Sunday, December 22, 2013

Walking in a winter Wonderland

Now that it is officially winter we are hanging about the house in short sleeves with the windows open...

So much for a white Christmas.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Visiting Santa

We went with our neighbors across the street to take the girls to see Santa yesterday after school let out.  Meredith was curious about this mythical creature named Santa and was excited that he would bring her a toy.  However, she would not stand any closer to him than she is in the picture.  A smile was not going to happen, but we settled for a look of curious alarm.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Declutter challenge update and house reconfigure

My month of decluttering in October went pretty well. I took one load of stuff to the good will and have another load ready to go this week. The amazing thing is that it seems like I could do this forever - there is just that much stuff in this house! Every time I think I am making progress, I notice a new area or corner that has a pile of homeless stuff.
I did make enough progress to start rearranging my house (which is pretty darn exciting!). I am turning the basement (our entry level) into a family room that opens into a big kids play room. It used to be a sports room and an office. That space has been under utilized since Ryan finished school.
The area of Ryan's office is mostly going away as we turn it into the kid area. We are leaving the desk down there for Audrey to use for homework, but the files and other office type things are being added to the library upstairs. I am moving the toys that Audrey likes to play with the most from her room into the kids room.  Eventually we are moving Meredith's toys from the living room too. I am moving my craft stuff upstairs into what has been the toy area of the living room. I am trying to declutter as I move things about and Meredith is still too little to play on her own, so it is a slow transition.
The sports room just got rearranged to make it into the family room. The sports decor may end up staying since we don't really have anywhere better to put that stuff.
Clearly that is a lot of moving about and it is giving me ample opportunity for decluttering. Even though this is a slow process it feels nice to have a plan.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Halloween fun

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I own three Halloween shirts, five pairs of socks, and almost as many decorations as at Christmas time.

Naturally I wanted to have a Halloween themed party for the neighbor kids. The plan was to have the kids over in two batches too correspond to the ages of my two sweet baby girls. We invited two families over for cookie decorating and dinner in a pumpkin and dancing and playing with Meredith early. We invited two other families over for round two later for the same plus a spooky kids movie and game night for the parents. The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry....

Meredith got sick the night before and has been sick since. So we canceled the parties and just did those activities as a family.  It was still a pretty good Halloween weekend.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Halloween begins

I took the girls to a Halloween activity at the Disney store tonight. Honestly, it was a bit lame. However the girls had fun in large part because they got to wear their costumes to the mall.  Every one waved and said hi to Audrey as if she really was Ariel.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Me and Meredith

I took this with my poor quality camera phone this morning.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Socks - finding my way

I use Susan's basic sock pattern. However, some where along the way I felt like the pattern needed tweaking to make it fit better.
So I've tried different sizes of needles, more stitches, and short row heels. In the end I have come to the conclusion that Susan's sock recipe is pretty great just the way it is...  And I have a few less successful sock starts to frog.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

A maker

I love to make things myself.  Food,crafts, anything. One of the big ways that I am trying to be thrifty is by making gifts for people instead of buying gifts.

I have been toying with various ideas for cousin gifts. My latest idea is ornaments with their names on them.  Today I whipped up a prototype (without any colorwork) using leftover sock yarn.  I love how it turned out and this may become a good way to use up the little bits of leftover sock yarn.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Decluttering challenge

I decided to declare October declutter month. My challenge is to get rid of one thing each day for all 31 days. I can do more than one thing on any given day. 

I am three days in and happy to be doing well so far.  Today I took a load of items to a donation drop. It felt awesome to move stuff out forever.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Chicken Tortilla Soup

I love chicken tortilla soup. I used to get it almost every time I went out to eat.

Now that we don't go out to eat much, this is my homemade version. No surprise, I think it is better than the soups I used to buy at restaurants.

Sauté chopped onions and red bell pepper in olive oil and salt until soft.  Add chopped garlic, chopped jalapenõ, cumin, chili powder, and oregano just after the onions soften.  Add: canned (or fresh) tomatoes, canned green chilies, cooked black beans, zucchini, squash, corn, cubed chicken, and chicken broth and bring to a low boil. Stir in some corn meal and simmer for at least 20 minutes.  Squeeze in fresh lime juice and a generous amount of chopped cilantro just before serving.

I like to serve it over some crushed tortilla chips with avocado on top. If I want to kick up the heat, I stir a small amount of pureed chipotles in adobo sauce into my bowl. (We keep this in the fridge as a condiment. ) Seriously awesome!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Cotton wool blend socks finished

I have been really into sock knitting lately. It is easy, portable, and useful.  Triple win.

However there does seem to be an art to it that still eludes me.  There are a couple of different heel types, lots of needle sizes and types, yarn options to make a person spend way too much and then the whole top down or toe up knitting direction debate. 

This pair, with the lovely Opal yarn from my dad, was knit top down on size 1 double pointed needles, one at a time, using Susan's pattern (64 stiches) except for the heel. On the heel I used a short row heel to 10 stitches.  

I like this heel just fine, but I like the depth of the heel with a heel flap slightly better.  So I will stick with that for my next pair.

The colorway of this yarn may not be coming through the computer well.  It is really an awesome yarn. It is a mix of various intensities and shades of denim blue.  Most of it has a slight grey undertone, except the white wash.  It is like wearing a pair of socks with all the good things about acid washed and white washed denim when it was really cool! These socks match blue jeans perfectly. Pb&chocolate.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Bike days

I am still a huge fan of my Costco bike.  I had to change the front child seat out for a rear one half-way through the week. Meredith has a funny habit of playing with my hair and sticking it in her ear or rubbing it on her cheek.  This endearing little habit is often done with surprising enthusiasm and strength (read: sometimes she pulls my hair hard and my head is forced to follow). Let's just say such actions make it more difficult to ride up hills, and the ride to school is rarely flat.

Now she is in a back seat where she can be heard telling me to sit down as I take her up another hill. :) (no idea where she gets her bossiness)

We are loving the bike ride to and from school.  The mornings are easy, there is a bit of a chill in the air and it just feels good to be out and about.  The afternoons are less easy.  In the heat of the afternoon I prefer to hide inside my house, or at least in the shade.  But I am always glad when we get back that we made the effort.  It is getting easier and we are getting faster.

I also recently purchased some upgrades for my bike - a bell and a front basket.  The front basket is awesome.  It is plastic coated metal, it has small holes on the bottom to keep things from falling out, bigger holes at the top, to make it easier to chain up if needed and nice sturdy handles that are perfect for taking the basket off.  It is the perfect size to hold a bag of snacks and drinks and/or Audrey's backpack on the way home from school. 

Friday, September 13, 2013


I just finished Lady Susan, Jane Austen's first novel. It is written in the form of letters.  A cool style until the end and it's almost as if she writes herself into a corner. At which point she just concludes the story with a conclusion. The main character Lady Susan reminded me of the leading lady in Vanity Fair. Not entirely likeable. Certainly no Elizabeth Bennett!

I also recently read Casual Vacancy by JK Rawling.  She is immensely talented.  It was like a condensed modern day version of Les Miserables. It dealt with the mixing of the classes and the reasons people take desperate measures.  It was good and disturbing. In some places it felt a bit abridged. I for one would have enjoyed the depth in the characters and a longer timeline had the author taken a Victor Hugo approach.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Back to school

Audrey started third grade this week. Third grade!  Where have the years gone?

We are riding bikes to and from school every day.  It is about 1.5 miles each way of nice wide side walks. However, it is all hills. Free exercise, is what I tell myself. And it sure beats sitting in the car line.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Denim rug project

The entry to our townhouse has a slightly awkward shape to it. Because of this we have never found just the right rug for the hardwood floor. The current rug is a cheap one that has served us well beyond what we anticipated when we bought it five years ago.

I love all crafts using old denim. It seems like the perfect union of utility, thrift,  and beauty. So naturally I am always collecting old jeans. I dream of making quilts and sofa covers out of them. However, my dreams are a bit ahead of my sewing skills, so naturally I decided to cut up the jeans i have into denim yarn balls and crochet myself an entry rug.

It is an easy project with almost no sewing. Incidentally, I actually really want to sew but my projects are limited to things that can be easily started and stopped for the time being, like knitting or crochet or cross stitch.

First I cut the seams out of the jeans.

Second I pick off the pockets. The perfect job for my favorite 8 years old helper.

Third i cut the pant leg into one inch ish strips of yarn and roll that yarn into a ball.

Fourth I start single crocheting an oval shaped rug. I am not following a pattern and i am not super worried about added and missed stitches. If it starts to curl I add a stitch or two. If it starts to get wavy I combine a stitch or two. Afterall it is just going to be walked on. :)

When I get to the end of one denim yarn ball as I am crocheting I can sew a new yarn ball to the ends of the denim yarn together. Or I cut a narrow slit in both ends and run them through each other.  I like the look of many shades of blue so i am  alternating the colors.

That is it. Easy!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Spice mixes

I have been thinking about spice mixes the last few days. (Don't we all ;)).

The other day I made keish and pulled out my bottle of herbs de Provence with lavender. As I have mentioned previously, I like to use up a whole assortment of leftovers in my keish and herbs de Provence just pulls the flavors together beautifully every time.

While making the keish, I also made apple pockets using the other half of the pie crust that the recipe makes.

I mixed a couple apples with cinnamon but that seemed a bit dull so I added some nutmeg, cardamom, and clove.  It was great. We had about 3/4 cup of the apple mixture left after the apple pockets so I added it to our Scottish oats the next morning. Audrey loved it and commented on them several times.  She said the spices were better (I usually "just" do apples and cinnamon).  So I decided to make my own little Cinnamon spice mixture in one of my beautiful little portmerion spice containers.  It has already come in super handy for banana bread and of course - oatmeal.

Sweet Spice Mixture:
4 Tablespoons Cinnamon
2 Tablespoons Nutmeg
1 Tablespoon Cardamom
1/2 Tablespoon Cloves

Monday, August 12, 2013


We have been a library going family this summer and it is a good thing with the way Audrey is plowing through books.  She finished the last of the Roald Dahl books - he is her favorite author.  She also read all of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and is now on the Thea Stilton series.  She has read 14 chapter books so far and counting!!

Meredith *loves* books.  It is like she has just discovered them.  I swear I read Spooky Old Tree, Knuffle Bunny, and Goodnight Moon at least 4 times a day - each.  Plus she will throw in a random assortment of other books as she finds them - though she doesn't seem to appreciate the library books that I manage to grab for her very often.  We read the same books so often, that she has them memorized and often reads the books with me, which is super cute.

I was happy to find that the knitting mystery series that I like by Maggie Sefton had another volume out.  So I borrowed and finished Close Knit Killer pretty quick.  I *love* the library's ordering system, by the way.  It is awesome, especially since Meredith thinks that the library is meant for laps.  She literally runs, or walks at a very fast toddler pace, through the stacks of books in search of fish tanks.  Every time she finds the only fish tank in the library, in the kids sections, she yells, MAMA! LOOK! FISHIEES! Awesome enthusiasm. :)  Back to the point, it is difficult to actually search for a book while trying to keep an eye on her, so I love the ordering system and always hope that the books I want are already checked out so that I can just order them.

I am slowly making my way through Down to Earth.  After wanting to read Rhonda's book for over a year, I devoured it in parts when I first got it about a month ago.  It followed me throughout the house for weeks, just in case I had a few minutes to peruse or read.  Then I settled into it and decided to just read it slowly and deliberately from the beginning and savor it.  It is truly a beautiful and delightful book - a breath of fresh air that is worth savoring.  It is only published in Australia, and I ordered it through FishPond for the free international shipping.  Even so, the book was about $40, which is much more than I normally spend on a book.  But I *love* it.

I also have been thinking about getting back to some of my old favorites.  This winter, I want to watch my Jane Austen movies again.  I find it is always better to watch them after reading the books afresh.  This time I am going to read the Jane Austen books in the order she wrote them.  I think it will be interesting to see if I notice a change in her style over the years.  So I am starting with Lady Susan - anyone else want to join me...

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Party time - under the sea style

The view as you enter the front door - where's Nina?
Top Picture is Audrey (and Nina) in front of the water wall.
Huge Ariel plastic panel in the living room.
An under the sea plastic wall film - these things are great.

Pool noodle Seahorse - one of the party favors

Audrey's favorite blanket - hung over some sports stuff

Stairway Art Gallery - each child colored an Ariel picture for the gallery

Top of the stairs, transition to up on the shore

A couple of pink plastic grass skirts dress up the dining room light.

Ocean View plastic panel in the living room
For Audrey's birthday party this year, I wanted to do something that was not strictly princesses, but that still let her go a bit princessy.  Audrey was so excited with the "under the sea" birthday party theme because she could incorporate elements of her favorite princess - Ariel. I thought that doing a party at our house would be much cheaper than some of her other ideas.  I came up with a few decorating ideas but then somehow things got crazy...

Under the sea became a first floor theme. Up on the shore became the upstairs theme.

My original idea was based on some pinterest boards.  The twisted crepe paper in varying shades of blue were perfect for creating a cheap and easy water wall.  We added some fish in the background - to add to the under water feel.  Audrey wanted to hang her Ariel blanket on one wall.  Then I wanted to do an art gallery up the stairway - where each of the kids brought a picture that they had colored that Audrey had given to them with the invitation.  That was the extent of the original decorating.  Plus we picked up the big pool noodle animals at Walmart - at a super discount - as favors for the kids, so we hung those from the ceiling.

I invited my MIL over to help us decorate (and/or hang out with Meredith so that Audrey and I could decorate) and she brought over some decorations she had - all of the up on the shore stuff and a couple cool plastic panels.  Then Audrey bent her ear about how she really wanted more Ariel stuff - so Grandma found a great big plastic Ariel wall panel for the living room and some more little fish to hang up.  Seriously, the house looked as awesome as it ever has for a party.

The party started with water games for the kids in the backyard.  After the kids changed, we had dinner for everyone, fish and veggie sticks with marshmallow fruit salad for the kids, kalua pork and pineapple fried rice (served in a pineapple ) for the adults.  The adult food turned out awesome.  I was worried because both of the recipes were new to me, but they turned out great - especially the pork!

After dinner it was cake and present time.  Audrey wanted a pink sparkley ice cream cake. Plain ice cream cakes were expensive and I didn't even want to imagine how much the extra food coloring and sparkle would cost us, so I decided to make Audrey's cake myself.  It turned out very pink, very sparkley, and very delicious.  The other kids at the party said it was the best  icecream cake they ever had - high praise indeed.  After presents and play time, the kids watched a movie (Hook, Audrey's choice) and had mermaid's munch (snacks).

The party was great.  Audrey loved it, but I tell you, I was one tired mama by the end of it. :)

Friday, August 09, 2013

Technical difficulties

Summer 2013 - Meredith and Audrey playing with water in the backyard.
I have been having technical difficulties, between the new operating system (Windows 8 - which I really do *NOT* like), a new computer, and a new phone, and no real time to sit down to figure them all out, I find myself cussing at my technology fairly regularly (which leads to less blog posts...). I am slowly figuring everything out, so I should be back to more regular posting soon.  It is definitely a PEBKAC (problem exists between keyboard and chair) error, which just makes it all the more frustrating.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The cake

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was rather looking forward to making and eating my birthday cake this year.  And let me tell you, this recipe did not disappoint.  It was AWESOME!!

It was moist, rich, and chocolatey goodness.

I added a little less sugar and a touch more salt.  I baked it in a 13x9, rather than two circular pans, because I wanted no-fuss.  For the icing, I did a chocolate butter cream frosting.

As an added bonus, I can now check one more item off the food bucket list!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Birthday Week

This week is birthday week around these parts.  I am just about to be 37 and Audrey just turned 8!  I can't believe how time has gone.  Where did my 30s go? I know they are not completely behind me, but they aren't far off now...

For Audrey's birthday we will be having an "under the sea" party with the neighborhood kids.  However, that is on hold until we can get schedules to align.  For my birthday, I will be breaking from my usual yellow cake with chocolate frosting routine to try my hand at the "best chocolate cake ever" and I plan to make it super rich and dark just like *I* like it and top it with a chocolate butter cream frosting that Claire and I rather like on top of brownies (others in the house believe that is a bit of chocolate overkill, and I suspect those same people may think the same of my birthday cake).  I am really looking forward to it. I nearly never have a reason to cook a cake with just my taste/preferences in mind.  One more item to check off the food bucket list

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Female Role Models Shine in Blogs

Quitting work (for a bit) and becoming a full-time homemaker has made me really think about what is encompassed in the role of a homemaker.  I think it is or can be whatever you want to make it - that is just one of the reasons Rhonda refers to homemaking as a power career.

As I have been thinking about what I want this role to be for me, I am constantly inspired by the wonderful world of blogs.  The internet has opened a whole new world of female role models for me right in the comfort of my own living room.   I am able to learn new things and consider new ideas everyday thanks to the wonderful women who self-publish these great blogs.

Some of my current favorites:

These blogs are all written regularly by real women with real lives and their authenticity shows in their writing. They write about everyday things and share the stories and the details of their lives.  It is awesome to read about the cooking lessons for kids, how to properly hang laundry, or why work done in a home matters.  I love seeing pictures of gardens, kids, chickens, handmade decor, and food as it is being prepared.  Most of these wonderful women find their daily work interesting and so they write about it.  I'm so glad they share their thoughts and their stories.

These blogs seem to me to have a few common threads: authenticity, good pictures (but not too staged), regular postings, interesting and positive commentary about life, and a general personal contentment that shines through in their blogs.  As an added bonus, I find that most of these blogs tend to have very nice readers/commenters and I usually enjoy reading the comments and find new blogs to enjoy through the comments all the time.

Sunday, July 14, 2013


There are so many things to transition after having worked at the same firm for so long.  I had to buy several new electronic gadgets - a phone (which I still don't have and I am trying to keep my old number, but am not confident in that process) and a computer (Ryan's school computer is super old, so this new computer will be a family computer).

Even bigger than that - the complete transition in my head from the corporate rat race to a calmer and slower pace.  I realized today that I am now my own boss.  I own my time - how awesome is that!  I can plan my day with the girls however I want.  I can focus on the garden, or make a big batch of granola bars, or take the girls to the park, or none of the above.  It is awesome.  I feel so free!

The flip-side of freedom from that corporate job is freedom from a paycheck...  I have been much more mindful of how I spend money.  I am usually pretty good at recognizing where Ryan could clean up his spending ;), but less good at seeing how my own little justifications add up.  So that has been an interesting transition as well. It turns out that I find little ways to spend a few dollars here and there all the time, a magazine here, a new ball of yarn there. 

Sunday, July 07, 2013


Last weekend we took the girls to Leesylvania State Park.  I bought the annual pass because we live pretty close, it is well kept, and they have lots of programs for kids throughout the summer.  As an added bonus, it turns out the park  also has really nice and helpful park rangers.  When I went to the visitors center, they gave me several flyers about upcoming events and explained what a lot of them included.  Most of the kids activities are  free or $2, if it involves supplies of some sort.

Meredith and Audrey walking over the turtle pond bridge at Leesylvania State Park - June 2013
Occasionally, I make Audrey try new things in spite of her protests. This is how Audrey ended up in a fishing tournament on yesterday.  The park rangers told me it was an activity to promote fishing for kids and that you did not need equipment or experience.  They said that lots of fishing volunteers are there to show kids how to fish or to teach them a few tricks of the trade if they already know how.  I thought that sounded perfect for Audrey.  I think the rangers may have glossed over the tournament part of the activity (or I just did not hear that part).
Audrey fishing for the first time - July 2013
Audrey and I showed up for "kids fishing" and were surprised to learn that we were actually signing her up for a fishing tournament.  The volunteer (turned out to be just one that day for all the kids - dear soul) helped us pick out a pole and put a worm on the hook.  Other parents were a little more prepared and brought chairs to sit back and watch.  I just sat on the dock with Audrey.  Which was actually quite nice.  We chatted and just hung out - she had a fishing pole and I had some knitting.

Audrey with her first catch - a 1 ounce White Perch
Audrey caught just one fish that day, a little one ounce White Perch.  The volunteer weighed him and freed him from the line and then we threw the fish back in.  We were right near the volunteer station, so we got to see all the different types of fish that the others caught.  The biggest catch was a 3 pound catfish and was caught by a little boy who's grandfather had bet him $5 that he wouldn't catch a fish his first time - instead he won first place (and $5 from grandpa)!  In addition to catfish, we also saw a snakehead fish, a bass, an eel, and a couple other white perch.

Audrey with her 2nd place fishing trophy! The fish on top of the trophy is bigger than the one she caught to win it.
At the end of the time limit, the kids all gathered under the volunteer tent for the awards ceremony.  The volunteer asked the kids what they had learned and gave them a little speech about fishing.  All of the kids got goody bags (including a frisbee and fishing and park paraphernalia) and they gave out trophies for 1st and 2nd place in each age category.

It was a really fun activity. I loved the relaxation of just sitting there chatting with little Audrey.  Audrey really enjoyed herself as well.  I was surprised that she was not at all squeamish about putting the worm on the hook and did it herself the second time. It was a great way to spend a morning.

It got me thinking about community activities.  Parks, libraries, rec centers - they put together some really good programs and they are usually cheap if not free.  This one was free (after the park admission fee) and it taught Audrey a new skill and was fun.  Now that I am going to be with the girls for the rest of the summer, we will definitely be taking advantage of more of these community activities. 

Wednesday, July 03, 2013


Audrey and I went for a 7 mile bike ride yesterday morning. We got back and I had a headache and sore throat and I was so achey it hurt to move. I rarely get sick so I thought I was just sore from our ride and that the other symptoms were attributable to poor hydration.

I woke up this morning even more achey and sore and my throat was crazy painful. Slowly it occurred to me that I might be sick. I took my temp - 102.8! At which point I gave in to feeling crummy and set myself up on the couch to watch Monarch of the Glen and rest for the day. 

Monday, July 01, 2013

Use it up - chicken/spinach crepes

The other day for dinner, Audrey asked for crepes - so crepes, bacon, and fruit it was.  However, we did not need all the crepe batter.  I cooked the extra crepes up and let them cool down between sheets of parchment paper and put them in the fridge.

A few days earlier I had made sauteed garlic spinach.  We get the organic spinach from Costco and each bag is usually enough for two side dishes.  However, when I opened this particular bag, I noticed a few pieces starting to wilt, so I washed and cooked the whole bag and saved the other half in the fridge.

Last week we had smoked salmon with a bit of cream cheese, so we had an open container that needed using up.

I added a bit of sauteed onions and shredded chicken to the leftover spinach and cream cheese, rolled the mixture into crepes, and topped it with a couple slices of Swiss cheese.  Viola - chicken and spinach crepes!

I love it when I actually get to use up all the extra little ingredients that I could have thrown away, but instead we got an extra, wholesome, and delicious meal.  It doesn't always work out.  Sometimes, my good intentions end up becoming science experiments in the back of the fridge.  Which is just all the more reason to appreciate when it does come together so well.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Ready, set, jump...

I quit Deloitte today.  Not forever, but for now.  It is a bit scary - in lots of ways.  But it is also super exciting.  I will be taking care of my sweet babies while being a housewife, a homemaker, and a frugal lady full-time.

This change feels like a leap of faith.  Our single income does not cover our living expenses completely.  However, we have some savings and we think if we stretch, we can make it.

I know that taking care of my girls is not an easy job (in fact, I think it is more physically exhausting than working in an office).  But even so, I am looking forward to simplifying.  I hope that by wearing one less hat, I will be able to do a little bit better in each of my roles and to enjoy life a little more at a much less frenetic pace.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Useful knitting - Handmade Dishcloths rock!

I retaught myself to knit with the help of the internet shortly after Audrey was born.  Luckily my Grandma Cecilia taught me when I was younger, so it was pretty easy to relearn it.  I was(am) intimidated by sweaters.  But dishcloths, they were just the thing to learn on.

"Fresh off the sticks"- two new dishcloths  in a tried and true basic pattern sized perfectly for my hands.

Why dishcloths rock:
  • No dishes or crumbs care if my stitches are even or if I missed a stitch or added in an extra.  
  • Cotton is cheap - I love knitting with natural fibers, and dishcloths made from cotton are great.  My budget was (is) more in lines with the price of cotton rather than wool.  
  • Dishcloths are quick - I can now knit the better part of a dishcloth on the ride to the in-laws - no problem. As a beginner, they are a quick win. 
  • Portable, one little ball of yarn and a couple of sticks are super easy to stash just about anywhere (socks are also super portable and I love that about them).
  • Easy to customize to fit your decor.  I have all kinds of shapes, stars, hexagons, pentagons, squares, and hearts in my dishcloths. I have holiday dishcloths and seasonal dishcloths.
  • Great way to practice new stitch patterns.  I have dishcloths with cables and bobbles in them.  
  • Practical - no matter how many I have, I use them all.  I think every member of my family (including Meredith) uses a new dishcloth *every* time they need to wipe something up.  We store them in the bottom drawer and Meredith plays with them.
  • Frugal - I have not purchased a sponge for so long, I don't even remember how much they cost to give a good comparison.
  • Sanitary - I wash them in hot water every time and if they seem a little off, I throw them in the dryer (but that is rarely necessary).
My system - I grab a new one each morning and I use it throughout the day to wipe the counters and to clean the dishes.  Each time I use it, I rinse it, wring it, and lay it over the edge of the sink ready to be used again.  At the end of the day, I hang it over the drawer handle of my oven to dry out.  When it is dry I toss it into the dirty clothes pile to be washed in hot water with the rest of the kitchen/bath laundry.  If I use it to wipe up something on the floor, I will hang it to dry over my bottom oven drawer handle after I rinse it, and grab a new dishcloth for the counters and dishes.  If I need to wipe up a person, I grab a clean dishcloth. 

I know that everyone has their own systems and favorite tools for keeping their homes clean, so I try not to impose my way on everyone else.  But I think most family members and even a few friends have a few dishcloths from me and if you don't but would like one or seven, just let me know (along with your favorite colors).  I have a big stash of cotton yarn and I love to give them to people who actually want to use them. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Ginger beer

Last Saturday the neighborhood all went to the outdoor movies at the Wegman's shopping center to watch the old-school version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  We set our chairs up right outside of PF Chang's.  Which made me think of the delicious house-made ginger beer that they serve.  I have been jonesing for some ever since.  I have tried making my own ginger beer before, but it did not work.  I did not get some sort of weird concoction, I just got nothing.

However, now that I make all my own kombucha, and have successfully for months, I am feeling a little more confident with home fermentation.  Plus, last time I tried to make ginger beer it was winter and I am hoping that the balmy warm weather (which is otherwise quite icky) will help my ginger beer.

My drink counter - Coffee mug, Ginger Beer Starter, and a new batch of decaf iced-tea
The method I am using could not be easier.  I grabbed a clean mason jar and poured 1 1/2 cups (ish) of filtered room temperature water.  Then I added a spoonful of ground ginger and organic sugar.  I give a good swirl to try to aerate the concoction and then I leave it alone on my counter.  I will add it another spoonful of ginger and sugar every day for seven days.

After a week of fermenting, I will strain out the ginger gooey goodness and add some sugar, water, and lemon juice to the liquid and then bottle it up to ferment a bit more.  I am hoping this non-alcoholic goodness will turn out like the yummy stuff at PF Chang's or perhaps even better.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Bike love

One of the things that I have been most excited about with working from my house was the fact that I could stop commuting and instead pick up bicycling.  So far, both the loss of the commute and more bike mobility have been awesome.

Last week, I got to pick Audrey up from school (only 1.5 miles away, but over a couple good hills) a couple of times on my bike.  Unfortunately for her, she has to ride a scooter back because I have to bring her method of transit with me on my bike.  Today, I picked her up from her last day of school on the bike.  I was trying to beat the rain, but I did not succeed.  She and I were drenched by the time we got back.  What a memorable way to start the summer!

When I lived in Japan everyone rode bikes everywhere.  That was my primary form of transportation and even now I am totally comfortable carrying all kinds of crazy things on a bike.  I had no problem jimmy rigging Audrey's scooter, helmet, a water bottle, and snack into Meredith's baby seat up front and securing it with plastic bags.  Even so, I do plan to get a bike rack, and bungee cords.  I got some strange looks and I had to lean back at an awkward angle when I turned so I didn't whack myself with the scooter.

Another thing I love about bikes is that I can do all the maintenance and fixing.  Bikes are simple and pretty straight forward.  I put my bike together and I have fiddled with the brakes a couple of times to get them right.  Really it is ideal for the tinkerer in me.  I need to put together a bike kit with a couple of spare tire tubes and tire replacement tools, perhaps a bit of bike grease, and a better pump.  The bike I bought from Costco included all the tools I needed to put it together (#ilovecostco), so I feel pretty good about my basic adjustment tools already.

The only real downside to bikes is that bike helmets and sun hats are not as compatible as I would like.  I am working on that though. :)

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Field Day

Yesterday I volunteered at Audrey's school for field day. 

Being the sun phobe that I am I signed up for an indoor station - the rock climbing wall. It looked like so much fun I was tempted to try it myself. :)

Audrey and her friend Kelsey and many of the other girls her age are into clapping slapping rhythms. Here they are showing me one of their latest. 

I can't believe Audrey will be in third grade in just two days. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Garden update

The blueberry bush has been a delightful surprise.  I have been able to pick a handful of berries most days this week.  And they are delicious. :)

The beans are in and growing - we need to get some sort of climbing framework in this weekend. Also pictured free piece of flying trash - mother nature has a sense of humor because the only days that are ever windy are Monday and Thursday - trash days.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Hand me downs

As the oldest kid, I rarely got hand-me-downs.  Every once in a while my Aunt Rachel would send a box of clothes to me and those clothes always became the best clothes that I wore.

So, imagine my delight when a coworker asked if I wanted some of her clothes when she was doing a closet clean out.  I was super excited, though I tried to play it cool.  She brought me a big bag of clothes earlier this week.  Sure enough, these new clothes are already some the best clothes I own.  Hand-me-downs are better than regular clothes because you know they are decent quality, or they wouldn't have made it all the way to a second person.  Plus, they often come with matching pieces - like cute capris with a matching tank top.  Awesome!

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Work and Laundry updates

My Afghanistan assessment project just ended and now I need  to find a new project at work.  At Deloitte, that happens through networking. So I have been talking to people in my network and they have been introducing me to people in their networks, and so on. It is always nice to meet interesting new people and talk about what they do and the things they enjoy about their projects.

In the meantime, I have been assigned to work on an internal project for expense compliance.  It is as uninteresting as it sounds.  However, I get to do this project remotely.  Hooray!  No commute (except for other Deloitte project and networking efforts).  And just with the drop of the commute and the idea that I have that extra time to myself - I have started new ideas to make my house run better.

My first idea was to tackle Mt Washmore. I have started doing a load of washing everyday - ala Flylady.  Since I am able to do that in the morning, I now get to hang that load to dry on a rack out on the deck (our HOA does not allow us to have a clothesline).  I love hanging clothes "on the line". It is strange, but certain household chores are just relaxing.  And for me hanging laundry is relaxing in a contemplative way.  I love the shake and snap of wet clothes before I hang them and I love how crisp they are when they are dry.  It makes me feel connected to women through the ages and around the world when I do this simple task - because keeping the family in clean clothes most often falls to the women of the world.  And the methods are pretty much the same, regardless of the type of clothes or the era of time or the geographic location.  It is kind of like a secret handshake among homemakers around the world.

I especially like the idea of hanging clothes in the summer.  Really is there anything more energy efficient than a solar and wind power clothes dryer.  It makes me a little crazy to pay money (between $0.50-1.00 per load (depending on the cost of gas, electricity, and the length of time the dryer runs)) to heat my clothes and by extension part of my house and then turn around and pay additional money to cool it back down with the air conditioner.  While Ryan agrees with the basic math behind my logic, let's just say that the dryer is not completely out of service.  He is not a fan of "crisp" towels.  I believe he used the word "sandpaper" to describe them and he wasn't buying my "free exfoliation" pitch. So I air dry them, then throw them in the dryer for a few minutes to tumble the crispness out. :)

Monday, May 27, 2013

Cookbook Club

I read an article in the Journal the other day and have been thinking about it ever since.

It is all about the latest fad in book clubs is to do a cook book club.  I love this idea.  So I have been thinking about how to go about starting such a club.  I read this blog post and that gave me some good info.

At first, I was thinking of just doing that with my neighbors, but I get to hang out with a lot of them often anyway.  So perhaps, I will branch out to include different people - like local friends and colleagues.  They are a group of interesting people that I genuinely like and this could be a fun way to get to know them better and actually hang out with them periodically.  Any suggestions on good cookbooks to consider for the club?

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Homemade soap

I like homemade soaps and I usually purchase it at craft shows in scents that I like. I have even ordered it online a couple of time.  However, I really want to try to make my own homemade soap.  I have been hoping to try it for a while.  Rhonda has several good tutorials and it seems simple and straight forward enough.  I finally have gathered all the supplies - goggles, a kitchen scale, lye, and some good fats.

So next time that I have an evening to myself, I will try it.  My plan is to try to make a couple of different types of soaps.  1) I would like a nice creamy soap - maybe with some coconut oil and a bit of superfatting (where you have a slightly higher ratio of fats to lye for the extra creaminess).  2) I would also like to try to make a practical kitchen sink type of soap - I have been saving bacon grease for this purpose.  And if that works out well, I would like to try using my kitchen sink soap in homemade laundry soap. 

The scale and the lye were the only real new expenses.  The scale is a one time ever sort of purchase and it was $15. The lye was $8 for a good sized container that should last me through years of soap making.  All in all not too expensive for a fun and productive project.  I will be back with an update on how it goes - hopefully in the near future. :)

Friday, May 17, 2013

Making of a homemaker

I feel like I have three full-time jobs.

1)  Taking care of me and my immediate environment - my house, cars, yard, etc.
2)  Being a Mama - taking care of my two wonderful ladies - Audrey and Meredith
3)  Work - my job and career

Jobs 2 and 3 really get my full focus right now.  However, I would really like to make it so that jobs 1 and 2 get my full focus.

Also, I have been thinking, it is a little crazy that we women grow up helping out and doing a few chores, taking care of siblings, etc., but aside from that minimal training, we spend most of our focus and learning capabilities on academics and then career work.  So when a woman decides to stay home and take care of a baby, there is not only the new mother stuff to learn, but there is also the homemaking stuff to learn.  We think because we have a quarter of a century experience with life that it will be easy, that all of a sudden we will be able to do the meal planning, using leftovers, budgeting and stretching funds, decorating, organizing, party planning, growing food, keeping a house clean and maintained, raising happy healthy productive children, and coming up with an elegant system to accomplish it all.  But there are some real skill involved in each of these things that take time to learn.  I think when I first stayed home with Audrey, I did not really think about how to continually improve the work I was doing. Truly, I don't think I appreciated the entire scope of what a homemaking career could be.  I tried new recipes and such, but I didn't try to learn to make soap or can food.  I kind of caught the homemaking bug after I left to go back to work.

Here we are now, with a sweet baby (who is really a sweet toddler at this point, but she will always be my sweet baby) and a daycare issue.  We are considering having me quit my job (or at least drastically reduce my hours) to be with my littles and raise them and take care of the family.  This time around, I think I appreciate the scope of the task of homemaking a little more and I am super excited for the challenge.

So perhaps the making of a homemaker is not always a linear path straight from babies to homemaker.  Sometimes it takes a few tries to figure these things out.  Life isn't meant to be lived linearly anyway, right?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Dear Family,

I miss you.  Please come and visit me soon.  I just took a few minutes to read my sisters' blogs.  That was so much fun.  I wish we had the means to all visit each other more often.  I miss having family around. I would love to have my girls grow up around cousins. I would love to get to hang out with my family on a daily, weekly, monthly basis.

I am lucky to have wonderful neighbors and we have a lovely community with them, but it sure would be nice to have family close too.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Progress in the garden

While I really enjoy gardening, I think it is safe to say that I find I am a bit of a haphazard gardener.  I just don't necessarily get around to doing all the right things at the right times.  This weekend I was productive. I pulled out the old kale that had flowered and then gone to seed.  
I harvested some surprise parsnips - who knew parsnips grew the following spring.
Then I weeded a bit and planted some cucumbers, lettuce and carrots.  This time I even labeled my squares, how novel. I hope that my cucumber plants will be more productive than last year.  We harvested enough cucumbers to eat, but not enough to pickle and this year I really want to try making my own dill pickles!

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Amish Coffee N Cake

I love coffee cake and I love coffee, so what could be better than a cake with coffee in it?  I found a recipe for Amish Coffee N Cake here.

I substituted butter for shortening, but otherwise followed the recipe.  The cake turned out a little wonky looking, but tasted delicious.  It went especially well with my unsweetened coffee in the morning as a mid-morning snack.  Next time I will add a bit of salt, because I like salt too.

Monday, May 06, 2013

New Wheels

Meredith and I got new wheels this week.  I put both bike and trike together on Saturday.  Sunday afternoon we went to an empty commuter parking lot for bike time.  Audrey and Meredith rode in the car with the bikes in back.  I rode my bike to meet them.  It was the perfect place to let Audrey practice her bike.  Ryan walked Meredith around on her tricycle.  Even though she can reach the pedals, she is extremely content to just let her parents do that work for her.  Side note: I love the way her hair is doing that sweet little baby curls thing at the bottom edges right now.

My bike is awesome.  I got it at Costco, because I get everything at Costco.  The seat is nice and squishy and the frame is surprisingly light.  I did a couple of little rides over the weekend, a mile or so each.  I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that I am terribly out of shape.  We have a lot of hills around us and it was hard to get to the top of them.  But it was also super fun.  It is funny there is something about a bike that gives you a sense of freedom that I don't even feel with my cars.  And I loved getting to smell the flowers and hear the birds while I was riding.  Even though my legs and my rear-end are sore, I can't wait to get back out and take another little ride.

As for accessories, the bike is in desperate need of a basket or rack.  I think I will have to get a rack because I bought a toddler seat for the front.  I am waiting to install that until I have just a touch more strength in my legs. Meredith is nearly 30lbs of toddler love. And we only have a hand-pump, so I think we will eventually need to get a better pump too.

Here she is on her new tricycle right in front of my new bike.  Pretty sweet rides for both of us. :)

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Garden Plan 2013

This will be my third year with a garden and I am excited.  Here is the plan:

Some of this plan is dictated by the carry-over growth from previous years - my thyme plant has been there from the beginning and is still growing strong.

I also have a couple of pots, one with mint, that I keep on the deck - it just keeps coming back every year (my favorite type of plants), and I have two pots with lavender on either side of the front door (another return from last year).  Then there is the dear blueberry bush and my insanely happy rose bush.  All of these are pretty much no fuss, which is a wonderful thing.  I would love to build the last part of the fence to completely enclose the backyard, but that looks like a project for another year - again. 

I would love to put down another 4x4 square, and if I do, it will mostly be a salsa garden.
However, since I have yet to keep up with just one 4x4 square, this idea will probably need to wait another year or two.

The colorful garden plans were done with whatever crayons Meredith was willing to share when we sat down to color together on Sunday. :)