Saturday, August 29, 2015

Eating Around the World - France

A few times a year, we take a trip out to our favorite orchard in the next county over. We bring home strawberries, apples, or peaches depending on the season. This week they had Contender peaches, which are by far our favorite variety ever, so on Thursday we made the trip over. And since we were learning about France in school this week, we had a French style picnic on the way home.

We bought a bushel of peach seconds - half smalls for canning as as halves, half blemished for jam and immediate use. Friday morning I put up 14 pints of peach jam, and I've only made a small dent in the peach supply. The enormity of the task is making me a little bit stressed, but it's also making our kitchen smell amazing.

We stopped in a big beautiful city park in a town halfway home, our usual picnic spot when coming back from the orchard. For our French picnic, we had the requisite baguettes, along with cheese, an orchard-fresh apple, green bean and potato salad, and (one of my favorite harvest treats) tomato tart.

My big girls, making their characteristic faces.

Mmm. Tomato tart. Basically, it's a standard butter pie crust, filled with a couple caramelized onions cooked with rosemary, thyme, and garlic, then 2 oz of chevre (from Aldi), and lots of thin-sliced garden tomatoes and basil ribbons. It's so good, even my tomato-ambivalent husband likes it.

...Although he might not want to admit it.

Goofy faces abound when you start taking pictures during dinner. 
Also, Laurel looks a little bit like me...

On Friday we had our "official" French dinner, with coq au vin, mashed potatoes with parsley, garlic, and sage, a salad, and of course more bread and cheese. I didn't have any burgundy for the coq au vin, so I used Winking Owl shiraz, my favorite red cooking wine. I'm sure the substitution would have made any real Frenchman exclaim "sacre bleu!", but it tasted good to me. The only unfortunate side effect is that it's a really purple wine, so our chicken turned kind of an odd purplish color which wasn't particularly appealing.

We didn't serve the dinner in courses or linger over it for three hours, but we did give it three cheers for deliciousness. In the words of Annie, "Yummy yummy yummy!"

Friday, August 21, 2015

Eating Around the World - United Kingdom

Well, hey again! It's been a long time! Last week brought the start of a new school year, and it seemed like a good time to try to fit regular blogging back into my schedule. This year we're starting "real" school since Annie is now in kindergarten, and we have lots of fun plans. If all goes well, I'd like to start sharing the highlights here again... but I know better than to promise, since real life tends to get crazy as the semester goes on.

Of course, the biggest change around here since I last wrote is that we had a new baby! We're so thankful to God for our little Eliza Marigold, born this June. She's a sweetheart, and is a pretty content baby as long as her stomach is full of milk.

But anyway, back to school. This year, besides the basics of reading, writing, and math, we're focusing on world geography. I want to give the girls a foundation for understanding where they are in the world, and an introduction to how other people live all around the globe. To do this, we're reading lots of books from the library, both fiction and non-fiction, learning about maps, doing art projects, and cooking food! On Friday nights we often have a nicer dinner to celebrate the end of the school week, so this year Friday dinners are going to be themed around the country we've been learning about all week.

After spending our first week doing an overview of the world and how to read maps, we dived into learning about individual countries this week with the United Kingdom. And for our dinner this week, we made Cornish Pasties from the official Cornish Pasty Association recipe. I tried to stick to the recipe as closely as possible, but I did have to make a few modifications.

I used two sticks of butter in the pastry crust instead of a combination of butter and lard. I was kind of worried that the crust would be tough since it gets kneaded until elastic and was very different than American pie crust, but it was delicious! Not flaky, but not at all tough, and perfect for a hand-pie. For the filling, I didn't have any rutabagas (they're called "swede" in the recipe - apparently that's the British name, short for "Swedish turnip"), so I used cabbage instead. It isn't really a close substitute of course, but it's what I had and it tasted good.

For dessert we had Eton Mess, which is just strawberries & cream with meringues folded in. Simple, light, and delicious on a late summer evening!

Truth be told, it is kind of a girly dessert and Collin wasn't exactly raving about it. Fortunately, we have lots of girls who appreciate a good girly dessert.

In the upcoming weeks, I'm hoping to share more of the recipes we try from around the world, as well as some of the projects we make. I have one collaborative art project I'm super excited about that I'm hoping to share in a few weeks, so stay tuned for more on that!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Seed Catalog Recommendations

“While the earth remains,
Seedtime and harvest,
And cold and heat,
And summer and winter,
And day and night
Shall not cease.”
Genesis 8:22, NASB

God's promise to man after the flood is one I have to cling to this time of year. Even though I have lived through 28 springs in my life, it's still hard for me to believe in a few weeks these bitterly cold temperatures will be gone, to be replaced with cool winds, melting snow, and budding crocus. As I write this, it's 6 degrees outside, warmed by the wonderful sunshine from the subzero temperatures we had when we woke up this morning. But I know that God's promise is true, and that spring will come, and the earth will turn green with new life again.

My frozen, sunshiny backyard garden

One of the things that helps me keep hope through the winter is planning the garden for the summer, reading seed catalogs, and ordering new varieties to plant in our yard this year. Since we've placed most of our orders for the upcoming spring, I thought I'd share a few of our favorite seed catalogs with you all.
Telling everyone about Fedco is one of the reasons I really wanted to write this post. Collin and I have ordered from Fedco every year since the first garden we planted together in the spring we were married. Collin's roommate introduced us to them, and we've come to love this quirky, affordable seed catalog more and more every year. Based out of Maine, Fedco offers high-quality seeds at great prices. Unlike many other seed companies, Fedco only sends one seed catalog a year (so don't lose it!), and the catalogs are black and white, printed on newsprint, and illustrated with off-beat, somewhat related vintage-style line drawings.

What I love: Fedco has some of the best prices on seeds we've seen anywhere. The number and diversity of the varieties offered is fantastic. And the descriptions of the plants are extremely helpful, coming from gardeners rather than seed salesmen, and telling the good as well as the bad about each variety. They'll tell you, for example, that Carola potatoes are "The best-tasting potato... rarely uniform, but have that charming old-fashioned potato look. Firm and waxy, loved by all... However, Carola isn't the best performer in the patch - watch out for dreary weather that could wallop your Carolas with them fungal blights."

What I don't love: Fedco's lack of color pictures can be a turn-off for some. We work around this easily with a Google image search of the varieties we're interested in from the desciptions. If there were color pictures for each variety, this 160-page catalog would be a coffee table sized book!

Something new for this year: I'm excited to grow Magic Molly purple potatoes, and Mexican Sour Gherkin cucumbers (that look like tiny watermelons!) for the first time this year.

Rare Seeds (Baker Creek Heirlooms)
Rare Seeds is a new catalog to me, but I'm already a fan! This Missouri seed company is similar to the more well-known Seed Savers (see below), but their catalog is almost twice as big, weighing in at 210 pages. I first came across Rare Seeds this year when I saw a reference to the Pusa Asita carrot. I fell in love this the rich purple hue of this unusual carrot, but sadly it was sold out when I made my order. It looks like it's back in stock now, although at a premium price due to its rarity and the high demand.

What I love: I love unusual varieties, and this catalog is chock-full of them! You'll find many plants in this catalog that you can't find elsewhere. There are seeds (and a few plants) for tropical houseplants and garden fruits as well as a huge array of garden vegetables. Their selection of eggplant, melons, and tomatoes (26 pages!) is especially impressive.

What I don't love: This is kind of a funny criticism considering I don't mind Fedco's complete lack of pictures, but I find it a little disconcerting that the plant photos aren't organized very well. For example, the tomato section will only have tomato photos, but the variety pictured on one page might actually be listed three pages later. Also, the prices in this catalog are on the expensive side, so this company makes for a better supplement to a more affordable primary seed source like Fedco.

Something new for this year: I made an order of several just-for-fun plants from Rare Seeds for Collin's birthday. But since his birthday isn't for another week, and he's going to read this post before then, I'm not going to tell you what I bought. Two plants that I didn't buy this year but hope to in the future are Passiflora Foetida, and Black Seeded Sesame.

This is one of the more traditional, very reputable and high-quality seed companies. We've ordered from them before, but not every year. This year we're planting blueberry bushes and a couple peach trees in our yard, so the cold-hardy varieties from this Wisconsin-based company were a good choice.

What I love: Jung has a large selection of fruit plants at good prices. I liked their blueberry varieties better than anywhere else I looked this year, and since Collin thinks a lot of the quality of Jung's plants we ordered from here.

What I don't love: I'm kind of embarrassed to admit why Jung isn't my favorite, but it's really just that the aesthetic reminds me too much of mainstream garden catalogs like Gurneys, Henry Field's, and Burpee. However, I do like that Jung's prices are more up-front and fair, without huge swings in prices depending on the coupons/promotions of the other aforementioned companies.

Something new for this year: Jung was one of the only places that I've seen selling wintergreen, which I've been looking for all year! I'm going to plant it with the blueberries, since they both like acidic soil. I'm also excited to plant Rubel, Chandler, Razz, and Pink Lemonade blueberry bushes.

Stark Bro's
Each year we're hoping to plant a few more fruit trees and bushes around our yard, as time, space, and money allow. Stark Bro's is a large fruit tree nursery from Missouri, with most of the varieties we want to grow and all at good prices. Last year we ordered pie and sweet cherries, a plum tree, and raspberry plants from Stark. This year is a smaller year, with just a couple peach trees and a quince, since we're ordering blueberry bushes from Jung. Next year (hopefully!) will be apple trees and grapes, if we can get some major work done on preparing our yard this summer.

What I love: I think I first came across Stark when I was searching for nurseries that carry my favorite fresh-eating apple, CrimsonCrisp™. We were slow about ordering our fruit trees last year, so we hit a good "Pi-Day" sale in mid-March. I'm postponing our small order for a few more weeks in the hopes that it's an annual sale, although the prices are fine even without a sale. Also, importantly, the plants we ordered from Stark all arrived in good condition, nicely cared for and pruned, and every one of them broke dormancy and grew nicely throughout the summer.

What I don't love: There isn't much not to love about Stark. I suppose it's a little annoying that they send multiple catalogs per season, since we tend to hang on to the first one we get of any company we're interested in ordering from.

Something new for this year: This year we're going to order peaches and a quince tree. I'm looking forward to growing the Blushingstar® white peach tree, a cold-hardy variety I haven't seen elsewhere, as well as the Orange Quince tree.

Seed Savers deserves an honorable mention, even though I haven't ordered from them directly yet. Still, Seed Savers is celebrating their 40th anniversary, and is largely responsible for bringing back many of the heirloom varieties of vegetables that are so popular today. Beyond the catalog, the Iowa-based Seed Savers organization facilitates the nation's largest seed swap, and a seed bank with 20,000 heirloom and heritage garden varieties.

What I love: Seed Savers strikes a beautiful balance in their catalog of providing a color picture for every variety, yet still maintaining an aesthetically pleasing layout. While their catalog selection is smaller than my two favorites, Fedco and Rare Seeds, they provide helpful and interesting information about each listed plant. Although we didn't make an order from Seed Savers this year, I expect we will occasionally in other years.

What I don't love: The prices are pretty expensive, especially for their apple trees, which are about twice what you'll pay at Stark Bro's. The cost of garden seed can be more easily justified, since you can save your own seed from heirloom varieties after you grow them, provided they haven't cross-pollinated with similar varieties in your garden.

Something I'd like to order: The extremely romantically named Kiss-Me-Over-The-Garden-Gate flower caught my eye. I'd love to plant some in the corner of our garden between the dining room's bow window and the garden gate. Also, the Purple de Milpa tomatillos look extremely fun to grow. What can I say? I'm a sucker for purple plants.

Botanical Interests
Also deserving honorable mention is Botanical Interests, another new-to-me seed catalog that I hope to order from in the future. Botanical Interests is a smaller, but well-respected company from Colorado which places a high importance on having a beautiful catalog, beautiful seed packets, and especially beautiful plants because, as they say, "Gardeners are artists, and artists appreciate, and are inspired by beauty."

What I love: As someone drawn to beautiful design and colors, I love Botanical Interests individual take on the seed catalog. They also have some wonderful seed mixes, which are perfect for those who love variety but have limited gardening space, like we do. Since our yard is fairly small, all our gardening has to fit into the concept of "edible landscaping," rather than the row-gardens of spacious country yards. So if I can buy a seed packet with a rainbow selection of seven varieties of cherry tomatoes rather than having to settle on one individual type, sign me up!

What I don't love: The descriptions of the plants are very brief, and generally too short for me to determine if it's a variety I'd like to try without further research.

Something I'd like to order: If winter drags on much longer I might be tempted to place an order still this season, even though I know our current space is more than spoken for. Several items that caught my eye are Rainbow Quinoa, and the Basil Custom Blend, which includes Lemon, Anise, Cinnamon, Red Rubin, Dark Opal, Thai, and Genovese basil - all in one $2 packet!

So, there you have it - my top six seed catalogs. I hope these mini reviews were helpful to any of you who are also spending these last remaining weeks of winter garden planning. I'd love to hear where you're ordering from, and what varieties you're excited about growing this year!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Alphabet Quiet Book: T is for Town

This post is the twenty-second in a series about the alphabet quiet book I'm making with the girls for preschool this year. To read the introduction, click here, and to read the rest of the posts click the "Quiet Book" label on the right.

T is for Town
This is my very favorite page in our quiet book so far. I have a lot of near-favorites, and pages I like very much, but I think this one comes out on top. After I show you all the details, I think you'll see why. The whole thing is entirely personalized to our home, our neighborhood, our town, and our favorite places to visit. It's so much fun!

Inspiration and Page Design
Many quiet books include some kind of car driving page, and even more frequently you'll find stand-alone car mats. One of my inspirations was BeepsPeeps' On-the-go Car Mat, especially for the fold-in pocket garage for storing the toy cars. I made my pocket into a parking lot that folds up and hooks into the main page for storage. It's bulky, but stores pretty well for all that. I also loved the City Quiet Book Page from Imagine Our Life, with all its lovely details and the button-backed vehicles.

One of my favorite parts of this page are the street and business signs made from Grafix Shrink Film. I had some of this left from other projects, including the C is for Clock page in our alphabet quiet book. I'd seen online that other crafters have had success in running this standard shrink film through an inkjet printer after prepping it with sandpaper, but when I gave it a go the result was runny and disastrous. Actually, the whole thing wiped off with a swipe of an alcohol-soaked paper towel. Since buying shrink plastic that's made specifically for inkjet printers was cost prohibitive, I came up with another solution. I printed off a reverse image of the signs that I wanted for the page, and then carefully colored them onto the back side of the shrink plastic with colored pencils. 

After cutting the signs out, punching the buttonholes with a standard hole punch, and baking in the oven according to instructions, all the imperfections from the hand-coloring evened out. As the last step, I painted the backs of nearly every sign with several coats of white fingernail polish. The signs that had no white (the school, railroad, church, and traffic lights), I protected with a light clear coat of nail polish.

Once I had all the signs finished and laid out on my desk, Annie examined them thoroughly. She has a good eye for signs and logos, so she quickly recognized Aldi and a number of others. Then she asked, "Which one is Walmart?" I told her, "We didn't make a Walmart. We're only making signs for our very favorite places." Annie exclaimed, "But Walmart IS my very favorite place!" I nearly made her a Walmart sign after that, but I just couldn't bring myself to do it.

In my opinion, the best car mat pages are personalized with landmarks familiar to the kids who will be using it. I love this example by Sweet Mama Duck, and how it includes specific places, as well as as super cute gas pump and car wash. 

I was thinking about a number of ways to represent our town on the page when I got a promotional e-mail from Spoonflower offering a quick giveaway of a 8" swatch of their (at the time) new fabric, Performance Knit fabric. If you're not familiar with Spoonflower, they are a company that allows independent artists to design and print their own fabric designs, and they have really high quality, if pricey, results. I quickly ran out with the girls and our camera, and took pictures of our house and around our neighborhood, and put them together into a square mosaic to print. We picked four of our favorite places on our street: our house, the church one block down, the public library, and "The Castle" which houses the city offices and police department.

Before I cut into the swatch, I backed the fabric with lightweight interfacing to help stop any fraying of the edges. Then I cut out the buildings, and laid out the signs and various pieces until I had an approximate layout for the design. One problem I encountered was that all the buildings I'd chosen were on the same street in real life, so I had to make a more creative road layout so the cars would have an interesting path to drive on. This kind of bothered Collin who has a real head for maps, and he said that if the girls tried to use the Town page as a map in real life they'd get hopelessly lost. Oh well.

When you have this many elements to a page, it's essential to think in layers. I stitched the river down first, since it goes under the road. The railroad zipper runs parallel to the river, but it crosses over the roads, so it would go on later. For the roads and parking lot pocket I used an old charcoal-colored t-shirt from Collin's closet, and yellow ribbon for the center lines. The buildings went on next, and the sign buttons and embroidery went on last.

When the page was entirely assembled I added some hooks and eyes to hold the parking lot pocket down. I wasn't going to do this at first, but the pocket flopped around terribly at first. After I sewed in the hooks and eyes the problem was completely fixed the problem, securing the pocket and making it more flush with the page.

To make the parking lot pocket I sewed a double-thick rectangle of fabric. I added more of the yellow ribbon for parking space stripes, and then folded it up and zigzagged along the edges to form the pocket.

To create the reserved parking spaces, I cut freezer paper stencils with an X-Acto knife and used regular acrylic paint on the fabric. I used the recycling symbol for the trash/recycling truck, the star for the sheriff/police car, and the mother's with small children symbol for the family car. I love it any time stores have a space for mothers with small children. Even when I don't make use of such a space, it seems like such a considerate gesture.

The cars themselves came from rummaging through a couple bins of toy cars at Goodwill. This was a very fun part of the project for the girls and me, and only ended up costing 75 cents! We really enjoyed picking through all the vehicles - outlandish ones, beat-up ones, bright sports cars - to find three that would work for our car page. I really like the ones we settled on, even if we drive a green station wagon in real life. The red shows up better on the green background anyway.

Here's a close-up of our home, with our street sign and even the trash can sitting out by the street waiting for pick-up. You can see how well the Spoonflower fabric shows the image - the detail and color are wonderful.

Last year was huge year of transition for our family - new house, new job, new town, new church - and Laurel who turned two shortly after moving here had a rough time. She developed new fears that took a while to overcome, and cried in her bed almost every night when we said goodnight. For months. So when Laurel looked at this finished quiet book page, pointed at our house and said softly, "I like our home," I just melted. Sewing the whole page was worth it, just for that moment.

Preschool goals for using the Town page
My main goal for this page was to get the girls to learn what different street signs mean, and to be more observant as we walk around downtown. We talked about, and paid attention to stop lights and crosswalks during our walks. We learned the different shapes of different signs, and what they mean. Annie got very good at this game, and would call out "library!" any time she saw the blue book-reading symbol around town.

So there you have it. T is for Town - in this case, a very personalized town, with all the places we're growing to love, in a place that is becoming more and more home to us. And that is a very sweet thing.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Alphabet Quiet Book: S is for Shoes

This post is the twenty-first in a series about the alphabet quiet book I'm making with the girls for preschool this year. To read the introduction, click here, and to read the rest of the posts click the "Quiet Book" label on the right.

S is for Shoes
Every quiet book has a shoe-tying page in it. I believe it's pretty much a basic requirement of quiet books, and as such there are myriads of creative versions out there. I already sewed a running shoe page in Laurel's Buckle Book, so I thought about some of the alternatives. I considered doing an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe page like this one (a rhyme which the girls and I frequently recite together to restore sanity whenever things get too crazy around here.) After looking through several of my saved ideas, however, I realized that ballet Slippers, ice Skates, and Sneakers are all varieties of shoes that start with S, so why not do a page with all of them together?

Inspiration and Page Design
Each of the shoes on this page were inspired by a different source. These sneakers came directly from the pattern on Made by Me & Shared with You. I had to make it a very specific size so I could fit it onto my page of three shoes, so after trying to scale and print the pattern a few times, I gave up. I ended up simply adjusting the zoom on my computer until I got it exactly where I wanted it, and then traced directly from my computer screen onto freezer paper to make the pattern.

The sneaker was nice to sew in that all the pieces were already in a pattern so someone else had done the work of thinking through each part of the design. I ran into trouble when trying to install the eyelets for the laces, however. Because I shrunk the design down a bit, the eyelets had a very narrow strip for support. I discovered, after several failed attempts, that including a third layer of felt under the shoe top (one that you don't see at all) is crucial to the success of setting stable eyelets in craft felt.

The idea for the skate came from the Winter Wonder Quiet Book pattern for sale on Etsy. I preferred a more realistic look, however, so I ended up sketching my own design based on my own ice skates. All the pieces are cut from leather, cut carefully to match my sketch exactly so they'd fit together just right. There are four pieces - the main boot, the tongue, the sole, and the blade. The tongue and boot, as well as the toe of the sneaker, were originally a piece of dark brown leather that I spray painted glossy white after installing the eyelets and hooks. Similarly, I spray-painted the blade silver after cutting it out of a thicker piece of leather.

I had a funny picture here of the first failed attempt to paint the boot, but I can't find it on my computer now. I'd painted the leather pieces white and left them up on the kitchen island to dry. Before they had dried I discovered Laurel standing on top of the counter, tell-tale white paint on her pink socks, and fuzzy smears all over my leather pieces. Fortunately, some paint thinner cleaned it up enough for a fresh coat of paint, and I put it away in an even higher location where it was able to dry undisturbed.

I sewed the tongue down to the page first, an then attached the boot over it. As you can see in this picture, I didn't leave enough margin on the left, and had a lot of difficulty getting my needle around the eyelets and hooks. I think I broke a needle on the effort as well. So if you do this, make the margin a little wider than you need for your hooks!

The lace on the ice skate is a four-strand round braid, with three doubled strands of white embroidery floss, and one of silver. I would have liked a real ice skate lace, but I didn't have one handy at the time. I might replace it if I run across one, but this one works well for now.

My inspiration for the ballet slippers was from this post on All the Quiet Things. I decided not to include feet since the page was just about shoes, but to have them lace up as if they had feet in them. It's hard to tell from these photos, but the slippers are sewn from a silky pink fabric that I had in my stash. I layered that with some pink felt underneath to give it some substance, as the silky fabric on its own didn't look very shoe-like at all.

Preschool Goals for using the Shoes page
When I wrote about Laurel's Buckle Book last year, I mentioned that I'd intentionally avoided buying my girls any shoes with actual laces, since tying and untying shoes is a chore I'd rather eliminate if possible. Since then I did break down and buy Laurel a pair of real-lace shoes that she's totally in love with. As such, teaching her and Annie to tie shoes is more imperative, and on our list of preschool life skills that we're trying to learn this year. Hopefully between the three shoes on this page and the one in Laurel's quiet book, they'll master the skill before long!

Next week I'll be posting what is probably my favorite quiet book page to date, and with only three left to sew before we finish, Letter T might very well remain my favorite of the whole project. I can't wait to show you all!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Annie's felt play laptop

Hello again! I took the summer off blogging since spending time in front of the computer seemed like a poor option when the weather was so beautiful and the daylight hours so long. We had a full summer, brimming with travels to see family all over the place, rest from Collin's exhausting first year teaching, and a filled with a profusion of projects. We put in a garden and fixed up all the landscaping beds around the house. We gave the kitchen a complete face lift, with new paint for the walls, cabinets, and new shelves for the walls. We finally unpacked our bedroom and bought a bed frame so it looks like we actually live here and aren't just camping out. And we knocked an abundance of small projects from my list, which made me very happy and ready to start another busy semester. Many of these projects I'd like to write about on this blog as I have time,
but now we're back to the school semester and I'd like to finish up our preschool post series.

Before we get back to the quiet book, however, I wanted to show you a little related project I made for Annie's birthday this week.

A number of months ago I ran across this felt laptop tutorial on Kiki Creates. Annie was looking over my shoulder, and was completely taken with it. "Will you make me one of those for my birthday?" she asked then, and many times in the following weeks. When Annie gets an idea, she doesn't let it go. I told her I couldn't make any promises, but I'd see what I could do.

The first thing I had to find were the rub-on letters the tutorial suggested for the computer keys. I loved the professional polish they gave the final product, but since we don't have any craft stores in town it took a bit of tracking down to locate. Finally I found them in a Hobby Lobby when we were on one of our summer trips, in the fine arts section near the stencils. We picked the 1/4" letters in Helvetica as the best font for the job.

Transferring the letters to the felt keys was more difficult than I'd hoped, but in the end I got it done. The keys are 1/2" squares of basic white craft felt strengthened by a bit of interfacing. I "basted" the letters onto the keys with the tip of a paintbrush, and then rubbed and rubbed and rubbed with the slightly rounded back end of a cheap ballpoint pin. When the letters were completely transferred, I removed the plastic film they'd previously been stuck to very carefully, checking to make sure I didn't tear the letters as I did so.

After I had all my keys made, I sprayed them with clear enamel. This in turn created a whole new set of problems, as with the first blast of air from the enamel I sent tiny felt pieces flying all over my back deck and into my flower beds! Then the clear coat completely dissolved the styrofoam plates I'd been using to hold the keys as I sprayed them. After retrieving all the keys and making some new ones to replace the lost or ruined ones, I sprayed them in small batches, using a piece of parchment paper as backing. This worked beautifully, and the letters all peeled up perfectly after drying.

With the clear coat, the rub-on letters are protected from being scratched off, and the computer keys are stiffened so that they feel more like a real keyboard. Even if just for protecting the letters, I wouldn't skip this step, despite any possible frustration.

With all my letters ready and dry, I cut my gray rectangles for the keyboard and screen (5x7") and laid out the keys until I came to an arrangement that I was satisfied with. Then I glued the keys to the keyboard with tacky glue, going line by line and using a ruler to try and keep the keys as straight as I could. Once I had all the keys, touch pad and buttons glued in place, I covered it with a piece of parchment paper and pressed it under a couple heavy books to dry overnight.

The next day I stitched all the keys in place. A glue gun probably would have held the keys in place as the original tutorial suggests, but I wanted the added security as well as the neatness of actually sewing all the keys down. It took a long time and my foot got a cramp in it from all the times of pressing, releasing, and pivoting every five stitches! I sure celebrated when I finished and sewed the keyboard and screen down to the blue inner felt.

Between the top layer of fuschia felt and blue lining felt is a sheet of fuschia-colored extra thick stiff felt. When I went to Jo-Ann's to buy felt for this project they only had three colors of stiff felt in stock - white, black, and fuschia - so it made my color decision easier. I cut the stiff felt to the same width as the top and bottom layers, but each piece a quarter inch shy of half the length so that when put together they left a 1/2" gap in the center of the laptop for folding. In other words, for my laptop that is 8" by 6" when folded, I cut the stiff felt into two pieces each 8" by 5.75".

At this point, I also sewed the nameplate to the laptop "lid", the button to both layers of fuschia felt, and the button strap just to the bottom edge of the inner stiff felt. I was trying to minimize seams that would show on either outer layer to keep the look clean.

When everything was ready, I stacked the layers all together and stitched around all the sides with a 1/8" seam allowance to hold it all together. Then I stitched a straight line down the center for the fold. I sewed on the side supports that keep the lid up, just like in the original tutorial, trimmed up a few loose threads, and I was finished!

 Annie's laptop is quite a lot smaller and cuter than mine. I purposely left the screen blank so that she could imagine what she's doing with it, whether writing a story, looking at pictures, or playing a game. It also works as a very small flannelgraph, so we might do something with that in the future.

I'm interested to see how exactly Annie is going to use this in play. Yesterday I saw her staring at the blank screen and looking very absorbed, and she told me she was watching a funny video on it. I didn't ask if there were any cats in the video. Sometimes kids are a scary mirror.

 On the other hand, this is more how I was hoping the computer might inspire her. I think in this picture Annie is trying to compose The Great American Novel, but got a case of writer's block.

Problem solved! On with the story!