February 28, 2011

to the library

The library in the small town I grew up in was just a few short blocks from our house. A straight shot down the street, but just far enough that you couldn't see one from the other. I have vivid memories of the place. The carpet, the smell of the books, the fact that I could check out only three books at a time and probably never left with anything less. We were frequent visitors, frequent enough that the children's librarian knew me by name. Knew me well enough, in fact, to give me little hints about the subject of the next story time so that I could dictate my own story on the subject to my mother, which the librarian would dutifully read to the crowd of children.

The one and only time in my life that I was returned to my parents in the care of the police was on a walk to the library. I had run ahead of my parents and then, unable to see them, I panicked and turned down an unknown street, frantically looking for help. I wasn't supposed to talk to strangers, which made sense in the safety of my house or the classroom but which seemed a little unhelpful once I was lost and everyone was a stranger. Although it had probably been less than a minute, I felt like it had been hours since I'd seen my parents and cursed myself for thinking that I could make it to the library by myself. Eventually (which was probably like, 30 seconds later but felt like eventually) I found a friendly policeman parked on the corner and tearfully told him my tale. Right about then my parents appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, to claim me. At the time I saw it as quite the drama, but now as a parent myself I have to wonder if I wasn't being taught a little lesson about running ahead.
Later, when I was about eight, the library moved across town to a newer, nicer building, and although we still went, it wasn't as often, and it never held quite the same place in my heart as the cramped but lovely old library. But I continued my love affair with libraries and books and have spent an inordinate amount of time in them over the years. I even found a little hidy-hole in the law library during my undergrad years that no one else seemed to know about and did all of my studying, and a good amount of sleeping, tucked away amongst the stacks.
Once a week Evelyn and I walk up the hill to the library for story time. Both my kids have been regulars at library story time since they were babies. Through all of our moves and all of the changes in our life as a family, heading to the library for a story and some fun has been a constant, no matter where we have been. The library here is wonderful, it has probably overtaken the spot in my heart for the library of my own childhood even. The librarians know our kids by name and have patiently, so patiently, helped Briton search out books for whatever subject interests him at the moment. Evelyn, who is notorious for bringing more things than she needs pretty much everywhere she goes and then leaving them behind, has had, at various times, a spot on the shelf behind the desk where whatever she has lost can sit until we come again.
Story time now means her heading up on her own with Miss Anne instead of a big group of moms and toddlers. It was, starting the week she turned three, the first time she got to taste Independence. The first without mommy activity and has continued to be her favorite time of the week. And for mommy, who gets 30 minutes of blissful, no housework, no work work, just sit in a quiet library and read or knit time, it's not so shabby either.
Our story time days are numbered, however. Next year she will be pouring over which book to bring home at school, under a different librarian's eye. She'll walk down the hall from her class instead of up the street from home. We'll still have library time, I don't think we could live without it, but it will be different. Much like when the library of my childhood moved. Just, different. For nearly nine years, across 5 states and two countries I have been to story time almost every week of the year. But come September...well, I wont think about that now. I might get weepy if I do.

February 24, 2011

lemon curdy goodness

We've had sort of a rough week around here with everyone dropping like flies with the stomach flu. Yesterday was really the only day that no one was sick (we're back on the sick wagon again today though with Briton down and out as of 6 am this morning) so I jumped at the chance of a quiet morning to for a) clean everything that the sickies touched and b) make some lemon curd in the newly cleaned kitchen.
The recipe I used this year is from Jam it, Pickle it Cure it which was given to me by my lovely friend Kim last year. Now before I go on with the lemon curd I'd just like to point out that buying me this book was very brave of Kim. She has, for more than 15 years now, been subjected to my culinary and crafting projects. Some successful, some not. And to be fair, she's been my co- conspirator in many of them (I think she has better memories than I of the Buche de Noel we made for French class in high school) and I've been her guinea pig often as well (she makes killer muffins!) But still, buying me a book that includes a recipe for making your own bacon, well, that's pretty daring. Because at some point I'm going to try it and make her eat some:) Even if she does live on the opposite side of the country (that's what Fed Ex is for!)
But back to the jam. I've tried a few recipes over the years, my favorite is one you make in the microwave (yes, really!) that my grandmother gave me ages ago. But alas, I have no microwave. And since the only things I really miss using a microwave for are warming up coffee (bad habit anyway) and making Lemon Curd and poppadoms, well, I don't think we'll be getting one anytime soon. So it was the stove top method for me. This recipe has you blend everything but the butter well before putting it on the stove which I liked a lot, I think it helped to keep the egg from curdling somehow. And it was also pretty fast once the lemons were squeezed. But the end result was a little too tart. Not bad tart, just not quite the sweetness I wanted. Maybe the lemons were extra sour, who knows. I think I may attempt a second batch when I've eaten up this one and adjust the sugar so I'll wait and post a recipe when I'm really happy with it.
And now I have to go and peel two dozen stickers off of the coffee table. Because when you are four and a half and you've been sick but are feeling better, well, naturally you are going to get into a little mischief, you have to prove that you're well, right?

What about you? What projects have you been up to this week? Anything fun?

February 23, 2011

leggings for a skinny minnie: a tutorial

So Evelyn has a pants problem. I can't even say pants, because pants she cannot wear. Never found a pair that fit her. Ever. It's really a leggings problem. Remember when I was grumbling about it last week? Well, when she once again wanted to wear leggings without a skirt this weekend I decided to try out my newly acquired lack of fear of sewing knit and try to make some.
(We both went down with the stomach bug yesterday so she wasn't feeling very modelish this morning)

I know there are leggings out there by the million, we just seem to have a proportion issue. Waist and bottom wise the girl, at nearly 5, is about an 18 month size, but length wise she's a 4T or even a 5T, which presents a problem. Occasionally I do find some that fit and aren't skinny at the ankles and then I buy a ton, but she's shot up another inch it seems so everything is now even shorter than it was. So miss tall and thin (I know, rough, I wish that was my problem) has bare ankles, which isn't so bad when it's 60 degrees out, but when it's back to 20 degrees after teasing you for a week with spring weather, well, bare ankles don't cut it.

So out came the sewing machine and I'll be honest, I think it might be just as fast to make a pair as it is to drive to Target and buy one, if they had any that fit. Which they don't. Because I just looked (again). Instead of making an elastic waistband for these I decided to use the folded waist instructions from the skating/yoga skirt that I wrote about here. You can find those original instructions at Sew Mama Sew but I'll repeat them below and explain how I used them in the leggings. These skirts have remained a favorite mostly because of the comfy waist I think, although Evie tends to wear it unfolded to cover her belly because she says it's cozy. Because of that I made two versions of the leggings, one with a folded waist and one without to see which she liked better. (So far the pink are winning out, but that may be because they are pink)

Skinny Minnie Leggings


Knit fabric - measure the length of the leg and add a few inches to get the yardage. You want the stretch to go across the leggings, not down the length. For Evie, this was about 3/4 of a yard

Pair of leggings or pants that fit in the waist and bottom, legnth doesn't matter, but if you have a pair that fits perfectly, use those.

Fabric scissors, pins, sewing machine and notions

Cloth measuring tape

Lay the leggings out on the fabric, making sure that the stretch goes across them instead of down them. You'll need to make two cut of two layers each. Fold the legging in half so that the inseam is curved out. The inseam on the front and the back of the pants should be different so you'll want to cut one set and the fold them the other way before cutting the other.
Starting at the top, cut about an inch higher than the waist and along the sides to the mid-thigh point.If the leggings aren't long enough or wide enough at the ankles for your liking then measure how long you want them and cut about 1 inch longer than that, widening them at the ankles if you want a bell bottomed shape, tapering for a tight ankle. For my first pair I used some leggings that we long enough but not wide enough at the bottom for my pattern, the second time around (shown) I used the result of that first go since they fit perfectly.

Measure around the waist, subtract 3 inches and then divide that by 2 to find the waist band width. For a double fold waist you'll want to cut two rectangles that are this width by 15 inches high, for a non folded waist, the height should be 7 inches. The waistband is going to look way too skinny but will stretch to fit and feel snug with out being tight. This also needs to be cut across the stretch (so it stretches :))
OK, time to sew. Place each pair of leg pieces right sides together and sew up the inseam using a zig zag stitch. Unless, that is, you have a serger, and then use that you lucky dog. Now lay the two pieces (the front and back) on top of one another, still right sides together, and sew up the legs on both the outside and the inside. Now you pretty much have pants, all they need is finishing.
Lay the two waistband pieces on top of one another, right sides together and sew up the sides (that's the 15 or 7 inch side) to make a tube. I told, you, way skinny, right? Don't' worry, it will work. Fold the waistband in half so that both the inside and out are the right side of the fabric.

Stitch a basting stitch all the way around the waist of the pant and pull the bobbin thread to gather it slightly, until it's the same size as the waistband. Now, tuck the waistband, raw edges up, into the waist of the pants so that all the raw edges line up. Stitch all the way around using a zig zag stitch. Once the waistband is attached, pull the basting stitches out.
Have your skinny minnie try on the pants before you hem them so that you can get the right legnth, just make sure you double fold the hem to enclose the raw edges. You can either hand stitch them hem or just zig zag all around (I used a contrasting color on the pink pants for fun!)
And presto, pants. The pink pants were made with a ribbed knit and the black pants were just pain jersey. I wasn't sure I would like the rib on pants but it was the only knit in pink and someone was very insistent about the color, so I went for it and I actually like it better than the plain jersey. It looks a little more substantial on those little chicken legs.

It might seem like a lot of steps but really, they were fast. And the second time around it was even faster because I knew where I was headed. I'm kind of thinking tights might be a good thing to try next. What do you think? DIY tights?

February 22, 2011

the blank space on the wall

Will and I have moved so much in our life together, so, so much. And over the years we've developed a sort of unspoken policy about art on our walls. It goes up within the first three days of moving in or bust. It doesn't matter if walls will need to be painted or we're not sure that the funiture will stay where it is, the art (and I'm using "art" loosley, we have no "art" but lots of photos and pictures and posters that we have collected over the years) goes up as soon as possible, because if it doesn't it might never go up. Case in point, the blank spot on the dining room wall.When we moved into this house we had most of our stuff up on the walls even as the kitchen sat half finished, the coutertops dried on the deck and piles of unsorted belongings everywhere. But there was one spot that we missed. Or maybe missed isn't the word. Nothing we had seemed right so we decided to get something new for the spot. And then, well, we finished the kitchen and moved on to the long list of other projects, and we never got around to that wall.
A few weeks ago I picked up some metal serving trays at a local charity shop and painted one of them with chalkboard paint to hang on our air duct as a message board. I attached magnetic strips to the back to hang it but once it was up I decided I didn't like it there and started looking around the room for a better spot. Like the blank spot. It was too small on it's own so I painted the other tray to match and hung them on the wall by screwing magnetic sheeting right onto the wall.
I had the kids do portraits of each other for the time being. Eventually, when Will isn't so swamped with work I want him to draw the kids silhouettes onto them. I think I could actually add something else up there as well, but at least now there isn't just nothing there. Much better. And fun as well :)

February 18, 2011

projects, more projects

Holy baboon I'm quilting again.
I have not quilted a single thing since I was pregnant with Evie. And really, other than the quilt I made for her then and one I made for my niece when Briton was about two, I haven't quilted AT ALL since having children. I think it requires too much at the machine time. I mean, for machine piecing and quilting. Hand piecing and quilting? hahahahahahahahaha. Right. I can't even finish a page in a book, a hand sewn quilt would probably take me decades to finish at this point. But regardless, I got a bee in my bonnet to work on a quilt this week. Nothing complected, no fancy smancy applique or teeny tiny hexagons. Something simple and fun. Here is the beginning of it, I'll post more when it's done. When cruising for patterns I found this one and fell in love. And then I lost it so I couldn't use the handy handy tutorial and had to wing it. But thankfully for you, I found it again this morning. Just FYI, I made 6 in squares and 3 inch strips for mine. The fabrics are an assortment of labels from my local quilting store, mostly from a Storybook II line and one called Happy Camper plus a little Olivia thrown in, because who doesn't love Olivia. I'm planning on embroidering some I Spy-ish sentences on the strips. Like "I spy a silly piggie, do you?" I had a fantastic quilt as a kid that had lots of interesting things to find on it and I loved it. This is intended to be similar, although not nearly as fancy because the one I had was made by a true master quilter and even now I find the intricate work that went into it mind boggling.
Evelyn has been super helpful in the quilting process, as you can see.
I can't imagine why I haven't been quilting these past 8 years....

Also, while searching again for this pattern I came across some other fun projects that I'm dying to try if I can find the time. This one is super cute. Briton loves baseball style shirts so I may have to try it for him.

I keep finding cute pants tutorials but haven't come across one for wide legged leggings yet so I made have to just dive in and make my own. We are having serious leggings issues. Especially since, for the first time EVER (that I can think of at least) Evelyn requested wearing PANTS and NO SKIRT OR DRESS yesterday. She is so freaking long and thin that it's hard to find leggings for her. We have some fitted ones which are great under skirts but on their own as pants. Not so much. Chicken legs is all I can say. I mean I love them, knobby knees and all, I wish I had skinny little chicken legs, but still. We need something a little more, filled out, for those no skirt days.

Oh, and also, just in case I got you all addicted to Victorian Farm and you've watched them all, I found out that there is also Edwardian Farm, Victorian Pharmacy, Coal House and Tales from Village Green. You're welcome. Or maybe I should say sorry. I can not stop watching them. Last night I spent all of the commercials during Bones making my way through the third episode of Edwardian Farm. Really, I think there's something wrong with that.
Other than quilting and figuring out just what it is that is leaking in the new (almost finished! Yay! Except SHIT!) bathroom, we're hoping for a quiet, pleasant weekend with more spring-ish weather. I doubt we'll get it, but we can hope. How about you? What are you up to this weekend?

February 17, 2011

first, last, best

Every time I make jam I think "THIS is my favorite kind of jam!" There's strawberry, I mean, strawberry, it's just, well, it's strawberry jam. And then blackberry which, if I get a chance to make some just tastes like summer to me. And even better than blackberry jam, there's apple-blackberry jelly which makes me swoon. Apple butter is a must, it just has to be made and lemon curd, well. I could just about live on lemon curd and scones alone. But marmalade? I think it might actually be my favorite preserve.

Depending on how you look at it, marmalade is either the last or first jam of the year. Last if you are talking the last thing you make before spring planting and first because it's the first after the new year. Either way, it's probably the most exciting to make for me. All of the other jams, with the exception of Lemon curd which follows right on the heels of marmalade, are made during gardening season, which means that they are done around the making of other garden producey things like tomato sauce and frozen corn and passata. So while I love them, they are sometimes just one more thing that needs to be squeezed into the week before things are overripe. But Marmalade is like being able to throw the doors open in February because of an unexpectedly sunny day(which, incidentally, I was able to do while making this batch). It's just what you need after a long, cold winter.

This year I made straight marmalade. No mixed fruit, nothing fancy, just oranges and sugar, and a little lemon juice for sweetness. It's probably the prettiest jam I've ever made, golden and light and almost sparkly. I went a little Dorian Grey on it and spent a lot of time just staring at a jar sitting in my kitchen window yesterday while the sun shone through it. And you don't even want to know how many photos I took. Ridiculous. But so pretty. And tasty.

We went through a lot of marmalade this year, more than I had expected. Partly because my friend Tara served breakfast sausages cooked with marmalade last spring and now I can't cook them any other way (you just stir a tablespoon or two in with the raw sausages before popping them in the oven and give them a shake every now and then while they are cooking). Delicious. But also, I just like marmalade, especially at breakfast, and especially with buttered bread. See, I didn't even make it to the office before taking a bite.

I used the recipe from The River Cottage Handbook No. 2 this year. This has, hands down, become my favorite preserving book. Every time I open it to look up one recipe, I'm reminded of three more I've been meaning to try. It's not a very big book but it is simply packed with goodness. If you don't have it and you even think you might want to make jam sometime in your life, go get it. And if you've never made jam, marmalade is actually a pretty easy place to start. It's a bit time consuming with all the slicing of peel, but there's no messing with pectin or skimming foam or any of that, so it's a decent first time jam. And if you are in Charlottesville I noticed that Retail Relay has some specials of citrus right now. While your at it, grab some lemons, because lemon curd is divine, in fact, it might just be my favorite jam...

February 16, 2011

it's the melted butter darling

A few weeks ago Evie and I made a bath of chocolate chip cookies. I had kind of gotten out of the habit of making cookies every week. I mean, for one thing, even if I intend to restrict myself from eating the actual cookies once they are all baked, I still have to taste the dough, right? And also that all important first cookie out of the oven, well, I have to make sure they are fit for consumption. That's my job. And sometimes a second cookie is required, after they've cooled a bit and...well, you get it. I eat them. But it's hard to resist your youngest child when she asks to bake cookies with you. And they were soooo good. Sooooo good. We ate them all in one day. (the four of us that is, geesh, you didn't think just Evie and I ate them all did you? Ok, well, we could have, but we were nice).
So I made some more. And again, they were so freaking good. And not just good, they were pretty. Like bakery cookies. Now I love to bake but I'm no professional, so I knew it wasn't me, it had to be the recipe. I started thinking about what it was that made them so yummy.They do have a lot of chocolate. Really, a lot. And anything with a lot of chocolate has got to be better than just some chocolate. But it's wasn't that. It was the chewyness and the fact that, if they managed to stay around for more than four hours, they were still chewy. But not cakey. Then I realized that, unlike the old chocolate chip cookie recipe, this one didn't use softened butter, it used melted butter. And then I realized that several of the recipes I've tried in the past few months have had melted butter. I wish I could get all science-y on you here and tell you why, but I can't, so I'll just tell you. It's the melted butter darling. (The chocolate doesn't hurt either!)

This recipe started out as Smitten Kitchen's Crispy Chewy Recipe but has a few minor changes. First, I usually use unsalted butter and then salt in baking and I did with the first batch, as is called for in the recipe. But I found that the cookies actually had a slight salty aftertaste. I think it's because we use Kosher salt and maybe the salt crystals were just too big and so you can really taste them when you run into them. The second time I made them I tried adding the salt to the melted butter, and also reduced the salt. And that was better, but not my favorite. The third and fourth times I used part salted and part unsalted butter and left out the salt allotgether, and that was a winner. The other change is that in addition to the chocolate chips I also chopped up a bunch of semi-sweet baking chocolate and added that too. So you get chips and chunks and little speckles of choclate in pretty much every bite. I think the chucnks really make the thing shine. And how could they not, I mean, it's chocolate. I also weighed the ingrediants because that works better for me from batch to batch.
OK, health concious people, look away. No, I mean it, look away. This recipe is not good for you in ANY way. But it's yummy. So I'm going to share it.

So Much Chocolate Chip/Chunk Cookies
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

5 ounces salted butter
1.25 ounces of unslated butter
190 g dark brown sugar
100 g white sugar
1 egg plus 1 yolk
350 g of flour
1/2 baking soda
5 ounces chocolate chips (milk chocolate)
6 ounces baking chocolate (semi-sweet) broken into chunks

Melt the butter in a saucepan and alow it to cool slightly. Using a hand beater, whip in the sugars and eggs until you have a creamy looking, light brown mixture.

In a large bowl sift the flour and the baking soda together. Fold in the wet ingrediants and mix just until incorporated. Add the chocolate chips and chunks.

The mixture will be a little loose at first but will harden up in a few minutes so it's best to give it a second before starting to scoop it out.

Roll rounded tablespoons-full of dough between your hands lightly and then space about 2 inches apart on a cookie sheet lined with a silicone sheet or parchment. Bake at 325 for 11 minutes and then allow the cookies to cool slightly on the sheet before removing.

And that's it. Pretty basic recipe, just melted butter. Have you had any baking revelations lately?

February 15, 2011

pondering: what to do with the stairs

The very first thing we did in this house. I mean the VERY first thing, mere minutes after walking through the front door with the keys in hand after signing papers, was to rip up the nasty carpet on the stairs to reveal the wood underneath. It was one of those "this house is OURS!" moments. And it felt really good. It was one, tiny little thing that we could say was done amidst a house full of changes that needed to be made. But since then, other than touching up paint and removing the banister when we put in the bookcase, we really haven't tackled the stairs.
And no, I'm not planning to start a new project. When I told Will I was contemplating the stairs he told me I better find a sink before I tackle what to do on the steps and he's right. But it's till fun to contemplate, because we will get to it. When, who knows, but we'll get there.

The stairs are the first thing you see when you walk into our house and Because it's a pretty small house and they are pretty narrow stairs, I feel like it would be nice if they made a statement. Something other than, blah, stairs. I've been puttering around Pinterest looking at images and here are some of the ideas I'm attracted too. Ok, there are a lot that I'm attracted to, but these are the doable ones. Like, I'd love to do this:
but I don't think we could squeeze it in :)
I love the way the rail ends here. We don't have that curved step. but might be able to get the look with out it.
I love the painted runner idea, not the colors here, but the idea is fun. Maybe something more like this?
And then there is the painted risers like this
and this

What do you think? Ideas?

**All photos (except for the one of our stairs of course) are from Pinterest and are on my stairs board if you want more info on sources!**

February 14, 2011

a valentines treat

Valentines day used to kind of stress me out as a kid. It was so difficult to decide which pre-printed card to give to what classmate. Did this one sound too lovey dovey for that boy even-though-I-kinda-liked-him-but-not-really-because-I-didn't-want-anyone-to-know? Or was it just safer to give the gooey ones to the girls? And was that teacher card really special enough for the teacher that I LOOOOOVED? Probably not. I would probably need to make that one by hand. I still get a little twinge of stress, even now, about getting the right card, and probably because of that, Valentines day isn't really my favorite of holidays.
Except for the desserts. The desserts I like.

Growing up I always received a pink heart shaped box of chocolates from my dad for my Valentines treat which I looked forward to each year, pouring over the diagram of what chocolate was what flavor, eating the ones I didn't like first and saving the best for last. When I was in college I met the truffle. When the little box arrived in my student mailbox I felt a little cheated. I mean, one single candy? What the heck. And then I bit into it and all those cheap boxed candies just melted away into a pile of yummy.

These days I'm mostly in charge of the Valentines Day goodies, although Will understands my love for good truffles, especially a certain french variety that they sell at the local gourmet store, but mostly it's me making the treats. I've done chocolate cherry brownies and truffles and the evil salted caramel truffle torte otherwise known around here as the devil cake.
Briton, in true boy fashion, was basically ambivalent about his valentines. I had great plans that involved block printing and silly jokes but when I explained it to him (probably in too much detail, his eyes glazed over) he asked if we couldn't just make a Mad-Lib, and would I type it out for him. So the actual Valentines took all of five minute's to make. What he was really interested in was what treat he would get to bring to class. After some debate we decided on marshmallows. Pink marshmallows.

And then he promptly went off to his friends house to get covered in mud while digging for "crystals". Which really, was ok because there isn't a lot kids can do when it comes to making the marshmallows. Boiling hot sugar and all. But they are fun and despite the rather cool outcome, pretty darn simple. In the end I made two versions. One for the kids that involved rolling the edges in pink sugar crystals (a kind of homemade peep type treat) and the other dipped in chocolate for a grown up party I was headed to. Personally I think the chocolate ones were much better, but Briton thought the sprinkles were a better touch.

Pink Vanilla Marshmallow Hearts
(adapted from Jam it, Pickle it, Cure it)

2/3 cup water, divided
3 envelopes unflavored gelatin
2 cups granulated sugar, divided
1 cup light corn syrup
pinch of kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pink food coloring gel
1 T cornstarch
Cooking spray

Put 1 cup of sugar and the cornstarch into a food processor and set it to whizz for about 3 minutes. You can use powdered sugar for this but lately I've been substituting it for the DIY version. I dislike the overpowering cornstarchy taste and, as long as you have a food processor, this is super easy and works about the same. It doesn't get as powdery but in my mind, that's just fine.

Spray a large jellyroll pan with cooking spray and dust with about 2/3 of the whizzed sugar, making sure the whole surface is well coated.

In the meantime, pour 1/3 cup of water into the bowl of your mixer and sprinkle the gelatin in, allowing it to soften. drop the food coloring in with the gelatin.

In a saucepan heat the remaining water, 1 cup of sugar (not the whizzed kind) the salt and the corn syrup on medium high until it reaches 240. Scrape the sides of the pan down with a heat proof spatula as you go. Be careful because this is HOT! (If you don't have a candy thermometer, and I don't, you can use a meat thermometer, just make sure it doesn't touch the sides or bottom of the pan.)

Turn the mixer on low and CAREFULLY pour in the sugar mixture. add the vanilla and increase the speed to medium and then to high as the marshmallow starts to turn pale. Beat for 8-13 minutes until its sticky and stiff. It will look similar to whipping cream to "stiff peaks" when it's done.
Pour the marshmallows into the prepared pan and sprinkle the top with the remaining whizzed sugar. Pat down with your hands until it's relatively smooth.
Allow the marshmallows to cool and harden, about an hour, before cutting. Now, you can cut any shape you want. You can just cut squares, but hearts are a pretty touch.
To finish either roll the edges in pink sugar or dip the marshmallows halfway in chocolate and the drizzle a little more over the whole thing.

How about you? Are you making anything special this year for Valentines Day?

February 11, 2011

strange addictions

Once upon a time, when I used to drive for 30 minutes each way for my work, I became an NPR addict. It's not like it was my first introduction to National Public Radio. PBS and NPR played a large part of the background noise of my childhood, right along with Simon and Garfunkel and classical music on the record player. But it wasn't really until I was commuting that I really fell for public radio. Suddenly I was getting in my car early on Wednesday mornings to make sure I caught Frank Deford's sports commentary (and I hate sports!) and sitting parked in front of my school or house listening to the end of a story. More than collage or even my massive book reading habits, NPR broadened my world. And no, don't worry, this isn't going to be a political statement here, the timing is just coincidental, although, really? Cut Public Broadcasting? Sorry but I think that's crazy in so many ways.

But back to the story at hand.
One of the only things I missed about my working life when I started staying at home with the kids was that daily radio time. Sure, I could listen to the radio at home. All day if I wanted, in theory. But the reality was that Briton, and later Evie and I were busy making and playing and listening to children's music, so NPR became more of an occasional listen when we were going somewhere in the car.

Then I discovered streaming radio and I was back to my old habits. Particularly after getting an iphone. And not just NPR, a whole world of streaming radio opened up. Maybe you've been on this bandwagon for a while, but I'm not super technologically advanced so it took me a while. As did my appreciation for YouTube which only set in about three months ago when I realized I could watch Victorian Farm, William and Mary and Portlandia despite the fact that I don't get any of the channels that they air on. So now I spend my writing and cooking and working around the house time listening to Woman's Hour or On Your Farm (I have a farm thing, it's weird) on BBC Radio 4 and looking forward to The Writer's Almanac during my morning walk and Pandora, which I love, love, love. But it occurred to me that there is probably a whole world of fun and unusual things to listen to out there that I've yet to discover.

I know this isn't my usual fare, writing about technology type things, but I'm curious. What am I missing? What do you listen to online? Are you into Podcasts? I've looked at them but am overwhelmed by the options (I found a fun knitting podcast once but haven't ever been able to find it again.) What else is out there? What gets you though your day?

February 10, 2011

whispers of spring

There may be fresh snow on the ground outside (not much, but snow none the less) but under the window in the office we have been seeing the first signs of spring. I even got to start digging in the garden beds last weekend. Much as I love winter and cozy fires and lots of knitting, I'm ready to get my hands dirty in the garden.
Are you planning a garden this year? Planting anything exciting? We're hoping to expand out beds and grow a lot more tomatoes (for canning) and popcorn (for popping, of course) How about you?

February 9, 2011

of laundry

No, this isn't another post about laundry soap, but I agree that it's strange to have two posts about laundry within a week. Really this whole thing started out with the "Structure" post. Because when Will and I sat down and revamped things like when we do homework (in the mornings now) when rooms get cleaned (a little bit every day) and when the lights go out at night (8 for the kids, 10 for me, Will is a night owl still) we also re-set some other habits and routines in our house. And one of them was the laundry. I'm not a big fan of laundry. I mean, who is, really. I don't hate it, but the older the kids get, the more we seem to have. And it suddenly occurred to me (I know, duh) that not only was Briton old enough to help with the laundry, Evelyn was plenty capable. So we started laundry night.
Up till now, I've always done the laundry as part of my during-the-day routine. Which meant that, more often than not, it stretched out over most of the week with us picking things out of the clean piles as needed. By the time I actually got around to folding it and putting it away, the dirty basket was full again and it was time to start it all again. I'm sure I'm not the only mother (or father) who has this never ending laundry cycle of shame.

Our new schedule (and we're only two weeks in so I'll keep my fingers crossed that it holds) is to get all the laundry washed and dried during the day on Saturday and Sunday and then to bring the whole big pile of clean clothes up on Sunday evening, separate them by person and then watch a movie while everyone folds their own clothes. I know, right? You'd think I would have thought of that one before.

Initially I thought I'd get some push back, hence the movie (there was also pizza and ice cream the first week, but this turned out to be unnecessary). But surprisingly the kids really like it. Briton is actually a laundry folding genius. No, really! The kid might think it's perfectly ok to store a jar full of worms in my refrigerator, but he's fantastic about folding laundry. I think it's his little engineer's brain. It's like my (chemical engineer) father-in-law's fascination with making the perfect organic fertilizer. They like the challenge and the order. Briton actually asked, get ready for this, if we could do laundry every day! Weird. I'm having visions of handing the laundry over to him entirely in a few years time.

But this new laundry set up has one snag. I had nothing that would hold a full week's worth of laundry all at once. I didn't even really have multiple things that could hold it. Every few years I buy two or three new laundry baskets. They last about 6 months before they start falling apart and then I struggle on with broken handles and cracked bottoms until at some point, I throw up my hands and buy new ones. I hate it. It's not that I'm buying crappy laundry baskets either. It's just that laundry baskets are a bit too appealing for little boys who like to use them as turtle shells and sleds and animal traps. I've had plastic and thick wicker and thin wicker and they all end up in little bits scattered all over the house. The week that we started our laundry night the whole top half of one of my newest baskets fell off. Completely. It was time to buy new baskets and this time I wanted something that would last. So I went with metal.
I picked up the largest metal tub that the local feed store had (ok, not really the largest since there was one the size of a bathtub for feeding horses. But this was the largest carryable tub) and brought it home to test it out. And it was perfect. Large enough to fit a huge pile of clothes but still light enough to carry up the stairs from the basement. I'll have to get another since it still wasn't big enough for all our laundry, but it's a big improvement. Except it's kind of ugly.

Enter the spray paint and the Silhouette Cutter. Can I just pause here and say that I really love that thing. I use it all the time. I even cut things that would probably be just as quick to cut by hand, just because I can. But don't worry, you can do this with out one. You'll just have to be more patient than I was :)!
After taping off the handles and rim (big pain in the you know what, but worth it) I spray painted the area I wanted the image on in red. What I didn't do was sand the metal first so that the paint would stick. Don't make that mistake. Because you'll have to peel off your carefully applied stencil (and half the paint) and then sand and repaint the whole thing. And you'll swear. Trust me. But not in front of your kids since you're on swear word alert already this week.
The stencil is cut from contact paper using some downloaded clip art. But if you don't want to deal with the cutting, you can buy vinyl letters pre-cut and go that route. You can even buy some pretty cool vinyl wall decals that would work to spice things up. Once the stencil was on, I sprayed the whole tub, upside down so that the paint didn't go inside, with four thin coats of French Blue. This was a real struggle for me because I'm impatient with spray paint and I tend to want to spray thick coats and get it over with. But I was firm with myself here and it payed off.

Once the whole thing was dry I peeled off the stencil and sprayed the tub, in and out, with a clear gloss coat to protect the paint from scratching and the inside metal from any water that might get in there (we are talking laundry here).

And then it was done. And I love it! I'm trying to decide what to put on the other. I like the pointed finger with "drop your drawers here" thing but I could also just do a simple "laundry" sign. What do you think? Any suggestions before I start painting the next one?

February 8, 2011

and still no sink

Yes the sink debate rages.Well, not rages. Simmers. The sink we found (and didn't buy, stupid, stupid) was snatched up by someone else and without the sink in hand we couldn't proceed unless we changed routes. Keeping the bathroom in a state of suspended construction wasn't really an option so we've proceeded without the sink, the sink bracket, or really, any idea what we are going to do sink-wise. But at least progress has been made. We had paint and trim and a toilet and a medicine cabinet. Well, sort of a medicine cabinet. But I'll get to that in a moment. And Briton at least has been happily using the bathroom for the past few days, despite the fact that there is no curtain. According to him, no one is looking anyway, which is probably true. But still.
There are still many things to do. The blue paint needs to be touched up from painting the trim, the light needs a cover. The medicine cabinet, oh yes, about that, it turns out that getting a medicine cabinet that is 18 inches wide isn't so easy. Our choices were pretty much the ugly, not real wood press board one we took out or something like this which is beautiful and perfect but, you know, not here and not cheap. But while hunting for the sink we came across a stack of vintage metal medicine cabinets for $10 a piece that were an almost perfect fit. Almost because it's a bit short. And also, it has no mirror. But the plan is to add some crown molding around the top to hide the gap and keep an eye out for an appropriately sized mirror (which is equally hard to find, but now I'm thinking that we can have the big piece of mirror glass that came out of the upstairs bathroom cut down and make a frame for it. Maybe. If I can talk Will into it). But all in all, it's coming along nicely. And made much easier by the fact that we now have a nail gun.
I was opposed to nail guns in general up to now. Due entirely to that scene in Lethal Weapon where Danny Glover kills the guy by shooting nails at him. I couldn't help but think 8 year old boy + nail gun = disaster. But after some convincing and demonstration of the safety features (you can't just shoot into the air it turns out) I gave in and man does that thing make construction easier. Now I wish we had had it when we did the kitchen. And the bookshelf. And you can be sure we'll be using it on the siding of the mudroom (I think we've made a decision there as well! Yay!)

So between the nail gun and the discovery that Lowe's paintable caulk is terrible but the stuff you buy at the paint store works like a dream, particularly if you smooth it with a wet sponge (thank you painter's forum!) have meant that our bathroom is much more finished looking than earlier projects. So much so that Will is working his way through the house re-caulking all the places that we previously caulked so that they can be repainted without it turning sticky and yellow. Tonight we will seal the quarter round and the toilet and clear out all the tools and this week I'm hoping to find the perfect curtain so that those of us with more modesty than an 8 year old can use it. And then, well, we'll just wait until inspiration strikes or a sink finds us that is perfect for the room. Or perfect enough.

Anyone have any ideas on that front? Maybe a metal pedestal sink? Something else entirely? What do you think?

By the way, this bathroom is the hardest place to take a photo of, I can't seem to get any kind of all over shot. So my apologies for the partial wall shots.

February 7, 2011

the thing about scrabble...

Sometimes I feel like I could host my own personal "Kids Say the Darnedest Things" show. I really do. My children come up with strange and silly whoppers on an almost daily basis. I'd like to blame my husband, but I have a sneaking suspicion that I was that child as well, so I'll accept that it's my genes that have them running around with their eyes closed making ear splitting screeches - because they are using echolocation to avoid the telephone poles in the sidewalk (Briton) or explaining how the sun has to wear sunglasses, because it's so bright up there (Evelyn) or trying to use the F word when playing scrabble (Briton again, thank goodness, can you imagine if my four year old knew that word?"
Around Christmas we started a weekly scrabble night, soup and scrabble night actually, and it's been a lot of fun. I'm already trying to decide what the summer version will be. Probably hot dogs and scrabble, although it doesn't really go. Salads and scrabble would be better and might work if I can get enough whole meal, easy to make salads to keep us going. Most nights we eat at the table, with napkins and a tablecloth or place mats. Not always, but I'm attempting to bang some table manners into their heads so we try to be a little formal with dinner. But on soup and scrabble night we are lazy. I am lazy. It's just bowls and spoons and the scrabble board. On the coffee table more often than not. It's delicious, and I'm not talking about the soup, although we've had some good ones (unless you talk to Evelyn, soup apparently doesn't fall into one of her pre-selected food groups - beige breads, beige pastas, beige grains, beige milk products, and grapes or orange for a little color) but the casualness is delicious, and also fun.

The first few games Briton was irritated that we wouldn't just let him spell words the way he wanted (also, I fear, the fault of my genes. I suck at spelling) but now he's starting to find the challenge fun. We play in teams (boys vs. girls) and just try for the highest points per word rather than keeping score (so far, that's next, add a little math in with the spelling practice). Evie is in charge of tile distribution and helps me put my words out so she doesn't feel left out and Will makes sure Briton's words are real before laying them on the board.

Last week, toward the end of the game I heard Briton mutter "I wish we had a U". This is pretty common, the "I wish we had a..." I think he's still testing the rules, on the off chance that we'll let him just rummage in the bag for the letters of his choice. But this time Will looked at the word in question and replied "Nooooo, if you put that out there, I think your mother's head might explode." Which, of course, made me insanely curious about what word he could be talking about. So naturally I texted Will. I know, bad. We use our phones way too much. And yes, we text each other while we are both in the house, even in the same room quite often. But to be fair, we mostly use it for good. Like "Can you turn the TV down, the kids are almost asleep." or "I'm sneaking out the backdoor for bookclub so Evie doesn't freak out." It's like when our parents used to spell words out so we didn't know what they were talking about "do you want to go get I-C-E-C-R-E-A-M?" Except it lasts longer because even when they can spell you can still carry on secret conversations. Plus, I have a hard time spelling out loud when I'm tired and my phone auto corrects so my texts actually make sense. Most of the time...

"What word?" I asked

ding! ("Mom, someone is dinging you!")

"FCK, he says he needs a U"

Holy Shit! My kid knows the word fuck! And he knows how to spell it!

Now here's the deal. I can't ask him where he learned it because, as far as he knows, I don't know that he even thought of it. And as Will pointed out, it wasn't like he was using it in the way it's normally used, he just had the letters, or most of them, and was playing the game. And I couldn't laugh about it because, again, I wasn't supposed to know. So on we went, me trying simultaneously not to laugh or be horrified (not that I don't swear, by the way, I do, but I try not to swear in front of my kids and somehow I just thought that particular word had escaped his ears up till now. Laughable, probably, but there you are)

At least it's improving his spelling. I mean, that "ck" combination can be tricky.

When did your kids drop the F-bomb for the first time? I know I knew it by the end of elementary school but I'm reasonably sure I didn't say it in front of my parents until I was well into adulthood. In fact, I'm not sure I've EVER said it in front on my parents. Did you go with the shocked "we never say that word!" approach or stick with the don't react and they won't know it's a big deal stance. Because if he's spelling it, I'm sure it will be popping out of his mouth before long....

**Photo reenactment, obviously, since I wasn't privy to the original. And with Bananagrams because I was too lazy to go upstairs and get Scrabble out. Which begs the question, why is there is a glass full of Bananagrams letters on my kitchen shelves in the first place.

February 4, 2011

It's Friday!

So far this morning, I woke up to find that I'd left my wallet on the seat of the car all night (nothing taken, thanks goodness, it doesn't really look like a wallet, I think that's what saved me) and then I went on to leave the keys in the ignition of my car while I helped at Walk to School Day this morning and AGAIN when I got home from the school. I think our coffee isn't strong enough. That or our new getting-up-at-six am schedule is starting to make me loopy.
But it's Friday! Tomorrow is Evie's first ballet lesson and one of Briton's last basketball games. The bathroom WILL get painted and the yard WILL get cleaned up. The post-snow shabbiness is starting to get old I think. I'm off to get my work done on the double so that I can play, or maybe nap, this afternoon :) but in the meantime, here are a few links that I've been loving this week:

I am totally going to this! I know it's on the other side of the country and months away (which will give me time to save up!) but I can not wait! What could be more fun than a weekend of sewing with no distractions! Ok, obviously there will be distractions, wine, food, fun things to see and do, but none of the usual "mom I'm hungry, honey where is my hammer" distractions. Two of my high school gal pals are going to try to come too (thanks Val for the idea!!) which would make it extra fun, I don't think the three of us have had a girls weekend since graduation. I'm so excited!

In related news, one of the sponsors for the Sewing Summit had this fabric listed on their etsy shop. I think I need it. I'm not sure for what. But I just do. Maybe to make some new curtains for the kids room. They've destroyed the roller shades I made over the last year and a half. (And who can blame them, it is fun to pull them all the way out and then watch them zing up! I've been known to do it myself from time to time) I also love this one but thanks to this Portlandia clip and the lovely Jeannine, I don't think I'll ever buy anything with a bird on it again. Sigh...

It's pillow month over at Sew Mama Sew and I was inspired to replace the fall leaves pillow I made at the end of summer with one made from a recycled sweater. Nice and cozy. So cozy in fat, that my kids keep rubbing their faces on it, and considering the time of year, I'm thinking it's not going to stay clean long. Oh well, I tried.

I cleaned out the drawers in the kids room this week so that they weren't so jam packed with clothes and only kept the things they actually wear. That should mean that we are well set for clothes, especially miss Evie. But I see a skirt coming her way using this. I just can't resist. It's so her.

Oh, and, I've come over to the dark side. Yes,my friends, I've signed up for Twitter. So far I'm not very good at it. But I've been told often that it's time to jump on the bandwagon, and when the lovely Marijean Jaggers posted it as her Social Media Assignment it seemed like she was talking directly to me (actually, she may have been talking directly to me, especially since I had just told her I was too much of a wimp for Twitter. I especially like that part where she says "Go sign up, we'll wait" and then knows that you didn't actually go sign up because your a wimp. She's one smart cookie that Marijean!) I'll put a button up when I figure out how to put a button up but for now, if you have a burning desire to follow me I'm #driedfiggirl. (is that how you write it? I'm telling you, I'm both a Twitter wimp and a technology idiot!)

Happy Friday Folks, may your crafting be fun, you sleeping in be long and you snow melt away (if you have any).

PS, this is an Evie Photo, please for the love of all that's bloggy ignore my dirty shoes!

February 3, 2011

to shoe or not to shoe

I need a little advice from the wider world out there. Yesterday I was walking up our stairs to get something, I'm not even sure what, probably my coffee, I'm always leaving it on different floors and it's just about the only thing that I'll keep going up and down the steps for. Anyway, about halfway up I got sidetracked by the state of my stairs. Every single corner of every single step had a little dust bunny and a bunch of dirt. Now, that can happen, I get it. People forget to clean the stairs. Except that I had vacuumed, with a shop vac, every step only a few days before. They had been sparkling. I'd even mopped them, and there they were, disgusting again.
Our house is old and it's not the easiest place to keep clean, what with the pretty much constant construction going on, but still. It drives me up the wall. I stopped, I swept, and this morning, dirty again.

Now there are a couple of culprits here. First, we have a dog and two kids. And a cat. Although I'm not sure she contributes much to the problem since she spends most of her time hidden under the drafting table. But the dog and kids are just going to make dirt. We also need to get out floors refinished. My guess is that they haven't been done since they were put in in the 1950's and it shoes. Even right after modding the floors look dull and dingy. It's on the list. Somewhere.

However, I can't help but wonder if having a no shoes policy would be a big help. When we lived in our little 300 square foot apartment with the toddler Briton we had a no shoe policy out of necessity. It was always raining out (as it does in Ireland) and our vacuum was terrible so it was hard to get mud up out of the carpet. Plus we had downstairs neighbors and a toddler, so feet had to be as quiet as possible. And it was great. But it was also set up for no shoes. We may not have had room for a bathtub or a real closet, but there was a teeny little entryway set up for depositing ones shoes. This house is not set up for shoeless living. At least not at the moment. When the mudroom is finished it would be much easier, but at the moment there isn't really a good place to put shoes right inside the door. We'd have to tromp through the living room to the mudroom (which is at least clean and usable, just no door from the outside, and it's freezing in there) to deposit our shoes. But maybe it would be worth it.

What is your experience? Is it worth the hassle of retraining the family? Does it make that much difference? How do you handle guests? The closer we get toward spring the more I know the mud is a-comin, which means the floors will be even dirtier. Steps must be taken! What's your advice?

February 1, 2011

When You Are Four

When you are four, the world looks a little different than it does to a grown up. I sometimes forget that. For example, when you are four, you might, say, tell your preschool class that your mom is going to have a new baby. Named Rose. Because when you are four, anything might happen if you just say it, or think it. (Not going to happen, sorry kid).

You might take one of the cameras off the desk and head off around the house to take photos, from that waist high paint of view of yours.
The underside of the desk.
The cat looking not very pleased at being disturbed,
daddy's mouse,
mom taking a picture of you,
taking a picture of her.

Or, you might squeal with glee over a new batch of pink playdoh with pink glitter kneaded in. You might even use that playdoh to try to make ear imprints.
Or lick it. (It tastes gross, but you don't have to take my word for it) Of course, that playdoh might be fun even when you are eight, but only until your fried comes over from next door. Then, you are much more inclined to hole up in a darkened room building Hex Bug habitats with just a night lite on, blasting Madonna from an ipod. Because when you are eight you are much cooler.

It's easy to get caught up in life and forget how amazing the world is, even little things. Like heater vents. SO it's nice to have a four year old around to take pictures of her nostrils or the floorboards, because it's good to remember the wonder of life. Of course, it's also nice to have an eight year old around to remind you that Madonna is still kinda awesome.