Monday, June 9, 2014

How to Find Design Inspiration

Shape, texture, pattern, functionality, color, and so many other things inform design inspiration. For me, almost everything has potential to transform into a cohesive design plan. Keep your eyes open. Look up. Look down. Look for patterns. Look for texture. Look for variation. It won't take you long to see something that interests you.

The pattern from worn cement combined with a shock of green moss gives me ideas to transform a garden space, paint a wall, and think of life perspective.

I will post additional photos of a room inspired by the sidewalk as soon as I am able.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Simple Christmas Ornaments

This is a fun craft to do with kids or your girlfriends. What makes it great is that the style possibilities are limited only by your imagination. Years ago, I made my own hand painted glass ball ornaments. A lot of people back then claimed they were easy and turn out beautifully. I'm here to tell you, it was not easy. Paint dripping out of a glass ball is messy. Also, typical cheap acrylic paint is thick and one ball takes forever to coat. Since I've been fairly unthrilled about the results of that project, I decided to borrow the idea from THIS post and tweak it to suit what I have on hand for supplies.
Here are the materials I used for one ornament:
One 8x8 piece of scrapbook paper {not cardstock}
One flexible/soft paint brush
One 6 inch glass Christmas ornament
My good friend, Mod Podge
Iridescent glitter
Your favorite color acrylic paint, if desired.
First, remove the ornament top and rip your paper into several very thin (1/8-1/4 inch wide) strips.  For a uniform ornament, use one sheet of paper. For a more colorful ornament, use two to three different papers. Paint a strip of Mod Podge on the glass ball. Lay a strip of paper over it and lightly coat it with another layer of Mod Podge. If it doesn't curve evenly, don't be afraid to rip off pieces and use them later. Also, don't be afraid to use your fingers to smooth any protruding bits down. (Mod Podge peels off of hands easily.) Layer the paper strips gently beside one another as you continue covering the ornament with glue and paper one piece at  a time. Once you've covered the entire ball, paint 1 inch segments with more glue and sprinkle the glitter on it, while holding it over a bowl or piece of paper. Use your fingers to spread the glitter across the glued surface. Repeat until you get the coverage you prefer.
If you like, you may embellish with silk ribbon when you replace the ornament top. Also a great idea before you add glitter would be to add a glaze of your favorite color of paint {mix 1 part paint to 2 parts glue} and coat the ball in it just before you glitter it.  Another fantastic idea: Use your favorite stamp and ink after the glue dries and customize your ornament further. These ornaments could be done with strips of thin fabrics as well, but it would require a greater quantity of glue than paper.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hello, Christmas!

I've been working like mad on Christmas for my family since Thanksgiving, when my 12 year-old daughter asked me to make her a Christmas dress. I couldn't turn the request down. I have spent a LOT of time doing wrapping and crafting and planning.  I'm so glad to be finished with the labor intensive portion, that I'm not even slightly daunted that I've yet to shop for my youngest son, who is four.
Because I've been so busy with making certain that my children open gifts that are good for them and very thoughtful of who they are and what they like, I've put Domestic Empress on the back burner. {And that's how it should be. Real life comes first. Always.}
Please be sure to soak up the moments you have with those you love this Holiday. Don't neglect those that are right in front of you because you have holiday things to do.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

I'll Be Home For Christmas

Christmas is probably my favorite holiday, although I love and enjoy pretty much any holiday we celebrate. Christmas has always reinforced my eternal belief in the value of JOY and HOPE and PEACE and mostly LOVE. These things are the most important things to hold on to through the holidays ...and through life.  Sometimes they seem illusive. Truly, making the conscious choice to embody all of them is the best choice I can make for myself, for my family. They are the goal I strive for every moment of each day.

  Once upon a time, I had a wonderful co-worker who became a mentor of mine in decorating. Scot was about as Grinch-like as a gay man could ever be. I loved him anyway. He dubbed me "Glinda" (as in the Good Witch) because I was so bubbly about decorating our department store for Christmas in AUGUST. Scot taught me a great deal about merchandising and decorating.

Like many who celebrate Christmas, I grew up hearing the Nativity Story read to me from Luke chapter 2. I believe in the baby who was born to save the world, who came to give hope and joy and peace to all who seek Him. In honor of the season, I'm beginning the decorating process at home and phase one {Operation Tree Up} is complete tonight.  I'm moving on to garland and wreaths soon. Enjoy your decorating projects this holiday!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Zucchini Boats

Are you looking for a different recipe for side items for your holiday season?  Years ago, I stumbled upon a stuffed zucchini recipe in Cooking Light magazine that was absolutely a wonderful substitute for turkey stuffing for the holidays. It was a low carb, meatless way to have dressing. I am determined to find the recipe, but have not been able to locate that magazine. As soon as I find it, I will share. When I was craving the stuffed zucchini not long ago, I went a little rogue and made a simplified version without several of the ingredients. What I got was a REALLY nice vegetable side dish, and I'm not a huge squash fan. {Mainly because I'm not a fan of mushy food, but this is not mushy. I promise.}

6 zucchini squash
salt & pepper
real parmesan
olive oil
*optional 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

Here's how you prepare these simple zucchini boats:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and get a cookie sheet or jelly roll pan ready. Wash 6 zucchini squash. Cut off the end. Slice them length-wise. Score the edges with a paring knife to begin hollowing out the skin of the squash. Carefully score through the center of the vegetable. Carefully, without going through the skin, score horizontal cube-sized blocks with your knife. Using a teaspoon, scoop out as much of the flesh of the zucchini as possible. {My apologies. The dicing of the vegetable inside the skin is not a simple thing to do.} Put the veggie in a small bowl and salt and pepper it generously. Spoon the vegetable back into the boats. Using a vegetable peeler, shave parmesan slices in a pile on your cutting board or any clean surface. Drizzle tiny bits of olive oil across the zucchini boats. Sprinkle the shaved parmesan over the vegetable. If you like, top each boat with a sprinkle of panko bread crumbs for extra crunch.  Bake this for 25-35 minutes, until golden.

Meatloaf Perfection

Once upon a time, I watched a television cooking contest. In it, contestants had to use frozen Pilsbury products in unusual and innovative ways. The top recipe took home several thousand dollars. Watching the show, gave me a bit of inspiration. How many things did I have in my pantry that were more versatile than I gave them opportunity to be?

Investigating those items gave me a brilliant idea that turned into one of our favorite meals. I'm not a huge fan of meatloaf in restaurants because the textures are almost ALWAYS funky, mushy, too ketchupy, or brick-like.  My favorite way to create a moist, but crunchy crusted meatloaf is so easy, you'll be stunned. I typically use a combination of 1 part beef to 1 part deer meat. Our family loves to economize and we love the rich flavor of ground venison.
Here's my recipe:
2 pounds meat {turkey, beef, deer, elk, chicken}
1 package Stove Top dressing
1 cup grated fresh Parmesan/Reggiano {Not the stuff in the green can.}
2 large eggs

Mix these ingredients with your hands until they are incorporated evenly. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees before you start mixing. Once your loaf is mixed well, put it on a stone cookie sheet or jelly roll pan. Half of the reason textures are off in many meatloaves is that they swim in grease in a standard loaf pan. Avoid that and use a shallow edged pan. The edges will crisp up nicely this way.

Here's what it should look like {this is all organic, hormone free, beef} before you pop it into the oven.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Store Bought Curtains Customized

Life is busy. I won't apologize for that. Ever. But I sure hope you all have had a fantastic week!

Before we dive into the story of how I customized some really great curtains for not much cash, for those of you who don't know me personally, I prefer to explain things as simply as possible in DIY or recipe scenarios. I really, really, REALLY dislike it when people leave pertinent information out. {Have you ever assembled a baby crib with a few detailed steps missing? Ever tried to make a souffle without an electric mixer? Ever had a GPS route for a strange city that never mentioned three or four exits and highway names? Yeah. Not my favorite. And just to humor you, I would answer yes to all three questions.}

Recently, I decided to take a trip to Wal-Mart {a.k.a. the bane of my existence} and buy myself a cheap sewing machine. I've had fabric and patterns for more than 10 years and never had a machine to do anything with them. I must've been waiting for a magic fairy to return my mother's old machine that someone sold in a garage sale. I still believe in magic fairies, it's possible that they were too busy to find that old piece of metal for me. So, instead of waiting for a gift, I bought it myself.

I've had some really great curtains over the years that I've found in places like Target or Bed, Bath & Beyond. I'm a bargain shopper and I'm not ashamed of it. When we moved into our new home, we had a very large window in our living room that everyone {and their dogs} could see into. Until I found the perfect curtains, probably the first year we lived here, I refused to put something ugly up to cover the windows. Some left over philosophy from my father's 22 year long Army career has stuck with me through the years: "If it's worth doing, it's worth doing right." I grew up believing that and doing my best to hold myself to that standard. Sometimes, doing right isn't the easiest choice.

I went in search of window coverings not too long ago and found some lovely triple pleated linen panels marked down from $40 each to $9 each. SCORE! I promptly purchased, unpacked and ironed them. I'd suspected that I wouldn't find any ready made curtains that were long enough for such a large window. The curtains hung nicely and covered the bay windows very well, but there was about a 15 inch gap from the bottom of the curtains to the floor. I hated wearing high waters when I was a girl. One becomes marked for all of elementary school when one wears dorky, ill fitting clothes. Having a home dressed poorly makes me cringe when I can fix it so easily. Fix it, I did. I took another trip {to Hobby Lobby this time} [enter giddy squeal here] and found some fabric, notions and trim that made my heart happy. The fabric I found was the same cost as the panels I purchased, but honestly looks so much nicer than anything I could've found pre-made in that price range.  I believe it's silk threaded through a very sheer linen. I love how much light this whole level of my home gets. My entire goal in covering this window was to give us privacy without giving up all of the glorious light. When I shopped, it was with this goal in mind. Also, I wanted to keep the first layer of fabrics textural without being colorful, though I'm a color addict. I'm planning something special for the walls and furniture later. We are adding design layers over time, responsibly, with cash, not loans or credit. At least, until we renovate the kitchen...

Anyhow, the living area is open to a foyer, my dining room [see previous post] and kitchen. It all needs to flow now and after the redecoration & renovation. You may imagine how thrilled I was to find this absolutely lovely fabric. Maybe you can't. Here's what my heart did on the inside upon discovery of shown fabric: {When I hung the curtains up after I spent an entire day figuring out the math and pinning and tending to my preschooler, it happened again, minus the scornful glares.} My brain works like Ally McBeal's. Weird, I know, but true.

The first thing I did was measure the gap between the curtain foot and my floor. I'm the kind of girl who likes her curtains to puddle or loosely break on the floor. I don't want them hanging just above like a pair of trousers. It's just my preference. I don't judge other people who have strict tailored rules about their curtain length. I know what I like and I have my reasons. So, after I measured to find the length of the gap that I needed to mend, I added 4 inches for a pocket rod and another inch for the seam allowance. Next, I measured each panel to find out the width of them. Sometimes, pre-made panels, even though they are mass produced, are not always exactly the same width or length. These happened to be, so it was less of a pain to calculate. I added two inches for side seam allowance. When it was all measured, my calculations told me to cut four pieces of fabric 48 inches wide and 20 inches long. No problem. I laid the fabric out on my dining room table  and used straight pins to mark the cut lines. Fortunately, the fabric had verticle and horizontal lines I could use as a cutting guide.

After the fabric was cut, I pinned it to the existing panel to be sure that the side seams were going to be even. I folded in the side seams and used pins every 2 inches. I'm an almost beginner. I didn't want crooked seams. Also, I didn't feel it necessary to iron the seam down to get a straight sewing line. My ironing can be more crooked than sewing when I'm tired. Pinning the front of the curtain {right side} to the {right side of the} new fabric looked like this:
The top part of the existing curtain panel already had a 2 inch pocket rod top, but I wanted maximum light exposure from the top portion of the curtains, so I positioned the fabric extention at the top of the panel instead of the bottom.

Next up, I sewed the side seams using the smallest zigzag stitch setting. Very. Slowly. So as not to mess up. Have I mentioned that I'm not a professional seamstress? Because I'm not. I taught myself how to read patterns in another life, but it's been so long since I've done any sewing. I'm here to tell you, it's just like a bike. Once you learn how to ride, you never forget. Terror may still grip you, but you will recall how to push the pedal.

Note to self: get a manicure before the next craft post. Oh wait. That's kind of a great way to ruin a good manicure. After the side seams were stitched, I measured 2 inches and placed a pin for the fold line that would become the top of the curtains. I placed pins about 12 inches apart, careful to match the pattern of horizontal lines from the front side of the fabric to the back so it would not be sewn crookedly. 
Crooked is bad. Crooked makes me twitch. Next, I carefully sewed the seam for the pocket rod. I prayed for every stitch. I really did. I think I held my breath for a long time, too. I didn't mean to, it just happened. When I realized I was going to pass out and sew my fingers onto the fabric, I finally gave up and did some chair yoga. I know, it's just a project. It's not anything to stress over. But I had something to prove to myself. So, I was more cautious than typical. So far, that's only three lines of sewing. A trained monkey could learn, right? No pressure. {eyeroll}
Once the pocket is sewn, it's time to pin the fabric to the panel. Make sure the side with seams {back/wrong side} on the panel is laid flat on a table or floor. Place the wrong side of the extension fabric up and pin the unsewn edge to the top edge of the sewn curtain panel. You want to see the seams you just stitched. If you don't see the seams you just stitched, you're about to make a not so funny, but easy to correct mistake. A little memory trick whenever you're sewing: Always look at the fabric from the inside out perspective. If you see stitching, that's good. If you don't, think twice before proceeding. Our eyes are conditioned to see finished products. For sewing projects, retrain your eye to look inside out, piece by piece. It's a geometry puzzle, really.

Now, look at that beautiful pocket! I still grin a little knowing that I really accomplished it. I know, it's just straight line sewing, but for a girl who refused to take home economics, it's a fairly large feat.

The last few years, I've been working hard to teach myself things I always admired in others. Patience, painting, sewing... These are all fairly simple things to learn if one tries and practices and reads up on technique. I learned years ago not to ever pray for patience. When one prays for patience, one is annoyed with tests of virtuous muscle strength. That's sometimes quite unpleasant, so I don't ask for it, I just take the lessons as they come. A bit of patience is required when you're learning something new, like sewing. Rushing is often going to produce a bad product that won't last long. Deliberation and consideration produce good things.
One panel down, three to go. Fortitude. Patience. Deep cleansing breaths.

This is what 1/4 inch seams look like when adjoining the two fabrics. If you want to add trim, depending on the type, you would insert it between the layers of fabric (for feather or bead or bullion trim) or atop the already fused fabrics (for ribbon and braided trim). I purchased trim and opted not to use it for the moment. If I want to add it later, I can.
I really enjoy the streaming light through the top of these curtains. It's a joyous triumph. Some days the smallest things are the greatest pleasure. I'll take it.
Here is how they look when closed and completed. I told you we have lighting issues in this room for the moment. This is the best my baby camera could do... not an apology, just. another explanation.

You might think there's no possible way you could ever be a sewing, crafting, cooking kind of person. If it's just something that bores you, alright. Move along. If, however, you're just afraid to try, remind yourself that when babies learn things, they begin with small foundational steps. Babies are JOYFUL and exhuberant learners. Who or what is keeping you from continuing to be joyful and exhuberant? Figure out how to remove that obstacle from your heart. It's silly to live in fear.

See my son's mini John Deere from his farmer grandpa? We love to park it in the living room for now. This is, afterall, his road to drive in the Winter months.

Enjoy your week! Welcome to November! Be kind to your body and soul! You're so worth it.