leggy. humph.

i have been noticing that despite sunshine, rain, and tender loving care, my swiss chard seedlings are floppy. today, i asked my gardening guru, doc, if she thought i had something to worry about. 

legs a mile long. sayonara floppsies. 

her diagnosis? yes. apparently my seedlings are leggy. do what? yes, they are leggy. this means they are growing up up up in a desperate attempt to get closer to the light. oh. and here i thought that they were getting taller taller taller, because of my magical gift of gardening. since i have a second not-yet-leggy pot of chard seedlings, we determined the best course of action for this pot, was to tear out the leggy seedlings and start anew. sad, but true. new seeds were started, pot was relocated, and this time around we are hoping for sturdy seedlings. grow chard grow!


sprouts galore.

cucumber sprouts.

holy sproutville. okay, this gardening thing is happening. i planted the seeds, gave them water and sunshine, and shockingly, they grew. this might not be shocking to you, but it was to me. i was gung-ho about this project, but realistically, i was well aware that i am not known for my gardening skills and there was a significant chance that this project would be a total fail. but, the sprouts are growing like crazy. 

garden bean sprouts. these guys were slow starters, but now they are taller than everyone else.

when i dropped the seeds into the dirt, i was super generous. my methodology was something along the lines of, throw in a thousand and hope that one sprouts. well, one sprouted. and so did all of the others. so the pots were thick with sprouts.

kale sprouts gone wild.

my gardening gurus advised me that i needed to do some thinning. ummm...WHAT?!! i took some microscopic little dots of nothing and brought them to life and now you want me to lop them off and throw them away? gaaaah. but, both of my gurus have seriously awesome gardens, so i trust that they know what they are talking about.

a forest of kale.

today i bit the bullet and thinned my sprouts. it was depressing. i had to chop chop chop the darling little sprouts. sad. but the goal is for the ones that remain to grow like gangbusters. one can only hope. i also planted some more seeds. this time i tried to be a confident gardener and i only put a few extra seeds. they better do me a solid and sprout!

kale, post-thinning. looking kind of bleak, but i have high hopes.


what does my garden grow?

our balcony used to be this lovely place where we could relax with a beverage to enjoy some fresh air and people watching, but then we had a kid and the balcony turned into a cluttered mess. the mister and i have been increasingly disgusted by the craziness and started discussing affordable ways to organize the chaos.

and then two weeks ago, i had a pre-mid-life crisis. this self-described non-gardener suddenly decided that i needed to have a vegetable garden. the notion is a bit ridiculous, because our balcony is only about forty square feet, but i figured our garden could grow vertical. i blame all of this on keri. she has a ridiculously prolific vegetable garden and regularly posts photos that made me green with envy. so green that i became delusional enough to think that maybe i have a green thumb. right.

i instantly started researching container vegetable gardens and found gads and gads of information. plus keri, and the doc, and mrs. nipper knapp jumped right in to provide guidance and encouragement. since i was completely unable to wait even seven minutes to get my hands dirty, i immediately hunted down a baker's rack on craigslist. found some pots on clearance. bought dirt and seeds. and got to planting three pots. miraculously,  a few days later, i woke up to find that some of the little guys had sprouted. it was an exciting moment. i can't stop hovering over my little sprouts...they make me super happy!

unfortunately, i also realized that the dirt in those first three pots was packed waaaaaaay too tight. tonight i scooped up the sprouts, dumped out the dirt, and repotted the sprouts. hopefully they will not be in shock. but, if they are, i will just start over with new seeds. i also finished planting the rest of the seeds and the tomato and pepper plants we bought. the garden is perfect. i cannot wait to teach big-E how to be my helper.

we are growing basil, chives, parsley, mint, cucumbers, green beans, tomatoes, red bell peppers, kale, swiss chard, lettuce, radishes, and beets. i am still looking for some more seeds to fill my remaining three pots, and then the garden will be full. next step, reorganizing the other side of the balcony. ugh.

p.s. any and all gardening advice is welcome. especially from those folks who have attempted to grow veggies in containers.


wanted: poodle skirt. a dining table makeover.

in the sixth grade, i met blondie. i spent lots of time at her house and always marveled at the fact that no matter what, her family ate dinner at five o'clock. every day. for reals. so perfectly 1950's. so perfectly awesome. despite my mom's best efforts, our family drifted to the opposite extreme. occasionally we all ate dinner together, but more often then not, my mom had to catch us between our comings and goings to gymnastics, volleyball, hockey, etc. we ate at the kitchen table, kitchen counter, or sitting on the couch. at some point along the way, i decided that when i had a family, i was aiming for the 1950's version of dinner time. right.

my DIY assistant.

when the mister and i got married we had no table. we ate sitting on the couch or at the kitchen counter. but i wanted us to be able to gaze adoringly into each other's eyes over our plate of macaroni and cheese, so the day our ikea opened, we went and bought a little table and chairs. it was great for a few minutes, until our life swallowed it. and then big-E rolled in and that was the end of even thinking of dining at that table.

our starter dining set.

we ate all of our meals on the coffee table, sitting on the couch. we even bought the little guy his own chair, perfectly sized for him to join us at the coffee table. and when people came over, they joined us, on the couch. oy vey.

literally 1950's. no, thank you.

we have a lot of furniture. a lot. we had a full house of furniture and then a few years ago my grandmother passed away and we acquired more. the arrival of big-E exasperated the problem, but last week, as i was sewing at our "dining" table, i had an epiphany. get rid of all the little bits of unnecessary furniture cluttering up our two rooms and buy one big dining set. oh, and did i mention that we had no money for this? seriously, zero cents.

the mister painting the base coat under close supervision.

enter craigslist. i posted some of our excess furniture for sale and voila! moolah!! we even spontaneously sold our coffee table. exciting, although it was a rash move, because our living area is now devoid of all tables. oops. anyhow, we took our greenbacks and went shopping. we found an old queen anne-ish style dining set. probably built in the 1950's. $50. yes, please. SOLD.


we bought it. dismantled it. recovered the seats. repaired it. and painted it. now, it is so delectable. and we can all eat together at a proper table. we can even invite friends! and we can teach big-E some proper table manners. happy mama. now i just need a poodle skirt.

(ignore the lack of any other decor. we have a toddler.)


embroidered quilt label tutorial.

i believe every quilt should have a label. why? because, by nature, quilts are family treasures that are passed down through the generations. one hundred years from now, the owner of your quilt will be wondering about its history. some folks think there are different ways to make a quilt label, but in my world, there is only one right way. hand embroidered.

when i made my first quilt, i searched the internet for some clues on how to make a quilt label, but i did not find any information on creating embroidered labels. hence, a few years later, here is my step-by-step guide to making a hand-embroidered quilt label. note: the pictures for this tutorial were taken when i was making a label for a newborn baby's good wishes quilt -  all names have been obscured to protect the innocent.

  • piece of fabric about 12"x12": you can use fabric from the quilt or a solid color. i like to use unbleached cotton muslin
  • piece of fusible interfacing that is 1/4" wider and longer than your desired label: if you are planning a 4"x4" label, you need a piece of interfacing that is 4.25"x4.25"
  • iron
  • label plan: see step 1.
  • disappearing ink pen - you can use the washable ink, fine point markers available in sewing stores, or you can use the pilot frixion erasable gel pen (fair warning-this one is not made for fabric, but i love it)
  • hand-sewing needle
  • embroidery floss/thread
  • embroidery hoop
  • scissors
  • a little piece of cardboard (i used the cardboard from a cheerios box)

step 1. plan your label. on paper. you can hand write it, but i am a perfectionist, so i create my plan on the computer and print it out. if you choose this method, be sure to use a simple, easy-to-read, sans serif font. i like to use handwriting fonts. if you want to add any designs, like chickens with ears, you should include them on your label plan. borders are optional. you can include any information you want, but at the very least, you should put your name and the date you made the quilt. you can also give your quilt a name, or if it is a gift, you can include the name of the recipient and the occasion. the sample below is my standard format for newborn baby quilts.

step 1. iron the fusible interfacing onto the back of the fabric. it should be in the center of the fabric.

step 2. tape your label plan on your light table. my light table is my sliding glass door. fancy, eh? please ignore the mess that is outside.

step 3. tape your fabric over the label plan, interfacing side down. make sure your label is centered directly under the interfacing.

step 4. use your disappearing ink pen to carefully trace all letters and designs. if you have straight lines to trace, use a ruler. seriously. you can thank me later.

trace the letters and designs.

use a ruler to trace any straight lines.

step 5. put your fabric into an embroidery hoop. make sure the fabric is tight.

step 6. cut a length of embroidery thread. you want to cut it long enough that you do not have to constantly take new thread, but not so long that it is constantly tripping all over itself. i typically cut about 36". now that you have your chunk of thread, check it out. notice it has 6 strands? great. separate it so you have three sets of 2 strands. find your little chunk of cardboard and cut a little (1/4") slit on each side. wrap two of the 2-strand chunks around the cardboard, securing the ends in the little slits. pick a needle with which you want to sew (make sure the eye is large enough to fit your thread, but not much larger) and thread it with the third strand.

6 strands.

2 strands.

1 chunk on the needle and 2 chunks waiting on the cardboard.

step 7. use a basic back stitch (instructions here) to carefully stitch the letters, designs, and border. use as few stitches as necessary to make each letter. now, i am not saying to be frugal, but also, do not use thirty-seven stitches to make one letter. if your fabric starts to get slack, stretch it over the hoop again. when you stretch the fabric over the hoop, it could make your straight lines look wonky. make sure your stitches follow the line, no matter how wonky. trust me. when you take it out of the hoop, the fabric will no longer be stretched and everything will once again look straight.

the requisite mid-sew picture.

wiggly lines, because the fabric is stretched in the hoop.


step 8. trim the fabric, leaving about 1/2" around the label. fold the edges to the back and iron. (my apologies, i forgot to take a picture of that step.) finally, sew the label onto the quilt. i attach the label to the back of my quilt, after my quilt is completed. you can also attach it before you make your quilt sandwich; however, if you do this, keep in mind that your quilting stitches will go across the label. i like to use my machine to top stitch around the the edge of the label. yes, the stitches show through on the other side of the quilt. if you do not want the stitches to show through, then you either need to attach the label before making the quilt sandwich, or you can hand stitch it onto the back of the quilt making sure your stitches only go through the first layer of the quilt. congratulations, you have a beautiful handmade quilt label!

the label attached to the back of the quilt. notice all the lines that were wiggly in the hoop are now straight.

the quilt folded up and tied with a ribbon. i like to fold it, so that i can fold back the edge to display the label.


go waters?

big-E constantly asks to "go waters." (he made it plural, don't ask me why.) the kid is obsessed with water. obsessed.

puddle, lake, river, bath, bay, sink, canal, pond, ocean, you name it, the kid wants to see it.

our favorite place to see water is the state park near our house. we go there everyday, sometimes twice a day. it is not a gigantic park, but it is a small chunk of wild jutting out into the bay. we go to the shoreline where big-E throws rocks in the water, splashes in the water, and talks to the water. i sit on a bench in the shade, throw the rocks big-E occasionally brings me, ooh and aah at his "big splash," and relax. yes, relax. it is the only place on earth where my energetic, active, bundle of boy turns into a calm, stay-in-one-place, happy camper. 

on this big-E and i can agree...our state park is a slice of heaven.


dear mr. president, thanks.

thanks for forcing me to cancel my gym membership.

hey, you're welcome.

it all started at the beginning of the year when my little family of three fell off the fiscal cliff. i know, i know, the government agreed on a plan to avoid that. yup, we all drank the kool-aid and breathed a sigh of relief that our income taxes would not increase.

and then we were blindsided by the 2% increase in social security taxes. ouch. and our health insurance costs went up. ugh. and the cost-of-living is redonkulous. boo. bottom. of. the. cliff. i popped open my trusty laptop and created a family budget, but after chopping the luxuries and dropping the necessities down to the bare bones, we were still not in the black. it was time for slash and burn tactics. thus, i cancelled my gym membership. budget success. fitness fail.

what?! yes. i cancelled my gym membership. after fourteen months of diligently dragging myself to spin class four days a week, i was suddenly going to be on my own. luckily, i had recently discovered the joy of walking to the state park near our house. i stomped along to my music and big-E watched the world go by. awesome for both of us and four miles round trip. plus, big-E got to run around and explore the park. golden. i got off to a great start. every day i came home from work, changed, packed big-E into the stroller and off we went.

and then one day, i got a bug up my bum wondering what would happen if i tried to run part of the way. i started slow, alternating between jogging and walking. each day i would jog a little further. and one day i jogged half of the way home. and the next day i jogged all the way home. and then i jogged both ways. and next thing you know, i was jogging 4 miles a day, 6 days a week. pushing a stroller.

what?! yes. this kid, a self-proclaimed NON-RUNNER, suddenly turned into a runner. okay, fine, 15-minute miles probably only qualify me to be called a jogger. same effing difference people!! and i am addicted. fo' reals, yo. i jog four days a week and walk two days a week. since the first of the year, i have jogged/walked 150 miles. mind blowing.

mama runs faaast!!

but wait, there is more. more? yes, more. recently, while en route to the park, just for fun i sped up for the second mile. and after doing this a few times, i clocked it at 10 minutes. a ten-minute mile! in the grand scheme of things, i am aware that i am not exactly burning up the pavement. i am sure i know plenty of people who can run a 10-minute mile going backwards, but seriously y'all, that is by far, the fastest my two feets have carried me since middle school.

go mama!!

so, mr. president, thanks to you (and the members of congress), i find myself fitter and faster than i have been in over twenty years. and my pants fit better. i have been tightening the belt figuratively and literally. congratulations to me.

hey, you're welcome.


what gift to get the teacher when an apple simply won't do.

got school-aged children? then at some point during the year, you will be scratching your head trying to determine the perfect gift for your children's teacher. if this never happens to you, then you are probably part of the reason that the profession is oft considered a "thankless job."

back to the awesome parent who is stuck in the muddle of trying to show their appreciation. surely you have heard the idiom, "it is the thought that counts." seriously, this is true, so STOP stressing. thank you cards written by you and your child are awesome. if you can afford to do more, of course the teachers will be thrilled, but please do not put yourself into financial stress buying teach a gift. handmade gifts are amazeballs, so capitalize on your creativity. why am i telling you all of this? because i am a teacher. and mrs. nipper knapp asked. and if you google "best gifts for teachers" there are gads of lists that are hogwash, so i am going to put you on the path towards awesome gift-giving. full disclosure, i work in an inner-city school, so gifts are the exception, not the norm. i guess that is why i have a wish list....a girl can dream.

as you already know, it is a challenge to buy a gift for this person who is sort of a stranger and simultaneously is practically a member of the family. after all, they spend seven or eight hours a day with your child. teaching, mentoring, guiding, soothing, molding, and loving your baby. the best advice i can give is to buy or make something that YOU would like. why's that? well, your child's teacher is just like you and me. we teachers have a life outside of teaching and most likely, we like lots of things that you like. but first, you need to do a little reconnaissance. check out the teacher's style. focus on accessories, because these are easy to purchase and affordable. ask your child about their teacher - i think you would be surprised how observant your kids are...don't forget, most children looooove their teacher and notice everything about them. and teachers loooooove to talk, so they have probably told their class everything you need to know, i.e. favorite color, hobbies, etc.

but let us get to the advice part of this post. i am a lass, so these suggestions are focused on female teachers, but of course some ideas can be adapted to men. beyond that i cannot help you with the gents. male teachers are just as mysterious as every other man i know. i have no idea what gifts to give my husband, brother, and dad; i certainly do not know what to get a male teacher. if you have this figured out, please enlighten the rest of us.

dead. horse.

first of all, things to avoid.
  1. kitsch and knick-knacks. there are only so many random bits of teachery nonsense we can fit on our desks, windowsills, and bookshelves.
  2. little plastic organizers with paperclips, push pins, staples, and officey junk. we already have one. or five. 
  3. anything with the word "teacher." i.e. world's best teacher mugs, #1 teacher picture frames, etc. 
  4. apple and/or bookworm themed gifts. i have no idea why apples are associated with teachers, but seriously, unless it is an electronic apple (see cartoon above), do not beat that dead horse.
  5. classroom supplies. i know, i know, teachers spend lots of money on school supplies and you want to help them out, but dudes, donate supplies to the classroom, do not give them as a GIFT to the teacher. that is like someone giving your baby diapers for YOUR birthday. practical, NOT dreamy.

the best gifts are thoughtful and personalized. if you can make any of these things yourself, DO IT! if you can get your kids involved, even better.

  1. accessories. does the teacher wear scarves? get her a scarf. does she wear little silver earrings/long-beaded necklaces/bracelets/sparkly hair clips? get her little silver earrings/long-beaded necklaces/bracelets/sparkly hair clips. you see where this is going? observe the teacher - everyone wears accessories...what is her niche?
  2. fun and fabulous lunch bags. lunch breaks are short and teachers are not rolling in money, so we tend to bring our lunches. you know that super cute pink polka-dotted one you saw at the store? yup, teach would love that.
  3. tote bags. teachers cart the world to school every day, so a good strong tote bag is always handy. and if it is cute, well then it might just become the go-to bag.
  4. sturdy and good travel mug. does she have a mug of coffee/tea every day? she probably sips on it throughout the morning and would love it if her beverage was still warm at 10am. but chances are, she is not going to splurge to buy herself that awesome double-insulated mug that will keep her drink warm for hours.
  5. non-traveling mugs. that are cute. would you want the mug in your cupboard? then it could be a winner. avoid messages, cheesy pictures, and jokes. look for pretty. or cute. or fun. want to get your kid involved? head to one of those places where you paint your own pottery and have your child paint a mug or any other practical item. but please, guide them through this process, especially if they are young. scribbles are cute, but make sure the scribble is not something that only a parent will love.
  6. throw blanket. this can be bought, sewn, knit, or crocheted. worried it will not fit with the color scheme of her house? who cares?! we all have throw blankets that have nothing to do with our house decor...does that stop us from using them? nope. live in a warm climate? who cares?! everyone curls up on the couch with a blanket. even in miami. our air conditioners sometimes run a little cold.
  7. beauty supplies. nail polish. body sprays. fragrant lotions. this one requires surveillance. are her nails always painted? get her the good stuff in the latest colors. body sprays and smelly lotion - everyone likes to play with these yummies. avoid makeup, unless you either a) know exactly what she loves and/or b) are super confident that the makeup is something everyone would love and can wear (mrs. n.k., think stila's smitten kitten).
  8. find out her interests. if you are a good investigator, you can probably dig up some dirt. does she like to cook? get her a fun ruffly apron. or those gorgeous melamine mixing bowls you have been ogling. is she a baker? muffin pans. or cookie sheets. is she an artist? new sketchbook and colored pencils.


generic gifts for the times when you are just totally stuck.
  1. gift card to starbucks. unless the teacher is anti-establishment or does not drink coffee or tea. then you will want to move on to #2.
  2. candy and/or chocolate. teachers are human and just like you, we love to indulge.
  3. flowers. or a potted plant. you could have your kid paint the pot - that would be super fun.
holy banarama, this post is waaaay longer than i intended, but, i love people who want to do something special for their child's teacher and if i can help simplify that process, well then...i will. good luck and happy shopping/creating.

note: all images are from the internets.