Friday, September 28, 2012

Fairy party!

Starboy's fairy party was a blast! Here is a preview. I'll post more details in the coming week!

 Bon Appetit chocolate mayonnaise birthday cake.

 Gnomes, elves, munchkins, cake and more.

Look at the bunting, not the pathetic roses.

 Fairy gardens!



And more fairy gardens!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

star hors d'oeuvres

Sometimes to get Starboy to eat anything besides yogurt or cereal I offer him hors d'oeuvres. On a whim I used the aspic cookie cutters on the muenster (What is aspic, anyway? Do I want to know?) to jazz them up. The crackers are Trader Joe's savory minis, and there's also some sliced turkey on there.

Then I realized it was yet another completely white meal with processing and added some grapes. 

Big hit all around.

I still worry about offering turkey slices at all—the nitrites! But my cooking repertoire and planning patience is fairly limited and it is quick and easy. What do you do?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Upcycled gate

I occasionally participate in a Yahoo! list called LAReUseIt, which is basically a Freecycle list.

If you want something for free, you post a query. If you want to give something away, you post a notice. If you see something you like, you have to be the first one to respond, and then go get it.

We had this sad and unkempt ficus tree that came with the house when we moved in. It looked a little better back then, but, ficus are finicky and anyway it turns out you have to really care for them and water them if you want them to live. Whatevs.

The pot was disintegrating and what better time to TKO the whole lot, than just before the painters need to clear the area to work?

So a guy with the handle RocketManLA claimed the tree and wrestled it into his minivan with profuse thanks (Thanks? Dude, we were going to throw it away, which would require hauling it to the curb. Thank you.) While he was here, he saw that we had an old gate lying around and asked for it. No worries, take our trash, man. It just helps us out.

He also took some jade plant clippings. It was a good free week for RocketManLA.

Well, he must really be into our trash, because earlier this week, he claimed a hardly-been used bottle of Aleve I offered (It turns out that I'm allergic. That was a fun weekend. Not.). He was reminded that he had photos of our gate—which now is an amazing entertainment center! Or a dresser. Coffee table? Something way more useful than a pile of termite bait in our front yard.

He says he wants more fence. You know. If we happen to have any. Maybe he wants a full set of furniture. And boy, is he in luck. Sometime soon we want to replace the whole fence, and it sure would save us some cash if we didn't have to rent a dumpster!! Needless to say we'll be keeping in touch with the RocketMan.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Welcome autumn!

The trees are starting to turn and the heat has burned out the grass. Fall has come to Starboy's nature table. (Our trees are sort of in the shadow under the window, so a tough lighting situation.)

The flowers are warm and some are dried...

 Nature from our hikes are reminders of the outdoors...

 The bees still buzz in the warm sun...

But many of the critters are brown, golden, or just preparing for winter.

Our nature table is a place for play and imagination, but I found this beautiful one for Rashmie Jaaju's family via Tinkerlab recently. What a lovely place for reflection and respect.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Reading Roundup 2012-09-17

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

Is Technology Sapping Children's Creativity? Washington Post Answer Sheet (Sept. 13, 2012)

How the Finnish School System outshines US Education, Stanford University News (Jan. 20, 2012)
The Finnish school system might sound like a restless American schoolchild's daydream: school hours cut in half, little homework, no standardized tests, 50-minute recess and free lunch. But the Finns' unconventional approach to education has vaulted Finland to the upper echelon of countries in overall academic performance, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

True Sharing Can't Be Taught, The Attached Family, (Aug. 22, 2012) (Registration Required)
When educational television tries to teach young children to share, it's helpful for parent to know how the desire to share really develops in children....Sharing isn't something that is learned. True sharing comes from feelings of caring, together with the ability to think about the 'yes' and 'no' feelings of sharing. In other words, when you care about someone, you will want to share with him.

Get in some Gelatin, The Nutrition Coach (Apr. 1, 2012)

Make your own (healthy) Jell-o, The Little Gnomes Home (Aug. 21, 2012)

Fermentation guru seeks out new (and old) flavors, New York Times, (Sept. 17, 2012)

5 Ways the Modern World Makes You Easy to Stalk, Cracked (Sept. 13, 2012)
Big Brother is watching you. Only it's not big brother. It's anyone.

7 Ways to make your work easy to fact check, Poynter (Sept. 17, 2012)

Storytelling — Free Sparkle Story and giveaway

Head over to Frontier Dreams for a great interview with David and Lisabeth Sewell McCanns of Sparkle Stories, a giveaway, and a free story to download!

These stories are great for building children's imagination, literacy and more. And they are a great way to spend quiet time together as a family.

I've entered the giveaway and you'll notice this post gives me another entry, however I am happy to promote the Sparkle Stories even without compensation. Starboy loves them; we've been listening on our 20-minute drive to school.

Here are some more sources for free storytelling of all varieties. Do you have others? Please comment and share!

Barefoot Books podcast

BBC Children's stories

Heather Forest on Gentle Wind

Maestro Classics 

Story Nory

The Pea Green Boat (Montana Pub Radio)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

More egg mandalas—with birdie

When you're reminded at 5:45 that you should be eating dinner at 6:00pm, you have to think fast. This is an omelette with cheese and grated zucchini—no skin so there are no green flecks. Dill and basil added, which are standard in our eggs.

A lot of the shape eggs leave cuttings. sometimes I eat them, sometimes they become the "road" under the car, it all depends. Today Starboy must have been hungry, because he was excited to eat his "suns." After three suns and the chickie, he tried to make an escape, but two big piles of ketchup later he finished every last bite. Huzzah! I couldn't find Grandma's cookie cutters, so I used a lunch container to cut the circles.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Reading Roundup

10 Steps for tired Mamas to get the break they need, without TV, Rhythm of the Home (Fall 2012)

Great story about Nature Tables, Tinkerlab (Sept. 10, 2010)

Pocket Playground, Life At the Zoo (Aug. 30, 2012). Keep eight items in your bag, and you'll have access to 50 activities to keep your kid calm while waiting in line, on the airplane, etc.

How to write a Twitter bio that'll make you stand out as a journalist, Poynter (Sept. 7, 2012). Note: I barely understand Twitter and hashtagging, I don't even have a handle. My prospects of ever working again are likely doomed.

An interview with Lori Pickert, Rhythm of the Home blog (Aug. 31, 2012). With links to her blog and other Reggio Emilia bloggers
"I owned a small private school from 2000-2007. I have no background in education- I’m an autodidact all the way. So to open my own school, I had to spend a year doing extensive research....I spent the next eight years experimenting with those ideas....It was a wonderful experience....By the time I closed my school, I was working as an educational consultant, training teachers, giving workshops, and speaking at conferences. I really love sharing these ideas."

On striking and unions, Teacher X (Sept. 9, 2012)

"Chicago is founded on the hard daily struggle of working people. It is the birth of the labor movement—not a movement just for wages and benefits, but a movement that stopped child labor so that each of the kids in CPS schools could attend school instead of working. It was a movement that stopped the practice of working conditions so unsafe that consumers were eating the actual workers who fell into the mix while they were making hot dogs. It was a movement that fought so that workers could have some tiny measure of time with our families rather than spending all waking hours working for the enrichment of their bosses."

Why Men Fail, New York Times (Sept. 10, 2012)
"To succeed today, you have to be able to sit still and focus attention in school at an early age. You have to be emotionally sensitive and aware of context. You have to communicate smoothly. For genetic and cultural reasons, many men stink at these tasks."

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Working ahead

Starboy's fairy party is coming up, and I've been trying to do as much as I can in advance so I'm not running around crazy the day before the party, and feeling frantic. I want to be able to enjoy the party, so keeping things calm is the goal. 

One thing I do to make baking simpler is I will make a "mix" from my recipe, so that on baking day I just have to dump and stir. I get stupid when I'm distracted and busy, and do things like: double the whole cookie recipe except for the flour (that was a soupy one).

So I measure all the dry ingredients, and check them off of the recipe as I go, so nothing is forgotten or accidentally doubled. Sometimes I have several containers if there are a few steps in the recipe. These muffin recipes are easy quickbreads, so it's one jar per recipe.

I label the mix clearly, so that ingredients don't risk wandering into the wrong recipe, and so if I decide not to make the recipe after all, I have an idea of what it is next week. This time I just taped the recipe to the jar.

Another advantage to doing this in advance is that if you discover you are out of something, you still have time to restock before it's a last minute crisis.

train sandwich with cowcatcher

He added the cowcatcher request after I started cutting. We started with the engine, then he requested a car, so I gave him two small ones. So that would be two turkey sandwiches (with cream cheese) for breakfast. Not exactly fresh fare, but better than cereal.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Owl wings

Starboy has Owl as his totem. The owl chose him—one came to visit the day he was born, and hooted outside his window for days. He comes back to visit periodically. Owl represents very powerful medicine, and we feel lucky that it was Owl who chose Starboy.

Living in a fog

We're finally back home, but the three week painting job that was started in early August continues. Luckily we are able to open the bedroom windows, but our usual great circulation is thwarted by plastic on the front door (as they work on the front porch) and the entire east side of the house.

Starboy doesn't like not being able to see out.

With everything in use and workers all over (okay there are only three or four of them, but it feels like they're everywhere) it's been hard to spread out for Fairy Party planning. I really like to spread out when I set up and plan, so I'm finding this frustrating—especially since I chose a late date thinking things would have been finished weeks ago!

Ah, well, first world problems. They should be finishing up this the carpenter can get some wood milled in time...

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Annual t-shirt

 I started out trying to make this shirt a while ago, but our plain grey t-shirts just didn't match. I went to American Apparel to try to find some plain shirts for Starboy, but boy it was slim pickin's there as well. (And for me? Fuhgeddaboudit.) They had some lovely colors, but the prettiest ones were 50/50, not 100% cotton. It's too warm in SoCal to mess with that.

He chose a butter yellow tee that I didn't love—I pretty much dislike almost anything yellow—but I was delighted when I got home to discover it was a perfect match for the squirrel badge. It's a much better looking shirt with the badge on it. Even though the colors seem a little rah-rah somehow.

I did my usual chain stitch all the way around, and I didn't use any backing or stabilizer, so the performance is not going to be high-caliber, especially once this thing sees the inside of our sharky washing machine. (The shirt will drip dry.) It's the largest badge that I've made for him, though there were some for Techman and me a couple of Halloweens ago about the same size, and Techman won't wear his because he says it's too heavy. So, we'll see.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Fixing a hole....

I'm not so sure why people are so hot on front-loading washing machines. You can't soak the laundry, they don't rinse the cloth diapers completely, causing them to stink, the cycle takes ages to run, and they chew holes through just about everything. Like tea towels.

I sort of like these Crate and Barrel tea towels, so I decided to darn the hole created. My best friend's mom taught me how to do this for a Girl Scout sewing badge in the fifth grade, but Martha Stewart also offers instructions here.

I wonder what they sew for the badge these days? Ipod cozies? Coffee cup sleeves? I think in our goals of keeping kids "interested," we forget to guide them toward useful life skills. But I digress.

I started by stitching a field around the hole I am fixing, but offering ample space on the edges for the thread to root into. I didn't have any washed-out-red thread, so I decided to create a heart shape in a complimentary color to the print on the towel. So my border area is a heart shape. Usually it would be a square shape.

Then I used my needle to create "warp" thread for weaving, to cover the hole. I made as small stitches as possible, but I didn't really sweat it like Martha does, because this isn't a family heirloom, it's a half-worn-out tea towel. Generally warp thread is the vertical, but here I did horizontal first.

Next, I used the needle to stitch and weave over and under the previous "loom" I'd just created. This creates an anchored "fabric" over the hole. If you do a proper job, it looks like real, woven fabric. If you're past 40 and the reading glasses only can do so much, your results may vary.

Because I was purposely making this a contrasting design, I decided to embroider a chain stitch around the outside edge at the end.

And because a little of the hole still showed through on the back, and I know this thing has to go through my carnivorous washing machine again, I decided to repeat the process on the back, weaving warp and weft so there is a barrier on the back as well. I didn't do a chain stitch around the edge. The final result was super thick, but for a tea towel, I don't really care.

While I was on a roll, I decided to finally mend the hole in Starboy's sock (which barely fits him any more, it's been in the mending pile so long). I used an upside-down pinch bowl from the kitchen as a darning egg.

First I wove a "warp" thread with the needle.

Then I turned the work 90˚ and wove a "weft" thread over and under the warp and the sock threads.

I'm not sure what type of thread I was supposed to use for either of these projects. I doubt the shiny cotton embroidery thread was the right pick for the wool socks (Smartwool! Expensive!), but I wanted to keep it thin so there isn't a big lump at the toe inside the shoe. And besides, that's all I had on hand.

Creative Lunch

Not a great photo. Mama Bear grilled cheese, and leftover baby bear pancakes sliced horizontally and made into mini grilled cheeses. Mama Bear went down fine, but the baby bears got the shaft in place of a bowl of greek yogurt.

Reading Roundup

Can you see that I'm catching up on some old reading this week? I love Teacher Tom. He gives me a lot to think about.

New recess format at (Pittsburgh) Elementary allows students to play video games, (Sept. 4, 2012). "School district officials said the students are inside playing Wii only one or two days per week...The superintendent...told Channel 11 News that the new format is designed to keep children out of trouble and injury-free." Seriously?!?! OMG I might have to look into homeschooling after all. Meanwhile, these kindergarteners are outside all morning, even in the rain and snow. 

Buyer Beware, Teacher Tom (Apr. 29, 2012). Teacher Tom discusses the privatization of education, and how one company could monopolize the entire education of a child. He calls this a violation of child labor laws, since the corporation profits, a goal that supercedes the education of the child.

Rediscovered research says early school starting age 'harms children', Nursery World (May 16, 2012)

Once the marketing has rubbed off, Teacher Tom (May 24, 2012)

Teacher Tom Greatest Hits, Teacher Tom (May 26, 2012)

Five Dangerous things you should let your children do, Ted Talks (via Teacher Tom)
"When we round every corner and eliminate every sharp object, every pokey bit in the world, then the first time that kids come in contact with anything sharp or not made of round plastic they'll hurt themselves with it."

UK statement on play by the Play Safety Forum and the Health and Safety Executive (July 2012)

Thursday, September 6, 2012


I thought I'd make a few quiches for our upcoming party. I have access to an oven with a working thermostat (revelation!) and I can pop these in the freezer until the day before party time.

They are cheese, broccoli, onion and red pepper quiches. With store-bought crust. Which turned out mushy, unfortunately. But a funny thing happened.....

In my effort to double the recipe to come up with four quiches—some for dinner this week and some for guests—I ended up with...well...eight. It turns out that I got all the stuff to double a recipe that makes two quiches, and...I didn't really realize it until I was up to my neck in it.

At that moment, I muttered some sort of curse word.

And Techman said: "Is this another Corn Chowder Incident?" I buried my head in my hands, and laughed nervously.

Many years ago now, I set out to make Barefoot Contessa's delicious corn chowder. I doubled the recipe to make sure we had enough for the freezer, for later. As long as you're going to the trouble to cook, might as well get mileage out of your time, right? It wasn't until I needed to dig up a third spaghetti pot that I started to clue in that we were going to have a lot of corn chowder.

Techman came home from work to find nearly every surface covered with soup, soup pots, spoons, and related rubble. I didn't understand how I had so much, compared to the last time I'd made it. Confused, he said something innocent, like, well how much was the original recipe supposed to make?

Well, I dunno, I said stubbornly, it's soup. Probably it's for six or eight.

I looked at the book.

"Serves 10-12."

Times two.

Damned caterers. What family needs twelve servings of soup?

That was something like 2005. I don't think we've had corn chowder since. We're both kind of maxed on it. But I don't fall for that trick in her books any more.

Just in my own recipes. Eight quiches requires a lot of eggs.

So, it was a late couple of nights and the freezer is full. My aunt is getting some quiche as well, as thanks for letting us stay at her place for so long. And, um, because our freezer is full.