Thursday, June 25, 2009

Keepin' Cool

It's been hot here. We started off June all gray and cool and gloomy, and everyone was complaining "where is our summer?" when all of a sudden, wham, it was in the 90s and humid. Ugh, too much summer, thanks! Our weather around here is rarely perfect, and I could go on and on about how annoying that is, but I'll spare you. Instead, I'll tell you how we cope with the heat.

One way is to drink! Water is yummy, but can get kind of boring, so in the summer I like to try new drink recipes. Last year we made Watermelon Mint Cooler, and that was a hit, although it's not very practical on a regular basis. One tried and true recipe I go back to regularly, though, is Citrus Mint Cooler, pictured above. It's based on a simple syrup, very easy to make, and keeps for up to two months in the fridge.

Citrus Mint Cooler

1.5 cups sugar
1.5 cups water
3 oz frozen orange juice concentrate
3 oz frozen lemonade concentrate (is there a version of this without high fructose corn syrup?)
1 cup whole fresh mint leaves

Combine water and sugar in medium size pan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add orange juice concentrate, lemonade concentrate, and mint leaves. Remove from heat, cover, and let sit for one hour. Pour through strainer and discard mint leaves. Store syrup in an airtight container (I find a quart canning jar works nicely) in the refrigerator. Will keep refrigerated for about two months.

To make a drink, mix 2 T of the syrup with one cup of ginger ale (you can adjust amounts of either to taste), add ice and enjoy. I have also tried the syrup alone in plain seltzer water, and it's very yummy that way, too (and fewer calories than in ginger ale!).

Another new way we keep cool is to take out the kayak. We headed to a county park beach on Wednesday evening, when our thermometer was reading 102 F outside and 91 F inside. Unfortunately we arrived at the park only 30 minutes before watercraft had to be out of the water (who knew they had hours for something like that?), so we only had time for a quick paddle around the shore. Even though swimming hours ended 30 minutes after watercraft hours, by the time we all had turns in the kayak, got it out of the water, and loaded back onto our van, the beach had closed, too. So, we were hotter and sweatier than ever, with no way to cool off. We drove home in the early evening with all the car windows rolled down, and stopped to buy a watermelon at the grocery store (because the road side fruit market was, you guessed it, already closed! Man, we timed things badly that night!)

Our third way to cool down is to have a humongo thunderstorm roll through in the late afternoon on Thursday. That broke the heat, and we amazingly enough did not lose our power!

Today was much more pleasant, but I still set up the sprinkler for my daughter and her friend to run through.

Flower at my neighbor's

I have no idea what kind of flower this is, but I am completely smitten by it. My neighbor at the end of the street has a corner lot with a southern exposure. Before she bought the house, it was just an ordinary house with a very plain yard, but once she got her hands on it, she transformed the whole thing into a place of sheer beauty. She started small: a rock here, a tree there, a flowering shrub over there, but she kept adding and changing and adding some more until the whole place just blossomed. Every season at her house is gorgeous. She gets the first crocuses of the spring with that southern exposure of hers, and every year in the summer she amazes me with some new plant. Every year I think surely she can't fit one more thing in her yard, but by golly if she doesn't always find space to squeeze in one more new thing. I don't know how she does it! This year she has added this flower.

Look at the buds!
And the foliage! It twists and curls and looks almost like a sea shell.

Here is a bud about to open:

The flowers don't always bow down like that, but we had a torrential downpour this afternoon that lasted at least an hour, so everything got a little knocked down. I'll try to get another photo of the flowers some time when they are a little perkier.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Summer Montage (a hodgepodge post)

What we've been doing:

Signing up for the reading program at the library, mom and kids both. Can you guess who is reading what? I'm a little disappointed in the reading program for teens. It's not all about books. They can get "credit" for watching an hour of youtube. Excuse me? To be fair, other things they can do include reading to a child or senior citizen, making something by hand, working in a garden, or going 24 hours electronics-free, but the old-fashioned librarian in me would like to see reading good old-fashioned books encouraged. I must be something of a dinosaur. Were I to return to professional library work, I'd undoubtedly fit the stereotype of the stern woman scowling at the world from behind the reference desk.

Finding wildlife in our backyard. Frog and Toad here were in the basement window well. It's actually two toads, but the kids call them Frog and Toad. My son took a bazillion photos of them. This one turned out best.

Taking mid-afternoon naps. Well, the cats and me, anyway. The children are content with sleeping in. Way in. And then staying up too late. Way too late.

Playing baseball. His skills continue to improve. It's been fun to watch. Games are long. I have an embroidery WIP I bring along, but my hands sweat when he's on the mound, so I have to put it away.

Kayaking. We just brought this home today. It's a Father's Day present, and probably a birthday present for me, too. It seats two. We bought a floor model for a 15% discount, so got a great deal, but when you add in the roof rack, the paddles, the life jackets, and the cockpit cover, I think we're looking at this being a Christmas present as well! Father and son are out now, giving it a test drive. Husband and I keep calling it a "canoe", and you'd better believe those children of ours correct us immediately.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Artist to Artist

I saw this book at the library and had to bring it home. What a delight! Twenty-three illustrators of children's books share, on a child's level, how they became artists, and give a little advice to children on how they can follow their own artistic dreams. Each illustrator has a two-page foldout spread with pictures of their studios, some representative work, and a self portrait.

Here is Quentin Blake's self portrait. He's a favorite of mine.

Here is Jane Dyer's studio. Covet! Jane Dyer's illustrations are so cozy and warm and inviting. I could just crawl right inside. Her real space looks just as cozy and warm and inviting as her illustrations.

Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart share the last page with this pop-up self portrait. Cool. If you have never seen Robert Sabuda's books, don't wait another day. His pop-up engineering is incredible.

If you are an artist, or your child is an artist, or even if you just love and appreciate children's books as much as I do, this art book is a lovely inspiration.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Vacation, all they ever wanted

Woot! Summer vacation has officially begun. After a flurry of end-of-year socials, picnics, and field trips (not to mention no less than 10 batches of cookies and brownies baked for said socials, picnics, and field trips) we are DONE for the summer!

Friday was a half day. The weather was clear and warm. We wasted no time jumping into the fun. My husband took the kids canoeing for the afternoon, and then we made a little field trip of our own to a somewhat famous restaurant where autographed buns line the walls. (Although to be honest, the draw for me is the apple strudel with ice cream! OMG, I could eat it every day and not get sick of it.)
Then we headed to a minor league ball game

and were treated to some after-game fireworks. Canoeing, baseball, and fireworks all in one day. That's a complete summer right there!

Odds and ends:
When I uploaded my photos, I found about 30 photos like this one on the camera:

My son was home sick earlier in the week with a fever, sore throat and headache. Swine flu? Who knows. As the fever went away, he felt well enough to clean his room, a task he initiated all on his own, and then he enjoyed the cleaned-up space by lining up his Star Wars mini figures.

I was reading another Needlecraft Mystery on Friday, which was June 12, and in the book it was also June 12. I love it when things like that happen! Many years ago I was taking the Amtrak train from Chicago to St. Paul. That line runs all the way to Seattle and is called The Empire Builder. The library book I brought with me for the ride was a coming-of-age novel about a girl who gets a job as a nanny, and in the book I was shocked and delighted when she ended up taking a train trip with the family on (drum roll, please...) The Empire Builder! I was so thrilled with the coincidence to be reading about a trip on The Empire Builder while I rode The Empire Builder! I wanted to show my fellow passengers: look what I'm reading! The characters in my book are on The Empire Builder! Isn't that so cool? but as I looked around to share my fun news, I fortunately came to my senses and realized I should just keep the news to myself.

The sun shone all day today. The forecast for the night is clear, with sunny skies tomorrow. So why 10 minutes ago did we have a sudden downpour? I couldn't believe it. I even went to a weather site and checked the radar for my area, and it was all clear except for one tiny little green dot over my part of town. How weird!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

And the slice ran away with the cube

Thanks to Anne at Green Jello, I have a fun new tea towel for summer hanging in my kitchen. Get this pattern, along with other adorable summer embroidery patterns, for free on her blog here.

Thank you, Anne!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Needlecraft Mysteries

A friend of mine (hi, Tricia!) recently introduced me to the Needlecraft Mystery series, written by Monica Ferris, when she put them on her Goodreads list. I don't think these are fabulous mysteries, but even though I haven't been that intrigued by the plots, the setting has sucked me right in, and I find myself heading to the library to get the next book in the series, then the next, then the next. The sleuth is the owner of a needlework store called Crewel World in a small town just outside the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Her shop is in an old redbrick building, which also houses a sandwich shop and a used book store, and she lives in an apartment over the needlework shop. In one of the alternate lives I imagine for myself, I live in a place like that: a cozy apartment over my own shop in a brick building in a small town. I wouldn't want the sandwich shop, but I'd take either the used book store or the needlework shop in a heartbeat! To be housed next to the other would be bliss.

I've come to think of this series as "Minnesota Cozy." I lived in the Twin Cities for two years in the early 1990s, so I love the Minnesota references, and needlework of all kinds--knitting, crochet, needlepoint, tatting, cross stitch--features very prominently in every book.
As a bonus, every book includes a free cross stitch pattern. The second book, Framed in Lace, features a butterfly pattern, and I thought it would be pretty to work up. It's supposed to look like a butterfly in bobbin lace. I stitched it in white on blue evenweave like the directions suggested, and it does look lace-like. I wanted to see it in pink on white, too, and I like how that turned out as well. Less lace-like than the blue, but still delicate. I've finished the pink one into a bookmark, and I will do the same with the blue one.

One of the books mentions the famous Halloween Blizzard that hit the Twin Cities in 1991. I lived there then, and it was truly incredible to see 28 inches of snow fall in 24 hours. With that much snow, it's not an evenly-layered 28-inch blanket. The wind blows it into much deeper drifts. It took days to dig out, and when the sidewalks were shoveled they were lined with 5-foot-tall mounds of snow. Going for a walk was like walking through a canyon, and driving a car felt like pinging around in a pinball machine.

I have photos from that storm. These are photos of photos, not scanned images.

This was taken in the early evening when the snow had been falling for a few hours. That is our jack-o-lantern on the balcony of our apartment. Remember, this was Halloween.

This was my car the following morning. The snow was still falling.

And here is the final drift on our balcony, taken from inside. You can see the layers of snow, like the layers of rock in a mountain cut-away. It's hard to discern the top of the drift because of the lighting in this photo, but it's about halfway up the plant, well above the end table and arm of the sofa.

Good times, good times. I am reliving them a bit while reading these mysteries.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Anniversaries and Other Celebrations

Today is my 17th wedding anniversary. This photo looks much older than that, doesn't it? It's a photo of a photo--my scanner is never hooked up--and it is a blurry, muted, dreamy kind of photo to begin with. Now it looks downright vintage.

I never really wanted to be a June bride, thinking it was just too cliche, but eighteen years ago when we got engaged, a June wedding made the most sense. I thought a May wedding would be nice, but my husband's sister was studying overseas for the school year, returning the last weekend in May, and it would have been silly to schedule the wedding mere weeks before her return. September was my second choice for a wedding month, but I was starting graduate school in July, and we thought it best to have the wedding before that. So, June it was.

Early June is a nice time of year for a wedding, but as we have discovered, it is not the best time of year for an anniversary! The first week in June is crazy with end-of-school-year picnics, ice cream socials, and graduations. Our children's elementary school's ice cream social has been on our anniversary more than once in the 7 years we've been there. This year we have three parties to go to today! But that's okay for us. We don't mind. We'll find some time this summer to go out for dinner, or maybe even have a weekend away. It is fun to know that this time of year is special for so many people, for so many reasons.

Happy June! Happy Celebrating!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Growing Gallery

My daughter brought home her art portfolio from school this week, filled with drawings and paintings she created this school year. This drawing of bouncing mice made me laugh out loud. It sums up her own personality perfectly: happy, energetic, and just plain silly. She was exploring patterns with this drawing. The colors are more vivid in person. This is definitely one to frame for display.

This is exactly how my daughter makes me feel lately:
She also brought home her self portrait. She was not fond of her self portrait last year, so she didn't let me photograph that one to share, but she does like this year's, so I have the okay to post it. (My son's self portrait from last year is posted here) The background is filled with her favorite things: cats, butterflies, fairies, books, and last but not least, chocolate! I already have my son's portrait framed, so now that I have one of my daughter that she will let me frame, I need to find more wall space.

I think I need a bigger house.