Saturday, February 28, 2009

Yard Sale Score: Welcome, Fiona!

Five dollars. I couldn't believe this yard sale find this morning! Let's just say not everyone in the family was as enthusiastic as I was...but for $5, I didn't hear too much complaining. This Florida flamingo is now affectionately called Fiona (Papa's idea...I think he's warming up to her), and it wasn't until we got home and plugged her in that we realized she is not only luminous, but her wings and neck move. BONUS.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Little Altars Everywhere

I have little altars everywhere. This morning I started snapping pictures of these collections of magic. Each contribution marks a time in my life that has presented me with clarity, a connection to the earth, or profound gratitude.

In the heart of our home, at the crossing of the four communal living spaces, lies our nature altar. Presiding over this collection is a lovely creature with feathers in her hair and a harvest in her jug. She was given to me by a family friend, shortly after the birth of Big B. I thanked him, secretly thinking that her porcelain features wouldn't last a week in our newly childproofed home. I put her here, simply for un-touchability, until I could decide what to do with her. The gravity of her gracefulness pulled these objects in, one by one. Some recent editions to this altar hold special magic for me. The ball of red yarn is something I am most honored to be the keeper of; it has traveled with me to eight Mother Blessings, with two more approaching. The silver item that resembles a candlestick is actually a monaural, or Pinard horn. It was given to me by a foremother of modern American midwifery, who used it to hear the hearts of babies in the bellies of women in Russia. And added to the collection from the New Moon Circle just last night is the amethyst in Buddha's little lotus flower. Other altars reinforce my connection with my children, and with their births. This homage is situated directly behind my desk. It fosters creativity for me, reflective of the honor it has been to help create two amazing little people. In this altar are birth goddess prints from my friend The Visionary, an image of my mother carrying my sister and me, and stones and gifts from Papa, Big B and my dear friends at my Mother Blessing for little b.At that Blessing, my own birth altar was created with gifts and blessings from the women in my circle. This incredible display gave me strength during my labor: I faced this altar as I birthed little b, right in this very room.A smaller birth altar has found its way to the top of our piano, where little hands cannot get burned by open flames. Each time a friend is in labor, we light a candle for her journey, and to welcome the new baby. There is usually a bit of ju-ju that accompanies this candle. What began as the welcome for one baby has stayed, and morphed into welcomes for many others. Sweet Papa gave me this tiger-eye laughing Buddha for Mother's Day a few years ago, and I felt like it needed to travel with me. Several other special objects have followed suit. Most of these were found on beach days: sea glass, a special shell, sand dollars. The stones were given to me by Big B, with requests for their placement here. And tucked behind that shell is a piece of rutilated quartz from a New Moon Circle at Rose's house long ago. These items all bring a bit of magic into our daily travels. A smaller travel altar hangs from our mirror, made of fun, bright, playful items that remind us to laugh and adapt to whatever the day's journey brings.Big B is a thoughtful benefactor to all of the altars in our home, and has gathered a small collection of his own. Among the objects of his affection are his three laughing Buddhas, given to him by his cousins, who share his fondness for them. His altar also holds two signed childrens' books, his first broken board from Tae Kwon Do, a special marble he bought with his own money, a snowglobe from Mama, and a piece of petrified wood from Papa. I thank Mama Bird for reminding me of my affinity toward these collections at last night's New Moon Circle, where I set up another familiar altar. It is only after having photographed and described these groupings of magical things that I realize that each tiny item has found its way to exactly the right place. Sort of like we have.
"An altar in our life, alters our life." --H.H. Swami Tejomayananda

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Thirty Minutes of Zen

This afternoon, through a serendipitous series of events, I found myself at home, alone, with my current knitting project and a Cinnamon Dolce Latte. At home. Alone. For thirty minutes.

I looked down at the coffee table and saw the juxtaposition of these two luxuries in my life and couldn't help but try to capture it, just in case I don't get another half-hour like this one for a while. I missed my boys, but this little pause was welcome. Probably because it was completely unexpected.

Happy Mardi Gras!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Practice: Stacked Coin Doll Quilt

After I made the quilt square for the Project Improv charity quilt, I began sorting through my fabric scraps, inspired. I found these strips from my first endeavor into strip piecing many moons ago. These were all scraps that I didn't particularly love, but pieced together I liked the rainbow effect. What I didn't think through when making these was that strip piecing only works (for most quilts) if you sew a FEW rows together at once, not all of them! When I realized my mistake I tucked these into my scrap drawer and promptly forgot they existed, until last night. But in practice for my Stacked Coins quilt, they are perfect. While watching the Oscars I whipped together a doll-sized quilt top (only about 20" x 40") for my first attempt at the pattern.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Project Updates: Improv and Chinese Coins

I woke up this morning, made a pot of coffee, and started freely piecing fabric. My contribution to the charity quilts for Project Improv had four requirements: that it be 12.5" square, somewhat follow a log-cabin pattern, be in the blue / green colorway, and most importantly, be completely improvisational. I am happy with this wonky result! I know that most of the outer pieces will be hidden in the seam allowance, but perhaps those thin strips showing will add some interest to the overall quilt. I can't wait to see the finished product. Blocks are due to Tallgrass Prairie Studio by April 1st, and will be pieced and quilted this summer. I'll be sure to post photos!

The second phase of Project Improv is that each participant make their own completely improvisational quilt. When I listed my sewing projects for the year, I'd thought I'd do another log cabin for our bed, which is in the most desperate need of a new quilt. But ever since Rose gave The Visionary a stacked coins quilt for her wedding, I've wanted to try one myself. And so--how serendipitous--this morning, as I was delving into my first improvisational square, I found this Piece-a-long Coin Quilt project from Chickpea Sewing Studio. Voila! Two groups to hold me (virtually) accountable to finishing one quilt! This is one of the many reasons I love blogging: the self-inflicted impetus to finish projects. I am now freshly inspired to create a king-sized quilt for our bed that will be clean, modern, slightly funky, fun, and hopefully, well-crafted.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Great Equalizer: Cars and (Monster) Trucks

As a mother of two boys almost exactly three-and-a-half years apart, I am always appreciative of those special activities that 'bridge the gap.' Thus, a new series of blog posts is born: The Great Equalizers. These are the toys, games, and objects of affection that are adored by Big B and little b alike.

Today, as Big B and Papa prepare for their third annual father-son trip to the Monster Truck Show, I am grateful for The Great Equalizer that bonds (most) males worldwide: cars and trucks. And let's just go ahead and amend that to cover anything that requires gasoline and has an engine. This includes, of course, our family's four-wheeler collection. Both Big B and little b have cried at the sound of the four-wheeler engine shutting off. I believe the ability to operate these vehicles properly is deep in the blood of all three men in my house.
Let us not forget the tractor, in all its many seductive forms. The scooping, the digging, the purring, the beeping, the mowing, the plowing, the lifting, the shifting: ultimately, the meditative repetition. This, I can understand.And of course, the ultimate thrill: being allowed to 'drive' Papa's truck while sitting on his lap. Some of our favorite car and truck activities:
--Blank label stickers make a great indoor 'track' for cars and trucks. Courses can loop, climb furniture, etc.
--Chalk 'tracks' outside
--Dumping sand / shells into the sandbox with dumptrucks

--Making a parade with all toy cars and trucks, lining them up by order of size

--Making ramps / parking garages / crash courses with building blocks

--Good old fashioned races

--With small toy cars, a cookie sheet, some art paper and kid-safe paint, a masterpiece can be created! We find it works best to put the paper on the cookie sheet, some paint on the paper, then move the car through the paint and across the paper. The tire tracks make a great texture.

But for now, we prepare for Monster Jam, creating our own monster truck show in the backyard.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Fourth Knitting Project: This Hat is Too Small!

Remember that Gnomey Hat I made for my midwife's little one? On our trip to the yarn store, Big B picked out a skein of that same self-striping yarn in a cool blue palette. I got to work on a hat for him, following this pattern, shortly after the Gnomey was finished.

The dark side: I realized late last night that something had gone awry. I finished it anyway, and it doesn't even come close to fitting Big B's head. Was it my needles? The yarn? I suppose a good lesson is to measure the circumference of the head upon which you'd like the hat to sit.

The bright side: Without my suggestion, Big B immediately offered the too-small snuggly to his little brother, who was reaching curiously for it. Papa helped little b put it on. It fits, barely and tightly. This knit just might have to find its way on a plane to Sweden...
I still owe Big B a hat. If any knitters reading this have a great relatively easy pattern to share, I'd be very grateful!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Operation Fishbowl Featured on Tip Junkie!

Hop on over to Tip Junkie today; our Operation Fishbowl was featured in their 'Get Organized' edition of Teach Me Thursday! I am glad this post was resurrected today, as organization is numero uno on my priority list. Off I go to clean my office and manifest productivity!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Three Days, Thirteen Pounds of Strawberries

Hard to believe, but they're gone. Today we kicked off the end of our mini-strawberry festival with this ode to the berry (I know, it looks like an apple), made with cardstock, glue, and wax crayon shavings. The crayon shavings were leftover from a gift we presented at a very sweet princess-and-superhero party over the weekend. Big B and I peeled and broke up a tray of various shades of pink, red, and white crayons.
We then placed the bits into a mini-muffin tin and baked them for about 15 minutes at 250F. In my rush to get Indiana Jones ready (there is currently no greater superhero to Big B), I neglected to spray the tin, and the crayons, of course, stuck. Thank you, Papa, for patiently scraping the new and beautiful princess crayons out of the muffin tin. The only thing Big B requested from the thirteen pounds of strawberries was a strawberry shortcake. So this afternoon, in preparation for Papa's softball picnic, we got to work. A bit messy, but homemade, down to the whipped cream.
We had strawberries to snack on, rhubarb pie, strawberry muffins, strawberry shortcake...what else did we do with all those strawberries? Papa got busy mixing his own southern delicacy, infusing strawberries into moonshine he was given on his last trip to Georgia.
And that is how one family of four used thirteen pounds of strawberries in three days.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Bebopareebop Rhubarb Pie (and Strawberries too)

Today is Presidents' Day. More importantly (at least in our house), today is a school holiday. This seemed to occur simultaneously to Mama Bird, The Visionary, and me, as we called each other late last week with different keep-'em-busy schemes. Mama Bird's idea won me over, and this morning we piled into our car with Noni to head to our local u-pick strawberry farm.This afternoon brought the Presidents' Day activity to our house as Big B's neighborhood friends piled in, and quickly out--to the backyard. I love days like this. Everyone played beautifully together, little b was entertained and cared for, and I sat watching, knitting, and soaking up the most beautiful day in recorded history. Of course, strawberries were on the menu.And this evening, with my sweet ones in bed, I turned to (what was left of) the thirteen-plus pounds of strawberries and rhubarb in my kitchen. My first order of business was to prepare the batter for Fresh Strawberry Muffins, adapted from a Jesse Ziff Cool recipe years ago, to be mixed and baked in the morning. Then I filled my house with the mouthwatering aroma of Bebopareebop Rhubarb Pie, perhaps my favorite of all the pies (please don't let Pecan hear that). Both recipes follow.

Fresh Strawberry Muffins
1/2 c. butter, softened
1 c. brown sugar, firmly packed
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 c. plain yogurt
2 t. vanilla
1 c. white flour
2/3 c. whole wheat flour
2 t. baking powder
pinch salt
1 c. mashed strawberries

The night before: Cream the butter with the sugar. Let it sit out overnight, covered. Beat the eggs with the yogurt and vanilla, refrigerate. Stir together dry ingredients and cover. Prepare strawberries, cover, and refrigerate.
The morning after: Preheat oven to 375F. Beat liquids into butter mixture. Add dry ingredients and stir just until blended. Fold in strawberries, do not overmix. Pour batter into prepared muffin tin, filling cups 2/3 full. Bake for about 20 minutes, until golden and springy. Cool in pan for 5 minutes before transferring to wire rack.

Bebopareebop Rhubarb Pie
4 cups fresh rhubarb and strawberries
3/4 c. white sugar
1/4 c. white flour
dash of cinnamon (optional)
1 9" pie crust (the best I've found is Alton Brown's)
crumb topping (1/2 c. flour, 1/2 c. brown sugar, 3 T. butter cut in until course and crumbly)

Chop rhubarb and strawberries. In a large bowl, mix sugar, flour, and cinnamon if desired (I'm a bit of a rhubarb purist--I omit the spice, though I love cinnamon in all other applications). Gently toss rhubarb and strawberries in the mix. Pour into prepared pie crust and sprinkle with crumb topping. Protect the outer crust with foil. Bake at 375F for 25 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 25 more minutes. Cool on a wire rack.
(A note about the naming of the pie: Bebopareebop Rhubarb Pie is a fictitious sponsor of A Prairie Home Companion, a National Public Radio program and one of the true constants of my life, accompanying me through every chapter.)
"But one little thing can revive a guy,
And that is home-made rhubarb pie.

Serve it up, nice and hot.

Maybe things aren't as bad as you thought.

Mama's little baby loves rhubarb, rhubarb,
Beebopareebop Rhubarb Pie.

Mama's little baby loves rhubarb, rhubarb,

Beebopareebop Rhubarb Pie. "

--Garrison Keillor