Tuesday, November 26, 2013

"Charm Squares" Baby Quilt

My friends are having babies faster than my sewing machine and I can keep up with, so I've been on the lookout for some quick baby quilt projects. One day I found a blog post from Sew Mama Sew featuring a Charm Squares Baby Quilt. The project looked easy, fast, and like I could make use of my rather large fabric stash.

It was indeed an easy project, and I was able to use some fabric I had, but because I was trying to make something unisex, I had to visit my new, favorite fabric store, Sew Modern. Maybe if I tried a little harder, I could have made do, but I'm not going to lie, this was the perfect excuse to go fabric shopping.

I picked out a Lorax print (the all-green fabric) because my friend, Mrs. G. and I both love to read. And, although blue is traditionally more of a boy color, I went for blue, green, and brown prints. Hopefully the paisley print and the binding's floral print made it a little more feminine.

If you want to make this quilt, you can buy a Charm Pack, and not deal with picking out your own fabric and cutting it down to 5-inches by 5-inches squares. The pattern is this:

  • 38 squares - 5 inches by 5 inches
  • 5/8 yard fabric for sashing (solid works well)
  • 3/8 yard fabric for binding
  • 1 1/4 yard fabric for batting *you can get away with 1 yard if you are careful*
  • One craft-sized package of batting
  • Cut two strips, 5 inches wide from sashing fabric
  • Cut four strips, 2.5 inches wide from shashing fabric
  • Divide charm squares into a set of 25 (A) and a set of 13 (B). If you are making your own charm pack, first cut your 5-inches by 5-inches squares.
  • From the set of 13, cut each of the squares in half. They will measure 2.5 inches by 5 inches
  • Sew the charm squares (A) and half squares (B) into five rows, press seams open. Each row will have 5 A-squares and 5 B-squares. Alternate between each row:
  • Sew the sashing strips to the pieced rows - the 5-inch wide strips should be on the top and bottom. Cut down the sashing strips to be the same length as the pieced strips.
  • When the quilt top is finished, baste it to the batting and backing.
  • Quilt as desired. *I hand-quilted across the sashing strips, a half-inch between rows. The pieced rows were quilted one-quarter-inch from the seam.*
  • Piece and attach binding. *I do mitered binding."

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Pumpkin Crunch

After a very long work day, I decided to bake pumpkin crunch because I needed something to take to work, and it's pretty easy. It's just time consuming. Everyone's been asking if this recipe is from Pinterest, but I've actually had this recipe for years. My mom sent to me when I first started cooking, and I like to make this every once in awhile. The butter and yellow cake mix is quite delicious.
Pumpkin Crunch
Prepare 9"x13" pan by lightly greasing then line with wax paper. Preheat oven to 350.
Pumpkin Mixture
3 large eggs, beaten
1 large can evaporated milk
1 lb. can of pumpkin
1 C sugar
1 t cinnamon
1/4 to 1/2 t ground ginger
1/4 t nutmeg
Combine all pumpkin mixture ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well and pour into prepared pan.
1 box cake mix (yellow, white or lemon) *I use yellow*
1 C nuts (almond, walnut, pecan or macadamia)
2 blocks butter, melted
Gently spoon dry cake mix onto pumpkin mixture. Sprinkle nuts evenly. Spoon on melted butter. *You want the melted butter everywhere*
Bake for 50 minutes. When done, put on rack to cool for two hours, turn upside down onto serving tray.

*I like it and serve it like this, but you can also add a cream cheese topping, which is below.*
1 8-oz. carton cream cheese, softened
3/4 C powdered sugar
1 small container cool whip

Mix softened cream cheese with powdered sugar and cool whip until blended.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


WonderWonder by R.J. Palacio

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes you come across a book, and it's one that you hope everyone will read; because really, everyone should read it. R.J. Palacio's Wonder is one of those books.

Unlike the Great Gatsby, a "classic," you don't read Wonder for the symbolism and plethora of literary tools (I actually don't really understand why we force it upon high school students). Instead, you read Wonder because it's about kindness and appreciation - two things from which this all humans would benefit.

Wonder centers around August Pullman, a fifth grader with a facial deformity that kept him from going to school. The story is told from the point of view of several young people - mainly fifth graders, but a couple of high school students as well. It's not all heavy. There's some laughter in there, and there's determination and resilience.

There's also a clarity that comes with children and their perception. This is actually my favorite part of the book. Kids see and understand more than we adults think they do, and I like how Palacio captures this in her story.

So, go get this one and read it. If you have kids, read it with them, and talk about the book. There's great lessons to be learned - especially if you wonder what you would have done had you been August's parents, and what you would do, had you been August or his sister, Via. But most of all, remember this book. Remember it when you're having a tough time. Remember it when you meet someone different.

View all my reviews

Friday, June 21, 2013

Like YA Fiction? Then Read Matched.

Matched (Matched, #1)Matched by Ally Condie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I willingly forgo sleep on a work night and seriously contemplate removing myself from any and all social activity just so I can read, I know it’s book obsession. It didn’t take long with Ally Condie’s Matched trilogy.

This dystopian series hooked me in pretty early; which surprised me because I wasn’t expecting much. And I wasn’t expecting much because I did something bad, and I judged a book by its cover. Terrible, I know. But I couldn’t help it. I had never heard for the series or author before, and my favorite librarian suggested it to me because she knew about my love for young adult fiction. It didn’t help knowing that I was getting into another dystopian series. After the Hunger Games, I’ve steered clear of such novels because I loved those books so much.

If you’re at all concerned that this might be too much like Suzanne Collins’ world, don’t be. In Condie’s dystopian society, everyone is happy – or so they think. The government in power known as “the Society” has eradicated sickness (no more cancer), makes optimal marriage matches for citizens, puts people in the best job positions for their abilities, and has basically removed all the discomforts of life as we know it. There are even pills to keep you calm (there are always pills to keep you calm). Of course, not everyone is happy, and people are starting to wonder, and some are starting to learn.

This book is marketed as a romance, and I did find it be quite romantic. There’s a lot of love here, but it’s not just between two teenagers. There’s also love between friends and family. Maybe even a little self-love too. Condie’s written a great book for those of us who love YA fiction, and it’s worth losing sleep over. I mean, she made my heart swell every time I read the words of Dylan Thomas’ poem:

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Old age should burn and rave at the close of the day;
Rage, rage, against the dying of the light…

View all my reviews

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

I Gave Lean In a Chance

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to LeadLean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When my Meetup group announced that our next event would center around Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, I thought, “Oh no. No way am I reading a book written by some high-powered female executive. And a Facebook one at that. I’ve got enough books to read.” I immediately wrote the book off and did not want to give it a chance because I assumed it would be filled with feminist jargon that did not concern me. I didn’t even read the book description our organizer provided from Amazon.

Thankfully, the universe intervened, and forced me to listen to someone else talk about the book. When I bothered to listen and be open-minded, I realized that I did want to read a book about women, work, and leadership.

I still approached Lean In warily. Perhaps Sandberg would drone on about women’s rights and the unfairness she’s experienced in the workplace. These are things that don’t usually concern me. Rarely in my professional life have I thought I was treated a certain way because I of my gender. Normally, I don’t doubt that I can execute at work. It doesn’t bother me a whole lot to be the only woman in a room full of men at work. Yet, I found some perspective through Sandberg’s book.

Yes, she talks about equality in the workplace, and at home. But I didn’t find it to be didactic, or whiny for that matter. She takes her reader through her professional and personal experiences, and admits to the times when she could have done better. Sandberg also discusses her shortcomings, her doubts and her struggles. She even points out some very interesting studies. My favorites being the 2003 Heidi/Howard study conducted by a Columbia Business School professor and a New York University professor; along with a study conducted in the UK about employment and socio-emotional behavior.  I would go into detail, but I really want you to read this book.

Maybe I liked Lean In so much because like Sandberg, I have been called bossy for my entire life. Maybe it’s because I work full-time, and I’m in a leadership position at my current job. Whatever the reason(s), Lean In resonated with me, and it’s an important book for everyone to read. And I mean everyone.

If you work in your home or outside your home; if you’re a woman or a man; if you’re entry level, middle management or in the C-Suite, there is something you can take away from this book. If you have a daughter (or three like my parents), then my guess is you probably want her to become a confident woman who find success and happiness in life. This book isn’t the end-all, be-all, but it’s headed in the right direction.

My favorite Lean In excerpts:
  • Think personally, act communally (when negotiating)
  • If you’re offered seat on a rocket ship, you don’t ask what seat, you get on (career advice)
  • Done is better than perfect (Facebook poster)
  • The best way to make room for both life and career is to make choices deliberately – to set limits and stick to them
View all my reviews

Monday, June 10, 2013

I Ate My Way Through My Vacation

Instead of a bunch of souvenirs, I came home with a very full stomach and an iPhone full of food pictures. Yes, I ate my way through my vacation. Surprisingly, the weight gain was pretty minimal; thanks to all the walking I did. But this isn't about exercise, this is about food.

I really didn't expect to eat anything truly delicious until I got to Paris, but I was wrong. I was also wrong in thinking that the food would be pretty blah until I got to Paris. In Amsterdam, thanks to colonization I enjoyed my first taste of Indonesian food, and in Berlin there was Turkish food. The beer (as expected) was great, as was the wine in Paris.

Now for the photos.

Unfortunately, I have no idea what Dutch food is like. However, I do know that ZOUK is a decent place to grab a beer, and a lamb kabob. It's located away from the Leidseplein, so mostly locals hang out here.

Brouwerij't IJ zatte - a triple from Amsterdam

Lamb kabob at ZOUK

I managed not to eat anything Dutch for dinner either. When I asked the bartender at ZOUK for recommendations, he started talking about steak. I love steak, but not while traveling in another country, so I opted instead for Indonesian food. I picked Kartika because it had a sign out front, and it was crowded. It was dumb luck that I wandered into this yummy place. Full disclosure - I've never had Indonesian food before, so I have nothing to compare this against.

My first Indonesian dish ever

If my plate looks like I went to a potluck and tried a little bit of everything, it's because I did get to try a little bit of everything. They had a menu item which allowed you to try several different dishes all on one plate.

In Copenhagen the food experience was interesting. They too eat a lot of steak, and apparently béarnaise sauce. At the top of my list to try was smørrebrød, which is basically an open-face sandwich. 


I tried smørrebrød at Dag H in Copenhagen. The sandwiches are nothing to write home about, but it's Danish, so I think you pretty much have to try one while you're there. The best thing about Dag H is that they are always open; from what I understand this is pretty unusual for Copenhagen.

My best restaurant meal was at a place called Maven (which means "stomach" in Danish). The restaurant is in part of what used to be a church, and it's a great example of hygge (which roughly translates to "cozy"). The food is great, but I took no pictures because it was really dark in there. 

For my birthday, my friend, Ms. R. took me to a place called Salt, which serves Nordic cuisine. We enjoyed a rather large lunch, and tried several dishes. I had my first taste of herring, although Ms. R. said that I should have tried regular pickled herring instead of this fried version.

Three types of salt to taste

Herring disguised so as not to look like pickled fish

I love all charcuterie

My favorite meals in Copenhagen were at Ms. R.'s place. One day she made us panini with chorizo, and it was delicious. The chorizo was not the type of ground sausage I'm used to, but more like what you would find with charcuterie. Yum.

Onto Berlin. By this point on my trip, I was getting full easily, and it was so cold I was rarely hungry. My most memorable meals were at a Turkish restaurant called Hazir, and at a Bavarian place called Augustiner am Gendarmenmarkt.

Appetizer plate at Hazir

I couldn't tell you how to get to Hazir because my friend guided me on the U-Bahn, and I would never have gone there on my own. It was yummy though, so if you can make your way to this part of town, definitely eat here!


I really wanted to eat what I thought of as traditional German food (sausage) in Berlin, so my friend took me to Augustiner, which he said was more Bavarian. I tried the bratwurst, and realized that I still just do not care for bratwurst, even in Germany. The sauerkraut was good, as was the beer.

One must have beer while in Germany

I am ashamed to admit that I don't really know what Czech food is like either. My main meal was at Red Pif, which is  wine bar and restaurant. The food was okay, but nothing amazing. I went there to try the Czech wines, which were good. I did manage to try a trdelnik, while walking from Prague Castle to the Charles Bridge. Trdelik is a rolled pastry.


The jam-like substance is some sort of plum. There was a nutella option, which I'm sure would have been good, but I can get nutella in the states so I opted for the plum.

Finally, Paris. The food is as amazing as advertised. Don't get me wrong, I had a bad meal, complete with the stereotypical rude French waiter (stay away from La Coupe d'Or in the Hotel-de-Ville neighborhood); but as a whole, if you love food, you will love what Paris has to offer. For the most part, I steered clear of anything around the Eiffel Tower and the Champs-Élysées. I also ate a ton of bread (how can you not), and wish I had more cheese and charcuterie. Oh, and don't order an Orangina in Paris - it's a waste of money. Drink tap water and wine.

My favorite dinner was at Le Petit Niçois, a restaurant near my hotel, Les Jardins d'Eiffel. Technically it's near the Eiffel Tower, but it's a good 15-minute walk to the restaurant from the tower. The ratatouille (my entrée) was served with a poached egg and pesto on top, and this took the already delicious ratatouille to a whole new level. Plat du jour was a lamb dish. It was amazing.

Le Petit Niçois ratatouille

Lamb at Le Petit Niçois

I also made it a point to try two of the places recommended by Anthony Bourdain on the Layover: Berthillon (for ice cream) and Du Pain et Des Idées (for bread). 

Praline Citron Coriander flavor

Berthillon is at 31 rue Saint Louis en I'lle, and it was worth every bit of my long, lost walk. I picked the praline citron coriander because I didn't know how it could possibly work, yet completely trust the French.

L'escargot au citron et nougat de Montélimar

Strong cheese and smoky ham on the left, olive on the right

Du Pain et Des Idées is a boulangerie not to be missed. They are traditional, so you will find no patisserie here. Perfect for me because I have no interest in patisserie. Honestly, I could have ordered one of everything at this place, but I was good an only left with three items. Unfortunately, they were sold out of croissant by the time I got there (before lunch), but I enjoyed every bit of the flaky l'escargot and those savory rolls.

From left to right: pistachio, caramel with fleur de sel, and basil strawberry

I am ruined forever when it comes to the macaron thanks to Paris. These three delightful macarons are from Lenôtre. I don't know if it's possible to make macarons this amazing outside of France.

Pain au chocolat

My sister Mindy asked me to eat pain au chocolat for her. So I did. Even if I don't care for chocolate a whole lot. Again, totally worth it. And now I'm off to dream about macarons, bread, wine, cheese and Paris.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Europe Day 9 to 12: Paris

What is it that they say about expectations? Oh right, don't have them.

When it comes to Paris though, it's nearly impossible not to have expectations. Especially when just about everyone who's been to Paris tells you how much you'll love it. You just have to look at pictures, and the place looks magical. Although, your expectations can be low since there's the stereotype about Parisians and how they are rude to Americans and refuse to speak English.

The stereotype was not my experience. And despite my high expectations, I fell in love with the City of Lights. In fact, my love for Paris is blind. I hate public transportation, but I loved using their Metro and bus system. Most of my food encounters were great, except for at this one place; and even then I just thought to myself, "Well, it can't all have been perfect." Even having a bracelet scam guy brazenly grab my arm and follow me when I turned away didn't ruin this place for me. Yup, I love Paris.

My first two nights were spent on the Left Bank at Les Jardins d'Eiffel, and my last two nights were at the Renaissance Paris Vendome Hotel. I now know I am a Left Bank kind of girl. Jardins d'Eiffel is near the La Tour Maubourg Metro stop, and about a 15-minute walk from the Eiffel Tower. This part of town was more of a regular Parisian neighborhood, and significantly less touristy than the area around the Renaissance Vendome; which is across Jardins des Tuileries, and close to the Louvre.

My Hugo moment at the d'Orsay

Of course I had a checklist of things to see - Museé d'Orsay, Museé du Louvre, Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, Champs Élyssés, Arc de Triomphe, etc. - but, I also just wanted to enjoy my time there. Meaning, I wanted to take Anthony Bourdain's advice on Paris, and enjoy it at a leisurely pace. So, while I saw everything on my list, and I also fit in Museé de l'Orangerie and the Sacré Couer, and I explored.

Museé du Louvre

I found my way on the Metro to Rue Montorguiel (a Bourdain recommendation) and just walked around, ate pain au chocolat, prosciutto, and cheese. I also saw some weird art, and listened to a band play on the street. From there, I sought out E. Dehillerin (another Bourdain recommendation), a distributor of cooking and pastry utensils; and La droguerie, a yarn and fabric store.

You can find yarn, fabric and notions here

My other explorations included the Marais district, which is where I got lost. From the Bastille Metro, I meant to walk along rue Saint Antoine, but instead walked on rue du Faubourg Saint Antoine - the opposite direction. I ended up ducking into a small bookstore (I forgot to write down its name), where I found the Paris Pratique Par Arrondissement map book my sister wanted. Within Marais, I got lost again as I tried to find my way to I'Île Saint Louis. There were more cute boutiques to shop in, and I also came upon a building which seemed of some historical importance. The sign out front was in French, so I was only able to determine that it had something to do with the Medieval era. From what I have gathered off the internet, the building is a rare Medieval residence.

Historie de Paris building along rue Francois Miron

Paris did have its share of strange moments. At one point, I saw a man walking his dog, and balancing on the dog's back was a white rat. I actually saw this trio the following day, walking along the Champs Élyssés. The other strange moment also happens to be the only time I truly did not feel safe on this entire trip. As I mentioned earlier, I encountered one of the bracelet scam guys. This was at the Sacré Coeur, and it happened at the very bottom of the steps, where there are many scam artists waiting. These guys were aggressive, and I did not like it one bit. They try to tie pieces of string around your wrist, and then demand money, or they may distract you while someone else pickpockets you. I almost left the Sacré Coeur without seeing the basilica, but I made myself stay since I rode the Metro all the way out to Monmartre, and I'm glad I did. My anger and unsafe feeling went away immediately when I walked into the church and heard beautiful singing. The nuns were singing during Sunday Mass. This was one of my favorite moments in Paris.

My other favorite moment was watching the Paris Marathon. I had no idea I was going to be in Paris during the marathon, much less be changing hotels and going from the Left Bank to the Right Bank on the day of the race. I actually tried to avoid the marathon by attempting to get to my new hotel in the morning, but I was running late, and I accidentally got off the Metro two stops too late. I crossed rue de Rivoli just in time - I saw a lone runner pass by, and so I hurried across the street with my suitcase and backpack, and started walking towards my hotel. About five minutes later, a larger pack of runners ran by, and then came the masses. Seeing the Paris marathon was amazing, and I want to run this race some day.

Marathon de Paris

My four nights in Paris weren't nearly enough. I want to go back and spend my time there at a truly leisurely pace. I miss hearing people saying "bonjour" and "bonsoir." And yes, I want to eat the food and drink the wine. Although, next time, I won't be buying the ridiculously over-priced bottles of Orangina. And in case I haven't convinced you, you should go. It's an easy city to get around. People speak English, and even in the areas lean on tourists you will find at least one person who speaks just enough English. Seriously, the food is fantastic, as is the wine. There is an immense amount of art. There is history. I could keep going, but you should stop reading, just go to Paris.

Paris from the Arc de Triomphe