This afternoon, Kaspar and I made a "stained glass" luminary for the DIY-fly mantel display we've been pulling together over the past several weeks. It was a perfect after-school, pre-holiday project, offering a variety of high-tactile tasks to keep my busy big-man interested and absorbed, but not with so many steps that I lost him along the way. He loved every minute of it -- all twenty or so. This project could work with younger toddlers, too, as well as bigger big-kids, who could experiment with creating actual shapes and images with the paper collage portion of the project. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's take it from the top:

Materials for this project are simple, green, and probably items you already have on hand. Gather up some tissue paper (just whatever you've amassed over birthdays and Christmases past... recycle!), a mason jar, and some Mod Podge and you're good to go. (Regular Elmer's glue might even work, but I haven't tried it.) Oh, and a big paintbrush, or something else to apply your glue with; we used a sponge already glittered from another craft project... and our hands.
Tear up the tissue paper into pieces of various shapes and sizes. Then, apply a first layer of Mod Podge/glue all over the mason jar.
Apply your tissue paper to the outside of the mason jar, adding as many layers as you'd like, and applying more glue over each layer. Be sure to flatten your paper out as you go; it can fold over onto itself in all kinds of messy ways, but flattening it so it's flush against the jar will make for a better-looking final product.
Finish with a final layer of Mod Podge/glue -- we also added some glitter for holiday sparkle -- and let dry.
Voila! You're finished! Just add a tea-light candle and some old-school Gene Autry tunes and boom: instant Christmas magic.
Something exciting happened today. Those of you with dehydrators at home will be thoroughly unimpressed, but for those of us without (and I'll admit I'm now tempted to buy one, but I am in clearing-out mode, damnit, and already have far too many kitchen contraptions), this is pretty rad. 

I made fruit leather. Myself. And so can you. All you need is fruit, and an oven. And if you're kitchen contraption-equipped, a handheld immersion blender makes for a nice accessory to this project.

Here's what you do: 

1. Pick your fruit. As in literally, or as in choose and purchase some. Texas happens to offer precious little in the pick-your-own department; we go hog-wild when we travel Northeast or Northwest in the summer months, picking buckets of blueberries, strawberries and blackberries and then eating ourselves sick because we can't possibly bring them home. But right now, for about five minutes, it's strawberry season here in Tejas. We plan to go picking this coming Saturday, but in the meantime I bought five pints of beautiful, organic, fresh-picked berries at the farmer's market this past weekend. Why so many? Because we eat a lot of berries around here. And I had big, fancy plans for this batch.

2. Chop your berries (two pints is a good starting point, but you could certainly work with more) into small pieces and place in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir frequently until your mixture's simmering and looking a bit soupy. Stir here and there for another five to ten minutes, pressing occasionally on the berries with a slotted spoon (or any spoon) to help release the juices. You want these to simmer gently but not to burn, so use your best judgment and turn the heat down if necessary. This step made my kitchen smell exactly the way I remember my childhood home smelling when my mom made strawberry jam. Divine.

3. Remove the pan from the heat and allow it to cool for a little while. Pre-heat your oven to 175 degrees Fehrenheit, and line a rimmed baking pan with parchment paper. (I keep it real and non-toxic with this stuff.)

4. If you have a handheld immersion blender, go ahead and immersion-blend your berry mixture so it's nice and smooth. If you don't have an immersion blender, mash your mixture with whatever you can -- a food mill, a small seive, or a potato-masher, fork, or whatever. 

5. Pour your berry mixture onto the parchment paper and spread it out so it's uniformly about 1/4 inch thick. If you've filled the parchment and have some mixture left over in the pan, save it in the fridge and make a second batch when the first batch is done. Or line another baking sheet and have at it right away.

6. Put your pan into the oven and let it do its thing. Briefly opening the oven now and then will actually help keep the temperature where you'll want it -- mimicking a real dehydrator -- but I honestly didn't check mine very often at all. You'll want to check on yours after three hours at first. Poke it with a finger. If your finger breaks the thin film that's formed on the fruit leather's surface, and it's still gooey in there, keep it going in the oven for a while longer. Ovens vary, so it could be five or six hours before your leather isn't gooey inside anymore. Just make sure it doesn't burn.

7. When it's finished dehydrating and has the appearance and texture of, well, fruit leather, remove your pan from the oven. After allowing the leather to cool, cut it into strips with kitchen scissors (parchment still on), roll them up (parchment side out) and secure them with twine, rubber bands, scotch tape -- anything you have handy. The leather will keep in an airtight container for a good month, but I guarantee it won't be around that long. Kaspar, as you can see, loved this naturally-sweet, nutritious snack; had I allowed it, he'd have devoured the entire batch this very afternoon. Between the two of us, it'll be gone by tomorrow. (If Aaron wants to try some, he'd better get in there, and fast.)

And that's it. Bam! Fruit leather. Cheaper than the store-bought stuff, for sure, especially if you pick your own buckets full of berries at a local farm. I'm going to try making different flavors now that we've made a successful batch. Mango, maybe? Let me know what fruits you try! 
Kaspar's friend Tessa is turning two, and her birthday party is this afternoon. She loves books and animals, so Aaron went out this morning to choose a book (about animals) for her at our local bookshop, while Kaspar and I stayed home and created some DIY up-cycled gift wrap. 

The inspiration for this project came from  Creative Carmella, but, while I think Carmella's painted photo canvases turned out quite chic and modern, we went for a more rustic, free-form (read: made by a two-year-old) look with our gift wrap. Kaspar, for his part, found his zen of toilet paper roll stamping; he became so absorbed in this activity that we busted out a full five "sheets" of gift wrap -- which I'll no doubt use for holiday gifts in December -- before lunch time. When we'd finished, he admired his work and said, "Tessa will love that I made this." I love that he said that. I also love that we found an awesome use for our rather large stash of paper grocery bags. (I always bring a few of these -- and some canvas bags -- to the store with us, but we somehow always return home with more...)
Want to make some gift wrap, too? Cool. You'll need:

  • Paper grocery bags
  • Cardboard toilet paper rolls
  • Ink pads (we used one that's multi-colored)

For each sheet of wrap, I cut one of the paper bag's corners (where it folds) lengthwise, and then cut out the rectangle bottom (the part that sits on the floor when the bag is full of stuff.) I then trimmed the sheets to what looked like a good size, and lay the bag flat on our kitchen table, print side down. Next, Kaspar simply pressed one end of the toilet paper roll onto the ink pad, and stamped its shape (a circle) onto the bag. Over and over and over again. (Ommmm.)

And here's Tessa's gift!
I love the handmade look! Kaspar's proud of his work, too. Thumbs up all around; this was a cheap and easy project that I can see working well for kids of all ages. (I'll admit I got my toilet paper stamping zen on, too.) Definitely sibling-friendly, and a nice way to save some trees during the holiday season. 

What do you think? Love it? Are you digging back through your recycling bin? What are some other green gift wrapping ideas?
Damn near perfect!
After my initial, tentative success with sewing toddler pants, circa January of this year, I've hashed out a couple of additional pairs, and met with only semi-satisfactory outcomes. The fact that I actually don't know how to sew or read patterns, am at heart a die-hard imperfectionist (measure anything? Bah!), worked from a sub-par tutorial to begin with and immediately decided, after that first pair, that I knew the pants-making process by heart and no longer needed instructions at all... has resulted in a few pairs of weird-fitting -- if wearable -- variations on the pants theme, and many a ripped out seam. Now, it probably wasn't wise to begin some of these sewing projects -- which require thinking about what items will look like when attached to each other and turned right-side-out -- on weekdays after midnight. Also, since I clearly sew recklessly, and with little knowledge -- which requires the aforementioned ripping of seams and, in my case, some literal cutting off of mistakes -- it would probably have been best to approach the learning curve with inexpensive fabrics. But, had I heeded these (arguably obvious) acts of prudence, I wouldn't have encountered the various frustrations -- and their funky outcomes -- that have culminated today in 1) a thorough understanding of how toddler pants are sewn, simply and without a traditional pattern (plus, where it's okay to cheat); and 2) a damn near perfect (finally!) pair of Kaspar trowsers... If I may say so myself. 

I'll just put it out there candidly first that these pants almost didn't happen at all. I meant for them to be pants all along, having bought their fabric for that purpose, but my first attempt at pants this past week (after several months of not sewing at all) did not pan out as planned... and my first thought this morning was that I should perhaps turn the Buddha fabric into a pillowcase and abandon the pants thing altogether. As for the first attempt, I'd tried to make decent pants out of some cute mustache fabric, but had made every single one of the mistakes mentioned above, and -- through sheer force of will (the one benefit of sewing recklessly with expensive fabric is that you'll be far less likely to just throw your half-finished travesties away) -- ended up with an acceptable pair of pajama pants that will fit Kaspar when he's... six? They're not terrible, but I certainly wouldn't have paid $30 for them as they are... and I had wanted to make pants, not pajamas, as thin as the line between those items may be. Have a look:
Not so much! (Sleepwear it is.)
I guess it was the same stubbornness that forced those pajama pants into at least making the sleepwear cut, or maybe my inner psyche knew I had a really good daytime-wear pair within me, but -- for whatever reason -- I did decide to give pants another go with the Buddha fabric today. Having the mustache pair and its arduous process fresh in my mind, I knew what major mistakes to avoid. And remember Jenn from my first (fairly successful) foray into pants-sewing? The one who's sewing machine I inherited? Well, girl is good sewing juju, cuz she came over today, too, and look what happened. Pretty good pants. She was working on a project of her own, but she pep talked me through one stressful, almost-ruined-the-whole-thing moment (and said, tactfully, "Wow, you're brave" when I reflexively cut off some fabric that probably should not have been chopped), and otherwise made the morning fun and relaxing, which is how sewing and crafting and that kind of thing should be. I'm pretty sure it makes for better results, too. (Thanks Jenn!)

After finishing the pants, I wished I'd taken photos throughout the process of sewing them so that I could break it down here on the blog for y'all. There are only a few good pants tutorials out there, but they're far between, and they're not made for reckless sewers who don't know what they're doing (aka people like me). So, photos or no photos, I'm going to break it down for you anyway, and I've even created some little illustrations to help make it all the more clear. (HAHA. Okay, drawing's not quite in my wheelhouse, but I gave it a shot.) 

What follows is a tutorial for making cuffed toddler pants with a contrast-fabric lining, for people who don't know how to sew. If you do know how to sew, you may find these instructions confusing, because I'm not using sewing lingo, or maybe I'm using some sewing lingo improperly. I wouldn't know. 


  • 1-2 yards each (probably one yard each, if you have a tot) of whatever two fabrics you want to use. I'll call your main fabric (the one you want to see the most of -- in my case, this was the Buddha fabric) "Fabric A". I'll call the other fabric -- your lining, cuffs, and waist fabric -- "Fabric B."
  • Sewing machine and thread, pins (basic sewing supplies)
  • Scissors (I used cooking scissors. Most people will advise reserving your various pairs of scissors for their respective purposes.)
  • Enough elastic to fit around your kid's waist

The pre-game: Make your "pattern"/template

Choose a pair of your kid's pants that fit well. Lay them out on a few piece of scrap paper (I used three, lined up vertically), tape the paper together, and trace the around the pants pretty generously. Get the basic shape. Add some length to the legs to allow for cuffs. And add some height between the crotch and waist; all of the pants I made before the Buddha fabric pair barely allowed for Kaspar's butt to fit where it should, and he had to constantly hike them up while playing. Honestly, even the Buddha fabric pair is borderline skimpy on crotch-to-waist distance and could have handled a few more inches of fabric. If it looks weird, remember that you're going to fold the waist over -- so you need the extra fabric there. Here's the pattern I created, laid out under the pants I "traced." I gave a lot of extra wiggle room since those pants are 2T, and K is quickly coming up on 3T. The final product pants actually fit him perfectly right now without much room for growth, too, so I again could have gone bigger. (Don't go totally apeshit with this instruction, or you'll end up with pajama pants for three years from now. Just be generous, especially length-wise on either end, while tracing.)
You want the shape of your paper pattern to look like mine, with that little point and everything. That's gonna be the crotch seam. (If you go too crazy with that little point, though, you'll end up with a weirdly wide crotch, a la the mustache pants.)

Steps 1 and 2: Pin your pattern/template, cut your fabric

Fold Fabric A over onto itself (maybe by a third) and place your pattern along its folded edge as shown, i.e. with it's straight edge along the fabric's folded edge. The side with the little crotch point is NOT along the folded edge. You probably want to pin it in place. Cut around the pattern/template as shown. (Leave the folded edge alone... you're gonna unfold once you have your shape cut out.) Then do this again with fabric A. Then repeat these steps with fabric B. You will end up with four cut pieces of fabric.

Step 3: Pin and sew

Unfold both of your pieces of Fabric A and lay them onto each other, printed sides together (so you'll see the faded sides). Their shape will look a lot like the shape below. (Trust me, this will look like pants soon.) Pin from the crotch points to the waists, then sew as shown (where the dashes in my drawing are). Do this again with Fabric B. Don't forget to put the printed sides of the fabric pieces together. 

Step 4: Look! Almost-pants! A little more sewing.

Open up your sewn pieces (you now have two pieces instead of four) and adjust them until they look almost like pants (as below). Lay them flat. You'll see it. Pin the inseams (I think that's what they're called?) and sew one continuous line to close that sh*t up, as shown. Just where the dashes are. Do this for Fabric A and B. 

Step 5: Insert your lining

Turn your Fabric A "pants" right-side-out, so the printed, more vibrant side of the fabric is now visible, and your stitching is not. Keep your Fabric B pants inside out. Insert your Fabric B pants into the Fabric A pants. You're inserting the lining. Shuffle things around with your hands until the two pants fit relatively evenly together. 

Step 6: Sew your cuffs. With a few (optional) reversible pants notes

Sew your two pairs of "pants" together at the cuffs. But don't sew across the cuffs in a way that will sew your pants SHUT at the cuffs. Go ahead and open those babies up, and sew in a circle. Like, the cuff is a tube. Keep it that way. Just make those fabrics stick together. I tried to render this below, as per the parenthetical "pant leg" and its copy, which reads "Ignore the phallic nature of this drawing. It's a 3D pant leg! Sew the 2 fabrics together at the opening like so -- all the way around." Follow the dashes, people. That's all you have to do. You don't even have to do any fancy folding to hide your work, since you're going to fold the whole shebang into cuffs anyway. BUT, if you want to make reversible pants, this is where you will do things a little differently. Go ahead and Google that. OR don't, because you'll probably still be rolling cuffs up when your kiddo wears the pants, and no one will be the wiser as to where your stitches show. If you've provided enough length in the legs, you'll be able to rock a double cuff roll and pull this off.

Step 7: The waist. A necessary evil.

For your final step, you're going to fold the pants (both fabrics together) over at the waist so you like the look of things, pin in place, and sew almost all the way around. I just let my stitches show here, sewing along the outside, over all that folded fabric, and toward the bottom of the waist's... cuff... Leaving room between the stitches and the top of the pants for an elastic. 

Which brings me to the elastic. Once you've sewn almost all the way around, thread your elastic through the waist-cuff tunnel. I stick a safety pin on one end of the elastic and then just shove this into the 'tunnel,' and push it through a little bit at a time (this is a trial and error, feel-as-you-go maneuver), being sure not to let the other end of the elastic disappear into the tunnel, too. Your elastic should be shorter than your tot's waist is measured around, since you want it to stretch and hold the pants up. Once you've threaded it through and have both ends in hand, sew the elastic onto itself (I overlap its end pieces by several inches before sewing together), and then do your best to sew up the rest of the waist cuff nicely so the elastic is totally contained in the (now closed) tunnel. 

Things might look a little crazy at any number of points in this process; this is where I chopped off a chunk of fabric and almost ruined the Buddha pants. But, it might also be a piece of cake. (I've had easy times of it before.) If it's rough, you can improvise. My elastic was too long and my waist got wiley on the Buddha pants. I had to repin and then deal with my missing fabric chunk after cutting fabric off without thinking it through. I added belt loops (and sewed a makeshift belt thing) to account for any looseness. The loops also covered a few weird-looking waist spots well. (The pants are not "damn near perfect" if you really get down to investigating.) It all worked out in the end.

...Any questions?

And there you have it! Toddler pants! If you're an impulsive and stubborn type like me, go ahead and make your first pair with too-expensive fabric so you'll see it through. Or, if you're wise and more normal and have read through these instructions before actually embarking on your project, get some less-expensive fabric and learn the ropes. After you get the hang of them, toddler pants are easy. Let me know how yours turn out! 
Hooray, it's officially Fall -- my favorite season! We received some long-awaited rain a couple of weeks ago, which turned Texan grasses green again and ushered in some properly autumnal temperatures... for a few days, anyway. Although the thermometer's climbed slightly since, the scorching summer heat appears to have abated, and we've been enjoying these pleasantly warm afternoons outdoors, observing nature's subtle signs that the season is, indeed, changing. 
Kaspar wants to wear his water shoes year-round.
We've been sending up some signals ourselves, as well, to encourage the weather gods along: purchasing pumpkins for our front porch, steeping chai all day in order to fill our home with spice-smells, hanging a fall wreath on our door, and creating a seasonal centerpiece for our table (the centerpiece was all Kaspar -- an entire afternoon's search and assembly went into this activity, by the way; totally recommend). 
Thanks for the lovely wreath, Erin M!
Maybe it's my New Hampshire upbringing talking, but, for my part, I'm all about the leaves at this time of year. In the absence of sweeping hillsides drenched in oranges and reds, my new fall philosophy is 'put a leaf on it' (pretty much just like this Portlandia skit, but with leaves). I impulse-bought leaf-shaped soaps for our bathrooms, enthusiastically encouraged Kaspar's votive-holder choice for our table, and, today, busted out a bottle of bleach for a Put A Leaf On It Pillowcase Project.

Scroll to the bottom of this post for the Before. Observe, Kaspar's perfectly fine pillowcase, already improved upon from its white-with-blue-stripes beginnings during a day of hand-dyeing action way back when. But what better way to further improve upon a job well done than to put a leaf on it, right? (Exactly.) So I gathered my materials. 
Materials: An old towel, an old rag or washcloth, bleach, a sheet of sticky-back vinyl (available at any craft store) and said pillowcase. (You can use anything made of cotton -- t-shirts, kitchen hand towels, backpacks... go crazy... Put a Leaf On It!)

Next, I drew, and cut out, some oversized leaf shapes from the vinyl. You could certainly collect leaves with your kids and trace them onto the vinyl for a more true-to-life Put a Leaf On It project, but bear in mind that super-precise shapes (lots of little points and indents) won't necessarily translate through the bleaching process. (This is why I supersized... but experiment! See what works.)

I then removed the paper backing from the vinyl shapes and stuck them where I wanted them on the pillowcase. I also put the towel, folded, inside the pillowcase, so as to prevent soaking-through when it came time to bleach. You'll notice some stars among my leaves. Because Put a Star on It needs no season, or reason... hence my various star tattoos, general bias toward anything sporting stars and perhaps even our current state of residence. (Stars are EVERYWHERE in Texas. Woot! ... Then again, so are republicans. Whoops.)

The vinyl cutouts on the pillowcase.
(Be sure to press your vinyl shapes down pretty thoroughly. They won't stick as stubbornly as, say, duct tape, but you at least want to give any pointy areas some extra love so the bleach can't creep underneath.) Finally, I wet a corner of my washcloth/rag with bleach and dabbed around each shape. The color started lifting pretty quickly, so I could easily see what I was doing. I also worked efficiently to keep the color from lifting more than I wanted it to, or from getting under the vinyl and blurring my lines.
The bleaching begins.
After a good (immediate) rinse -- during which the vinyl shapes fell off of their own accord -- and a few minutes in the dryer, the pillowcase was finished! I'll wash it before he actually sleeps on it, but here it is (below) on Kaspar's bed. He loves it! 
The After!
How do you spruce things up for the season? What are some fun projects you recommend? Let the Put a Leaf On It rampages commence!
We received a bunch of tomatillos and chiles in our CSA box this week, and made this delicious salsa with dinner this evening.Thought I'd share it with you as an early 4th of July present, so you can bring the big guns to your friendly neighborhood BBQ. Also experimenting with a giant font even my grandma could read. Let me know what you think! Food and font. Have at 'em. 

1. Toss (about) 2 cups husked, sliced tomatillos, 2 whole cloves of garlic and 2 to 3 whole serrano chiles into a skillet. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until tomatillos are soft.

2. Remove chiles and garlic from pan. Thinly slice chiles, and remove garlic from skin (just squeeze it out). Grind both ingredients with a mortar and pestle until they form a paste.
(Don't you love it when men cook?)

3. Mix chile/garlic paste, tomatillos and the juice from 1 lime in a medium bowl. Add 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped, and a handful of chopped fresh cilantro. Salt to taste. Serve with tortilla chips, as a sauce over grilled chicken, or in any way that strikes your fancy. 

Happy Birthday, America! Here's to a future of healthcare, and happiness, for all. 

It’s officially hotter than hell here in Texas, and although we’d already been deep in the thick of it for months at this time last year, the heat has come on strong, and all-of-a-sudden; we’ve hit 105 degrees this week, I believe—maybe higher. Aside from serious brow-furrowing concern about our planet slowly melting and our species not actually being designed to survive very well in raging hot places (like, say, future-Earth), I actually haven’t been too bothered by our recent wave. Air conditioning is SOP in these parts, and I’ve had a bunch of work projects lately, so have been holed away in my cool home office most days. I well remember the cabin fever that last year brought on, though; it started to feel weirdly like a New England winter, when we realized sometime in early August we’d been constantly indoors for months on end. In order to keep that at bay for as long as possible this summer, I’ve been heading outside with Kaspar in the early evenings for brief, but regular, fresh-air escapes. Running around for too long, even at that time of day, is not a great idea, but water play is most welcome with the littles at any time, and especially when it’s steamy.

We’re white-trashing it up with the garden hoses and naked kiddos out on the driveway on the regular, and we’re also finding ways to incorporate water into typically-non-water-related activities, just for fun. One recent accidental discovery occurred when Kaspar and his friend J (of previous Alt-Mama appearance fame) were playing with sidewalk chalk on our front porch; we all went inside to fetch glasses of water (for hydration), and Kaspar (of course) spilled his as soon as we made it outside. The kids started drawing with the chalk in the puddle—which was also basically steaming – and we all marveled at the unique effect the water had on the chalk; its colors were ultra-bold and its application went on thick and paint-like.

So what did we do? We 1) poured our drinking water all over the porch in puddle after puddle, calling each puddle a canvas and creating art that would have made Jackson Pollack proud. Then, 2) the masterpieces changed before our very eyes as the water evaporated and the colors went light again. (There, instructions!) Although it looked, when they were done, like the Muppets had been murdered on our doorstep, the kids had a blast making footprints (both watery and chalky) and handprints, and kept at it for at least an hour before it was bath time (they were both utterly covered in chalk); because there was plenty of water involved – without being outright wasteful, as per the hose – they also stayed cool throughout the endeavor. 

I’m on the lookout for more fun, heat-resistant activities for the summer’s duration; I’ll keep you posted as we create and/or discover them. Now tell me— what are your favorite ways to play and keep cool?

We've finally gotten some rain these past few weeks-- the kind of rain I adore; I prefer all-day downpours to intermittent showers. I also find the Texan response to precipitation pretty amusing. Snowfall-- even a once-yearly dusting-- brings this city to a grinding halt. Rain brings its roadways to a bewildering crawl. How these enormous, made-for-the-military trucks manage to coordinate accidents amongst themselves while going 15 mph on straight, flat highways is a mystery to me. But they do it... bringing the surrounding traffic speeds down to 5 mph as everyone navigates their pickups around the scene... in the *gasp* RAIN. But me? I love the stuff. I love sleeping and waking up to its sound, walking in it, driving in it. Classmates last week (btw, guess who finished massage school classes. This girl!) talked about feeling the rain is depressing. It makes me happy. Maybe I'm wired for the Pacific Northwest, where summers are gorgeous and it rains for months on end. Mmmm. Bliss.

Anyway, we're here now, and it's raining now, and I'm pretty blissed out on Austin's wintertime. The rain's lifted during the past several days-- returning for encores at night-- leaving a dry, cool climate behind. I honestly haven't missed snow in the slightest (I could just never get warm in a Northeast December), and as far as I'm concerned, the outdoors air smells perfectly seasonally appropriate without it. Dry leaves, wind, big skies, a wood stove somewhere. It blends. Train whistles, birds of prey, Christmas lights, sunsets... You should see these sunsets. I don't dare take a photograph. It wouldn't compare. For months this past year, I didn't know what month it was. It got hot in late May and stayed that way for what felt like forever. It never rained. But now, there's no mistaking it. It's time for the solstice, for Christmas, for holidays in Texas land.

There's evidence of this indoors, too. A tree, a wreath, windows strung with lights. Gifts piled and stashed in expected, and unlikely, places. And it smells of Christmas. Today I simmered lime and lemon rinds with whole cloves and a teaspoon (or three) of ground cardamom. (Voila, instructions). The scents deepened and made their winding way through every room in the house. And tonight, I baked some cookies. I'll frost them tomorrow. If you're good, I'll give you my recipe.

I saw a commercial while at the gym the other night-- the gym provides my one legitimate excuse and opportunity for watching bad TV, and its commercials, as we mostly watch movies streamed on Netflix at home-- and saw a commercial for Jolly Rancher hard candies. Giant, colored bubble-words burst across the screen reading: Grape! Apple! Watermelon! Meanwhile the voice-over pimped the candies' "real fruit flavor". I wondered (while elliptisizing my way to nowhere for a significant period of time... Yeah, yeah. Glass houses): why not just eat a grape? Wouldn't that get the real-fruit-flavor job done? Then the commercial ended and I resumed switching between House Hunters International and Sixteen and Pregnant and forgot all about my fruit flavor questions. Yet I was reminded of them again today as I inhaled these real December smells, indoors and out; the leaves, the tree, the wreath, the citrus and cloves. I sure loved me some Glade candles-- and, come to think of it, Jolly Ranchers too-- back when I was a kid; now we don't use synthetic scents in our home at all, because Kaspar's a sensitive dude. And synthetic chemicals kill brain cells, so there's that. The main reason for this, though, is that these days I crave the real thing, whatever the thing happens to be. TV's ideal for gym-time entertainment; I lose myself in an hour of synthetics, of fluff (and formulate plans to move overseas... Where is it always raining?). I get buff doing it brainlessly like that, but that's pretty much all it's good for. Outside of gym time, I don't want to lose myself, or my hours. I want to find these things, to live real life, and savor it with all of my senses. The holiday season, and this darker, rainy, windswept time of year fills itself out with Christmas lights, wood fires and baked treats. Whether it bears formal religious significance for us or not, I think it'd be impossible not to notice that this season makes magic of little things, and declares all experience-- sights, smells, sunsets-- sacred.
Supa-cute Baby E sporting a hand-dyed tee and crib sheet.
For those of you that didn’t catch wind of this, Austin was stupid-hot this summer. Like, days and days and days of 100+ degree heat kind of hot. It was brutal. And although our apartment complex featured a small, shaded pool to which we ventured across the non-shaded parking lot each day around 3 pm (when we just couldn’t take our imprisonment anymore), we eventually grew bored. Of the pool. Of the bathtub. Of crayons. Of crayons on walls. Of all the other air conditioned baby-friendly places in Austin.

Then I got an idea for a project. And a glimmer of hope and transformation shone in the distance, somewhere beside the blinding, blazing hot sun.

Two of my friends were pregnant at the time. Which makes me look pretty lame for bitching about the heat, but hey, it was bad for everyone (though no doubt the worst for them… To be fair, we did extend an open invite to the pool to the Austin Mama… And she sure cashed in, believe you me). One of these pregnant friends was back in New York, too, and she actually inspired my project. I wanted to send her a gift, something that somewhat approximated the in-person girl-date we’d have otherwise had were I not landlocked on the hottest spot on the planet, and wherein I'd take her out for lunch, manicures and the mom-to-be business of good friends. I wanted to make her something that would simultaneously build upon her excitement, welcome her little one, and communicate my love for her whole fam (which would soon expand to three).
Baby E. "before"-- her mom's supa-cute, too, and internet-shy. :-)
And I wanted it to be colorful. So that’s when it came to me: I was going to rock some dye! I was going to mix up colors and let all of the white fabrics I could find just steep in the heat, become saturated and bright and bold. Fuck pastels. These babies—both of them girls—were late-summer arrivals, and August don’t mess. Not in Austin, and not in Brooklyn. Color was called for. Loud and clear.

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We keep our kitchen and bathroom clean out of necessity (and, yes, my profound hatred of cockroaches… which, as it turns out, come in three our four distinct sizes in Texas, and also FLY. A clean kitchen is my first line of defense). Otherwise, honestly, we let the mess of toys, clothes, books—and whatever else finds its way to where it shouldn’t be in the course of daily life-- slowly escalate elsewhere until we can’t take it anymore. Then, every few weeks, we set a morning aside for a thorough “deep cleaning” endeavor: pile-purging, floor-mopping, rug-beating, surface cleaning… the works. I always wonder afterward why we don’t make a more regular routine of this exercise. It’s satisfying! I far prefer our clean, organized home to a messy one. It makes for a more uplifting, inspiring environment, and for a less cluttered state of mind.

That being said, this routine is yet to make its way into a weekly timeslot. This month has been particularly full, and while we’ve done some maintenance-sorting along the way, I decided today that it was time, if not for floor-to-ceiling scrubbing action, then at least for an all-around wipe-down. I discovered soon afterward that our trusty all-purpose cleaner, which we go through at about the same rate as we do coffee, or diapers (awesome made-from-corn, biodegradable diapers, of course), was gone. Empty spray bottle. No more cleaner.

Rather than drop ten bucks on another, I decided to refill the empty bottle with all-purpose cleaner that I made myself. That way, I know it’s natural and effective-- baking soda and vinegar, natural cleaning standby’s, can do anything. And Tea Tree oil has natural antiseptic properties. To sweeten the deal, it’s custom scented with pure essential oils (I seriously might make an OCD about-face, this stuff smells so good. I want to clean everything. Throw that food, Kaspar! Track that mud! Bring it!). And, yes, it’s way cheaper than the pricey—albeit pretty-labeled— store-bought stuff. Which means I have money left over for lotto tickets and beer.

Just kidding. More like coffee and diapers.

And my label’s pretty fly.

Want to make some Greener Cleaner, too? It takes five minutes. Ready? Go!

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