Preparing for Advent

Advent Calendar Printable

I often feel anxious. Some days it’s because I feel stressed about work or money. Some days I wonder if I’m doing enough, while other days maybe too much. Some days I’ve just had an extra cup of coffee. Some days I can’t quite put my finger on a reason at all, but I can’t ignore a nagging restlessness that keeps my mind and heart from being still.

Advent is coming. What a wonderful reminder, these weeks leading up to Christmas, that our lives are not about us. We do not hope in ourselves, we hope in a God who makes all things new, a God for whom all things are possible. So we join in the anticipation of the Israelites, of Mary, of Simeon, who knew something incredible was going to happen that would change everything. Advent is more than a countdown to Christmas. It is a time when peace and hope and joy can break through our anxiety. God sent his Son to save his people, and he has promised he will do the same for us.

That anxiety I feel so often, maybe it actually is more than a caffeine overdose. Maybe at its root, it is a physical longing for the peace and deliverance that God promises us through Jesus. A peace that for now feels just out of reach while it is clouded by earthly circumstances and sin in this life.

While we look forward to Jesus’s birth during Advent, we have permission to stop dwelling on ourselves, our stress, our sin and imperfections. Instead we can focus on the Giver of all good things who promises perfect joy and redemption for those who will take it, and with the wonder of a child look forward to His coming.

Advent is a deep breath.

…..

Make Your Own Advent Calendar

Of course no post is complete without a DIY, so I’ve come up with an easy one for you. Print this, cut out the cards, and string/tape them up above the fireplace, on the fridge, down the hallway, wherever you’ll see them. Advent begins on December 1 this year. We’re planning to draw a picture (Alex) or write a phrase (me) from that day’s Scripture reading on the back of each card.

Advent Calendar Printable

I hope this project helps you and your family enjoy a meaningful Advent season.

Advent Calendar Printable

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We can pickle that!

We can pickle that! (Really.)

Have you ever wanted to live in pioneer times? Oh man, have I. I couldn’t get enough of Laura Ingalls and her little house, quilting bees and barn raisings and berry picking. And you better believe that Kirsten was my BFF of the American Girl variety. Well, turns out I’m not alone. My friend Alli (of livingfullywithout.com fame) came over this weekend to teach me how to make pickles! And even though she was a Felicity girl, we had no trouble imagining ourselves out on the frontier, pickling our summer garden spoils to get us through the harsh winter.

They had mandolin slicers, refrigerators, and blogs on the frontier, right?

Alli was kind enough to buy our pickling cucumbers at the farmer’s market. It’s cucumber season RIGHT NOW, so that means they’re cheap and ready for pickling! But first, give ’em a good wash.

Homemade pickles | handmaden.com

Then slice and dice those cucumbers however suits your fancy.

Homemade pickles

Now separate your cucs into pint size mason jars. Fill them up nice and full. The liquid will fill in around them. Oh, and we sterilized the jars first by boiling them in a large stock pot for a few minutes.

Homemade pickles | handmaden.com

Now it’s time to make the brine, the vinegary liquid that works magic on those unsuspecting cucumbers and turns them into delicious pickles. It just requires boiling water, vinegar, and whatever spices you choose. It was so easy and boring that I didn’t even take a picture. The point is, you should just do it, because if you can boil water and vinegar in a pot, then you can make pickles.

We were a wee bit ambitious and made three different kinds. Here were the recipes we used (generally, but Alli is a pro so she mainly winged it):

Once the jars are filled and the liquid is cooled, put them in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Then they’re ready to eat and can be kept in the fridge for 6-8 weeks.

Homemade pickles

Look at all those pretty pickles! Pickle spears, pickle sandwich slices, pickle rounds! Spicy pickles, dill pickles, garlic pickles! AND don’t forget, bonus pickled red onions!

Pickled red onions and cucumbers

This made for an incredibly satisfying project. Ingredients you mostly have on hand, a couple of hours in the kitchen, really easy clean-up, and a fridge full of pretty mason jars showing off your beautiful homemade pickles.

Thanks for teaching me how to pickle that, Al Pal!

Homemade pickles with Alli

Before and After: Mid-century Dresser

Where I live, everyone wants a mid-century dresser topped with an old-timey typewriter and a pair of mini antlers underneath an antique cloche. (I just learned that word.) So antique stores in the city are keenly aware of what they have and what people will pay for such items — a lot. So I can get a little jealous of other bloggers when I read about the treasures they’ve purchased for pennies from their country junk shop (or more probably, junque shoppe).

But when I start to feel those pangs of envy, I just remember this:

Before

Craigslist. $30. It is possible! Even in the city!

We brought this home last summer and it has been hiding in the guest room, embarrassed by scratches and general dinginess. But now it looks like this:

Dresser Portrait

Standing taller and prouder than ever, and looking worth far more than $30.

Dresser After

There are TONS of resources online about cleaning wood furniture (like here and here) and painting wood furniture and getting rid of dings. (My parents on the other hand had to buy VHS tapes to learn DIY techniques. My sister one time mistook “Paint Your Furniture” for a musical which led to a Schmunk family original song of the same title.)

Anyway, since there are so many great tips and how-to’s already on this subject, I’ll just give you an overview of what I did. The moral of the story is don’t be afraid! I thought this project would be way more time-consuming and daunting, which is why I put it off for an entire year. But it went really smoothly and now I can’t stop staring at this mid-century beauty.

Dresser Before and After

Here were the basic steps I took to clean this baby up:

1. Clean it inside and out with Murphy’s Oil Soap. It was amazing what this step alone did to brighten up the wood, get rid of all of the dust inside the frame, and remove general griminess on the drawer fronts. Here’s the inside of the dresser frame. Left is dusty pre-Murphy, right is clean post-Murphy:

Murphy's Oil Soap

2. Restore with Rejuvenate. In my mind, this step would magically erase all of the dings and scratches. It didn’t. It does however seem to be a good product for overall furniture maintenance, so it made me want to try it on some of our other wood pieces that I’m not so great at taking care of.

3. Sand, prime, and paint the drawer fronts. I learned a few things in my research that I will now summarize for you:

  • Sand first to remove the glossy finish and create a surface that will hold the paint
  • Use oil-based primer because it will cover the wood grain; let dry 4-6 hours (I went with overnight)
  • Use several coats of paint (you can use latex paint over oil-based primer, but not the other way around) and sand in between to remove drips or imperfections

Here’s what it looked like after one coat of primer:

Primer

4. While paint dries, “fix” dings with a marker. This actually did work like magic. I just colored over the scratches with a brown marker (!!!) and rubbed it in with my finger to blend it with the wood. Probably wouldn’t color on an heirloom piece, but worked great for this!

Marker?!

And there you have it. A two-day project that is really more waiting for things to dry than actual work. I love the two-tone look, and it’s WAY easier than trying to completely strip and refinish the entire dresser. Ta-da!

Dresser Close-up

I’m on Apartment Therapy!

Well, let’s be honest, reHabitat is on Apartment Therapy. They were the ones behind this genius bedroom makeover.

Either way, it’s pretty cool to get online and see this…

Apt Therapy screen shot

It’s our bedroom! On Apartment Therapy! And you can go vote for it right now!

And then go check out reHabitat. They’re good.

So to recap. Vote. reHabitat.  :)

You say goodbye and I say hello.

We have this great big dining room table that we painted with chalkboard paint (thanks, Emily) and we love it. It’s perfect for doodling during dinner parties and score keeping for games. It seats 10 people, comfortably: a rarity in a small city apartment. The problem is that I think by the end of every lingering dinner or game night, our guests go home cursing us because our chairs are so darn creaky and uncomfortable. Here’s the line-up:

You say goodbye

I’ve collected our dining chairs over the course of a few years at various Salvation Armys and thrift stores. The point was to have an eclectic mix with no pretense of them even trying to match. The lot of them cost probably less than $8. For good reason. So after some significant Craigslisting and comfort testing (Alex approved), we purchased six of these babies. Hello hello.

Hello Hello

The price was right (aka cheap). And you know I love a good DIY, so I’m ready to get out my spray paint and give these guys a makeover. Almost.

Brightly colored dining room chairs are so hot right now. Let me show you:

emerald

sea foam

yellow

orange

So I’m wondering if I should try something bold. Or stick with a classic glossy white:

white

What do you think?

Dining room

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Images from: bhg.com, marieclairemaison.com, designsponge.com, sfgirlbybay.com, littlegreennotebook.blogspot.com

Ain’t she a beaut?

I got a sewing machine for Christmas!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Thanks Mom and Dad! Ain’t she a beaut?

Beaut | Handmaden.com

I recently took a sewing class at Lill Street Studio and loved it. My friend Caitlyn let me borrow her sewing machine for a few weeks after the class and it only solidified the fact that I reeeeeeeeally wanted one of my own.

My mom is a whiz on the sewing machine. So anytime I wanted to sew myself a scrunchie, she was there to thread the machine and fix my mistakes. Even with her help, the last time I tried to sew something was in high school when I wanted to make some pajama shorts. I sewed the leg hole shut. Three times. I never finished the shorts.

But after 12 years of running away from the sewing machine, I’m ready to face it head on.

I started this blog to encourage you that you are creative, so act that way! And to hopefully inspire you to tackle something handmade, even if it scares you. Now it’s my turn. This sewing machine scares me because I have no clue what the heck I’m doing. So you should know that anything I post about sewing is experimental and meant to show you that if I can do it, you can do it! So get out that machine you’ve had stashed in your closet for too many years without touching because we’ve got work to do!

I decided my first project needed to be something very very simple. And what’s simpler than 4 straight lines?

Pillows | Handmaden.com

One afternoon later, I have two lovely new pillows brightening up our living room. I generally followed these instructions, and here’s how it went down:

First I chose fabric. Lucky for me, my talented interior designer mom let me raid her fabric sample collection over Thanksgiving. So I pulled out a few contrasting patterns and a soft velvet. I cut them down to fit the two pillow inserts I have. (And in the process realized that cutting square corners is probably the hardest part of sewing.)

pillow fabrics | handmaden.com

I already had two pillow inserts to work with. One from an IKEA pillow that I got home and kicked myself for buying. And another insert that I had from a past never-realized project.

pillow inserts | handmaden.com

Once I had the pieces cut, I pinned them right sides together with openings on the bottom.

pinning pillows | handmaden.com

After sewing around the edge with a 1/2 inch seam allowance, I trimmed off some excess fabric, turned the pillow covers right side out, and ironed around the seams. (Take a hint from me, and don’t sew with velvet the first time you pull out your machine. It was a nightmare and I changed the fabrics for Pillow #2 so that I wouldn’t have to use the velvet again.)

ironing pillow covers | handmaden.com

Stuffing in the pillows was so satisfying! The only thing left to do was handsew the openings closed while watching The West Wing. You won’t get to see any photos of my handsewing. I still need to learn how to make those stitches invisible…

sewing the pillows closed | handmaden.com

It took me about the same amount of time to sew the pillows closed as it did for CJ and the gang to get President Bartlett’s poll ratings up 9 points. So I’d say it was a successful day all around.

handmade pillows | handmaden.com

Christmas Crafternoon

I started this blog last year after giving and receiving(!) lots of lovely handmade gifts. This year we didn’t make very many gifts, but we did have fun this weekend around the tree, painting ornaments and wrapping packages.

So I hope these pictures will inspire your own Christmas Crafternoon. Don’t be the ‘I-don’t-mind-pushing-my-best-friend-into-but-I’m-scared-stiff-when-I-get-anywhere-close-to-it-myselfing’ kind.

Crafternoon

Alex and Nelson grabbed this Crafternoon by the reindeer horns. We spent the morning looking for clear ornament bulbs, but came home without so much as a kiss my foot or have an apple! So we used these red and gold ones instead. Then we used paint markers to draw (and write) on them, fueled by some Christmas spirits and snacks. Isn’t it a wonderful party?

Alex's drawing

Nelson's ornament

Clearly those two have some talent. In some ways, they are far superior to my cocker spaniel.

glittered ornament

I braved the glitter and was loving the gold on gold. (Also, I’ve gotten into wearing nail polish lately. You didn’t expect me to come down in my bathrobe, did you?)

IMG_9520

The troops are ready for inspection, sir!

IMG_9503

The boys had a much longer attention span than I did. After two glittered ornaments, I moved on to some other projects. I gave these paper ornaments a try and love how simple and delicate they look. Mutual I’m sure!

IMG_9518

And maybe my favorite project of the day…wrapping! I found this great 5-point snowflake tutorial and went to town. I’m always drawn to simple brown craft paper and these snowflakes make it look so elegant. The best part was already having all the supplies I needed. Especially since good Christmas paper is somewhere between ouch and boing!

IMG_9528

I never saw anything look so wonderful in my whole life. Merry Christmas!

PS: Don’t forget to turn on White Christmas while you work.