Friday, October 30, 2009

Mouse Part Deaux

I have no idea how I ended up on my old blog last night, sifting through the year 2005 (seriously!) but I have to tell you...I am so grateful it's there. I had a real trip down mama-memory-lane (could it legitimately be called "mammary lane"?) and that year happened to encompass most of my pregnancy and Scotty's first few months. So good.

I have little to report on at the moment, though Christmas presents are on my mind, a certain insurance issue I need to get resolved is also on my mind, and I'm swamped at work right now. So, nothing good happening there.

In my search for (....what? I think I was looking for a particular picture?) I found this story and it completely relates to the Great Mouse Incident of 2009. I couldn't believe my luck that there was little to no swearing in this excerpt! Very uncommon, believe me.

From October 11, 2005:

My mom told me this funny story the other day. They haven't any mice, but apparently they have "roof rats". I had never heard of such a thing (thank all stars!) but apparently they are quite large and scary. Upwards of a foot, sans tail. My brother told her he could hear them in the attic over his room, starting a couple of months ago. My mom knew they were rats, apparently, but didn't want to deal with my "sissy brother, god he's such a girl" (that's a direct quote) so she told him it was squirrels. Anyway, my dad had to go up there to deal with some electrical problems and came down later quite disturbed. Rats, he confirmed. Big 'uns. Over the last couple of weeks, the rats have been really stepping up their presence. My parents had to cut down a butterfly bush that had grown to epic proportions, and a positively jurassic vining plant near the family room window, because the rats were using them to jump from the house to the fields. My mom went into H0me Dep0t after clearing the yard, and was standing in line with a bunch of other folks looking for rat and/or mouse poison. Now, my mother is a real crack pot. Seriously. But you should have seen the look on my face when she told me how she had struck up a conversation with the other people looking to kill their pests:

Mom: You have rats?
Guy in Line: I have mice! They are out of control.
Mom: You should see the roof rats we have.
Guy in Line: "Roof rats"? Are they bigger than other rats?
Mom: You better believe it! Big enough to sit on my deck and shoot them.
Guy in Line: uhhhhh....
Mom: Yep. I killed four last night. Shot them dead.
Guy in Line: Oh, well, uh.... I don't have a gun.
Mom: Too bad!

I almost hurt myself laughing.


This little story reminded me of another rodent related story (the hell??) that involves my brother. You should have my mom tell you this story sometime, actually, as she physically hurts herself whenever it comes up. She just can't stop laughing!

She and my dad sent my brother into the backyard with a bb gun to shoot at a particularly garrulous rat. I could not make this up. Anyway, they stood near the back door, watching him. And as he rounded about, in the middle of the yard, sweat beading on his upper lip, bb gun poised, they watched as one of the cats approached him from behind and rubbed up against his leg looking for love.

Even though my parents saw this coming from a mile away, they still nearly died laughing. Because, as you can imagine, my poor brother just about jumped out of his skin and, according to my mother, "screamed like a girl" at the top of his lungs.

I think they're both lucky he didn't plug them with a bb.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Tuesday night, I didn't get a lot of sleep. It looked like this:

10:00 to 10:30 ~ I've decided in the last week or two to try to get more sleep, as a part of being healthier. The whole regime has included more exercise, less food, more water, less diet pepsi, and more sleep. So getting into bed by 10:30 is a VERY BIG DEAL around here as, to be honest, my "normal" bedtime is at around midnight. *cough* So I start getting ready around the time I get my teeth brushed and flossed, the cat in (or out) and then in (or out) again, the doors locked, and the living room picked up (I hate waking up to a mess, though it does happened today, in fact!)... I can wash my face and be in bed by 10:30. Since I've started this, I usually toss and turn for half an hour before finally getting to sleep. (I am hopeful that this will get better.)

10:30 - Go to get in bed. Find both boys in our bed with Erik. There is no place for me to sleep. Everybody is already sleeping, so they miss out on my pouting. Sad for them.

10:30 - 11:30 ~ Lay on the couch and try to go to sleep. Toss. Turn. Sigh. Hear a mouse rustling in the kitchen. Now, we have mice. In fact, we once had something considerably larger than a mouse, thumping around in our attic. Seriously. I wouldn't even send Erik up there to take care of it, because by the weight and movement thumping on the ceiling, it appeared to be roughly the size of a racoon...but I don't think a racoon was living in our attic. If you get my drift. But, I did ask him to "take care of it". Not a peep from up there in months and, like the mafia, I don't ask.

Our house backs up to a large, open field. It's part of the watershed for the lake, part of the regional parks system, too. It's great because it's protected land and we'll never have neighbors back there. Yay for open space! Especially where we live; there's just not a lot of it left. One of the drawbacks to all the space (and I'll live with this) is that we do get mice. I once woke up from a dead sleep to find a mouse eating a cracker on my nightstand, so listening to one in my kitchen felt...well, better than that.

11:30 - 12:30 ~ Slowly go insane, listening to the mouse. Can't sleep. The noise is getting intermittent now.

12:30 - 1:30 ~ Decide to try and "sneak up" on the mouse. Leave all the lights off, and tip toe into the kitchen. Freeze and listen. Move another step. Freeze and listen. The mouse appears to sense my presence, and appears to also "freeze and listen". We're at an impasse, so I go back to the couch. He immediately starts crackling. Mother...humper. So I try to sneak up on him again. Repeat the whole scenario half a dozen times.

1:30 - 2:30 ~ I give up and lay back down. Only he starts crackling again. I throw off my blankets, and realize that the mouse appears to be at the back of the kitchen, in the eating area. It comes to me that we have some macaroni (for necklaces) and rice (for playing with measuring cups) on the bottom shelf of the art cabinet in the corner. I run to the cupboard and throw open the door, stop myself from belting "Aha!" at the top of my lungs (it is the middle of the night) and slowly deflate when a mouse doesn't come shooting out. I know. Let's just ponder that for a second. I was disappointed that I hadn't scared a mouse out my cupboard. What can I say? It was the middle of the night.

So I slowly start pulling out a few items from the bottom shelf...and as I am sitting there, in the middle of the night, on the kitchen floor, the heater comes on....a whoosh of air blows out of the vent between the cabinet and the back door...and it slowly dawns on me that the rainbow "star" made of waxed kite paper that is taped to the glass in my back door... is flapping in the breeze of the heater vent. Flapping in the breeze, and make a crackling sound. Flapping in the breeze, making a crackling sound, that sounds a lot like a mouse eating a cracker. I find tape in the art cabinet, and tack the bottom of the star down with it.

2:30 ~ Lay down in silence. Problem solved!

2:35 ~ Erik stumbles out of the bedroom, down the hall, and turns off the heater. Harumph.

2:35 - 4:30 ~ Can't sleep. Still. Find a website that offers College Algebra problems for practice. Start doing factoring and simplifying problems. Realize that I haven't had to write the conjugate to clear the radicals from a denominator in a long time. Decide that I might just go ahead and get a BS in mathematics. Use the online websites to look up classes for the spring at the university and the community college.

4:30 ~ Decide that perhaps I'm not in my right mind. Finally fall asleep.

4:30 - 6:30 ~ Sleep. Blissful sleep.

6:30 ~ Wake up, get it to be bright eyed and bushy tailed!

So, I worked all day, picked up the boys, came home....and stared. I was so tired! Erik walked in at quarter to five (an hour earlier than usual!) and I said, "I think I'll take a nap."

I woke up at 6 this morning. Thanks honey! I needed that. Still looking up those classes, though.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How to Get Started: Water Bath Canning at Home

My friend (From high school and college! Thank you, Facebook!) Michelle asked about canning. I'm no expert, but she asked if it's a big deal, and I have to No, it totally is not a big deal. In a nutshell, it comes down to this: sanitize, fill, boil.

So here's my primer on how I got started, and a few links that I personally find indispensable. There are way more knowledgeable people, all over the place, but if you're really brand new (as I was last season) you might find this helpful.

First, there's some basic equipment I needed to start preserving food at home. At home, you can either water bath preserve or use a pressure canner. A big pot and the jars are the must haves, and most people would add a jar lifter and wide-mouth funnel to that, but I've done quite a bit and never gotten either one, so, there you go.

The big pot needs to be large enough to fit the jars, and hold enough water to completely cover the jars when the water is boiling. I used my stock pot until I bought this one for water bath canning. It's nice because it has this tray inside, which is the main reason I've gotten away without buying a jar lifter. I use my silicon tongs to lift the handles of the tray out of the boiling water, then I use potholders to carefully lift the tray and hook the handles over the side of the pot. This pulls the jars out of the water far enough to be able to lift them out using a pot holder. Everything I've ever read says don't drop and don't jostle the jars during the process. I've been okay, but to be honest, I'll end up with a jar lifter someday, I've no doubt. I'm just kind of lazy, so who knows when I'll get around to buying one?

The jars I use are the Kerrs or the Balls, for canning, with the two-piece lids. My understanding is that once you've water bath canned the jars, you can take the outer ring off the lid and reuse it with other jars in the canning process, leaving just the vacuum-sealed flat part on top of the jars. I've never done that, I leave them all together. It's never come up that I need that ring again before I've used whatever is in the jar and can use the whole set up again. These jars can be a little pricey, but since I'm so lucky, I hold out hope that I will come across a box of them under a table at a rummage sale for a dime a piece. Knock wood. Until that day, I made the investment, because I know I'm going to use them over and over. When the red rubber on the bottom of the flat lids starts to wear away, you can buy replacements without buying the jars.

Second, you have to prepare everything. Of course you have to clean, chop, cook, or otherwise prepare the actual food.

You also need to sterilize the jars (in the dishwasher or set them to boil in the same pot you'll do the water bath in) and the lids/rings, too. I don't usually run the lids through the dishwasher. I've heard of people just putting them in a bowl of hot water. I personally drop them into the water bath for a minute or two, then remove them right as I'm ready to put them on the jars. The jars I boil, now, though in the beginning I ran them through the dishwasher. I also use a ladel or a make-shift 'funnel' (cut the bottom from a yogurt container, that's worked) to get the food into the jars. A wide-mouth funnel is included on most people's "basic starter kit", but I've gotten on without one.

Fill the jars to within a half-inch of the top. (If you're going to freeze the jar ~ and I've done that ~ leave a little more room than that, maybe an inch to inch-and-a-half ~ so it can expand.) In one of those "not-sure-why-I-have-this-in-my-head" moments, I am under the impression that it's not safe to leave too much room. Like, I don't think you're supposed to try to water bath a half-full jar. I have no idea why that's in my head, but I follow that rule.

Finally, you put the jars in the water bath. Again, make sure the jars are all completely submerged. Most recipes will give you a time...20 - 45 minutes, in my experience. Here is what I wish somebody had told me: The 'sealing' of the jars doesn't necessarily happen in the water bath. They mostly come out with the lids 'popping' when you press the tops. After they're removed from the boiling water, as they begin to cool down, the vacuum seal is created. Within just a short time, an hour or two, I've always had a seal...when I push on the top of the lids, there is no movement, no 'clicking' or 'popping' noise, and it's been good. I still usually leave them to cool completely, and put them away the next morning. Also, if anything doesn't seal, you can restart, or (and this is what I would do) pop it into the refrigerator and treat it as fresh food.

Not everything is safe to can at home.
Here's my short list, but always do your research: I've personally canned anything apple related, berry jams, plum jam, and anything tomato related. When it comes to corn and whole tomatoes, I blanch them (drop them into boiling water for a minute) and then freeze them in ziplock bags. When it comes to zucchini and squash, I shred it and freeze it. When it comes to pesto, or anything herb related, I freeze it.

Next summer, I plan to get enough cucumbers to pickle! And when I do, I'll head right over here, to and I'll give it a go.

I've yet to have a bad experience, but I ALWAYS pour out my home preserves into a bowl separate from what I'm cooking, and as I give it a stir, I check for any suspicious growth and anything that doesn't smell right. If I had any doubts at all (so far, knock wood, it hasn't happened!) I'd just toss it and get a new jar out and try again.

It's funny, when I write it out like this, I have to sounds like work! I guess it kind of is. But it's enjoyable, noble work. I'm not prone to hyperbole, but that might be getting close. :)

Anyway, the great thing is that it actually saves time in the long run. You can eat better, less processed food, with full quality-control on all ingredients, any time you want! Plus, if you want to cook from scratch, it's great to make a large quantity, and then you're just adding on these small steps: sanitize the materials, fill the jars, submerge and boil. That's really what it comes down to! That little bit of extra work is totally worth not having to start all over with the cooking, or dirtying up a bunch of dishes every time you want some homemade applesauce or tomato sauce.


It Might Even Be an Apple Cell!

Tommy had a school project that was due. Yesterday. So we went ahead and started it last night. *blush*

He had to make a model of a cell ~ it could be plant or animal. I printed out a color picture, with labels, of his choice (plant) and we talked about the different parts.

I learned a lot!

He used that sheet to make a plan for the model...a cake, with strawberry frosting for the base. Natch. Fruit roll ups for the nucleus and the vaculoe and green pieces cut for the chloroplast. Gummy worms for the mitochondria, fruit snacks and/or hard candies for the chlorophyll and nucleolus and also whatever that thing is called, the one that splits and makes a new cell? That thing. Sprinkles for ribosomes. And licorice for the hard cell wall; orange gel for the membrane. Piles of tiles for two things I can't recall.

See? I learned a lot! So did he, actually, and he's quite excited about his model.

And so it happened that we had caramel apples for dinner. Again. *cough* On Sunday I was too busy admiring my new pottery to actually cook something. And last night, well, I don't actually have an excuse! It's just that caramel apples are good.

This weekend I also went through another 30 or so apples, making applesauce. Why haven't I always made applesauce? Seriously, what is easier than this?

Peel and core 12 apples; slice them thin-ish-ly. It's a word!
What kind of apples, you say? I used a mix from the apple orchard...some fujis, some granny smiths, golden delicious, and even a few braeburns. Sweet apples are good ~ they don't have to be bitter greens.

Because I used the sweeter apples, I didn't add any sugar. I put in some cinnamon (judging by the color, I may have been a bit heavy-handed with the spice!) and 1/2 cup of water with all the slices into the slow-cooker on high.

Then I lived my life. It was at least four hours, as many as six hours, later, when I remembered the apples. I dumped them into a bowl, ran a masher through them (though a fork would have worked!) and then put them in pint jars in a water bath. I made two batches worth and got 5 pints.

Bob's your uncle! Let's just run through that again: peel/core/slice apples. Sprinkle with cinnamon. Slow cook on high with 1/2 cup water, 3 to 6 hours. Mash. Enjoy. I will never buy applesauce again! Plus, Tommy won't eat store bought applesauce, but he loves this stuff.

I'm giving a couple of jars to my brother; his girls eat applesauce until somebody gets hurt. And, judging by the seemingly bottomless box of apples in my kitchen, I'll be making at least two more batches. And then I'm open for suggestions!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Gift of Art

A very big box showed up on our stoop, and it was from a family I've been stalking friends with via The Internets for several years now. I've met Brit and Scott in person, and Brit is famous here for being the ringleader of the Round Robin I participated in.

Scott is an artist; he makes pottery. Brit is an artist; she makes quilts. I have many pieces of their work; I've purchased these from their Etsy shop. I've purchased them as gifts for other people, and in the end, I've never been able to part with them. Is that wrong? If it is, I don't want to be right. Because I love that orca plate and my beautiful peppermint swirl bowl. They go perfectly with my woodland crazy quilt table runner and my snail and chick lunch bags.

One day, earlier this year, they surprised me with a beautifully glazed bowl and homemade jam. Stop it. Sadly, the jar of jam broke the bowl. I spent many, many hours repiecing that bowl, and gluing it back together. It's my Humpty Dumpty Bowl, and there were a few spots that I just couldn't get back. You'd think that would break my heart ~ it certainly was traumatic when I first laid out the pieces like a puzzle ~ but it doesn't. I use that bowl on my writing table to hold the various things that I need to 'make magic' there, and the wee little missing pieces have become part of the art and I love it dearly.

But truly, nothing could prepare me for what was in this box. Scott made several special pieces, each inspired by a different person. And, unbelievably, quite humblingly, I was one of those people. As he made each piece, he says he thought about each person the whole time, essentially 'dedicating' the pottery to the person. Mine, I knew, was to be a beautifully carved mug.

Here it is. It's breathtaking, literally! I tried to get a picture of the interior's so... wondrous. I wish I had a better camera, because there's no way I can adequately describe it! These wee little freckles slay me.

And it was tucked inside this. I'm at a total loss for words. (Shut up.) It's just amazing. The colors, and the carvings...he must use some kind of stamping? The etchings are absolutely sublime. I called Erik in to look at the pieces, and as we talked about what they are, what they mean to me, I swear I could feel my heart grow two sizes. My fingers played over the bowl and mug, and on one level I was talking to Erik, and on a totally different level, underneath all of it, I wasn't thinking at all...I was feeling the glassy smoothness of the insides, and the perfect bumpiness of the
outsides...I was absorbing the colors and the textures, and I turned to Erik, and I said, "I feel so lucky."

So, so, so incredibly lucky. I keep my Scott-stuff (as I affectionately refer to it!) in the kitchen on the stove. I use them and look at them every day. It's functional art, and I'm sure he'd approve! I pulled those pieces and lined them up on the counter with my new pieces and I just stared.

I stared at them and ran my hands over them every time I passed (which was quite a bit, as, have I mentioned, I'm working hard on these three bushels of apples?!?) and I love them.

I love them both.

And, I really, really, really like the pottery too. :)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Banana Bread Bylaws

I made two loaves of banana bread last night, and it smelled so good while it was cooking that I couldn't resist opening up the oven door and seeing what it looked like! It looked like something I'd like to eat. But, I had made them both to bring to work for the language arts group, one for the math group.

Erik had just discovered the baked apples earlier this week, and I knew I was in trouble. The bottom line of this development is that now, instead of 'hmmmm, maybe I'll make up a batch of baked apples', my new thought would be 'oh no! we're out of baked apples! must make more!' Because what Erik wants, Erik gets. He's very spoiled.*

So it happened last evening. I'm sort of over the kitchen this week, quite honestly! So much cooking and preparing and preserving and all the cleaning that has to happen each and every time. Put a fork in me, as they say, I am done! But last night Little Prince** needed baked apples so there I went, coring, peeling, slicing. (My BRAND NEW machine that does it all? Grrrrr. One or both kids did something that I can't figure out, so it was not working for me!)

When I whipped up the banana bread, therefore, I thought I was in a safe territory. He had already eaten dessert, after all! But he came sniffing into the kitchen on the same lovely scent that had me picking up my camera, and that was that. He was milling around, demanding that I stop obeying the laws of physics, and make it cook faster because it was taking "too long". I explained that this is how long it takes, plus, he couldn't eat any of it because I made it for work.

"No way. Legally, half that is mine."

ha! He is so funny! I just shook my head and rolled my eyes, but that stuff kills me; I think he's hilarious. And, in the end, he knows that I would never be able to really tell him 'no'.

Little Prince wanted bread. Little Prince got his bread. Do you think my team will notice?

* He is so spoiled. I've often say when I die, I want to come back as Erik. What a life! But the truth is, he totally deserves it. I can be really awful (no, really!) and he's always a peach. So there really isn't anything I won't do for him, since he is so perfectly lovely just about all the time.

** Erik's dad was Croatian, his mom is Latvian. They named him Erik with a 'k' instead of a 'c' because "it was more international" that way. Also, he told me once it means "prince" so of course I was struck by how apt this moniker turned out to be, and the phrase Little Prince was born.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Where Were You, What Were You Doing?

It's one of life's sweet quirks that the Mexican flag is created when you make salsa.

I had basil and tomatoes from the garden, so on Tuesday night, after a Monday night spent knee-deep in apples, I made salsa and pesto and put it all into a hot water bath for canning.

The salsa is more of a 'pico de gallo', which is how I like it. It makes a great dip for tortilla chips, and it also acts chutney-like with baked chicken.

I wish I knew where the recipe I used came from. Miss Pippa sent me this adorable recipe binder, with these little beehive cards (LOVE) and I keep it next to the computer ~ when I'm not using it in the kitchen ~ and when I'm poking around, if I come across something I'd like to try, I write it onto a recipe card.

So I have this recipe for salsa, and no way to attribute it. :( But I ate some today at lunch (alas, with chicken and roasted veggies from the garden, instead of chips!) and it really tastes so great. So I'll share, with my modifications.

1. Dice all the tomatoes sitting on your counter (7-8 cups worth)
2. Peel a white onion and cut into wedges. Throw wedges into the food processor. Pulse a few times.
3. Mince a bulb of garlic.
4. Chop one jalapeno pepper, under cold running water. (The oil can burn your hands.) I prefer a very mild pico de gallo salsa; if you care for even middling-heat, you could easily triple this.
5. Juice of a lemon.
6. Chop up a bunch of cilantro (the size they had at the produce looked pretty standard, like what you'd get at a grocery store).

Combine all ingredients, add salt and pepper to taste.

If you're going to eat it now, put in the refrigerator for at least an hour. I made this much because I didn't want my tomatoes to go bad before we could eat them all (I worked for these!!) but I certainly wouldn't have done so much if I wasn't canning it; it would never get eaten before it went bad. This made a quart jar and 5 big-mouth pint jars. Adjust accordingly! I'd easily halve or quarter this recipe for a more modest portion.

And here I've added the salsa to the four pints of pesto and the six quarts of apple pie filling. We'll call this the "fall cupboard". Behind the closed door is the "summer cupboard", with homemade apple butter, blackberry jam, plum jam, and even one jar of raspberry jam, compliments of my friend, Monica.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking? Little House, am I right?

Edited to Add: *Please* check the comments section for how to preserve pesto! I wouldn't want anyone to get sick because I think my new cabinet is "cute"!!

I've got another few pounds of orange/green tomatoes turning right now on the counter. I'm thinking I'm set for salsa. I'll probably eat some, but I'll also make a couple quarts of spaghetti sauce. Then I'll pull in more tomatoes. I've never tried to ripen tomatoes like this before, so I'm trying to do it in stages, in case I'm doing something wrong. If the weather cooperates, I'll be finished with the garden by Halloween.

This week was typical Bay Area fall weather. Flash-flood worthy squalls on Monday, high sun with light breeze on Tuesday (perfect!), foggy Wednesday morning, then that burns off to balmy and mild for the rest of the day. Tomorrow? For all I know, hail. And another earthquake. We had a couple of those last week too. Not enough quake to get me to move from what I was doing, but a little something-something to keep us alert on the near-anniversary of the '89 Loma Prieta that left us stranded and blacked-out for days.

I just read on that link that the earthquake was 6.9 (I had 7.1 in my head?) and it lasted 10 - 15 seconds. Huh. Does everybody remember where they were/what they were doing when that quake hit? Because I have to say, I would have guessed it was over 30 seconds in duration! I mean, 30 seconds doesn't sound like very long, but when you're whole world becomes a rocking box, it's an eternity. And yet, here we are...where half of that is long enough to burn down a neighborhood, destroy a bridge, and flatten a freeway.

I was just trying to figure out what got me onto the Loma Prieta, and, oh right, the weather. As a native Californian, one of my pet peeves is that, whenever it gets "muggy" outside, somebody somewhere is going to turn to you and say, "Earthquake weather." Arrrgggghhhh. Shoot me!

Okay...where were you, what were you doing?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hoosier Girl

I've come to think of her as my "Hoosier Girl" project. Like, Monday, when I was coming home from work, I had apples on my brain, but I was also thinking that I'd really like to get some work done on my stitching. It wasn't to be on Monday, and even though I was knee deep in boiling jars and chopping last night, too, I did manage to finally finish the embroidery part of Hoosier Girl.

In fact, I've been seeing red for several reasons! I've also been working on the red trio for my botanical applique. I know I say this every time I start a new color, but these are my new favorites!

And there she is, that lovely lass in the back, made using traditional redwork. I've made her the perfect size to fit the bottom cupboard door of Gram's hoosier, and oh, I think she fits the tone and mood so perfectly!

When Scotty saw me working on it, he got very excited. He started squealing, "Mommy, that's you! That's my mommy! My mommy! That's you, Mommy!" and guess what? It does look like me! I hadn't even thought of that, but of course it does. Her hair pulled up and and stitching away (which you can see in the next picture). Tommy is a big-boy-now, and at 9 years old there decidedly less squealing (unless he's being pinched by Scotty ahem), but he also said, much later, "Hey, mom, that looks just like you!". What those kids do to me.

The picture is very old; I believe it's in the public domain, possibly from an old coloring book? I found it here. I used a photocopy machine to blow it up to 150% it's original size, then copied it onto kona white cotton using my light box and a micron permanent red pen. I knew I wanted to do the whole thing in red, so the easiest thing was to just trace it in red. There are a couple of spots where I went off the tracks by a millimeter, and the red pen is visible, so you wouldn't want to do that if you weren't using red thread.

I used two strands of DMC red (the darker one) and backstitched everything but the circle. She didn't come with the circle, but I didn't want to leave her floating out there. I used an embroidery hoop to pencil in the outline of a circle. I used two strands and I think it's called 'lazy daisy' stitch? Or 'daisy loop' stitch, maybe?

This was also the first time I embroidered through the batting and the fabric at the same time. It was so smooth! And I think she looks smashing, but of course I'm biased! I still need to back it, trim it to the exact size, and make and sew on the binding, but she's closer to done than all that sounds. :)

Of course, that's just chronologically speaking. "Close to done" could be months away, if my pile of "close to done" projects is evidence.

Apple Apple Apple

What to do with 52 pounds of apples? First, I left 12 pounds at my aunt's house. Hardly made a dent. Tommy loves the apple peeler/corer/slicer. His new favorite snack is "apple rings". Between the four of us, we ate another 6 apples this first day of Operation Apple.

I also peeled and cored some apples. I know some chickens that are going to be super happy to see me today! This might look like a lot, but you haven't seen the floor beneath the peeler... I've probably mentioned how I completely destroy the kitchen whenever I'm cooking.

No joke, I could be boiling water, but the second I get the pot out, it's on. Add something like "preserving apples", and forget it. Dishes and pots and ingredients everywhere ~ every available counter space, the floor, flour on the cupboards, the walls.

It's crazy.

But then there's that moment, when I'm ready to push up my sleeves and clean it all up.

There's no feeling like a clean kitchen, especially if it was monumentally filthy just an hour before!

Have you ever gotten head to toe covered in filth ~ like a few days camping with no facilities, or a serious garden overhaul that involves mud, sweat, and tears?

And then, after you think you just can't get any dirtier, you hop in the shower and sluice it all away? This is the kitchen equivalent of that feeling, when you're out of the shower and into your pajamas? You know that moment?

Only this one is even better, because instead of a ring around the shower that needs scrubbing, this one comes with jars of apple pie filling as a souvenir. Much better!

And yes, I know that's a lot of apples in there. I used Brit's recipe** for the filling and preserving, but I learned how to make apple pies from my mom. My last few pies have been positively anemic compared to usual, because I've been trying to squeak out a pie with just 3 or 4 granny smith's. (This is what the typical recipe might call for, in fact.) But to make my mom's apple pie, you'll want to double that. And so I did.

I also managed to make a mountain of baked apples. 15 pounds down, 25 to go!

** When I wrote to Brit and asked for her recipe, she was knee-deep in Turtledash mayhem, so rather than asking me to wait until she had time to transcribe her recipe, she sent me a link to this photo and asked if I could read the recipe card from there.... yep! I was cracking up. And making plans to share all future recipe swaps via a photograph. Isn't she clever?! Also, how much do you love that recipe card, "from the kitchen of Shirley"? Swoon!

Monday, October 19, 2009

If you were just to look at these two pictures, would you know how they nearly drove me insane Sunday morning? I think not. I love these kids so much, and yet there are times, when the sibling squabbles and the growing pains and the emotional upheaval ~ the highs and lows of a 9 year old and 4 year old ~ put me right over the edge.

The plan on Sunday was to go see Gram at my aunt's house, and then continue on to Apple Hill and do some apple picking, some family time, and then come back and visit with Gram some more and head home.

Not included in the plan? Three meltdowns for the following, mind-numbing reasons: inability to negotiate who gets which Legos (mind you, we have over 6 billion Legos, surely they don't need to scream and cry over THESE TEN); refusal to get dressed....and stay dressed (the hell?); a crying fit ~ fit ~ by a nine year old because I FIXED the lid to his collectable card case (found on the ground, under two blankets, as I was ~ pardon me, son ~ making the beds, gathering laundry, putting away toys, and sweeping the bedroom) but didn't fix it CORRECTLY and so in his mind I purposely made it so he couldn't open the box and O.M.G. are you kidding me????

Of course, we are adults, with all our emotional faculties in tact, so the morning ended with me yelling that I don't even want to go anymore and slamming a door (I would not lie to you here, my response to a tantrum was, wait for it, a tantrum). *sigh*

Somehow we recovered and made it into the van, quiet and a bit mournful of the lost happy family trip vibe. Why go through all this trouble, if not to have fun? To make memories? I just asked Tommy (literally, I just asked him as I was writing this) if he had fun yesterday.

What was fun? "Apple picking." Very matter of fact.
Was there anything that wasn't fun? No pause. "No."

Maybe it worked, after all. It was really fun! Gram is doing great, and the boys ate apple turnovers (only because they had sold out of caramel apples!) and I love love love farm ephemra.

Scotty only wanted PERFECT apples. He was the same way last weekend too! I tried to let him know that a spot or two was okay (and the price to pay for organic apples) because I would cut those out when we were cooking, but that kind of logic is quite lost on a four year old.

Tommy liked a variety. He picked golden delicious, fuji, and granny smith. It was mix and match, so he scouted out trees he liked and filled his bucket.

Here's my apple-picker-extraordinaire. At six feet tall, we relied on him quite a bit to pluck the best looking apples from the tops of the trees! I rely on him quite a bit for everything, truth be told. I thought of it a lot yesterday. He's such an amazing dad, and husband, and truly my best friend. He had a tummy ache on the way back to my aunt's house, but he drove the whole time. We had taken my aunt's hoopty mini-van because ours didn't have the third row of seats in, and my cousin's son wanted to go with us. The driver's seat is broken, and uncomfortable. The driver's window won't roll down, and the passenger side rolled down but then wouldn't roll up. So, as we were heading down Highway 50, at 65 miles per hour, with wind and rain coming into the van through the stuck window, with a pain in his back and his tummy now, I couldn't help but feel like the luckiest girl in the world. We held hands across the divide between the seats, and I remember watching my parents do the same thing in our orange van.

Of course, our orange van didn't even have a backseat at first. We sat in lawn chairs in the back for a couple of years. We'd fly ass over tea kettle every time we took off from a stop, and we'd laugh hysterically as Runt somersaulted across. When we finally got a bench seat, it didn't even have seatbelts. We mostly laid in the back, under or (in Jason's case) on top of the motorcycles.

Yesterday the three boys, one harnessed into a carseat, the others locked securely in, tied down and squirming, were such a contrast!

Tommy was fascinated by this 160 year old scale. So was I, frankly. I was even more fascinated by the fifty-two-and-a-half-pounds of apples that came home with us. Holy.

Oh, California. You don't see a lot of trees changing colors in my neighborhood, but you don't have to worry. Somewhere, some place, in California, you will find what you're looking for. Beautiful.


I wanted this. Was it a bench? Was it a table? No matter. If I could have figured out a way, it would be at my house right now. It was old and disfigured and quite dirty. Heavenly.

What's not to love?

When we got back to Aunt Barbara's, we ate pancakes for dinner with Gram. What a perfect ending to what turned out to be a perfectly wonderful day!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

How to Crochet a Rag Rug

I've had this rocking chair for months. I bought it for five bucks at a yard sale. I love it. Erik says I bought it because I'm "a very old woman". Hater.

It's well-loved, but it needs a pad. You'd think that, uh, nature's padding would be enough. *ahem* But no. So I took the balls of fabric that I have rolling around that I use to crochet rag rugs. These are upcycled sheets. I wrote about how to prepare them here.

I came home from work tonight and decided a quick round rag rug would be just the ticket. The right size would make a perfect pad for the rocker! I took a red flannel sheet material, and I chained four using my S-Hook and then slip stitched to make a ring.

When you're creating a round shape that starts with a ring, you want to make your first single crochets into the center of the ring, instead of into the individual stitches that make the ring shape. Here, I just put my hook right through the center, where the single crochets will go, so you can see what I'm talking about.

Why, yes, I did come home tonight and get into my pajamas at 6:30. This is the start of my round rug. Six single crochets went into the center of the ring, then I slip stitched the last sc to the first on. Chain one, don't turn, and make the second round by putting 2 sc into each of the 6 sc (12 sc total). Slip stitch at the end to finish the round, chain one, and don't turn.

Round Three: * 2sc in first stitch, 1 sc in next stitch* repeat * to * 6 times. (18 sc total) Slip stitch into the chain one at the beginning of the round, do not turn, chain one.
Round Four: *2sc in first stitch, 1sc in each of next two stitches* repeat * to * 6 times (24 sc total) Slip stitch into the chain one at the beginning of the round, do not turn, chain one.

Here I decided to switch colors. I'm going to do it during the slip stitch. I put the hook through the chain one that starts my row. Normally, I would grab the red wrapped around my left index finger and pull it through.

But because I want to switch colors, I make a slip knot with the new material, and pass it onto the hook. I pull that through the chain one.

Now I need to pull the new material straight through the red loop that remains on my hook (that red loop ended the last sc in the row).

Why, yes, we did have cheerios for dinner. Isn't Scotty helpful? Now my new material is ready and positioned to start my new row. First I have to chain one.

Round Five: *2 sc in first stitch, 1sc in each of next 3 stitches* repeat * to * 6 times. (30 sc total) Slip stitch into the chain one at the beginning of the round, do not turn, chain one.

Oh, after I change colors, I usually tie the tail of the new color to the tail of the old color. I just cut off the old color from the ball of material, then literally tie a knot.

Nothing could be easier! No sewing, no measuring, just tie and go.

Round 6: *2 sc in the first stitch, 1sc in each of next 4 stitches* repeat * to * 6 times (36 sc total). Slip stitch into the chain one at the beginning of the round, do not turn, chain one.

For some reason (probably because I was interrupted roughly 3 dozen times in the past 10 minutes) I feel like when I got to what should have been the end of this row (at 36 sc total), I still had this empty stitch from the row below. If I just ignored and slip stitched to the chain one at the start of the row, it would start to pucker. That chain was just too far away! So, I tore the whole thing out and...ha! haha!....I kid! What I did was I said, huh, and then I went ahead and put that extra sc right on in there. And I had an extra single crochet as I went around in subsequent rows. And the earth kept spinning, so clearly that funny little miscount was not the end of the world.

Let's give it a tester. I got my mad measuring skillz from my mom. Looks like I need more rounds.

At the end of each of the next three rounds slip stitch into the chain one at the beginning of the round, do not turn, chain one.

Round 7: *2sc in first stitch, 1sc in each of next 5 stitches* repeat * to * 6 times (42 sc total)
Round 8: *2sc in first stitch, 1sc in each of next 6 stitches* repeat * to * 6 t imes (48 sc total)
Round 9: *2sc in first stitch, 1sc in each of next 7 stitches* repeat * to * 6 times (54 sc total)

Sometime in this blue and white round, I lost track again and was off by a stitch or two somewhere, and again, I just sc into them and moved on. It made my total stitch count for the row and subsequent rows off a bit, but it was laying nice and flat and there is no prize for perfection. A crocheted rag rug is a very forgiving little project.

Round 10: *2sc in first stitch, 1sc in each of next 8 stitches (60 sc total) Slip stitch into the chain one at the beginning of the round, do not turn, chain one.

Another tester. This might be just about right. Nah.

Round 11: *2 sc in first stitch, 1 sc in each of next 9 stitches (66 sc total) Slip stitch into the chain one at the beginning of the round, do not turn, chain one.

And now I know it's done. How can I be so sure? Well, that tail I'm holding in my hand? It's the end of the fabric roll. Just enough to slip stitch and tie it off!

Yep, definitely done.

When you flip it over, you can see all the knots from where I just tied on a new color. I trimmed them down a little, but left them.

I wanted this to be pad sized, but I could have kept growing the rounds, using the same pattern above. (Divide the total number of sc in the previous row by 6; whatever that number is becomes your "repeat". The repeat is made with 2sc in the first stitch, and sc in the remaining stitches. For example, for round 12, I would take the 66 stitches in round 11 and divide by 6 to get 11. For every 11 stitches, I would put 2sc into the first one and 1sc into each of the next 10. Those 11 stitches would make 12 sc in the new round. I'd repeat that for 6 times and end up with 72 sc. All total sc counts at the end of the rounds are multiples of 6. There are other number patterns in there, feel free to use the one that's comfy for you.

And now I'm going to go relax, in my comfy rocking chair!