WHOOOO can make an Owl baby mobile? You can!

Guess what? It's a guest blog about a sewing project! This comes from my dear friend Andrea over at The Strategic Homemaker. Andrea and I met very soon after both of us moved to southwest Virginia - we moved from across the state line, whereas she and her husband moved from across the world after a year of teaching English in Asia! Our friendship has grown over such things as picking cherries and berries, cookbooks, being handy and thrifty around the house, becoming next door neighbors, and especially sewing! I'm excited that she's sharing her expertise here.
PS. She very politely refers to folks who are frightened of applique. That was me ... until she taught me how! Thanks, Strategic and Helpful Homemaker!

Several years ago, Mrs. Rhymes with Smile taught me how to sew. I have advanced beyond that first t-shirt quilt, so I am very excited to be guest posting here about a recent sewing project.

I had talked about making a sailboat baby mobile on my own blog here, but here is another idea, and, really, your options for baby mobiles are limited to your imagination.  

This sweet girl’s mama had planned her nursery and displayed this mood board on her family blog. 

Seeing the little owl pillow on the board, I was like, “Hey, an owl mobile would fit right in.” Owls may seem a bit on the creepy side, especially if you watch Youtube videos of owls spinning their heads more than 360 degrees, but this little girl’s room had a lot of Dr. Seuss books, so the owls fit right in with the various characters, and I think they turned out pretty cute.

I designed them to match the pillow. I drew a boxy rectangle pattern with a hint of ears on a piece of paper, and used this pattern to cut out ten fabric pieces to the same shape. Then I decorated five of these pieces with applique to look like owls. 

Some people I know are intimidated by applique. DO NOT BE! You just iron this stuff called Wonder under onto the wrong side of your fabric, and then you cut it into whatever shape you want, basically making your own iron-on stickers for fabric. I usually blanket stitch in a matching colored thread around the ironed-on fabric to give it a finished look, but some of the pieces I used for these owls were small, so I just used a straight stitch a couple of millimeters inside the edge of the fabric.  This ended up looking really good too.

Another reason I like applique is that is uses really small pieces of fabric, so I get to use my scraps, and I hardly ever need to buy any fabric.

Anyway, once you finish decorating the owl fronts, you place your two sides right sides together and sew around the edge, leaving a gap of a couple inches on the bottom. Turn the owls right side out through the gap. Stuff them, and hand stitch the gap closed. Then you knot some thin ribbon and hand stitch the knot to the top of your owl.  Now you can hang your mobile on whatever you want. I used an upside-down plant basket.

Here is the finished product!

I was hoping to have a picture of it hanging up in the baby’s room, but  alas, the family is moving to a new state in a month, and will save it to hang there. 

Let me know if you make one of these, or if you design your own baby mobile to make!


The Mister and Me

1 dog
2 daughters
3 states
4 gardens
5 houses
6 jobs
7 years

Happy anniversary, Mr. Rhymeswithsmile!


Ginger Crinkles

Yay!  Another guest post - and this one is from my sweetwonderfulfunnyawesomelovely Cousin Becky!  She lives in DC and saves babies on her day (night) job, and does rockin' things like visit the White House, rock climb, and visit me on her time off.  Not only am I thankful to call this girl family (which means she's stuck with the likes of me), I'm so pleased that she sent me this recipe to share!  I have to say though, I'm a little afraid that with all these wonderful guest posts that you've been getting, you're going to stop reading rhymeswithsmile once the holidays are over and we're back to crock pot meals and soup.  
I mean, really.
Who wouldn't want to try a recipe on a guest post by this gal?
Ginger Crinkles 
A recipe from the White House Pastry Kitchen
8 oz (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups packed brown sugar
2 whole eggs
1/3 cup molasses
2 tsp fresh ginger, grated
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1 tsp dried ginger
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 cup granulated sugar (for dipping)

1. Preheat over to 350 degrees
2. Beat butter and brown sugar in large mixing bowl until creamy.
3. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
4. Add molasses and fresh ginger.
5. Combine flour, baking soda, ground ginger, cinnamon, and salt in a small mixing bowl.
6. Add the flour mixture to large mixing bowl, and stir until combined.
7. Use a small spoon to scoop cookies into small balls, dip in 1/4 cup of granulated sugar, and place on parchment lined baking sheet sugar side up.
8. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes or less if you like them chewy.
9. Remove from oven and allow cookies to rest for 2 minutes before removing from cookie sheet.
Yields 30-36 cookies.

Remember when I went to Europe a couple of summers ago?  It was with this gal.  Read about it here, if you like ... 


Gram's Secret

Many thanks to Cammy for her willingness to guest post today!  I can't wait to try this tip out (as soon as I start cooking again ... maybe next month.)

Secrets.  80+ years of secrets.  My grandmother has had many years to figure out tricks and secrets in life that just work.  It has been a well know fact, in my family, that somehow when Grandma makes a dish with chicken in it, it is so full of flavor, and what she does changes the flavor of an entire dish!  Gram will say that the way you cook the chicken is the key to the whole dish.  Family members have asked for her "secret".  Humbly she shrugs and says, "Oh, I just brown it in a pan."  Well let's just say those directions have never yielded good results for me ... every time my chicken tastes ... well ... not like Grandma's. Several months ago family was together to celebrate the arrival of my nephew.  One night as Gram was making dinner the ladies hovered over her to see what her idea of "browning" is.... and so we got it!  I've done this since then and wow ...

So here is what she does:

This applies to all kinds of chicken (boneless and skinless), and is done even when the chicken will have some sort of a sauce in a dish.
Take whatever chicken pieces and put them into some sort of a large pot.

Add in several cloves of fresh chopped garlic and at least half an onion coarsely chopped.

Add enough oil so that there is somewhere between 1/4 to 1/2" of oil in the pan. The idea is  not to have the chicken covered in oil/deep fried, but much more than just lightly pan fried.  (I have only ever used coconut oil, but I'm sure any other oil you would use to pan fry chicken would work as well). 

Turn the heat to medium high and cover. Allow chicken to cook like this for around 15-20 minutes, flipping after one side has some brown areas on it.  

Note: It should look similar to the picture but if the chicken is going to go in another dish and continue to cook then you don't have to worry about it being cooked all the way though.

So there it is ... the secret -well, her secret - on adding flavor to all of her dishes. I'm sure I would have figured this out one day on my own, but most likely not for another 50 years. I'm so thankful for Gram's secrets and tricks of the trade.


Holiday Sweets 5: Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies

Creamy peppermint buttercream sandwiched between chocolate shortbread-like cookies: Oh. My. Truly divine. Plus, they are so pretty rolled in the crushed candy canes. Requires a splurge on time (and butter!) but you will be so glad you did. Try to save a few to share with others. ~Mary

Chocolate Candy Cane Cookies

Yield: Makes about 18 sandwich cookies

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 large egg

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 teaspoon peppermint extract
2 drops (or more) red food coloring

1/2 cup crushed red-and-white-striped candy canes or hard peppermint candies (about 4 ounces) FYI: I prefer the candy canes crushed a little finer than shown in the photo

For cookies:
Whisk flour, cocoa, and salt in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in large bowl until well blended. Beat in egg. Add dry ingredients; beat until blended. Refrigerate dough 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop out dough by level tablespoonfuls, then roll into smooth balls. Place balls on prepared baking sheets, spacing about 2 inches apart. Using bottom of glass or hands, flatten each ball to 2-inch round (edges will crack). Bake until cookies no longer look wet and small indentation appears when tops of cookies are lightly touched with fingers, about 11 minutes (do not overbake or cookies will become too crisp). Cool on sheet 5 minutes. Transfer chocolate cookies to racks and cool completely.

For filling:
Using electric mixer, beat powdered sugar and butter in medium bowl until well blended. Add peppermint extract and 2 drops food coloring. Beat until light pink and well blended, adding more food coloring by dropfuls if darker pink color is desired. Spread 2 generous teaspoons filling evenly over flat side of 1 cookie to edges; top with another cookie, flat side down, pressing gently to adhere. Repeat with remaining cookies and peppermint filling.

Place crushed candy canes on plate. Roll edges of cookie sandwiches in crushed candies (candies will adhere to filling). Cookie sandwiches can be made ahead. Store in single layer in airtight container at room temperature up to 3 days or freeze up to 2 weeks.


The Birth Story

First off, I recognize that not everyone is going to want to read a birth story ... so I'll give you some quick escapes if you need them:

(1) a sweet reminder from my friend Amber who guest posted for me last week.  While this is particularly relevant for parents, it can also be meaningful for anyone who is trying to remain balanced and focused on the things that are most important in life.

(2) My theme song for the next three months:

(3) If you haven't yet had the chance to check out the series of guest posts from Mary, you'll want to.  She's a fabulous cook, and has shared some great recipes in the "Holiday Sweets" series.  Check out the Pumpkin Cupcakes, Skillet Apple Crisp, Pumpkin Cheesecake Bars, and Holiday Biscotti.  There's one more post from her coming soon - check back next week for some festive cookies!

(4) Baby Girl was born the day after my four-year blogiversary.  Just for fun, here's a link to the first-ever rhymeswithsmile blog post: Russian Apple Pancakes.

And now, the birth story.

I'd been having contractions for the entire month of November.  Sometimes they were strong and regularly timed (like the night I was up for 2-3 hours with powerful ones every 6-8 minutes), and other days they'd come and go with mealtimes, rests, water breaks, exercise, and toddler playtime.  Everyone - doctors, friends, the internet - told me that since my first was born right on time, the second one would probably come early.  Yes!  I was ready.  Mom flew in the week before the due date, and we scurried around making preparations, cooking, cleaning, and running errands like mad so that we'd have everything ready for November 16th.

But then the 16th came and went.  I was so disappointed and even a little weepy.  Not only was I physically uncomfortable and huge, I just wanted to meet our child!  But, I figured we could wait another day.  Besides, Mom and I had projects to do, and recipes to try.

But that day turned into another one, and another one ... and finally, another whole week had passed, and there was no baby (and the doctor told me I was about 2 centimeters dilated - I think maybe he was just having pity on a woman a week past her due date).  Family came into town for Thanksgiving - and instead of having a beautiful child to share with them, I showed them how awkward it is for a 41-week-pregnant woman to stand up from the couch and how much food could actually be stuffed into a pregnant belly.  Then, they left.  I resigned myself to the fact that I'd always be pregnant, and would never be able to go more than 1 hour at night without having to get up to pee, and would always grunt and look ridiculous whenever I had to go from sitting to standing.  I felt frustrated, sad, cranky with my body, and just plain upset.  Of course, my logical self knew that the end was in sight and I'd get my body back eventually ... but my oh-I'm-so-over-it self kept stuffing that self in the back of the closet with the pre-maternity skinny jeans.  (It's easy for me to have some perspective on this right now, looking across the living room at my sleeping newborn.  But this time two weeks ago, I was a mess, and not very pleasant to be around.)

So, the visiting family members left on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.  Mom stayed here - bless her preciousness.  We went for a moderate walk that morning on a trail by a reservoir, and that really tired me out.  I had some contractions, but nothing regular or too painful.  I was, after all, always going to be pregnant, so contractions didn't really mean a whole lot to me anymore.

Saturday night was uneventful.  I went to bed, woke up multiple times during the night to pee, and slept in between.

Sunday morning at 6 o'clock, I woke up with contractions.  They didn't necessarily feel any different than previous contractions, but they were coming regularly at 6-7 minutes so I laid in bed for about half an hour, timing them and paying attention to them.  By the time I got up, I decided I should eat something - because, if these really were meaningful contractions, I would need energy ... and if they weren't meaningful contractions then I still wanted food.  Through breakfast, they started coming about 5-6 minutes apart, then 4-5 minutes.  I realized something was up when Mom asked me a question and I couldn't answer her until the contraction had passed.

Not wanting to rush to the hospital and be told that I was still at 2 centimeters (or worse, that I wasn't even really in labor), I decided to stall.  Why not take a walk?  The dog needed to get out, and it was a pretty Sunday morning.  Mom got Little Girl ready to go, and I said I'd join them.  But then all of a sudden, I couldn't.  The contractions were coming 3-4 minutes apart, for about a minute.  The last thing I wanted to do was walk through the neighborhood , stopping at every other driveway to huff and puff my way through a contraction.  So, we sent them on, and the Mr. and I got ready to go to the hospital.  He loaded things in the car, we called the hospital, and then we were off (after a somewhat weepy goodbye to the Little Girl and Mom).  I was scared - mostly of being turned away from the hospital with a pity pat on the back - but excited too.  Maybe we'd really get to meet our new child soon.  I sure hoped so.

We got to the hospital around 10:15 on Sunday morning.  Sure enough, I was in labor (I think I said "Praise Jesus!" when the nurse said they'd admit me), dilated about 6-7 centimeters.  I could've kissed that nurse.  I was so thankful that we were going to have our baby!

Contractions kept coming, but the nurse didn't check me again.  They monitored the baby's heart rate for a few minutes every 15 minutes or so, but didn't keep me hooked up to anything so that I could move around as I needed to.  After a couple of hours or so I started wondering how much I had progressed, and when I would know that I should start pushing.

And then it happened - the Mr. and I were alone in the room (my nurse had just stepped out for a few minutes).  I started to have a contraction, and then I had the sensation of a young elephant falling out of the sky onto my abdomen and had SUCH a strong urge to push.  There was so much pressure, and it was awful.  I don't remember whether I called the nurse or whether it was the Mr. who did it, but there was no doubt for either of us that this was it.

Apparently, my nurse also knew something was up from our tone of voice.  She rushed back in the room with a troop of other nurses and the doctor.  This was at about 12:20 PM.  The doctor barely had time to suit up (I heard her yell, "I don't care what size of gloves you give me - I'll take anything!  We're moving fast!") before another contraction came and I had to push.  My water broke then (exploded, really - the only gross fact I'll share).  But eleven minutes and four contractions later, our child was born!

And ... it's a GIRL (the Mr. got to announce it to me!)!  She weighed 8 pounds, 9 ounces - just half an ounce less than her big sister.  She's 20.75 inches long, with a head full of dark hair and beautiful rosy cheeks.  She is healthy, squirmy, newborny, tiny, and precious.  We are so excited to have TWO daughters - TWO DAUGHTERS!  I'm still in shock.  I love it.

This time around, I am thankful for so many things regarding the birth experience ...
- that it was only 6 1/2 hours long
- that I knew from prior experience that labor wasn't going to rip me in half
- that it was an uncomplicated pregnancy and delivery
- that even though pushing a small human out of my body is probably the most painful and horrible experience in the world, it was SHORT
- that my kind, understanding, supportive husband was present and encouraging
- that my sweet Mom was able to spend a total of 3 1/2 weeks caring for me/us/Little Girl/Baby Girl
- that this Baby Girl is joining a family and community that have anticipated her with such joy, and welcome her with such excitement


Holiday Sweets 4: Holiday Biscotti

This biscotti is a fun, slightly fancy holiday treat. Making them has become a December tradition for me, often for a cookie exchange. Never made biscotti before? Try them! Perfect with a hot cup of coffee or tea. ~Mary

Holiday Biscotti

Yield: 12-18 cookies, depending on size you make the log and slices 

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2  teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup pistachios, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup dried cranberries
12 ounces good-quality white chocolate, chopped
Red and green sugar crystals, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Line a heavy large baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk the flour and baking powder in a medium bowl to blend. Using an electric mixer, beat the sugar, butter, lemon zest, and salt in a large bowl to blend. Beat in the eggs 1 at a time. Add the flour mixture and beat just until blended. Stir in the pistachios and cranberries.

Form the dough into a 13-inch long, 3-inch wide log on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until light golden, about 40 minutes. Cool for 30 minutes.

Place the log on the cutting board. Using a sharp serrated knife, cut the log on a diagonal into 1/2 to 3/4-inch-thick slices. Arrange the biscotti, cut side down, on the baking sheet. Bake the biscotti until they are pale golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer the biscotti to a rack and cool completely.

Stir the chocolate in a bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water until the chocolate melts. Dip half of the biscotti into the melted chocolate. Gently shake off the excess chocolate. Place the biscotti on the baking sheet for the chocolate to set (optional: cover baking sheet with wax paper). Sprinkle with the sugar crystals. Refrigerate until the chocolate is firm, about 35 minutes.

The biscotti can be made ahead. Store them in an airtight container up to 4 days, or wrap them in foil and freeze in resealable plastic bags up to 3 weeks.


She's Here! (New Baby Pancakes)

Multigrain Medallion Pancakes
From Runner's World, October 2012 *do not be fooled - I have not taken up running.  It should tell you something that the one piece of information that I gleaned from a running magazine is a pancake recipe.*
Makes 16 four-inch pancakes

1 c. white flour
1/3 c. each: cornmeal, whole wheat flour, and old-fashioned rolled oats
4 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 c. buttermilk
1/2 c. milk or water
2 large eggs
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil, plus extra for brushing the griddle
1 tsp. vanilla

Heat a large skillet or griddle over low heat.  Mix flour, whole grains, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a bowl.  Microwave buttermilk and milk for 30 seconds in a 2-cup measuring cup.  Whisk in eggs, oil, and vanilla.  Pour wet ingredients into dry; whisk until just mixed.  Return batter to measuring cup.  Increase heat to medium and brush skillet with oil.  When oil starts to spider, pour batter 1/4 cup at a time.  When pancake bottoms are golden brown and tops start to bubble, after about 2-3 minutes, flip pancakes; cook until golden brown on other side.  Repeat, brushing skillet or griddle with oil.  Serve hot.
Newest family member - welcome, sweet girl!
You may remember how passionate I am about pancakes - so much so that I announced being pregnant with Baby #2 at the end of a post about my favorite pancake recipe.  So, it only seems appropriate to share about the arrival of Baby #2 with another pancake recipe - coming full circle, if you will.  Just to get this out there - these are great pancakes.  Hearty, a little "meaty" with the whole grains, and nicely filling.  We ate them for dinner the night before Baby was born, so maybe - just maybe - this is what triggered her arrival!  She was born nine days past her due date - which started to wear on me a bit (ok, a lot) - but she knew when she needed to come and we're just so thankful that she's healthy and wonderful!
Welcome, sweet Mary Gatliff!
Exactly one day old - 12:31 PM

Getting some love from Diddie!
We're healthy, adjusting to each other, and working towards our "new normal" together.
Check back later for the birth story details, if you're interested at all.