Friday, August 31, 2012

Reading Roundup

Here are some things I've been reading this week. Each story could be its own post...but...I need to occasionally do things that do not involve sitting at a computer.

Judge Invalidates Fla. State Board Rule on Teacher Evaluations, Tampa Bay Times (Aug. 22, 2012). As Diane Ravitch says on her blog: "This teacher-evaluation stuff is complex, poorly thought out, and endlessly divisive. It is being foisted on states across the nation—Thank you, Race to the Top—without any clear evidence that it works."

Was Van Gogh color blind? Asada's Memorandum (~Aug. 2, 2012)

Web sites Accused of Collecting Data on Children, New York Times (Aug. 22, 2012)

BPA may last in our bodies for generations, Grist (Aug. 28, 2012) via Sweet Ginger Mama

How to Avoid Pthalates and BPA, with links to lots of other stories on same, The Daily Green (Feb. 4, 2008) via Sweet Ginger Mama

Rare Hantavirus kills second Yosemite visitor, AP via (Aug. 29, 2012)

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Birthday wishes

I made our family birthday banner out of felt. I wanted something really beautiful and handmade, that could be passed down when Starboy has kids. If he wants. If it lasts. The letter squares are pinned to a long ribbon with straight pins, since I haven't come up with a better way to string it, yet. Hanging it up is a delicate process.

There are additional name banners for Techman and Starboy, but I'd never finished mine—until this summer!

I printed the letters on white paper then pinned them to felt and cut them out. I used a Craftsman style font, to match our old house. Then, simple sewing on the machine. I would have loved to have hand-embroidered them, but there is just way too much real estate to cover.

 I'm excited that I'll be able to add Mommy under the banner next year!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

On: being specific

Starboy enjoys clearing his dishes to the kitchen after he's finished eating, and recently has discovered Helping Mommy Load the Dishwasher.

I've told him it's fine for him to put his drinking glasses in there when he's clearing his place, and he does so well with direction that it never occurred to me that my instructions weren't complete.

So he wouldn't, maybe, understand that to clean the glasses, they need to go upside-down in the dishwasher rack...

I get these ideas.

Crafty ideas. 

They saunter in, take root, then multiply.

Like horsetail grass. 

Or bunnies.

It started here. And here.


And here.

Oh, and then there was this.

Starboy has been thrilled with his fairy garden (which has half died in the heat, ahem, but that's a post for another day), and loves reasons to eat cake party. So back last spring, I started creating and collecting ideas for a woodland-themed small party for Starboy's and Techman's birthdays, which are a few days apart. 

Just make a few fairies in the backyard, I thought.

...And a garden. Fairy gardens, with their own fairies to play in them, I added. 

With bagels. And maybe some nice tablecloths.

Y mas.

Emphasis on the mas.

We usually have the party in August, to celebrate summer, birthdays, and to relax before things get really crazy in the fall. And when I say "we," generally I mean: "I." Techman really could do without it. He'd rather not bother with the planning, the myriad multitasking details, the cleaning. I'm not sure which he cares for less, the planning or the cleaning.

However, after much planning, quiche-making, and updating with painters and carpenters, it seems the exterior paint project on our house isn't going to be anywhere near finished by our target date, so, a September gathering it is. I'm not sure I need a chance to plan more. But I'm looking forward to getting friends together and giving kids some space to create, dream and imagine, in honor of Starboy's happy life.

Stay tuned for crafts and projects I'm playing with, to turn our sorry and overgrown back garden into a gnome and fairy wonderland.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

More creative lunch

Sun sandwich.

Okay, to be sure, not an award winner. But it worked; he even ate the crusts.

Now here's a problem they don't have back east...

 Hey, if you can't fix it with twine, wire, duct tape or a staple gun....can it be fixed?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

From the mind of a toddler

I swear Starboy's not OCD. But I love finding these results of intense study.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Reading Roundup

Here are a few things I've been reading this week.

Could Antibiotics be a factor in childhood obesity? NPR (Aug. 22, 2012)

Memories Lost: A Son's Regret, the Atlantic (Aug. 21, 2012). A reminder to document your parents' stories to preserve your family history and their memories.

Simon Says Don't Use Flashcards, Well Blog / Tara Parker-Pope (Aug. 23, 2012)

Let's Have a Meeting, Roger Ebert's Journal (Aug. 24, 2012). Comments on Brevity.

What's Lurking in Your Water?, Natural Home and Garden magazine (Sept./Oct. 2012)


I found a great trail in a cute park near my aunt's place. Short hikes perfect for toddlers, and longer hikes, too. They say. Starboy loved it, and we plan on going back!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Imagination Car Details

For you crafty types who don't happen to have an old wooden pet kennel lying around, here are the dimensions of our imagination car. Roughly. I didn't build it, so you're on your own for a pattern, but I would think if you're handy you could figure one out with these photos. I would round up, rather than round down, for all measurements.

Click on the photos to embiggen.

 As you can see, the inside is one large space that extends under the seat.

 I would like to add two long, sturdy boards to go across the back that kids could sit or climb on.

 The side has a lip that looks like it used to allow for a window-cover. Starboy puts cars on the ledge. I don't know what those screws are about; I guess that is either an old repair or scrapwood originally was used. The screws stick out on the inside and present a scratching hazard, so if you can avoid this element of construction, it would be a good idea.

Yes, somehow preschoolers can fit through that hole. Sort of.

If you get some bright idea to hinge the seat, make sure you cut out below it so little fingers don't get squashed. But I don't recommend it; without being able to lift the car from the front end (because the seat would flip up), it would be really annoying to try to move around.

 I can't advise on the detail here, except to say that the sides are two pieces butted together, that is, there is a straight horizontal seam in the middle. Which means the bottom piece could be the negative space, or the scrap, from cutting the top piece, but trimmed shorter.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Imagination Car

Techman thinks it was a pet kennel turned upside-down, with a seat added. 

I scored big at a westside garage sale this summer (the fancy part of town). When you discover the sale is run by an old-school elementary teacher cleaning out her classroom, it's your lucky day.

I really agonized over the wheel-less wagon, because of the size. It's a great size, it's just that our place doesn't have much space, and we have to choose carefully. I'm very careful, but I make way more choices than Techman would make! He thinks we need less clutter, and I think we only need more closets (which brings to mind this story about discount shopping, that should be a cautionary tale to all partners. But I digress.).

Luckily the voice inside my head wouldn't let me walk home without this thing. This imagination car is solid wood, recently painted, and only set me back three bucks. It's a bargain at twice the price.

Originally, Starboy said it was a boat. (Perhaps it needs to be repainted pea-green.)

But once he realized he could drive Daddy, he took him to the United States. 

I'm so excited about this; I think it's a genius invention and everyone should have one.

I also got a marble run for Aunt Troi's house, a box of K'nex for Grandma's, an old-fashioned wooden top, some classic books with great illos, and more—all for $8. I wish Starboy had a chance to get this teacher in school—she had all the great open-ended stuff.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Reading Roundup

Here are some things I've been reading this week.

This is my favorite thing I've read in a long time: The Terrible Tragedy of the Healthy Eater. Northwest Edible Life (Aug. 1, 2012). A very hilarious snapshot of life right now.

LA City Hall has a breastfeeding room now. LA Daily News (Aug. 14, 2012)

The new book Bullied is out. It started here.

Gluten and why it makes you fat. (File under: I'm doomed.) Huffington Post. (Feb. 18, 2012)

Women are taking back natural birth in Brazil. MSNBC

GMOs and food safety. (File under: We're all doomed.) Deliciously Organic (Aug. 12, 2012)

Sherpas, K2 and a new book, "Buried in the Sky." Extraordinary rescue of a Sherpa by a Sherpa. The Madeleine Brand Show (Aug. 14, 2012)

Doodling improves information retention. Smashing Magazine (Aug. 3, 2012)

City of Needles sets world record for hottest rain: 115 degrees. Pete Thomas (Agu. 15, 2012)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Creative Lunch

 Starboy has the typical toddler diet—he only likes a few foods: yogurt, cheese, eggs, bread. Cheese. Did I mention yogurt? I haven't been mixing it up lately, but he's also going through a needy and dramatic stage, so combining those two things can put a lot of pressure on mealtime. I asked him how he wanted his sandwich cut yesterday, thinking: two triangles....four triangles....four squares....and he said:

"I want a trash truck sandwich."

I got lucky, I figured it out. With a can of trash.
I also made him a giant sun omelette (this was dinner tonight), cut into rays and circles.

Little to no interest. I ate half of it and Tech man ate most of the rest. Starboy had had a long day with no nap, so he ended up with three bites of eggs, water and some Mama's milk for dinner. Breakfast could be something ugly tomorrow!

Oh wait, it is tomorrow. Time for bed.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Reading Roundup

Here are some things I've been reading lately.

• Silicon Valley says Step Away from the Device (July 23, 2012 / NYT). "The concern, voiced in conferences and in recent interviews with many top executives of technology companies, is that the lure of constant stimulation — the pervasive demand of pings, rings and updates — is creating a profound physical craving that can hurt productivity and personal interactions."

• "Overparenting lite" is a healthier way to go than "toxic overparenting," Madeline Levine says in the NYT opinion story Raising Successful Children (Aug. 4, 2012).

Preschool Children Who can Pay Attention More Likely to Finish College (Science Daily, Aug. 6, 2012)

• Tinkerlab posted some great reads to spark your family's creativity.

• is a "Netflix" for audio books, written up in MacWorld a long while back.

And, file under "more alarmist food news" (AKA: Oh God, what can't we eat NOW?!):

• "Organic" is profit-making so of course large companies are grabbing pieces of it as fast as their hands can stuff their pockets. They're calling it "Big Organic," and there's a race to approve non-organic ingredients as okay for foods labeled as "organic." Read the (gross, but not surprising) story "Has Organic been Oversized?" (July 7, 2012) from the NYT here.

• Some olive oil is not olive oil (NYT). I'm late to this story, but thoroughly fed up with the deception in food labeling that we permit in our country. Related stories from non-news sources here and here—I haven't checked the research background of those related sites.

• Agave is not good for you, according to the Real Food Forager. Old news, new writeup.

• Starbucks has a lot of complicated, non-organic, processed, ingredients in its food, according to A LOT. The Reduced Fat Cinnamon Swirl Coffee Cake reportedly has 75 ingredients. Michael Pollan wouldn't recommend it, I'd guess.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Fairy Garden winners!

Alas, our fairy garden didn't win a thing in the annual contest, but that wasn't the point anyway.

Click over to The Magic Onions to check out the fantastic winners and other contestants!

Hot weather meals

After making the mistake of boiling and processing jelly on the hottest day of the year so far, there was no way I was going to get involved in anything else like that for dinner. Not even pasta.

And considering all Starboy wants to eat these days is cheese, bread, O's and yogurt, you have to get creative around here.

May I present:

The turkey pinwheel.

Slices of turkey rolled with cream cheese and sliced. Presented as "party food." This likely would be prettier if it weren't 89 degrees in the kitchen. But A/C is expensive and the hot season is just beginning, so we're sucking it up a little here.

That wasn't enough for dinner though, so O's were requested. Then yogurt. Then a jam sandwich. "But no. turkey."

Enter the Hidden Turkey Cracker appetizer: Water crackers, whipped cream cheese, a thin slice of turkey, more cream cheese, jam.

He complained, but he ate it all, and some grapes.

And a juice ice pop. Man, is it hot today.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Hot pepper jelly

Since we're having record heat this week, I thought: What a great time to coop up in the kitchen with one window and no ventilation, to make jelly out of gassy peppers that the police use for crowd control!

My brother was out of town this week and when I picked up his mail, I noticed his pepper bush was going nuts with fruit. I grabbed a bunch. What kind of peppers are these? No idea. They're like, red jalapeƱos. Hot. Even Techman says they are spicy, which means they are hot.

I Googled recipes and came up with a bunch that seemed fine. All contained pectin, so that tells me peppers don't have any naturally. All had a LOT of sugar, about a cup of vinegar, and covered two schools of technique: dice or mince the fruit, or pulverize it in the blender. Most did not include the seeds, though some recipes included some seeds.

I decided to springboard off a recipe that included sweet peppers as well. I later found one that instead uses apples and cranberries, and their natural pectin—I definitely want to try that one for Christmas gifts some time.

So, I created my own recipe (at bottom). It came out great, though the jelly doesn't seem to be setting right away, like other jams I've made. Does jelly really take overnight to set? It's possible that this isn't jelly at all, just a great sauce for chicken and fish. Well. I can roll with that.

First, you want to boil your jars for 10 minutes to sterilize them. Wash and dry your new lids. Do not touch the insides or the lips of the sterile jars or lids—this could result in an unsafe canning issue later. Set the lids aside under a linen towel, and allow the jars to stay in the hot water. The jars should be covered by 1" of water—a proper canning pot should allow this.

I thought I would start with a cup of hot peppers, as many recipes advise. That would have been 13. But then it didn't seem like enough, and I had a lot left, so....ultimately I used 20 peppers, seeded and minced. Wear gloves, and for Pete's sake, don't touch your eyes.

Then I added four sweet bell peppers, seeded and minced. But while things were cooking, the mixture looked so watery, that I added another pepper. So, five altogether.

I stirred them all together in a bowl, but you could probably do it right in the pan. 

Most recipes called for seven to 12 (!) cups of white sugar. I used six cups, which was plenty. I would recommend organic sugar in the raw if you can afford it, though I just used white grocery store sugar.

Add 3/4 to 1 cup of white or cider vinegar. (I used 1 1/2 cups; I think this contributed to my watery jelly.) Boil the mixture for 10 minutes. 

After the fruit is cooked, add 1 packet of liquid Certo pectin, and 3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (two backyard lemons). The pectin is what makes it jell, and the lemon juice should add a bright flavor and color. Boil for ONE minute more.

Fill the jars using a funnel. These funnels are great, they keep the lip of the jar clean and they give you a fill point so that you fill the jar to just the right level. The metal ones probably are easier to keep clean.

Place the lids on and screw tightly, but not crazy tight. Process in a rolling boil for 10 minutes. The jars should be covered with about an inch of water (mine weren't. I think I gave that pot away.).

Remove the jars from the bath using canning tongs and allow to cool. You'll hear popping and clicking sounds, indicating good seals on the jars. Check the seals. If the lid is not sucked into the jar and secure after a few minutes, then you may have to re-process.

When the jars have cooled, slide the rings off and place your labels. I used these gorgeous printables from Soule Mama's new Taproot magazine. I chose red tagboard since the jelly is "hot."

Beautiful, no? I think I may have overcooked it. Or under cooked it? If you get the right jell, the peppers are distributed throughout, not floating at the top. One person online said she dumped all the jam back in the pot to boil for 12 more minutes, and re-sterilized all her jars when hers turned out like this.

But I'll bet her kitchen wasn't 93 degrees at the time. And she didn't have a toddler broadcasting an endless loop of "Mommy will you play with me? Mommy? Will you Play with me? Mommy? Mommy? MOMMY!..."

I saved a bit out to taste, with cream cheese on a cracker. It was sweet and super runny and sticky. Not a home run, but it sure was tasty! And hardly hot at all. I wonder how spicy it will get as it sets?

Bug’s Hot Pepper Jelly
Makes nine 1/2pt jars. Takes about one hour to make. Maybe a little longer.

20 red jalapeno hot peppers, seeded and minced (WEAR GLOVES)
5 total yellow and orange peppers, seeded and minced (not green peppers)
6 ½ cups sugar
¾ to 1 cup vinegar

Juice of 2 backyard lemons (~1/3 cup)
1 package liquid Certo pectin, or 6oz (not powder)

Making the jelly:
First boil your jars, and wash and dry your lids. Leave the jars in the water.

Locate the tongs and the canning funnel so you don't have a freakout when the jelly is finished.  I use my grandmother's blue 1960s Joy of Cooking as a resource for this type of thing.

Open a window and turn a fan on pointing outward to suck the heat and pepper fumes outside. Consider using your noisy oven vent as the peppers are cooking.

Combine peppers, sugar and vinegar in a very large pot. Boil 5-10 mins.

Add pectin and lemon, boil ONE minute.

Pour hot liquid into jars using a canning funnel, wipe rims clean/dry. Process 10 mins at a rolling boil, jars covered with 1” water.

Let sit 12 hours undisturbed so jelly will set. Will last one year, but best eaten in the first few months.

Enjoy as a topping for chicken, fish, or a bar of cream cheese (with crackers) the next time someone drops in unannounced.

Friday, August 3, 2012