Monday, July 29, 2013

52 Weeks of Happy - 30/52

Joining in with Jen at little birdie, here are my four happy photos for this week.

I took some time to stroll around at my local HomeGoods store, looking for bargains on pretty things. I don't buy a lot of clothing or shoes, which I'm told makes me an unusual woman, but I do love to decorate and craft. They had this salad plate on a clearance shelf in the china department. It was only $3. There were three of them and I was tempted to snap them all up but then I thought maybe it was better to only have one. I love it so much. The pattern reminds me of Cath Kidston or GreenGate. It looks pretty in the dining room hutch.

Our apples are almost ripe. Some small folks have jumped the gun a bit and have been eating them for a week or two already. They are few and far between this year, owing to a colder spring than usual. Many of the apple tree's buds died in a late frost. There may not be enough to do very much with them this year, but we love having an apple tree; you can't beat fresh, healthy snacks right there in the backyard.

I made a delicious lunch on Sunday, using leftover foods from our sushi night on Saturday. I made a cold salad of shrimp and imitation crabmeat mixed with mayonnaise and chopped celery. We had the salad in sandwiches with avocado and micro-greens on toasted 12-grain bread. Yum!

I watched the early stages of a sunset this week and was reminded anew that I live in a really beautiful place. We've been having unpredictable, even downright scary weather of the be-careful-what-you-wish-for variety. Late summer is usually like this here but it feels surprising every year nonetheless. I continue to be thankful for the (sometimes torrential) rain we're getting and the breathtaking skies after a storm has moved through the area.


It's almost green chile season here, just a few more weeks to go. That's the time of year when green chile peppers are harvested. You can buy them in the grocery stores or at roadside stands. Many stores and stands will also roast them for you, putting them into a big metal drum with a gas-fueled fire inside. The roasted chiles are eaten just as they are, or they are put into other dishes, such as green chile stew or posole. We decorate with them too - many people hang chile ristras, made from ripened, dried chiles on their homes; you can see a photo of mine over on my sidebar. But eating chiles is the main thing around here. There are chile festivals and cooking competitions and the scent of roasting chiles is carried on the breeze. It's one of my favorite times of year in New Mexico. I hope you'll enjoy this story, originally published in 1947 in New Mexico Magazine, all about why New Mexican chiles are the best kind.


Hello and welcome, new readers and followers! I'm really glad you're here. Thank you for all of the lovely comments on my past few posts. I loved reading about the books you enjoyed as children, as well as the ones your kids like. I have some good suggestions for my own family now! We all love to read here. Thanks for your input about homemade sushi too; I have never tried kimbap. My experience with Korean food has been very limited thus far but I want to try more.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Sushi night

Tonight we had a pan-Asian dinner. We made sushi, Vietnamese spring rolls and Thai iced tea. The Bear and I have been making our own sushi for a long time. We don't use any raw fish at home, just to be on the safe side. We usually make California rolls (avocado and imitation crabmeat) and temaki hand-rolls with shrimp salad inside. Sometimes we also make tomago sushi, which contains sweetened cooked egg. Homemade sushi is relatively time-consuming so we don't do it very often, only a few times a year, but it's fun to make and the small Bears are always eager to help.

This time, we had just the hand-rolls and California rolls because we were also in the mood for Vietnamese spring rolls. We made those with vermicelli rice noodles, shrimp and veggies (micro-greens, carrot, celery and cilantro). And we had one of my favorite drinks, Thai iced tea, which is made with strong black tea and sweetened condensed milk over ice. At the table, we dipped our spring rolls in sweet chili sauce, which is very popular with small people. The Thai iced tea was a big hit too. The kids got small cups (lots of strong black tea before bed didn't seem like the best idea). I hadn't made Thai iced tea in awhile and it was perfect for a warm evening.

Have you tried making sushi at home? We've gotten a lot of great ideas from a book called Sushi: Taste and Techniques. This is a really useful book, full of recipes and gorgeous photos; it's published by DK, and in keeping with the style of their how-to books, it's beautiful and very informative. There are step-by-step instructions for making many kinds of sushi and tips about equipment and supplies, along with a glossary. Dining in a sushi restaurant is an amazing experience but it's more affordable, and easier to share with little ones, when you make it at home.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Giant Jam Sandwich

We've been eating my homemade strawberry jam all summer. We've enjoyed it and I'm determined to do it again. This batch never set quite right; it remained a little runny and wet. But it tastes good and I had a nice time making it. I will get it right with practice. I want to try other jams too, and possibly a citrus curd.

My strawberry jam endeavor and our summer of eating it reminds me of a book I loved as a child. I still have this book and my kids love it today. The book is called The Giant Jam Sandwich and it's still available to buy today. I was given this book when I was about four years old and it was one of my favorites right away. In fact, it still is. I thought I'd share it with you because it's really fun. It's a silly, rhyming story about a wasp invasion in a small town and the townspeople's innovative plan to catch them - using a giant jam sandwich, naturally.

Our copy is really worn out and the Bear has made some repairs to it. He can frequently be found repairing children's books. He started doing this when the LB was a toddler and a little too rough on books. The GB was even harder on them when she was younger. He read about book repair online and bought some supplies. When he's fixing a book, he calls it "Book Hospital." This particular book needed a new binding and he wrote the title on the reconditioned spine.

This book was published in 1972; I was born in 1978. It was a relatively new book when I was a young child. I think it's pretty timeless. Well, some of the illustrations might be a bit telling. They are very good, though. I found them to be really engaging when I was a child.

We set the stage with a massive invasion of wasps. Four million of them, to be exact. They descend on the small municipality of Itching Down and apparently, they mean to stay. As an aside, it has always been my hunch that this book may have been written with Britain in mind. I feel that way because of the place name "Down"; this feels English to me. Some of the architecture and characters also lend to this feeling.

People can't picnic or work in the fields due to these pesky wasps. So the villagers have a meeting to discuss the problem. Meanwhile, folks continue to do battle with the wasps outside the village hall, as seen through the windows, and wasps line up in formation on the windowsills. I always liked that wasp drawn on the chalkboard easel, and now appreciate the Latin inscription too.

At length, they decide to create a giant jam sandwich that they can use to lure, and trap, the four million interlopers. Farmer Seed, seen above, offers his field for the task. Ladies, including this flame-haired fashion plate, can't help but squeal. It's that exciting.

They make a behemoth loaf of bread first, as well as an appropriately large tablecloth. Wasps appreciate niceties like tablecloths. The baker overseeing the bread production is named Bap, which is another reason I feel like this book has an English background; isn't a "bap" a type of bread roll? Also, there are the half-timbered buildings in some pictures. Mind you, I've never been to England, this is all based on my fanciful imaginings about the country.

The bread loaf is baked by "fifty cookers in an old brick mill," then sliced with a huge saw. The slices are then carried on a horse-drawn cart to Farmer Seed's field, where one slice is spread with butter and jam (the jam was made by townspeople from massive amounts of strawberries). The wasps immediately flock to the sandwich and become mired in the jam. Once the wasps are successfully encumbered, the townspeople drop the other slice of bread onto them, via helicopter, trapping them inside the sandwich. Only three wily wasps manage to escape.

Ladies and gentlemen of style and taste dance the night away in celebration of their heroic feat. Even Bap the Baker kicks up his heels, along with this other fellow who dresses like Sherlock Holmes.

The sandwich, ostensibly filled with dead wasps, is carried off by birds who will now "have a feast for a hundred weeks." They fly off into the sunset, using their beaks to carry the sandwich in the bespoke tablecloth. A satisfying ending if ever there was one.

I'm poking a bit of fun but I really love this book. I read it countless times as a child and now read it often with my own children. If you can get a copy of this book, or can borrow one from the library, I think you'd enjoy it too. How about you? Is there a book that you still love, that you've been able to share with your own children? I'd really love to hear about it if you feel the same way about a book from your childhood. I wonder if we have any in common?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

My applique summer

Back in June, I shared some bags I appliqued with my children's first-name initials. I filled the bags with activities and snacks for the long car trip we took to Colorado for vacation. The bags were a big hit; the kids both liked having something personalized (they call them their "'L' and 'E' bags") and the bags kept them fairly well occupied in the car. My inspiration for the bags was the lovely Gillian, who makes beautiful appliqued items. I really enjoyed making the bags for my kids; it gave me a chance to use some favorite fabrics from my stash and also to practice my hand-stitching skills. The simple stitching was relaxing and gave the appliques a nice finishing touch.

Making these gifts for my children gave me a lot of satisfaction and I decided to spread the joy to other kids we know. We have attended several birthday parties this summer and I opted to give each birthday child a handmade gift, along with books, which are my favorite thing to gift on a child's birthday. Books were some of my best-loved childhood gifts and I still have many of them, some with inscriptions inside and others with pretty bookmarks still enclosed. I don't know that these children will treasure their book gifts the way I have, but I'm happy to try.

The three bags here were made for little girls turning five, seven and nine, respectively. The seven- and nine-year-old girls happen to be sisters, and I didn't want to give them anything too similar; the younger girl got the strawberries, the older the green pear. The blue apron was given to a little boy who turned five, and whose first name begins with L. I wanted all of these items to be fun, playful and bright, and I had a lot of fun raiding my fabric and embroidery floss stashes to come up with good color combinations and pretty designs.

I used Heat N Bond to fuse the cut-out fabric shapes to the bags or apron. I really enjoy using this stuff; it fuses very quickly with a medium-hot iron. I tend to keep the iron on the piece just slightly longer than the instructions specify. I think my iron might be running a little cool these days as it's getting old. But my approach seems to work fine; the applique is securely bonded and there hasn't been any damage to the fabrics. I knot the embroidery floss at the end before stitching to make it more secure and I tie it off before cutting it. Hopefully it will stand up to normal kid-use.

The books I gave were age-appropriate fiction, except in the case of the little boy and his apron; he got a copy of a cookbook we really love in our house, Betty Crocker Kids Cook! He is the GB's special little friend from preschool and we know that he really loves to help in the kitchen. I was so happy when he put his new apron on right away as soon as he opened our gift, and wore it for the rest of the party! The other children liked their gifts too. I'm really glad I decided to make gifts instead of buying them. I love learning how to do something new and I'm enjoying this new skill a lot. I'm on a roll, I'm an appliqueing machine; there's no stopping me now!


Can I just say how OVERLY EXCITED I am about the Royal Baby? I checked the news approximately every five minutes all day on Monday and I watched the live feed from the hospital yesterday while I ate my lunch. They looked so incredibly happy. Kate looked beautiful as always, but especially for having just given birth. And I was very impressed with the way William deftly placed the baby's carseat in the car. He looked like an old pro. It took us weeks to do it right every time when we had our first baby. Congratulations to them and to my bloggy sisters across the pond.


Thank you for your comments and kind words about my home-"improvement" project. It's much better now. The carpet was laid on Monday. Leaky pipes were fixed the same day. The sheet-rock guys were here yesterday and are back today, repairing the place in the wall which needed to be opened to fix the pipes. Luckily, we've had very professional, competent workers on the job. More on this saga (with photos!) coming soon...

Monday, July 22, 2013

52 Weeks of Happy - 29/52

Joining in with Jen at little birdie, here are my four photos of happy for the past week.

Our hibiscuses are in full bloom. Actually, they'll be done blooming in just a couple of weeks. I enjoy them so much. They make the backyard feel like a tropical paradise. The flowers don't last long - two days each, at most - but there are so many buds and new ones open every day.

I made a really good dinner that we enjoyed a lot. It was sort of an antipasti-style meal. We had cold salami, provolone cheese, olives, artichoke hearts and roasted pepper, grape tomatoes, grilled zucchini and crusty bread. I also served another recipe from Nigellissima, Chili Tomato Sauce. It was quick and delicious, great for dipping the bread.

There have been days this summer which have felt a bit Lord of the Flies-ish at times but I think it's healthy. The LB made himself a bow and arrow and it's actually very good. He used a bendy branch and string for the bow and a piece of garden stake for the arrow. It works great and he's proud of his handiwork.

I've been bringing lavender into the house lately. I have two bushes in the front yard, one very large and flowering profusely. I had seen bouquets of lavender for sale in the store and realized that I could be using my own lavender that way. I put it in a small glass jar by my bedside and it smells wonderful for a couple of days.


I needed the happy reminders this week. It's nothing serious but I'm feeling stressed about a home-improvement project we've had going on here. It should be done soon; I have a plumber and a carpet-installer in the house today, and a sheet-rocker should be in next week. It was supposed to be a quick and easy job, just new carpeting in one room, but it went awry. Best-laid plans and all that. Ah, well. It's good to know things will be fixed.


Hello and welcome, new readers and followers! I'm really glad you're here. Thank you for visiting my blog.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


I almost wish we were butterflies and liv'd but three summer days - three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain.”- John Keats

Our summer days have been delightful. Most days are hot but the clouds begin to roll in around lunchtime. By late afternoon, there may be a thunderstorm which goes on into evening. There is usually at least a nice breeze. It doesn't feel so oppressively hot anymore like it did in June. We get our dog days out of the way early where I live; June is stiflingly, monotonously hot and dry but July and August bring variety. The weather seems a little different every day.

Yesterday, we had over one inch of rainfall. We had a huge storm roll through between five and six in the morning. Then another even larger one developed in the afternoon, along with quarter-sized hailstones, which fell for more than thirty minutes. The rain came down in sheets, there was bright lightning, strong winds and very loud thunder. It was actually very scary. We were all at home and both small Bears seemed fairly unfazed, but I was feeling really anxious. The hail fell so hard and in such volume, I was afraid the skylights would shatter. As it was, many plants were damaged; our sunflowers took a particularly serious beating. We're glad for the water but it doesn't always come without cost.

Summer break is winding down for us. I read so many blogs from all different corners of the world and it always surprises me to learn more about the school calendar in other places. For us, summer vacation has been in effect since the third week in May. School starts in mid-August for us. We have nine weeks down and three to go, then my small Bears will be back at school. I will have a second-grader and a preschooler. The GB will be in her second year of preschool, actually, but we have added a day this year. Now she'll go three mornings a week. The LB will go four mornings; his public alternative school combines homeschool with traditional classroom time, equal parts of each. We've continued our homeschooling throughout the summer to keep him in the routine. Next year, they'll both be in the same school. I'm excited about that; less driving and no more tuition costs.

Swimming lessons are over and the library's summer reading program has just one week left. Our final weeks of summer vacation will be a little slower. I like the pace we've set for ourselves. We don't feel rushed - we have lots of time for crafting and art and reading and pretend-play. There are backyard mornings and baking afternoons. Time at the sewing machine while listening to the radio. Crocheting while listening to audiobooks. Dressing-up and molding clay and painting with watercolors. We're all keeping busy, but gently so. I do enjoy the (mostly) stress-free days we have in summertime. But I'm craving the routine again. I'm not one who does well with lots of unstructured time. My nature is to keep busy and always have something on the go. Summer with my children is actually a healthy break for me: I am reminded to slow down, to pay attention to the small things, to appreciate each minute in the precious, fleeting day.


Thank you for your comments on my Stormy Monday post. I love writing posts that give my readers a "slice of life" view of my home and my family. I think that's why I decided to start a blog; I just enjoy life at home so much. I want to cherish it and celebrate it. Some readers asked about the crochet I was working on that day; it's going to be a ripple baby blanket for a friend who is expecting a baby girl in the fall. I am glad that the colors seem to be working well together; I didn't want it to look too "baby," and I went with what I considered to be a more sophisticated color palette.

On the crochet front, I've committed a cardinal sin (well, for me it is). I think I'm going to abandon a project. I had been working on Alicia Paulson's adorable Mina dress, for my GB to wear this winter, but I don't think I'm doing it right. It was going perfectly for me throughout the process of making the bodice but the skirt has me stymied. I don't want to give up and I'm very willing to start over if I can get it right, but Mina and I aren't getting along very well at the moment. Maybe I'll try again after a little break...
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