June 30, 2009

Take it to the Bank

In some ways, Briton has a better grasp of economics than I do. For example, this spring we were standing in a toy store staring at a wall of playmobile when Briton turned to me and said "Mom, if I choose to buy the submarine instead of the bigger boat, that is my opportunity cost, because I'm deciding to buy something and then I wont have enough to buy the other."

Umm, OK. Yeah Public School?

Of course, in most ways, we're still a little more solid in out sense of finances then he is. Expecially since he has entered the "money burns a hole in your pocket" phase of life. I remember being that way myself. I actually remember my mother telling me that. I think I was standing in a toy store myself, trying to decide between two My Little Pony's. I so disliked the phrase that for a while I became the worst ten year old tight wad the world has ever seen. Sadly, explaining this phenomonan to my son has not had a similar effect. As a result, we have spent the last two months hearing about which playmobil he will buy next and what he can do to earn money and how much we would give him if he had saved up most of it and so on and so on. it got to the point that I thought my head was going to explode.

After Briton appeared by the side of our bed the other night at almost midnight to tell us that yet again, he had changed his mind on which toy he wanted and would we take him right now to the toy store because he was sure that it only cost the three dollars he already had saved up, we martched him back up to bed and decided something had to be done.

So the new plan is to not reward behavior with money, just with stars and surprises at our discretion. But we also realize that he will get money. He will do chores for someone or get birthday money or have a five dollar bill tucked into his pocket by his great grandmother. And since he is almost seven, it seems like it's time to start teaching him some lessons about when to save, when to spend and when to share. I've seen the banks around with three compartments, one for money to use now, one for saving and one for charity and I think they are fabulous. But being a cheapskate, I decided that we could make something like it with things I had lying around the house.

Briton is not totally sold on the idea, and I can see that that is something we'll have to keep working on, but he was more than happy to help make his new bank.

We started with three jars and the leftover scraps from the skateboarding pillow/book cozy project, some with iron on backing, some not. After I spent an hour last night cutting out the words "spend, save and share" I realized I could probably have done it mcuh faster with die cut letters and scrapbook paper. But as I said, I'm nothing if not cheap! I cut out tops with pinking shear cut slits and screwed on the rings and then this morning we ironed the letters onto the squares Briton helped cut out and used the last of my modge podge to decopage the background squares onto the three jars. Last of all we stapled some fabric around a scrap of wood for the jars to sit on. I had planned to hot glue the jars onto the wood but found that I dont seem to have a hot glue gun (what kind of a craft girl am I? No glue gun?) but I'll borrow, beg or buy one soon and finish it off. For now though, the jars can sit peacefully on their platform and with a little luck and a lot of coaxing, they will soon each be seeing some money slip thorough their tops. Fingers crossed that the "opportunity cost" side of the boy comes shining through.

June 29, 2009

You know you have happy chickens when

This is how they decide to spend half the afternoon when they visit your back yard. Worms? What worms? We like the swing thank you very much!

June 28, 2009

Bubble Fairies

When I was seven or eight, I became fascinated by the adage, "every time a bell rings, an angle gets it's wings." Angles were all well and good, I'd even played one in a Christmas pageant or two, but what I was really interested in was fairies. If bells made angles, how was it that fairies got their wings? After several under the covers brainstorming sessions I decided that it must be bubbles. Every time a bubble popped a fairy was born. It didn't have the same ring, but I never was much of a poet.

Since I had a knack for convincing myself that make believe things, even those I had dreamed up on my own, were absolutely real, I set about blowing bubbles as much as possible. Which wasn't hard, what kid doesn't spend their summer with a bottle of 99cent bubble mix, their fingers sticky and slippery with the concentrated soapy water.

My favorite place for blowing bubble was our vegetable garden. In my mind, I was helping the fairies along, no popping on the asphalt in front of the house for my magical creatures. No, they would be born amidst the runner beans and potato plants. I could lie on my back between the two gray wooden raised beds furthest from the deck where my little brother played and blow bubbles to my hearts content.

Today the kids and I went for a walk. Well, I hobbled a little on my still injured foot and they walked. Will is one day away from what could (please please please!) be his very last Architectural Licensing Exam and I wanted to give him some quiet study time so we meandered up to see the chickens then onto the park and finally downtown where we were disappointed to find the cookie store closed. Not wanting to head home yet and needing a little sugar kick, we backtracked up the street to the pharmacy and bought a pack of M and M's and, on impulse, a bottle of bubbles.

There really is something magical about bubbles. Even Briton, who is fast approaching the age of not believing, grinned and laughed and chased them as we walked home. Evelyn sat out on the porch swing while we ate lunch and tried endlessly to produced a stream of rainbow hued bubbles, getting most of the solution down the front of her dress and not a little in her mouth. (It's spicy! she said, spitting. Spicy is her catch all word for things she does not like the taste of)

Go buy some bubbles. Even if you don't have any kids around, go get some. You've forgotten, I promise you, the sheer delight that comes from blowing through that tiny wand and watching the bubbles float away on the breeze. And even if you haven't forgotten, even if you blew bubbles yesterday, go get some anyway. The world is always in need of more fairies.

June 26, 2009

Moving Day, Looming Day

Tonight the great kids bedroom sharing adventure begins. Well, ok, not really begins, but we are going to have a trial run this evening. We're watching a friends daughter and she'll be sleeping in Evie's room so Evie is going to *try* sleeping in Briton's room with him. I'm not really sure how this is going to go. When we move into the new house the plan is to have all the toys in the playroom so they don't get distracted (Briton has been known to stay up well past eleven just playing in his room) but since we haven't moved and Briton's room is FULL of toys, this should be interesting.

These last few weeks of waiting are going to be rough. On the one hand, I am itching to jump in. To paint and sand and pull out counter tops and put in new appliances. I dreamed two nights ago of sanding floors. SANDING FLOORS! What kind of dream is that? (although, it's probably better than last nights dream in which a friend was having bread delivered daily to her house and went on vacation for a few months without canceling so there was a mountain of locally baked challah blocking her front door)

On the other hand, I like to sit lazily around of an evening, watching TV, reading books, doing nothing. And just the thought of hauling everything we own across the street fills me with dread. I hate moving. I mean, I don't mind the part about new places and new things, I'm an old hat at that by now. And on that end this move won't be that hard. But I really hate actually moving. I hate packing and unpacking (although that will be limited, it will more likely be loading up laundry baskets and hauling them down two or three sets of stairs-depending on the floor they start on- and hauling them back up two or three sets of stairs-again, depending on the floor. At least three sets of steps are inevitable- two sets down from this house, one up to the other) I hate the lifting and the finding piles of dust bunnies and forgotten dinosaur legs behind furniture. And I really hate the chaos. I like things to be orderly. They don't have to be perfect. Well, I like them to be perfect, but I'm a realist, as long as doors and cupboards are shut I can handle hidden mess. But I like things to be in there place. And, as I've said, I have moved enough in my life (a lot!) to know that it's going to take a long time to get things back in their place.

On top of the move, the prospect of having an undone house is a little unnerving. We've always had undone houses, but after two years of renting an already remodeled house, I've gotten used to things not needing work, and that's about to change. Like I said, I'm ready for it, but it also means that it will be even longer before things are in their place, because who knows how long it will take for there to be a place to put those things.

Still, I'm making headway. I have an entire notebook full of lists. The order of rooms to be painted, the order of DIY jobs to be done in week one, week two, week ten. A list of all the things we need when we take a Uhaul up to Ikea, a list of paint colors to buy from Lowes. Lots of lists. They will probably all go out the window when we close and dive in headfirst, but it makes me feel better.

And I'm making a dent in the sewing department. Both book cozies are done. Trow pillow are made for each kids bed, half of the duvet covers for their room have been purchased and I have the beginnings of a plan for some interesting window treatments for them as well. Can you cover roller shades with fabric? I guess we'll see.

I will make it. The next two weeks and three days will pass and we'll have the house, and then the month after that will pass and, organized or not, ready or not, we'll be out of this house and living, as best we can, in the new one. Because the next family is coming, so we have no choice. And in another month or two or year or two after that, we'll be moved in, painted, sanded, applianced, landscaped, finished. or close enough so that we can once again have lazy evenings and weekends. And probably, when that day comes, if it ever comes, we'll look back and wish we had more to do, because that's just the way we are. Nuts.

June 24, 2009

Well You Don't See That Everyday...

We seem to have some extraordinarily talented hens.

Made for some great Penne Carbonara!

June 22, 2009

Throw Thirteen

This weekend a new city water park opened in Charlottesville and, like fools, we waited in line on Sunday for forty minutes to get into the overcrowded human soup. It would be worth it, we told ourselves. Lazy Rivers, slides of different sizes, water sprays, a diving board. It would be worth the wait to escape the heat and play in the water. And it would have been, if not for the fact that within a minute of finding an open seat and throwing down our gear, I went down the big slide, caught my toe at the bottom when I was too busy trying to make sure my top stayed up, and proceeded to do something terrible to my left foot.

Don’t feel to badly for me, how many times have I injured that foot in my life? There was the time I slipped on the stairs of my school carrying a box of text books and nearly had to wear a cast in my own wedding, the time I did a cartwheel into a friends couch and spent half the summer with a large blue boot that most definitely did not match my polka dot bikini, and then there was last spring when I rolled my food trying to kick my husband’s ass at squash. What can I say, I’m a klutz.

I haven’t visited the doctor and am hoping to avoid that altogether this time since I think I just tore a ligament (again) and maybe broke my pinkie toe (and what can you do about that?) So for now I’m just spending a lot of time lounging on the couch with an ice bag on the injured member. And that’s how we came up with Throw Thirteen.

When Evelyn naps (or sings in her bedroom while she tears everything out of her drawers and spreads it across her room) I try to do a project with Briton everyday. It doesn’t always happen, I regularly get mired in writing or reading or cooking or cleaning and leave him to his own devices for an hour. But I try. So today I pulled out a book I had found at the library on kids games from around the world. At first I thought we could try to figure out Manqala, which we’ve had for ages but have never played. But my attention was caught by directions for making small paper playing pieces called cartetas. The games were simple, the directions for making them were easy and required only an old deck of cards and it seemed like a good thing to do while lying down.

As we cut and folded we talked though a few of the games and eventually figured out one of our own.

The idea is to take a full deck of cards and divide them into suites. Set one suite aside as “floor cards” and then make three sets of thirteen cartetas each from the remaining cards. One set need the back showing on both cars (this would be the black set) one needs the front of the card showing on both sides (the white set) and the third should have the front showing on one face and the back on the other (Briton says this should be called the mix)

Spread the “Floor Cards” out on the floor a decent distance from where you will stand (or lie) and give each player one set of cartetas. Players take turns tossing one of their pieces onto the floor cards, the goal being to land on one. You can knock someone off a card as well (if you can!) and when all the pieces are gone count points. Any card one of your pieces touches earns you it’s value. (Ace is 1, Jack 11, Queen 12, King 13) the person with the highest score wins.

Ok, so it’s not anything super new or out of this world, but it makes for a great lazy afternoon project

Directions for Cartetas

Cut a playing card in half lengthwise and then overlap them at one corner so they make an L.

Fold the back piece over the front and then around again,

then repeat with the other part, tucking in end to hold everything together.

June 21, 2009

Birthday Treats

Last week, Will and I had our first ever encounter with a Princess Cake. The cake in question was the centerpiece of an office baby shower and Will brought home a slice to share. It was one of those "where have you been all my life?" kind of moments. Even for Mr. "I hate nuts in desserts" who loved every bit of it, even the Marzipan.

So, a few days later when I asked Will what kind of birthday cake he wanted he pondered aloud, " I wonder if there's such a think as a dark chocolate Princess Cake." Well, I told him, I'll see.

There isn't. At least not that I could find after a few extensive search sessions online. But after reading through a dozen or so Princess Cake recipes, I decided that I could take the basic components and make something a little different. We'll call it a Prince Cake.

Starting with a genoise batter cooked in a jelly roll pan, I spread a thick layer of pastry cream and then a thin layer of a chocolate ganache and then rolled it up and topped it with more ganache and some whipped cream. Looking back, the cake was far more complicated than something I would make on a regular basis, and I'm not that great at jelly rolls since I generally only make on once a year (a bouche de noel for the Winter Solstice) but for my lovely husbands birthday, it was a keeper. And the leftovers, ummm, gooey and chocolaty and divine.

But before I get to the cake recipe, I thought I'd throw in Will's Birthday Dinner. This is roughly based on a recipe from the newest Everyday Foods, a favorite go to resource for weekday meals for me, but with a few little tweaks. (It also makes a smaller amount, but could easily be doubled.

Shrimp and Corn Chowder.

4 slices of good pepper bacon
1 large Idaho Potato, peeled and cubed in small cubes
2 large ears of corn, husks and silks removed and kernels cut from the cob
1 1/3 cup milk
1/3 cup half and half
1/2 pound cooked shrimp, peeled
a handful of chives
poultry seasoning (any season salt type of thing would work, just add to taste)
Salt and pepper

Cut the bacon into chunks ( I like to use kitchen shears for this, so much easier!) and cook them in a sauce pan until crispy, remove and set aside. Add the potato and saute until they begin to soften then sprinkle in a tablespoon or so of flour and cook for another minute, stirring gently so you don't break up the potato. Add the milk, cream and seasonings (taste before adding too much pepper-remember there is pepper on the bacon) and cook for 10-12 minutes. Throw in the corn and chives and cook for a minute or two before adding the shrimp and bacon. Remove from heat and serve.

This was a great summer soup. Although it is cream based, it's still pretty light and the fresh corn adds a hint of sweetness to it. I'm sure this will become a regular fixture on our menu's while the corn is in!

OK, now the cake. As I said, this recipe is a little more complicated than a normal batter, but the result is very light and fluffy and paired well with the richness of the pastry cream and the ganache.

Ganache is pretty easy, it's really just a fifty fifty mix of melted chocolate and cream. Put both in a heat proof bowl in the microwave and buzz it for a minute at a time, stirring in between until most of the chocolate is melted, then stirring until everything is nice and smooth.

The pastry cream is basically a custard. Some recipes call for gelatin but I went with a egg custard. Bring one cup of milk, one cup of half and half and 2-3 ounces (depending on the sweetness you want) of sugar to a boil in a sauce pan.

In a bowl stir 1.5 ounces cornstarch with 2 ounces of sugar then mix in three egg yolks, whisking until smooth. When the milk comes to a boil, stir half a cup of the heated milk into the egg mixture, mix well and then add it all back into the pot of milk. Return to the heat and stir briskly adding a tsp of vanilla with it, within a minute or two you'll have a nice thick custard. Pour into a clean bowl and allow to cool, stirring regularly.

Onto the cake

Start by clarifying 5 tablespoons of butter (melt in a saucepan until the foam begins to brown then strain through a coffee filter) While the butter cools, set your mixing bowl over a pot of gently simmering water on the stove and whisk together 7 ounces of sugar and 5 large eggs (or six medium eggs) Stir until the mixture is just warm and the sugar is dissolved. Take the pan off the heat and start beating the mixture on medium high. You really want a stand mixer for this because it take a while for it to get nice and fluffy, about 12 minutes. It will double in volume and should fall in thick ribbons when you lift the beater from the bowl.

Mix about a cup of of the foam into the clarified butter then gently pour the it back into the bowl of foam. The trick here, and with the next step is that you don't want to deflate all the bubbles you whipped up. Now, sprinkle 5 ounces of flour and a pinch of salt onto the foam and very gently fold in. remember you don't want to deflate that nice foam!. Pour into a sheet pan that has been lined with parchment and back at 350 until the cake is golden and springy.

If you want a jelly roll, you'll need to dust a clean kitchen towel with powdered sugar and flip the cake and it's parchment over onto the towel. Then, using the towel as an aide, roll the cake up (so the towel will be rolled up with the cake) and leave it to cool a while. unroll carefully, peel off the parchment and add the filling before rolling it back up.

Now the thing about a jelly rolls is, they crack. It happens. It's a good thing most of them call for a topping to cover the imperfections. But you know what? It still tastes great. So don't sweat it, just add some extra whipped cream to the top. :)

Like I said, it's a little more fiddely than most cakes, but it is yummy. I had a thought half way through baking that a genoise might be a great opportunity to use roasted flour. Humm,
too bad the next birthday is mine, although I imagine that I'll be baking that cake too....

***Sadly, no picture of the finished cake. the camera is becoming more and more unreliable and the only pictures I took had big blurry spots in the center. I guess it's about time to retire the camera to kid use and get another. I will say that it rolled up beautifully but as it waited for dessert time it began to crack. If I was doing it again I would roll it back up with the parchment wrapped tightly around it and then pop it in the freezer until it was just about time to serve.

****Update**** Horay! I remembered that I cut the ends off so that the cake would fit on my cake stand and froze the ends so I was able to get a picture, although there is not much in the way of whipped cream on top, you get the picture :)

June 20, 2009


Everybody has their own favorite way to eat eggs. Personally I could eat the Salmon Eggs Benedict from Zell's Cafe in Portland everyday of my life. But it's a little to far of a drive these days just for a simple, if amazing, breakfast. We eat a lot of eggs in our house, at least a dozen and a half per week. Spaghetti Carbonara, French Toast, Bacon Egg and Cheese Sandwiches, Souffle, Quiche, not to mention all the eggs we consume in desserts and sauces. We're just an egg kind of family.

But today was not your average egg kind of day. Today was the first time we were eating eggs from our own chickens. Yes, the hens have been laying off and on for more than a week, but since it's not quite regular yet, none had cropped up on our feeding days till today. But this morning, there it was, a little bitty (they will get bigger as the hens mature, right now they are considered "pullet eggs") perfect brown egg. And on top of today's egg, we had an egg from yesterday that Elvira had brought over from the coop in honor of Will's birthday.

Will and I debated egg cooking methods this afternoon, trying to decide the best way to enjoy a very fresh and very local egg. Fried? Hard Boiled? Scrambled? Poached? In the end, the kids decided for us.

"We want egg soldiers!"

Perfect. Briton saves the day.

Egg soldiers, which is, I believe, really called Eggs with Toast Soldiers, is a favorite afternoon meal in our house. And it's so simple that I sometimes forget all about it when I'm trying to decide what I'll feed the kids to tide them over till dinner*. Soft boiled eggs with their tops whacked off to reveal the runny yolks inside which is fished out by strips of buttered toast. If you've never tried it, you should. It's eggyness at it's very best. Salty and satisfying and with some fruit or vegetable, a great little meal. I'll even admit that I sometimes make three Egg Soldiers so that I can have one for myself. So, yeah, it was the perfect way to try out our first eggs.

I had to guess at the timing, usually I buy large eggs and pop them in boiling water for as long as it takes our toaster to brown a slice of bread. Since these eggs were pretty small (I actually looked it up and they would be classified as "pee-wee" sized eggs if they were sold in the stores) I halved my time and boiled them for 2 minutes and 30 seconds which turned out to be just right for the smaller of the two and just a tad short for the ever so slightly larger one. But when it comes to Egg Soldiers, runnier is far preferable to hard boiled.

So how were they? Well, they were perfect. Briton commented that they tasted different. Very eggy. I told him that was what real eggs tasted like to which he replied "So we've been eating fake eggs all this time?" Smart-Ass. I don't know where he gets it from.

*In our house the kids eat "tea" at 4:30ish and then have dinner with us at 6:30 or so. That way I know they have gotten a full meal but I can cook things they may or may not like for Will and I. The name "tea" comes courtesy of our Ireland days when my friends would have us over for an afternoon meal for the kids and some play time and the name and the tradition stuck.

June 19, 2009

Not French Fry Days, French Fridays

If I could change one thing about my life, it would be my lack of knowledge, and I mean a real fluent knowledge, of a foreign language. I so envy people who were raised bilingual, who are raising their children in bilingual households. I have a very limited grasp of French and as I've said, Briton knows more Spanish than I do. But I can dream.

I have this plan, when Will is done with his tests, when we move, when the house is done, when we have more time, of having French Fridays at our house. I've been around language enough to know that immersion is really the way to go, but as I can't see us moving to France anytime so (hold on a moment while I fantasize about that. Ahhhhh... Ok, I'm back) anyway, since I don't think living in France is in the plan at the moment, I would love to set up a little mini-immersion environment in our house. One of these days I'll do it. I'll institute French Friday's where we only watch videos in French, speak to each other in French, eat in French, or at least, French foods.

For now I'll have to settle for French braids though. I tried these out on Evie for the first time for her party. and much to my surprise, every morning since then when I've told her it was time to brush her hair and put in her piggies (as she calls her pigtails) she says "I want braids!" That my just barley three year old is content to sit and have her hair braided each morning is kind of odd. But I guess by now nothing shocks me about her. And besides, they're just so darn cute!

So I'll take the braids for now, and I'll keep using my Rosetta Stone while I wait for enough time in my life to get my French Fridays rolling. And maybe by then France, at least as a vacation, will be more attainable and I'll have something more than the little voice inside me demanding a second language to drive my family into at least a passable ability to speak another language. (Umm, I think I need another fantasy moment.....)

Au revoir! Mes Amis!

June 18, 2009


Last night, while Will was working late and the kids were up in bed (well, in their rooms at least) I realized that, although I had fed the kids, I had neglected to feed myself, and with Will bound to come home starving after a marathon call to clients in Australia, I did what any wife would do on a Virginia June evening. I made Cornish Pasties. Ok, so no one else in Virginia was probably making pasties at eight thirty at night in the middle of June. But the truth is, it has poured down rain all day and was actually a little cold, or maybe my AC was just on too high, either way, pasties sounded just the thing for a late night dinner with an even later night meal for Will.

The last time I had Cornish pasties I was, well, I was in Cornwall, and I wasn't even old enough for a driving permit much less my own stove, so this was my first go round with the recipe. And I can't really claim that they were authentic since I used sweet potato instead of regular potato, but whose counting?Link

For the dough I turned to my new best friend Joe's Pastry (really, really great place for anything pastry related) where I had noticed on one of my earlier visits that he had not one but two different versions of dough for these little darlings. I chose this one, which I'm not going to repeat here since he does such a great job of explaining.

After pulling together the dough, which was surprisingly fast, I shredded some cabbage, thinly sliced a sweet potato and chopped half an onion and four slices of breakfast steak, a relatively cheap cut that we buy regularly from our butcher since it cooks quickly and is pretty versatile.

Seasoning each layer, I piled the fillings in and sealed them closed. And as a side note, after my first two I realized that I could use a plate to cut perfect circles for a more attractive finished product. Of course that mean slightly less yummy buttery crust to nibble when they were fresh from the oven. The dough recipe is supposed to make five pasties but I chose to make four generous ones, two for dinner, two for the freezer.

The end result was delicious, light but filling and just right for a late night dinner. The crust, which is really very close to a pie crust, was flaky without being crumbly and I think I've realized that my aversion to using shortening is the reason I never like my own pie crusts. Since I had shortening on hand, which I normally don't, I went with the half butter, half shortening proportion the recipe called for and now I may have to try the pasty dough as a pie crust next time I make quiche. Or maybe I'll just be normal and use shortening in pie crust at last.

I do think that next time I'll experiment with the crust. Much as I liked it, I remember pasties having a dense and slightly chewy crust to them. That may have just been the pasties I ate, or my faulty memory, but even if that's the case, I like the idea of a chewy versus flaky hand pie, so we'll see how that goes.

I had planned to have another for lunch but since today is crazy humid and hot, it didn't seem quite as appealing as a big glass of iced tea and a cold sandwich. Ah well, it'll be there for another day...

June 17, 2009

A Place for Everything...Right, I Wish

As the move/redecorate date draws near, I'm hoping to get as many of the things I will need to make finished before we are swamped with painting, floor refinishing, counter top replacing etc. I haven't made much progress in that department over the last few weeks but today, I inched a little closer to my goal by ordering a pillow that I want for Evelyn's bed and getting the first of two book holders done for the kids room. Tonight I'm hoping to get Evie's done as well as make a start on a pillow for Briton's bed, but as it's laundry folding night, I might not get very far. However, since the first one is finished, at least I feel like I'm making some progress.

A few weeks ago I was sent this book called Pretty Little Cozies. The idea behind is is that you can make a cozy, or cover, for just about anything. And I mean anything; ipods, french presses, paper coffee cups...anything. It's cute, and if I had a more quilty styled house I'd probably make more of these. I still plan to make one for my laptop, but the one that jumped out at me as a "now that is cool" was a book cozy to hang off the side of a bed.

Briton and Evie are constantly sleeping with books piled around them. No surprise, I did the same thing, I still would except for the total darkness policy at bedtime that my spouse employs. And while I doubt any amount of book cozies could stop the book co-sleeping from happening, at least they will have the option of putting their books in a handy dandy little pocket before going to sleep.

The original pattern called for a small patch pocket on the front but I opted for another full width pocket across the front since I wanted more room for the books. I'm also thinking of stitching a slit on one pocket to hold a flashlight (because my children love nothing more than a simple flashlight, I'm sure I'm not alone here) but since I didn't have the kind I wanted handy to measure, I'll have to do that part later.

The process was pretty simple, with one very tedious part.

The base of the cozy was two yards long and about 15 inches across and you will need two of them. I used a heavy twill but canvas would also work nicely.

Cut two pockets one at 15x15 inches, one at 15x10 inches.

Cute two-three inch by 15 inch strips of contrasting fabric. I ironed double sided fusible webbing onto this, the kind of stuff you use to make iron on's. Actually, I ironed this stuff onto two 1/4 inch pieces of contrasting fabric and then cut the strips, the rest was for the lettering.

And speaking of the lettering, if you want that, (and this is the tedious part) print out the words your looking for (I used Times and 150 for the size) and then use that as a template to cut out each letter from the remaining iron on fabric. After cutting out Briton's Books last night, I would highly recommend a shorter word. Maybe just READ (which is what they had in the book, now I know why)

Alright. first the pockets. bind the top edge of each pocket with the strips of fabric you have prepared. Fold the strips over evenly over the long edge of the pocket so that you have an inch and a half of border along both the inside and the outside, then iron it on. Because of the webbing, you wont need to hem this and it will give the pocket edge a little bit of strength. Once that's done, lay the pockets on the base to get an idea of where you want the lettering to go. When you've figured that out, go ahead and iron the lettering on.

Now make a sandwich with the fabric. First, the front of the base (with lettering) then the pockets where you want them, and finally the other base piece on top. Pin around the edges and then sew the sides and the bottom (where the pockets are), turn right side out, press and your done. You can sew the top edge closed if you want or even make two and sew them together so that you have a pocket hanging from each side. Because of the weight of the books I'm planning on pinning the base to the underside of the mattress, I can just see my kids diligently putting ten books in each pockets and then being woken up in the night when it all crashes to the floor.

June 16, 2009

A Fabulous Father's Day Card in Under a Minute

Nope, I kid you not, this project will take you less than a minute, and I guarantee you have everything you need in your house RIGHT AT THIS MOMENT.

See, I hadn't done a craft here for a few days (or weeks) and although I am embarking on a little sewing project tonight that will show up in a day or two, I was feeling bad for just yabbering for the past week with pretty much nothing to show for it. And since Father's Day is almost upon us and the kids and I just finished wrapping Will's gift, I thought this might be a good little sit down before dinner and make something kind of project.

I used to do this with my class, back in the days when I taught in Oregon where school doesn't let out for summer till the second week of June so you get to make Father's Day cards with your class. It's one of those projects that looks so cool and takes so little.

So, ready? Set your timers (but don't start till you get your materials because that will take you, oh, at least another minute, maybe two)

First your supplies. You will need
1 sheet of white paper. Really this can be any size and any paper weight. Personally I prefer a half sheet of regular old card stock so the finished card will be a 4 ish by 5 ish, an easy size to find an envelope for. And it could be any color, but I think white looks best.

a scrap of some other paper, about 1 inch by three inches long. Bigger if you are making a bigger card. This could be wrapping paper, construction paper, part of a cereal box or even just white paper that your kids color. If you are a scrapbooker, here's a great place to use up a little bit of left over patterned border or paper. Anything will do.

Tape or glue. Tape works best, but if your six year old has recently taken to making tape sculptures like mine and you are always out, glue will do.


That's it. See, I told you you had everything you needed!

OK. Onto the card, go ahead, time yourself.

First: fold the paper in half and crease it firmly.

Second: With the folded side on top, estimate about a sixth of the way down the narrower side of the card, cut a slit one third of the way in, repeat on the other side.

Fourth: Fold the little flaps you just made in at an angle as shown. Do you see it? Yep, it's a shirt. Now all you need is the tie, which brings us to step

Five: From the scrap of colored paper cut a tie shape that will go almost, but not all the way, down to the edge of the card.

Six: Slide a piece of tape in between the two parts of the tabs to hold down the "collar" and then use a little loop of tape to fasten the tie on. And your done!

Seriously, how friggin cute is that? Cute enough that even after seven father's days, my kids dad will still like it. And I'm sure your's will too (or your dad! I've sent them to mine, even daddy's of grown up girls like homemade father's day cards! I promise!)

Now, I've got to go get the kids into the bath and then to bed so I can get some pinning done. Happy card making!

June 15, 2009

Countdown to House Day

Three weeks from today we will be closing on the house across the street. And a mere 31 days after that we will need to be out of this house entirely. So now that Evie's birthday is over and done with and I only have Will's and mine to contend with between now and the day we need to be moved out, my brain is finally able to focus more on the project ahead.

Over the weekend I started mapping out a schedule of room sorting. I hate moving junk that I just don't need. I've moved enough (six times in the nine years we've been married. This one will make seven) that I know that I will, inevitably, move things I don't need or don't want. Because as time gets shorter I will think less about whether I really need this or that and start stressing about just getting it over there before the deadline.

I know what your thinking, a month to move across the street is a lot. And it is. If all we were doing was moving. But as I've said before this new house needs TONS of work done to it. And since this is the first time we will have some money left over to do at least part of it before we move in, we really want to get as much remodeling crammed into those days as possible. I spent about an hour today calling contractors to see how many I could get over there later this week to give me some bids on painting, demo, roofing and AC installation (have I said that there's no way I'm sanding floors in a house with no AC in Virginia in July? Well, if I haven't, NO WAY!)

Back to the sorting though. I had planned on rifling through Briton's closet today to sort out all the toys he really doesn't play with anymore but by the time I got around to it, I just couldn't face the battle. I'm thinking that might be a good activity for me while he's away for the week at his grandparents house. Tomorrow I WILL tackle Evie's because she is much less aware of what I'm doing and then I'm on to our room. Today I wimped out and settled for the linen closet.

I dream of the perfectly organized linen closet. You know what I mean. The kind you see in movies and commercials and magazine articles about organization, where everything is in shades of creams and grays and maybe some browns and they are all stacked or bundled perfectly. How come those closets never have a motley collection of old baby quilts that are bright colors and far to precious to get rid of? Why does everything match? Do people go out and buy matching sets of extra blankets and sheets and table clothes just to fill up their cupboard? Did I miss out on that?

The truth is that I'll never have that linen closet. But this time I'm determined to better organize things. Quilts in boxes so they don't disintegrate, sheet sets together (even though I cant fold a fitted sheet neatly to save my life) and maybe even labels. Because I love labels.

My friend Kim will tell you, while laughing at my ridiculousness, that I used to have an obsession with my label maker. Before kids I labeled EVERYTHING. Then Will threw out my lovely purple Dynamo, Briton was born, chaos reigned and I have been label free ever since. But with the new house comes all sorts of new possibilities for label making. So today I made a little start. Call it baby steps. After pulling out all the things I done use, need or care about, I folded all my quilts into the neatest shapes I could, gathered sheet sets, napkins and table clothes in nice little be-ribboned piles and stacked it all back in the closet. It isn't beautiful, but it's better. And if I can keep it that way for a month I can transfer it straight across to it's new home, where, if I'm lucky, the IKEA fairy will have brought me some nice boxes for my quilts and the Label elf will have delivered some pretty handmade tags for all my things.

Hey, a girl can dream....

June 14, 2009

The Great Flower Fairy Tea Party

Ok, maybe Great is overdoing it. It can't really be a Great anything with just six girls, but it was pretty fun. This is really the first "party" we've had for Evelyn and compared with the six going on seven that we've done for Briton, this was, well, kind of a breeze.

Briton's third birthday party took place in a park and involved just about every man, woman and child we knew. We had pop tents and tunnels and horseshoes and lawn games on top of the entire playground. They screamed, they yelled, we drank and yelled. It was fabulous, but it also took me about a week to recover from it.

Today I watched six little girls sit primly at the table in their best princess best, drinking out of my best china and using their nicest manners. They colored and danced and played and generally had a girly time of it. It was also fabulous. And much less tiring.

I had planned to forego the royal icing but Will vetoed saying he loved it. And since Will almost never loves a dessert (there is something seriously wrong with that man) I went ahead with a royal icing take two (even prettier this time actually, and better cupcakes to start with) and also made a Swiss Merengue Buttercream (directions are wonderfully explained here, one of my favorite sites) so we had both.

And other than the merenge shells that defied my best efforts to keep them crisp after a major rainstorm and the inevitable humidity that followed last night and the fact that my daughter felt the need to stick her tounge for half the photos we took, the whole thing went off without a hitch. Now onto the boy party in a month and a half. I'm thinking campout....but we'll see.

June 12, 2009

Oh, Yeah, The Royal Icing

In my bout of sentiment I forgot about the Royal Icing. Pretty, but not that tasty, and strawberrry cake mix is not my favorite. But that just means I have an excuse to try making buttercream for Sunday. T minus 2.3 days and counting till party

And Now She Is Three

Today I was driving with the kids in the car when I caught myself saying "Evie! Look! A firetruck!" Of course, she couldn't have cared less about a firetruck. But sometimes the mama-of-boy in me still leaps out with a "look at the digger!" or "See the train?" All things that came out of my mouth multiple times a day when Briton was three. Briton is now almost seven and can a) spot the train/car/digger/firetruck on his own and b) isn't really interested in things that go these days. Now if a Triceratops crossed the street at the intersection in front of us, well, that would be a different story. But sometimes I still find myself pointing out the things that Briton would have squealed with delight for once upon a time. Girls are just a different kettle of fish. or at least, mine is.

I am daily amazed at how girly my girl is. What kind of cake do you want Evie? Pink! What color toothbrush? Pink! Which shoes do you want to wear today? You guessed it. PINK! Or sometimes red, since they are nice and shiny and have a pink poof on the buckle. Last year about this time I remember rolling my eyes at some mother talking about taking her toddler to get a pedicure. I would never. I told myself. I'm not sure why I even bother to think those kinds of thoughts. After seven years of parenting, you would think I would have learned. Yes, this morning, I took Evie to have her very first pedicure. And know what? She loved it. She loved picking out her nail polish (three guesses what color it was) and she loved having them file her nails. She held perfectly still while they painted them and after for a good fifteen minutes while they dried. She is my little pink girl. And I love it.

Time is passing so quickly this time. Faster even than with Briton. It seems such a short time ago that I sobbed because I had to leave her in the ICU and go home when they needed my room for another mom in labor. Just yesterday that she slept all bunched up on her tummy taking up a tiny part of that huge crib. And now she is three. She has long pigtails and a sassy little pout and changed clothes no less than seven times today, once appearing with a full blown princess gown, ready for a ball. Now she is three and everything has to be pink and sparkly. She has named her new doll "Three" and sings mixed up lullaby's to herself while flipping through Highlights High Five. She makes snotty faces and is not always the one wronged anymore in battles with her brother because now she knows how to fight back. Now she is three. And next she will be four. And I think my heart has broken just a tiny bit today. No more toddler. No more baby. No more diapers or sippy cups (unless she's feeling like she wants one, and then big girl cups WILL NOT DO!) Now she is three.

June 11, 2009

Paint and Other Things Kids Hate to Pick Out

My children seem to have a deep and powerful loathing for Lowes. When Briton was two we were deep into renovating our first house. And it needed some serious renovating. The last guy who had lived there was named Spider. No last name required. Just Spider. The house had been decked out in black velvet and dingy paint complete with real spiderwebs everywhere. Needless to say, we spent a lot of time, and a lot of money, at Lowes. After Evie was born we were again renovating a house and again, spent a lot of time at Lowes, and so maybe their dislike for the place is justified. But you would think at almost three (Tomorrow!) and nearly seven, they could hold it together for ten minutes while I chose paint colors. Wrong.

I'm not sure what is is about Lowes that they so dislike though. I used to spend hours at the hardware store with my grandfather every summer. He would putter down the aisles, weighing out nails and screws and nuts and whatever else he needed for the project of the moment. I would entertain myself mixing up screws and nails and nuts, all nicely sorted (until I arrived) in little bins. Once I had mixed to my hearts content I could go check out the selection of Radio Flyer trikes and wagons, pet the cat that always seemed to lived in hardware stores back then, and be ready to go about the time grandpa was.

OK, so maybe I don't let my kids mess with the hardware. And yes, there are no Radio Flyer Trikes at Lowes. Or cats. So maybe I see their problem. But with another major house renovation starting in less than a month, they are in for a shock. They've spent the last two years blissfully free of weekly (ok, sometimes daily) Lowes visits. But not for long.

The good news is, though, despite their whining and arguing I was able to pull paint samples for nearly all the rooms and tonight will put together a board with all the colors and ideas I've found in my weeks of brainstorming.(I told you I was nutty with the organizing thing) Of course, if Will hates it, I'll be back to square one. But at least I feel like I'm making some headway into the looooong list of things to do before we close on the house.

And maybe, if I can make there during the scant open hours, I'll take the kids to the local hardware store next time instead, where Gracie the dog will let them pet her to their hearts content and there are plenty of bins full of shiny screws and nails for them to mess up. Sorry about that, Meadowbrook Hardware.

June 10, 2009

More Fairy Party Dodads...

I love flickr.Anytime I'm searching for ideas for something I spend a few minutes (or hours) nosing around on flickr. Not that I've ever posted a photo there (sorry dad!) I'm the worlds worst photo organizer. iphoto organizes them by date when I download them and that's how they stay. But I love that other take the time to post there photos so that I can go and search out things I need inspiration for.

Before we moved to Charlottesville I spent a good number of hours looking at every photo tagged with the town on flickr. It helped convince me it was a good place to live. I've looked at room designs and found bird photos for Briton and all sorts of thing that I needed a lot of examples with minimal effort. Today I spent a happy twenty minutes looking at cupcakes. Yeah, go ahead, laugh. But then go type in cupcakes on flickr and see what you find. Today there were458,588 photos tagged with the word "cupcake" Tomorrow I'm sure there will be more.

So now that I'm (mostly) decided on what kind of cupcakes I'm making (I say mostly because we'll have to see how the royal icing turns out, could be a disaster, in which case I have a tub of pink Pillsbury frosting on standby) I can get to work finishing up the crowns.

I had planned to sew these, but my sewing machine is not being very friendly these days, it either needs a major cleaning or to be replaced, both of which cost about the same and neither of which I feel like shelling out for at the mo, so instead I opted for fabric glue and felt.

Felt is fabulous. It doesn't fray, it sticks to itself, it comes in lots of colors. Maybe it's the feltboarding kindergarten teacher in me, but I have a deep and enduring love for felt. So with that in mind and a table full of ribbon, stickers, glue and some interesting scrap booking borders I found on the sales rack at Michael's, away I went. I ran out of ribbon, which means another trip to Michael's (Oh, I wonder what I'll find this time, so many crafts, so little time) and I haven't tried them on a child's head yet to see if they stay on, but I think they are pretty cute. Hopefully the girls will think so too. T minus 5 days and counting to party time.

June 9, 2009

And in Other News....

We have our first egg!

Bad Diva

I have to admit it. I've been a bad domestic diva this past week or so. You see, normally I'm pretty organized. I'm beyond a list maker, I'm a schedule maker. Don't laugh! It's the only way I get things done. If I don't have everything scheduled, color coded and compartmentalized, it doesn't' get done. I do all the laundry on Tuesdays, I bake on Friday, I answer letters, pay bills and do any paper work on Wednesdays. And within the day I have a time for everything. And my month is divided up by which room I am making my way through cleaning wise (this week I am working on the kitchen and playroom with today's tasks being clean the cabinet fronts and sort the bookshelf, see-I'm nuts!) Ok, I guess you can go ahead and laugh. It is pretty funny. I even have a color coded weekly chart for summer activities. Because the thing is, I'm actually terribly lazy if given a chance. If I don't write down EXACTLY what I need to do and when, I do nothing. I sit on the couch and read trashy novels or watch movies or daydream. I get into the mindset that I can do it all later. and then later never comes. Which is why I live a color coded life.

But for the past, oh, say, week and a half, even color coding can not keep my mind from spinning in circles.

School let out so my normal schedule has gone to pot and I'm trying to transition everyone into a new one. I've got a birthday party to plan for the weekend, crowns to make, cakes to bake, decorations to find.

Oh, and the there's skateboarding lessons, swim lessons, ballet lessons, art lessons and all the other classes, activities, free movies, parades, concerts and events that make Charlottesville a great place to live

And then there's the house, the new house, whose closing date is looming and whose new paint colors are not chosen even though we are now down to 31 days to do everything inside that needs doing before we move in. I haven't even begun to think about packing (and really, I wont, since I cant even wrap my head around packing boxes only to carry them across the street, blah) I have contractors to call (No AC and we're moving in in July, HAHAHAHA!) papers to get to loan officers, mortgage brokers, insurance reps.

Plus I'm trying to get a new book proposal written and sent out in the next month. Plus.... well, life still needs living. Kids need to be taken to the pool and the park, and the library. Summer reading challenges need to be met, math skills need to be kept up, and above all, fun must be had. It's summer after all. And my kids will only be almost (three days left) three and nearly seven for one summer in their lives. I don't want to miss that.

So I guess it's ok that I haven't done a lot of baking (no cookies in the house to speak of, although that's probably better for my now daily swimsuit wearing self) or a lot of sewing or a lots of making or even a lot of blogging. There is still a part of me that wants to get it all in. Write, craft, sew, bake, skateboard with the boy, dance with the girl, kiss the husband, keep the house clean, design the new house, pack the old and have a fun summer. Is that too much to ask?

Probably, but if my color coding has anything to say about it, I'll give it a whirl.

June 2, 2009

Spontaneous Sewing

Today I did two things that I haven't done since I was in college. First, I sat out next to a pool (with sunscreen on of course) for no other reason than to just sit by a pool in the sun. Well, I did do some writing while I was there, but there were no kids to watch, lunches to hand out, arm bands to inflate, just me and a chair.

The second thing was some spontaneous outfit sewing. I used to whip up clothes for myself all the time. If I felt like I needed a long swishy green skirt for a party that night or a wrap dress for a dance that weekend, all that stood between me and the outfit in my head was a trip to the fabric store. Most of my sewing over the last eight or nine years has been baby related. Yes, Briton is only six (almost seven!) but even before I had kids, my friends and colleagues and fellow students were having babies and my sewing switched gears from skirts to quilts and then later from quilts to Halloween costumes. And lately most of my sewing has been of the home dec variety, slipcovers, pillows, you know the thing. So when I realized that I had an event to attend this week and literally nothing suitable to wear, my mind went whizzing back to that pillow case book and hit on an idea.

I actually didn't use one of the patterns in the book. But it was a good jumping off point. In fact, it's fairly similar to a strappy tunic they had which I loved. But I needed something a little bit fancier so I used the basic idea and fashioned a halter top out of a cream cut work pillow I've been carrying around for years to use for something someday. And someday was today.

So why pillowcases. Well, two reasons. first of all, since the end has a neat and substantial hem, it makes anything that needs a finished edge that much easier. And secondly, pillow cases are usually cheap, and most people have them around. In fact, I use sheet sets in a lot of sewing. It's one of the best ways to get a very wide piece of fabric for not a whole lot of money. Sheet sets are great for curtains, shams, duvet covers and quilt backings.

Pillowcases are the same, a relatively cheap way to get a good piece of fabric. The only drawback is that whatever your making needs to be as big around as a pillow or less but for a lot of people, they'll work for skirts, shirts, aprons and of course, the pillowcase dress that is beloved of little girls. But I'm getting a little preachy, so back to the halter top.

Before cutting I folded the top corners of the case at different angles and lengths and tried them out in front of a mirror until I found the look I was looking for. Then, marking one side, I folded the case in half lengthwise and cut along the mark so that I had a perfectly symmetrical cut. I wanted the back to fall straight across so I then unfolded the case and cut off the triangular piece on the back side.

With the case inside out, I tried the top on for size, pinning a ribbon at the neck line to give me an idea of how it would fall. You want it inside out so that, if your like me and you need a few darts at the bust line, you can pin them while you have it on and then slip it off and stitch the darts in place.

I used the remaining fabric to create a combination liner/facing by splitting the end of the remnants (which should, if you cut accurately, give a shorter but identically angled pair of pieces to the front of the top. Still inside out, I put in the facing then turned it right side out and pressed the seams.

At this point the top is almost done. I flipped down a half inch of the neckline to create a gusset for a ribbon to slip through for the neck tie and tried it on for size again. It needed some small darts in the back to lie snugly but I could have let it go the way it was and had a looser fit.

All in all, the whole project took about 45 minutes which included dragging my sewing machine out of the basement and hunting down some coordinating thread. In fact, I might just have to whip out a few more from some plainer cases for to the pool tops for the summer. Instant gratification sewing, my favorite.

**So this isn't the best picture of me since I was taking it of myself and I forgot to smile, but you get the idea....:)