Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Cultivating a New Habit

So, my job is graphic designer and illustrator, which I love. But I had gotten into a really bad habit of only working when there was work to be done. Somehow over the years, I stopped drawing for fun. Last summer, my daughter brought home a summer art challenge and thought it would be good for me, too. The first thing on the list that caught my attention was zentangle, which I just love so much! Doodling with no purpose except to have fun - it seems like such an obvious practice, but I hadn't been doing it!

That new technique warmed me up to keep going, and over the last few months, I've started drawing every day. Sometimes, I use prompts ...

Often, I'll use things that happened during the day ...

Sometimes, a special occasion ...

And when my brain is too stuffed up to think straight, zentangle is always a happy no-pressure treat.

I've been uploading artwork regularly to Instagram, and finding a little like-minded virtual community has been delightful.

Okay, truth: I still don't actually get to draw EVERY day, because, life. But, another truth: I WANT to, and that's the revelation! My current favorite routine is to sit down at my desk with tea around 2:00. It's when my office is about to get the sunniest, I've got half an hour before the big kids get home, and if something really gets me going, I can keep working until elementary school pick up.

It's been a year and a half to get to this point, and in that time I've filled a couple sketchbooks, which I haven't done since college. I used to fear sketchbooks, wanting the work that goes inside it to be amazing. I now realize that working in sketchbooks makes me more thoughtful and put a little more time into the work which, guess what? Makes it better. (What a concept, I know!!!) I've also been learning more about supplies and materials and have a new love for markers and am even planning to invest in an artist-grade set (ka-ching, but I can't wait). I now get such a thrill out of the idea that Hey! That page used to be blank, and now is filled with artwork that didn't exist in the world 30 minutes ago ... made only by my hand/mind/heart. It's ridiculously satisfying.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

No Sugar No Vember

Mr. Hotcakes was gone for a week in October, and it felt like an exceptionally long week around here. The kids and I typically do fine when he's out of town ... schedules run smoothly, we make simple dinners ... but we were really missing Dad! I also happened to have a very junky food week. There were lots of baked goods around and good nutritional choices were not being made. I've had a suspicion for awhile that too much sugar makes me a little hyper-emotional, and on the last day of single parenting, I got in a very stupid showdown with Clark at bedtime after a really great week, which left both of us feeling awful.

The next day I decided to take a break from the sweet habit. Of special note is the date on which this decision was made: October 30th. Yes, one day before our house was about to be loaded with candy. Not to mention the 200 pieces of candy I already had waiting for trick-or-treaters! (And I bought the good stuff this year ... all chocolate!) But I was fed up with the bad habit and decided there would be no better time to take a break.

My goal was to go two weeks. The first week was actually surprisingly easy ... every time I walked by the candy dish or came across a donut, I thought to myself "Oh, I don't eat sugar anymore." and that was that! (I am absolutely an abstainer rather than a moderator!) I didn't go crazy looking for hidden sugar ingredients, only eliminated the obvious sources: baked goods, candy, chocolate, ice cream.

By day eight, I shared my challenge with Jeff and indulged in one mini peanut butter cheesecake that I made for a dinner party. (It was awesome!) I also allowed three chocolate cookies from Clark's birthday - one an evening, with a cup of tea, after the kids were in bed. So, not a totally sugar-free month, but drastically reduced ... I went from having several sweet things a day to six very small treats total over what's now been 26 days. And oh, the sweets I passed up! Peanut butter pie! Brownie ice cream sundaes! Halloween candy! I was at MAGNOLIA and only admired the beautiful desserts! I've been drinking a LOT of tea to fill the snacky void ... and even had FRUIT for dessert on a few occasions. (Who have I become??)

My mood has definitely improved ... overall I feel more even-tempered. No guarantee I won't be back to the old habits at some point, but my hope is to be more selective about my sweet options, and make sure that the calories are totally worth it!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

It's Popcorn Time!

Remember a few years ago when I posted Girl Scout thank you tags? Well, now I have a Cub Scout selling popcorn. Clark did a jaw-droppingly great job of going house-to-house in our neighborhood with Dad to do some selling. Amazing! So we'll have lots of popcorn to deliver in a few weeks ... time to make some new tags!

Download Cub Scout thank you tag here.

And for the visually impaired ...

Download Cub Scout with glasses thank you tag here.

For personal use only, please! Hope these are helpful for your scout! 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Daily Sketch – Happy Things

Things that make me happy: rainbows - tea - pencils - peanut butter chocolate chunk ice cream - erasers - heatproof rubber scraper - double chocolate chip sandwich cookies - waffles - silver number pencil cup - permanent markers - souvenir vacation mugs - hearts - Riesen caramels - homemade muffins - brown baking wrappers - Pyrex measuring cups - Cortland apples - individual pots of eyeshadow - low rise bikini panties - sunshine - flat shoes - garden flags - popcorn - mini mouse ornaments - drawings of birds (not actual birds) - sticky circle flowers - rocks

(Check out Instagram for more daily sketches!)

Monday, August 10, 2015

Baking Monday – Black and White Cookies

Look to the cookie!!!

I've never tried a black and white cookie before, and in fact had never even heard of one before Seinfeld. Summer seemed to be a good time to make a batch and give them a try.

You might find these facts about black and white cookies interesting. The observations that were my takeaways are that these are a very soft, cake-like cookie, with a bit of lemon flavoring. This recipe is great, though I should have thinned out the icing more for that nice smooth surface. And even though I used my trusty cookie scoop for these, most turned out a little wonky (these are the best of the bunch).

They are certainly not the prettiest to look at, but they sure are good. Hopefully they will not result in any Seinfeldian symptoms over here!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Kindness Chart Printable

I was going through old files and found this chart from 2011. I must have been feeling particularly frustrated with the niceness levels around the house when this was made. (It was also January, we were likely full of winter doldrums, too.) The chart has symbols for kids and mom, each with four sections to be filled in whenever someone is showing great behavior. Rewards can be issued when all four sections are filled in. Included is a list of positive behaviors that will earn a mark on the chart:

• Use kind words
• Be respectful
• Be a good listener
• Be supportive and encouraging (still struggling with that amongst the siblings!)
• Be a helper
• Keep your hands to yourself
• Show appreciation: say please and thank you!

I honestly cannot remember if we actually used it. The act of making the chart alone was probably enough to chill me out of whatever crazy state I was in at the time. It seems like a good one to share!

Download Kindness Chart here.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Baking Monday – Monkey Cookies!

Clark spotted this recipe in one of his animal magazines and wanted to make some monkey cookies. They turned out super cute!

Clark is my baking buddy. He's the one most likely to ask to make something and offer to help when I'm in the kitchen. He helped mix the dough and shaped four of the monkeys by himself before declaring he "needed a break."

So I got to finish the rest of them. It was kind of fun sculpting cookies instead of using a cutter for a change. The recipe is pretty good ... it uses a lot of butter, so these ended up with more of a firm shortbread texture than a soft sugar cookie. I used Hershey's Perfectly Chocolate Frosting to decorate. Mini peanut butter cups filled in for M&M noses.

Clark also had zero interest in decorating the cookies, but much interest in eating them.

He wanted a photo of one of his cookies and requested: "Don't post it on Facebook, but you can put it on Hotcakes." Done! (Also? That was day two of turtle pajamas. We take our summer vacationing very seriously around here.)

Monkey cookies! Yay!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Printable Wednesday – Emergency Bookmarks!

More bookmarks today! As said before, we can never have too many. One to three children always have books in the car when we're out and around. 75% of the time, we get to our destination and hear "I need a bookmark!" from someone. Occasionally I will throw a bunch of extras in the car, but then forget to refill them. This was an idea I had kicking around for awhile ... bookmarks in a tear-off pad for emergencies!

These were made with the same method as the upcycled notepads. I printed and trimmed three pages of bookmarks on cardstock, for 15 bookmarks total. (Another upcycle ... due to a printing mix-up, I ended up with about 300 extra sheets of blue paper at home recently. Yay for using things up!) The bookmarks were lined up and sandwiched between two pieces of cardboard. The original instructions called for paint sticks, but all ours disappeared during OM season. Clip the stack together with binder clips.

I spread Mod Podge on one long and one short side of the stack. Don't even bother with a brush, I just used a finger to dab then spread a thick layer of glue along the edge. Move the binder clips to make sure they are holding the stack in place securely.

Let dry for about an hour and yay! Bookmarks to go!

I had fun making these up using artwork from other projects and not getting too precious about fonts. Here's the printable to make your own! Personal use only, please.

Download emergency bookmark printable here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Printable Wednesday – Three Bookmarks

We can never have enough bookmarks in our house, so when I'm thinking of things to doodle, bookmarks are the perfect item. It's a small canvas that can be put to practical use!

There's a color version below and a black & white to CIY. Try color pencil, felt tips, sharpies, or watercolor. After coloring, they can be trimmed and mounted on coordinating card stock. If a bookmark turns out really cool or is going to be a gift, I'll take it to be laminated. But most often I'll do a homemade packing tape coating, which works just as well. See below for links to download. Bookmarks are for personal use only, please!

Download color bookmarks here.

Download black & white bookmarks here.

Friday, June 26, 2015

More Photo Booth Props!

I've added to my Photo Booth prop collection! The first batch were for one of Dora's parties and are a bit girly-themed. So before we went on family vacation last year, I made another set for a little more variety. We had a super fun photo session with all the littles ... I was snapping photos for about an hour!

See? The bow works well in the hair or as a neck tie!

They were used again for the second grade class party this week. Super fun!

Would you like them, too? Here you go! Assembly instructions can be found in the original post.

Download bunny ears here
Download bowtie / toothy grin / alien antennae here
Download alien eyes / mask here
Download top hat here

Personal use only, please! 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Where I've Been!

I've still been baking, but the weekly recipes and photo shoots were getting to be more of a chore than a pleasure. And while school life always gets busy this time of year, there were a few extra events throwing our schedule off track, such as ...

The honor of traveling to Michigan State University last month for the Odyssey of the Mind World finals! Our middle school team won their regional competition ... then WON states (holy cow, that was so cool) ... which made them eligible to compete against 65 other teams from all over the world. Dora and Theo are both on the team and Mr. Hotcakes is the coach, so we all hopped the bus to MSU! It was an amazing experience, both in what they learned and how much fun they had. I really can't say enough good things about the program, it's incredibly hard work, but also incredibly rewarding.

Clark has had a many ups and downs lately. While he did great on our trip to Michigan (for the most part) the last three weeks of school were incredibly challenging. He also celebrated his First Communion (praise the Lord! I was worried all year about whether he'd go through with it.) and bridged to a Bear scout. He continues to be a big thinker and makes me laugh every day. Always trying to understand what's going on in that little walnut of his. 

(And look! Cookies!)

I've also been working quite a bit (yay). Did you know that my updated work can be found here? The website is long overdue for a change, that's also on my long list of projects. I've been having a lot of fun working by hand and have been using Instagram and Tumblr to post those works in progress. I don't have any of my own materials that I'm currently marketing and am hoping this playtime helps point me in the direction of what to do next. 

Thanks for tuning in. More soon! 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Baking Monday (on a Tuesday and Really Really Late) – Caramel Toffee Bars

Special shout out to a good friend who I know will be very excited about this post (hi, Laura!) Yes, I've been gone for awhile. Pool season wrapped up in May, and life got crazy busy. But I do have a small bank of baking pics to post. These bars are kind of a cheaty baked good in my opinion, because it uses lots of pre-processed foods vs. whole ingredients, but tasty nonetheless.

Replace the coconut (bleck) with white chocolate chips (mmm).

Also line the pan with baking parchment to make removal and cutting stress-free (as long as you wait until they are reeeeally cool to dig in)!

Very easy and very yummy. A hit with the littles in our house!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Baking Monday – Almond Sugar Cookies

I love almond flavoring in baked goods! Not all the time, but every once in awhile, the idea of almond hits the spot. These were easy sugar cookies with almond flavoring ... yum!

Theo and I debated about what color the icing should be ... white would have been fine, but I was in a colorful mood. But so many colors made us think of flavoring (cherry, orange, lemon, mint, chocolate). Theo suggested blue, I ended up with purple. Not sure it was the best choice? Maybe white with some colored sprinkles would have been the way to go. Anyhow, these cookies were very good. Several of the people who tried them swear they tasted cherry. (I've done almond-cherry before ... a favorite!) Turns out, there's a chemical connection between almond and cherry. Interesting! 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Baking Monday – Birthday Cupcakes

Cupcakes this week for a friend's birthday! Sadly, she was under the weather and couldn't enjoy one until a couple of days later. These cupcakes were inspired by this chocolate layer cake ... that chocolate cake plus pink icing just looked like the perfect birthday combo.

I do have a go-to chocolate cake recipe, but am always happy to try something new, and this one was great! I wanted to do a gooey, soft icing but didn't have the ingredients for the cream cheese icing in the original post. After flipping through The Complete Book of Baking, I decided on Seven-Minute icing. It seemed so quaintly old-fashioned, like the kind of icing my grandma would have made. 

This icing is more time-consuming than buttercream, but SO satisfying! (BTW, I should clean the hand mixer, maybe?) It's smooth and glossy, and just when it seems like I've been mixing waaaaay too long ...

BAM! Peaks! We've got icing! This icing does look pretty and is very sweet, though not as flavorful as buttercream, and has an interesting bubbly texture. Even though it wasn't exactly the icing I was hoping for, I did enjoy trying something new. (And one recipe made more than enough for 26 cupcakes, so I may have to make another batch this week to use it all up.)

Here's the big question ... sprinkles or not? I preferred the look and taste of plain, but the kids voted for sprinkles. We ended up with some of each for everyone.