"Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of. but do it in private
and wash your hands afterwards." --Robert Heinlein.

We've moved!

For the next two years (Summer 2014-Summer 2016) I'll be blogging our family's adventures in China at www.chinesemileposts.wordpress.com

Monday, June 30, 2008

Book Report: Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass


Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life by Wendy Mass

I read Wendy Mass's book A Mango-shaped Space last year and really enjoyed it. So I thought I'd read some of her other books. I really really enjoyed this book. It reminded me a lot of a young adult version of Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close which I also enjoyed. I must have, I actually remember reading it.

Both books involve a slightly odd teenage/pre-teen boy in New York whose father has died and the boy travels the city on a scavenger hunt of sorts to discover stuff about himself and his dad and life. In Mass's book the boy is looking for four keys to a box his dad left for him to open on his 13th birthday. In Foer's book, the main character finds a key among his dad's possessions and is searching to find out what it opens.

Repercussions of too much jam


image from www.jif.com

I've made a lot of jam lately and due to the extreme deliciousness of it, we're going through peanut butter at a much faster rate than normal. Which, until now, I didn't think was possible. I love Peanut Butter and Jelly (or in this case, Jam) sandwiches. But with homemade jam... mmm ... even better. Besides, I love peanut butter. Period. My roommates in college thought I was weird when I'd eat a spoonful of peanut butter as a treat.

My favorite peanut butter is Jif Creamy. Every once in awhile I try chunky, and it's not all bad, it's just not my favorite. Plus, Princess Sparkley loves peanuts and insisted once that we try Jif Extra Crunchy which she hated and I had to eat all of. I haven't fully recovered from that much crunchiness in my peanut butter and will only eat creamy peanut butter for the next bit.

In high school my best friend's mom was one of those moms that always made the yummiest cookies, fudges and baked goods. She did her grocery shopping every Friday after work. One of those people. Sort of the epitome of a homemaker to me. My family took them a plate of my dad's cookies one Christmas and they were all flabbergasted by how yummy the peanut butter cookies were. We finally figured out it must be the peanut butter, so she converted to Jif peanut butter right there and then.

Here's my dad's peanut butter cookie recipe, I'll share a new favorite later on:

Peanut Butter Cookies

Ingredients:
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups flour
3/4 tsp soda
1/8 tsp salt

Directions:
Thoroughly cream butter, peanut butter, sugars, egg and vanilla. Sift together dry ingredients; blend into creamy mixture. Shape into 1-inch balls; roll in granulated sugar. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Criss cross with fork tines or imprint with a potato masher.

Bake at 375 for 10-12 minutes.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Cutest Baby


Seriously, how cute is this kid?

Crafting Bug



In Princess Sparkley's History lesson for school this year one of the famous American's we learned about was Theodore Roosevelt. And since it was history for Kindergarteners, we made a construction paper Teddy Bear. She was seriously distraught that she wasn't going to be able to sleep with it, etc. So I told her we'd made her a bear out of fabric and stuffing when we got a chance. So a few months ago she picked out the fabric, and yesterday I got around to making it for her. I chose that over letting the kids paint. I admit, I'm horrible about letting the kids paint. It makes a huge mess and then I have paper with wet paint on it drying on every flat surface of the house. So here are our creations. A teddy bear, and for Buddy, a Thomas train named Thomas Orange Juice [our last name].






Friday, June 27, 2008

Recipe for a 4th of July side dish

Last year I shared my two favorite 4th of July dessert recipes with you. Here's a great side dish for your BBQ.

For those of you from my hometown, this is supposed to be a lot like the coleslaw at Wood's Ranch BBQ and Grill. I got this recipe from my brother-in-law and it's very likely that he came home from eating their coleslaw and figured out how to make it. He's like that.

Coleslaw

The salad:

1 head cabbage, shredded

2 carrots, shredded

1/4 C dry roasted or honey roasted peanuts

The dressing:

3/8 C Rice vinegar

1 tsp celery seeds

1 tsp dry mustard

1/4 C vegetable oil

1 tsp salt

3 single serving packages of Splenda*

1/4 tsp black pepper

Wait to mix the salad until you are ready to eat because the cabbage breaks down the potency of the salad dressing. Add the nuts when you toss the salad.


*My brother-in-law is diabetic, you could probably use regular sugar as well.

Recycled Milk Jugs



It was around Earth Day this year that we started recycling. My family had curb side recycling when I was growing up, but we haven't really recycled without that added bonus of not having to drive it somewhere. Jed put Princess Sparkley and Buddy "in charge." And other than the giant pile of trash waiting to be taken to the recycling center, it hasn't been too big of a pain.

In a science lesson Princess Sparkley had in school this year she learned about what could be recycled and what it can be turned into. So yesterday while at our local toy store, I saw these and thought it was such a great idea for kids so they could see what their recycling does. Some of it seemed a little pricey, but the tea set was reasonable enough. They are all made by Green Toys and have me wishing we didn't already own a plastic tea set.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Design Flaw


Buddy spent today with his underpants on backwards. He does this now and then when he's not satisfied with the picture on his undies. You see, while the picture on the bum is cute and all, he can't see it. His solution, wear them backwards. This can't be comfortable due to the different leg cut and the fly opening, etc. Who decided to put the picture on the back of boy undies?

Learning to sew from a pattern: part 3

This is the third and final part of me learning to sew from a pattern. Although I'm sure much more learning will still be happening in this department.


Sewing on the pocket.



The pocket is on.



Adding rick rack.



Wrapping my head around how the rick rack was getting sewn on now, before sewing the two parts together and flipping them was the hardest part. Jed had to help me figure it all out.



Rick rack is on front of apron.



Sewing the two apron parts together.



Just need to iron and sew the top closed.



And it's done.



TA DA!



And the reversible(ness) of it.

Problems:
I didn't quite understand how the rick rack was going to be sewn on or how it would look on the final project (not to mention finding rick rack that matched the colors in my fabric). So, knowing how it worked out now, after the fact, I'd attach the rick rack better. In some spots there's almost none poking through.

The one back tie wasn't lying well due to the rick rack placement where it attached so I had to sew it down a bit more and on the one side, there's a little line of stitching that's not supposed to be there. But it's on the inside side.

While I love the fabric I chose, it was hard to find rick rack to match it. It will also make me paranoid about not clashing with the apron as I'm cooking.


Final Thoughts:
Now I have to have some sort of dinner party so I can wear it, and I don't have room in my kitchen for a dinner party.

Also, now that I've sewn this, I think that this apron, or one made up in my mind, will be much easier to sew in the future.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Water Towers




They are everyday, common place, nothing out of the ordinary now, but when we first moved to the Midwest almost three years ago water towers were the strangest things to me and the kids. They don't have water towers in California. Well, they sort of do, but they are just boring tanks hidden on hilltops, not giant silver bubbles suspended in the sky by a tiny single leg.

So, being the photographer that I am (note the sarcasm), I've decided to start taking pictures of all the fun and crazy water towers we come across along with some of the boring ones and then I'll print up my very own water tower coffee table book. Reserve your copy today.

In a way water towers (and grain elevators) are Kansas's mountains. We write our city's names on them, paint our school's mascots on them, etc.

One of the above water towers is painted to look like a red and white striped candy, another is painted to look like a baseball.

Summer Treats


image and recipe from www.familyfun.com

I totally want to try this, and all of the other yummy summer treats they have pictured.

Lemon Cups
Ingredients:
2 teaspoons lemon zest
4 to 5 lemons
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (from the lemons)
3 1/2 cups water
1 1/4 cups sugar
Mint leaves and lemon zest for garnish

Directions:
1. Scrape the 2 teaspoons of zest from one of the lemons, then cut all of the lemons in half and juice them. Measure 1 cup, reserving the rest for another use.
2. Use a melon baller to remove any remaining pulp. Slightly trim the bottom of each lemon cup so it sits flat, then set them on a plate, cover, and place them in the refrigerator.
3. In a medium saucepan, combine the water and sugar over medium heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Bring the water to a boil, then add the lemon juice and zest and boil for 2 minutes.
4. Transfer the liquid to a mixing bowl and allow it to cool to room temperature. Place the bowl in the freezer until the mixture begins to freeze, several hours or overnight. Use a fork to break up the ice, then stir it until fluffy.
5. Spoon 1/2 cup of the slush into each lemon half, then cover them and freeze until you're ready to serve. Garnish with a mint leaf and lemon zest before serving, if you like. Serves 8 to 10.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Learning to sew from a pattern: part 2

As I mentioned in part one, I've never sewn anything from a pattern before. I thought this would be great... I'd take things really slowly making no mistakes. And because I'm posting about it, I'd feel the need to do it and get it finished. Otherwise part 2 in real time might have taken weeks or months to get to.


Yesterday I realized I had bought the wrong amounts of the two fabrics, but didn't want the above fabric to be the main apron, just the inside and accent, so I had to rush to the store and hope they still had more I could buy. They did. Yea.



Yesterday I got all the pieces accept the ties pieced and cut.
(At least I think that's what it's called.)



Then he woke up to eat and it all came to a halt.



Plus I had helpers. Buddy "pinned" this for me.



I pinned the front part of the apron together today and sewed it... correctly.
See my helpers stuff above mine?




My helpers, hard at work "sewing."



Me, trying to figure out what to do. Sewing makes my head hurt.



Sewing the ties.



Ironing the pocket, sewn my way.



Then the big problem. I do this sort of stuff all the time. Argh! It makes me so mad.
I sewed it together wrong. See, left = wrong side, right = right side. And I did it with
both side pieces of the inside part of the apron.



Lots of seam ripping coming my way. But because I'm blogging this,
I can't just put it off for three weeks. I must rip rip rip.


SUMMARY

What's done:
both apron ties
front of apron
pocket

What needs to be done:
back of apron ripped and resewn
jumbo sized rick rack purchased (or, in words I understand... jumbo zig zag edging)

Mistakes I've made so far:
buying the wrong amounts of the two fabrics
sewing the pocket differently than the directions said to, but I think it'll work
almost sewing the pocket shut
sewing the inside part of the apron pieces together wrong (HUGE MISTAKE)

Phone calls:
1 to my mom concerning the pocket

Internet research:
none today, a little yesterday

Long or short?


*

Basically, I feel like my entire life I've had short hair. In reality, what I've had is this in between length it is right now. It was chin length about a year ago, so now it's just past my shoulders and very very annoying.

The problem... I have fine hair. Not thin... thin would mean I'm going bald. I'm not going bald. My hair is just fine. So technically, I should probably have a shorter hair length. But I don't want to. I love it, but I don't love it forever. And I don't ever want to turn into one of those old ladies with a short permed haircut. I can remember being a kid and thinking that's what happened when you turned about fifty, you cut your hair all off and permed it. Then you had that hairstyle until the day you died.

I have my mom's hair, sort of, at least in its fineness. My mom's hair is jet black. Everyone thinks she dyes it because as she gets older and everyone around her has hair turning gray, hers has stayed jet black. Even my brother is suspicious as he finds gray hairs on his own head. But I can testify to you that her hair is not dyed. It's just black. If you look really closely you can see some grays here and there. If you ask me about my hair color, part of me still thinks I'm a blonde even though I haven't been a blonde since first grade. Truthfully, it's quite brown. It's been reddish before, but that was thanks to dye and college roommates. And my husband tells me that it has gotten darker since I've had kids. It's still just my hair. I still picture it dishwater blonde like it was in elementary school.

My dilemma is that every time I chop my hair, it becomes the latest trend to have long hair. And when I grow it long, everyone chops theirs. And let me tell you, those girls in Hollywood have some sort of magic hair growing potion that makes their hair grow an inch overnight.

Here's the big problem. When it's short it ends up growing, hair tends to do that, and I am horrible at getting my hair cut regularly, so it gets to this in between length that I hate. When it's long, I end up wearing it in a ponytail or a bun basically every day, and that gets boring.

So, what should I do? Chop it, grow it out? Grow it out, chop it?

*I realize these are sort of pathetic pictures. On the left is the longest my hair has ever ever been, this is November 2006. The one in the middle is the best example I could find of me with short hair, and as you can see, it's been done by Princess Sparkley. On the right is me, with shortish hair.

Monday, June 23, 2008

YUM


image scanned in from Pampered Chef cookbook

This is one of my favorite recipes. But both versions of it that I make are a bit involved. The other is making brownie cupcakes, squirting this tasty filling on top, and then adding slices of strawberries. While neither is horrifically involved, they are more work than I want for an every day dessert. But what I do want every day is this white chocolate cream cheese frosting. So I've started just making it and topping regular brownies with it. And I'm thinking next I'll use it as the frosting to my Chocolate Cake Box Cookies or as the filling to my homemade Oreos. Mmm. This stuff is seriously delicious!

Here's the smaller recipe for the Tuxedo Brownie Cup filling:

Ingredients:
2 squares (1 oz ea) white chocolate for baking
2 TBSP milk
1 package (8 oz.) cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 cup Cool Whip
, thawed

Directions:
Microwave white chocolate and milk in small microwavable container, uncovered, on HIGH 1 minute; stir until smooth. Cool slightly. In bowl, combine cream cheese and powdered sugar; mix well. Gradually stir in white chocolate mixture until smooth. Fold in whipped topping.


Learning to sew from a pattern: part 1

Making this Skirty Flirty apron has been on my project list since we finally finished Princess Sparkley's school year. I bought the pattern and fabric. I washed the fabric. Then I set it aside for several weeks. Today I decided it's never going to get done so while Baby X takes an exceptionally long nap (yea!!), I got to work.


This is the first time I've ever sewn something from
a pattern that I didn't draw myself for a burp cloth or cape.



I got everything together and set up.



I ironed.



I got it all laid out to cut and had to get online
to see what exactly I was supposed to do.

Then I ran into two problems.
The first, I cut a size small when I wanted to cut a size medium. Oh well, it should still work for me.
The second, I bought the wrong lengths of the wrong fabrics. I want the brown fabric to be the main fabric, and the sort of cream, paisley polka dot fabric to be the accent fabric. But I bought the amounts in reverse of that. So now that Baby X is awake and hollering for me, I'll feed him a bottle and then we are off to the store to see if we can still get a little bit more of the fabric I want, or else I guess I'll have to do with what I have.

Stay tuned for more in the exciting world of me learning to sew.

Life Skill # 1

*
image from www.Target.com

One of the nice things about living close to family is never having to cook fancy Sunday or Holiday meals. I'm all about desserts, but meals, involving meat, not my strong point. So when we moved to Kansas almost three years ago I started making roasts in my crockpot. Which was not how my parents did it, but I didn't have any oven proof pots (which is how they cook their roasts). I now like to think that I've become an expert on roasts. Not really. I have no idea how to pick a good roast, I like it when they turn out stringy and that only happens about 1/3 of the time. But the potatoes turn out great, and that's my favorite part. And I've become rather successful at gravy making, last night's gravy turned out fabulously. I don't really have a roast recipe, but here's the gist of it.

Sunday Pot Roast

Ingredients:
Roast
Carrots
Potatoes
Onions
Garlic
Lipton's Onion Soup mix**
Water
2 TBSP flour
Lawry Seasoning Salt

Directions:
Cut onions into huge chunks (the easier to pick them out for those of us who hate onions), peel a few cloves of garlic, peel potatoes, get a couple handfuls of baby carrots. Throw all of this into the crockpot. Meanwhile, flour your roast and brown it on all sides in a frying pan. Place roast in crockpot. Mix onion soup mix with water (following directions on soup mix), pour over top of everything. Cover and cook 5-6 hours on high, 8-9 hours on low.

For the gravy, remove about 2-3 cups of juice from crockpot to a pot. Whisk two tablespoons of flour with 1/4 cup water* and add to juices. Stir constantly over high heat until thickened. Cool slightly.

Sprinkle Lawry's Seasoning Salt on potatoes and meat. So tastey. That's my brother's addiction, well, my whole family's really. Lawry's Seasoning Salt.

*As for crockpots... mine is way too small. It's the 4-5 quart variety, which seemed huge when registering for it for our wedding when there was just the two of us and I wasn't really sure what to do with a crockpot. Now, when I make a roast the lid hardly fits on because I use so many potatoes to ensure that I get a ton. I need to invest in a much larger crockpot but need the cupboard space first.

**There's a roast recipe on the back of the soup mix, I basically follow that. For the gravy as well.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Pretty Kansas

picture taken by Jed
Posted by Picasa

Eating Cake


I made Strawberry Shortcake for my birthday cake not realizing when Princess Sparkley asked me what it was that she'd automatically think of this Strawberry Shortcake.


Saturday, June 21, 2008

Fancy Nancy



We love these Fancy Nancy books by Jane O'Conner. When I say "we," I should specify that while we all like them, it's mostly Princess Sparkley that LOVES them. Today, her plan was apparently to dress fancy, like Fancy Nancy. So, here's the side by side comparison. I was laughing because we just watched 13 Going On 30 last night and Princess Sparkley looked like all of the girls in the 1980s shots.


Fancy Nancy image from www.brooksdolls.com

For those of you with Fancy Nancys of your own, Target now carries a full line of Fancy Nancy stuff, as do Borders, Barnes and Noble, etc.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Birth Announcements

I guess this

is what we were going for when

we took this picture



and had this created

for Baby X's birth announcement.


Birth Announcement Onesie discovered here and here.
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