Thursday, May 31, 2012

Family Adventures

A while back I mentioned how I desperately wanted this National Geographic map for my living room. I was pretty bummed to find out they wouldn't ship it to me in England. Good news though--I found a work-around and am now the proud owner of my very own personalized map!

My friend Dani graciously allowed me to ship the map to her house in DC. Then, when Dan was in DC for a conference, he got the map from Dani and brought it back with him as checked luggage.  Hooray!

I can't tell you how much I love this guy! It's a National Geographic political map mounted on cork. It comes with 100 pins to mark the places you've been, hope to go, and more. We already had to order more green pins. Can you tell we love travelling?

We were even able to personalize it. How fun is that?

I blurred out my last name :)
Love it!!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

How Does Your Garden Grow?

We've been having AMAZING weather here in England! I have never seen so many days in a row without rain and with sun. It's unbelievable. I'm not the only one enjoying the sun. My garden is going crazy for it!

I have no idea what these flowers are (aside from the strawberries), but they look and smell incredible. Do you know what they are? I'd love to know!


Playing Hooky With the Hubby

To reward ourselves for two very successful guest visits, Dan and I decided to play hooky yesterday. He took the day off work and I took the day off cleaning bathrooms :) It was fantastic! We stayed in bed until 10:00. He played on the computer and I watched mindless TV for a while, and then we went to an afternoon movie and dinner.

Making popcorn for the movie

Have you been to the movies in the afternoon recently? If not, you really should. It's awesome. No one is there! We had the whole theater to ourselves!

Where's Dan?

There he is!

We saw the Avengers and it was awesome. I am not a big comic book fan, but it didn't matter at all. I've seen the Thor and Captain America movies, so I was at least familiar with some of the characters. The Iron Man series is now on my must-see list. I was really surprised by how much I liked Robert Downey Junior's character.

After the movie we went to dinner at a vegetarian Indian restaurant called Prashad. Apparently this restaurant appeared on a Gordon Ramsay TV competition called "Ramsay's Best Restaurant" in 2010.

We had pethis (spicy coconut balls in a potato dough); papadom and chutneys; paneer massala (Indian cheese in an onion base); chole (chick peas in a tomato and onion base); and mango lassis (a sweet yogurt drink).


All in all, it was a fun, relaxing day, and was just what we needed!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

DIY Bags: Now With Lining!

Sorry I've been absent for so long.  Let me just clear away the cobwebs and we'll get back to it. Dan and I have been running a little Bed and Breakfast for the past two weeks. First we had my good friend and former bridesmaid Abigail visit. Then, the day after she left, my in-laws joined us. They left yesterday, so now I have time to sort through the 400 pictures I took while they were here!

In the meantime, let me tell you about a little sewing project that Abigail and I worked on: double-sided gift bags. I'm really getting into this now! It's so fun to pick out fabric and turn it in to something fun and useful. It's a whole new world for me.

DIY Gift Bag

Abigail doesn't know how to sew but thought it would be fun to learn. On the day she arrived, we went into town and stopped by my favorite fabric store. We spent more than an hour oogling all the fabric choices. I already knew how to make a simple gift bag, but the kind ladies at the shop gave me some tips for how to line the inside of the bag with a coordinating fabric.

When we got home, we tested out the new technique on some scrap fabric. The first thing we did was measure and cut two equal strips of the fabrics.

Then we sewed them together across the horizontal seam on the "bad" side of the fabric. This picture shows them facing up. 

Here's where we learned our first lesson. You should pin your "inside" fabric (the one you want as the liner) on top of the "outside" fabric. We did it the opposite way in our test run and it meant that inside fabric peeked out a little bit when we were making our hem.

Next, fold the fabric in half vertically and sew along three sides, keeping the top of the inside fabric open.

Turn the whole thing inside out and sew the last side closed. At this point I was confused how it would turn into a bag, but stay with me. It does!

Now push the inside lining down into the outside fabric. They should fit right into each other, forming a lined bag!

Home-made lined gift bag

Hem the top, just like you do for a regular bag and you're done!

Our practice round went so well that we went for it with our real fabric.

My super girly fabric choices

Iron at every stage! It helps!

I made a quart-sized bag to hold all of my bits and bobs in my purse. I love having my lipstick, advil, vaseline, and other odds and ends in one easy-to-access place.

I also made little gifts for my mother-in-law and sister-in-law. Rose, my mom-in-law, got a small drawstring pouch that she now uses for holding her daily vitamins. Amy, my sis-in-law, got a home-made iPod case. I think this one turned out pretty cute.

DIY iPod case

And the sewing adventures continue!

Friday, May 18, 2012


Ok, so it's only 45ºF here with a wind chill of 39ºF, but it's still starting to seem a bit like summer. Why? Because of these!

How amazingly juicy do those guys look? These are fresh from a farmer's market and they taste even better than they look.  I also got fresh blueberries in my Abel and Cole box this week, so things are looking up. Yes I'm still wearing my winter jacket. And yes, it's rained every day for the past few weeks. But, we've got lambs, fresh fruit and tons of flowers. I'll take it!

This makes me smile

Cherry blossoms on the Stray

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Wine and Cheese Party

A couple of months ago Dan and I hosted a small wine and cheese party. I found a deal on Groupon for a six-person wine tasting for only £19. It included a guide who comes to your house and samples twelve wines. What a steal!

The party was supposed to be just a casual get-together with friends. You know that's not how I roll though. It's a sickness. We bought four kinds of specialty cheese, plus one round of Camembert that we baked with an onion chutney. We made bruschetta , artichoke dip, beet chutney, and these AMAZING cupcakes. One of the guests also brought hummus and veggies and I set out some fruit and crackers.

This picture does not do it justice; it was delicious!

This party was a great excuse to try out my new chalkboard platter! I love the way it looks, but I did have some issues with chipping. I have to solve that before I use it again.

The wine sampling was really fun. Our guide, Ray, was knowledgeable and interesting. I didn't love any of the wines, but the other two couples did. They ended up buying a ton of wine at really reasonable rates.

It was such a fun evening. I definitely want to have another wine and cheese party soon!

Monday, May 14, 2012

DIY Gift Bags

My friend Olivia, a professional seamstress, is teaching me how to sew. I am so excited to be learning a new skill and am having a great time thinking of easy sewing projects! I finally conquered the pillow with my S.O.S. gang, so I felt fairly confident in taking on a new task. Going back to the States for a few weeks seemed like the perfect opportunity to make little gift bags and fill them with some Yorkshire goodies.

My handmade gift bag

Olivia convinced me that these draw-string bags wouldn't be that hard to make; now that I'm on the other side of this project, I can confirm that she's right. It's great for beginners. I wouldn't say that mine are perfect (at all!), but they are charming in that home-made kind of way.

The first step of making the bags is to pick out the fabric. This was my favorite part. There's a cute little fabric store near me that is quickly becoming my new hang-out. The staff is really friendly and the prices are fairly reasonable. It's way smaller than a JoAnn's back home, but it works for what I need.

Once you've got the fabric, then you need to figure out what size you want your bags. Give yourself more room than you think you need--especially if, like me, you're just starting out. My seam allowances were really out of whack because I was nervous about getting too close to the edge. That meant that in the end my bags were just a touch too small.

Measure twice, cut once

I cut out two squares per bag and pinned them in place. Make sure you put the two "good" sides together. Once it's sewed, you'll flip it inside out so the seams are hidden inside.

Then I sewed three of the four sides and flipped it right-side out.

They're starting to look like bags

Then I folded the material on the top and ironed the hem to make it easier to sew. I hate ironing, but trust me, it really helps. Once the crease is pressed sew all the way around the inside edge.

Unfortunately, here's where things started to go wrong. I mentioned earlier that I didn't make my bags big enough. This meant that I didn't have enough material for a proper hem. For the draw-string to be most effective, the ribbon needs to have plenty of clearance. Because I wasn't sewing 100% straight, and because I had to make the hem small anyway, my ribbon couldn't make it through. I ended up having to cut the sides to allow the ribbon to pop out.

This was one of my better hems

If you measured correctly though, use a seam ripper to take a couple of stitches out the side so you can get the ribbon through the top hem. The easiest way to get the ribbon through is by tying it to a safety pin and threading it through.

Thread your ribbon with a safety pin

I filled my bags with Yorkshire tea sachets and some British candy. It was a fun little treat to give my friends and family back home. Trust me, if I can do this, you can do it! I'd love to see what you can do. Post your creations in my comments section!

DIY draw-string bag

Friday, May 11, 2012

Sending Out an S.O.S.

Earlier this week my S.O.S. friend Katie sent out an S.O.S. for a project in which she was drowning. She inherited a kitchen table and chairs that were originally meant for indoor use. Unfortunately, these guys had been sitting outside for a while and were in pretty bad shape. Her plan was to sand them down and start over by priming and painting them with outdoor paint. It was a huge job though and she quickly realized she couldn't do it alone.

By the time I got to her with my power sander, she had already finished the table top and base. Our job was to tackle the four chairs. It took us a couple of hours to peel off the layers of dust, paint and mold. We were literally covered head to toe in saw dust by the end of it! I had dust in my eyelashes, for goodness sake!

You can't tell, but I'm smiling under the mask

I don't have any after pictures for you, so you'll just have to stay tuned. Trust me when I say that it's going to be awesome though. Katie plans to use VERY bright, bold paints. I cannot wait to see how it turns out! In the meantime, a picture is worth a thousand words: