that ya’ll will get to follow along as I try to get my floor fixed. The bad news is that, in addition to dealing with contractors, repairmen, and insurance adjusters, I’m crazy busy at work right now. So, my blogging patterns may be a little erratic.

My next post will be a fantastic recipe I made for Healthy Chicken Saag in the Crockpot! It got a “wow” from my taste-tester (i.e., my husband), so I think the recipe is a winner!

Here are some ideas that I have for future posts (I can’t list many future recipe posts, because I have no idea which recipes I’ll try out on any given week):

  1. Recipe for White Peach Jam with Grand Marnier
  2. Star Wars Crafts Episode III: Cross Stitch and Embroidery Project Ideas
  3. My favorite knitting tools and notions
  4. A “vintage car coat” I’ve knitted as a baby gift for a friend
  5. Preparing your needlework for framing
  6. My favorite stitching tools and notions
  7. A look at all of my fiber arts projects currently in progress
  8. My knitting pattern wish list (patterns I want to try ASAP)
  9. Getting your floor fixed (Ok ok but maybe some of you will to know what to do when your floor gets speed bumps in it. Because I was CLUELESS.)

So those are some of my ideas. Thought I’d better write them down somewhere before I forget them in the chaos. What are YOUR thoughts on what I should post about?

Star Wars Crafts Episode II: Knitting and Crochet Project Ideas

My favorite patterns from a galaxy far, far away…

Star Wars Fair Isle hats

Hats made with FREE Star Wars fair isle knitting charts by Sarah Bradberry and available on Ravelry. Click the photo for a link to the Ravelry page where you can get the downloads.

I love Star Wars. And by “I love Star Wars,” I don’t mean that I occasionally enjoy watching Episodes IV-VI. I mean that I read Star Wars novels instead of “chick-lit,” prefer the Old Republic era of the extended Star Wars universe, tell people that you “have to appreciate Episodes I-III as part of the Star Wars canon even though they were poorly made,” and own several omnibus compilations of Star Wars comic books (er…graphic novels….sorry). No, I haven’t yet gone to ComicCon dressed in Star Wars costume, but it’s on my bucket list. Everyone is a little absurd in their own way, and we all deserve to go let our freak flags fly. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way…

Star Wars fair isle sweaters

Sweaters made using the same FREE fair isle charts. Click photo for link.

Here are some of the Star Wars knitting and crochet patterns and projects I’m dying to try (in addition to making those hats and sweaters I already posted pics of):

Star Wars Crochet kit

Click photo for a link to where you can buy the kit

After the jump (to hyperspace): Pics of the individual Star Wars amigurumi you can make from this kit, other Star Wars amigurumi patterns, and some of my favorite patterns for Star Wars-themed accessories (2 are free!)

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Star Wars Crafts Episode I: My Mos Eisley Cross Stitch Sampler

This is a sampler that I made for our house. I don’t have it framed yet, but it’s totally being framed and going on the wall.

Margaret's Star Wars Cross Stitch Sampler

I created this sampler by combining several cross-stitch patterns I purchased on Etsy with an alphabet I found in an old embroidery book I’ve had for years and then adding some satin stitch elements, a specialty stitch, a couple of eyelets, gold metallic thread, and some beads. It’s stitched on 28-count ivory linen fabric. The tiny droids are stitched “over one” but everything else is stitched “over two.”

You can create your own sampler!! Yes, even you!

There are tons of amazing cross stitch and embroidery patterns available for purchase and download on Etsy. As long as you’re creating the pattern for your own personal use (and not to sell), it’s perfectly okay (and legal) to mix and match using pattern elements created by someone else.

To combine the patterns and add my own elements, I used a program called MacStitch. But if you’re not a serious stitcher, you can combine patterns using the low-tech method: print out the patterns, and combine them by drawing out your new pattern on graph paper.

The key when designing your own geeky/funny needlework pattern is to include several “traditional” elements in your un-traditional design. Here are some fun ways to do this:

  1. Add hearts. The hearts in this design are the most obvious example of traditional/un-traditional pairing – adding cutesy hearts to a message about scum and villainy is the kind of irony you’re looking for.
  2. Change the alphabet. Switch out the alphabet, and you change the entire “feel” of the design. I swapped a simple cross-stitched alphabet for a cutesy backstitched alphabet to up the irony factor.
  3. Experiment with new stitching techniques. That’s what a sampler is for! Swap some cross-stitches out with satin stitch. Add a couple of eyelets. Herringbone stitch, which I used here, is a great beginner specialty stitch to try.
  4. Incorporate specialty materials. I had embroidery beads lying around from previous embroidery projects, so I added a few to this sampler! Same with the gold metallic thread. It gives your sampler more interest and makes the irony really stand out.
Margaret's Star Wars Cross Stitch Sampler

The zigzag stitches are (I believe) called “herringbone stitch”. The hearts and blaster grips are done in satin stitch. Next to the hearts are (from inside to outside) a diamond eyelet, two beads, and a smyrna cross.

Close-up of R2. His

Close-up of R2. His “eye” is a tiny black bead.

Close-up of C-3PO. His eyes are tiny black beads, too.

Close-up of C-3PO. His eyes are tiny black beads, too.

Here are the two patterns I combined for the main elements of the design. Click each photo for a link to where you can buy the pattern. I have no idea where I found the charts to do the mini R2D2 and C3PO.

Star Wars Cross Stitch Sampler

Star Wars Cross Stitch Sampler 2

In Star Wars Crafts Episode II (a future post that I hope will be better than Attack of the Clones), I’ll give you links to a few of my favorite Star wars knitting and crochet patterns. Some are available for purchase, but many are free!