Sewing, We Meet Again

I’m sorry to report there has been no further progress on the chair cushion dilemma. The fabric is still pinned to the cushion. I do thank all of the readers who have told me how they would fix the mess I’ve made. I really appreciate your help! I’ll be sure to let you know once anything more happens on the cushion front.

However, I did dress up the chair with another throw pillow I just made. Check it out.

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Such a happy and bright bird on a neutral background. I shall name him Stanley. He looks like a Stanley.

I’ve already showed you how to (sort of) make a simple rectangular pillow, so I won’t go through that tutorial again.

Instead, I’ll show you how I stenciled Stanley onto the fabric. I was a little nervous, since I hadn’t ever stenciled onto fabric before. I had nightmares the paint would run or soak through and then I’d have to start all over. I even considered buying some yellow felt or a fabric remnant in a cool pattern, cutting our bird shapes, and sewing them onto the pillow in order to avoid painting onto the fabric itself. But, I sucked it up and decided to go for it.

I started with a yard of utility fabric from JoAnn Fabrics. Super cheap and super durable. I threw it in the washer and dryer so it could shrink if it was going to, and to make sure the fabric was clean and ready for painting. I ironed it too to get rid of any wrinkles. Make sure not to use fabric softener. Not sure why, but the fabric paint I used and all fabric painting websites I looked at told me not to do it. So, I didn’t.

I searched for a pillow insert for a while. Holy goodness those things are expensive! No way I’m paying $27.99 for only an insert. I wouldn’t even pay that for a pillow. I’m too cheap. Dan came up with a great idea while we were at Wal-Mart in search of a reasonably priced insert. I had wanted it to be a small throw pillow, so why not use a travel pillow as my insert? Works for me and it was only $3.99!

When I got home, I measured the pillow and cut the fabric. It was decision time. I had to decide what I wanted the stencil to look like. Originally, I wanted a birds on a wire pillow, but then I thought just one solitary flying bird might be nice. I hemmed and hawed (because I hem and haw over everything) and eventually decided to go with the one bird look. It was a bonus to me that I didn’t need to create my own stencil, or find a new one. When had I ordered the birch forest from Cutting Edge Stencils to make some wall art, a little bird stencil came with my order. It must have been fate.

I started playing around with the stencil to see where I thought it would look best.

Up top?

Down low?

Hmm…how would it look with a whole flock of birds?

I ended up positioning it in the top right corner of the fabric, so he looked like he was flying off the pillow. I put some newspaper underneath the fabric to stop any kind of bleed through, and taped the stencil to the fabric using painter’s tape.

I poured some yellow fabric paint into a disposable plastic glass, got my brush wet and started dabbing away. It bled a little outside the stencil, but wasn’t too noticeable. In retrospect, I probably should have traced the bird with a pencil, then used a fine brush to paint it in. Oh well. Next time.

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When the bird was dry, I gave it another coat to make the color brighter. 

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Once the second coat was dry, I lined up my fabric to begin hand sewing the pillow. I know, I should use a sewing machine. I don’t have one handy at the moment. 

Be sure to put the stenciled part inward when you sew since you turn the pillow inside out during one of the later steps in making the pillow.

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I stitched three sides, put the insert into the case, then tried to sew that final side with an invisible stitch. Still not the best, but I am definitely getting better. The final few inches I sewed look pretty good. Maybe I’ll go back a re-sew it someday.

Here’s Stanley just chilling in his new spot. He turned out a bit more yellow than the rug, which wasn’t my intention, but it was a welcome surprise. Stanley’s brightness keeps the yellows from looking too matchy-matchy, and I love the softer color, but more industrial feel that the utility fabric brings to the room. 
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I think the office re-do is nearing its end! What’s left?
 – wall art (above book case)
 – hang the DIY chalkboard
 – create shelves for display purposes
 – finish cushion (much to my dismay)

Almost there!
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Phoebe Girl is Two

Remember our dog, Phoebe?
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She graduated from training classes a little while back. She’s learning more each and every day.

We adopted her last November, and it’s hard to believe she’s only been a part of our family for eight months. It feels like she’s always been here.

I wouldn’t have considered myself a dog person before we got her. Sure I liked dogs, and I was the one who led the push to adopt a dog, but I never really thought I would have gotten so attached a canine. I had friends warn me this would happen. In my defense, we don’t refer to her as our baby, we’re not Mom and Dad, and our parents aren’t Grandma and Grandpa to Phoebe. But, we do love her.

Her birthday was a couple weeks ago, and I was at a loss for what to do. Are you supposed to celebrate? I am not crazy enough to throw a party for her, but I still thought we should do a little something. We gave her a gift on Christmas (some bones she likes), so why not for her birthday?

I decided to try my hand at baking her some treats. I am really good at baking for humans, so why not try bake for a dog? I found a recipe that featured her favorite – bacon.
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Here’s what I needed:

3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
1/4 cup vegetable oil or bacon grease
1 tsp garlic powder
4 cooked, crumbled slices of bacon 
1/2 cup cold water

It was actually really simple. Just combine all the ingredients and roll the dough out. I used a bone shaped cookie cutter ($2.99 for a set of three different sizes from Homegoods) and laid the cut out treats on some parchment paper in a baking sheet. I baked the treats at 325 degrees for about 40 minutes.
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She really liked them.
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I also found the Occupi Treat Dispensing Chew Toy at Target on clearance for less than $2. It’s supposed to work the dog’s mind and keep the dog busy so they don’t get bored and destroy things when you’re not home. Phoebe’s never had a destruction problem, but we thought she’d enjoy the supply of treats that she could have throughout the day.

We also wanted to do something to give back to the shelter that took in Phoebe before she became our pet. We got her from Orphans of the Storm, located in Riverwoods. I thought they would be glad to hear that Phoebe is in a loving and caring home, so I made a little card with a photo of her on it.
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We sent the card to the shelter with a small donation so they can continue to provide for these dogs until they find their forever homes. The second chance shelters give pets like The Phoebs is a real blessing to the animals they save, and to the people who adopt them. It’s worth more than what little they ask for an adoption fee (the low cost is one more reason to adopt from a shelter).

Finally, we started a pile of newspapers that we will bring to the shelter when we have a good amount stacked up. If anyone wants to save their old newspapers, I would be glad to take them to the shelter when we go.

Happy birthday, Phoebe! We’re so happy to have you in our lives.

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Homemade No Bake Mac and Cheese

Here’s another easy weeknight meal for you. This turned out much better than I expected for a last-minute meal. We devoured the left overs which were enough to give us three more meals (one and a half lunches each).
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Ingredients:
1 package of pasta (14.5 ounces)
2 packages frozen broccoli
3 1/2 cups milk (I usd soy, but it would probably be a bit better with skim)
6 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper 
1 1/2 cups shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese  (I used the grated cheese, but shredded would have been better)
1 1/2 teaspoons whole wheat Dijon mustard

Start by boiling the pasta according to the directions on the box. When there is about 4-5 minutes left for the pasta to cook, dump in both bags of frozen broccoli.

While the water is boling, start heating 3 cups of the milk. While the milk is cooking, put the rest of the milk, flour, garlic powder, salt, and pepper into a small bowl and whick until combined. When the milk is heated, add the flour mixture to the milk, stirring constantly, until the sauce is thickened.
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Once thickened, remove the pan from the heat and add in both cheeses and the mustard. Add the ingredients gradually, so the cheese can melt completely.
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Drain the pasta and broccoli. Return both to the pasta pot and add the cheese sauce. Stir until the pasta is thoroughly coated and serve immediately.

I deviated a bit with the cheese and used up some goat cheese that needed to be used up soon. It worked well. I’m sure you can add any kind of cheese you have around.

Word to the wise, after you eat, you might want to clean up immediately. That cheese sauce hardens up mighty fast and sticks to everything it touches. We had to soak our pans to get the cheese off. But, the meal was so good that it was worth it. 

July Couponing Savings Tally

A while back, I said I’d try to track how much was saved in the month of July due to my couponing efforts to try to answer the question I always get: Is it really “worth it”?

I did a sort of tally of savings overall by store. I’ll look only at the stores where I do the bulk of my shopping: Target, Walgreens, and Jewel. There might be a small produce run to a local store, but if we spend $15 there a month, that would be a lot, so I feel OK excluding that amount.

There was a trip to Costco thrown in fairly early into the month where we bought staple items: spinach, carrots, soy milk, dog food, frozen chicken breasts, frozen tilapia filets, etc. That trip, which we do every 6-8 weeks, costs an average of about $150. I find it difficult to measure exactly how much we “saved” by going to Costco. What should I compare the items we purchased to? The price at one of the three stores I usually go? The average retail price of the item in Chicago (where would I even get this information)? So, I’m counting it as an added expense.

I’ve tallied up my receipts and here’s what I’ve spent and saved in July:

Walgreens:
Amount Paid: $8.29
Amount Saved: $17.20
Best deal on an item: Skintimate Shave Cream for $0.49, which was 89% off the regular price.

Jewel:
Amount Paid: $45.71
Amount Saved: $53.86
Best deal on an item: Kellogg’s cereal for $0.99. which was 80% off the regular price.

Target:
Amount Paid: $86.67
Amount Saved: $49.86
Best deals on items: Sharpie pens and scotch tape for free! Savings of 100%.

As for meal planning, I just looked at what I had on hand, and made something from that. Those last minute trips to the grocery store really add up, so I avoid them like the plague. 

I purchased most items as I found them on sale, and I usually had a coupon or two to add even more savings. Since I have been couponing for a few months now, I do have a “stockpile” of food items that I can pick from when planning meals. For instance, I purchased a huge bag of frozen chicken breasts from Costco last month for about $20. I thaw that chicken and use with some of the newer purchases, like buffalo style dipping sauce for chicken nuggets, or cheese and tortillas for tacos.

I also have a growing stockpile of items like toiletries (like body wash, shave cream, and toothpaste), cleaning supplies (like Mr. Clean all purpose cleaner and magic erasers), and general home items (like tin foil, parchment paper, birthday cards, and Kleenex). All of these items have been counted in the totals above.

OK, let’s add it all up and see how much I saved. I spent $154.67 (adding up my totals from Walgreens, Jewel, and Target), plus an additional $75 (half the total from Costco) for a grand total of $229.67. This is all we spent in July, excluding any outside activities/meals. But, you know me, those activities and meals were also discounted due to coupons or other deals.

I saved a total of $120.92 for the month, which comes out to a 53% overall savings. If I keep this up, I’m on target to save about $1,451.04 per year. Not bad for only a couple hours of work per week. Of course, I could have done better if I treat couponing like it’s my job, but for a casual hobby, I’d say it’s paying off pretty well.

Have any of you been tracking your savings? What’s the best deal you got an a single item last month? Do you now agree that couponing can be “worth it”?

I Am A Fan of Sir Tommy Bahama

 I really enjoy the Pioneer Woman. I read her blog every day, and I drool whenever she shows pictures of her Lodge kitchen.

The other day, she had a post that really struck a chord with me. Every year, she hosts some of her oldest and dearest friends for a weekend of catching up and general girly fun. I host a similar gathering for my friends, and so I thought I’d share my experience with you.

In the summer of 2007, my friends and I started a tradition. It was the first summer we realized we were all back in the same city, after being scattered around for a few years. My friend Liz and I were the organizers of the event, and we decided to throw a Hawaiian Luau.

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We all wore our best Hawaiian gear. Sir Tommy Bahama would indeed be proud.

  

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Gosh, we look like babies!

 

It’s become a yearly tradition as a sort of summer get together for our entire group. Through the years, the guest list has changed, and there have been years where not everyone in our core group of friends could make it, but still, every year, there was a luau.

 

I remember one year, it seemed nearly impossible to find a date that worked for everyone, so we chose to meet on a Friday night (the luau was usually held on a Saturday). There was a powerful storm that night, so there were only three of us there. I don’t even think I dressed up, and just wore jeans and a shirt with a mermaid on it. And I believe the appetizers consisted of nothing but frozen pizza and other frozen items purchased in bulk at my local Costco. I know, classy. No wonder we didn’t take any photos.

 

We had the 2011 Luau last weekend. We kept it small, with just the four of us attending. We also changed it up a bit.

 

This year, I thought we were a little bit passed the cheesy Hawaiian Luau theme. As I’ve started to really get into cooking, baking, and party planning, I just couldn’t bust out the tacky blow up red parrot that was once a staple at the event in good conscience.

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Instead, I opted for more of a grown up, summery, lady-like party. Here’s my party how-to, because you know I like to share all the gory details.

 

I decided to still keep some Hawaiian touches, as a nod to the party’s beginnings. For instance, I served grilled margarita chicken skewers as the main dish, and dessert was a half batch of skinny pina colada cupcakes. 


Also for the first time this year, the event was hosted as a potluck. I made artichoke parmesan crostini, the skewers, and the signature drink (pomegranate margaritas), and guests each brought something to share.

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As a general rule, I don’t like asking guests to bring anything to a party. But, this was kind of always “our” event, and my guests oh-so-kindly volunteered to help out, since I’ve had a lot going on the past couple weeks in terms of weekend events. I happily accepted their offer.

 

For decorations, I kept it super simple. Since we didn’t have an outside space, I set up our dining room table so we could all eat there. The table cloth came from Homegoods, I believe for $14.99. I have matching napkins, but after seeing them on the table, I decided there was matched pattern overload. Instead, I used the napkins to create a runner on the sidebar by the food.

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On the sidebar, I created a few flowery poofs made out of tissue paper. You can see how I did it by viewing Martha Stewart’s tutorial here.

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I kept the table decoration simple because of the busy tablecloth pattern and used a red candle (got it for free from Pier 1!) in a hurricane jar. Too bad I didn’t take a photo before the party started. Instead, I’m left with only the after shot.

 

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I set the table using, get this, my wedding china! Yep, Dan gave in and let me register for the most traditional of all wedding gifts. Ours is made by Lenox in the Twirl pattern. I make it a point to bring out the china pretty often. Ours is more durable than most, and get this, it can even go in the dishwasher! So I bring it out whenever I think of it. Why get wedding china if you’re never going to use it? Life’s too short to keep your pretty wedding china in a box, or even worse, in a curio cabinet, all the time.

 

Finally, I put our Miguel Margarita Glasses from Crate & Barrel. First time I got to use my glasses and pitcher set.

 

All in all, it was a most successful party. I had a great time with my girly-friends.

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