Saturday, January 31, 2009

An Afternoon at the Firehouse

We have returned from the aforementioned birthday party at the firehouse. The children watched a fire safety video, explored every inch of the firehouse, heard a real dispatch call, took turns in the trucks and with the hoses, and capped it all off with sandwiches and cake from (appropriately) Firehouse Subs across the street. Big B had such a great time seeing his school friends on different turf...
...and little b explored the turf in a different way, picking his very first flower for me . It was a beautiful afternoon.

Inspiration: Children's Birthday Parties

Today the boys and I are gearing up for our almost-weekly S-day birthday party. We are so lucky to be a part of such a great village of little ones, and we celebrate their trips around the sun with gusto. Today's party is for a classmate of Big B's, held at the fire station down the street. What a great idea! It inspired me to reflect on some of the celebrations we've shared over the years.Big B has had some great ones himself, including a backyard water park, a playground party, a nature preserve expedition and, most recently, a bowl-a-thon. Here are some other great ideas we've enjoyed thoroughly.
  • a beach picnic
  • a local waterpark
  • a knights and princesses theme (dress up mandatory)
  • having each guest decorate pages (sent with the invitations) to be bound in a memory book for the birthday boy or girl
  • family pot-luck with a giant trampoline
  • camping in the backyard
  • a bus ride to a blueberry farm
  • a scavenger hunt
  • an obstacle course
  • a mock-pirate ship and treasure dig
  • a hawaiian luau with a shaved ice bartender
...and of course, the one constant, the piece de resistance, is the cake. Whether your children cha cha cha or not, the singing around the birthday cake is the climax of any young partygoer's experience (followed closely by the pinata). Big B and I made the same chocolate cake for little b's first birthday that we made for Big B's 3rd birthday. The recipe follows. I know, I know, there are boxed ingredients. Maybe next year I'll figure out the proportions of flour, baking powder, etc. to make it from scratch...but convenience trumps health sometimes where birthdays are concerned. And it really is a delicious cake.
1 (18.25 ounce) package devil's food cake mix
1 (5.9 ounce) package instant chocolate pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1/2 cup warm water
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
powdered sugar for the top

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, mix together the cake and pudding mixes, sour cream, oil, beaten eggs and water. Stir in the chocolate chips and pour batter into a well greased 12 cup bundt pan. Bake for 50 to 55 minutes, or until top is springy to the touch and a wooden toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool cake thoroughly in pan at least an hour and a half before inverting onto a plate Dust the cake with powdered sugar. Don't forget the candles!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

CPSIA Blog-in Day

Tonight, as I sit at the computer for a moment before working on--ironically--a handmade gift, I feel the pull to join hundreds of other bloggers (like Sarah Jane) and crafters who are posting about the controversy surrounding the CPSIA, or Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act. If this goes into effect February 10th as it is currently written, then all handmade gifts for children under 12 will have to go through a barrage of expensive testing and conformity to be cleared for sale, both on the shelves as well as on sites like etsy that we all love so much.

The Act was well-intended, to prevent large companies from selling harmful products to children, with a focus on lead and phthalates. It mandates third party testing and certification, and requires manufacturers of all goods for children under the age of 12 to permanently label each item with a date and batch number. However, the writers of the Act did not take into account the tens of thousands of small businesses and crafters who sell children’s products. They will be put out of business by this law due to the prohibitive testing costs.

For example, let's say a stay-at-home mom knits a darling little sweater and puts it up for sale on etsy. Each particle of that sweater--each zipper, button, thread, fabric and yarn--much be separately tested. Third party testing can range anywhere from $100 to $500 per test. You do the math. So while a home crafter or small business might make products that are perfectly safe for children, in all likelihood they won't be able to afford the proof.

So who will be affected?

Parents of young students:
Parents can expect to see the cost of school supplies sky rocket. While those paper clips weren't originally intended for your student to use, they will need to be tested now that your 11-year-old needs them for his school project. This law applies to any and all school supplies (textbooks, pencils, crayons, paper, etc.) being used by children under 12.

Anyone who reads children's books:
Can you believe this: all children's books will be pulled from library and school shelves, as there is no exemption for them (read the letter from the American Library Association). That’s okay though, there's always television. Our children don’t need to learn the love of reading after all.

Lovers of handcrafted things:
That charming blanket you originally had your eye on for $50 will now cost you around $1,000 after it's passed testing. It won't even be the one-of-a-kind blanket you were hoping for. Items are destroyed in the testing process, making one-of-a-kind items virtually impossible. So that gorgeous hand-knit hat you bought your child this past winter won’t be available next winter.

People who care about the planet:
All items in non-compliance will now be dumped into our already overflowing landfills. Imagine not just products from the small business owners, but the Big Box Stores as well. You can't sell it so you must toss it. Or be potentially sued for selling it. You can't even give them away. If you are caught, it is still a violation.

Thrift store shoppers:
You will now need to spend $20 for that brand new pair of jeans for your 2-year old, rather than shop at the Goodwill for secondhand treasures. Many resale and consignment shops are eliminating children's items all together to avoid future lawsuits.

Antique toy collectors:
Due to the new law, you'd better start buying now because it's all going to private collection and will no longer be available to purchase (read the article here). “Because the new rules apply retroactively, toys and clothes already on the shelf will have to be thrown out if they aren't certified as safe.”

The American Economy:
If it's even possible, the American economy will be hit even harder with the inevitable loss of jobs and revenues from suppliers, small businesses and consumers. The required testing is far too costly and restrictive for small businesses or individuals to undertake.

The Worldwide Economy:
As you know, many foreign manufacturers have already pulled out of the US market. You can imagine the impact of this on their businesses. Read the recent article from Forbes on this issue.

So what can you do to help?

Call your Congressman (the time for letters and emails has passed), and ask them to request--er, demand--a hearing from the Energy and Commerce Committee to discuss this new law. Find out your representative's position on this important issue, and let yours be known. Encourage him or her to take a bipartisan look at the big picture and consequences of passing this law without amendment to include the protection of handmade gifts, books, antique toys, vintage treasures, small businesses, stay-at-home moms...the list goes on and on.

Thank you for indulging me...I'll exchange my soapbox for my much preferred sewing machine now. I just didn't realize the implications of this law until I read some of the evidence and articles and I am very, very concerned.

(image courtesy of hasenpfeffer incorporated)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Yoga Night Crock Pot Recipe: Beef Stew

After our weekend getaway, I was considering what to throw in the crock pot this morning when I read Rose's post about her Ancho Beef Stew (yum). I decided to follow suit with my own more traditional version.

1-2 lbs. Stew Beef (or lamb)
1/2 c. flour mixed with generous sprinkles of salt and pepper
2 Yukon Gold Potatoes, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 onions, diced
about a cup of chopped green beans
about a cup of frozen corn kernels
2 cups Pomi strained tomatoes (or V8 juice)
1 cup beef broth
1 T. worcestershire sauce
1 portabello mushroom cap
a few sprigs of Italian parsley

Dredge the meat in the flour mixture and brown in a little bit of oil. Put all of the vegetables in the crockpot. Place the meat on top of the vegetables. Mix the tomatoes or juice, the broth, the worcestershire sauce, and salt, pepper and oregano to taste. Pour the mixture over the meat. Cook on low for about 9 hours. Chop up the portabello mushroom and the parsley and stir into the mix. Test for seasoning and salt and pepper to taste. Cook on low for about another hour. Serve with some crusty bread and enjoy!

BONUS RECIPE: Israeli Couscous with Chard & Carrots
I have to throw this in, because I made it for the kids last night and wound up gobbling it up myself. I found the recipe on one of my favorite sites, Apartment Therapy's The Kitchn. My adaptation follows.

1 3/4 c. chicken broth
1 1/4 c. Israeli couscous
olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, finely chopped
dash cumin
dash chili powder
4 c. chopped chard
1/4 c. chicken broth
1 tsp. salt
1 T. balsamic vinegar
Bragg's Liquid Aminos

Heat the broth to boiling in a small saucepan. Stir in the couscous and lower the heat to a simmer. Cover and cook about 10 minutes. Remove the lid and set aside. Heat a little bit of olive oil in a large pan over medium-low heat. Saute garlic, carrots, cumin, and chili powder until soft and fragrant. Add the chard and saute until wilted, then stir in the couscous and remaining broth. Cook for another five minutes or so. Add salt, pepper, vinegar and a couple of healthy squirts of Bragg's. I served this with tamari fried tempeh and couldn't get enough of it. Enjoy!

Monday, January 26, 2009

The Year of the Ox: Prosperity and Fortitude

Today, on the first New Moon of the year, we celebrate the Chinese New Year: The Year of the Ox. The Ox is a sign of prosperity through fortitude and hard work. This seems particularly relevant for this year, in this country. The picture above was taken, fittingly, in 'Asia' at Animal Kingdom; Grammy and Papu treated the whole family to a jam-packed Disney weekend......where prosperity abounds. But amid the overpriced plastic and garish displays of wealth was another resounding image, one that I found most refreshing. A sign of fortitude, and hard work. A sign of a new wave of devotion to conscious living, and appreciation for this life.Little b and I got an early start on the hard work this morning, following the Chinese tradition of sweeping out the bad luck from the past year and bringing in the good luck to come. Sweeping has brought both of my boys much toddle-y pleasure over the years.A family vacation and a clean sweep...what a great way to begin inviting prosperity! Happy Chinese New Year!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Inspiration: The Quilts in our Home

I am embarking on some serious quilting projects. The bunk bed quilts are in full force, I am springing into action on Project Improv, and fabric combinations keep bouncing around in my daydreams. To kick this quilt-a-thon off on the right foot, I went around my house today snapping shots of our handmade quilts. These span three decades and each have a special story.

This was my quilt when I was a baby, given by a friend of my parents. I love the soft cordouroy (rarely available anymore) and the vintage fabrics. What I love most is that the quilting, and the corners, are imperfect......much like Big B's baby quilt, which was the first quilt I ever made. I didn't know a thing about binding, or machine quilting, or pinning, or basting. I didn't press anything. The corners on this thing are ridiculous, but it was made with deep love for the growing soul in my belly, five years ago. The only quilting techniques I have learned are from the master herself, Papa's Grandma Wilson. I was honored and humbled to have worked on a quilt with her a few years ago, along with her daughters and granddaughters. She showed me how to hand quilt and applique. Her hand quilting is impeccable. This is the double wedding quilt she made for Papa and me, almost seven years ago.I love how she used the backing as a thin binding and worked with the rings themselves as the border. I cannot even imagine how much time went into this masterpiece. She has made quilts for each of her six children, her thirteen grandchildren, and several great grandchildren.Would you just look at these fabrics? So darling. And the green and yellow in the centers of the rings were inspired by our springtime wedding, which was held on her land beneath the pines.This quilt was also made by Grandma Wilson, for the birth of Big B. She sent me a swatch of it while I was pregnant that I stuck into my pregnancy journal and felt almost every day. The fabrics she used for the dragonflies are exquisite.The glistening wings are meticulously embroidered and the hand quilting is just incredible.When Big B was still crawling, I made this queen sized quilt for Papa. I used tie quilting and cheap batting and I have learned my lesson! I don't think any of the knots have held, and there is batting coming loose everywhere...but it is well loved and well used. I do look forward to replacing it on our bed with the Project Improv king-sized quilt. When I was pregnant with little b, I had several gifted baby quilts under my belt and was ready to move beyond the simple square patchwork. A great new fabric store had just opened up in our community and I decided to splurge on some batiks. By the end of my second trip to the store, Sue had talked me into trying my first log cabin quilt. I am so glad I did.Because I bought all of the fabric and batting from Sue, she agreed to let me use her short-arm quilting machine to finish the job. See the Christmas decor in the background? I was literally nine months pregnant when I quilted this. I loved using this machine! Instead of moving the fabric to quilt your design, the machine allows you to move the needle, making it feel like you are simply drawing a pattern on your fabric. Little b is snuggled beneath this quilt right now, sweet as can be.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Praise Song for the Day

Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others’ eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues.

Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum, with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky; A teacher says, “Take out your pencils. Begin.”

We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; Words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, “I need to see what’s on the other side; I know there’s something better down the road.”

We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; The figuring it out at kitchen tables.

Some live by “Love thy neighbor as thy self.”

Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today’s sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp -- praise song for walking forward in that light.

--Elizabeth Alexander, for the inauguration of Barack Obama, 01.20.09

Yoga Night Crock Pot Recipe: Mojo Pork

For Christmas, Papa bought me a ten-pack of yoga classes from my favorite Kripalu instructor. I was over the moon. I used to have a daily (almost) practice, but since little b's birth I've fallen far off the wagon. Last Tuesday was my first class and it was SO good to be back.

I thought I'd begin a nice ritual on Tuesday mornings of throwing dinner in the crock-pot, as a little thank you to Papa so he doesn't have to juggle the kids and work up a healthy meal. It seems only right that the inaugural (no pun intended) meal be our family's crock-pot favorite: Mojo Pork with Black Beans and Rice. The mojo pork part was taught to me by my dear friend Lucy, and I am eternally grateful.


1 Boston Butt Pork Roast, preferably bone-in
2 onions
1 bottle (wine-sized) of Goya Mojo sauce
3 cloves garlic
2 cans Goya black beans
1 bag of Vigo Yellow Rice
2 packets Goya sazon without annatto
lime juice, apple cider vinegar, or orange juice (just a splash)
2 t. dried oregano
olive oil

Chop one of the onions and put it in the bottom of the crock pot. Put the pork butt on top of the onions and pour the mojo sauce over it. Cook on low for 8 hours or so. Cut the meat off the bone and cook it for another hour. During that hour, follow the package directions to cook the yellow rice. Saute the other onion and garlic cloves in a bit of olive oil. Add the 2 cans of black beans, a splash of lime juice, apple cider vinegar, or orange juice, the Goya sazon, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste. Serve the pork over the beans and rice. Papa LOVES this dish wrapped in tortillas also. Namaste!

Monday, January 19, 2009

2nd Knitting Project: Happy Birthday, little l

Big L and little l came for a visit! These are Big B and little b's cousins and two of the loves of my life. Part of the reason for their visit was that we hadn't seen each other since well before Christmas, and had not yet exchanged gifts, nor celebrated little l's sixth birthday (which falls the day after Christmas).

Little l wanted to see snow for his birthday, so Aunt S and Uncle S packed up their converted 'karma' bus and headed north . In that spirit, I packaged him up some snow of my own, and to go with it, I made him this scarf, using the same colorway as Papa's hat.

This scarf went everywhere with me. I knitted 12 stitches per row, which in that chunky yarn was just the right size for a six-year-old neck. A row or two at the drive-thru at Starbucks...
...and getting ready to knit a few more rows out by the fire Friday night. So cute on him, dontcha think?