Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween! Behold my masterpiece (in more ways than one):

and Edwin the cat



Fictional character costumes are my favorites. Maggie loves Olivia, and when I suggested to her that she might like to dress as Olivia for Halloween, her eyes lit up. Leo as Ian was the natural next step, but he was completely uncooperative for pictures (Maggie wins no prizes either).

I had fun making those ears, but the most appealing part of these costumes, quite honestly, is that most of the pieces can be reworn the rest of the fall and winter. Those tights will be perfect for Christmas!

Olivia and Ian felt ear close-up

In case you're interested, the ears are made from felt, pipe cleaners and lots of hot glue. I free-handed
the ear shapes from pictures in the book onto some cardstock and then used that to trace the shape on to the felt (two outer ear pieces in peach, one inner ear in pink per ear). I glued pipe cleaner near the outside edge of one peach ear shape and glued the pink inner ear
Olivia and Ian ear base close-uppiece onto the other peach ear shape.

Then I glued the two peach ear shapes together with the pipe cleaner in between. I used the extra pipe cleaner hanging out of the bottom of the ears to twist them onto the headband. Once they were attached to the headband, I scooted them together so the ears were pinched at the base (and I added a dab of hot glue in there, too).

Have a safe holiday and don't overdo it on candy!


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Chicken with Apples and Blue Cheese

I've made this super easy dish twice in the last month because Brian and I find it so delicious. Apples, rosemary, and strong cheese just taste like fall. Plus, you know, I'm had all those apples (it's amazing how they kept in the refrigerator). I made it while my mother visited and even she approved and she's not one for mixing meat and fruit. She described it as "company food," and it is ideal company food because it tastes fancy, and it's not expensive or hard to prepare.


To give credit where credit is due, I found the original recipe on epicurious.com, which is my go-to online recipe source. Here's a tip: always read the recipe reviews on epicurious. If you don't have time to read them all, or there are hundreds upon hundreds, read the most recent ones first because they'll often refer back to previous comments and you'll get the main messages. For instance, if you read a snarky comment such as, "I followed the directions exactly as written and had no trouble with sticking," you can use your powers of deduction to infer that others did have trouble with sticking and you might as well grease your pan carefully to be on the safe side.

Moving on...

I read the recipe and thought the combination of ingredients sounded interesting, but the instructions to saute the ingredients and then move them to the oven to roast seemed like extra work and extra dishwashing for no good reason. The reviews bore out my hypothesis so I reconfigured the recipe as seen below. I've also tried to remain true to my Tim Gunn attitude in the kitchen--make it work with what you've got on hand.


Chicken with Apples and Blue Cheese

1 1/2 lbs. of boneless, skinless chicken (the original recipe called for breasts; I used thighs)
1/4 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
1 T. chopped fresh rosemary
1 T. unsalted butter
2 unpeeled apples (the original recipe called for Honeycrisp or Fuji; I used Cameo), cored and sliced into 1/4 in. slices
1/2 a sweet onion cut into narrow wedges
2-4 T. (approx.) deglazing liquid such as wine, sherry, chicken broth, or water
2 oz. (about 1/3 c.) blue cheese, crumbled (the original recipe called for Stilton; I used Trader Joe's crumbled blue cheese; I think feta would be nice, too)

1. Season the raw chicken with the salt, pepper, and rosemary.

2. Melt the butter in a large skillet.

3. Brown the chicken on both sides, about three minutes per side. Remove the chicken and add the apples and onions. (The onions were my addition; the recipe can easily be made without them if they're not your taste.) Saute the apples and onions until slightly softened and a little brown, about four to five minutes.

4. Pour in your choice of deglazing liquid. The first time I made this I used chicken broth because I had a carton open; the second time, I used cooking sherry which definitely added a richness (not an alcohol taste) to the dish. Scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan and scooch the apples and onions out of the way so you can add the chicken back in to the bottom of the pan. Arrange the apples and onions around and on top of the chicken.

5. Continue to the cook the chicken on low heat, covered, until cooked through (about 10-15 more minutes). Add the cheese towards the end or sprinkle it on top when serving. I like this dish with rice or quinoa, but I think it would also be good with some crusty bread to mop up the sauce.

Happy eating!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Crazy Busy Weekend

There are people in the world who appreciate (maybe even like?) external demands. I am married to one of these people. Without the structure of a job and all the other groups he joins/events he schedules, Brian would be...well, the Dude (love you, Dude!).

Not me. External expectations of how I must manage my time make me feel stubborn and passive-aggressive. And exhausted. I always have about 500 ideas for what I need to/can do with my time floating around in my head ready for me to pick the one that's most needed/appealing in that moment. But if those ideas get crowded out by other demands on my schedule, I get a little crazy.

First world problems, huh? I know I'm fortunate. I get to stay home with my kids and manage my own time. I usually have enough time to manage a household and have some fun with my kids. Fewer and fewer people get this luxury, and I appreciate it (thank you, thank you, thank you for being the breadwinner, Brian, especially when you have to stay up all night writing reports after a crazy busy weekend).

Our weekend included two overnight guests (at different times), three meals out with family (two with kids, one without), one meal for six hosted at our house, and one play downtown. Mostly an embarrassment of riches. I'm really not wanting to sound ungrateful for my luxuries here. I'd just appreciate them more if they were a tad more spread out...


My mother visited last week and left Saturday morning. We had a grand time with her, per usual. Brian's best friend came over later to carve our pumpkin and play with our kids while I worked on a family dinner, including gingerbread jack-o-lanterns (aren't they cute?). Brian's family joined us for dinner that night, and Jordy stayed over after the sadness of the Red Sox-Cardinals game that evening.

In between times, Maggie and I worked on Halloween cards for family, and I constructed the ears for Maggie and Leo's Halloween costumes. Let's see if I made them well enough...can anyone tell who Maggie and Leo will dress as for Halloween? Hint: they're siblings, but the older sister is the main character, a fictional one.
Love in Afghanistan

Sunday morning was a rush to get everything organized for the sitter before we headed downtown for brunch with Brian's family and then Love in Afghanistan an interesting play with appealing characters that gave me a slightly better understanding of what life might be like on Bagram Air Force Base in Kabul for Afghani translators working for the US. It fit well with a recent This American Life episode on the difficulty Iraqis who worked for the US had (are having) obtaining visas to leave the country and the terrible danger they were (are) in for working for the US, the longer they stay(ed) in Iraq. The episode of TAL was powerful and horrifying so listen at your own risk.

We made it home in time to pay the sitter and pack up for another meal out with out of town family. The kids behaved remarkably well considering how little sleep they got this weekend, and I've insisted on a quiet day at home for at least three of us today. Time to replenish ourselves.

Hop on over to Atelier to read about others' weekends, too.

At least the Red Sox are still alive! And, if you need a laugh, The Primate Awards. Hilarious.











Friday, October 25, 2013

One Halloween...

I had to do some serious digging to unearth this photo complete the FTSF link-up.

Sarah and Irene, Halloween 2001

I've been a teacher most of my my adult life, and I've worn my "Super Sarah" costume almost every Halloween since I created the ensemble the night before Halloween in 1999. Halloween 2001 was no exception, but it's the only Halloween in which I confronted myself. My student, Irene, who was generally considered to resemble me somewhat, dressed up as me. She wore clothing similar to my teacher attire (though I did not bare my midriff in my outfits; I mean, I sure hope I didn't), carried my Women in Texas book (I taught TX History that year), and performed an embarrassingly accurate impression that had the school roaring.

I was not the only teacher to be dressed as that year. That was my roommate and the school's shop teacher with his little buddy.

The process of discovering this photo from the recesses of the cabinet got me feeling so nostalgic for that school. I worked there, an independent school for students with dyslexia in Austin, TX, from 2000 to 2002 before my quest for adventure sent me across the world to teach. I've always been a special education teacher, and I've mostly worked within that "language-based learning difference" (dyslexia) niche.  I've taught at five different schools in my career, public and independent, two with strong national or international reputations, but I've never worked in a school with a tighter-knit community. I know I look back on those years with rose-tinted glasses (I was so young). But I was single and worry-free (not really, but I look back and think I should have been); I loved where I lived, my colleagues, my students and their families, and I felt fully a part of a community dedicated to the goal of building up our students with the confidence and skills they would need to head on to high school and the years beyond. I have become a much, much better teacher since those early oughts; also, the school at which I last worked had nearly as tight of a community, and if I'm willing to be completely honest, did a better job of educating students. But at that school in Austin, I was completely immersed in a way that only a single, childless teacher can immerse herself, and I loved it. Of all the schools I've taught in, I've never given more of my heart, and the students I taught at this school are the only ones with whom I still keep in touch.


I am always and always will be thrilled to hear of the doings of my students at that school. I smile to see how their early preferences blossom into life choices in business, art, science, or math. I got to attend Spencer's bar mitzvah and Irene's wedding (and she mine). May they always keep me informed and invited because I'll always be interested.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Homemade Halloween Ghosts

These two ghost crafts are easy, kid-friendly, and may be able to be made without a trip to the store! Three qualities of a perfect craft, in my opinion.


When I was a kid, I loved putting up holiday decorations. They helped build the anticipation of the holiday, which is the best part of any holiday anyway (or the food). I cannot only recall specific decorations from my childhood but the boxes in which they were stored.

For the last few years, while I have been working part-time and mothering, I have been too exhausted to think about putting up decorations, but this year I was ready to go. Here are two Halloween decorations we've made and put up in the last week or so.

Ghost Garland

All credit for this inspiration goes to Flax & Twine. Anne's ghosts were made of patterned fabric with a black background, but I didn't have any of that. I immediately considered old Tshirts and settled on a white one instead, and hand-me-down of my Aunt Nita's, that just keeps on giving. I cut it into 5x5 inch squares,







and then instead of batting (since I had none), I used snipped up pieces of the Tshirt to stuff the heads of the ghosts.

Then, back to my hairband stash for clear plastic bands, and voila! little ghosts!




I felt they were lacking something so I embroidered on eyes with black thread. Don't look too closely at my embroidery skills, please. The handy thing about embroidering the eyes, though, is you have an easy thread to hang the ghosts with: just send the needle up through the top.

This Halloween craft can be simplified or gussied up to your heart's desire. You can make the ghosts without eyes in half an hour (tops) and simply hang them from a string or piece of yarn. Or you can go whole hog with faces and ribbon and whatnot. If you're considering making the finger-knit garland as I did, let me tell you it took me less than one episode of Modern Family to complete. The instructions on Flax & Twine are very clear and easy to follow. The only thing I'd add is that I was more comfortable tying off the ends so they wouldn't unravel. I have small children who like to tug.


And I recommend looping the ghosts onto the finger-knitting as Anne suggests. Easy to adjust that way.



Floating Ghosts


I was a bit worried at one point that these looked more like jellyfish than ghosts, but I've come around to them. I did buy the cheesecloth, but otherwise all you need is liquid starch, a black marker, and some thread.  This craft is even more kid-friendly than the last.

Cut your cheesecloth into squares (mine were about 15x15). Rig up some sort of support with a round top and a narrow base. I chose balloons taped to stacked cups. Get creative!









Soak the cheesecloth in the starch, wring it out and drape it over the supports. Dry overnight.

In the morning, pop the balloons and adjust the ghosts as you see fit. I stretched out the draped ends a bit. Draw on eyes (or glue on felt eyes), run thread through the top and affix them to the ceiling.













 
What I love about these crafts is that they're not at all scary. At most, they seem rather friendly. If you have a preschooler who frightens easily, most Halloween decorations are too scary. These two have been perfect for our household.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

What to do with your green tomatoes? Pickle 'em!

Remember this photo?


I admit, I let some of them ripen. But, BUT, I did get creative with the rest:

I could have fried them; I like fried green tomatoes as much as Mary-Louise Parker does. But I've done that, and I was looking for something new. After some research, I latched on to the idea of pickling them. Turns out it's way easier than I would have thought: you simply stuff them into a jar with the seasonings, pour salt water over them, and toss the jars in the fridge. Done.

I consulted various recipes, but finally decided this post was the most helpful. In spite of that, I didn't follow any of her recipes but made up my own. But that's the fun of it: trying out different combinations of spices to find how they taste. I nearly filled two jars with a tomato-onion mixture, and I used a different combination of spices in each (though they both contained garlic). I used whole spices I had on hand: celery seed, cumin seed, mustard seed, dill seed. The only thing I had to go to the store for was sea salt because I had just recently used it up.

Pre-liquid. I have no jar brand loyalty.

The basic procedure is to boil the liquid and salt so the salt dissolves. I used Garden Betty's ratio of one cup of water, one cup of distilled white vinegar, and one tablespoon of sea salt. Pour the spice mixtures into the bottoms of the jars. I stuck with about one teaspoon of each of the spices and used combinations that appealed to me. Then fill the jars with the tomatoes, or whatever vegetables you plan to pickle. Pour the salty vinegar into the jars, remove air bubbles by poking around with a chopstick, wipe the top edge, and screw on the tops.

Post-liquid and removal of air bubbles. And there's my photo bomber.

Without a canning system, I have to keep these refrigerated and eat them up pretty quickly. But if you have a canner, you can make these jars really last. Fun and easy way to preserve green tomatoes, or really, any vegetable. If you like pickles, that is.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Things Are Looking Up Weekend

And it's not too hard when your weekend starts with one child whose digestive system is making you seriously question your choice of cloth diapers and the other's is causing you to wash sheets (your own, not hers) in the middle of the night.

Three family members exhibiting various symptoms made us change our plans of visiting family this weekend for my nephew's first birthday and baptism. Super disappointing but the right choice...for my kids and my sister's.


Since we were confined to the indoors on Saturday, I made Caldo Verde from this month's Cook's Illustrated (though I made do with ingredients I already had--still very good) and, inspired by my cousin, some of my great-grandmother's pasta sauce to have on hand in the coming weeks. It pleases me so much that my children also enjoy this traditional family dish. I read just last night that eating the food your ancestors ate (Italian-American, Jewish-American, or what-have-you) is the best choice for your system. Well, this sauce fits the bill.

Maggie has started requesting "crafting," which brings me great joy, and that kept the two of us occupied for part of the weekend. We made a couple of pretty cute Halloween decorations I'll post more about this week.


And on Sunday, when we were feeling more adventurous, we accidentally ran across an apple festival at the nature center. I was, once again, very impressed with our nature center. The festival included  apple games, crafts, cooking, and treats. The caramel apples, cider making, and the straw pile proved to be the highlights of the event for my kidlets.

And the Red Sox won the AL. Things are looking up, indeed.

Linked up at Atelier.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Oh, bedtime, how I love you.

Extra large, please
I feel I may horrify some of the FTSF bloggers with this post, but I might also end up being incredibly unoriginal in this link-up. I have a sneaking suspicion that all mothers feel the same way I do about bedtime.

Sometimes I count down the hours. I love my babies, but once they are in bed, I can pour a glass of wine (or beer), settle down in front of the TV to watch my shows or in front of the computer to consult my beloved bloggers. Sometimes I am even so enlightened that I read a book.

My mind and body crave time alone. I get naptime, yes, but it's usually crammed with the business end of being a mama (phone calls, dinner prep, house cleaning, any kind of project I can't complete when the kids are awake and active). My mind usually doesn't get a break during naptime.

My favorite part of the day is the part of the day that is just for me: the part where I make the choices and no one asks me questions.

Anyone else willing to admit they feel this way?


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Nightgowns

Whoo! I am in between two weekends of travel and feeling pressed for time so I'm going to post an oldie that's just been sitting around in draft phase.

Continuing on with my goal of repurposing old clothing, I tried out a Pinterest tutorial I can no longer find and provide the link to. Nevertheless, it demonstrated how to turn old Tshirts into girls' nightgowns. What with my piles of Tshirts I no longer wear, and Maggie's love of dresses, this seemed like a good idea.

Go Fighting Phantoms!

And it was super easy. You simply lay a Tshirt that fits the girl who will wear the nightgown on top of the old adult-sized Tshirt and cut along the edges, leaving about a 1/2 inch seam allowance. I had to be a little imaginative when it came to the armpit sleeve area, but since it was just nightwear, I wasn't that concerned.


Then, cut a hole on the inside back of the collar so you can thread elastic (I used 16 inches) through it. Stitch the loop of elastic together once you've gone all the way around, and you've got a cute little peasant neckline. Not necessary to stitch up the hole in the collar.

Thread elastic (any width that fits) through the hems at the ends of the sleeves. I uses 8 inches for each sleeve for my four-year-old daughter. Pin or baste the ends together so the fabric gathers up. I found it was helpful to complete this step before stitching up the sides because then the elastic gets caught in the seam. Also you can't weave the elastic all the way around once you've sewn that seam in place--a lesson I learned the hard way.

Done!
with sleep buddy Puppy

Two of the Tshirts were graphic tees to begin with so I didn't decorate any further. But on the plain one I had a little fun with a stencil, paint, and an iron-on decal.


Next time, I try this, I'm going for something a little more challenging. I like the sleeves on this one, though I'll have to figure out how they're made on my own. This one is also super cute, and how about this sack for an infant? So cute!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Because I had a black marker and a bag of Clementines...


This may be the best Halloween decoration ever. Easy, two materials needed, and you don't have store them year after year (I have a horror of too much stuff).


 Plus, you can constantly change them up.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Fall Leaves

In my ever-present quest to keep my kids happy and occupied while I go about my business, I discovered that you can preserve fall leaves with Mod Podge. Not sure where I originally came across this, but I thought, "Hey, don't I have a 3/4 full jar of Mod Podge I've been holding on to for 15 years in case I ever wanted to use it again?" Sure enough.

Oooh, bilateral coordination!

Such a great activity. Maggie surpassed her typical attention span for craft activities, and even Leo got in on the action by helping carry and fill the "leaf collecting basket" when we headed our for our walks.


Here's what I learned about the process:
1. You want fresh leaves that don't crackle. Otherwise, they'll fall to pieces when you try to paint them.

2. Do this outside but not on a windy day.

3. Try drying them on parchment paper or waxed paper instead of newspaper. They'll stick to newspaper as they dry and bits of the paper will stick to the leaves. Also, lift them periodically as they dry so they don't stick.

4. Don't choose a hot, humid day to do something crafty with your preserved leaves.
We worked on these for a week or so until the Mod Podge was gone and we had an overabundance of preserved leaves. What to do with them?


Stuff them into vases on your mantel.










Scatter them on your mantel.










Tape them to your basement door below the family tree to add a touch of fall.

Make a leaf bouquet.



Pretty good, huh? But here's my favorite idea of all: sew them into a garland. This is where the low humidity is important. I tried this on a hot day and the leaves stuck to the presser foot of my machine. I had to turn the fan on in the room and let them re-dry for another few hours before I could finish the project.

Using tissue paper as backing



The first time I tried this, I sewed the leaves together with a backing of tissue paper strips. It's easy enough to tear off once you're done. Later, I decided this was not really necessary. The leaves are pretty tough once they're coated with the Mod Podge, and the sewing machine needle handles them as well as it does cloth (so long as they're dry). I overlapped each leaf slightly as I sent it through the machine, but you could have a gap of stitches if you liked that look better. Also, I used my sewing machine, but if you were really motivated, I think this could be done by hand. I'd just use really long stitches.






Here are a few photos of the final product.


I don't think they really do it justice. The leaves are all different colors, and the light shines through them beautifully. I just don't know how to take a quality photo of a window.

I had one little strip of garland left, and that went back on the mantel.


I'm done with the MP/leaf combo for the season, but what else might I have done with them? Ideas?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Celebrations and More Apples Weekend

Two birthday parties, a date, and more baking with apples. Strangely, almost no photos.

source
Friday night Brian and stopped by a birthday party for one of his coworkers on our way to a real-live, married couple date. Well-deserved and long-overdue. Of course I wore my new blue dress. We headed into Capitol Hill from the party and found a wine bar offering half off bottles of wine for federal employees. Woo!Hoo! I mean, Brian has been deemed essential and so has not been furloughed, but don't mind if we do take advantage of that offer.

Brian's father's birthday was Saturday, and we joined the extended family to celebrate his 72 years. As we gathered in the living room, I noticed Maggie trying to peer down the neck of my dress (yes, the blue one again). "What are those?" she asked. This has been a common topic of conversation lately. Why, after 22 months of nursing and then another 17 of nursing Leo, my boobs have just now become so interesting (aside from the early offer sustenance and comfort), I do not know. Here was our conversation a few weeks ago as I got out of the shower:
Maggie: What are those?
Mama: Whats?
Maggie (pointing): Those!
Mama: Boobs. Breasts.
(pause)
Mama: You will have breasts someday, too. Then you will wear a bra like Mama.
Well, that provided some food for thought. A few days after in the car, we had this conversation:
Maggie: Mama, do you have nipples?
Mama: Yes, you know I do.
Maggie: I will have nipples one day.
Mama: You have nipples now. Everyone has nipples. Even Daddy and Leo have nipples.
Maggie: Daddy has chest hair. (pause) Will I get chest hair?
Mama: Highly unlikely.
Later we returned to the topic of who has nipples. And, I assure you, if you're reading this and I know you personally, you were probably one of the people discussed.

Fortunately, we did not go into that kind of detail at the birthday party. But she's clearly not tired of the topic yet.


Finally, I'm continuing to bake away at those apples. This weekend yielded more applesauce and these muffins baked as mini-loaves (see pic above). Not this weekend, but I also made this de-light-ful apple cake (see pic below). I recommend both. Sweet, but not too sweet. Both last for awhile without going dry, which is a huge plus in my book.


Linked up at Atelier.


Thursday, October 3, 2013

More Alterations..Plus Styling!

Let this evening go down in history as the evening my children consumed an entire cantaloupe in half an hour. I'm not talking about a small one either. It was a good, regular-sized cantaloupe, and I think they both ate about half. Leo can hold his own when it comes to fruit consumption.

In other news, I had a lecture on executive function to attend, and I took the opportunity to try out one of my latest alteration projects. I bought this dress on credit at my consignment shop, and I like its looseness, but I felt it was a tad too long, being so loose. Hemming is no big deal, but for this garment, I learned to blind hem. If this term means nothing to you, it means when you hem but only tiny, widely-spaced stitches show through the front.

Two traits that will keep me from being an excellent sewist are my weak spatial skills and my lack of patience for perfection. My weak spatial skills account for why I will not post a tutorial here on how to sew a blind hem on your machine. However, this one, through some trial and error, guided me through it. As far as that patience for perfection, I had it at one time in my life. At one time in my life, it might have been a defining characteristic. But something has driven it out. Children, no doubt. That lack accounts for why I don't care that my blind hem did not exactly match up with the seam near the bottom of the dress. Still pretty good, though.

The blind hem is the tiny stitches. The larger ones are decoration.



But on to the dress. This is how I wore it to the lecture. I know the picture quality is lacking. I can't take my own pictures, you see. But you can still see the ombre effect of the dress. It's been warm lately, but I figured I'd be cold inside so I opted for a jacket.











This is how I plan to wear the dress this weekend when I get to go on a date with my husband. Now you can tell how loose the dress is. Still I think it looks cute with heels.


















I am being sympathetic to a whiny child in this photo. Excuse the face.






And here's how I might wear it on a regular day. Or, let's face it, I'd probably choose more comfy pair of shoes like the houndstooth pair in the first photo, which might be the most comfortable pair of flats I own. There's also some decorative stitching around the neck of the dress as well as near the bottom, but it doesn't show up in the pictures. 

















Anyhow, a pretty versatile article of clothing on half price sale at my consignment store! I really, really wanted to participate in the full Plane Pretty 7x7 remix. Someday. For now, I can offer just the one and a link-up with Not Dead Yet Style. Thanks for reading!