Thursday, August 29, 2013

another winter quilt

For a couple of years now, I've wanted to make a throw quilt that could be pulled out just after Thanksgiving and could be used through the winter. In my mind, the fabrics would be decidedly wintery, but not overly Christmasy to allow for leaving it out through January and February without looking like we were neglecting to put away Christmas decorations. Last winter I decided that if this quilt was going to materialize, I couldn't wait until winter and then wish once again that I had time for such frivolity. October through January tend to be completely filled with Christmas and birthday crafting, then in February I generally take a break to make something for myself. At the beginning of summer, I found myself thinking about that winter quilt and perused and until I found fabrics that fit the bill.

Except I found 2 sets of lovely fabrics that fit the bill. (Isn't that always how it works?!) The first set of fabrics (Cherry Christmas by Aneela Hoey for Moda) was on sale because it was a line from a previous year. I found a stack of fat quarters and made a quilt right away. The second line of fabric (Winter's Lane by Kate & Birdie Paper Company for Moda) didn't officially come out until mid-summer which gave me time to complete the first quilt before starting the second. (Actually, the purchase of Cherry Christmas fabric for the first quilt might have just been an impulse of impatience at having to wait for the Winter's Lane fabric, but I'll never tell...)

The Winter's Lane fabric line is really my favorite. The colors and prints are just so cold and wintery-looking to me. I intended to use the same gray flannel sheet backing as I used for the Cherry Christmas quilt, since I had an extra sheet leftover, but when the Winter's Lane fabric came, the gray prints had much more brown in them than you could see online.

I found a quilt-backing red flannel from, that was on sale, no less. I think it's a better trim for the binding than the gray would have been anyway.

Now these 2 quilts just sit on our red sofa, waiting for cooler weather. (I couldn't bear to store them away until winter. Neither could the kids.) One full of whimsy and cheer of winter festivities, the other reflecting the cold beauty of winter nature. I know we'll thoroughly enjoy these quilts in winters to come. (And the kids are already laying claims to the one they want to use. Maybe 2 more quilts will be a project for another summer.)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Yarn Along

For this week's Yarn Along, I'm continuing to work on the socks that I've been working on for the last few weeks.  I'm on the home stretch though...the last quarter of the second sock. This project has gone a bit slower than I'd like, with the start of school and a quilt project stealing my knitting time. The yarn is a fun self-striping Felici Sport from Knit Picks. This particular colorway, Kingpin, was discontinued over the summer so I snagged a few skeins for a steal.

Just as school started, I began reading Old Yeller aloud to the kids.  We're only a few chapters in, now that our read aloud time has been severely shortened.  I really appreciate how children back then took pride in being given more responsibility, to prove their advance toward adulthood. I hope some of that rubs off on my kids. ;)

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

back to school lunches

One aspect of back-to-school preparations that I look forward to (at least for the first week or two of school) is rethinking my approach to the kids' school lunches. My kids take a lunch every day and it remains challenging to come up with lunch ideas that don't grow tiresome. I've also been moving toward as few processed foods in their lunch boxes as possible. (Those packaged snacks are just SO easy to pack!)

Each of my kids has their own lunch system that works for them.  The boys prefer multiple dishes, but Elizabeth, who does NOT want to be in charge of keeping up with all of those individual dishes, uses a one-piece lunchbox. The older boys also prefer hot lunches to sandwiches, etc. They have a thermos with a hot meal at least twice each week. (I only pack their lunches 2-3x per week.)

In order to stay on top of the snack or carb items in the kids' lunches, I've started making a double amount of 2 different items then freezing half so there are at least 4-6 options for each week. This week, in addition to homemade bread, made with a soaked sprouted wheat version of this recipe, and homemade granola bars (with almond butter instead of peanut butter) from last week, I made pumpkin soft pretzels, toaster pastries, and flatbread crackers.

The pumpkin soft pretzels were made based on the recipe in Baking Bread with Children. I subbed pumpkin for part of the water, added cinnamon and nutmeg, then sprinkled the pretzels with cinnamon sugar instead of salt.

The toaster pastries were from a recipe I saw on 100 Days of Real Food. I used all sprouted wheat flour and homemade strawberry vanilla jam. These might have been the favorite lunchbox treat so far.

We've been making these crackers quite often. They are made with the Smitten Kitchen Rosemary Flatbread recipe. I usually make a double recipe to give us plenty of crackers. I generally leave out the rosemary when I'm making crackers to make it easier to use the pizza wheel. I also usually sub about 1/2-3/4 cup of almond meal in place of the flour and use half all purpose and half sprouted wheat flour. A flaky gray salt or fleur de sel makes these irresistible!

100 Days of Real Food often has lunch box roundups that include many more fabulous lunch box ideas!

Monday, August 26, 2013


I'm not quite sure when summer came this year.  I think it was here for about a week toward the beginning of July, maybe. This year's weather has been very wonky, from our mild winter, to our never ending spring, to our summer that was cool and rainy nearly every week. This past weekend we had gorgeous weather, sunny and upper 70s, definitely not the usual for late August in these parts! We decided to take advantage of the near autumnal weather and take a walk around a nearby lake. The foliage, blooms, and critters showed us that they don't quite think it's autumn yet.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

back to school

I can't believe how long it's been since I've been in this space. We fully immersed ourselves in the lazy days of summer, and suddenly, it was almost time for school to start.  We've squeezed every last ounce of fun out of our summer days, and now we're back to the land of predictable routines. Finn and Elizabeth started first and seventh grades today, respectively. 

They were both immediately absorbed into the task at hand so I didn't linger. Well, not too long anyway. They truly love their school which makes the separation much more palatable.

Without the noise, commotion, and busyness of children in the house, I began working on a little gift for the kids' teachers and school staff for this afternoon.  I canned more jars full of food this summer than I could possibly hope to store on my canning shelf or in my pantry, and there were still tomatoes sitting in my kitchen begging for a turn in the canner.

I decided those tomatoes might make nice beginning-of-the-school-year gifts in the form of bruschetta. This morning after drop off, I swung by Whole Foods for a dozen demi-baguettes to pair with the the half-pints of bruschetta.

When Elizabeth heard my plan, she said, "Are you bribing our teachers?!" I replied, "I prefer to call it a 'thank you in advance'." She wrinkled her nose, "sounds like bribery to me!" (A little bribery never hurt, anyway, right?)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Yarn Along

For Yarn Along this week, I only have a knitting project to show you. I am about halfway done reading Under the Overpass: A Journey of Faith on the Streets of America, but it's on Paulie's Kindle, not a book I can really photograph with my knitting. Paulie had to read a non-fiction book for school this summer and he and I decided to read that one together.  Well, he actually read it first, and I'm reading it now. I am looking forward to finishing it soon so we can discuss it. (If you want to see what else we've been reading lately, I wrote a long post with reviews of all of our summer read-alouds.) I'm also about half-way through the first sock of a pair that will be a Christmas gift.  I like this self-striping colorway, cute but calm.

I also recently finished the first of the kids' annual Christmas stocking hats.  Philip knew exactly what he wanted, which makes his the first complete.  Paulie is modeling for me to keep the surprise.  The yarn is Shine Worsted in Macaw.  Very bright!

He really wanted a balaclava to keep his head and neck warm, and maybe play a bit of ninja action as well.

Paulie says he isn't sure how a ninja stays hidden with a shockingly green hood. Indeed.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

an accomplishment

Sometimes the goals that I set for myself are unrealistic, and sometimes they just don't manifest in the way I hoped they might. Sometimes I just lose steam or the goal manages to slide further out of reach with each step I take. Although it was a rather open-ended goal, I set an intention this summer to read aloud to my kids as much as possible.  I can't always get them to read the books I'd like for them to read, but they will listen to almost anything that I read aloud. (I think reading Dickens to them in early elementary school proved that.) I tried to choose a variety of topics and interests, and not every book was read aloud to every child. I set a goal of reading at least one book a week out loud, although some weeks that was 2 books because I read one book to Finn and a different book to Elizabeth. The week and a half that we were on our road trip, I didn't read aloud to them at all, but they did listen to 5 audiobooks during that trip (Sarah Plain and Tall, Skylark, Caleb's Story, The One and Only Ivan, and The One Hundred and One Dalmatians). Finn also received and all of the kids listened to the first set of Story of the World CDs.

The list of books and my opinions of those are as follows:

Ancient Egypt: We spent a couple of weeks studying ancient Egypt this summer. (I was a bad blogger for not showing you some of our projects!) Although choose-your-own-adventure books are not my typical read aloud, this fit with our topic and was fun to read with the kids.

Cleopatra: We read this book during the second week of our ancient Egypt study.  The slog through parts was a little dry, for Finn especially, but it was very informative over all.

The Story of Doctor Dolittle: I've wanted to introduce Finn to Doctor Dolittle for a while, and eventually decided to read this to all the kids.  They enjoyed it a great deal, although I can't say that it will go down as a favorite read aloud.

Happy Times in Noisy Village: We are great fans of the Noisy Village books and this book is no exception.  The older kids had already read this so it was a read aloud to just Finn.  He loved it and in fact, we read it twice in one week.

Betsy-Tacy Treasury: This a treasury of Betsy-Tacy books that Elizabeth and I have been reading for some time.  We only read Betsy-Tacy Go Downtown this summer, but the entire treasury is wonderful! In hindsight, all 4 kids would have enjoyed this as a read aloud. However, Elizabeth and I have come to really enjoy our private Betsy-Tacy time.

Nicholas on Vacation: I picked up this book on our roadtrip to Toronto at a cute little bookshop in Kensington Market. It has all the appeal of a European classic children's book.  Unfortunately, as I read it aloud to Finn, I found myself cringing at the obnoxious misbehavior of the title character and really did not enjoy reading this at all. Finn and I did discuss some of the character's behavior as described in the book and why we thought Nicholas might act that way. (I'm truly baffled as to why this has so many positive reviews on Amazon.)

Wonder: Paulie read this back in the spring and I really wanted Elizabeth to read it as well.  She has other books on her list that kept her from getting to this one. One of the weeks that Paulie and Philip weren't around I started reading it to her. Finn wanted to listen as well, and they both enjoyed it tremendously.  So much, that I read it up to 2 hours a day, and we finished it in less than a week. I had Philip read it as soon as he returned and he really enjoyed it as well. It's a must read for upper elementary/middle school age children, in my opinion.

Out of My Mind: Similar to Wonder, this book does an equally good describing life from the perspective of a child with disabilities. I hope my kids will never view a special needs child (or adult) the same way after reading this book. Very descriptive, informative, and well-written, we are currently reading this together as a family and thoroughly enjoying it.

Three Times Lucky: Elizabeth and I read this book together. It has been lauded as one of the best middle grade reads of 2012, and although I found Wonder and Out of My Mind to be better, I can definitely see the draw.  The intrigue and mystery keep the pages turning. My hesitation likely stems from the portrayal of small-town NC, which I recognize can be rife with grammatically-incorrect speech. It just seemed heavy in it's stereotypical portrayal of that area of our state. Elizabeth enjoyed all of the mentions of Winston Salem though, since that's where her school is located.

The Enchanted Wood: After finishing The Magic Faraway Tree back in the spring, my kids were begging to hear The Enchanted Wood, which is really the first book in the Faraway Tree series. It didn't matter to them that we read them out of order.  They loved this one as much as the Magic Faraway Tree and now they are begging for the final book in the series. I really enjoyed the illustrations in the 1993 hardcover version we bought.

Over the Hills and Far Away: This collections of stories about gnomes, elves, fairies, and other magical folk has been sitting on Finn's shelf for over a year. I think Elizabeth read it when we first bought it, but Finn and I just got to it recently.  He loves the stories and we try to read a few of them each day.  We're only about half way through right now, but we hope to finish before school starts next week!

That completes the list of books we've read this summer. It feels like quite an accomplishment to have so much summer reading under our belts.  The kids have read their own books as well, of course, and now I'm trying to choose some good read alouds for the autumn. If you have any recommendations, I'm all ears!

Monday, August 12, 2013

another cross stitch pillow

Life continues to be busy around here, with lots of canning and the occasional outing with friends.  We are trying to squeeze in the last few play dates, etc before school starts next week and all of the craziness has kept me from posting here regularly.  I have been able to squeeze a bit of crafting in here and there.  Over the last week, while Paulie and Philip were at their mom's for the week, I managed to complete another cross stitch pillow for Paulie's birthday. (You can see the one I made for Philip here.)

Paulie has been into all things Totoro since he first watched the movie about 3 years ago.  He owns a few versions of the theme song on his iPod.  He received a little handmade rubber Totoro stamp in his stocking last Christmas.  We don't get into much in the way of commercialized toys, etc, but I don't mind indulging a bit of movie fantasy with a bit of handmade goodness. I found this Totoro cross stitch pattern on etsy. I added a bit of a border to make the picture slightly larger. The brown flannel mushroom print from the Northwoods Forest Friends line seemed like a perfect match for his Totoro print, especially at half off!

Slowly but surely I seem to be getting started on my birthday/Christmas crafting. Since all 4 of our kids birthdays fall between Oct and Jan, starting early is a must!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

the busy work of summer

I fear I have been rather neglectful of this space as of late. The last few weeks have found great deals of produce at small prices as late summer's bounty swings into my local farmer's market. These are the busy days of summer.  I remember these days as a child, keeping myself occupied as my parents spent long hours dealing with bushels of peaches, bags full of tomatoes, or, as on one occasion, an entire trunkful of corn (no small feat in the vast trunk of the Delta 88).

Last summer I tried freezing peaches for smoothies, instead of just canning them. Unfortunately, once the peaches froze into a solid mass of icy peaches, there was no separating just a few for smoothies so most of those peaches went into peach cobblers--not that I heard anyone complaining about that! This year I decided to freeze them on trays before placing them into bags. I also discovered that my Vitamix will easily blend the peach skins. Leaving the skins on the peaches makes quick work of freezing peaches.

I also acquired 7 dozen ears of corn, which were all blanched and frozen on the cob.  My children love their corn on the cob, and it's much more expensive (than off the cob) to buy in the off-season. Now we can have local Silver Queen corn in the autumn and winter.

I canned Dilly Beans again, while enjoying the last jar of last year's Dilly Beans. This pickle is one of our favorites. Food in Jars has a fabulous recipe for them, although I leave out the cayenne pepper for the heat-adverse members of our family.

Last but not least, I purchased 50 lbs of tomatoes to finish up the rest of my tomato canning for the season.  I'm nearly out of jars, which means the tomato canning must be nearly finished. Pictured below is diced tomatoes in the quart jars, pizza sauce and garden salsa (double the cilantro, please) in the pints.

And now my children, much like I did in my youth, are finding ways to pass the long, slow days of summer while I spend my days in the kitchen with my trusty canner. Finn has found joy in taking care of his stuffed friend, Fruffy, who is here eating a breakfast of fabric scraps while Finn enjoys homemade ketchup on his scrambled eggs.

Elizabeth has picked up a love of cross-stitching this summer, enabled by a kit she received for her last birthday.