Saturday, December 29, 2012

DIY Simple Wood Child's Chair

So, if you've been following along this holiday season, you'll recall that we've been talking about making more Christmas gifts and buying less. Now that the holiday is over and I'm not spoiling any surprises, I can tell you that it worked out pretty well. For adult friends and family, we made beef jerky (hubby's specialty, eagerly anticipated by several friends), homebrewed beer (again by hubby), jars of apple butter, cinnamon swirl bread (to go with the apple butter), assorted candies (peanut brittle, toffee, chocolate fudge and brown sugar fudge), and a cloth log tote (instructions will follow sometime in the next week or so....).

In addition to all of that, we also decided to handmake one "big" gift for each of the boys. I am particularly pleased at how close each of the finished products matched up our plans AND that both myself and my hubby had a hand in completing them.

Before I give you the outline of what we made for the littlest dude, I have to give you a little background: Growing up I had a favorite rocking chair. Sized just perfectly for a child, I used it from the age of 2 until probably I was 7 or so (and had totally outgrown it) and was forced to hand it down to my younger brother. He enjoyed many years of use and then it ended up in the attic of my parents' garage. My brother and I cleaned that garage shortly after my oldest had turned 1. I reclaimed the chair and promptly took it home. I sanded, refinished it and recovered the seat-- repairing some damage and updating it to match our modern black furniture. I gifted the chair to the little dude for his 2nd birthday.

As a smaller sized child, little dude is still quite comfortable in this chair and not quite ready to do a hand-me-down. On the other side of the story, our littlest dude is in love with chairs. He hasn't met a chair he didn't want to climb up and explore. I thought it was about time he had his own. Now, we certainly could have just bought him a chair. But, in addition to wanting to spend time making something special, we really wanted this chair to match his big brother's. Not easy considering the original was crafted in the early 70's. Using the original as a guide, we did our best to duplicate the chair. We made one or two changes, most notably changing it from a rocking chair to a static chair since littlest dude still has some balance issues.

On the left is our NEW chair. On the right is the original rocking chair.

Basic Materials Required:   (note: all lumber is ACTUAL size, not labeled size!)
sheet of 3/4" plywood, approximately 24" x 24"
4' long piece of 3/4" x 1.5" pine board
2' long piece of 3/4" doweling
12" x 12" piece of 1/4" plywood (for back)
12" x 12" piece of 1/2" plywood (for seat)
1/2 yard cotton or poly batting for seat cushion
1/2 yard fabric for seat cover
quart of paint + brushes
wood glue
wood screws, assorted sizes but 1- 1 1/2" work well
Tools needed:
circular or table saw
router or dremel tool
sand paper or sanding tool (we used the black and decker mouse)
phillips screwdriver (hand or electric)
heavy duty stapler (not office)
tape measure

Step by Step: (these will be for a static chair but can easily be altered at step one for a rocking chair)
Part 1: Cutting your pieces
1) On your 3/4" plywood, draw out your plans using your square & tape measure: We used the original chair as a template but this plan uses the same measurements and *should* get you something pretty much the same. In this design, I have removed the feet for simplicity, since we added them to get continuity with the original chair.
Note: In our finished chairs all corners, inside and out were rounded off. I have shown both below. If you are going to round be sure to mark new corners BEFORE cutting!
2) Cut out chair sides with jigsaw. Sand both sides and all edges well! Remove dust with a rag or tack cloth. Set aside.
3) From your plywood scraps, measure and cut out 2, 12" x 2" rectangles and 2, 2" x 1" rectangles. Sand & remove dust. Set aside. These are your seat supports.
4) Measure and cut doweling into 2, 12" pieces. Sand & remove dust. Set aside. These are the lower cross bars.
5) Measure and cut the 3/4" x 1.5" pine board into 4, 12" pieces. Set 2 aside. On the remaining 2, you will be cutting notches and rounding edges as follows to make the arms of the chair: remove 2"x 3/4" notch from inside back edges of both arms. Round remaining back corner. Round top edge of both arms. See diagram below, cut on red lines. This can be done by sanding, using your jigsaw or router. Sand edges, remove dust & set aside.
 6) Take the 2, 12" pine boards you did not notch in step 5.  These are going to be the top and bottom of the seat back. Use your router and a 1/4" bit to make a 1/4" wide groove, 1/4" deep in the center of the 3/4" side, down the complete 12" length of the wood. Repeat on the other piece of wood. Mark the center (6") of both pieces of wood.
7) Cut your 1/4 inch plywood into a rectangle 10" x 8".  Mark center (5") on each 10" side (top & bottom of chair back).
8) Slide the rectangle into the groove you cut in step 6. Placing one on the top 10" side of the plywood and one on the bottom 10" side. When you are satisfied as to dry fit of pieces, remove top and bottom boards, place a small bead of wood glue into the router groove and replace plywood. Be sure to align center marks so all pieces are centered. Lay on a flat surface and secure with clamps overnight or until glue is completely dry.
9) Cut a 12" x 11.5" rectangle out of the 1/2" plywood. This is your seat bottom. Sand edges as necessary.
10) Prime and paint or stain and seal all pieces. Let dry. Repeat with 2nd coat if necessary.
Part 2: Assembly

1) Predrill all screw holes. At the same time, I recommend making a countersink hole, so that the screwhead will be flush with the rest of the wood.
2) Working with one chair side only, we will be drilling and screwing the front and rear dowels. Measure 5" up from the bottom of the front and rear legs. Mark and pre-drill hole in center of leg (1" from both sides). Drill and screw one dowel to front leg. Repeat for back leg/dowel.
3) Measure from the bottom of the leg to 8". Mark and pre-drill hole in center of leg. Drill and screw one seat support (from step 3 in cutting, the 12" long one). Repeat for back leg/seat support.
4) Measure from top of seat back 2".  Mark and pre-drill hole in center of side. Measure length of pre-glued chair back-- from center of top support to center of bottom support. Transfer measurements from top drilled hole down on side of chair. Pre-drill hole. Screw through chair sides into top and bottom chair back supports.

5) Repeat steps 2-4 for the opposite side of the chair.
6) Next, we'll be placing the arms. Lay the first arm on the arm support so that the notch fits the back of the chair and the top front is rounded (for hand rest). Use a level to insure that the arm is completely horizontal (or use your square if you don't have one). Pre-drill and screw one screw from the inside back of the chair through the chair side into the arm. Watch your depth so as to NOT pop through the wood. Pre-drill and screw through the top of the chair arm into the chair support (one or 2 screws). Note screw positions in red in the diagram below and arm position in orange.

7) We will now upholster the seat. Cut 2 squares of batting about 1" larger on EACH side than the seat wood (cut in step 9 above). Cut 1 square of fabric about 2" larger on EACH side than the seat wood. Lay your fabric RIGHT side down on your work surface. Lay both pieces of batting on top & center. Lay seat wood on top of materials and center. Gently pull the center of one side of fabric up and around batting and wood. Secure on top of wood about 1" from edge with staple. Pull opposite side of fabric up and around, pull taut before stapling. Repeat on other sides. Continue to pull fabric and staple. At corners, fold as a gift, tuck under edges and staple. Trim any excess fabric.
8)On the inside of the front seat support, screw in one 1" x 2" seat block you created in step 3 of cutting. Be sure to center it and make sure it is flush with the top edge of the seat support beam. As you are screwing from the inside of the seat into the seat support, watch your depth to avoid screw tips coming out the front of the chair!! Repeat with the rear seat block and rear support.
9) Place upholstered seat on top of seat supports with narrower side as width and longer side as front to back. Seat should have a small amount of space between uphostery and chair sides. Make sure seat is centered and screw from bottom-- through screw blocks into seat wood. Pre-drilling recommended!
Your chair is now complete! Congrats!
Please feel free to comment below and let me know what you think of this project or if you have any questions about the instructions.
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Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Snowflakes for Sandy Hook

While the holidays are supposed to be a joyful time, many of us are still holding on to a fair amount of sadness and grief from the recent events at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. While I have chosen not to discuss the recent events with my very young children (and probably won't unless the kindergartener brings it up) many of you do have school age children who have heard about the events and might like to do something small to help.

The remaining students of S.H. will not be allowed to return to their campus and instead will be returning to an unused school nearby. While all efforts are being made to prepare the campus on time for end of winter vacation, most efforts will be in cleaning and refurbishment. The national PTA council is calling on all the PTAs from around the nation to each have their students make a snowflake. The idea is for the children to see all the beautiful snowflakes decorating their rooms and campus and know how many people really do care and love them.

Paper snowflakes are a fun winter craft and they can be done quickly in minutes or you can really jazz them up with glitter or other embellishments. If its been a while since you've made one (like me) you will find a helpful tutorial at:  or (provided the image below) That will get you a step by step on how to get the folds right so it turns out. If you are looking for more complicated patterns or ideas you can also try .

Completed snowflakes are requested to be sent by 1/12/13 to :

Connecticut PTSA
60 Connolly Parkway
Building 12, Suite 103
Hamden, CT 06514
(203) 281-6617

There are also some suggestions on fundraisers or how to donate money on the main PTA website:

Here's to a happier 2013!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Homemade Whole Wheat Sesame Crackers

I don't know about other people but 90% of my social life for the whole year seems to take place during the month of December. Sometimes this involves people coming over for a simple game night with snacks or it might be a more elaborate holiday dinner. There are also potlucks, cookie exchanges, open houses and more.

Sometimes its hard to figure out what to bring or make, especially if the event is very casual (like an open house or game night) or already has all the food covered (like a dinner party). If you are tired of bringing the same old bottle of wine, you might consider giving crackers and cheese a try. I know, I know. How can crackers and cheese be exciting? Well, how 'bout if you HANDMADE the crackers?

Its a simple and elegant solution. As an appetizer or dessert course, it is light and goes with any event. Plus, you'll be sure that at least ONE thing you are eating has some nutritional value (this is pretty much 3 ingredients: 100% whole wheat flour, olive oil and sesame seeds with a little salt & water). See? So fiber, healthy fats AND some key trace minerals, to boot! Plus its pretty easy to make, not much more difficult than holiday cookies AND if you are trying to keep the sugar consumption low, this could be a great substitute for those little sugar bombs!

Now, these aren't dainty and do well with stronger cheeses, either sliced or spready. I'm sure that like me, you'll appreciate having something sturdy that doesn't keep snapping off or crumbling all over! We've paired this up with blues, sharp cheddars and a wonderful cranberry goat cheese log.

For the crackers pictured, I've simply cut the dough into rough squares/rectangles BUT if you want to be more festive, any kind of cookie cutter would work well here and really give your crackers a professional appearance. Remember when rolling out the dough, you can NOT go too thin. When you think you have it as thin as you possibly can, make another pass and try again!
Recipe: Whole Wheat Sesame Crackers
adapted from this NY Times recipe

1 1/4 cups white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted (black or white will work equally well)
1/2 tsp salt
5 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
4-8 Tbs water

1) Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper or silpat.
2) In bowl of food processor, combine flour, sesame seeds & salt. Pour in olive oil and pulse until mixture is crumbly. Add water, 1 Tbs at a time until dough can be pressed into a ball. Amount will vary depending on your flour and weather. I typically use around 6 tbs.

3) LIGHTLY dust work surface. Divide dough into 2 even portions. Roll out and cut one portion at a time. Roll as thin as possible. The thinner the dough, the crisper (vs. crunchier) the final cracker will be.
4) Cut into desired shapes (use sharp knife, cookie cutters or biscuit cutter). Repeat for 2nd half of dough.
5) Place on prepared baking sheet, close but not touching.
6) Bake 15-25 minutes, until lightly browned. Time will depend on how thick your final cracker dough is and how full your tray is. Mine are typically done around 23 minutes with a medium thick dough (I'm working on getting it thinner!) and a very full tray.
7) Remove and allow to cool on wire racks.
8) Keep in airtight container approximately 1-2 weeks. However if you find them getting a bit stale, just pop them back into the oven for 2-3 minutes.

As always, feel free to comment below! I'd love to hear how this worked out for you!
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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Spinach & Basil (Nut free) Pesto

This time of year always seems to be the busiest, doesn't it? Between end of year projects that need finishing up, holiday preparations & all the holiday celebrations themselves, sometimes it seems like we are always go-go-go-ing! I don't know why but this time of year always makes me think of pesto. Maybe its the green? In any case, this would be a great item to take to a get-together, party or pot luck. Its very festive and by virtue of being nut-free is a great dish to share with people who may have nut allergies!

This recipe is an easy prep-- especially if you have a food processor. You can still do it in a blender, but it might take a few batches (those leaves are very fluffy!) You will be amazed at how quick it really is AND you will have enough leftovers in the freezer for SEVERAL meals. Plus, have you seen the prices for premade pesto??? Do those people think its made out of gold or something?? Sheesh!

Now, I know traditionalists would argue that a pesto isn't really a pesto without the nuts (either pine nuts or walnuts or something) but I've found that the nuts aren't really necessary for a great pesto-y flavor. In removing them from the recipe, the costs are cut DRAMATICALLY and as mentioned above, many of us have family members & friends with nut allergies. This is a painless way to make a great dish that everyone can eat!

Recipe: Spinach & Basil (Nut free) Pesto
(makes approx. 6, 4 oz servings)

6 oz. baby spinach leaves
4 oz. fresh basil leaves (stems and flowers removed)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
4 cloves garlic (2 1/2 Tbs jarred crushed)
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1) Add leaves, cheese, garlic and salt to work bowl of food processor. Pour in 1/4 cup of your olive oil.
2) Whirl mixture until nearly smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary.
3) Pour remaining olive oil into the mixture, while processing, until completely smooth.
4) Taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.
5) Package pesto in 4 oz tupperwares, jars or plastic baggies & freeze for future use! Each 4 oz package will cover 8-16 oz of pasta depending on how pesto-y you want your dish!

Things to do with your pesto:

1) Use it as a pizza sauce on a homemade pizza. Just spread over prepared crust and top with cheese and toppings as usual. Makes for a nice change of an everyday food!

2) Mix a little with mayonnaise for a sandwich spread that will perk up the boring-est of chicken or turkey sandwiches! Add in a little tomato, sliced mozzerella or provolone and its even better. For total insanity, try grilling your sandwich or cooking it in a panini press!

3) Toss with cooked pasta (I particularly like penne). My preferred mix is about 4 oz of pesto to 12 oz of pasta. Be sure to leave a small amount of cooking water  (like 2 Tbs max!) to help spread the pesto evenly. If you forget to save some water, you can also use milk or cream for a richer dish!

Here is my favorite wintertime pasta dish, its very hearty and with your ready made pesto, it will come together in a flash!

Recipe: Penne with Shrimp & Cherry Tomatoes

12 oz penne pasta
4 oz prepared pesto
1 pint cherry (or grape or miniature plum) tomatoes, sliced lengthwise (see tip below)
1 lb peeled & cooked shrimp

1) Cook pasta as directed on package.
2) Defrost pesto (if frozen)
3) Slice tomatoes-- here is a trick I got from watching the Rachel Ray show-- use 2 deli tub lids (I had yogurt & sour cream, I think?) Put your tomatoes on one lid (edge up) and place the other lid over the tomatoes edge down. Holding the lid firmly (but not squashing the tomatoes) run your knife in the slot between the 2 lids. Voila! Lots of evenly sliced tomatoes, all done at the same time!

4) Cook or defrost precooked shrimp as necessary.
5) Drain pasta (remember to reserve cooking water or use milk/cream).
6) Toss pasta, shrimp, tomatoes and pesto together. Make sure all ingredients are evenly distributed and warmed throughout.
7) Serve with crusty bread and grated parmesan!

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