Wednesday, April 23, 2014

How I Learned to Make Dolls (Plus an Unsolicited Plug for Wee Wonderfuls)

For my daughter's first Christmas, I really wanted to make her a doll. I'm not sure why this desire was so strong (although it was probably partly because we were kind of poor and partly because my friend Becky had just posted some doll hair tutorials and some really beautiful dolls that she'd made, and I wanted to be as cool as she is).

The problem was I couldn't really sew. All the tutorials you can find require some kind of knowledge of special stitches and junk like that, and I just couldn't quite figure out what they were talking about. I finally settled on a tutorial for a Black Apple doll for that first attempt. She was cute, but if you looked closely, she was barely holding together. The seams were shabby, the limbs were sewn on badly, I didn't know how to do a ladder stitch so I couldn't make the stitches invisible, etc. I made her a scarf to cover up the mistakes I made sewing her head on. Luckily, CB was only 5 months old and not very discerning.

Despite my only sort of successful attempt, I really enjoyed the process of turning unloved fabric scraps into something cute and lovable. I really wanted to learn to do it well, and I wanted to learn in time for the day when my daughter would have opinions about how they should look. A few months later, after reading lots of reviews and doing lots of searching around for something that I thought would be easy enough for my skill level without being boring,  I ordered Wee Wonderfuls: 24 Dolls to Sew and Love because it had some tutorials on how to do the actual stitches and had lots of different patterns so I could learn some different skills and hopefully start customizing a little someday.

Over the next few months I pulled out scraps here and there and put together a few toys that CB really loves.

 I had to make this bear by hand because I was afraid of trying to sew this fuzzy stuff in my sewing machine. He was made from the leftovers from the less-successful crib covers that I made for my daughter's crib so she wouldn't chew on it. (She still does, but she likes this bear, and the covers make it less evident that the crib looks like a beaver got to it.) He was much cuter when he was new than he is now. She chewed off his nose as well.

Kitty's face took a couple of attempts and her tiny dress was a struggle, but she is well-loved now, despite her terrible seams. I have re-attached her head and legs once, and the head is starting to look a bit loose again. 

These sleepover pals have crazy wide-set eyes, but they get hauled all over the place. CB gives them to her bigger dolls so they can have babies. 

So after I'd made a few of these projects, I really wanted something I could customize a bit more. I downloaded another pattern (again from Wee Wonderfuls because I'd had good luck with her patterns in the book and had been drooling over her amazing doll hair for more than a year) and made a doll to match CB's Easter dress using the scraps. 

A side note: sewing round things (like heads) is hard. Now that I've done three of these dolls it's a little less intimidating, but good heavens it was scary the first time. 

The tricky part about making a doll for a toddler is that they know before you even make it into an actual doll what the parts are going to be, and then they steal the doll before you are finished. I've given up on hiding this baby until Easter. 

Doing the doll hair is fast becoming my favorite part of this process. It's lots of painstaking pinning and stitching (which took some time to figure out, especially the first time around - eventually I kind of sewed out from the center like spokes of a wheel to do the back of the head) but I love the results and the process of making it come together.

I used this brief tutorial and many others I'd been reading on this website and others to get this hair style.  I was going for this look. 

Faces are still a work in progress for me. I didn't like how the ones on the pattern were turning out for me, so I did my own. I want to play with the look a little more, but my limited embroidery skills make trying out anything fancy on a finished doll when a mistake could ruin the whole thing pretty terrifying. 

After finishing CB's doll, I made these big sister/little sister dolls for a friend who has a 5 year old and is expecting another little girl. Keeping them away from CB was extra tricky. 

Little sister's hair came from this tutorial, big sister's from this picture, because by then I had kind of figured out how to make it work. My doll's hair turned out totally different because the yarn was a different texture, but I think I ultimately decided I like it. 

I never could decide whether or not these ladies needed noses, so in the end I left them off. 

CB is now in the throes of major stuffed animal love, and she ADORES these babies and animals, especially the latest one. She makes them dance and hauls them all over the house, and I love the feeling of knowing I made her something that she enjoys - especially because I made pretty much all of them out of leftover scraps from various projects my mom and I have worked on over the years. I like using little bits of old projects to make something new. 

Mostly though, I love that I can still learn new things. Three plus years out of college, sometimes it feels like I am stagnating, even though I know I'm learning a lot about taking care of children, and I still read and learn things every day. It's nice to feel like I can pick up a new skill just because I decide to do it, and I can create something that makes me and at least one tiny person happy, and I can make actual, visible progress at something. 

What new things are you learning to do? (And if you decide to learn to make dolls and want to talk about it, shoot me a comment or an email!) 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Because I Can.

Five years ago, the movie The Wizard of Oz celebrated its 70th year of its existence. That year they re-released a special version in theaters for one night and my grad school roommates (including our Lovely Author Meg) and I spent a magical evening with Dorothy and her crew.

A few nights ago my husband and I were watching TV when a commercial touting The Wizard of Oz's 75th anniversary came on. It triggered memories of that 70th anniversary and I filled Sam in on what a fabulous experience it was. As we chatted about what a great experience it was for a few minutes, a thought popped into my head. "Why exactly did I decide to go in the first place, though?" The answer, luckily, popped into my head almost instantly:

Because I could.

I do not have the luxury in my life to do any little passing whim or fancy that enters my head. I do, however, have the luxury of acting on quite a few of them. Why?

Because I can.

Last week I took my eight-month old son to the National Gallery of Art and spent almost the entire time sitting on a couch in one room with him. Why? Because I could.

One night in college, my roommates and I ate dinner while sitting on the floor around our coffee table, in an attempt to recreate a scene from the movie Sabrina. Why? Because we could.

From the ages of 2-3, I have been told that I used to eat finger-fulls of straight butter. Why? This one I don't actually remember too well myself, but I am assuming it was because I was two and I could get away with things like that. In other words, because I could.

I made my own wedding bouquet. Why? Because I could.

For about 3/4 of my life I slept with my head at the foot of my bed (I only stopped when I got married and things would have gotten weird snuggling with my husband's feet). Why? Because I could.

When my sisters and I were younger, we insisted on sleeping outside on our trampoline at least once a week in the summers, even though we would all inevitably roll to the middle and sleep on top of each other and our dad notoriously "forgot" to turn the sprinklers off (set on a timer for some unholy hour of the morning) every single time. Why? Because we could.

This past presidential election, I voted. Why? Because I could.

In grad school I used to time myself running down the stairs from my office on the 7th floor of the library down to the ground floor. Why? Because I could.

The night that my son was born, I refused to put him down for more than seven hours after I finally got to hold him. Why? Because I could.

There is so much in life that we simply cannot do. There isn't enough money, enough time, enough space, enough skill, enough energy, enough anything to do the things that we want. But rather than dwell on the things we can't do, why can we not remember the things we do get to do- the things we get to do just because we can!

Friday, April 18, 2014

So You're Cooking Dinner For Your Mother-In-Law: Dos and Don'ts and Recipe Ideas

The other day I was talking to my friend who is living with her in-laws for a few weeks while she waits for her apartment to be renovated. I asked her how it was going and she said she had been working hard to cook for them every night but could tell that her mother-in-law didn't like anything she made.

That's something I think everyone can relate to. It's a high pressure situation, cooking for someone who spent 18 years making homemade bread for their precious son to whom you are now feeding frozen pizzas. Last time I cooked for my mother-in-law she told me she liked how "simple" all my meals were. I think that was probably the nicest thing she could find to say about my cooking.

So I came up with a fabulous idea to collect recipes that are sure to impress someone that's a much better cook than you are, but are secretly very easy to make. I've also included a few dos and don'ts for cooking for your mother-in-law to help the process go a little smoother.

Depending on who you're cooking for and how many pounds of red meat they're used to consuming daily you could switch it up and add less tortellini and throw some sausage in there instead. Hide your crockpot and pretend you slaved all day over this delicious soup. Leave your pasta maker on the counter for her to see and silently wonder if you made your own tortellinis.

Don't go vegetarian. This is of course subjective to the particular party but in my general experience, in-laws, especially fathers-in-law, don't appreciate going from red meat to tofu wraps and a side of kale chips.

Another recipe to hide your crockpot for.  The turkey comes out so juicy, tender, and flavorful, your mother-in-law will think you started a marinade the night before. Go ahead and let her think it.

Do keep calm and collected like the Barefoot Contessa at all times. You don't want your mother in law hearing you curse from the kitchen while you try to whisk egg whites.

Italian Chicken, Potatoes, and Green Beans

This one can be tricky.  If your mother-in-law is an avid pinterest-er she may have seen this recipe floating around and your cover will be blown. Spend the hour that this dish bakes in the kitchen clanging around pots and pans and shouting stuff like, "Just de-boning this free range, organic chicken!" and "Tenderizing meat is hard work!" The end result will taste so good, she'll believe everything you were saying in there.

This one doesn't have a link but is really not much of a recipe, just throw 4 raw chicken breasts, raw cubed red potatoes and green beans in a 9x13 dish. Sprinkle with a packet of Italian Seasoning and top with a melted stick of butter. Cover with foil and bake at 350 for one hour.

Don't serve ethnic food. Maybe some mothers-in-law out there love ethnic food but, in my experience, their generation didn't cook a lot of ethnic food. Plus, there's nothing more humiliating than watching your mother-in-law sweat over a spicy tikka masala that you probably shouldn't have served but she's too polite not to finish.

It's nice to go with a classic staple meal that has a bit of a twist that makes it not so ordinary. You can say lofty, superior things like, "We don't make spaghetti for our kids. Everyone eats spaghetti. We eat bowtie lasagna."

Do pull your husband into the bathroom before dinner and threaten him into lavishly complimenting your cooking during the entire meal. If necessary, make him a list of acceptable compliments to read out every five minutes. Example: "Wow, I didn't know my wife could be talented at everything but I guess she is!"

This would go well with any of the meals listed above and is one step above garlic bread so you can't be faulted with preparing boring side dishes. Also it's smothered in cheese so you really can't go wrong. Everyone loves cheese.

Do remember to prepare side dishes and a dessert. This way your mother-in-law might be fooled into thinking this is something you regularly do for your family. Instruct children not to question the presence of extra dishes and pretend you roast asparagus as a side dish for them every night.

This is my favorite cake recipe because it's just a cake mix from the store with a few extra things thrown in but it tastes so good. Bury the cake mix box deep in the garbage and no will ever know the difference.

Don't try out a recipe for the first time when cooking for your mother-in-law. Last time I tried this, my dessert exploded in her oven.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Guest Post: Kristi's Five Fantastical Lessons on Life

Today's guest post is by Kristi, Meg's totally awesome sister-in-law. She lives in Texas and is a computer programmer, but she's also an awesome chef, a sci-fi fan, and a mom to a very cute toddler. She and Megan sometimes post recipes on Sisters-in-Long, although not lately (probably Megan's fault for being lazy about taking food pictures). Enjoy! 

I had this fantastic opportunity to stay home with my baby for the first few months of her life, and I loved absolutely every minute. I’ve worked consistently since I was fourteen, so a chance to set my own schedule, have all the laundry clean at the same time, and to take a nap every day was sort of like a home-run for me. Then, suddenly and without warning (pause for dramatic effect), two horrible things happened! I had to return to work AND my child stopped sleeping for 20 hours a day.

As you may imagine, the inevitable happened – gone was the closet of clean laundry, gone were the carefully sculpted meals with coordinating desserts, gone were the (it must be said) naps. Let’s all take a moment of silence for the downfall of my beloved naps. …. Very quickly, I had to learn to adapt to my increased time constraints in order to avoid drowning in my husband’s dirty socks. I’m actually kidding about the dirty socks -he rarely wears socks. The following are five lessons I learned the hard way that are applicable to all of us, regardless of where we are in our lives:

1. Plan to Fail
I know people generally plan in order to succeed, but one day, you’re going to be [sick|cold|tired|busy|bored|angry|sad|hungry|purple|allergic to everything|late|the other kind of late|generally unwilling to keep calm and carry on]. It is going to happen. In these moments of weakness, we tend to blow budgets on conveniences, fall behind on housework, and generally don’t function as we might otherwise. The key is to prepare for these times of need. Do the laundry before you need it. Keep a stack of paper plates and silverware in case of “If I have to do dishes, I will have to start kicking people” moments. Hide chocolate in places no one else in the family will look (like the bottom of a box of feminine products). When you cook, try to think of ways to use leftovers to reduce your kitchen time – our chicken fajita leftovers go into a jar of curry for Indian food the next night. Leftover roasted chicken becomes chicken salad. This tip leads directly into the next:

2. The Freezer is your Best Friend
I know you thought it was that friend you’ve been through hail and high water with, but you are completely wrong. Can your friend have dinner on your table in about fifteen minutes? Probably not. Your freezer, however, is there for you in your time of greatest need. Keep at least two freezer meals on hand, and it will actually be faster than making a run to the nearest fast food place. For my family, it’s frozen turkey meatballs for spaghetti and delicious breakfast sausage for ‘breakfast for dinner’. I don’t plan to make either of these meals, but I know that any given day is going to turn into a nightmare, so it’s good to know that the freezer has my back. Also, ice cream.

3. Nobody cares if your House is Dirty 
And if they do care, you shouldn’t care about them. I’m serious. Take them off the Christmas card list, defriend them on Facebook, and otherwise pretend they don’t exist. Very rarely are all of the rooms in my house clean simultaneously. They get cleaned, yes, but on a rotating schedule. For some people, this is a sign of failure, a sign that the world is ending. To those people, I have this to say: stop. Just stop. Take a deep, relaxing breath, and let go of your 1950’s photo-opportunity home. If it is making you ill to get it, if your children are being ignored in pursuit of magazine cleanliness – let it go. Housework is important, but let’s all be a little more Zen about it. If you are able to successfully juggle all of your commitments AND keep a spotless home, well, shut up – no one likes you anyway and we all talk about you behind your back.

4. Be Honest with Yourself 
I have an ‘Almost No Crafts’ policy. People are sometimes taken aback by this. I’ll go to a church or social function with crafts, and I will often refuse to participate and opt to sit around and chat and do nothing. The reason is simple – if it isn’t a craft I can finish in a short time span, I KNOW I will never finish it. Ever. It will sit in a closet and fill me with guilt and anger and hatred, and I will rue the sight of pom poms and pipe cleaners and reclaimed toilet paper rolls. I derive no joy from the craft itself and frustration from incomplete ones – so I rarely, rarely craft. In so doing, I have freed myself from a needless time suck and sore spot in my life – Pinterest be darned.

We all have things like this in our life. Maybe it’s starting a reorganization project you know you won’t finish, or redoing a bathroom. Perhaps it’s an exercise class you rarely attend, vegetables you buy because they are healthy but you hate, or sending Christmas cards to the people you stopped caring about in Item 3. Be honest – if something isn’t adding value to your life, and more especially if it’s costing money, time, or happy thoughts, let it go. 

5. Opportunity Cost is Still Cost
We all need peace. People who don’t find peace generally end up on the evening news, and not in positive stories. In an accounting class, we learned about opportunity cost – the value/cost you miss out on by doing something else. If you have chocolate cake instead of ice cream, that delicious bowl of frozen goodness was your opportunity cost. If you decide to take a nap instead of going out with your friends, the fun bonding time with your girlfriends was the opportunity cost. Get it?

 If you start looking at your life in terms of opportunity cost, you can become better equipped to make decisions. Yes – that home-cooked kale vegan something or other meal would be healthier for your family than meatballs and spaghetti, but if you’ve had a horrible day or are generally tired, think about the opportunity cost. Kale (which I love btw) or extra time to read stories with your toddler? Maybe the toddler time will add more value to your life. Kale (I really do love it, I’m not lying) or non-relaxing time watching crap on television? Maybe the kale (still loving it) is a better use of your time.

 I can’t tell you what’s more important for yourself, but if you take a minute to think about the opportunity cost of your daily activities, you’ll do a better job of getting some of that much-needed peace and making sure your life is filled with value-added activities.

So, there you have it. Five lessons I learned quickly when life sort of threw me in the blender. When all else fails, just emulate the British and Keep Calm and Carry On. Also, ice cream.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Feel All the Things

I've always been the type of person who doesn't just like things.  I kind of LOVE things.  I find something I like and I delve in deep until I know everything there is to know about that thing or until I get distracted by a new thing to love or until I get a little lazy.  In this way, my laziness actually keeps me sane.  It's all about balance.

I also have always been the type of person who doesn't just feel things.  I FEEL ALL THE THINGS. If you cry, I cry.  If you're happy, I'm happy.  I want everyone around me to be comfortable because that's what makes me comfortable.  I can't watch American Idol (or most other reality TV contests) because I become physically uncomfortable watching other people embarrass themselves.

Recently, thanks to some crazy good books and television, I've been worried about how involved I get with certain fictional people and situations.  I read something or watch something that is so good and so REAL and so intense that I spend more of my real life time than I should processing what happened and why it happened and whether or not the reactions of certain characters was plausible (I'm looking at you, Sherlock) and so on and so forth.  Really, I think a lot of this is because the creators and authors of these fictional worlds and characters have gotten so good at what they do that it can be difficult to separate the real world and the land of fiction.  But, a part of me was definitely thinking that my obsessiveness was due, in part, to my singledom.  I convinced myself that I have time to over-think all the fake stuff because I don't have enough real stuff to over-think (this post, if anything, proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am an over-thinker). 

All this changed after talking to my friend, Jamie, and having a spirited conversation about the merits of Logan Echolls and why Veronica and Logan are MFEO.

 Do you see that look?  That's true love, people.

We also talked a bit about this article. It talks about how fictional characters are unhealthy love interests.  I don't agree with all of it because I think it's casting a pretty wide net.  I don't think ALL women who obsess over Mr. Darcy or Edward Cullen or The Doctor are unable to develop stable relationships.  They are out there, but they are not me.  Also, this quote:

According to the Jehovah’s Witnesses Official Website, from statistics published by the Romance Writers of America, “the three primary traits that readers look for in heroes are muscles, handsomeness, and intelligence”.

"Muscles, handsomeness, and intelligence?" In that order?  I am intrigued by the study that produced such statistics, but I digress. There are those fictional characters, though, that are kind of irresistible, and as this article points out, most of the time they are dark, brooding men reformed by love (once again, I'm looking at you, Sherlock).  There may be nothing more exciting than that.  That isn't to say I want to meet a dark, brooding man (who is usually also egotistical, maniacal, or has some history of violence or the tendency to lose his temper) in real life and reform him.  That actually sounds like the worst thing and really difficult and kind of heart breaking just working through the drama that would be involved.  Living vicariously is part of the excitement.  Excitement once removed?  Sure.  That could be a thing.

The best part of this entire article and the conversation with Jamie, is that I realized I was not alone in my obsessions.  I no longer feel bad for over-caring about the lives of fake people.  Or for doing a tiny bit (hours) of follow-up research.  This is a real thing and it has nothing to do with what is happening in my real life, but more to do with my character.  I FEEL things and I care about people in real life, it only seems natural that those traits would lead to me feeling things and caring about people in fake life.  So, for those of you out there wondering why you can't stop thinking about the latest episode of amazing television or why you are still emotionally exhausted from reading your latest awesome book, you are not alone.  We are all a little crazy, but it's just because we care.