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1. Attend a birthday party for the pirate-loving son of our friends Ange and Brad.

2. Host a Superbowl party for a certain family of one lady+5 gentlemen.

What? Was that not enough tasks? Do you know what it’s like to prepare for 4 hungry boys to descend on your home? Okay, it’s not that bad. Not when you have a slow-cooker and half a cow in your freezer. Still – I was a little nervous about giving due time to each, individually important, line item. And I might not have been nearly as frazzled Sunday morning if I hadn’t been set back about 4 days by that damn cold. But – I can happily say that both items were crossed off the list as completed, and if I were the kind of person to draw happy faces next to my list items, I would have.

We had a great time with Ange and Brad, because I’m fairly certain it’s impossible to not. The theme was tie dying and I have to say that I thought Ange was crazy to do that with little kids, but it was really fun and I’m even convinced that we should do some more ourselves because the kids had a blast. The cake was even tie dyed with an entire rainbow of frosting and if I wasn’t already impressed by this woman and her mad skills (I was) then this would have done the trick. A massive, beautiful cake that surpassed anything I’ve seen in a store. And of course it tasted fantastic. Add in pizza made by The Chef (Brad) and you’ve got yourself a successful party.

Once we wrapped up, we headed back to the house and immediately finished getting ready for the Superbowl. And again…how can you go wrong when you surround yourself with friends? To be honest, I didn’t really care about the game seeing as I’m still unhappy that The Pack killed their insane season in the playoffs but – oh well. Food, friends, even a little knitting – not a bad way to spend a Sunday evening.

The next day I finished our party favors by soaking and washing them, and then since we had a warm spell yesterday (that sadly disappeared overnight) – we donned them to go spend time outside and spread the message of peace and love to the suburbs of Harrisburg. Very groovy, I must say.

 

 

 

Currently Reading

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett

Oh hey y’all – how have the last 10 days been treating you? They’ve been a little mean to me and I’d like to tell them to knock it off, thankyouverymuch. I had a head cold start at the beginning of last week and for a cold, it was a nasty little bug – knocked me down in one day from Fully Functioning Being With A Tiny Sniffle to Curled Up On Couch-Not Sure If It Was Me Or The Dog That Fed The Kids. And Tom was gone for most of it so what energy I had was reserved for taking care of the kids (I was the one that fed them – come on – the dog can’t reach the peanut butter – note to self: put peanut butter on lower shelf) and not for creating or even reading blogs. I did however surf a lot of Pinterest – that requires minimal brain function – pretty shoes (re-pin), yummy food (re-pin), yummy Adam Levine (re-pin), etc. And here I had a Currently Reading post waiting to be written because what? I read a book – IN 6 DAYS. New since-I-had-kids record. Seriously. How did I read The Help (which is over 500 pages long) in 6 days? I devoted every single second of free-time to it. No knitting, no TV, no Pinterest (okay – maybe a little Pinterest) – just reading. WHY did I read it in 6 days? Beth.

No one who reads my blog should be surprised that I got an e-mail one day from Beth saying we should try something new. Beth loves trying new things. I do not. This time it was book club. They were reading The Help and we had 2 weeks to do it – want to go? Um. No. I actually love the idea of book club but hi – slow reader! – and I like picking my own books. If I were a faster reader and could squeeze in even two books a month, I could see going. Beth doesn’t really always take the first no you give her though, and through a lure of beer (the club is held at an Irish pub in downtown Harrisburg) and the solution of watching the movie, she convinced me. After all, time with Beth is a good time so why not? Except then after a few days, when I received my Netflix copy of The Help – I looked at it, thought about watching it instead of reading it, and it just felt wrong. Like I was cheating on a High School paper by getting the Cliff’s Notes. So I put in a request at our library for a copy and put the movie aside as back-up.

I have to give a bit of a shout-out to Tom for being supportive in this read-all-the-time venture. I’m not the best cleaning lady anyway, but during those six days I didn’t touch a broom or a vacuum, and only one emergency load of laundry was done. It probably helped that at least at night, he had an interesting book he wanted to read as well because instead of our usual TV ritual, we would both pull out our books and settle in for the night. And it worked. I finished the afternoon before book club.

I realize at this point, this post is not really about the book and more about the Miracle of reading it in a reasonable time period but that’s the way these blog things go sometimes.  The book is set in Jackson Missisipi, in the early 1960’s.  Right in the heart of the civil rights movement. Skeeter, a young white woman, has returned from college and wants to become a writer. Through the advice of an editor in New York City, who counsels her to write about something that bothers her – something new, she decides to write about the black maids in her town and the white women they work for – all from the view of the maids.

The book is narrated by Skeeter and two maids. Aibileen, a loving and kind maid who cherishes her time with each child and does her best to instill values of hope and kindness in them, despite seeing them grow up in to their parents over and over – and Minny, a sass-talking fireball that manages to get herself fired, and due to her legendary cooking, re-hired often.

I was surprised at how emotional I got reading this book. It is heartbreaking – so much so because you know despite this being a work of fiction that these people existed. These stories existed. There were times when I felt sick from the hatred expressed, there were times I cried from the treatment of the maids, or of the children by their own disinterested parents, and there were a lot of times I laughed out loud. The characters were all so real. You could as easily love Aibileen as hate Hilly for the people they were. And in the end, it was about hope and the persistence of change – a force that changes civilizations.

I loved the book and would highly recommend it to anyone. I believe it’s an important story and from the animated discussions we held in book club, it definitely gets people talking and thinking. This seems to be a natural fit to slide in to high school curriculum, and whether it does or not, I will be buying my own copy to hand down to my children some day.

As far as book club goes – I loved it. Beer, books, and Beth. All good things. The group was large and fun and I’m glad she nudged me to go. The next time I see a book on their itinerary that looks interesting, I will be happy to grab a copy and pull up a stool, beer in hand, ready to discuss.

Next up: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, by Stieg Larsson

I had to go check, and then double-check, and then triple-check – just to be absolutely sure that I have indeed, never shared the recipe I use for chili. It seems I have not, so I think we should rectify the situation. Last week Tom and I had decided (much to the kids’ dismay) that it would be Soup Week. Seemed appropriate, considering the weather decided to switch from Feels Like Spring to Tricked You! It’s Really Winter! Ella perked up once we told her she could help pick the different soups, and immediately suggested chili. Of course once we told her that no, we could not have chili EVERY night, she folded her arms, put on her best frown and grumbled something about soup being of the devil. (Maybe that wasn’t her exact phrase but trust me, that was the gist of it.)

So here it is – my modified version of a recipe Kari found through Weight Watchers (hence the turkey) years ago. I was never a fan of chili before I tried this one and, although I’ve tried several others and liked them, it’s still my favorite.

Hearty Turkey Chili

Servings: 6

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 Tbs chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 Tbs paprika (I like smoked)
  • black pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (or more, to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp canola oil
  • 2 medium carrots, thinly sliced into rounds (I use a couple handfuls of baby carrots – slice them in half so they won’t roll on the cutting board and cut them into fairly thin slices)
  •  4  garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 medium bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup canned tomato sauce
  • 1 can of kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 can/bottle of your favorite beer (or a cup and a half of chicken broth if you’re not inclined to malt beverages)
  • 1 pound lean ground turkey (or beef if you prefer, or have half a cow in your freezer)

DIRECTIONS

Heat a large pot coated with cooking spray over medium heat. Add oil and onion; saute’ onion until soft. Add garlic, peppers and carrots and cook until garlic is softened. Add ground meat and brown, about 5 minutes. Stir to break up lumps.

Add chili powder, paprika, cumin and red pepper flakes, tomatoes and tomato sauce, broth and vinegar. Bring mixture to a boil and reduce heat. Cover and simmer until meat is tender, 30 to 45 minutes.

Add beans. Simmer, uncovered, about 10 minutes. Season to taste.

Enjoy!

 

I’ve had a conflict battling inside my head for the last few months. Snow. I hate it. There are so many things I miss about Utah – giant piles of snow is not one of them. Pennsylvania normally has fairly mild winters – a real plus for the Weird Hat State, in my book. A few inches of snow will shut the state down until the two snowplows they employ can make it around to dig people out. Obviously there have been exceptions but this year, along with most of the country, has been extra mild. We had a freak storm in October and then nothing. No white Christmas, no white New Years, no white Week After New Years…you get the point. The conflict arises when you add my two beautiful daughters, looking at me with wide, hopeful eyes, almost every morning – “Mommy? Do you think it will snow today?” I dutifully pull up the weather app on my iPhone and have had to say that no, there is no snow today. The blow-up animal sleds Santa brought will have to continue to sit in the closet, unused.

So when Saturday morning arrived and low-and-behold, our driveway was covered with about 3 inches of snow – I was fighting the grumpy attitude emerging from the relization that I wouldn’t be able to go to my pottery class, because I had two EXCITED, EXCITED, EXCITED girls tripping over themselves to get snow gear out. Can we go out now? Breakfast first. Can we go out NOW? Get dressed first. CANWEGOOUTNOW?! Yes. (Imagine a squeal that I think only Koda could hear inserted here.)

We have a very small hill on the side of our house. Perfect for a 2 and 5 year old. And later, a 36 year old. And okay, a 33 year old got in on the action as well. Despite the trepidation shown in the video I’ll be sharing below, the girls stopped being nervous and fully embraced the track that became packed and slick, leading them straight in to the shed, where they stuck out their feet and called out “SHED!” and bounced off – funny EVERY time, apparently. Mommy and the puppy with a million ice-balls stuck to her fur gave up after about 40 minutes or so to head inside and get hot chocolate going. Daddy dutifully stuck it out until first, the Princess, and then the Bird finally gave in to the cold. Although – I think it was really the lure of marshmallows floating in a hot beverage that brought them in. They had to live it up while they could – the rain from yesterday has melted the white blanket into slushy piles of No Fun, and who knows if we’ll get more this year. I’m good. Set, really – for my snow intake, but I can’t help think that if Mother Nature could see the pleading blue and brown eyes that I see – she’d give in for one more go.

Currently Reading

Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein

It’s been so long since I ordered this book, let alone started it, that I don’t remember how I heard about it. My best guess is an NPR interview but it doesn’t really matter except that it’s not something I would normally just grab off the shelf. The book is all about choices. How we are influenced in to them, and how to make better ones, specifically. There is a lot of focus on the role of being a Choice Architect and how good and poor planning by that individual can drastically skew results. The example they give in the beginning of the book is the individual who has the assignment of listing food options for school lunches. Putting healthy food first on the list, and the less-healthy or junkfood options last, substantially increases the amount of healthy food consumed. The person is not excluding the junkfood or forcing any option – but list-order becomes very important when nudging kids to eat better.

There are many examples in the book of how choice architecture and nudges can work. Everything from what songs are purchased on iTunes to what plans are chosen for retirement funds. They even have a chapter devoted to the idea of privatizing marriage. The authors show these examples, talk about why they work and don’t work, and then give their solutions to a lot of the problems, based on their Economist views.

Despite the time it took me to read this (almost 3 months – yikes! – although Christmas was a giant interference in available time) I found it all to be incredibly fascinating. It doesn’t exactly read like a novel, which was another reason it took me so long, but I enjoyed it and thought it was well written for those of us that are not economy experts. My only real complaint is that a lot of the problems with our economy that they point out, can not be fixed by individuals. It can be incredibly frustrating to see a solution for a problem and know that only the government can change it, and most likely will not. I did come away with a new understanding of influences though and that is certainly helpful on a personal level.

Next up: The Help, by Kathryn Stockett

For Twelve Days

Several years ago – in fact, coming in on 10, I think – my sister Kari and I decided to make my mom a set of ornaments to represent the 12 days of Christmas. I remember spending hours at her house, with thread and a pile of felt, hand-sewing our interpretations of each day. Some of them were fairly straight-forward, but we had to insert some personality here and there as well. So the french hen got a beret, the dancing lady wore a hula skirt and coconuts, the leaping lord was a USA pole vaulter (to celebrate the Olympics that were to be held in Utah at the time), and the drummer and piper got a Scottish twist to represent ourselves (Kari was the piper, I was the drummer). They were a big hit and I’ve always intended to make my own set. Yeah…never happened.

What did happen though was last year when my dad was posting information on Facebook about the 12 days of Christmas, Kari mentioned the ornaments and he loved the idea. That led to Kari and I deciding we should make him his own set. That was in January. In November I found that e-mail and forwarded it to her with the question of whether we should still try. Kari recruited my sister Maiken, set up a nifty spreadsheet for assignments (I love a good spreadsheet, let me tell you) and we got to sewing. I did the hen, the maid-a-milking, the dancer, and the drummer. Because Maiken and Kari are in Utah, and I sent mine to Kari for wrapping and mailing, I didn’t get to see them until my dad revealed each one, on the appropriate day, on Facebook.

I love them and it I’m even more determined to get my own set. I do have the pear and a ring cut out so maybe I can get it done before the next decade passes us by.

For Juniper

My brother-in-law’s sister had a baby this summer. They named her Juniper. This kid – I’ve only met her once, but she has a special place in my heart. Maybe because I’ve connected with her momma on Facebook, maybe because she is Keeley’s niece, maybe because she’s just special. I don’t know. I do know that even though I made her a blanket, I wanted to do something else. I thought about knitting a hat, but then I thought about how I’ve always wanted to knit a sweater and a baby-sized sweater seemed like a good first-attempt. I figured something small would be easier and less likely to get hidden in the bottom of a project-bin, due to boredom or frustration.

I feel a little like a broken record here, but – this sweater was enough to convince me that I will never knit an adult sized one. When I finished the first sleeve, it was big enough to fit MY arm. Not exactly 6-9 month appropriate circumference there. And it was wide. REALLY wide. So I shortened the sleeves, blocked it, and put it away, not knowing if I would ever give it to her. After showing it to Beth, my mom, and Keeley – who all said I should definitely give it to her – I finally agreed. But I couldn’t just send something that MIGHT fit her some day. So I made a pair of legwarmers that would most definitely fit her now. And that would have been it, but I had so much fabric left over from the bear hats that I thought she needed one of those too.

By this time it was a week before Christmas, so instead of the intended summer gift of a sweater, Juniper got an entire package of presents. Her mom sent me a picture of her wearing all three at once and I about died over the cuteness. Seriously.

That’s the kind of thing that makes any swearing over knitting patterns worth it.

(Detailed pictures on flickr)

When my mom bought me the Oliver + S Little Things to Sew book for my birthday I wanted to make everything in it. Narrowing down the project I would commit to for Christmas was fairly easy though. A hat with bear ears, lined in velveteen? Perfect. And perhaps it would solve the problem I’ve been having with Birdie, who thinks every knitted hat (no matter how soft the yarn) is itchy. The book indicated it was an easy project as well so that seemed to finalize the choice.

The search for fabric became interesting when, faced with not finding any wool I liked through my usual fabric suppliers, I turned to Etsy in hopes of finding something vintage. And there it was – a large piece of vintage tweed. And there was something else – vintage velvet ribbon from France. Add in some patterned (plain seemed too boring once I spied the Anna Maria Horner collection) velveteen for lining and I was getting excited.

The worst part about making this hat was tracing all the patterns. The book comes with full size patterns – yes, but they are printed over-lapping each other, so there was no way to not trace them. Thank goodness for giant rolls of art-easel paper from Ikea – and I now have 3 sizes done for future use. It was a giant pain though, as far as time consumption goes. The hats themselves were indeed, very easy, and they turned out crazy cute. We get compliments everywhere we go and Birdie declares hers to be itch-free.

For Runaway Yarn

I was fairly certain I was going to give both my mom and Beth a piece of pottery for Christmas this year. I had a few ideas for each of them rolling around in my head, and then I got an e-mail from my friend Ange, who had just made some yarn bowls. I wasn’t sure what exactly a yarn bowl was – my first thought was a giant bowl that you would put on a table or the ground to hold your stash of skeins. She sent me a picture though and, intrigued, I did a Google image search and found hundreds of variations on a simple idea: a bowl with some sort of cut-out, allowing your yarn to be threaded through. The benefit being that the yarn then tumbles around in the bowl as you unwind it for knitting, instead of rolling on to the floor or away from you, as they are prone to do.

Although the idea is very simple, the getting-the-finished-product wasn’t quite that, even though I realize lessons learned will help with that in the future. The more complex you make the cut-out, the more likely it is to break or warp, as I found out early on. I also found out that this lovely new clay shrinks considerably more than the one I was previously using, and if the bowl can’t hold an entire skein, it becomes only semi-useful. But practice makes a better product and I really practiced a lot (some became cereal bowls when I realized the size wasn’t right) – enough that I came away with two pretty bowls for my two favorite knitters.

 

For Sleepy Heads

I think it was about September that I decided to make pillowcases for my nieces and nephews. Easy, but personal homemade gift. I spent some time online trying to find the perfect fabric for each kid. Some were easier than others (they do NOT make Angry Birds fabric, FYI – and Mario Brothers only comes from Japan and is crazy expensive) but I finally ended up with a pile of freshly washed cotton, ready to be whipped in to presents.

I got out my cutting board, the iron, and my pins – looked at the calendar and realized November had disappeared and I now had less than a week to knock these babies out and get them shipped. Lucky for me, pillowcases really are easy to make and I only had to un-pick one of them after a mistake that couldn’t be ignored. Once all the fabric was ironed and cut, it took about 20 minutes to put each one together. Not too shabby at all. I really love the way they turned out – each in tune with the different kid’s personality. Hedgehogs, camouflage, horses, dogs, peace signs and Pac Man (my youngest niece got a Pillow Pet since I wasn’t sure she was using a full-size pillow yet) – these are the things that remind me of each of them, and I hope they know how much their family in PA loves them every time they are used.