To match or no?

I’ve had kind of a weird turn-around on wedding bands. Before I was engaged, and even for the first few months I was, I really didn’t like them. I loved the look of engagement rings, but wedding bands always looked clunky to me. After B’s and my first shopping trip to look at band options in December, I even declared that I would go band-less.

But then….. I dunno. I just changed my mind. Random! I set on a search for a 1/2 eternity platinum pave band to match my engagement ring. I wanted it to be thin but not TOO thin. Blingy but not TOO blingy. I tried on like 20 different bands and none of them fit. I was the goldilocks of wedding bands.

I found one I LOVED at Diamond Cellar, but it cost about double what I was hoping to spend, so I took my search online. On Blue Nile I found a ring that looked like the exact same thing. Same width, same number of diamonds, same carat weight– score! I ordered it and thought I was done.

But later that night I saw this other one. I had seen bands like it before and I thought they were awesomely unique. I just had to try it. So um… I ordered that too.

Love the 30 day return policy. Seriously.

They both came today and…… I love them both!! Now I have a hard decision to make.

The first ring matches my engagement ring really well.

And its super blingy!

It’s a completely beautiful ring.

The second one is so unique

It’s less blingy and it doesn’t quite match… but I think…. maybe… I like that?

And I do like how it looks on its own better than the first. But I really don’t plan on wearing it alone often and I still like the other one alone (just not QUITE as much).

Decisions decisions. To match or not. Blingy or unique. I don’t know… But I have 29 days to decide!

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Making a Quilt: Design and Math

Quilting is a semi-unusual hobby for people my age and I often have people tell me “I could never do that! It looks so hard!” Its SERIOUSLY not hard. You have to know how to sew a straight line, you have to use a little math (or just find a pattern), and you have to have the time and desire to actually sit down and make the quilt. That is it. As I work on this quilt I’ll update my tutorial with each phase as I get it done.

Let’s get started!

The very first thing you need to do is DESIGN your quilt. Quilts come in a million and one different patterns ranging from extremely easy to extremely complicated. I usually go for easier patterns because I quilt for fun and I don’t want to worry about matching up 8 cornered stars. You can definitely go to the fabric store and find patterns for quilts that will give you step-by-step instructions, or find instructions online. No shame there!

I just prefer to draw my own. The math is soothing. At this point I have a mental database of quilt patterns I’ve done before so I can just decide what I want to do and draw it, but for a beginner, try googling “beginner quilt patterns” and see what you find. Once you find a picture of one that you like, draw a diagram of it so you can start figuring out how much fabric you’ll need. Here is my diagram that I had drawn for this quilt:

As you can see, my quilt is composed of 5 rows and 3 columns of “primary” blocks. And each primary block is comprised of 4 “secondary” blocks. A lot (or most) quilts use the same kind of primary block over and over through the whole quilt, but I decided to alternate two similar but different primary blocks to create a pattern. I’ve never made a quilt like this before so I hope it turns out well!

As you can see above, I labeled my primary blocks as Block A (for the 3 fabric blocks) and Block B (for the 2 fabric blocks). This is going to help me keep everything straight. I also color code my quilts so that when I’m figuring out how much fabric to buy I can assign each one a “color” and not get confused about what is for what (super important when you buy fabric for a project then don’t do the project for several years).

To figure out how much fabric to buy, you need to first figure out how big you want the quilt. I decided this would be a “cuddle quilt,” or a throw. I usually do this size because they get used a lot more than if I were to make bed quilts (that would have to match a decor, etc).

I decided on 45×75 inches, and got to work. That size quilt means each primary square has to be 15″ square (finished). Each primary square is comprised of four secondary squares that are each 7.5″ square.

Block A uses 3 fabrics, and thus the (finished) size of each fabric strip will be 7.5″ x 2.5″ (divide 7.5 by 3). In my drawing, these strips are colored yellow, green, and brown.

Block B uses 2 fabrics, and thus the (finished) size of each fabric strip will be 7.5″ x 3.75″ (divide 7.5 by 2). In my drawing, these strips are colored white and blue.

The most important thing to remember when you’re figuring out the sizes is SEAM ALLOWANCES! You are going to be sewing all four sides of every piece of fabric, so the finished size will be smaller than the size you cut out. I always use 1/4 inch seams so I add 1/2 inch to all dimensions (to compensate for seam allowances on both sides).

Thus, yellow, brown, and green fabrics (from drawing) will be 8″ by 3″; and white and blue fabrics will be 8″ by 4.25″.

Now you know how big your quilt is going to be, and how big each piece of fabric needs to be, so all you need to do is figure out how many of each type of quilt piece you need!

For those pieces in Block A (green, yellow, brown), there are 8 primary blocks. Each primary block has 4 secondary blocks, and each secondary block has 1 of each color. 8 x 4 x 1 = 32 pieces of green, yellow, and brown. Fabric varies in width but its usually between 42 and 45 inches wide.

You can get five 8 inch cuts out of one width of fabric, and you need 32 total. Always round up in quilting, so 32/5 = seven 3 inch widths are needed. 7×3 = 21 inches, so buying 3/4 yard of fabric will leave plenty.

For the Block B pieces (white and blue), there are 7 primary blocks. Each primary block has 4 secondary blocks and each secondary block has 1 of each fabric. 7 x 4 x 1 = 28 pieces of each fabric.

Once again you can get five 8 inch cuts out of one width of fabric, and you need 28 total. 28/5 = six 4.25″ widths needed. 6 x 4.25″ = 25.5″, which means 1 yard is plenty.

To sum up:

3/4 yard of green, yellow, and brown
1 yard of blue and white

Have I TOTALLY lost you? I promise its not as hard as it might seem. Think it through, and feel free to ask me questions if I didn’t explain something well.

Or, just download a pattern from online so someone else does all the calculating for you!

Next up: picking your fabric, and cutting strips!

A tour, the sewing room!

As I mentioned in my last post, I had the week off last week and was super productive. One of my tasks was finally unpacking/cleaning/organizing my sewing room. It had become just a repository of randomness. Remember this? (the before)

It now looks like this:

Clean and organized rooms make me happy. So does finding things I totally forgot about. When I was going through a bag I’ve apparently moved three times now without unpacking, I found a quilt top I made my first year of law school.

SO pretty right? I didn’t even remember making it, although I vaguely remembered buying the fabric. After talking to my mom about it she reminded me that I decided to make a quilt during spring break my 1L year as stress relief. And then apparently I got stressed again, the quilt top got thrown into a bag and never finished, and I totally forgot about it.

I also found a ton of fabric for projects that I’ve bought over the years, mostly quilts.

I have fabric and plans for five quilts, one tree skirt (quilted), fabric grocery bags, and unfinished quilt top, and assorted other random fabric I just liked and purchased with no plan (like that I used on my chest last week!).

I decided that since I have so much fabric and so many plans I might as well just start something. Sewing is super relaxing for me and now that I have such a nice room to work in, its really nice to just go sit upstairs with a movie on my laptop and work. First up is a random blue and green quilt! Follow along with my next post for a tutorial.

Problem? Solved.

I’ve had some unexpected time off this past week, and it has been FANTASTIC. I have been so productive! I cleaned the house, did all of our laundry, (finally) cleaned out our junk drawer, unpacked/cleaned/organized my sewing room(!), and maybe most excitingly…. finished a project that has been two years in the making.

See… I have a thing for garage sales. I always think I can find hidden treasures. Which isn’t usually the case. Although I must admit there are still several items of furniture in our home that I got at garage sales (notably, the coffee table and papasan in the man cave).

The summer before last I was hitting up the garage sale circuit with my mom and I came across an old (ugly) cedar-lined chest. It had this horrible crackle paint, but I figured I’d just repaint the bottom and cover the top with fabric and use it to store linens in my bedroom. Seemed like a steal at $10!

Then it sat in my parents basement. For almost two years.

When B and I moved in together we had to go through some adjustments. Specifically, my being super messy and B liking things tidy all the time. One particular point of contention were my blankets. I love having blankets on the couch all the time. And then I just leave them on the couch because I’m just going to use them the next day, right?

Except every morning I’d come down and B would have folded up my blanket and put it under the side table. Boys.

Solution? The long-forgotten chest! I had my parents bring the chest down when we moved and I finally had time to work on it. And I love it!!

The lesson of the day was, though, patience and flexibility! No project ever goes exactly as planned. Here’s the play by play:

This is the chest with the lid removed. Apparently owned by the Davis family… who has a thing for gross yellow crackle paint. Awesome.

Let’s get a close-up of that paint…

First up, sanding! I used an electric hand sander to smooth things out. The crackle paint gave it a really weird texture.

Then I gave it a few coats of paint. It actually took three coats over two days because the color underneath was so uneven. I used the left over paint from the dining room because I wanted a splash of blue in our living room.

Once that was done it was time to work on the top. Supplies needed: 1/2 inch foam (could also use 1 inch foam) and spray adhesive. Plus some fabric (not shown).

Follow the instructions on the spray, which should say to spray both surfaces (the top of the chest and the foam) with adhesive and let dry 1 minute before putting them together.

Then I tried to pick to top up to carry it into the house and……….. CRACK

Seriously? I might have sworn a little. Or a lot. I did NOT spend two afternoons sanding and painting to abandon this project. Then I started strategizing. I went down to the basement to see what we had laying around, and found a piece of wood from another project! It was from a TV stand I had made for my last apartment and had kept when we moved “just in case.” Better yet, it was the PERFECT size! Pack rat tendencies, for the win!

So I ripped the foam off the cracked board and glued it to the new wood top.

Done and done. Next up, take a piece of fabric and cut it to size. I had this fabric laying around and it matched the blue perfectly. I love using things I already have (= free!)

Next up, put the fabric right-side down on the floor and smooth it out. Then put the lid foam side down on top of it.

Then find your trusty staple gun andddddddd realize its out of staples. 20 minutes and a full-house search later, find staples.

Start by stapling one side of the fabric to the underside of the lid, and make sure that the pattern is straight before you keep going! Then do the opposite side, making sure to stretch the fabric as you go because you don’t want it to be loose. Then finally do the other two ends.

It really doesn’t have to be perfect.

Once the fabric is done, I removed the hardware from the old lid and put it on the new lid.

Then I had B help hold the lid up while I re-attached it to the base, and attached the hardware from the front of the box, and I was done!

In its new home in our great room..

And best of all, it works! A perfect place to keep all of our extra blankets, throws, and pillows that we want accessible to the first floor.

I’m thrilled with how it turned out and so glad that I finally got around to doing this project! I also love that almost everything I used for this project I already had, so the cost was extremely low.

Cost breakdown:
chest- $10 (garage sale, purchased 2 years ago)
paint- $30/gallon (purchased for dining room and left over)
Foam- $15 ($9.99/yard at joanne’s)
spray adhesive- $5 (purchased last year at joanne’s for a different project and left over)
Fabric- $8 (purchased a year+ ago at joanne’s just because I liked it)
new lid- $10 (purchased 2 years ago for a different project and harvested from the now-defunct tv stand)

So my NEW purchase for this project was the foam, for $15. Everything else was repurposed, or found laying around my house. Design win!

Highlight of my day

So as I’m sure I’ve mentioned… I have a dog, Stew. And B has two cats, Milo and Cali. We were hoping that when we moved in together it’d all just be cool.

Not the case.

So we installed a cat door between the basement (the kitty lair, which includes their food, water, litter box, scratching posts, and many ridiculously large pillows) and the man cave. So that they could come up if they wanted to, but would also be able to escape from Stew when they wanted to.

Until today. This is what usually happens…

and the view from the basement…

But he seemed particularly insistent today. So I got my camera… and the most hilarious thing happened.

Which as it turns out kind of sucks because now the cat’s can’t escape. Any problem-solving ideas?

Patience and Orchids

I got home last night from a weekend at my parents’ house for mother’s day to find:
– lawn mowed
– weeds whacked
– carpets vacuumed
– dishes done
– house clean
– a picnic in the back yard
– a beautiful orchid plant

Seriously? Best surprise ever! Particularly because we’ve had a rough month or two with B’s studying for the CFA. He’s been stressed, I’ve been snappy… we’re both counting the days until the test. (26, if you’re wondering).

All just another reason I need to remind myself to have patience with him when he gets in his manic-study-nothing-else-exists-modes. Because in his natural state he is very thoughtful and sweet, and he won’t be studying forever.

Stuffed Poblano Peppers

I first found this recipe a year(ish) ago on a cooking blog. I was looking for healthy recipes I’d actually like, and this definitely fit the bill! It is pretty rare for me to find something healthy that I like just as much as all the not-so-healthy stuff I like, so this was definitely a keeper.

Since finding this recipe, I’ve sent it to my mother and my grandmother and its now in heavy rotation in both of their kitchens. They’ve branched out a bit more and have used the filling not only for peppers but also for burritos, taco sides, soup (add 1 cup of filling to 2 cups chicken broth and a big handful of fresh spinach, fantastic soup says my grandma!). My favorite way to eat it is actually just right out of a bowl, but B likes it when I actually stuff the peppers, plus doing it that way I eat a whole pepper with dinner and apparently vegetables are good for you. Who knew!

I stick pretty close to the original recipe with just a few variations. So, let’s jump on in!

First up, our ingredients.

Onion, garlic, chicken broth, canned tomatoes, rice, black beans, chili powder, cumin… also please pretend that you see extra virgin olive oil, corn, and red pepper flakes. Thanks.

And obviously… peppers! I usually use poblano peppers because they’re a little bit spicier and really stick with the Mexican theme… but sometimes the grocery store doesn’t have any good looking poblanos and I’ll just go for some red, orange, or yellow. So um… pretend they’re poblanos because that’s what I’m calling the recipe ok? Also, the lighting in my kitchen kind of sucks. Sorry.

Very first thing, take your peppers and cut them in half. Lose the stem and gut them, and rinse them out. Spray a cookie sheet or baking pan with cooking spray, put the peppers cut side down, and spray the backs of the peppers with the spray. They should look like this.

Preheat your oven to 375 and set the peppers aside as we get cooking.

As with most of my recipes…. start by drizzling some olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat.

Dice up 1 medium onion and 4-5 cloves of garlic

Add them to the pan and saute until the onions are getting a little bit translucent.

Then add your chicken broth and bring to a boil.

And your tomatoes… (note: you can use regular ol’ diced tomatoes… but I’d recommend the diced tomatoes with green chillies. Seriously yum)

Next up are the spices. I use chili powder, cumin, and just a few shakes of red pepper flakes. If I hadn’t had fresh garlic, I’d add a bit of garlic powder here too.

Now, once everything is going at a nice boil add 1 measured cup of rice (measuring is important here because if you add too much rice you don’t have enough liquid for it to soak up and then it is kind of crunchy and that is kind of hard to fix. Not that I’ve done that before or anything). Also note, this is just NORMAL rice. It is not instant or fast cook or anything.

I know you can’t really see the rice in there and it looks like its not enough… but trust me, its fine. Bring the pot back to a boil stirring constantly so that the rice doesn’t burn to the bottom of the pan. Once it boils, cover it up with a lid (important!!), turn the heat down to LOW and set your time for 20 minutes.

Remember the peppers from before? Slide them into the oven, which by this point should be preheated.

See the timer?

TRUST IT. I am a terrible peeker. I always want to check on what I’m cooking, stir it, test it. Don’t. Leave your pan with your rice filling alone. Don’t lift the lid, don’t stir it. Walk. Away.

In the mean time, grab your black beans and pour them into a colander to rinse the gunk off. Why are black beans always so gunky?

Here are the beans after they’ve been rinsed.

Now, I don’t always… but when I have some corn on hand I love to throw it in. I love corn and I think its great in mexican dishes. If I have a can of it (I usually don’t) I’ll throw the whole can on top of the beans, otherwise I’ll just pour some out of the bag of frozen corn on top of them to hang out and wait for the filling to be ready for them. You don’t have to thaw corn for this recipe, just throw it on there frozen.

Okay so once your timer has gone off, your rice filling is ready. Turn off the heat. When you take off the lid you’ll be surprised how rice-y it looks considering you only put in one cup. I swear, rice is magic. Stir in the beans and corn, and admire your awesome pepper filling. If I had cilantro I’d chop some and throw it in. But I don’t. Oh well!

Check on your peppers. They should be looking kind of wilted and have some of the skin separating. If they’re thicker they may require a few more minutes. Remove them when they look like this:

After you remove them, flip them over and fill them with the rice filling. This amount of filling should fill 5-6 peppers (10-12 halves). I usually just make three peppers and freeze the rest of the filling to be used for another dinner unless I’m having people over.

Sprinkle on monterey jack cheese, and your peppers are ready for the oven!

Pop them back in for 15 minutes and they’re done! Seriously tasty, and really pretty healthy.

240 calories and 10 grams of fat per HALF pepper. An easy way to cut way down on the fat and calories is to skip (or reduce) the cheese. I love cheese, so its just worth it to me… but feel free to modify. Each pepper half has 1/4 c of cheese on it which is 100 calories and 8 grams of fat. If you skip it the pepper half will have 140 cal and 2 grams fat.

Ingredients:
1 tbspn EVOO
1 medium onion
4-5 cloves garlic
1 can chicken broth (low sodium)
1 can diced tomatoes with green chillies
3/4 tspn cumin
3/4 tspn chili powder
4 shakes red pepper flakes
1 cup rice (not instant!)
1 can black beans
1.5 cups corn
1/3 c. cilantro diced (if you have it)
5-6 poblano peppers (or less if you’ll freeze left over filling)
2.5 cups monterey jack cheese.

1. halve and clean peppers, place faced down on a sprayed cookie sheet and spray backs of peppers. set aside
2. preheat oven to 375
3. heat olive oil on medium high heat, add diced onion and garlic. saute until translucent
4. add chicken broth and bring to boil
5. add tomatoes, cumin, chili powder, and red pepper flakes, bring to boil
6. add rice and return to boil while stirring
7. cover, turn heat to LOW, set timer for 20 min, and walk away
8. pop the peppers in the oven
9. rinse black beans and add corn (and cilantro if you have it)
10. when rice is done, stir in black beans and corn
11. when peppers are done, flip over, fill with rice mix, and add 1/4c. cheese per pepper half.
12. return to oven for 15 minutes