birthday swag for stu

Today is Stuart's birthday! Happily, his birthday fell on a weekend this year, so I asked him if I could plan a surprise outing for the day and cook a nice dinner. Ordinarily, we're not big on surprises, but he agreed.

I planned a morning hike at Governor Dodge State Park. We all need fresh air and a change of scenery. Earlier this week I decided we would go no matter what, but the weather was cool and clear and perfect for hiking.

Gov. Dodge SP is a beautiful place. I'm not sure how we have lived in Madison for this long and never got there before today. The kids had a great time dodging coyote poop and climbing rocks. 

Today we hiked the Lost Canyon Trail (it's about 3 miles and not difficult), and it was gorgeous with woods and cliff views and dramatic boulders. Next time we want to hike around Cox Hollow lake and see the bluffs there.

Our hike ended at Stephen's Falls, where Daniel desperately wanted to stick his head under, but we wouldn't let him.

Then we drove back to Madison, ate a very late lunch at a Vietnamese place, and came home. I made lasagna and cake that no one had much of an appetite for after inhaling giant bowlfuls of noodles mid-afternoon, but that's okay. It means we have plenty left for lunch tomorrow.

I made Stuart's birthday present! It's hard to make things for him. I have little to no experience sewing men's clothing and he doesn't wear hand knit things aside from a couple hats I've made him, so I often just can't think of anything to make him that would be especially useful. The outing and the cake would probably have been enough - in fact, he said it's the best birthday he's had in a while (certainly better than the time he came down with the flu and the car broke down all on the same day) - but I still like for him to have something to open.

A couple weeks ago, an idea came to me: an espresso mat. Not an obvious choice, I'll grant you, but bear with me here. We just spent the last six months on a huge remodeling project that included expanding and gutting/renovating the kitchen. The inside work wrapped up a week after Valentine's Day, thank goodness, and this means that Stuart was able to move his espresso-making operation from atop the chest freezer downstairs back to its rightful place on the countertop up here.

The thing about espresso, is that it makes a mess with finely ground coffee everywhere, no matter how careful you are when you're brewing it. And of course we just spent a small fortune on the new kitchen and want to keep it as clean and shipshape for as long as possible. The old (and ancient) countertops eventually got stained from coffee grounds and marred from the daily tamping of grounds into the portafilter. To avoid this on the new countertop, we folded up an old beach towel and placed it under the grinder and espresso machine, but as you can imagine, that is not so attractive.

So I decided that a custom-made quilted mat would be just the thing. My idea was to cut pieces the same size as the subway tiles we had installed for backsplash (3"x6" finished) and use dark fabric so the coffee stains don't show.

Obviously, I strayed from my original idea of the subway tile look when I cut bigger squares out of the floral print. Also, Daniel and Anya get a kick out of playing with the decorative stitches on my sewing machine, so I had them make designs on some plain black fabric and incorporated those as well. It's pretty obvious which pieces they contributed!

Black is very difficult to photograph.

I'm quite pleased with the result. For one thing, I made this up on my own and it was quite liberating to design something from start to finish with no instructions. Not that it was particularly complicated or even that original, but doing it myself meant there was no right or wrong.

The fabric is something I bought years and years ago at Stitchers Crossing (they went out of business last fall, sadly). For some reason I kept the receipt and it was dated 2003! High time I used it, don't you think?

I used old flannel for the backing and machine-quilted along several of the seams. Basic stuff.

 The finished size is 24" long X 21" deep. I think it looks just right, but this morning Stu still folded up an old yuck towel on which to tamp the grounds. That's the messiest part (aside from the grinding).

Yes, we do.

All in all, a lovely day. Now I need to find a new knitting project! I finished a sweater for Anya (I already have photos and I'll post about it soon), I'm almost done with a hat, and I have misplaced a sock I started last week. Seriously, I've looked everywhere and can't find it. I'm starting to think I left it someplace around town? So of course this means I need to start something fresh and new. I think I'm getting spring fever!


Renee said…
I love your mat idea to keep your kitchen neat. Have you posted the "after pictures" of the remodel? Would love to see how it turned out!

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