Nine years of L-O-V-E

It’s funny how holidays make you more aware* of time passing.

*totally sappy

Everyone was very excited to wake up this morning. Sleepy but excited!

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Babies on the move

This column was originally written for Bedford magazine in the summer of 2011.

A younger me, writing about a much-younger D

***

I was sitting on the airplane, a few years back, puzzling over the woman walking slowly up and down the aisle. She had a toddler in front of her, and the little girl was taking teeny-tiny steps from one end of the plane to the other end. The mother was following closely behind, sort of stooped over, and looked embarrassed.

I just sipped my Diet Coke and went back to reading my book — ahhh, my pre-baby life was luxurious — wondering why the hell she didn’t just pick up the baby and sit down? Couldn’t she entertain her at their seat somehow? Why was she walking her around?

I had no idea.

That woman on the airplane wasn’t embarrassed. The look on her face was a combination of exhaustion and acceptance over what she had to do. I know this now because I was blessed — or is that cursed? — with an early walker. A NINE-MONTH-OLD WALKER.

He runs up and down the halls. He climbs into the bathtub. He tries to climb the walls of the tub. He climbs out. He takes off down the hall and runs in a circle around a chair. I’m sweating and exhausted every day before 7 a.m.

Remind me again why we teach our babies to walk? My son discovered the power of his two feet at nine months old, and hasn’t stopped since — I haven’t, either.

The especially tricky thing with a walking baby is that suddenly they do not want to sit in their stroller. They do not want you to carry them. They want to WALK — on their own, all the time, until their chubby little legs simply can’t go another step. Forget mules — just start saying someone is “as stubborn as a toddler.”

Growing up, we had a harness for my baby sister so she didn’t go careening off the cliffs in PEI. When my son started walking, I immediately went out to purchase one so he would be safe in public. He’d trot along next to me, easy peasy, right?

Um, no. We chose a quiet weekday evening to start our leash-training at Bedford Place Mall. Once the baby was carefully strapped into the harness, we set him down in front of Zellers and let him explore. He took off with a satisfied little grin on his face. There was so much to see! Fake plants and silky ties and displays of shiny new bicycles!

It turns out, leash-training a baby is way harder than leash-training a dog, because dogs usually understand basics like “No” and “Stop.” Dogs have some common sense, and learn to stop when you stop. They learn that plastic plants are for eating. Dogs certainly don’t drop dramatically to the tiled floor of a mall and wail because you didn’t let them walk over the edge of a balcony.

We still get stares, as he toddles along in his harness and I trail behind. I have taken some flak from parents who do not believe in “restraining” toddlers. I ignore it, as I suspect they are the same parents who don’t believe in Happy Meals. (Hey, if they make special toys for kids under three, who am I to deny my child chicken nuggets?)

Yes, my “restrained toddler” is technically tied up like a prized mare, but at least he has (somewhat) learned how to walk safely next to me in a shopping mall. Your “free-range toddler” is probably running wild and overturning the display of bicycles. Better go catch them!

Is parenting getting easier?

Is parenting getting easier as the kids get older? {Heather's Handmade Life}

My friends and I were talking recently and, as usual, the conversation was 70 per cent about our children, 15 per cent about our husbands, 10 per cent about our careers and five per cent about the freezing cold weather.

We were talking about whether or not parenting gets easier as our kids get older and everyone had a different perspective.

Some felt it was getting harder, as their children had more activities (which means lots of ferrying for us, the parents) and more difficult social situations.

We’ve all heard the phrase “bigger kids, bigger problems.” I think that’s true, especially during the teen years. Yikes!

Others felt it was about the same level of difficulty. They’d just swapped breastfeeding challenges for school lunch frustrations and naptime crankiness for after-school freak-outs.

But a few of us agreed wholeheartedly that we feel parenting has been much easier these days.

Is parenting getting easier? Absolutely. They sleep through the night! They can get themselves ready in the mornings! They can make their own breakfast!

I feel like our kids have been in a sweet spot for a while now, at eight and six years old. Argh, I hate to even say it because I don’t want to jinx it! But it’s true …

Continue reading in my weekly parenting column, The Mom Scene …

5 Dog DIYs that will save you money

Five Dog DIYs that will save you money {Heather's Handmade Life}

We love DIY around here, so of course it was only natural that I’d start dreaming up ways to DIY for our sweet dog, Annabelle.

Here’s a quick link-up to my Top 5 Dog DIYs …

DIY pet toy storage for small dogs
DIY adjustable pet bed / 3-in-1 pet bed

If you liked these ideas, don’t forget to pin this post so it helps out another dog-owner! Thanks in advance!

Oversized fabric wall art

Oversized fabric wall art {Heather's Handmade Life}

When you work in a home office that doubles as your sewing room/craft room and general hang-out zone on evenings and weekends, I think it’s natural to get bored of your surroundings and to enjoy changing things up.

So while I was recovering from the flu last weekend, I couldn’t resist the urge to move around some furniture and create interesting new fabric wall art.

A couple of months back I’d ordered a Kona colour chart fabric panel for $9 at an online fabric store.

Oversized fabric wall art {Heather's Handmade Life}
Kona Printed Color Chart ($9 CAD)

It was printed with hundreds of tiny squares of vivid colour, each labelled with a name like Aloe or Lime or Champagne. Quilters use these charts to decide which fabrics they’ll use for a specific project.

But I had a plan to turn it into fabric wall art.

Oversized fabric wall art {Heather's Handmade Life}

Continue reading in my weekly DIY column, My Handmade Home …

Psssst — that turned out so well that I created even MORE oversized fabric wall art for my home office …

Oversized fabric wall art {Heather's Handmade Life}

Continue reading in my weekly DIY column, My Handmade Home …

… or pin this idea for later!

Five on Friday

I haven’t done a quickie Friday post in ages, but I kept thinking of things I wanted to recommend and writing them down on Post-Its and in random iPhone notes — so let’s spit some of ’em out, blog-like!

This week I’m sharing five of our family’s favourite screen-time joys, from TV shows to video games and even a new way to read digitally.

1. Workin’ Moms

I discovered Workin’ Moms late — like three weeks ago in the depths of a never-ending fever/chills/body aches flu — and was instantly OBSESSED. It’s so damn good!

I don’t watch a lot of TV anymore so it’s rare for me to fall so hard over a show. I zoomed through Season 1 and Season 2 while I was sick, and now I’m permanently stalking the CBC website waiting for each new episode of Season 3.

The writing is amazing — dry and witty — and I just can’t say enough about it. MUST WATCH.

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DIY dog seat belt

DIY dog seat belt {Heather's Handmade Life}

Our Chocolate Boston Terrier, Annabelle, LOVES to ride in our car or truck. She will happily go anywhere with us, and loves travelling so much that she hates to get out when we’re back at home.

Sometimes she’ll ride in her carry-bag (we have this one* in pink), but other times I just grab her and her leash and pop her onto the passenger seat of my truck.

DIY dog seat belt: How to make your own dog seat belt that doubles as a snuggly blanket {Heather's Handmade Life}
“Sunbeamz keep me warmz.”

She is a little princess who gets cold easily, so I turn on the seat-warmer for her and sometimes remember to bring a blankey.

DIY dog seat belt: How to make your own dog seat belt that doubles as a snuggly blanket {Heather's Handmade Life}
“I wike to be comfy.”

One day I realized I could make a dog seat belt that doubled as a warm and snuggly car blanket for her.

Lightbulb moment!

DIY dog seat belt: How to make your own dog seat belt that doubles as a snuggly blanket {Heather's Handmade Life}

Making a dog seat belt like this could NOT be easier.

  1. Buy some fleece (I think my piece was 1.5 meters)
  2. Tie it around your passenger seat.
  3. Insert dog.
DIY dog seat belt: How to make your own dog seat belt that doubles as a snuggly blanket {Heather's Handmade Life}

Because you’re just tying a knot behind your passenger seat, you could easily untie it if you were transporting a non-dog passenger. (I just leave mine there all the time, though! You don’t notice it when you’re sitting on it.)

When I bring Annabelle out to the truck, I pop her into the little “pocket” the fleece makes, and sometimes I’ll tighten the knot at the back to make sure it’s keeping her snugly against the back of the seat.

She’ll get cranky if I adjust it too much, though, because she thinks I’m taking her out — and she HATES when I have to take her out of her little cocoon.

DIY dog seat belt: How to make your own dog seat belt that doubles as a snuggly blanket {Heather's Handmade Life}
She didn’t even like me pulling it back for the photo.

She LOVES her snuggly little dog seat belt and always falls asleep. I’ll hear snoring and look over, and her eyes are (creepily) open a little.

DIY dog seat belt: How to make your own dog seat belt that doubles as a snuggly blanket {Heather's Handmade Life}

I mean, how cozy does this look? I wish all seat belts doubled as snuggly blankets!

Sharing is caring! Don’t forget to pin this idea for later — or to help out someone else looking for a DIY dog seat belt!

Easily replace a broken zipper

How to replace a broken zipper on a backpack {Heather's Handmade Life}

We bought super-cheap school backpacks last fall, and they miraculously held together for the entire school year. This past fall, we sprung for the “nicer” backpacks — still from Walmart, of course, because we’re not the frigging Kardashians! The universe rewarded us with two backpack zippers that crapped out not even three months later. Sigh.

Busted zipper: Exhibit A

In hindsight, yeah, I probably should have taken them both back to Walmart and asked about replacements. But I REALLY dislike going to big-box stores (er, most places outside of my house, actually) and my husband refuses to do returns. (He’s of the mind that if you buy something and it doesn’t work out, that’s on you, lol.)

It seemed easier to give C the dingy-but-still-working backpack D used for school last year. When his backpack zipper broke, I lent him a red-and-black plaid drawstring-y backpack of mine. What can I say? It was December and I was overwhelmed with life. Here, take it. Please. I’m done.

I kept promising I’d replace the zippers in their backpacks, and I kept … well, never getting around to it. For a really long time.

Yesterday, though, I decided I was sick of backpack-related complaints — not to mention staring at the two broken zippers every time I opened the front hall closet.

So I got my butt to the fabric store and bought two replacement zippers — the best quality available! No expense spared! It was time to END THE ZIPPER MISERY!

(SIDE NOTE: I didn’t even measure the backpacks before I left, so I just kept picking up zippers and drooping them in a rainbow-shape to see if they looked backpack-sized. It worked out perfectly!?!?)

I had ZERO plans to sew these new zippers using my sewing machine because ZIPPERS ARE HARD TO SEW. Yes, I’m pretty good at sewing. No, that does not include zippers. I can manage them somewhat in a dress, but I wasn’t even attempting to machine-sew a zipper into a backpack. THANK U NEXT.

So all I needed was a needle, thread, and a handful of straight pins. (This no-sewing-machine technique could also work for replacing a broken zipper on a coat, if you weren’t too picky about how it looked?)

I tucked one side of the new white zipper underneath the edge of the old (stupid, broken) pink zipper, and pinned it in place. Old zipper edges make a great surface for sewing on a new zipper, because you don’t need to muck around with the fabric of the backpack.

I pinned it all the way around the backpack, and tucked the little bit of excess zipper down inside. Then I used a regular needle and thread to do a simple running stitch all the way around the line of pins.

I guess I could have used pale pink thread for it to blend in better, but really it’s just a miracle if my daughter manages to bring her backpack home every day. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

I circled the stitching so it’s easier to see. Nothing fancy!

Then I pinned the other side of the new zipper to the other side of the old zipper and stitched it on the same way.

Replacing the zipper took me about 15 minutes total, while watching TV before bed.

Then I had to replace D’s zipper. This one took around 10 minutes since I didn’t even bother to pin it first. #rebel

I had two happy kids this morning, glad to be back to their regular backpacks. I felt like a bit of a tool to have waited MONTHS to do something that took me less than half an hour, but at least it’s done. For now?

Don’t forget to pin this post for later — or to help out someone else!

How to replace a broken zipper {Heather's Handmade Life}
How to replace a broken zipper {Heather’s Handmade Life}

How to oil paint over a photo

How to oil paint over a photo {Heather's Handmade Life}

I was working on a few handmade gifts leading up to Christmas when I realized the hardest part of oil painting isn’t the painting itself — it’s getting the scale right.

I was painting a portrait of my mom’s cat and struggled mightily to get the position of the eyes just right. No matter how carefully I thought I’d transferred the details from the photograph to the canvas, using a pencil, the cat’s face just felt … wrong.

I grudgingly finished the painting and decided it was OK, but I kept thinking there had to be a better way. Some kind of method for getting the basic shapes from a photograph perfectly transferred to a canvas so I could get the scale right.

Well … what if I painted directly over a photograph? I decided to give it a try.

I wasn’t sure if oil paint would adhere to glossy photo paper, so I went online and ordered a few photos to be printed on white 100 pound cardstock. I decided to start with one of my sister’s wedding photos — taken by the extremely talented Evan McMaster, a Halifax wedding photographer — since she’d just gotten married over Labour Day weekend.

How to oil paint over a photo {Heather's Handmade Life}
One of the MANY gorgeous photos from my sister’s Labour Day wedding (shot by Evan McMaster)

I tacked the photo to a piece of cardboard on my easel and nervously decided to start with the background. These are the oil paints I have, by the way! (Affiliate link)

I mixed blue, green, yellow and white to make the different shades of the trees of the Public Gardens.

How to oil paint over a photo {Heather's Handmade Life}
Four colours to start! Blue, green, yellow, and white.

I just moved around the picture filling in areas that matched up with the colour on my brush.

How to oil paint over a photo {Heather's Handmade Life}
My beautiful sissy (unpainted) against a painted background

‘Hey! It’s like paint-by-number,’ I realized. Instead of looking around a canvas for tiny number fours or eights, I was scanning for a particular shade of green that needed to be filled in.

How to oil paint over a photo {Heather's Handmade Life}
The finished oil painting!

Ready for more details on the technique? Continue reading in my weekly DIY column, My Handmade Home …

How to oil paint over a photo {Heather's Handmade Life}
All framed and ready to give my sister + brother-in-law!

Want to remember this technique for a future project? Be sure to pin it!

How to oil paint over a photo {Heather's Handmade Life}
Pin this project for later!

Easy fix for cracked leather stools

One of the greatest benefits of knowing how to sew is being able to repair things that would otherwise need to be thrown away and replaced.

Often this means mending a hole in someone’s jacket or stitching up a rip in someone’s heirloom quilt, but sometimes I use my sewing skills to fix something a bit more unusual … like furniture.

I was in my friend’s house recently to make a decorating plan for her daughter’s bedroom when we stopped in the kitchen. She mentioned she might ask me to help her choose new stools for their island, since the faux leather was cracking on the backs of the ones they were using.

“You don’t need to get rid of those stools!” I exclaimed. They were nice ones — tan faux leather with stainless steel bars. “We could just slipcover the cracked leather backs.”

And so we did.

Continue reading in my weekly DIY column, My Handmade Home …

Upgrade doors with a quick hardware swap

*** Schlage provided me with the hardware for this post. As always, all opinions are my own. ***

Sometimes it’s hard to believe we moved into our builder-basic house in the fall of 2011 — about seven-and-a-half years ago. We’ve changed so much since then, the house is practically unrecognizable.

Well, until I turn around and see a leftover “basic” feature, like the thin, ribbed carpet (yuck) or the boob-style ceiling lights we have yet to replace.

One of the most ho-hum features of our house was the door knobs: plain globes of brushed nickel. No matter how you painted the walls — and believe me, we’ve painted almost every room two to three times — there they were, inoffensive, but undeniably basic.

Yawn.

So when Schlage asked if I wanted to try replacing them with ones that actually suited our modern farmhouse decorating style, I did a little doorway happy dance. I’d always loved the contrasting look of white doors with black door knobs and backplates — oh, how I loved the look of backplates.

I immediately picked out the Georgian knob with Camelot trim in a matte black finish, knowing it would pop gorgeously against our white doors and mostly neutral wall colours. We needed the locking Bed & Bath versions for the bedrooms and bathrooms, and Hall & Closet versions for the linen closet, our bedroom closet and the basement closet.

Schlage’s Georgian Knob with Camelot trim in Matte Black (pictured in my DIY studio)

I dove into the boxes when they arrived, a little surprised by the intricacies of each knob set. I guess I hadn’t ever looked at the inside of a door knob before. Luckily, all it took was a single screwdriver to remove our old knobs and install the gorgeous new ones ...

Continue reading in my weekly DIY column, My Handmade Home …

Bye, Siri. Hello, Alexa!

We used to be a family of four: me, my husband, our son and our daughter. But since Christmas, we’re the Clarkes, party of five.

I’d like to introduce you to our new overlord, Alexa.*

It started so casually. I took advantage of a Black Friday sale and ordered myself two half-price Echo Dots* as a Christmas gift from my husband. I also hinted to my sister that she could buy me a third as her gift. I wanted three so I could put one on each level of our house and use them as intercoms.

I excitedly set them up on Christmas morning and started playing with the Alexa app. I pictured myself using the devices for day-to-day reminders (e.g. “Alexa, add eggs to the grocery list.”) and maybe she’d replace Siri occasionally.

I never expected my entire family to become instantly obsessed with her.

“Alexa, play Shake It Off by Taylor Swift!” our daughter shouted at the kitchen Alexa, while our son interjected “No! Alexa, tell me a joke!”

“Guys! Stop! She was in the middle of asking me the question of the day!” I protested.

“Alexa, play The Greatest Showman soundtrack!”

“No! Alexa, tell me a story about Lego!”

“Alexa! Alexa! ALEXAAA!”

It was not even noon on Christmas Day. I swear, if poor Alexa had the power to unplug herself and hop out the door, I think she would have quit on us.

Continue reading in my weekly parenting column, The Mom Scene …