Chalkboard Alphabet Blocks

by ilene on May 13, 2014 · 3 comments

in baby, tutorial


Zoey’s starting to learn and identify letters which is a welcome change from her animal obsession. There are only so many times a day we can read the same farm book over and over.  As of now, she can identify the letters that spell out her name and thats about it.  BUT she thinks she knows all of them  and tries to fool me.  Anytime she sees signs, books, or a computer keyboard, she will point to the letters and pretend to read them.  Whenever she sees a letter she doesn’t know, she will point and proudly make up names for them like “MPH!” with a pleased look on her face.   It’s pretty funny listening to her made up letters, she blurts them out with such convincing gusto.   She’s been having fun trying to learn  so I decided to make her some alphabet blocks to play with.



Since I had plenty of leftover chalkboard paint from previous projects (this is the paint I use), I thought it’d be fun to paint them in chalkboard paint and use chalk markers to write the letters. I can use a damp cloth to erase the letters later if I wanted to change them up and write numbers, the chinese alphabet or even have Zoey write on them when she is older. I think it’d be cute for her to write out the alphabet in her own handwriting (much) later down the line.

Here are the materials that I used:  wood cubes, chalkboard paint, chalk markers (or regular chalk) and a paint brush:blocks11

I originally was looking at for unfinished wooden blocks that I could paint, but then I found these wooden cubes at the Japanese dollar store Daiso.  I could get a dozen of these 1.2″ cubes for $1.5o and I needed three dozen to have enough for the full alphabet for a total of $4.50.  This was much cheaper than any other option I found online.



I’m not going to lie, painting all six sides of 3 dozen cubes was a bit tedious, especially since I did three coats of paint each:blocks8


This project is one of this mind numbing ones that was done while watching a couple hours of reality television. Which probably made my mind even number.

I waited an hour in between coats and let the paint cure overnight:blocks9

The next day, I broke out the chalk pens and wrote out the alphabet:
blocks3Since I had a few leftover cubes, I drew a couple symbols and repeated some common letters like the vowels.

We keep these in a plastic bin and Zoey loves to pull them out and point out the “O” and “Y”, her two favorite letters.  She also loves to stack and build really tall towers with them!



Even I have fun constructing words and phrases with them!blocks5


Thanks for reading!

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A couple of weeks ago, I hosted a bridesmaid tea for my dear friend, former roommate and soon-to-be-bride Nicole.  I can’t think of a better way to spend the afternoon than with a bunch of girls talking about weddings over tea and pastries!  I loooove being a bridesmaid, if I could figure out how to be a professional bridesmaid, I would!   Now that I am into my thirties, I thought my bridesmaiding days were over, so I was honored when Nic asked me to stand in her wedding this October.   This will be my 8th time being a bridesmaid!  (I’ve saved all my bridesmaid dresses over the last ten years, too!)   I love planning weddings so its extra fun being a part of someone else’s, especially a dear friend’s.

What afternoon tea is complete without scones, so I baked some blueberry ones to go along with the pastries, sandwiches, fruit and petit fours.  My baker friend Lynn makes  some  killer scones and she said she uses  Tyler Florence’s recipe,  so I tried it for the first time and the scones turned out pretty amazing.  Perfectly buttery and flakey, just like how scones should be!  The recipe had a lemon glaze drizzled over the scones, but since I didn’t have a lemon on hand, I mixed some powered sugar with some orange juice that I had in my fridge to create an orange glaze.

Blueberry Scones (adapted from Tyler Florence’s recipe)


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 tablespoon of flour to coat the blueberries
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cold, cut in chunks
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries
  • 1 cup heavy cream, plus more for brushing the scones
  • 1/2 cup of orange juice and 2 cups of powdered sugar for the glaze



Preheat the oven to 400 degrees

Sift together all the dry ingredients: the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Using 2 forks or a pastry blender, cut in the butter. The mixture should look resemble pea-sized crumbs:


Here is a trick that I learned. Coat the fresh blueberries with a 1/2 tablespoon of flour to keep the blueberries from sinking to the bottom of the dough:blueberryscone5

Gently fold the blueberries into the mixture so that you don’t crush the berries.  Make a well in the center of the mixture and pour in the heavy cream. Fold everything together just to incorporate but do not overwork the dough:


On a lightly floured surface, press the dough into a rectangle, then cut into 8 triangles:blueberryscone7

Place the scones on an ungreased cookie sheet and brush the tops with a little heavy cream. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until they start to brown around the top edges:


To make the glaze, microwave the orange juice for 30 seconds, just hot enough to melt confectioner’s sugar.  Mix in the sugar until smooth. The consistency should be like syrup:


Once the scones have cooled, drizzle the glaze over the tops of the scones.

Serve and enjoy!!  Preferably with a bunch of female friends giggling about love and relationships!



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Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of attending my good friend Megan’s super fun outdoor wedding.  This wedding was one of the MOST fun weddings that I have ever been to and that is saying a lot since I’ve been to a lot of weddings! (I’ve lost count after 40)   There were food trucks, lawn games, a photobooth, an icecream sundae bar – basically all the fun stuff that I would want at my own wedding if I were to do it all over again.  It was also the most kid-friendly wedding, too, which I really appreciate now that we have Zoey and have to entertain an active toddler during these events (if she is invited at all).  She even had her own seat at the dinner table and her own bag of goodies with quiet activities.  This bride thought of it all!

Since Megan was busy with so many other details, I volunteered to supply their wedding guestbook.  I figured I could help out and at least take this small task off her hands.    The only instructions the bride gave me was that they wanted it be a scrapbook so that guests can add their photos from the photo booth and that the wedding colors were lavender, peach and cream.  Since the wedding was going to be rustic-style, think mason jars, twine, and wooden signs, I found a linen-covered sketchbook with thick, archival quality pages that I thought would be perfect for the guestbook.  I wanted to customize the cover of the book with their names and wedding date, similar to how Jeff and I got our guestbook engraved with those details.   I was brainstorming ways how I could personalize this info and contemplated painting with fabric paint, but wasn’t sure if my shaky hands could pull off nice, neat lettering. I also thought about possibly getting a metal plate engraved with their names and then gluing it to the front of the cover.  I really wanted the lettering to be in the same cursive font as their wedding invitations though, such details like that are important to me, so I ultimately decided to try cutting out their names and their wedding date out of iron-on material with my silhouette machine and then ironing it on to the linen cover.  I’ve customized plenty of clothing using this method but wasn’t sure how this was going to turn out on a fabric covered book.   I was a little nervous that I would ruin it, there was no turning back after I iron it on.  Luckily for me, it turned out perfectly!


The iron-on material transferred perfectly onto the front cover:wedding_guestbook3

I added a small, fun detail on the backside:wedding_guestbook4

I made a little sign with instructions for the guestbook table and supplied pens, double-sided tape and some fun pieces of paper for guests to write their notes on:wedding_guestbook5

I couldn’t find cute paper in the right size for the scrapbook at my local craft supply stores, so I turned to my favorite online source – Etsy!  How cute are these die cuts from SandyLynnScrapping?  I especially love the mason jar die cuts!wedding_guestbook6


Congrats to Matt and Megan!!!!  You guys threw a fabulous wedding and you are a fabulous couple!  Wishing you a happily ever after!

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Have you ever tried Trader Joe’s Cowboy Bark?  This stuff is ADDICTING!!!  It’s all my favorite foods combined into one SUPER SNACK:  dark chocolate, toffee, pretzels, almonds, peanuts, joe-joes and a little salt.  You can’t go wrong with that winning combination!  cowboy_bark2 I can eat a whole bag in one night, no joke.  If you come over to our place, there is usually one opened bag on our coffee table, ready to be eaten at any time.  Because I can’t get enough of this stuff and because I have this fear that one day TJ will inexplicably and cruelly pull these from their shelves overnight  (this is why I also hoard all the pear cinnamon apple cider I can get my hands on), I usually stock up and buy 4-5 bags at a time.  Then I thought, why not try to make some myself?  I mean, its not that hard, the ingredients are listed right on the front of the package!   I’ve made all sorts of variations of chocolate bark before, so why not make this cowboy bark.

What’s involved:


The ingredients:

  • crushed pretzels
  • sliced toasted almonds
  • toffee bits
  • oreo cookies (instead of joe-joes)
  • sea salt to sprinkle over the top
  • milk chocolate (instead of dark chocolate this time)

How good your chocolate bark will be hinges on the quality of chocolate that you use.  Hershey’s just won’t cut it.  I used a local favorite, Tcho chocolate, which I was able to get at Wholefoods, but I know not all Wholefoods carries it.  I also left out peanuts since I’m not a big fan and I think having the almonds in there was more than enough nuts for me.

All I had to do was melt the chocolate in the microwave (heat at short 30 second intervals and stir until melted), spread across my silpat baking mat, then sprinkle the ingredients into it while the chocolate was still melted.   I let it all cool and  waited until the chocolate hardened. Then I was able to break it apart and enjoy! Simple as that!


It’s been awhile (3 years!) since I’ve tackled any copycat recipes and this is by far the easiest one that I’ve done. See the full list of favorite snacks that I’ve broken apart and re-created in my Unwrapped series.  Learn how you can make your own goldfish crackers, wheat thins, reese’s peanut butter cups, samoa cookies and the ultimate comfort food: the twinkie!!

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Duke Blue Devil Capes

by ilene on April 22, 2014 · 1 comment

in sewing, travel, tutorial


A couple weeks ago, my twin sister and I fulfilled a dream of ours and took our families back to Duke University in North Carolina, where we graduated over a decade(!!!) ago.   We’ve always dreamt of one day stepping back on campus with our husbands and children in tow, showing our kids where their mommies went to school and sharing college memories with our hubbies.  Some of my happiest memories took place during those college years and I was so lucky to experience it all with my sister.  My older brother (Surprise! Betchya didn’t know I had one! I rarely mention him on this blog!) also went Duke so we are truly a Duke family.  You will not meet a greater Duke basketball fan than my mom and my hardworking dad somehow put all three of us kids through private school.   Duke University has a special place in our hearts and we couldn’t wait to get back on campus and share it all with our families!

For this trip, I whipped out new Blue Devil capes for Zoey and my baby niece Rylie.   The cousins already have matching Duke cheerleading outfits that my sister got them for Christmas but I decided to sew these capes up the night before we left because they are so darn cute:


I’ve made plenty of these blue devil capes, and superhero capes, in different variations as gifts forfriends.  (Scroll to the bottom of this post to see other variations of the Blue Devils capes that I’ve made in the past.) This was by far the simplest version I have ever made since I didn’t use any velcro or bias tape and because of that, it was also the cheapest version that I’ve made!   Zoey actually already outgrew the newborn cape I made her when she was born.   She never even got it wear it!  So this time, I made them a little on the bigger side in hopes that they will last an extra season or two.

I was walking through the fabric store and found this glittery satin fabric in Blue Devil blue and knew it was perfect for this project.   It had just enough fun little sparkles for our little baby girl devils.  I don’t have a pattern for these capes, I short of just eyeballed it and drew a rough outline on the fabric and cut it out.   Its basically a giant triangle with a slight curve cut out at the top/neck:



I folded all the edges (except for the neck) under and sewed them like a hem.  For the tie closure, I happened to have blue satin ribbon that matched the fabric perfectly, so I just sewed that along the neckline:


I used my silhouette machine to cut out the “D” symbol out of white iron-on transfer material and then just ironed it onto the back of the cape:

You can see some of the sparkle in the photo above.  I love how it glitters!

The girls got SO much attention walking around campus with their little cheerleading outfits and capes on!   So many people stopped and asked us about the capes.  They were a big hit!   Our daughters were so cute in them!  We actually have adult-sized capes that my sister made one year for the NCAA tournament but the men were too shy to wear them around.  It would have made quite a scene if the 6 of us were walking around in capes.

Here is a picture of Rylie (10 months) and Zoey (16 months) hanging out at the student center:

It was hot day and Zoey had to be bribed with icecream to sit still for that shot.

And THEN, we went to take pics in front of Cameron Indoor Stadium, our famed basketball court, and we were pleasantly surprised to find the doors unlocked (and the court air conditioned!).  So we got to go inside and run around for a bit and snap some pictures of the girls at half court:


It was such a thrill to be able to walk around Coach K court, we rarely got to do that even as students!!  Zoey even got a diaper change on it, hehe.  Running around Cameron Indoor Stadium capped off the day for us and it made us all giddy with joy!  This was by far the best part of the trip for our husbands, too.  They didn’t go to Duke but even they were impressed by our basketball stadium!

I love this shot of Zozo strutting around like she owns the court:


And how cute is Rylie sitting there?!


We had a trip of a lifetime!   My sister and I felt so lucky that we were able to go back on campus and re-live so many sweet memories together.  The campus has changed so much in the last 10 years, we were walking around confused with dumbfounded looks on our faces in some areas, but it was just as beautiful as I remembered it to be. We had a fun, happy homecoming and we look forward to going back one day….when Zoey and Rylie are freshmen!  ;)

Here are other versions of the Duke cape that I’ve made in the past. Click on the photos to see those tutorials:




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