Sunday, October 30, 2011

Happy Halloween

We did the pumpkins last week. It only takes me a week to post the pictures. Oh well.

I'm hoping they're going to make it until Halloween... But even if they don't, we had a great time making them.

 Little brother was helping, too. For about a minute.
 That's big brother's pumpkin.
 Scooping out the next one!
 A kitty cat pumpkin. Love.
 Now the big one.
 Our pumpkin family 2011.
 Little brother coming back and announcing the cat is his pumpkin. Oh. Ok.
 Another cat interested in what's going on here.
 The sun is setting...
 ...Pumpkins start glowing.
 Watching from a safe (and warm!) distance. It's getting really chilly outside.
 And spooky.
Wishing you all a happy Halloween!

Friday, October 28, 2011

What do a black skirt, a flower patch and a Scandinavian print have in common?

If you know Apartment Therapy, chances are, you're familiar with what they call the 8-Step-Home. If not - go read the book. It's about truly making your house a home, and not just organizing for the sake of cute containers or cleaning for the sake of visiting in-laws... Last year I did this for the first time, not quite managing all assignments. So I'm trying again this year.

And the first week went fairly well, which was mostly by chance, so I know it'll get harder. Plus, two things make it a little tricky for me. You see, on days that I work I have my ten-hour workday plus a one-hour commute each way plus the weekly grocery run, whipping up something for dinner, getting the kids to bed and collapsing on the couch. So no cure on those days, mostly. Also: time-zones. By the time Maxwell posts the current video, my day is at least half over. So I sometimes end up doing Monday's assignment on Tuesday and so forth. Oh well.

Anyhow, this is how my first week of the cure went. Monday's assignment was to floor and surface clean one room. Well, Monday is a workday for me, but I usually clean the upstairs rooms on Sunday, plus I did my living and dining room (which is more or less one room anyway) on Tuesday morning. So I think I got that covered.

Day 2 was about buying flowers as a gift to your home. Saw that too late so I ended up doing that Wednesday. I don't usually buy cut flowers. For one, they're not always the best for the planet or the people, at least when they're not grown locally. Also, I have three cats. And they think that they're the world's poorest kittens, never getting proper drinking water. Or maybe vases are just more fun to drink out of. Whatever the reason, the usually throw over every single water filled container that's left unattended for too long. So if you hear a "clonk" in the middle of the night, it's usually a cat throwing the vase off the table, licking the water off the floor and playing with the flowers. Sigh.

But I needed to get another pumpkin and it just so happens that the farm we buy them at also has a field where you can pick your own flowers. Not much left here at the end of October, but big brother helped me find some last, white blooms. I love them.

Plus, my mother-in-law went to Ikea on Thursday, and was so nice to get me some miniature potted "Christmas" trees. I saw those on my last trip and did not get them, regretting that later. I think they're going to look lovely on my kitchen window sill. I'm thinking about using chalkboard pots for them. Not that I've made those yet.

The next day was about finding inspirational photos. When we build the house, I started going through my huge magazine pile (mostly German magazine Living at Home), ripping everything out that I liked and collecting it in a binder. But that was before I discovered blogland and so many more ideas. And I think I need to redo my home office a bit. Nothing major, just some reorganization and redecorating. Something more Scandinavian Modern I think. I did a quick Pinterest search and while I didn't find too many home office relating things before I almost fell asleep on my laptop, I really liked a few images. Like this card. And ok, not home office related, but don't you love this pottery?

And this print would be perfect since it has green in it. And I have a green wall in my office. Oh, I love it. I think I need to add this to my Christmas wish list.

What a nice reminder to go get some tea while working at the computer.

My home is never going to be so clutter free, white and organized, but I do like this house tour featured on Design Sponge. I still don't know why (the cabinets? Sink? View? Orange tree?), but I fell in love with this image. Who wouldn't want a laundry room like that?

And I could go on. Inspiration is easy to find, but I do need to work on making some of this happen. Find things that work for my office and do them. Get a print from Santa. Find a DIY I can do. Search for some vintage Scandinavian stuff on ebay or fleamarkets...

But let's keep going here. Day 4 I read while stuck in traffic on my way home from work: Let go one thing in your home you no longer need. I was just starting to think about it when it hit me: I just did that! That very morning I gave a black velvet skirt to one of my coworkers. You see, it was so small that she held it up, looked at me and went: "YOU fit into this once?!". Yeah, well, I did. Briefly. Long, long time ago. But it was such a nice skirt I kept holding on to it. But during my recent closet clean-up I decided it needed to find a new home. And not only does she usually say what's on her mind, she's also probably the best-dressed person I know. I mean, she really has style. Every time I think I managed to pull together an outfit that looks nice, she comes into the office and I realize that I have quite a bit to learn. Dressing simply but never boring and always with great style is so hard. Apparently only for me, though... Oh, and did I mention she's really nice? And I'm not just saying that because I know she's going to read it. So I hope the skirt found a new home. It would be a good one.Check for Day 4.

Finally, assigmnent for Day 5: Buy or replenish one eco cleaner. I've gotten so much better about this since the last cure. The only area I'm still struggling with is laundry detergent. Stupid I know. The clothes we wear on our skin should be at the top of the list to avoid potentially harmful chemicals. This is on my list for the drugstore now and I will try out one brand. So far I have always preferred something I could rely on getting clothes (especially kid clothes!) clean on low temperatures. I'll keep you posted.

And that was it for the week! Phew. We'll see how next week goes. And yes, I realize I could look at what's scheduled and yes, I have seen the videos last year so there should be no surprises. But where's the fun in that?

How about you, does anyone do the Fall Cure this year? I'll try to check back in next week to track my progress.

Happy cleaning. Or flower picking. Or giving things away...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Look who's back!

Remember Mariechen? That was the name of the ladybug big brother adopted back in September. She made her way from my in-laws all the way back to our yard. We had some issues setting her free. So look who I found last weekend:

Big brother was convinced she was living in our yard, and he even built a hotel for her and her fellow critters with dad and little brother.

So I guess he was right.


Sunday, October 23, 2011

Another quick an easy one: Halloween capes

Halloween is not exactly a German holiday. But it's increasingly popular here, and to me it's a nice fall holiday. Besides, I like pumpkins. For carving, not so much for eating. So we had a pumpkin carving tradition before we had kids, but it's definitely one of those things that's much more fun with kids. Last year, big brother did his very first own pumpkin.

This year we got pumpkins and we carved them today. I was planning to also do Halloween decorations and all sorts of things this weekend, but big brother has had a fever since Friday afternoon and the doc wasn't really sure what it is yet. So today we took advantage of some afternoon sunshine and those few hours that he was feeling fairly good (after taking ibuprofen). More on those hopefully sometime this week.

We'll also do ghost cookies and something with sprinkles, as my friend Elizabeth was so nice to send us a package with all sorts of Halloween goodies. As mentioned before, part of the package was a book that big brother kept dragging around the house, pointing to the image of the kid in a magician's costume and announcing that he was going to wear this, exactly this, for Halloween. This is a little funny, because my kids have never dressed up for Halloween yet. We did the pumpkins, cookies, decorating and we did have candy to give out, but we haven't done any trick-or-treating yet. Apparently he was fully aware of what he had been missing out on.

So magician it is. A quick Internet search yielded a lot of great tutorials on how to sew a cape. And a lot of cheap ugly capes and one really nice (not so cheap) cape to buy. Of course I need two since little brother is not likely to be left out of this one, or anything for that matter. Now, looking at my goals for the year and my recent thoughts on how much is too much and saying no to things, sewing two lined magician capes just didn't seem like a good idea, and spending 40 EUR for ONE costume (without the hat, mind you) wasn't an option either.

What's a creatively challenged, still non-sewing mommy to do? Felt! At least I thought felt, until I started looking at prices. Plus shipping costs, because I live in the middle of nowhere and there are no decent fabric stores nearby, or maybe I just don't know where.  Thinking about other no-sew options, it hit me: Ikea! Of course, my trusted Swedish solution for almost everything. Not the highest quality but in a lot of cases just about good enough. Ikea sells a black fleece blanket for 3,49 EUR. So on my recent trip to Ikea I picked up two of them, figuring that maybe one blanket was enough and using the other as backup and return if not needed.

Loosely following this and this tutorial folded the blanket in half, draped it around the boys' shoulders and decided that half a blanket was long enough, in little brother's case even too long. Following the tutorials I cut a half circle in the center of the double-folded blanket to make the neck, making little brother's cape a bit shorter.

Most tutorials also cut the cape into a round or half-round shape, but when I had the boys try it on, the immediately grabbed the excess fabric in front, holding it close. Apparently they liked their cape to wrap all around them. I ended up just cutting a small curve off the front corner to keep it from hanging lower than the rest of the cape.

I also didn't want to cut off too much from the cute border than the blanket came with.

You know by now that I can't sew. I had ordered silver, red and yellow iron-on stars from this seller on Dawanda, the sort of "German version" of Etsy (yes, I realize there is a German Etsy, too. But I still like Dawanda, it's just been around longer over here). The red and yellow ones were a little more temperamental, but the silver ones went on really well. So as the boys played nicely upstairs (miracle!) I actually finished cutting both capes and ironed on the stars.

Still left to do: use some silver ribbon for the neckline and closing the cape, make a hat and a magic wand.

Of course there are much nicer capes in blogland, but if there's anyone else out there who is trying to get rid of perfectionism and have a cheap and quick cape for Halloween, I can recommend using Ikea fleece blankets.

Now I only have to keep the cats from sleeping on them!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The disappearing cake (a.k.a. easiest apple-cinnamon cake ever)

A lot of recipes claim they're quick and easy. Sometimes that's when I stop reading, simply because I get tired of everything these days having to be quick and easy. Cooking. Baking. Gardening. DIY projects. What ever happened to taking the time and learning to do something more difficult?

However, with two kids, a house, a job and my by now well-known to do list, sometimes I need just that: a quick and easy recipe. Especially if it has apples and cinnamon in it. And there is some glorious sunshine outside that makes you want to go outside looking for brightly colored leaves rather than bake all day.

Enter this recipe I saw at Apartment Therapy's The Kitchn the other day. Jogurt. Apples. And did I mention cinnamon? Yum. So I tried it out on Friday, after dropping off my stack of clothes to be sold and taking way too many pictures of Noelle.

So while my camera batteries were about to die and the back-up of course wasn't charge since I very rarely need it, I tried snapping some quick pictures of the process.

The changes I made to the recipe were

- using low-fat jogurt since that was all I had in these quantities (I didn't manage to make a fresh batch of my jogurt the day before)
- using some of this great apple seasoning a friend of mine gave me, because it also contains nutmeg and my nutmegs happened to be used up the night before. Oh well. Guess some allspice wouldn't hurt here, either.

- measuring some of the ingredients. I don't really get why you guys use cups for everything. I'm fine with measuring cups for olive oil, but seriously, flour? Messy and not precise, if you ask me. So for the record, I used 340g flour.
- adding another egg, since the ones I could get here were tiny. I only buy organic eggs and usually that means I need to buy the size that's available, no choice here.
- oh, and I used (organic all natural) vanilla sugar, lowering the remaining sugar accordingly, instead of vanilla extract, because that's just more widely availble in Germany.
- adding lemon zest. If I use an entire lemon on the recipe (and you guessed it, I buy organic ones...), I figured I might just as well add some zest.

None of this seemed to be a problem. The recipe is extremely easy to make, bakes well and comes out of the pan easily.

And it's soooooooo good. In fact, two tiny pieces is all that is left today. And I made the cake yesterday. So yes, it nice and moist and probably keeps well, but you're not likely to find out because it will all be gone.

Juicy apple pieces, the cinnamon sugar and light, moist texture from jogurt and olive oil. This one's a keeper!

What's your favorite apple cake?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Meet Noelle

She arrived this week. I'm so excited! Let me introduce you to Noelle. My brand-new mustard yellow scarf. Yep, that's right, my new scarf has a name. And she's sooooo soft. And warm. And did I mention mustard yellow? I got her here. And while I was at it, I got a cute little flower and a bird to keep her company.

I love scarves. I don't have that many shoes and I stick to one handbag for my kids days and another one for my work days. But I do love scarves. While looking through them and giving away stuff I no longer needed, I realized I needed a winter scarf.

You see, my winter coat is olive green. I love it, it's windproof, waterproof, warm and all those things you need when you're out with the kids. But when I got it, the combination of function and prettiness was still fairly new in winter coats, so color choices were limited. When I look at my closet after purging now, there is not exactly a lot of olive green. And my beloved kids days bag that came all the way from Greece to me is a dark denim. It has a name too, by the way: Elessa.

Anyway. I needed something to make it look a bit more intentional.

Enter Noelle. Warm, pretty and goes plays nicely with the green coat.

Coat? Check. Bag? Hmmm.... Soooooo I got this handmade flower to add some of the yellow and the green to my bag. And the yellow bird from one of my favorite sellers: snug. I always loved their brooches and gave several as presents but could never decide on a color for myself. And then they had a fall special: mustard yellow. Oh, I needed one.

Given that last year around that time I was wearing that coat with a too colorful, too long scarf that always got caught in the zipper and some cheap bag that didn't really go with anything, this really makes me happy:

Over the summer it was easier - the bag has a bright red lining and I have all sorts of red accessories and a navy jacket and shoes. But this makes me feel ready for fall and winter. And so excited that I posted way too many pictures. And took even more. Oh well. I also made a really, really great apple cinnamon cake today. Maybe I'll get a chance to post over the weekend, so if you're grocery shopping go pick up some apples and yogurt, because you'll love it. Trust me.

What's your favorite winter accessory? If you need one where you live, that is.


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Less is more

As I mentioned before, I still have a lot of decluttering to do. This time my wardrobe was the target. I actually do this frequently. I used to do it twice a year when I switched to summer or winter clothing. The extra clothing got stored in boxes or bags somewhere else. But I still kept too many things.

Things that don't look good on me. Things that I bought because - hmmm, why exactly did I buy them? Things that made me look frumpy.

This is the after, actually. Forgot to take a before shot. As usual. Sigh.

I was lacking a plan. For years most of my clothing was office wear, with a pair of jeans or two for weekends. Then I had kids. And more pairs of jeans. And maternity clothing and just-after-delivery clothing and all that. Not much time to shop, unless you care about shopping with a toddler running away and a baby screaming because they both, like their dad, hate shopping. I have no idea who these babies belong to that you see sleeping in the stroller while mommy tries on new outfits. Anyway, not my kids, so online shopping it was for me. You know, big Swedish store common here in Europe. Cheap. Modern. Stylish - if you're 15. If you're not 15, you eventually run into trouble if your wardrobe consists of mostly cheap, modern stuff. At least I did. Because I never ended up looking like those casual and put-together catalog images. I ended up looking frumpy.

Then Joanna started her Get in Style series. Now, while not all of that works for me, it was the wake-up call I needed to get started. I bought different things. I actually thought about what might go together and what I might need to complement exisiting pieces. What a novel concept. At least for me.

A clouple months later I am getting better at this. I know it's silly and the rest of the world has been doing this for ages, but I am still so excited every time I discover that outfits come together so easily when things match in style, when there accessories to hold it together. When you bag and your shoes and the scarf actually sort of match. And by match I don't mean same store, same collection, I mean same style or color family or pattern or whatever else ties them together. Like this scarf that I found and fell in love with, discovering much later that it makes all those gray and beige and brown things I have go together and work together.

This time I really cleaned out my closet, tossing everything I didn't really love. The result is four boxes of stuff that will be sold next weekend (wish me luck - any profits go towards my next shopping trip without kids). And there's another box waiting for Spring to be sold.

It feels so great.

All my off-season clothing fits into these two boxes at the top of my closet. As Rachel from Small Notebook says, It Is So Much Easier to Simplify Than Organize. Whatever I will be adding, I will be doing carefully. Wait to find the perfect piece. I keep a running list of things I need. And I try to think ahead if this really matches what I already have and my style. Haha, like I have a style already. Let's say the style I'm working to accomplish. I'm getting there.

What are your favorite pieces?