Thursday, June 19, 2014

Why Don't I Write?

Last night, I went to a book signing. It was for a book of stories by local authors, called "Penny Dread Tales." I was there to support one of Guy's old friends (and my newer one), Dave Boop, who wrote one of the stories.

I had a great time. These authors frequent the local conventions, so I've met a few of them before. They all seemed to friendly and willing to chat. They each read an excerpt from their story- some were polished readers who had the listeners rapt attention, or their uproarious laughter. Other authors seemed uncomfortable performing in front of a crowd. My friend Dave was one of the former, reading some great banter between a pair of characters trying to stay quiet and lay an ambush. 

There was also cake.

Each of the authors there had done something I've always wanted to do, but never actually managed. They had each written a story, start to finish, and submitted it to someone. I have a file of unfinished stories, many more than a decade old. Some of them I think are pretty neat ideas. But I've written almost nothing for the last five years. And I could blame that on Kai. And I could blame that on being an adult with a full time job. But there are many writers out there who manage to work, parent, and still put ideas on paper. 

At the end of the day, I'm tired. I want to sit and watch TV, or read Facebook, or just go to bed and read until I fall asleep. It was a struggle to sit down and start writing this post after putting Kai to bed. But I am frustrated with my lack of creative output lately. I once could write a short novel in a month. I can certainly write a short story every few months. 

I read somewhere- it might have been the introduction to Good Omens- that the prolific Terry Pratchett managed to start his writing career by not allowing himself to go to bed until he had written at least 400 words. 400 words is not a lot. It's about the length, for example, of this blog post. I think I can do that if I put my mind to it. 

PS: You should check out the book! I haven't read it yet, but from the excerpts I heard it should be a fun read. (link!)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Montessori in the Home

For various reasons, we have had to take Kai out of preschool for a while. I'm changing jobs, and it seems silly to have him start in a new classroom so close to the end of the school year. And there's the financial aspect, of course. Preschool is expensive, even with a staff discount. And we're lucky- Guy works from home and is able to take on full time child care.

There's the rub, though- Guy works from home. And although his income isn't as predictable as mine, he gets paid well for the work he does. In a good month, he'll bring in more than me, and even when things are ugly in the freelancing world, he still has regular clients who make the difference between us paying our bills and, well, not.

So while Kai staying at home is our only option right now, we want to make sure that 1. Kai still has some intellectual stimulation and 2. Guy has the ability to spend part of the day focusing on his freelance work. We're doing a few things to meet these goals, and here's the one I'm most proud of- Our mini Montessori classroom in the basement!

The big ugly pipe has been moved since I took this picture.
Guy and I cleaned the basement and then I dug through my stash of teacher stuff, bought some new activities from a thrift store, and brought it all together with an Ikea rug.


The comfy reading chair was a birthday gift from Grandma Judy. The table faces Guy's work desk, so Kai can interact with him while he's working. The activities here are a zipper frame (picked up at a Montessori that was downsizing), floor puzzle, and magnetic letter board.


Here is most of his work- on the white shelf he has paper, an art mat, markers, scissors, glue sticks, crayons, a pencil sharpener, and the Asia basket that I made for my Montessori training. On the blue shelf, lots of vocabulary and reading works (most of which were also Montessori training projects) a couple of workbooks (not Montessori at all, but oh well), watercolors, and a knobless cylinder set.

The blue shelf is my absolute favorite part of this. You know why? Because I made it. Not out of a box- I made it out of this:


Yeah, check me out. 

The picture is distorting it, but it is a little cattywompus. But it doesn't wobble!

Of course, I had some expert help.


Kai loved this job! He ruined that shirt but insisted he didn't care- I only remembered afterward that we had a smock from his old school he could have worn.

So far, he's been doing a great job of exploring the materials and cleaning up when he's done!

If you're visiting this blog and are interested in doing Montessori inspired learning in your own home, here are a few books you might be interested in- 

Teaching Montessori in the Home by Elisabeth G. Hainstock. I haven't read this, but it's got good reviews. (this is an affiliate link)
Montessori Madness by Trevor Eissler. A great argument and explanation of Montessori education by a parent, for other parents.
The Absorbent Mind by Maria Montessori. This is my favorite of Montessori's books, which I feel delves most deeply into the philosophy and reasoning behind what she did. (this is also an affiliate link)

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Super quick baby blanket

It has been a busy week...

I've thought about posting several times this week but just have never had the time. Today, finally, things have slowed down a bit. (And by slowed down, I mean "It's 2:30 and I'm still in my pajamas!") I had time to complete a project I've had the materials for for weeks, but just never got around to- A baby blanket for my boss at the job I'm leaving.

Apologies for the pictures in this post. It's snowing and gloomy outside, and all of them turned out a little fuzzy.

Soft and snuggly!

This was such an easy blanket to make! I used some materials I normally wouldn't, two different synthetic fabrics (gasp!), in the interest of making this a super quick project. Now I will tell you all about it!

I bought the fabric at Fabric Bliss, a fabric shop owned by one of my old friends. She usually has a great stock of unusual and adorable kid's fabrics, like the monkey print you can see up above. The reverse is pale yellow minky, a fabric I've never used before. It's a synthetic similar to fleece, which I despise, and so I hesitated before choosing it, but the kids at my school all seem to just love the stuff. It doesn't feel like fleece, which helps- I hate the way just touching fleece seems to dry out my hands.

Kai was obsessed with this fabric- I ended up promising him all of the leftovers once I cut what I needed for the blanket, which turned out to be a fair bit.

Here he is, cutting scraps off of his windfall.

The binding I ended up getting later at Jo-ann. It's the other synthetic, and another thing I'd never used before. There was a definite learning curve- my last edges look a lot nicer than the first one I did. Luckily, the errors aren't too noticeable. 

I don't use these often, but they are sure nice to have!

Anyway, I just squared off the fabric (after washing and ironing, of course) and sewed it together around the edges. Since I was going to cover the edges with the binding, I left them raw and sewed wrong sides together. The fabrics cling to each other, to the point where I decided it didn't even need to be quilted. I am going to call the decision not to quilt this blanket "Going for simplicity" and not "Lazy shortcut" because that's just how I roll.


The binding was the trickiest part. I used this tutorial to get an idea of how to do it and it worked pretty well. The mitered corners took some fiddling with but ended up looking very nice. Here's how you start pinning it on.


And that's it! This took two hours, tops. I'm going to pop it in a bag with a bottle of Dr. Bronner's peppermint soap (they're going to cloth diaper) and give it to my boss tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A day in Texas

I was hoping to have Kai's pajama pants- and the second post on them- done last weekend. Sadly, between planning for our spring break trip to Texas and the convention Guy worked at on Saturday, I couldn't get it done. So here is a collection of photos I took on a trip to the playground with Kai instead.

I've been visiting my in-laws here for at least five years and I didn't know that there was a playground and park not five minutes walk from their house. It's out of the way- you drive through the church parking lot to a one lane road behind the last row of houses to get to it. Maybe that's why there weren't many people there, or maybe it's because the local schools aren't on their break this week. Either way, the only person Kai and I met for the first 45 minutes or so was a groundskeeper.

Community gardens
Next to the playground were the community gardens. I hung out for a bit, checking out what people were growing, until I spotted this terrifying fellow and decided to back away slowly.

Texas, you're going too far with the whole "everything is bigger" thing.
The playground was way fun. Lots of things to climb on. Once Kai realized I was taking pictures of him, he started to vamp for the camera. 

I have about ten pictures of him in this red thing. This one is my favorite.

Kai is thrilled to be able to go out every day in shorts. It's hard to see, but he's all scrapes and bruises on his legs- the life of a little boy is hard.



Kai used to hate swings, and has only gotten over it in the last few months. Now he's swung in the complete opposite direction- he loves to swing and go as high as I can get him!


Toward the end of playtime. The sun was coming out and it was starting to get hot, the kind of heat that reminds one of why one comes to Texas in the early spring rather than the summer. It's nice to be warm, though.

And that's all! Tune in next week sometime for the finale to the saga of the pj pants!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

What I've been reading- Food Edition

I am a fiction reader. I like to read young adult fantasy, hard sci-fi, time travel, steam-punk, or pretty much anything that isn't modern-day, normal life Earth. But when I do get in the frame of mind to read non-fiction, I tend to do so obsessively. I'll get every book by an author, or binge on a specific subject. Most recently, I've been on a real food kick.


For Christmas, Guy and I received a copy of Cooked, by Michael Pollan. I read through it cover to cover in about a week. There are some fascinating tidbits in Cooked; the theory that cooking food was the development that allowed us to grow our big brains and become what we are today, for one. Pollan takes the reader through different methods of preparing food using key recipes intermingled with stories of how he learned them, the people he met in the course of his research, and a liberal amount of philosophy. His main theme seems to be that it is worth the time and effort to cook and eat together- he makes several mentions of how his Sunday afternoon cooking time became a way to bond with his teenage son.



I enjoyed reading Cooked enough that I downloaded two more of Pollan's books from the library- The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food. It's been a few weeks since I read those, and they are mixed up in my mind, partly because there's a lot of territory covered by both books. In Defense of Food is where Pollan sets out a "diet" that I would actually follow (and usually do): Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants. He talks in both books about the difference between food and the food-like substances that most Americans live off of; the hundreds of products made from industrial corn and soy, including the meat we eat (corn and soy diet), the calories we drink (soda), and the unpronouncables in all of our processed food. He talks about the damage that industrial farming is doing to the farming economy, the environment, and our health. Both interesting reads, and I did learn some things I hadn't known.





While reading through those, I also read through the archives of 100 Days of Real Food, a blog about one family's challenge to remove all processed food from their lives for, well, 100 days. It has some great recipes and tips for those trying to make similar changes, and the author, Lisa, is humble and honest about how little she knew starting out. She does have her soapbox moments, though!


Finally, I looked up another book I'd seen on my locavore parents' bookshelf- Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. The author and her family (who also contributed to the book) spent a year eating only food they could get locally (with a few exceptions. Coffee- I get it.) It may be because I was reaching the end of my food-related reading binge, but this one dragged for me. My loan from the library expired before I finished it, and I had to download it again. I did enjoy the book, on the whole, though I got pretty bored during the long explanation of the evils of Big Corn (which I had just read in The Omnivore's Dilemma). I finished the book with a sense of relief and am currently deeply ensconced in- what else- a young adult fantasy.

So, to the meat of it (Hah! Food pun!) Did what I read in any of these books change how I eat and feed my family? Not a whole lot. Fact is, these authors were preaching to the choir. I already try to avoid processed foods, cook as much as I can, and eat lots of plants. We eat together as a family every night that Guy is home- four or five nights a week- and I'm not going to make him feel guilty for the nights he's not here because he needs to make money so we can buy food.

As far as eating locally, I would love to. As soon as the Farmer's Markets open up, I'll make a point to go there for the bulk of our produce if I can. But milk and meat are a little trickier. Our current dairy is local, but not organic. I've looked for an organic alternative, but not much is out there. Meat is just out of our price range. According to Michael Pollan, Americans on average spend about nine percent of their income on food. Ours is more like thirteen percent, which still doesn't sound like a lot, but we don't have any wiggle room in the budget right now.

What changes have I made? Well, I'm not quite ready to give up Costco Taquito night, but I have eliminated my emergency canned soups pretty much entirely. I use even less refined sugar than I used to, swapping for honey or maple syrup or eliminating it all together from some recipes (We put sugar on top of the pancakes! do they need it inside, too?) I've started bringing lunch to school every day, and packing for Kai as well. The school provides free lunch but I want better control over what we eat, and I was underwhelmed with their menu. And that's probably about as far as I'll take it for a while.

Thanks for reading all the way through! Here's a picture of Kai learning to sew.  He stuck with it for about three minutes and then decided cutting up the fabric and making designs was way more fun.


This post contains affiliate links. If you follow the links you will be taken to an IndieBound page where you can buy the book. It won't cost you any more, but I will earn a small commission.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Pattern Reading Tutorial- New Pajama Pants for a Kitty-boy (Part 1)

I rarely use patterns for my sewing. I buy them, sure, especially the beautiful period costumes that tend to come out around Halloween. Then I put them in my pattern drawer and ogle them occasionally.

When I do use a pattern, I tend to use it the same way I use a recipe- I make sure I have the amounts roughly right and get an idea of the shapes of the fabric I need, then improvise. I know how to follow a pattern. I just usually don't. But when Kai recently asked for a new pair of pants with kitties on them, I decided to follow a pattern and take pictures of the process so I could blog about it. This tutorial is very detailed, intended for the person who has never used a pattern before. It's detailed enough that I'm splitting it into two parts because my fingers are starting to hurt from typing.

The pattern I am using is McCall's 6237. I chose it because it is pretty simple, the pants have pockets ( a must for Kai), and most of all because I already have it. It's actually meant for daytime pants, but I am using it for pajamas.

Before purchasing the fabric for a pattern, start by measuring the intended wearer. Patterns have their own sizing system that doesn't match up well with standard pre-made garment sizes. I looked at a pattern I'd purchased for myself, and I would need to make it in a size 12- in clothing I wear a 4. The opposite happened with Kai. When I measured him (and he stood surprisingly still for it!) I came up with a size 2 on the pattern, where he normally wears size 3 or 4 pants. However, I decided to make the pants in a size 4 anyway, on the theory that kids grow. They do- I've seen it. 

Side note- I measured Kai using a measuring tape which, like many of my sewing supplies, came from Guy's late grandmother. I didn't realize how old it was until Guy pointed out that it had been made in West Germany!

So- now that I know what size I'm making, I can look at the pattern package and see that for a pair of pants in size 4, I will need one yard of 45 inch wide fabric. Since I'm making pajama pants, I'm using flannel, which happened to be on sale that day at Joann. Yay! Kai chose two different flannels, one with cats and one with paw prints. I'm making two pairs of pants for him, one with each print.

I always buy more fabric than I think I will need for a project. That way I'm prepared for mistakes, and I can make little extras to go with the final product. For this one, I might use some of the extra to make a patch on a tee-shirt so Kai has a full set of pajamas. 

So, on to the cutting, right? Not so fast. Fabric needs to be washed and ironed before it is ready to cut out. (My mama would be so proud of me.) Fabric shrinks, as we all know, and it shrinks more or less in certain directions. If you get all that shrinking out of the way before you sew, you don't have to worry about weird puckers and wrinkles from different parts of the garment shrinking unevenly. And ironing the fabric before you cut out the pattern pieces gives you much neater, more accurate pieces to work with.

Here is what I will be using for this project, including washed and ironed fabric but not including the velcro (more on that later).


Friday, March 14, 2014

How to Have a Healthy Breakfast. Every Single Day.

The pattern tutorial isn't quite (at all) ready, so here is something I hope will be helpful to the internet at large.

Working with preschoolers, I have learned that if I don't have a good breakfast in the morning, I can't do my job well. I lose my temper when I'm hungry, and there is no one like a preschooler to push all the wrong buttons when they know you're on the edge. I can sacrifice a shower in the morning, but I am not allowed to leave the house without breakfast.

Then there's Kai. He is a preschooler, and he wakes up ravenous. He's never been much of a dinner eater- he gets most of his daily calories from breakfast, lunch, and snacks, so I try to be sure they're good ones.

I need fuel to power my Lego marathon!

The modern lifestyle pushes us more and more towards convenience foods, and it is hard to push back, especially when I work full time and have never been much of a morning person. It seems like life, and especially parenting, is a constant series of decisions about what principles you are going to stand firm on, and what you are willing to let go of. I've let go of the battle against the television, at least somewhat, but I haven't yet given up on trying to make sure we eat a healthy diet that is also somewhat friendlier towards the planet than the norm. I consider breakfast one of my big successes- every day, Kai and I eat a balanced meal made of fresh, nutritious foods, and I don't spend more than five minutes in the morning prepping it. Here's how I do it.

1. I have a pattern. 

Mornings are much easier if I don't have to think. So breakfast has a set pattern- whole grain carbohydrate, fruit, protein. That way, the questions I have to ask aren't huge- What am I making?- but simple- banana or blackberries? Here are some of the meals I serve regularly, and mix and match.

- Whole grain pancake with sunflower seed butter, banana. (This is Kai's very favorite breakfast and what he eats most days.)
- Plain yogurt with homemade granola, berries
- Whole grain French toast with all-fruit jelly, pear slices. 
- Oatmeal with raisins and applesauce, glass of milk.
- Homemade muffin, yogurt, apple slices.
- Whole grain toast with nut butter and bananas.



2. I plan ahead

You probably noticed the word "homemade" a few times up there. And no, I am not making a batch of muffins or pancakes on a school morning! Every weekend, I try to make at least one think that I can serve for breakfast during the week. A double batch of Sunday morning pancakes, an entire loaf of bread into French toast, or a batch of the banana muffins that Kai loves to help me make. I freeze these on cookie sheets and then bag them up, and I know by now exactly how long it takes to thaw them out. (One minute and fifteen seconds for one pancake). I always make sure to have fresh fruit on hand, and some frozen back ups too. 
Pancakes frozen and ready for bagging up.

I know a lot of what I serve for breakfast has a reputation for being unhealthy. I mean, we have pancakes, French toast, and muffins almost every day! The truth is, though, that these foods aren't by their nature actually unhealthy. It's the restaurant and pre-made versions that have ruined their reputation. I use only whole grain flour and bread, limited sweetener, limited fats, and almost always include fruits and vegetables in the recipes. I rarely serve them with syrup, but when I do, it's the real thing and the portions are small. I would much rather eat these than the alternatives- pop tarts, instant flavored oatmeal, granola bars, sugary cereal, etc.

I will add the recipes I use for weekend baking as I make them over the next few weeks- check back for links. 

3. I have a Plan B

I know me. Even five minutes is too much on that morning when I sleep through my alarm and spill coffee on the floor, and there's sometimes a Friday when the fruit has run out and I didn't make it to the store. For those days, I have a packaged alternative which I can feel okay about Kai eating every once in a while. Right now, my emergency backup breakfast is Kashi cereal bars and an applesauce pouch. A little more sugar than I like, a little more processed than I would want, but not a pop tart! And that's what really matters, right?

Some of you might be wondering what Guy eats- I haven't said much about him here. The fact is, I'm not home when he eats, so I don't really know!

So there it is! My plan for an easy, healthy breakfast, every day.