Charming Eclectic Tea Party

Well, this past Sunday was pretty wonderful, not least because my primary source of sustenance was scones and cupcakes. I’ve spent much of the past few weeks preparing for my friend Nicola’s baby shower, and it finally came together! There will be more baby shower details in upcoming posts, but let’s start with the tea party.

I was completely in love after attending a baby shower at DarTealing Lounge last year. Afternoon tea is such a luxurious event, and DarTealing offered top-notch teas and treats in an absolutely charming setting. One of the things I loved was the mix of patterns and styles in the teacups, plates, and silverware. This approach took all the pressure off of using china – break one, and you can replace it with something completely different! Lovejoy’s Tea Room over in Noe Valley has a similar atmosphere and is also a popular place for showers.

Until recently, I didn’t own much in the way of accessories for tea myself, but I did have two sets of little plates that have great sentimental value. Here’s how I came to own them… Even after many years, old losses and grief will sometimes surface. Seven years after my mom died, I was pregnant with our second baby, and I was overcome with sadness at my mom’s absence. With her incredible insight, my manager at work – and dear friend – suggested that I reach out to some of my mom’s friends over my Christmas vacation. I didn’t mention the sense of loss that drove me to contact her friend Mrs. McCulloch, but when I arrived at her house – for tea – it was clear that our meeting was special for both of us. She told me stories about my mom, some that predated me, and one story was about a time they had been browsing antique stores together, and Mrs. McCulloch had fallen in love with some vintage plates. My mom went back later to buy the plates and gave them to her friend. That snowy day when we met, her friend gave them to me.

Eclectic tea party - mix and match vintage china for an easy and beautiful table setting.  Jewels at Home.

In the foreground are the two sets of plates that were passed on to me by my mother’s good friend.

When my dear friend Nicola heard this story, she determined that she and I should have our own afternoon tea party, and it took us a while to get around to it, but after Thanksgiving last year, we enjoyed an afternoon of sandwiches, tea, and board games. As an early Christmas gift, she brought me two beautiful teacups that day, and so the collection was born.

Beautiful vintage tea cups.

Beautiful vintage tea cups given to me by my wonderful friend, Nicola.

When it came time for me to plan Nicola’s shower, it seemed only natural that a tea party should be part of the theme. It was the perfect excuse to use my treasured plates and cups and to build on my collection. This was treasure hunting at its best! I browsed local thrift and antique stores as well as eBay to discover a colorful array of teacups and plates. The beauty of this approach is that you’re not tied to one particular pattern, and you can choose the best deals. Each piece is a great conversation starter, and even cups that might not be beautiful on their own gain a new appeal when mixed together. It’s like a beautiful patchwork quilt. Bonus: with all those different patterns, people are less likely to get their drinks mixed up!

Here are some pictures of my old and new treasures at the party. I love how it all turned out, and I admit I still have my eye out for some more good deals on cute teacups and serving items.

Eclectic tea party: Browse thrift stores and eBay to create a unique and charmin.g collection of china for a charming table setting

Browse thrift stores and eBay to create a unique and charming collection of china for a charming table setting. Those little tiered serving trays are quintessential “tea time”!

Eclectic tea party: Browse thrift stores and eBay to create a unique and charming collection of china for a charming table setting

Fresh flowers add to the romantic feel of an afternoon tea party.

Since this was a Storybook-themed baby shower, I can’t believe I forgot to bring out the Peter Rabbit and Bunnykins cups!

Bunnykins and Peter Rabbit place settings.  These are perfect for a tea party baby shower.

Bunnykins and Peter Rabbit place settings. These are perfect for a tea party baby shower… if only I had remembered to use them!

Remember when I lined my living room shelves with Imperial Trellis wallpaper?  It’s the perfect place to store all the new teacups and other pretty items!

Collect teacups and serving items for a mix-and-match tea party.

I found a home for all the new teacups and serving items in our bookcase, which I lined with Imperial Trellis wallpaper.

Our menu

Sandwiches

Of course, a tea party would not be complete without sandwiches. Maura, my cohost, and some of our other friends helped make this gorgeous spread, which tasted as good as it looked. The sandwiches were:

  • egg salad with curry
  • cream cheese and smoked salmon
  • cucumber and Boursin cheese
  • cucumber, tomato, and hummus

Cupcakes

I made the cupcakes and am so happy with the results. I actually started with Trader Joe’s boxed cake mixes, but I customized them as follows. Thanks to Sophie for the decorating help!

  • Lemon cupcakes with lemon frosting. Starting with yellow cake mix, I added the zest of one lemon, the juice of third of a lemon, and about a tablespoon of lemon extract. For the frosting, I added juice from another third of the lemon and a couple of teaspoons of lemon extract.
  • Chocolate cupcakes with mocha frosting. Starting with the chocolate cake mix, I added some cocoa to make it extra chocolate-y. For the frosting, I made a mix of hot chocolate powder and instant decaffeinated coffee powder in as little water as possible (about half a cup). We used this liquid instead of water when mixing the frosting.

Fruit Salad

I cut a watermelon to look like an old-fashioned baby carriage and tied a ribbon on it for decoration. I used sewing pins to keep the ribbon in place. I’ve seen much more elaborate versions of this, with orange slices for wheels and more decorations, but even with many friends helping in the kitchen, we ran out of time. It was still cute, and we definitely needed a healthy break from the cupcakes!

Scones and shortbread

The scones were a mix of bakery scones and Trader Joe’s frozen blueberry scones, baked up with an egg wash and brown sugar sprinkled on top. These are really surprisingly delicious. Our friend Beth made her family’s shortbread recipe, which is amazing. I am waiting to get the recipe from her, because it tastes so much like my mom’s, and it holds a printed design well, so I want to try my patterned rolling pin with it.

Sandwiches on a tiered serving tray are perfect for afternoon tea.

Sandwiches on a tiered serving tray are perfect for afternoon tea.

Lemon and chocolate-mocha cupcakes.  Both started as plain cake mix with some special ingredients mixed in!  Jewels at Home.

Lemon and chocolate-mocha cupcakes. Both started as plain cake mix with some special ingredients mixed in!

Watermelon baby carriage with fruit salad. From Jewels at Home.

Watermelon baby carriage with fruit salad.

If you’re planning your own tea party, you can find many more inspirations by browsing the menus at Lovejoy’s, DarTealing, or one of the other amazing tea rooms.

You can also try this ducky cake I made for another baby celebration!

Ducky cake for baby shower.  Marble cake topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit.  Jewels at Home.

Ducky cake for baby shower. Marble cake topped with whipped cream and fresh fruit.

Many of us at the party were already talking about making a semi-regular event out of “cupcakes and crafts,” so hopefully I will get lots more use out of all my “new” old china… and get to enjoy more cupcakes! Also, look out for more baby shower ideas coming soon!

“Jewels”

 

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Faux Bamboo Fetish – Dining Room Sideboard

I recently became obsessed with the look of vintage faux bamboo dressers, like those made by Thomasville or Henry Link in the 60s and 70s. These dressers have come back into fashion, repainted for a gorgeous new look. I see them on eBay and Etsy regularly, but with the shipping costs from across the country, it doesn’t seem quite worth it. I’m also nervous about taking on such a big project. As Ibie, whose dresser is in the second picture below, chronicles on her blog, the painting process on such a large piece is not for the fainthearted.

Here are some of the beautiful makeovers that caught my eye:

Callie's black dresser featured on Little Green Notebook

Callie’s black dresser featured on Little Green Notebook. I love the glossy black finish, and the rest of this room is fantastic, too!

Go to Little Green Notebook

Ibie's grey Henry Link dresser on One Story Building

Ibie’s grey Henry Link dresser on One Story Building. This looks so sophisticated and elegant! I certainly believe her that it was a bear to paint, though.

Go to One Story Building

I still have this project in the back of my mind, and I occasionally look around on Craigslist, eBay, and Etsy for that perfect dresser to repaint, but for now, I’m happy with an easier update to our old dresser. This is actually an inexpensive piece that we bought a decade ago. We almost got rid of it a couple of years back, but no one on Craigslist even wanted it, so we decided to repair all the sagging drawer bottoms, and I’m so glad that it has a new life as the sideboard in our dining room.

BEFORE: Old dresser we are using as a sideboard.

BEFORE: Old dresser we are using as a sideboard.

The hardware we had on there is a little rustic for our space, so I decided to give those old knobs a new life down at my dad’s beach house and replace the hardware with – what else – faux bamboo pulls! I chose this Belwith Bamboo Collection black nickel cabinet pull
, and there were several others out there that also look great, and I put some of my favorites on Pinterest.

Belwith Bamboo Pull

Belwith Bamboo Pull

Since the new pulls need two holes, I had to drill new ones. TIP: I used a piece of a piece of painter’s taped marked with the distance between the holes, so I could quickly measure and drill.

TIP: mark the distance between holes for cabinet hardware on a piece of painter's tape.  From Jewels at Home.

TIP: mark the distance between holes for cabinet hardware on a piece of painter’s tape.

And here’s the “new” old dresser. No, it’s not as stunning as an old Regency dresser painted in an elegant new color, but it was quick, easy, and inexpensive.

New faux bamboo hardware gives an old dresser new life.

New faux bamboo hardware gives our old dresser new life.

New hardware gives an old dresser new life.

20120803-202021.jpg

I’m happy with the result of this little project, and will still keep my eye out for something perfect.

“Jewels”

 

Inspirations from Daily Life – July 2012

Okay, the month is winding down, but there’s just enough time to share some of the beautiful and inspiring things I’ve seen as we go about our daily routines.

“Do well, but do some good.”

To start, I love this phrase I saw on a utility pole today.  It’s a variation on Minor Myers, Jr.’s quote: “Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.”  This is exactly the message I want to teach my boys about how to conduct themselves in life.  I plan to put a short version framed in a cute way somewhere in their room.

"Do well, but do some good."

“Do well, but do some good.” The perfect message for how to live life.

 

Potty Training/ Diapering Trick

Okay, so it’s hard to believe that I am well into toddlerhood with our third child, and I just learned this trick from a friend.  To keep the tails of a onesie from getting dirty during a diaper change or potty training, snap them up over your baby’s shoulder!  Now, if only the rest of potty training were so easy!

Potty/ diapering trick: snap the tails of a onesie over the baby's shoulder to keep them clean.  From Jewels at Home.

Potty/ diapering trick: snap the tails of a onesie over the baby’s shoulder to keep them clean.

Love,

“Jewels”

Alternatives for Birthday Gifts and Party Favors

My kids have so much in the way of toys and games – proving it is indeed possible to have too much of a good thing. Not only do I worry that this makes it hard for them to learn the true value of things, but the ubiquitous toys and trading cards simply make a mess in a house that is already cluttered, and when the boys start arguing over a toy, then I’ve really had it!

So, this post on “Less is More” at My Modern Asian Family blog really resonated with me. I’m sure a lot of us can relate to this mom’s frustration with kids’ clutter, including the little plastic bags of little plastic toys that accompany a lot of birthday parties.

Over the years, my friends and I have tried a variety of innovative alternatives to birthday gifts and to the treat/loot/goody bags that are given out as party favors. Quick summary: for parties, you can try having no gifts, gift exchanges, donations, or gift/donation hybrids; for treat bags and gifts, think of some truly useful items or ones that can be used up and not leave a little trail of plastic crumbs…

As for the parties, I’ve been lucky that my kids have always been receptive to these alternatives. I explain that their birthday party itself is a gift and that they will still get some presents from their grandparents and aunts and uncles, and I haven’t had any arguments so far. I try to rotate the ideas around – sometimes we’ll do a standard party with gifts, especially if it’s small; sometimes we’ll do an exchange, and I plan to try the donations soon.

No Gifts
We’ve thrown several parties where I simply asked for “no gifts, please.” This works, though only to an extent. I think we are all so accustomed to bringing a gift to a birthday party that some parents don’t notice the request and others just really want to bring something for the birthday boy. This is very kind, though I do worry that it might be awkward when some guests bring a gift and some do not. If you try this, I would recommend putting it in big bold print and really emphasize it, eg. “Please do not bring a birthday gift. Our children are already fortunate to have so much, we would like to spend this day focusing on the celebration, rather than gifts.” A little cheesy but also to the point, you could add: “Your presence is your present.”

Gift Exchange
This is a favorite idea at our house. We’ve done both book and puzzle exchanges, in which each guest brings an unwrapped book or puzzle and each child takes one home. This can substitute for both the birthday present as well as for the treat for guests. You can let the birthday boy or girl pick first, so he or she still feels special, and I always put a few extra books or puzzles in the pile, so there’s lots of choice and a little bonus for the birthday boy. I find the exchanges get more universal uptake than simply requesting “no gifts,” because the parents all feel like they brought something. Another great thing about this idea is that a book or puzzle makes a more substantial and useful treat to take home, without breaking the bank for the party host… Though admittedly I have a lot fun with the treats and sometimes still do them.

Instead of birthday gifts and party favors, do a book exchange!  From Jewels at Home.

Instead of birthday gifts and party favors, do a book exchange!

Donations
We have some friends who have done a wonderful job throwing “pay it forward”-themed birthdays for their daughter. One year, they collected change in a jar to donate to charity; other years, they have collected canned goods for a food bank. Again, I think this satisfies people’s sentiment that they want to bring something to a party, and what a wonderful lesson for all the children! I’m ready to try this idea with the older boys, now that they are at an age where they can appreciate the concept.

Gift/Donation Hybrid
My friend Betsy co-founded this clever organization called Clover by Clover. You should check them out for the details, but the idea is that your child can pick a charity and a single gift. Then, people donate to a fund, and the money will be divided between the gift and the charity your child picked. What a good way to make your birthday child feel like they got a special gift while also teaching about the value of sharing.

Innovative Gifts to Give
No doubt, the kids love toys and gadgets, and I’m happy to indulge that for a special occasion. For those times I’ve felt like doing something different, here are some non-toy options that will still be fun for the kids:

  • Magazine subscription – There are lots of fun kids magazines that could be suited to a child’s interest, and we know kids love getting mail with their name on it. Some titles they might enjoy are Ranger Rick from the National Wildlife Foundation or American Girl magazine.
  • Adopt an animal – Almost every child has a favorite animal, and you can find an organization that helps these animals and make a donation on their behalf. Many have “adoption” programs where you’ll get a certificate and maybe some information about the animal and a small toy. Some examples are the World Wildlife Fund and the San Francisco Zoo.

Inspirations for Treat Bags
Into each birthday party, some plastic junk must fall, but I do try to minimize it. Here are some examples of great small gifts we’ve given or gotten at kids’ parties. My favorites are items that are  can either be used for a long time or consumed right away, so all my mommy friends will not be left with an unpleasant birthday aftermath.

Ideas for enduring party favors:

  • Cloth bags – I’ve decorated these cotton canvas drawstring bags/backpacks for several of our parties, and I know people often use them for taking toys on a trip or to a restaurant. I add an iron-on appliqué to fit the theme of the party and write each child’s name in puffy fabric paint. Kids love seeing their names on things! We’ve also received some of the larger tote bags from parties, and we reuse those for groceries or bringing toys to the beach.
  • High quality toys and books – I usually pick just one or two high quality things to give away rather than a lot of smaller items. Examples are the small paperback books, which I have sometimes found in the Target dollar zone, or the wooden-handled skipping rope I gave away at our Pioneer-themed birthday party.
Decorate cloth bags for a birthday party favor that can be put to good use.  By Jewels at Home.

Decorate cloth bags for a birthday party favor that can be put to good use.

Ideas for party favors that won’t linger and clutter

  • Healthy snacks – dried fruit or healthier types of crackers and cookies can make a nice addition to a treat bag. For our bug-themed party, I made these cute butterfly snack bags to go with the theme of the party. We also did a book exchange at that party.
  • Stickers or art supplies – these almost always get used up, at least at our house, so they make fun little gifts that won’t end up as immortal clutter in the toy bin.
Butterfly snack bags for a bug-themed birthday party.  By Jewels at Home.

Butterfly snack bags for a bug-themed birthday party.

So, for Modern Asian Mom and the rest of us drowning in clutter and tripping over small toys, go ahead and try some of these ideas for the next birthday party you give or attend.

Love,
“Jewels”

Keep On Keepin’ On – Courage To Those Who Do What They Love

I switched the theme of the blog today.  It’s part of a kick-in-the-pants I got to really develop this project, after chatting with an old friend who is working on her own blog, as well as an online sewing store (hope to share details soon!).

Anyway, it’s fast approaching midnight, and I have work tomorrow and kids who will start stirring before 7AM, but this is bringing me to the point of my post.  At times, I have felt humbled and even disheartened, because I felt like there are so many excellent design and DIY blogs out there, and it felt like I might never (and yes, never is a strong word, three months into blogging…), create anything of note.  But then I have to remind myself of how much I love doing the projects around the house, and how every single page view or comment means that I might have inspired someone, and that inspires me.

I was thrilled to recently hear and meet Anna Quindlen on book tour, where she was talking about lessons she’s learned as she has gotten older, and and one of the messages was that you don’t always have to choose the thing that you are “best” at, nor the thing that is regarded as the prestigious. If you love and are passionate about something, that will have real meaning to  you over time.  I think she is generally regarded as have stood out more as a columnist and non-fiction writer than as a novelist, and she turned that idea around.  The “right” choice isn’t always the one that will get you the widest recognition and greatest monetary rewards.  The “right” choice may be the thing that brings you personal growth and meaning.  And of course, these things are not mutually exclusive.  There may be a time for each pursuit, and the thing you love may, besides bringing you joy, grow into the thing that brings you recognition and remuneration too.  (More on that in this fascinating Harvard Business Review blog post on “Choosing Between Making Money and Doing What You Love” by Leonard A. Schlesinger, Charles F. Kiefer, and Paul B. Brown.)

Back to Anna Quindlen, I am a huge fan of hers and will also admit that I think, on the whole, she excelled as a columnist and, while solid, stands out less as a novelist.  On the other hand, I read her novel One True Thing, about a daughter whose mother is dying of cancer, while my own mother was dying of cancer.  Perhaps my perception was colored by this context, but I felt her writing was vivid and brought the drama of the story to life.  I will add that I think there is a section of the book near the end that didn’t feel necessary and, in my opinion, detracted somewhat from the otherwise beautiful and simple story, exquisitely told, of a family’s relationships and loss.  But the point is, the book had meaning to me.  Through this novel, along with her non-fiction writing and her speaking on the topic – she lost her own mother to cancer when she was only 19 – Anna Quindlen helped me get a handle on the grief and disorientation I felt after my mom died.  So, even if a novel isn’t perfect, if it speaks so resonantly and has so much significance to one person – and I am sure it did to many – then surely it was a worthwhile pursuit.

I’m probably reading my own meaning into Anna Quindlen’s talk (though isn’t that part of what a great talk or piece of writing should offer?), but the message I took away is that, in each thing I work on – be it motherhood, my “day job,” or this blog, I aspire to be my own best, but if there is some occupation that might get me more prestige or income (there is!), or if there are people out there that are better at any of these things than I am (there are!), that is alright, too.  On a planet of six billion people, if none of us tried to do something unless we could be the one and only top dog, where would we be?  And among those six billion people, many of them do not have the privilege of choosing their occupations or other pursuits, so perhaps those of us who do have that luxury can learn to be less afraid to embrace it.  And so, I feel inspired to keep on parenting, and working with patients, and blogging.

As for the blog, I remind myself that the process is as much the reward as the product.  I’ve been motivated to finish many projects, because I was excited to share them.  I’ve clarified my own thoughts, on topics mundane and meaningful, by writing them out.  And I’ve had encouraging feedback from many friends and a few strangers.  For now, that is enough for me, though I of course will also keep working to improve and grow the blog, too.

Courage!
“Jewels”

DIY Camping Accessories – Made From a Shower Curtain!

I can’t quite believe that I’m sending my first baby off to overnight camp. It’s only been a few nights, and I do feel a little ache when I think of him being gone, but I know he is having an amazing time, full of new experiences, skills, and friends. It is also a special week to give some extra TLC to our younger ones and for them to spend more time together.

We’re not big into camping (at least not yet!), so a lot of the things on the packing list for camp had to be purchased, and after spending so much money on just one week, I was looking to see if there were at least a few things I could improvise or make.

I ended up making a stuff sack for a sleeping bag we already had, as well as a pouch to hold his meal kit – plate, cup, and utensils. The stuff sack was easy and turned out very well. I think the design of the meal kit has room for improvement, but I’ll note what I did, so I can improve on it next time… can you imagine that some day we might send all three away to camp?! It will be the most expensive staycation ever for mom and dad, but it would be a milestone. I LOVE my kids, but I have to say that I’ve been craving some alone time with hubby, too, as that is terribly scarce these days. Anyway, I digress…

I’m really happy with the material choice for this project. I bought a 100% polyester shower curtain from a discount store for $5.99. The material was perfect for this purpose, some of the edges were already finished, the grommets at the top were perfect for making a drawstring bag, and I still have about half the fabric left. $3 for both both the stuff sack and the meal kit!

Drawstring Stuff Sack for Sleeping Bag

I used:

  • 1oo% polyester shower curtain
  • nylon cord with toggle. The toggle is optional, but I’m a pack rat and happened to have a drawstring with toggle leftover from something else.

I cut two pieces from the shower curtain:

  • The bag is a large 28″x45″ rectangle, with the long side cut from the top of the shower curtain, so the grommets are used (shown below, folded in half).
  • The strap is a small 12″x22″ rectangle.
Stuff sack for sleeping bag cut from an inexpensive shower curtain

Stuff sack for sleeping bag cut from an inexpensive shower curtain

First, finish the strap by folding it in half length-wise and sewing along the open side and end. I used a straight stitch and also finished the edge with a zig-zag stitch, as this polyester frays very easily. You can see how I finished the strap below.

Sew the strap with a straight stitch and a zig-zag stitch to finish the edges.

Sew the strap with a straight stitch and a zig-zag stitch to finish the edges.

Next turn the strap right side out. What I didn’t do here but would recommend is top-stitching all around the outside of the strap, about 1/4″ from the edge to make it lie flatter. When the strap is finished, pin it onto the bag as shown below, leaving about three inches at the top of bottom, and putting some slack in the strap. I sewed it down with multiple rows of stitching to make it secure.

Securely sew the strap to the bag, leaving some slack

Securely sew the strap to the bag, leaving some slack

Not shown, I then stitched around the side and bottom of the sack, again using a straight stitch and finishing with a zig-zag. To give the sack a more three-dimensional form, I folded the bottom corners so that the side seam lay against the bottom seam and stitched a triangle on the inside bottom of each bottom corner, as shown below.

Sew a triangle at the bottom corners to give the bag a more three-dimensional shape.

Sew a triangle at the bottom corners to give the bag a more three-dimensional shape.

Finally, I wove the the cord through the grommets and secured it with the toggle. That wasn’t so hard!

DIY sleeping bag stuff sack from an inexpensive shower curtain by Jewels at Home

Finished DIY sleeping bag stuff sack from an inexpensive shower curtain.

Pouch to Hold Meal Kit

This pouch was made to hold a 10″ plate, a cup, and utensils. It turned out a bit big, so you could definitely shrink the size of the main bag by at least an inch in both dimensions.

I used:

  • 1oo% polyester shower curtain
  • Velcro, about 5.5″ total length

I cut two pieces from the shower curtain:

  • The main pouch is a large 16″x32″ rectangle (not shown, because you know what a rectangle looks like!)
  • The cutlery is a small 6″x11.5″ rectangle, with the corners cut on one of the short ends (shown below).
Cutlery pouch for meal kit

Cutlery pouch for meal kit

To finish the cutlery pouch,

  • Finish one short end of cutlery pouch buy folding down twice and stitching a hem
  • Sew 1.5″ strip of Velcro to the inside of the finished end of cutlery pouch on the inside
  • Clip corners to reduce bulk, if you didn’t do this already

To finish the bag,

  • Hem all sides of the rectangle for the main bag by folding over the edges twice and sewing them down to make a hem.
  • Sew 1.5″ strip of Velcro to bag at center about 2″ from top on right side, to match up with the cutlery pouch (first picture below)
  • Sew the cutlery pouch to the front of the bag by folding under the edges on three sides (second picture below)
  • Sew two 2″ strips of Velcro to the top of the bag opening, as shown in the third picture (outside of front and inside of flap)
  • With right sides facing, sew bag together at sides, with a 2″ flap at top (fourth picture below)
Sew velcro to the main bag, and lay down the cutlery pouch, matching up the velcro.

Sew velcro to the main bag, and lay down the cutlery pouch, matching up the velcro.

With the velcro matched up, sew the cutlery pouch to the main bag.

With the velcro matched up, sew the cutlery pouch to the main bag.

Sew strips of velcro to the main bag on the inside of the flap and the outside of the front, as shown.

Sew strips of velcro to the main bag on the inside of the flap and the outside of the front, as shown.

Pouch for holding camping plate, cup, and utensils, made from an inexpensive shower curtain by Jewels at Home.

Pouch for holding camping plate, cup, and utensils, made from an inexpensive shower curtain.

Ready to pack by big kiddo off to camp with these accessories made from a shower curtain for about $3!

Sleeping bag stuffsack and camping meal kit made from an inexpensive shower curtain! by Jewels at Home

Sleeping bag stuffsack and camping meal kit made from an inexpensive shower curtain!

Please let me know if you are trying these projects and want clarification on anything.  I really winged it as I went along, and I’ve been struggling to figure out how to explain what I did in a logical way, but I figured I should just spit it out and post this… Kiddo will be home in just a couple of days!  Yay!

“Jewels”

DIY “Tie” T-shirt Tutorial

We’re not formal people… this is how my son showed up to Kindergarten graduation:

Tie T-shirt

Kindergarten graduation. The tie T-shirt is about as dressed up as this kid will get.

I love these tie “Fat Tie” T-shirts that I bought on Zulily. The boys have worn them for a wedding, too, and they seem to strike the right note of respect and whimsy. After getting lots of comments on them, I decided to make some for our boys and to give as gifts.

"Fat Tie" shirt

Another cute “Fat Tie” shirt.

This is not the only tutorial around for this project, but each of us approaches it a little differently, so here’s what I did:

I started with plain long-sleeved T-shirts from Lands’ End. Lands’ End is really hard to beat when you are looking for good quality basics. Their sales are great, and I got these shirts for about $5-$10 each.  I prewashed the shirts and the fabric for the ties.

Plain long-sleeved T-shirts from Lands' End.

Plain long-sleeved T-shirts from Lands’ End.

I made a template with a piece of scrap paper, using a bit of trial and error to get the shape I wanted.

Paper template for "tie"

Paper template for “tie”

To make the tie,

  • I cut a piece of Heat’n Bond Lite Iron-on Adhesive a bit larger than the template and traced the tie pattern onto it
  • I cut a piece of fabric a bit larger than the Heat ‘n Bond.
  • After folding down a finished edge for the top of the tie, I ironed the Heat ‘n Bond onto the back side of the fabric.
  • After it cooled, I cut out the tie.
Preparing a fabric "tie" for ironing onto a T-shirt

Preparing a fabric “tie” for ironing onto a T-shirt

I ironed the “tie” onto the shirt, lining up the top to the collar of the shirt and using a tape measure to make sure it was centered.

Center the "tie" on the shirt

Center the “tie” on the shirt

I’ve seen people describe iron-on projects where they don’t sew down the edges, but it never seems to work for me (the fabric peels off), so I sewed a straight stitch about 1/8″-1/4″ from the edge of the tie.

Sew a straight stitch around the edge of the tie.

Sew a straight stitch around the edge of the tie.

And here are the finished shirts!  Next time, I think I will try some with a false “knot” at the top, like these shirts by Erin at Lemon Tree Creations.  I’d also like to try experimenting with a bow tie!

DIY Iron-on "tie" T-shirts by Jewels at Home

DIY Iron-on “tie” T-shirts

So many ways to have fun with this idea!

“Jewels”

Avon Walk 2012 – In It To End It

I’m just coming out of a weekend spent walking 39.3 miles with hundreds of other women and men to raise money for the Avon Foundation to fund breast cancer care, support, and research.

I’ve known about this walk and others like it for years – Avon is celebrating its 10th year of walks, and the walk team from my workplace is in its fourth year – but I’ve always hesitated to join, fearing that it would seem overwhelming. The walking itself was not that daunting – though a little, just because of having small kids at home. I was more concerned that with my mom having died of breast cancer and my work involving so many people affected by this disease, the walk would cause emotional saturation.

Having completed this journey, I have a new perspective on the walk. It’s true, I shed a few tears at the opening and closing ceremonies – really, with people sharing their breast cancer stories and Coldplay as the background music, what choice did I have? But the other side of the walk was an inspiring sensation of doing something to help – and doing it with hundreds of other people.

Some special moments from the Avon Walk…

  • Making a difference in the fight against breast cancer
  • Making a difference with my friends
  • Making a difference with strangers
  • Feeling the effort from head to toe
  • Being pampered by the dedicated volunteers along the way (graham cracker PBJ sandwiches = awesome)
  • Being cheered by hubby, the boys, and their uncle. It was an opportunity to teach the older boys a little about the disease that took their grandmother and about community and philanthropy
  • Seeing San Francisco from ground level, in all its varied and stunning beauty. Here are some of the amazing sights and views along the route:
Moon over the TransAmerica Pyramid, San Francisco

Moon over the TransAmerica Pyramid, San Francisco

Sun shining through the fog on the Golden Gate Bridge

Sun shining through the fog on the Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge under fog, from Fort Baker

Golden Gate Bridge under fog, from Fort Baker

Palace of Fine Arts glowing in the fog, San Francisco

Palace of Fine Arts glowing in the fog, San Francisco

A strong sense of togetherness, trekking 39.3 miles for the fight against breast cancer

A strong sense of togetherness, trekking 39.3 miles with so many others in the fight against breast cancer

Walked with my coworker Robin almost the whole way.  A great bonding experience.

Walked with my coworker Robin almost the whole way. A great bonding experience.

Closing ceremony for the Avon Walk.  A good balance of seriousness and hope.

Closing ceremony for the Avon Walk. A good balance of seriousness and hope.

Thank you to all my friends who supported me with encouragement, camaraderie, and donations. In case you can’t tell, I’m hooked on this event. The only things that could have made this great weekend even better would have been 1) not being exhausted and jet-lagged going into it (learned a lesson) and 2) having a costume! If only I had known this was an opportunity to craft a fun pink outfit and accessories! Next year, a tutu is a must! 3) having even more friends to walk with, so I hope you’ll consider joining us next year!

“Jewels”

DIY Custom Gift Bags

Here’s another easy idea to make a gift that is unique and meaningful from things you might already around the house. We just celebrated my twin nieces’ first birthday, and I wanted to make them cute gift bags. They were born in the year of the rabbit, so this paper that hubby bought for me in Japan years ago was perfect.

I almost always make my own gift bags by reusing paper shopping bags or party treat bags. I add decoration (and cover up the writing) with wrapping paper, scrapbook paper, or art paper. I finish off the packaging with coordinating tissue paper and ribbon. It’s easy to make matching cards with the same paper, too.

DIY gift bags by Jewels at Home

Custom gift bags for my nieces’ first birthday.

DIY gift bags by Jewels at Home

Custom gift bags

While I started making these bag to make good use out of paper bags I already had, I’ve also done it by buying a group of plain bags from the craft store. Not only are you conserving resources, the handmade result will be one-of-a-kind and beautiful!

“Jewels”

Wine Country Love Affair – A Visit to Hillebrand Winery

I’m no oenophile, but I am a huge fan of wine country architecture and style. The other night, we took my in-laws to Hillebrand Winery in Niagara -on-the-Lake to celebrate my father-in-law’s upcoming 70th birthday. It was a lovely evening all around.

The Hillebrand grounds have exactly what I love about wine country style – a perfect blend of old and new, a perfect balance of natural and refined.

I got a lot of ideas to use for improving our yard, when the time comes.

I absolutely love this raised patio dining area. The stone steps and facing are rustic and beautiful. The wrought iron railing would be a huge improvement over our chainlink!

Beautiful raised patio at Hillebrand Winery

Beautiful raised patio at Hillebrand Winery

I don’t want to completely cover our patio, since it’s often foggy where we live, and we love every little bit of sun we can get, but an open pergola would look great, and I love the look of the grape vines growing up the posts. It would be a bonus if we actually get some grapes!

Grape vines on a covered walkway at Hillebrand Winery

Grape vines on a covered walkway at Hillebrand Winery

I also got inspired by some practical tricks for great-looking pathways without a huge price tag.

Below are a surface used for walkway and patio made from stamped concrete that looks like flagstone and also a path of packed dirt and gravel with a simple grey brick border. Both look great without using expensive materials.

concrete stamped to look like flagstone

concrete stamped to look like flagstone

Simple walkway of gravel with grey brick border

Simple walkway of gravel with grey brick border

Inside the restaurant, I was taken by these big interior windows and wondering how I might incorporate something like that when we redo our kitchen. It could be a good way to connect go the living room.

Interior windows are so charming and carry natural light through a space

Interior windows are so charming and carry natural light through a space.

The food was delicious, and the setting was perfect. We slipped out to the garden with the kids multiple times between courses to run around in the grass, keeping everyone happy.

Playing at the Winery

Playing at the Winery

Here’s a wonderful dilemma to have: besides the gorgeous wine country gardens, I also love a gardens with an Asian theme – the stone lanterns, bridges, Japanese maples, and bamboo. I’ll have to figure out how to blend these into the perfect outdoor space soon!

Here are some pictures from the garden at my dad’s house. It was planted about 15 years ago now, and it has grown in beautifully!

Lush garden with stone lanterns and Japanese maples

Lush garden with stone lanterns and Japanese maples

Beautiful layers of green form the perfect backdrop for this garden with stone lanterns, paver stepping stones, and Japanese maples.

Beautiful layers of green form the perfect backdrop for this garden with stone lanterns, paver stepping stones, and Japanese maples.

Cheers!

“Jewels”