Friday, October 20, 2017

We're Moving: My Top 10 and Bottom 10

Most of my readers (all 3 of you) already know that we're moving...tomorrow! I thought I'd take some time this afternoon to reflect on this house that has served us for 5 years.

I recently spent some time walking around our house, and then looking at pictures I've taken of it in the past. I have a set of pictures from before we even moved in - when it was a foreclosure. And then I have lots of pictures of various updates we've made over the 5 years we've lived here. It was a nice trip down memory lane, and I decided to repeat a post I did just over 5 years ago, when we first purchased this house. 

This post was entitled Things I Won't Miss in Our Apartment - and it was my 'bottom 10'. I meant it as part humorous, part looking forward to new and exciting things, but I was surprised that some people took it as complaining. They told me I should be grateful because it was way better than their first home. (Now who's complaining?) 

I truly meant for it to be a grateful post. I was grateful for the apartment where we shared our first year of marriage. But is a basement apartment (that was added as an afterthought, and therefore not really a well-thought-out living space) really where I'm supposed to want to live forever? Was it so wrong for me to be excited about a house that would be all ours? I don't believe that was wrong, but I thought that with our upcoming move, I'd make two lists. One of things I won't miss, but also one of things I will.  And maybe that's all that was missing from my last post to make it seem less whiny. (But honestly looking back, I can only think of one or two things that I really liked about that apartment.)

This home, however - our first house - I'm quite sad to leave. I know we need to move; Caleb has too far to drive to work now, plus we're running out of room for children. And I'm very excited about our new house (and will post all about that soon), but that doesn't mean I don't still love this house. I will miss it - a lot!

I tried to come up with two even lists: 10 things I'll miss and 10 things I won't. But I couldn't quite come up with 10 things I won't miss, and came up with more than 10 I will. (There's your gratitude right there, mister.) So without further ado: My Bottom '10' and My Top '10'.

My Bottom '10' (in no particular order):

1. I will not miss all the traffic. We live on the corner of two very busy streets. To be fair, my daughter loves watching the cars (this will be noted in the next list), but pulling out of the driveway takes some getting used to.

2. I will not miss the sirens. We're moving within 2 miles of a fire department, but right now, we're right across the street.

3. I will not miss the road construction. Because we live on two busy streets, they get repaired more frequently than roads less traveled. This summer, we lived through a very long repair job that closed down our main route for the entire season. This added 5-10 minutes to our commute anywhere - not a huge deal, but still kind of annoying when your doctor's office should be 3 miles away, and is instead 15. (Of course, now they won't have to do anything to it for a few years.) (And to be fair, the upside of living on a busy street is that we get plowed earlier in the winter.)

4. I will not miss our basement. It's a 1940s basement, and when we bought this house, it was dirty, creepy, and dark.

To be fair, we've done a lot to improve it. Like, you know, cleaning it. And then 2 years ago, when we first thought we were going to move, my friends and family came and painted it for us. The walls got coated in a white sealer paint that was supposed to help keep moisture out, and the floors got painted a beautiful blue/grey. Even the support posts got painted. Everything looks much cleaner now:

And yet, the basement itself is unfinishable. The ceiling is too low to add drywall or a drop ceiling, and while there is very little moisture, in a bad storm, we do get some puddles in the corners. While we can use the basement for storage and laundry, it's wasted space beyond that.

5. Of course, the storage space in the basement is very important, because there's not a lot of it in the rest of the house. I will not miss that! There's a large closet in the master bedroom, a small closet in the 2nd bedroom (Jo's room), a little cupboard in the hallway (which, for the first few years, got mice in it - we've since eradicated them), and a big closet in the entryway. And that's it. The 3rd bedroom (the office) has no closet. We've made it work, obviously, but I'm looking forward to having extra space.

6. Do you watch HGTV shows like Love It or List It? There's always some dramatic scene where they show the husband and wife trying to maneuver through their too-small space, ending with someone dropping something, and the other in a huff. That's pretty much been us in the office. Once Jo was born, I had to move my sewing things out of her room. It's not really something I can do in the basement, and the living room seemed impractical with an exploring baby roaming around, so the only option was to share Caleb's office. It works, sort of, but we have days where we trip over each other, and it's not really fair to him, since I usurped his space.

7. I will not miss having only one bathroom. Okay, okay, I know millions of people survive with only one bathroom their entire lives. And it's almost never a problem. Except when I'm pregnant and can not wait. I would be fine having only one bathroom, true, but since we bought a house with 2.5, I think I'm allowed to rejoice in that.  But, seriously, though, I will miss this pretty bathroom:

Photo by Harr Creative

8. Our new house has plenty of bedrooms - room to grow. We'll even have a spare room, which is pretty exciting. But even if we had a child in each bedroom, if we had some overnight guests, two of the kids could share a room for a bit. At our current house, the best we can offer company is the couch, or an air mattress on the living room floor. We don't have overnight guests a lot, but then again, we also don't have accommodations for them.

9. Finally, I will not miss the distance from everything. This is the main reason we are moving now. Of course, when we purchased this house, one of our main reasons was the proximity to everything in our lives at that time. We were 2.1 miles from Caleb's job, a beautiful 20 minute drive from my job, and moving here put us 15-20 minutes from my family and 45 minutes from Caleb's family. But now we're 45 minutes away from Caleb's new job, and everywhere I go is at least a 10 minute drive south of here. Moving south just makes sense.

And that's it. If I sound whiny anywhere, please know I didn't intend to be. This house has been super great for us and to us, and I'm so grateful that we got to live here for 5 years. I'm also ready to move forward, but before I do, here's my Top '10' - things I will miss about this place:

1. I love to watch my baby girl watch the traffic.

We might get more dogs and school buses in our new neighborhood, but not nearly as many trucks and cars.

2. I will miss having a park right across the street.

3. I will miss our beautiful kitchen. I love a blue and white kitchen, and we finally finished it this summer (replaced the last of the old cupboards, and got all new countertops). It's light and airy.

Photo by Harr Creative
4. Our house is done. It's decorated, curtained, painted, etc. just how we want it. All those little projects are done: replacing old/broken switch plates, finishing trim, etc. I know some people like having a project house, where there's always something to do (and then they move when they get it all done), but we don't mind not having to work on things.

Photo by Harr Creative

5. Our beautiful fireplace. My sister painted this for us two years ago, and it is still absolutely stunning. Check out the whole project here, because it is truly amazing.

Photo by Harr Creative
6. I will miss all the charm and character in a 1940s house. We have these beautiful arches and curved ceilings. They don't make 'em like this anymore. 

Photo by Harr Creative
7. I will miss our piano! Sadly, we have to leave it behind. (The technical reason: the bass bridge is cracked, meaning [1] the piano can no longer be tuned to 440 Hz, only to itself and [2] the piano cannot be moved from the house, or the bass bridge will break entirely.) Josephine loves to play 'Elmo's Song' on the piano. ('Elmo Elmo dee dee deeeeee')

Photo by Harr Creative
8. I will miss all the custom window treatments I made for this house. While the buyers didn't want most of the curtains, they won't necessarily fit the windows in our new home. I may be able to reuse the fabric, but I will be starting mostly from scratch there.

My kitchen curtains - one of the first things I ever sewed!

The blackout curtains I made for Jo's room

The living room curtains
The door curtains
The roman shades - I'm most proud of these!
9. Moving outdoors, I will miss our lilac grove. We have an insane number of lilac bushes on our property, and it smells like heaven every spring!

10. I will miss the wild raspberry and black raspberry bushes on our property. Some years, I've picked and frozen enough to last me all year. I throw them in pies, crisps, muffins, etc.

11. I'll miss my rhubarb patch. Yes, I can plant more rhubarb, but I built this patch and will still miss it.

12. Finally, I will miss my tulips. And my hyacinths and crocuses. But mostly my tulips. True, our new yard has amazing landscaping, including multiple fruit-bearing trees (and raspberry plants), but no tulips. This Dutch girl will have to plant some next fall.

This move is definitely bittersweet, but I'm ready and excited for this new adventure!

Love and Duct Tape,
Leah Joy

P.S. Just in case this post needed to be longer, here's a sneak preview of our new house. This was taken just after we closed (Jo was done).

Monday, October 16, 2017

Mastering the Art of Baking: Brioche Buns, Meringue Cookies, and Soda Bread

This June, I had a day where I just really wanted to bake, so I picked a few recipes from my book and kept going until we ran out of eggs and flour. Here are the results.

I started with the recipe for brioche buns. These are delicious, which is probably because in addition to being a yeast bread, they also have a ton of butter and eggs thrown in. Because all of these ingredients retard the yeast (thanks, Paul Hollywood), brioche takes FOREVER to rise. By the time these were ready to bake, I had run out of eggs for the glaze, so they don't look as pretty and shiny as they should.

However, they tasted amazing. So rich, tender, buttery, flaky... mmmm.

They took a lot of work and time, so I won't be making them regularly, but for a special occasion? Absolutely.

Next, I made meringue cookies. Have you ever had a meringue cookie? I hadn't, and had no idea what they tasted like, or what their texture was like. Well, I love them! I want to make them all the time. (And yet I don't, because I'm lazy.)

I decided to pipe them into roses just because I can. And roses are prettier than dollops.

For the record, anytime I think about meringue cookies, I think it in Michel's accent from Gilmore Girls. (S2:E7 when he tells Lorelai he'll come and pick her up if she gets him low-fat American cheese and a meringue cookie.)

Finally, I made Irish soda bread. Everyone else loved this recipe, but all I could taste was baking soda, so this was not a winner for me.  But it was fun to make.

Love and Meringue,
Leah Joy

Monday, October 9, 2017

Easy Party Treat: Brownie Skewers

Need an easy party dessert that looks more impressive than a pan of brownies?

I mean, I love brownies, but every now and then, I go to a party where a pan of brownies seems like a cop-out dessert. Like, you couldn't have tried any harder?

(Hey, imagined heckler! Those brownies are from scratch!)

Enter the brownie skewer. I did not invent these, but I'm a big fan. I made a large quantity for a large party, and they were a big hit. I actually baked 2 whole 9x13 pans of brownies to cut into 1-1.5" squares. I added marshmallows and fruit to add some color and variety.

Aren't they pretty?!

I also made THM-friendly ones by making THM brownies and skipping the marshmallows.

(I wasn't kidding when I said I made a lot. I filled two trays!)

Leah Joy

Monday, October 2, 2017

4th of July Treats

I've decided to stop apologizing for posting things here months after they happen in real life. Reminder to self: this is not a fancy lifestyle blog; this is a record for myself, and anyone who cares to share in it is welcome.

So, I have a bit of a history of attempting ambitious recipes for the 4th of July. I don't normally make a lot of themed foods, but the 4th of July and Christmas are my weaknesses.

This year, after watching lots of The Great British Baking Show on Netflix, I wanted to attempt a roll cake. I found this recipe/pattern over at Sugary Winzy. Her directions were super clear and helpful! (She also has several other great 4th of July treat ideas I want to try in the future.)

When I pulled the roll cake out of the oven, I immediately rolled it up inside a tea towel, per the instructions. But I think I left it a little longer than I was supposed to (because I have a toddler), and when I unrolled the towel, my cake was in 6 pieces! However, I decided to not give up, and when I rolled it up with the cream, it all stuck together. The cake still has huge cracks, but I'm not in a baking competition here.  I really like how the colors turned out.

As for flavor, it was good, but not great. My family and I are kind of cake snobs, because we have such good recipes that we usually make. But you can't make just any recipe for a roll cake. 

If I made this again, I would try to get the colored portions much thinner. I'm not a fan of food coloring; besides the ingredients list, I think it adds a funny flavor. In a cake this thin, that flavor was more noticeable to me. You can see below that the colored portion is probably a little unnecessarily thick.

Here's a picture of a slice of it. It had been sitting out for several hours at this point, so most of the cream had soaked into the cake.

I also made my own puff pastry to make pizza pinwheels. I used the puff pastry recipe from Mastering the Art of Baking by Anneka Manning.

Of course, these aren't 4th of July themed at all, but they were still very delicious. You can find a recipe for this sort of thing all over the internet.

As for anyone who tells you puff pastry is hard to make, they are probably misspeaking. Unless you live somewhere incredibly hot, like the Equator or the Sun, it's not hard to make - but it is time-consuming. I made this in July in Michigan, which, granted, is not the hottest place in the world, but it was in the 80s. Just keep putting your pastry back in the fridge between turns to keep your butter from melting. The recipe said to refrigerate for 20 minutes between turns, but I let it go 30 minutes because of the heat.

Once I had the pastry ready, I rolled it out on parchment, then quickly put it back in the fridge for 30 minutes. Then I applied the sauce and toppings, quickly rolled it up, then put it back in the fridge for a bit while I got the next step ready. I brushed the whole outside of the log with a tiny bit of olive oil and sprinkled with Italian spices and then - you guessed it - put it back in the fridge for a while.  After that, I sliced them, and then put them back in the fridge one last time while I preheated the oven.

These were amazing, and lasted about 20 minutes at the party. I also brought semi-homemade pizza sauce for dipping.

I highly recommend making your own puff pastry. It is not difficult; it just requires patience.

Love and Fireworks,
Leah Joy

Monday, September 25, 2017

A New Series: Mastering the Art of Baking

For my birthday in 2015, my brother and his then girlfriend (now wife!) gave me this beautiful cookbook from my Amazon wishlist.

I'd found it at the library while shelving. Normally, I'm not one to want to own cookbooks. I get most of my recipes from the internet, plus I find it hard to justify all the space a cookbook takes up when I only like 3 of the recipes.

However, this book is different. I started to flip through the pages, and realized I wanted to make almost every recipe I saw. To be fair, there are several recipes I will never make because I hate feta cheese, but for the most part, I felt like I was looking through a magical book.

Mastering the Art of Baking by Anneka Manning:

(Isn't it beautiful?!)

A few months after my birthday, I gave birth, and I never got around to trying a recipe from the book. I felt like this was something I needed to be able to give a lot of attention to, and I just hadn't had that attention.

Until this spring, when I blocked off a weekend to learn to make choux pastry (and eclairs from that pastry).

Here's my first batch of piped eclairs:

Unfortunately, even after being baked much longer than the recommended time, they were still quite raw inside when I sliced them open. I'm sure they were safe to eat, but no one really wants a doughy eclair.

And this is the part where I have to apologize and promise to work harder to take pictures in the future. I honestly just forgot. I got caught up in the baking, and then the eating, so I have no pictures of the finished product!

At this point, I was upset, but decided to try again. This second time, I tried to cook more liquid off on the stove. After being baked, however, they were still raw inside (though not as raw as the first attempt). This time, I sliced them all open, scooped out the worst of the insides, and then put them back in the oven to dry out the insides that way.

Though unorthodox, this worked. I still hope to figure out what was wrong with my recipe, and have a few other things I can try.

Rather than filling them with the traditional creme patisserie, I instead filled them with whipped chocolate ganache. I glazed them with a simple chocolate glace frosting, just like the book suggested.

Because of the ganache, these were very rich, unlike a traditional eclair, but I thought they were delicious, as did everyone who got to try one.

Love and Ganache,
Leah Joy

P.S. Reminder to self: MAKE THESE AGAIN.

Monday, September 18, 2017

2nd Busy Book

Much earlier this year, my mom and I made another quiet book for Jo. (See the 1st one here.)  We did a lot of planning first, then some shopping, and finally, got sewing. All the machine sewing was done by me, while all the hand-sewing was done by my mom. She has serious skills!

Below each picture, I'll link to the source for the idea.

We decided on a blue theme for the backgrounds, and chose this cute patterned felt for the covers:

Each page has 3 grommets, which are all held together with binder rings.

We also created a hook-and-loop closure to hold everything inside, which - considering the weight of some of these pages - was a very good idea!

Spread 1:

The first page is her name:


...with removable letters. The 'O' makes a great toddler bracelet, by the way.

The next page is a family tree. Behind each flap is a picture of a family member.

We combined several ideas: Source 1 Source 2 Source 3

Jo loves this page, but she's not very quiet about it, as she points to the pictures and shouts, "Dada! Mama!"

The pictures are protected behind clear vinyl squares. My mom hand-sewed down each vinyl square individually, so it wouldn't be too hard to swap out a picture if we want an update.

Spread 2:

A rainbow of zippers!


We used an old holey mattress pad for the clouds.  My mom added some silver thread for raindrops.

The next page is a little garden, with carrots and radishes.


They all can be pulled up or planted again, and have twine roots securing them to the book. I sewed a small piece of popsicle stick inside each vegetable to give them a little extra stability.

I left a flap at the bottom, so we can easily access the root system if need be.

Spread 3:

This page features a lacing exercise (which she hasn't figured out yet).


And underneath is a cute giraffe!

Source - while we were inspired by her giraffe idea, we thought this one was cuter.

With removable bow-ties!

The next page teaches counting (and Roman numerals, too, just for fun).  Jo really likes to move the beads around.


Spread 4:

I made a little vest with functioning snaps!


The pockets are real, too, and are a great place to hide a little surprise snack.

The last page is just full of fun things to look at and feel. We considered making this an 'I Spy' page, but decided that at her age, this is just as much fun. This page accounts for most of the bulk and weight of this book. (And a side note: it's not super quiet when it gets moved!)


Each section has a double layer of white tulle. This holds everything securely, but still allows things to be felt and moved. The top section holds just a bunch of random, fun, colorful items.

This one has rainbow pony beads, plus all the letters in 'Josephine'.

And this last one has these cool translucent beads, with some bright objects mixed in.

The back cover matches the front cover. We chose to leave both of them plain.

We had so much fun making this for her and watching it come together. I really enjoyed the process of passing pages back and forth to carry out our individual portions of the work.

Jo gets to play with this every Sunday during church. She's not always super quiet with it, but she sure enjoys playing with it!

Love and Giraffes,
Leah Joy