Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Welcome New Readers

I'd like to welcome all new readers to my blog. I know some people are coming from the Best Posts of the Week blog, and I recently joined flikr. Thank you to both new and current readers for stopping by to see what I have to say. I really appreciate the support.

If you like what you see, I hope you'll stay a while. You can do what I used to do, and check this page regularly (or occasionally) to see if there's anything new. Or you can do something a lot easier: subscribe to my blog. What is subscribing? It's signing up for updates so that you can find them easier.

To the right of this post (if you're reading from my site and haven't already subscribed) you'll find three easy ways to do this:
  1. Subscribe in a reader - This means that you'll have my blog feed sent to the blog reader of your choice. Personally, I'm only familiar with Google Reader. It's great for me because I already have gmail, and it's just a tab for me within my email. If you click on the button you'll be given a choice of which reader you'd like to use. If you read more than one blog regularly, this is a great way to keep up with them
  2. Subscribe via email - This way you can have my blog posts sent directly to your inbox. If you only read a few blogs or you don't want to have to check a lot of different sites each time you get on your computer, this might be the best option for you.
  3. Follow me with Blogger - If you have a blogger account because you have your own blog or because some of the blogs you read don't allow anonymous comments, then you can follow me, and my posts will show up on your Blogger dashboard. Conveniently, if you later open a Google Reader account,  all the blogs you follow will also be in the reader.
I subscribe to blogs for several reasons. It's easier to keep up with blogs that I find interesting as I go about my business. If I find a post that I particularly like, I can mark it as a favorite so I can find it again (it's one way I build my linky posts). It also helps my favorite blogs with their stats - they can show advertisers or companies with giveaways that they have a high traffic and are worth the investment.

I use Networked Blogs on Facebook also, although I primarily see it as a way of advertising my blog to those who might not know about it already. I've found that Networked Blogs is too difficult to use to keep up with the blogs I enjoy, so I use it to find new blogs and then subscribe to them through Google Reader.

Do you use a blog reader? Why do you subscribe (or not) to favorite blogs?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Pop Crickle

I'm not sure how I managed to live in Georgia for twenty-five years and never hear of Pop Crickle, which is made in Thomasville, GA. I saw it on Unwrapped on the Food Network a few weeks ago and I think even that was an old episode. It's similar to caramel corn, but it's honey, vanilla, peanuts, pecans, almonds and popcorn. Sounds wonderful to me. I'd like to try it but I don't think I've ever seen it in a store and the website doesn't list availability. If anyone has any leads, please let me know!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Today. . .

Today I missed my sewing group at the county extension office - again. We slept late (in part because I'm getting used to my allergy medication) and then started getting ready, and I realized that between getting my sewing stuff ready, and getting our lunch ready and getting a two year old over her morning crankies, it just wasn't going to happen. Again. I know we'll miss next month, and I'm pretty sure we'll miss November too. Maybe someday I'll get to go again.

Today I got my Sublime Stitching order in the mail. Last week, they were having a $1 special on shipping. I've been wanting to order an embroidery pattern from them, but wasn't sure about shipping costs or which one to order. I thought the shipping sale was a perfect time to try, and finally decided on 3 patterns I really liked. When I started to place my order, I found out they also have a buy-3-get-1-half-off policy (or sale), so I got four: Dia de los Muertos, Garden Variety, Monkey Love, and I Love Veggies. I mentioned Sublime Stitching back in March and Garden Variety was not one of the patterns I was interested then. I decided that I didn't care for the deer head in the Forest Friends pattern and I still couldn't think of a reason I needed a pattern for stitching a sewing machine. I may change my mind someday. Anyway, I placed the order Thursday night, so I was surprised to get my patterns so quickly.

Today I watched a made-for-tv movie that my husband recorded for me one afternoon recently called The Face on the Milk Carton, starring Kellie Martin. I don't remember watching it originally (1995) even though I loved Kellie Martin. Then again, 1995 was a crap year for me, and my roommate hated Kellie Martin. And I don't think we had a tv in our dorm that year. Anyway, it's about a girl who thinks she recognizes herself in a picture on a milk carton, meaning she thinks she may have been kidnapped as a child. It was disturbing and sad, and made me think even more about the book I read this weekend - Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy. How likely is it for my child or any other individual child to be kidnapped - so incredibly unlikely. (More on this book soon.)

Today is a beautiful day to look at out the window but so windy once you get out there.

Today I'm thinking about making some soup.

Today I'm working on my daughter's Halloween costume. It's both harder and easier than I thought it would be. My fears of using a Simplicity pattern are unwarranted, and yet there are difficulties I didn't expect. For example, pinning the pattern to the fabric before cutting is SO much more tedious than I'd considered. She's awfully excited about her costume, though. She even got to pick out the fabric herself (and did not choose the forest or lime green I would have).

Today I am thinking about the big bolt of linen I bought over the weekend from an ad off craigslist. It's my first craigslist purchase, and I was really nervous. I made it home safely, but I'm still hoping that my purchase was sound. But a bolt of linen! I'm so excited.

Today I'm wishing my Mama a happy birthday. We neglected to send a card this year, but I think Abigail and I will make her a little gift for the next time we see her instead.

Today I'm going out for a walk with my sweet neighbor who just called and invited me. I really wish I could make myself go for a walk without someone calling me first, but it seems I can't.

What are you doing today?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Irish Cream Ice Cream

Doesn't this ice cream look delicious? It was. For our Memorial Day 2009 cookout, I got the bright idea to make Irish Cream Ice Cream. The recipe calls for 1 1/2 cups of Irish cream liqueur to be cooked down to 1/2 cup (I used Bailey's). The idea is to have a full flavored, smooth ice cream that actually freezes (unlike other recipes I've seen that just have a couple of shots added to the mix).

I have never reduced liqueur before and there weren't specific instructions in the recipe. I usually have to stir syrups and curds to keep them from burning, so I thought I'd better stand over the pot and stir often. It didn't occur to me to turn on the fan. (I might mention at this point that I had not had any alcohol in three years at when this occurred, which might have something to do with what happened next.)

I started to feel a little woozy and dizzy. It got worse and worse until I could barely stand. I had felt funny earlier in the day, and started to worry that I had a virus and would have to cancel our party. Finally, I called my husband into the kitchen and told him I'd have to go lay down because the room was starting to spin. He said when he walked into the kitchen he was hit with the smell of the alcohol. I had to go lay on my bed and stayed there for hours. No one else was allowed to come into the room or get on the bed because it made the spinning worse.

So this is the story of how I got myself drunk while making ice cream and the story of why I'm not "allowed" to reduce liqueur the day before a cookout anymore. We definitely don't have time in our schedule of making fun foods for me to lay down for hours in the middle.

Fortunately, I felt much better the next morning, and the ice cream turned out smooth, creamy and (in my opinion) rivaled Haagen-Dasz as a premium ice cream. We didn't serve any to small children, though, just in case all the liqueur didn't cook out.

The lesson here is to turn on the fan when reducing large quantities of liquor!

I got the recipe from The Ultimate Ice Cream Book by Bruce Weinstein. Seriously, if you want to make great ice cream, I highly recommend this book. There are lots of wonderful flavors included and for each recipe, there are multiple variations.

Irish Ice Cream (from The Ultimate Ice Cream Book)

1 1/2 cups Irish cream liqueur
1/2 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Bring the liqeuer to a simmer in a small, heavy saucepan placed over medium heat. Cook until te liqueur is reduced to about 1/2 cup, 5 to 7 minutes (note: it took me longer than this, and you need to turn on the fan!). The liqueur will appear thicker and slightly syrupy. Set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat the sugar into the egg yolks until thickened and pale yellow. Set aside.

Bring the milk to a simmer in a heavy medium saucepan. Slowly beat the hot milk into the eggs and sugar. Pour the entire mixture back into the pan and place over low heat. Stir constantly with a whisk or wooden spoon until the custard thickens slightly. Be careful not to let the mixture boil or the eggs will scramble. Remove from the heat and pour the hot custard through a strainer into a large, clean bowl. Allow the custard to cool slightly. Mix in the reduced liqueur, cream and vanilla. Cover and refridgerate until cold or overnight.

Stir the chilled custard, then freeze in 1 or 2 batches in your ice cream machine according to the manufacturer's instructions. When finished, the ice cream will be soft but ready to eat. For firmer ice cream, transfer to a freezer-safe container and freeze at least 2 hours.

I use Cuisinart's ice cream maker that has a freezer bowl instead of using ice and rock salt. They're about $50, but are a great investment if you enjoy making ice cream. We've had ours for years, and it works great.

Personally, I'm not a huge fan of right-out-of-the-maker ice cream. I find that it melts far too quickly for my taste. I put my ice creams in freezer-safe containers and let them "ripen" for 2-4 hours or overnight, depending on when my party is (or how long I'm willing to wait). It brings the texture much closer to premium ice cream which I appreciate.

I've also made the ginger ice cream from this book. I thought it was fabulous, but I'm a ginger nut. I've been considering making an ice cream from Captain Morgan's, although I suspect I'm the only person who would enjoy rum flavored ice cream. What's your favorite ice cream to make?

Oh, and in case you were wondering, I painted that cute little bowl at Louisville Stoneware's paint-your-own studio a few years ago. Ice cream seems all that more special eating from this bowl.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Allergies and other things

I had grand plans to post yesterday, but I wasn't able to finish in time and yesterday's post will be available tomorrow. Instead, I spent the majority of yesterday getting tested (along with my husband) for allergies. I have been battling eczema and sinus issues for most of the time that I've lived in Kentucky. I don't remember having allergies, seasonal or otherwise, when I lived in Georgia.

It turns out that I have some common allergies, such as dust, mold and grass pollen, and one that completely shocks me: I'm allergic to my cat! I've had cats since I was two years old (although they were always outdoor country cats) and we've had our indoor, sleep-in-our-bed cat for nearly nine years. I never suspected that I might be allergic to her!

We won't be getting rid of her (the doctor didn't even suggest it, fortunately) but we will be taking measures to limit our exposure  to what's bothering us. This means a campaign to clear out clutter in our home. One of the suggestions from the doctor was to limit our stuffed animals and wash them regularly in hot water. I'm wondering what this means for my new interest in making dolls.

I'm a little overwhelmed by the implications, but am looking forward to a future where I can breathe and don't itch. Wish me luck!

Some things I learned:
  • the Ohio River Valley is one of the worst locations in the country for allergies (ok, I knew this already, but for those of you from elsewhere, you've now been warned)
  • going outside all the time and keeping windows and doors open may not be the best thing for me (break my heart - really)
  • fumes from cleaning fluids, flowers (fragrance) and other substances are not necessarily allergens  but if you have allergies, they are more likely to bother you
  • pine pollen IS an allergen, even though I've argued for years that it isn't
  • flower pollen is rarely an allergen - the pollen is too sticky to get into our systems - however if you think you're allergic it could be that you're sensitive to the fragrance from the flower
Wish me luck. This is going to be an interesting ride for this nature girl.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Welcoming Fall

Yesterday was nearly over before I realized it was the equinox. So that makes today the first official day of fall (or was it yesterday? I get confused). I used to love this time of year, with its introduction to warm sweaters, and changing leaves, and crisp air. The sky always seemed bluer in October, and the smell of wood smoke was thrilling (we had a wood burning heater instead of central heat when I was growing up).

When I was nineteen, though, my PawPaw passed away in October. The following year, I lost a close friend in November. A couple of years later, another close friend passed away in December. Then there was September 11, 2001, and then the loss of yet another close friend. Fall started to be associated with loss and grieving and even when I didn't think about it, I began to notice that my whole demeanor changed starting in October (and then starting in September). My body grieves even when I don't consciously acknowledge it.

Also, I moved to Kentucky from Georgia ten years ago and I have yet to get used to the longer winters. Actually, I don't plan to get used to the longer winters. I'm just tolerating them until I can get back to the short winters I love (I miss spring arriving in March instead of May).

All of this is to say that I'm still in a little funk and I'm having trouble writing. I was proud of myself for getting into a rhythm of posting each weekday, and now I've missed several days in the past few weeks. Oh well. I do have a lot to share, I just can't seem to figure out how to say it. This post is kind of my attempt at "writing through the block" or whatever you want to call it. I'm also incredibly busy. Among other things, I'm making Abigail's Halloween costume, which involves using an actual sewing pattern for the first time. I didn't know it was so tedious.

Last year, I posted a fall to-do list to help me enjoy the season instead of dreading it. I didn't get to everything on my list last year, and I'm considering writing another for this year. What fun things does you family like to do during autumn? I'd love some ideas.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Links to share

I really do hope to post more regularly next week. This week has been busy in strange ways. I am working on a post that will answer some things that have been mentioned in the comments lately. I never know if people are checking back for my responses or if they've subscribed to the comments, so I prefer to do it this way when possible.

Just a few things I've found and enjoyed in the last few weeks:

  • A Lost World Discovered - Scientists have found a "lost world" in a crater in a rain forest in Papua New Guinea that has 16 new species of frogs, giant rats and kangaroos that live in trees. It just amazes me that there are new species of animals yet to be discovered.
  • Easy Repurposed Pillows @betz white - A cute and seemingly easy way to make pillow cases (that can be removed) for your throw pillows.
  • Thrifting Fairy Godmother @Out of the Crayon Box - The whole post is interesting, but scroll to the end to see what she plans to use instead of a wreath on her door this year. So cute!
  • Transformation Thursday: A Pair of Chairs @Out of the Crayon Box - This post makes me want to repaint our kitchen chairs, which I don't think would go over well. It also makes me want to go looking in yard sales for decent chairs I can repaint.
  • How to Make a Designer Hospital Gown @Skip to My Lou - What a great idea for anyone who needs to be in the hospital for a length of time. At some point, we all know someone who could benefit from something like this, so it's a good idea to keep in mind.
  • Copy Cat Apron @Little Birdie Secrets - Showing just how easy it can be to make an apron. Maybe someday I will be convinced!
  • Painting With Colored Ice @Fun With Mama - What a cute idea! Food coloring and water frozen in ice cubes.
  • The Season of the Witchy @Angry Chicken - All about making herbal remedies with kids, which is cool because I just got a book on making herbal remedies and have already made stuff for my parents' and my brother's animals.
  • Pocket - Artist Trading Cards @Unplug Your Kids - Artist trading cards for kids - what a fun thing to on an afternoon.
  • Tips for Journaling with Kids @Make and Takes - I've been journaling off and on since I was eight years old. This post shows you how to help a younger child journal.
  • Harvesting the Worm Bin @Unplug Your Kids - I had a worm bin a few years that went horribly wrong. This post makes me feel like I could try again (maybe in the spring. . .)
  • Roar! Dinosaur Pipe Cleaner Toys @ Make and Takes - Abigail still seems a little young for pipe cleaners, but she is into dinosaurs. I plan to keep this on my list for the future.
  • Fabric Buckets in Quantity @Salt and Chocolate - Aren't these buckets adorable? And don't you just love the blog name?
Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Books for Making Dolls

I just checked out (again) from the library the book Rag Dolls and How to Make Them edited by Dorothea Hall where I got the pattern for Abigail's doll. I was so excited that it wasn't destroyed in the recent flood. I thought I'd share some of the books I've found for doll and toy making in the past year.

Some of these books are still in print, but it looks like they can all be ordered used from amazon. I know there are a lot of new doll and softie books, but I haven't been able to find them at my libary and I doubt they'll get them anytime soon. I just thought I'd share my list with you so you can check your local library if you're so inclined. Enjoy!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Can Geeks be Cool? - A Wired discussion

 My husband gets Wired magazine. I'm really not that into technology, my cell phone, digital camera, and Creative Zen (my answer to an Ipod) notwithstanding. However, Wired magazine consistently contains articles that appeal to my geekiness and my interest in what new. The September 2009 issue contained an essay that surprisingly spoke to my interest in education (even as increasingly non-technological my thoughts on education are). "Revenge of the Nerds" by Daniel Roth is about how to make education relevant to kids. There are so many great ideas on how to make education exciting and interesting, but as mentioned in the article:
"The driving force in the life of a child, starting much earlier than it used to be, is to be cool, to fit in," Alex Grodd told the group. "And pretty universally, it's cool to rebel."
The premise is that in large high schools, youth culture reigns and the cool kids generally aren't the ones that are studying and trying hard to get good grades or just to learn (which isn't always the same thing). The article points to a high school that has a low student-teacher ratio and uses community mentors. The kids are kept surrounded by adults. They're required to present their projects to people outside the school. In an environment like this, it becomes cool to try harder. Everyone gets the attention (and the kind of attention) that kids at some high schools get beaten up (or severely made fun of) for getting.

So read the article, and let me know what you think. Is "stamping out youth culture" a way to infringe on the rights of children (as one article commenter implies) or is it a way to make sure that all children can participate instead of just the ones who fit in? (Or something else - not trying to imply a dichotomy here.) I kind of like the implications that this has for homeschooling - maybe socialization is not the be all-end all that it's made out to be and may even be the problem sometimes.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering. . .

I've been in a funk all week. I've been fighting it and ignoring it and not understanding it. Today it has hit full-force. I know that today is the Day of Remembrance for September 11, 2001. I remember that day and where I was and the devastation I felt. I remember waking up the next morning, and sobbing when I realized that the day before had not been a nightmare. Like many Americans, I didn't know anyone personally who died that day. I was devastated for the innocent lives lost and for the way my country changed forever in just a few minutes.

I know and remember all of this, and yet it's not the reason for my funk (although I'll admit it may be contributing). Six years ago today, I lost one of my dearest friends, and even after all this time I can't stop crying. 

We met the spring before we started college at a weekend meet and greet for new students. One of us (I can't remember now which one) bounded into the other's room to give an invitation to a play and spent the evening hanging out. We met up again when school started that fall because we were both history majors interested especially in medieval history (although our campus had 500 students that year, so we were bound to meet up again regardless). We hung out with the same group of people. We took most of the same classes. We dragged each other to those classes when one of us was down and didn't want to go. We lived together for a year after college. We ended up working at the historical society together first at the Braves Museum at Turner Field and then in the archives and we shared an office for a while. We often drove to work together.

So, yeah, we drove each other insane at times. But there was so much love and shared history between us. I can hear her laugh even now. She had a knack for coming up with crazy stunts to pull, and convincing the rest of us to go along. She wore fishnet hose to a friend's wedding. She planned to give her friend's children tie-died onesies (which I found out at my baby shower three years ago when I received a tie-dyed onesie in her memory). She staged a photo shoot at our college of us groping the Robert Frost statue. She could quote every line from The Princess Bride - and did every time she watched it. 

I can't seem to convey the sheer force of nature that was Cathy. As mom my said this morning, she was a bubble of joy.

I have been working on a scrapbook for her mother and our friends since shortly after I got home from her funeral. I contacted our friends with whom I kept in touch and asked them to share a favorite memory and photo. I've also collected song lyrics and poems that seemed relevant. It has been a far more difficult project than I ever imagined it would be. I wanted it to be perfect and capture her fully. I realize now that would be an impossible task. I think it's time now to finish. Perhaps I'll pop in The Princess Bride (as a mutual friend suggested) while I work.

I'm so sorry for the melancholy today. This is why I try not to blog when I'm down. Back to the regular schedule on Monday.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

12 Layouts

Ali Edwards posted a challenge a while ago for her readers to list the 12 stories that they most needed to scrapbook. I've been trying to decide on mu list ever since, and this is what I've come up with.

  1. Our wedding
  2. Abigail's birth
  3. 2 (or 3 or 5) pivotal moments in my life
  4. a difficult time in my life and how I lived through it
  5. my coming of age story (I see this more as a puberty thing, not a more adult topic)
  6. a favorite childhood memory
  7. the story of a lifelong friendship
  8. what I believe
  9. what motherhood means to me
  10. our home environment
  11. my parent's home where I grew up
  12. certain relationships and how they've enhanced my life (example - my relationship with my maternal grandma)
I got kind of vague with some of these. I actually had a different list focused more on people I needed to do pages about, then I read an article in the current Creating Keepsakes magazine and realized that it was for more important to document things about me that could be interesting or helpful to Abigail if I wasn't here to tell the stories myself. I'm qualified to tell my own story best.

I have an ongoing project that I started over a year before I got pregnant called a Legacy album or scrapbook. I took a class at a scrapbooking convention in Nashville in 2005 that taught this concept. The teacher's mother passed away when she was very young, so she started this concept for her own children, writing down things about herself that she wished she knew about her own mother. It's a fascinating but occasionally overwhelming project that I think will be beneficial for times when I can't talk to my daughter about some things (cause moms just can't do that). I'm hoping that reading my words won't be the same as listening to me lecture. I can imagine reading something my mama wrote for me being easier for some topics than being in the same room with her (being a teenager is so not fun at times).

What twelve stories do YOU most need to scrapbook?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Summer Reading 2009

As you may have gathered, I love to read. (I've been told by some that I talk about books a lot. I've also been told that I talk about food a lot. Is this a problem? Discuss.) As a kid, I loved that summer was a long stretch of time that I could use to read as many books as possible. Since I couldn't drive and we lived in a very rural area, this meant stockpiling books from the used book store and the library and hoping that I always had a huge selection. This has lead to some serious book hoarding as an adult and made my bookselling career very dangerous to my bank account. I digress.

My summers now are much busier than they were, but I still believe in summer reading (even if it doesn't vary much from the rest of the year).

This is what I read this summer:

  • Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott - One of my favorite childhood books, I thought I would reread it this summer. At first, I wished that I hadn't. It didn't seem as rich or detailed or fun as I remembered (I has similar issues with Little House on the Prairie a couple of years ago.) As I read, though, the joy of the book came back to me, and it's still one of my favorites.
  • Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott - This is the sequel to Eight Cousins. I don't remember ever reading it as a child, but parts of the story seemed very familiar to me. I didn't love it as much as Eight Cousins, but it was still a fun read.
  • A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from my Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg - This book was all the rage last spring on a lot of the blogs that I read (it's written by the author of Orangette), so I requested it from the library. Apparently, it was popular all around because it took a long time for me to get it. I really enjoyed reading it. I felt like I was sitting over dessert while Molly told me her life story. And I want to try so many of the recipes. I'm considering buying this book because I'll never be able to keep the book from the library long enough to try everything.
  • Kosher Sutra by Shmuley Boteach - Not exactly what it sounds like. I heard about it on the Today show, and waited for the library to have it. It's all about connecting and reconnecting with your spouse and I highly recommend it regardless of your religious persuasion. (For adults only, though.)
  • the entire Twilight saga by Stephanie Meyer - All 27,000 pages of it, give or take. (Don't get too excited. There aren't that many words on each page, and the books aren't that difficult to read. I may have skipped some words, too. A Twilight post will be forthcoming when I can decide what to say.)
  • Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by JK Rowling - Actually, I listened to it in the car (which I won't be doing much longer with a two year old). I was trying to get ready for the sixth movie, but I'm glad I didn't finish it in time. The movies are much better if the books aren't as fresh if you love it all as much as I do.
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling - This was aslo listened to in the car. When I finished Half Blood Prince, I decided to just keep going and finish the series out on audio. I actually listen to the two books over and over in the car. I could probably recite them if asked.
  • Photo Freedom by Stacy Julian - I've recommended this book in this space before but I just picked up my own copy because I took her Library of Memories class at and wasn't sure I needed it. I'm glad I did, though, because it's a great refresher for the class. I was able to read through and remember why I scrapbook the way I do, and notice things that I could still implement or change about my system.
  • The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd - Her first novel, The Secret Life of Bees, is one of my favorites so I was really excited about this book. I've been trying to read it since Abigail was a newborn (she's 2 and a half now), and I'm still only a few chapters in. I think I've been in the wrong frame of mind every time I try to read it. Then again, it could be that the premise of the mother daughter relationship is upsetting to me. It's starting to grow on me, though. ( Still haven't finished)
  • Handmade Home by Amanda Blake Soule - I'm not sure if I've completely read through the whole book yet since it's largely craft instructions. I really enjoyed reading the chapter on why she crafts and the chapter on visiting thrift stores and how to shop them. Amanda's writing is so different from other craft books. Her writing is just so homey. I will do a post soon about this book and the projects I hope to do.
So, what was on your summer reading list? Let me know if you have a title you think worth checking out next summer (or next week).

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Labor Day Weekend

So on Friday I mentioned I was planning to relax this weekend with my family and friends. My husband not only had all three days of the weekend but was also able to take off half of Friday too. Abigail and I had spent a week away and got home late Thursday night, so he wanted to have the opportunity to catch up with her.

I'm not sure why I thought I'd be relaxing though since we'd planned to have a few friends over on Sunday afternoon. We have grand plans when invite people over. I insist on making at least two or three elaborate desserts since I don't get an opportunity very often. Lee patties out burgers in advance, and usually gets the idea to try at least one new dish.

For this gathering, I chose to make vanilla gelato and chocolate gelato (both from a favorite book - The Ultimate Frozen Dessert Book, which I'm happy to see is not out of print like I thought it was) and a yellow layer cake with fluffy chocolate (buttercream) icing. Lee's new "recipe" was a Chicago dog - basically he had all the ingredients for a Chicago dog for anyone who wanted to try their hot dog that way. Of course, we grill everything, so it couldn't be a true Chicago dog (since they are only steamed or boiled) and while we had celery salt, sport peppers, tomato slices and dill pickle spears, we couldn't find poppy seed buns or nuclear relish. Oh well, it was close.

I wasn't thrilled with my gelato choices, either, although everyone else seemed satisfied. I've made pecan gelato before using this book, and while it wasn't exactly like gelato I've had, it was definitely different than any other homemade ice cream I'd made - smooth, creamy, filled with intense flavor. (Gelato is different than ice cream in the use of more whole milk than cream and a lot more eggs.) The chocolate used 100% cacao and was unsweetened. It's very rich, but it wasn't smooth or creamy like I expected - it was actually pretty grainy. I don't know if I didn't cook it long enough or what. The vanilla was the real disappointment though. It had seven egg yolks - seven! - and I expected it to be rich and creamy and wonderful. But it was also grainy and almost crumbly in texture. Both custard mixtures were strained before cooling, so I don't think it was a cooked egg thing. If you know anything about ice cream making, please let me know if you have any ideas on what went wrong.

So, anyway, we spent Friday afternoon and much of Saturday shopping and preparing for our late Sunday afternoon get-together. Relaxing - what was I thinking? I love doing this, but I don't know why I thought it wasn't going to be a busy weekend.

Abigail was, as usual, not happy when people started arriving at our house, but within an hour she became a social butterfly, showing off her toys and not sitting still to eat more than a bite of burger and a few chips. I was so glad that she started to enjoy herself.

We had a wonderful time hanging out with our friends and making new ones. It did start to rain late in the day, but we'd finished grilling by that time fortunately. We were able to squeeze in a game of ladder ball when the rain let up too.

And Monday was the lazy, relaxing day I expected, although hubby woke up feeling less than well. I managed to take a long walk with our next-door neighbor, and now feel energized to do some more exercising. Woo hoo!

I have a confession, though. I've been out of town so much lately, although you probably couldn't tell by the near-daily posting. I was able to "stockpile" some posts that I knew wouldn't go out of date, and have them post while I was out of town. Silly me, though, I didn't really leave any for when I got back and I'm kind of feeling the just-got-home blues. So I'll try to keep up the daily posting, because I really like it, but I can't promise anything. If you have anything you would especially like to see me write about, let me know. Ideas are welcome!

Hope you had a great long weekend, and enjoy the first full week of September. I fully believe in holding onto summer as long as possible, and do not plan to let fall in until later this month. I live in a relatively southern region, I have the luxury!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Welcome to Ella Publishing!

Today is the grand opening of Ella Publishing, the brainchild of Lain Ehmann and Angie Lucas. When Simple Scrapbooking closed it doors last spring, these ladies (Angie was managing editor and Lain was contributing editor) got together and decided to start a new venture in scrapbooking publishing. Their company publishes scrapbooking ebooks. This week, the first three are available and then new books will be released monthly - twelve a year if I read correctly.

I'm most excited about the book Quick and Creative Quizzes by Wendey Smedley and Angie Lucas. I love quizzes and find them a fun, quick and easy way to get the personalities of loved ones into my scrapbooks. I hear there's a book by Stacy Julian coming in the near future.

Check out Ella Publishing today and the rest of the week for giveaways. (Click on their blog button for more information on the giveaways.)

Friday, September 4, 2009

Links to Share

Just a few things that I've read recently and enjoyed. I hope you do too.

  • Battling Mommy Brain: 6 Strategies to Boost Brain Health @Simple Mom - I seriously believe that I lost brain cells as soon as I got pregnant and they keep disappearing at an alarming rate. Here's proof that it's not all in my head, and a few ways to combat it.
  • DIY Reusable Lunch Set for School @Make and Takes - A full tutorial for a  reusable lunch bag made from an old pair of jeans and instructions for a reusable sandwich wrap.
  • Rain Gutter Bookshelves @Chasing Cheerios - I've seen these before, and seeing them here made me want them even more. I like being able to see the book faces instead of just the spines. This might be a good solution for rubber stamps or magazines and idea books, too.
  • Plaster of Paris and the Best Art Group Project Ever @The Artful Parent - This anything-goes sculpture project sounds like lots of fun!
  • Homemade Empathy Poster @Ohdeedoh - What a cute idea! I'm not sure if my two year old could make all the emotion faces or would understand it all yet, but toddlers do understand more than we give them credit for. I may try this one soon.
  • Painting on Fabric @The Artist, The Mom - Painting on muslin for wallhangings. Actually, she was making nametags but her daughter made a wallhanging. I'm not sure if tempera paint will work - she used fabric paint.
  • Life Story Pages to Print @Becky's Blog (Becky Higgins) - This is an old post that I somehow missed at the time. Becky shares two pdf files with her readers - one for teenagers to tell their life story and one for adults. The way they prints makes two pages per 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper, so it makes a half size album. Totally doable. It's just a fill-in sheet, but isn't that better than nothing? It won't take long and then it's done and you can do something more later if you want. Your life story is so important!!
  • The Magic Heart @Unplug Your Kids - An idea for using a symbolic object to remind our family members we love them even when they're grumpy. The author uses a stone heart but the comments also suggest making a softie heart (a usable pattern is available in Handmade Home by Amanda Soule).
  • Photo Album Scrapbooks *10 Tips* @playful.productive.present - Tips on setting up a photo album scrapbook. If you haven't seen one of these, please go to this post. If you think you can't scrapbook because it's just too much, then you've got to see this concept. I'm almost finished with a photo album scrapbook from multiple trips we've taken to the same city, and it's been SO much easier than trying to *scrapbook* all of it would have been.
I just got home from a long series of trips that we've taken over the last month, and I'm recovering from some crud I picked up along the way (and shared with my daughter, mama, daddy and two of my brothers). I am looking forward to a long Labor Day weekend to relax with family and friends (and recover). I hope you enjoy your weekend as much as I plan to!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Our Vitamix

We bought our Vitamix in May. I can not overstate how much I love it. I've wanted one since I saw it at the Kentucky State Fair nine years ago and saw how they made salsa, soup and ice cream within minutes of each other in the same container.

So when I learned that Costco would be having a Vitamix rep doing demonstrations, I put it on my calendar. I wanted to at least see it again and see if it would cost as much as I remembered. 

We stood watching through three demonstrations. Our daughter drank juice after smoothie after ice cream and asked for more. And we brought one home. Woo hoo!

One of the things I like best is getting all these extra veggies into my diet. I simply don't think about eating carrots and kale and celery and other veggies that much unless it's time to make my veggie soup. With my Vitamix I'm eating all of those plus multiple fruits every morning. This picture makes me want a smoothie just looking at it. Yum.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Charming Tote - Bend the Rules

This is my favorite bag/purse I've made so far. I found the fabric at JoAnns, and it just jumped into my cart and begged to be taken home. In fact, I usually only buy a half yard of any fabric I like, but I bought a whole yard of this one.

I used the Charming Handbag pattern from Bend the Rules Sewing by Amy Karol, but followed the suggestion of making it larger for a tote size. I copied the pattern at 200% on the copy machine, and then adapted the strap dimensions accordingly. I added a strip of flannel to the inside of the strap, thinking that it would make it softer on my shoulder, but instead it just twists and wrinkles up. I wouldn't do that again. I made pockets out of osnaburg fabric for both the inside and outside. The outside pocket I measured to specifically fit my cell phone, but my husband pointed out (after I'd finished the project and wasn't going to start over) that without a flap to button down that my cell phone would slip out every time I lean over. And it does.

I tried carry this bag as a purse for several months and I loved the way it looked, but I have trouble with floppy bags that don't close. I had trouble finding anything, and I couldn't put it on the floor because everything could fall out. I suggest a closure of some sort if you're going to carry this size as a purse.

As a tote bag, I love it though. I can throw in a notebook and a book or two along with some pens and I'm set. (That's what I need from a tote, really.) It's not big enough to be my library bag (we check out far too many books for that), but it's perfect for a small project.

I'm sorry this photo doesn't show the scale very well. It's a small tote or large purse size, if that helps at all.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Chocolate Mint Cookies

I can't remember when we baked these cookies for the first time. Usually we're chocolate chip people, with an occasional snickerdoodle or sugar cookie thrown in (well, I am and I do most of the cookie baking around here). I think it was probably even before Abigail was born. My husband wanted to try something different and searched through our cookbooks until he found something we both would like.

Chocolate? Check. Mint? Check. What's not to like?

So he baked them. And we did our usual hot cookie ritual. And we decided to never ever bake these cookies again. They were awful. What were we thinking?

Of course, we don't like to waste food. So the next day, we decided to eat the leftover cookies just to get them out of the house. And then. . .what were we thinking? These cookies were wonderful. We wanted to make more so they would be cool by the next day. Wow!

By now, we've learned that these cookies are really very good hot and they never last long enough for leftovers. My nephew and father-in-law especially love them.

This recipe makes a small batch of cookies (or my chocolate chip cookie recipe makes an exceptionally large batch, not sure which). We found it in Hershey's Best-Loved Recipes, which appears to be out-of-print but worth the search.

Doubly Chocolate Mint Cookies

Makes about 2 1/2 dozen

1/2 bag Andes creme de menthe baking chips (the recipe calls for a 7 ounce Hershey's Cookies 'n' Mint Milk Chocolate Bar, but we never use it - do they even still make it?)

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine, softened

3/4 cup sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour (I only use White Lily, while my husband only uses Gold Medal. I'm sure your favorite would be fine.)

1/3 cup Hershey's Cocoa

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 cup coarsely chopped nuts, optional (we never add these)

Heat oven to 350 degrees

Beat butter, sugar, egg, and vanilla in large bowl until fluffy.

Combine flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt in separate bowl; add butter mixture, beating until well blended.

Stir in chocolate and nuts, if desired.

Drop rounded teaspoons onto greased cookie sheet.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until set. Cool slightly; remove to wire racks. Cool completely.