Thursday, May 29, 2008

embroidered cards

Every year at the end of the school year I like to give the classroom teachers a handmade thank you card. The deer is from an embroidered card kit I bought from Martha Stewart online back in 2001 or 2002. I hesitated before making the purchase because it was rather pricey, but it's been worth every penny. The kit came with everything: cardstock, embroidery floss, 8 templates, a punching tool, and even a little foam mat (similar to a mouse pad) to provide the appropriate surface for using the punching tool. You punch holes in the cardstock to outline the design, then backstitch with floss through the holes to create the stitched image. It's kind of a pain to stitch through the holes in the cardstock, at least for me, because I have to turn the card over to find the hole from behind with every single stitch, but the finished product looks so pretty!

I wanted to try something new this year, too, so I crocheted some flowers using perle cotton and a small hook, tacked them onto fabric, and embroidered a stem and leaves. I used some wonder under to fuse the fabric onto cardstock. I hope it sticks. Right now it's holding on tight, but I'm wondering if I should sew it down. It would be embarrassing to give a handmade card that falls apart!

The crochet flower pattern is the same one I used to make my flower scarf, following the pattern posted here.


Monday, May 26, 2008

Weekend Fun

Last Christmas my husband presented me with a gift certificate for a Memorial Day weekend trip, just for the two of us. We rarely go anywhere without our children. We didn't leave them with anyone else overnight until they were 8 and 5, and that was for only one night. We've taken a couple of one-night trips since then. This year we graduated to a two-night trip!

First we had to take the kids to my parents' house, which ended up with a detour to my sister's house. We met my niece's newest pet: A duckling named Henry. Henry is quite charming. His quack hasn't yet matured beyond a cheep, and he runs around the house, peeping and flapping his tiny wings. The dog is jealous of this tiny new housemate, but curious, too, and willing to make friends, I think. The duckling wants constant company, and is always following around the nearest person. If a person is not readily available, Henry chases the dog, cheep-cheep-cheeping all the way. My daughter was thrilled to meet the duck, and is scheming for a way to get a duckling of her own. Fortunately for me, I think it is prohibited by zoning ordinances to keep fowl where we live! (That's my excuse, anyway.)

After we got the kids settled, we headed off for our weekend at a town on Lake Michigan. I love my children and love taking them places, but it was so relaxing to be somewhere without them. No breaking up fights. No compromises for dinner. Being able to walk and walk and walk without hearing complaints of being bored. My husband and I like to explore places on foot, and our kids don't always appreciate that walking around is its own adventure. While on vacation, they think you need to be doing something exciting, and walking must be purposeful to get you somewhere to do something exciting. Aimless wandering is not entertaining for them.

Here are the happy adults, alone on a long beach walk at sunset. (My kids actually do like long beach walks because they can throw rocks into the water and get soaking wet. That qualifies as exciting. But it's okay that they missed this one.)


The next day we climbed 281 stairs to the top of a dune for this view of the river and marina:
We wandered in the woods at the top of the dune and found two trees tangled together, creating this heart-shaped hole:


After our dune climb and more walking, we had lunch, then split up for a while. My husband wanted to catch up on some reading, and I wanted to browse some of the galleries and boutiques. Of course, I ended up looking for little gifts for the kids!

Our weather was perfect, and the two days were so relaxing that I felt like summer vacation must have started already. But, no, we picked up the kids today and headed for home, where a few more weeks of school await. My son has a research project due on Friday. He has to write a paper about the brain. He struggles with spelling, and my husband and I joked that we hope he writes about the brain, and not the Brian. My daughter must have walked through poison ivy somewhere at my sister's or my parents', because her feet are red and swollen and itchy, and it's making her crabby. I have to unpack and do laundry and make lunches for tomorrow. Summer vacation, alas, is still a long way off.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Punch Bowls and Disco Balls

Editing comment: I have tried several times to put spaces between my paragraphs in this post, but blogger refuses to cooperate with me. My apologies if this is difficult to read.
This will not be going in the punchbowl at my son's 5th Grade Promotion Ceremony. This is homemade spirits, distilled by my husband's distant relatives in Eastern Europe. My husband's paternal grandparents immigrated to the U.S. when they were young, leaving behind all family. Two or three summers ago my husband's sisters tracked down the long-lost relatives in their grandparents' homeland and made the journey to meet them face to face. They came back with fascinating stories, and a gift for my husband from his father's cousins: homemade spirits. Yowsa. I hope the cousins never track down this blog, because now they'll know we were afraid to even try the stuff. It looks innocent enough, just like a bottle of water, which is why my husband drew a skull and cross bones on it, to keep the kids out of it.
My sister-in-law is having a graduation party for herself this week, and she asked for the spirits to serve to guests. I was kind of sad to see the bottle go, because it was becoming legendary, but it's nice to know it will get used. I'll have to ask her if anyone survived.
My son's class is having a graduation of sorts (really a promotion celebration) in a couple of weeks, too, as they finish elementary school. I'm not planning the party, but I am helping with the preparations. My assignments are to find two punch recipes and a disco ball. Mission accomplished. I thought the punch would be easy and the disco ball difficult, but the opposite was true. The disco ball was easy to procure. It was harder to find appropriate punch recipes. One punch has to be red and the other has to be yellow (to match school colors). I wanted simple punch recipes so we don't have to worry about expensive ingredients, or freezing, or blending, and of course, we can't have alcohol! I finally found two recipes that fit all the criteria. I know the ingredients aren't exactly healthful, but c'mon, it's party punch, and we all know it's not a party without high fructose corn syrup and glycerol ester of wood rosin!
Red Punch
1-2 L bottle of Hawaiian Punch
1-12 oz can frozen OJ concentrate
1-2 L bottle ginger ale
Combine above ingredients in a punch bowl.
Yellow Punch
2 cups lemon juice
2 cups orange juice (not concentrate)
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
2-2 L bottles ginger ale
Combine first 4 ingredients in punch bowl and stir until sugar dissolves. Pour ginger ale slowly down sides of punch bowl just before serving.
I actually haven't tested the yellow punch recipe yet. I need to get out my calculator and figure out amounts for a one-glass serving! If it's gross (and I've had gross yellow punch before) I'll need to do more searching.
We had a promotion planning meeting after school today. My kids opted to head for home without me. When I got home, I held my breath as I entered the house. Would they be fighting? Would my daughter come crying to me with news that her brother had pushed/punched/pinched her? I found them sitting companionably side by side, eating a snack, each engrossed in a book. Whew!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Dandelions and Toadstools

We are not lawn freaks. Our yard is a patchwork of grass, small areas of bare dirt, and lots and lots of dandelions. It was this way when we bought the house, and we are not inclined to fight it too much. We definitely don't use chemicals. Regular mowing in the spring beheads the dandelions, so we can keep things looking fairly kempt and green. Our yard doesn't look bad from across the street! Of course, we have to use a power mower for the beheading to work. My husband's mowing preference is to use our antique push-reel mower, but that only knocks the dandelions flat. They spring right back up again, completely undaunted, so he reluctantly uses a power mower most of the time.

Here is our antique mower:

I believe it is dated 1929. I wanted to get a nice photo of it amidst our dandelions, but it's way back in the corner of the garage, hemmed in by bikes and scooters and too many other things to move out of the way just for a photo shoot.

I made this little dandelion doll for my husband a few years ago, using a kit I bought through Magic Cabin Dolls. He appreciated the joke! My doll-making skills are hit-and-miss, but I had good luck with this one.



Here is my less-than-lucky attempt at making a toadstool, following Lucykate's tutorial:
She set up a toadstool swap, and I was sorely tempted to join, but after my practice toadstool I chickened out. I have some ideas for how to improve my next toadstool, and if I get a chance to try again, I'll be sure to share results. (I do like the fabric I used for the stem with this one! It makes me smile just to look at it.)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Unexpected

We had our driveway redone last week. The old asphalt was a crumbled mess, so we finally bit the bullet and had a cement driveway put in. After they tore out the asphalt I realized we didn't have to pour cement in the same configuration that the asphalt had been. Result: I now have a much larger garden patch in my backyard! You can see the bank of dirt outlining the former edge of the garden. Isn't there a lot more space now? I'm so excited about this, and want to do something pretty here. It's definitely going to need a little stepping stone path, don't you think? My dad made some beautiful stepping stones for me a few years ago, which we have on the other side of our house. They definitely are needed there, but I don't see them every day, so I think I will move them to the garden where I'll see them all the time.

I'm still planning our plot in the community garden, too. My husband and I went seed shopping last weekend. I took time to wander around the store, and found this basket, which will be perfect when it comes time to harvest: Can't you just see it filled with tomatoes and beans and squash and zucchini? My husband was less enthusiastic, and argued that we have plenty of Tidy Cat buckets at home that would fit that purpose. Gack! Bring home the fruits of our labor in a hard-sided, heavy bucket that once held cat litter? Not only is that gross, it's also impractical. I would definitely get bruised legs lugging a Tidy Cat bucket around. This basket is lightweight and has a comfortable handle. Plus, we were shopping at a locally-owned independent garden store, and when I'm in a locally-owned store, I allow myself little splurges.

Now after all this, I just hope there will be something to harvest! Is buying a harvest basket in the spring the same as counting your chickens before they're hatched?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Sweat

My favorite workout DVD:






Fat Burning Fusion, with Ellen Barrett. (Watch a clip of it here.) I try to do this 45 minute workout once a week. Ellen has such a pleasant, encouraging demeanor throughout. No equipment is needed. You don't even wear shoes! The moves are not dancey or complicated, so you don't need a lot of room, yet you are in near-constant motion, and let me tell you, I feel it the next day. It's not so tough if I do the workout regularly, but I skipped a week recently, and when I came back to it, I had a hard time lowering myself into a chair for a couple of days afterwards. Anyone can do this workout, even if you haven't exercised in years. If you haven't exercised in years, this DVD is a great place to start again.



I am a very regular exerciser, and work out five or six times a week. Most days I do a run/walk interval for 3.5-4 miles on my treadmill, but I like to mix it up every now and again, so I have quite a collection of workout DVDs, too. Fat Burning Fusion is my latest addition. At the end of the workout my average heartrate is only 115 or so for the 45 minutes, compared with 145-155 for 45 minutes on the treadmill, but I feel more thoroughly worked because my core and arms have been so involved, and my legs get moved in such a different way than they do when I walk/run.



I also love this yoga video:







The Original Total Yoga. I started doing yoga back in 1992. I don't make regular time for it, but my body tells me when I need it. Downward Dog is the most healing position of all for what ails me.


I'm lucky that my lifestyle allows time for exercise. Sometimes I feel self-conscious about that. The other day some guys showed up to work on our driveway. I knew we were on their schedule, but the exact start date had been vague, so I was not expecting them when they came. It happened to be a yoga day for me, and they arrived right in the middle of my workout. I felt a little bit like a pampered princess, opening the door in my yoga gear!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Imagination

I was going through old photos yesterday to find pictures for a "memories of elementary school" slide show for my son when I found this picture. I had forgotten all about this stage in my daughter's life! When she was a toddler/preschooler, she liked to rummage through the linen closet. She helped herself to cotton balls and q-tips, and we would find them in the strangest places, such as inside our shoes, or tucked into rolls of toilet paper. One day I found her in the bathroom with a wet washcloth pressed to her face. When I asked what she was doing, she cheerfully replied "Oh, just washing my beard!" Later I found the sopping wet washcloth tossed on top of the clean washcloths in the closet.

When she discovered my quilting and embroidery hoops, she used them to create self portraits on my bedroom floor. I'd let them lie there for days because I couldn't bear to dismantle them. Whenever I did clean up, she'd soon find everything and make a new one. It was a game for her, a little joke, because she'd wait for me to find them, and then she'd laugh and laugh.

She's still pretty creative, and she still likes to pull little jokes on me, but she no longer makes self-portraits with my hoops. I miss that.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Knock Knock

The photos today have nothing to do with anything I'm saying. I just think they are pretty, so I thought I'd share.

I could have had a brand new dryer for free today. I was home, minding my own business, when a truck pulled up and a man with a clipboard banged on my front door. He said one word to me: "Dryer." Hmmm. I asked him, "What about my dryer?" He elaborated, "We got your dryer here." No, my dryer is safely sitting in my basement. I told him I didn't order a dryer. He said "Yes you did." Now, don't you think I'd know if I'd just made such a major purchase? He looked at his clipboard and looked at my house number and said "This is your dryer." I repeated that I had indeed not ordered a dryer. He looked at his clipboard again, so sure he was right and I was wrong, and said "Well, you're R, aren't you?" I told him no, I am not R, and still he didn't believe me! What, am I going to lie to him? What happens during these deliveries that he would think I would deny my name and my brand new dryer? I asked him what street he was supposed to be on, and that's when he finally realized maybe I wasn't kidding him. Once he knew he was on the wrong street, it was rather funny.

This isn't the first time someone has come to our door mistakenly, only to insist that they are right and I am wrong. We hadn't lived here a week when an elderly woman knocked on the door, clutching a lamp in her hands. She told me she bought the lamp at my yard sale last week, but it didn't work. It took me a good five minutes to convince her she had the wrong house.

About a year later a man came to the door and told me he was here to pick up his son. This was before I had kids of my own. When I told him he had the wrong house, he became quite panicked. His son had gone home from school with a friend, and his wife had given him our address as the place to pick him up. Confusion and near hysteria reigned until I thought to ask what the name of the friend was, and it turned out to be the people who had lived here just before us. I was glad to solve that mystery!

Does this ever happen to anyone else, or is our house a magnet for confusion?



Sunday, May 4, 2008

She Will Rock You!


Bragging mom alert. We had our county-wide science competition yesterday, and my daughter and her teammate took second place in the Second Grade Rocks category. There were 20 schools competing with 2nd-5th graders, over 1,300 kids overall. What a day!

Our school started weekly practices back in January. When my daughter signed up for Rocks, I had no idea what we were getting into. I was staggered by the sheer amount of details she needed to remember. She studied 14 minerals, and needed to know the color, luster, shape (such as mass, prism, etc), the cleavage (how many lines of weakness in the mineral), Mohs scale number, the color of the streak when the mineral is rubbed on sandpaper, weight, and any special characteristics of each mineral. She also studied 18 rocks, and needed to remember if they were metamorphic, igneous, or sedimentary, the color, the texture, where the rock forms (eg: land, sea, mountains), what mineral it mostly contains, what it is comprised of (eg: skeletons of tiny sea animals), and what it is used for by humans. She really enjoyed studying the details, and her ability to retain the information surprised and impressed me. I take my hat off to her coaches, two dedicated moms from our school who were highly organized and enthusiastic, and made the whole thing interesting and fun for the rocks team.

My son and his teammate placed 4th in the Maps competition. That was pretty exciting, too. My husband is our school's map coach, so my son has participated in that event every year for the past three years.

The frustrating thing about this science competition is that parents and coaches never get to see the actual test the kids take, not even after the event, so it's hard to know how the children need to apply what they've learned in practices when they are tested. Having the children explain the test afterwards is never very illuminating. My daughter declared the rock test "different than we practiced, and not what I expected", but she couldn't give further details. My son can explain his tests to us a little better, but we still feel a little bit in the dark!

We had a very long day yesterday, and the kids were punchy and silly last night. They got into one of those silly bickering wars which began when one of them taunted the other, and degenerated into my daughter saying "Oh yeah? If you're so smart, tell me the luster of Mica!" to which my son replied "What city in Brazil is 10 degrees south of the equator?" It's been fun, but it will be nice to have a break from focusing on maps and rocks for a while!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Cookies and Muffins

Banana Chocolate Chip Mini Muffins. I got the recipe from Family Fun (read about my obsession with FF here) five or six years ago. I often make these for lunch box treats. They keep well in the freezer and thaw quickly. They are popular whenever I send them in for a classroom snack or a bake sale. I made this particular batch for a bake sale, much to my children's dismay. It's hard to come home to the smell of warm baking and be told it's not for you!


Bar cookies, also made for the bake sale. I use the Toll House Cookie recipe, but instead of dropping the batter by spoonfuls onto the cookie sheet, I spread all of the batter into a greased 15x10x1 cooking sheet, bake for 20 minutes, and cut into bars when it's cooled. Call me weird, but I actually don't care much for Toll House Cookies made the original way. I almost always use the bar method, and substitute different kinds of baking chips for the semi-sweet chocolate chips. This particular batch has half a bag of white chocolate chips and half a bag of milk chocolate chips. My husband is particularly fond of these when I use butterscotch chips!





Banana Chocolate Chip Mini-Muffins


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup mashed very ripe banana (about 3 medium bananas)
1 large egg
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup sour cream
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup mini semisweet chocolate chips



In a medium sized bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt and stir with a wire whisk to mix.

In a mixing bowl, combine the mashed bananas, egg, melted butter, sour cream, vanilla extract, and milk. Beat on medium until well-blended (I use my hand mixer.) Reduce speed to low and blend in the dry ingredients just until moist. Do not overmix. Stir in the mini chocolate chips.


Spray a mini muffin pan with cooking spray. Fill each cup about 3/4 full with batter. Bake in a preheated 350 F oven for 20 minutes. Transfer muffins to a wire rack to cool. Makes 36 mini muffins.

Bar Cookies (adapted from the Toll House recipe)

2 1/4 cups flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 cup butter, softened

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 t vanilla extract

2 eggs

12 oz bag baking chips of your choice

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt. In a large bowl combine butter, sugar, brown sugar, and vanilla extract and beat until creamy. Beat in eggs. Gradually add flour mixture. Stir in the baking chips. Spread into a greased pan (I use 15x10x1. Something smaller and deeper may need to bake longer) and bake at 375 F for 20-25 minutes.