Tuesday, December 22, 2009

In which we decorated and partied twice

We were very busy yesterday with a Christmassy-themed party and a birthday party. It was a very full day, but somehow didn't feel overly busy or tiring. It was fun.

Introducing the host of the Christmas party:

I don't think it was really meant to be a party. Just a small gathering of a few friends in her greenhouse to make evergreen hangings or wreaths. Once it included all of the kids, there were 17 people that I counted. I'd call that a party and it was lots of fun. We didn't all fit into the greenhouse at once, but there was plenty of room in the nicely heated space for two shifts: kids and then adults.

(I should probably ask permission before posting pictures of others, but I needed to show Rosa's sister that good pictures can indeed be taken of Rosa. Just don't ask her to pose or you might get something like this!)

Alice made her hanging for our ladies in the back yard. Now they can hear the jingling bells when we change their water or feed them treats from the kitchen.

Because I've been so busy making things for our own Christmas, I neglected to do anything about a birthday gift for a 3 year old. In the morning, I converted the sleeve of a felted wool sweater into this little wheat bag.

Roughly based on Ugly Dolls, I love him. He's soft and cuddly and when warm, might help her to sleep.

But actually, I have no idea how welcome he will be in their home.

I realize that everyone has different parenting styles and values and I really do try not to judge, but I think the judging was going both ways at this McDonald's party. We can start with that: McDonalds. Hmmm, not my favourite place.

I have no idea what the top toys are this year, or the movies or tv shows for kids. There are no game systems, my kids learned to read with real books instead of LeapFrog systems, they can sleep without the sound of waterfalls or Disney music playing softly in the background. No one has a cell phone here. The contrast between our families is pretty large.

Because she loves her older siblings' Nintendo systems, the birthday girl now has a game system that does little more than teach her to text friends. She's three years old.

I know. We're mean parents. We deprive our kids of much good stuff. And I veer away from name brands as much as I can. And blinking, noisy electronic games. And McDonalds with it's greasy, unhealthy food and it's bright plastic indoor playground. It's all so unlike me, but it doesn't make it wrong. Just very different than our choices would be.
In and of itself, there's nothing really wrong with name brand toys. My girls still play with Polly Pocket a lot and Barbies. There's a lot of Cranium here. And they do read some books based on TV shows like the Wizards of Waverly Place (but they wouldn't be my choice). And Beth had her camera with her at the party while another girl took pictures with her Nintendo DS. What's the difference really?
Imagination, I think. It takes more than a click of a button to warp a photo in a crazy way, or insert a face onto a playing card. Role playing is involved with Polly Pocket and Barbies. A book with few pictures or unknown characters requires you to read more to develop the characters and imagine what they might look like or how they might think and act. Cranium games make you draw, sculpt, act and interact with others.
I was so happy that my girls loved our gift to her, and that Beth asked to have some good food as soon as she got home because she didn't like her supper. Yay!
But we really did have a good time at the party. The kids ran, climbed, slid and played together for a couple of hours and had fun. And they left hoping to get together again over the holidays. The parenting differences mean little to the kids themselves. I should not be bothered and stop judging.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Eating our curds and whey

After waiting a couple of weeks for the rennet to arrive in stock, I managed my first attempt at cheesemaking.

We spend a ton of money on milk products, but I'm not really sure what my motivation is for making cheese. I don't think it will really save money, and I don't know if the milk I'm using is local. Maybe just to see if I can. I've been making yohurt for a little while now successfully, but I don't actually like the yoghurt cheese that results from it. It's got a very sour yoghurt taste when I was hoping for cream cheese. This is just the next step.

This was very exciting. Mozzarella was supposed to take only 30 minutes and that's about how much time I thought I had on Saturday before getting together with Rosa for a Christmas-making session with my serger.

The rennet did not work as expected. After much time heating the milk on the stove, I googled "cheese making" and found that some people just add vinegar to the milk to curdle it. I did that and suddenly the milk starting forming curds. That was pretty cool.

By the time Rosa arrived I was just at the kneading stage but I wasn't able to handle the hot curds. I could have stopped and had a cottage cheese product, but I wanted mozzarella. Seriously, 30 minutes is supposed to turn milk into mozzarella. Ha. Not quite. Rosa apparently has nerveless hands and managed to knead it while it was really hot and when it cooled I took over . We managed mozza balls. Not the smooth, rubbery store-bought mozzarella, but definitely a cheese worth eating. I think the whole process took about 2 hours.
I didn't tell anyone at the choir party that they were eating my first attempt at cheese. There were no leftovers, so it was a presentable attempt. Next time I will try using the dough hook and doing it by machine. I do want it to be more smooth and slice-able. Still, I was pleased with the product but I wouldn't really call it mozzarella.

I was left with a pot full of whey. What do you do with whey? Sit on a tuffet and drink it?

I tried feeding it to my children. Not happening. I drank a bit too and don't blame them for turning up their noses. It's sour.

Apparently you can re-boil it and make ricotta (which means "twice boiled cheese" or something). My biggest pan of whey yielded a tiny amount of curdled something. It didn't look like ricotta so I strained it and tried kneading it again.

It made this tiny amount of cheese that actually does taste a bit like a spreadable cream cheese. I like it, but it wasn't worth the effort.

The rest of the whey I'm using as the liquid in my bread recipe.

I've got enough rennet to make many gallons of milk into cheese, so I'll be trying again. If I can get successful with it, I'll keep at it and start flavouring it with herbs and stuff.

And then Rosa and I got on with what we'd planned for the afternoon. Far from the prying of eyes of her children and the butchering of deer in her own kitchen, we worked together on making pajama bottoms.
Four hours = four pairs of pants and...
16 matching hankies that will gross them out! She hasn't converted her family to hankies, so beyond giving them as a joke, they will likely be returned to her for her own use. I love flannel hankies.

Could she have gone to Walmart to buy pajama pants for $10 each? Yes, but the hours spent with me are priceless!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Silent Night

Before Advent already, a colleague of Yvon's called me to list a bunch of musical Christmas events that I might want to attend. There was a great mix of them, from R&B Christmases, fundraising for homeless people, to choral events. He knows I love the choral events. I dutifully and hopefully wrote them all over our calendar on the fridge.

One by one I crossed them off and replaced them with our own events. Kids' rehearsals, concerts, bake sales and whatever we fill our lives with.

But today I managed to fit one event in. It was Christmas carolling in the Winspear Centre, led by the Christmas Bureau chorus of 250 people.

It had many things going for it.
  1. It was free. Well, actually I paid for the LRT, donated to a violin-playing busker in the station to encourage live music there, and then donated to the Christmas Bureau. But I didn't have to.
  2. It was in the Winspear. I love the Winspear.
  3. I got to sing along. If there's anything I want to increase in my life, it is singing. What a great way to get into the Christmas spirit.
Photography is discouraged, but I took it to be a recommendation rather than a rule. You need to see what this facility looks like. I did this only for your sake.

It was awesome. No matter where you sit in the Winspear you can see and hear everything well.

Do you see that tiny guy beside the organ? That's our church organist. Without him today, pages would not have been turned. I suspect his role was bigger than that because he is in marketing with the symphony, but page-turning was his public role today.

The organ is always a highlight. It sounds beautiful, but it also looks great. I love those curly bits on the tops of the pipes.

I love those little horizontal pipes. Is that just for the show? If I were designing the organ those would be the trumpet and trombone stops. Maybe there are no trombone stops, but there should be and they should be placed horizontally like these. And clarinet stops should not be placed in front of them to recieve liquid from their spit valves. Hmm, maybe that's not relevant in an organ.
Anyway, the highlight for me today was Silent Night. In the second verse a soprano behind me started singing a beautiful, unrehearsed descant. It wasn't planned by the choral group. Just a beautiful voice in the audience who decided to share her gift. Normally I sing the alto part, but once she started, I just closed me eyes and listened. It was really, really beautiful. They should have stopped the event after that one verse so that I could go home replaying it in my mind.
It will be live broadcast on CBC Radio 2 on Sunday morning at 8:00 a.m. if you want to hear me and 999 of my closest friends singing our hearts out. I won't be up yet, but I've already heard it once anyway.
Back to Christmas presents...
All year I've been making these pencil case/notebook things for friends. I think almost all little girls under the age of 11 in our daily lives have one.
Except Alice! I can't believe she got missed, but she's getting one for Christmas. And it's the best one yet. I think I've got the design solidified now that I've probably sewn my last one.
I think I've probably shared the last of my handmade gifts. I'll have a couple more after Christmas because they are for Yvon and he's still reading this. I've got to keep a couple of surprises for him!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A hairy tale

Do you see this?

This is not the norm around here. It's lovely, but who has time to do that everyday? And how practical is it really? A couple of hours after this shot was taken, we sprinted through the rain in order to jump into an indoor swimming pool, wasting all that effort in exchange for a good time. A tradeoff that I will repeatedly make.

And do you see this?

This was my attempt to do something a little dressy to her hair when we went to "The Lion King" production in the summer. I am not good with hair. I've rarely had hair long enough to cover my ears (and, by the way, that would be handy in the winter around here) so I have no practice.

Without help, my girls normally have hair ranging from rat's nest bedhead to staticky (sp?) hathead to slightly wavy. The slight wave exists only under the top layer of hair, so it doesn't necessarily fall neatly. It can have the appearance of bedhead hiding under a fine layer of brushed hair. Only Laura has straight hair requiring little upkeep. And Beth is starting to care about her hair. While that's a welcome change from the years of screaming as I approached with a brush, she has my hair in texture and curl and I've never known what to do about my own besides cut it off. She doesn't want short hair.

My Christmas solution is this.

While pencils in the hair would work too, these are prettier. I found them at a craft fair. The girls were with me and the expert saleswomen made beautiful French twists and buns in each of the kids' hair.

It looked so easy that I thought I'd try them. Hopefully I can get it right or Beth and Laura can learn to use them themselves. They even put a tight little bun in Alice's hair, but I think I won't be able to get that quite right. She still has fine, fairly short hair. I don't want to overestimate my hairstyling skills here.
These may get more use:

Totally simple to make and easy to put in your hair. Beth has taken to using all sorts of hairbands, but the plastic ones break and are uncomfortable.

She is not a "pink" girl so much anymore, but every once in a while I throw some pink at her and it takes. I'm getting a little worried that she may be growing up. I made a greenish cordorouy one just in case the pink doesn't appeal to her this time.

You can see how simple they are to make. Just a tube of fabric attached to a bit of elastic. I like the elastic because kids don't always have a ton of hair. This allows the back of the hair to lie flat and stops the hairband from slipping off.

Laura is not excluded from this gift because she could use them too, but I have to save something for her birthday in January. If she makes jealous noises at Christmas I'll know what to do.

Another baker in the family

In keeping with my trend towards local food, I bought rennet today. I am going to try making mozzarella cheese and I'm very excited! I'll make sure that I post about the results, even if I fail miserably.

And in a 180 degree direction away from my trend towards local food, we ate hot dogs and Kraft Dinner for supper. It's one of those meals that I will probably never totally dismiss from our diet. I really do like it. Because I hate to waste food, a song popped into my head as I cleared the table - Jimmy Buffet's Wiener Water Soup. But no, I didn't save the water. I was quite happy to dump it, but it was funny that I even thought about it.

And now I'm eating Cheetos for dessert because I really like that too. And because I have the house to myself for an hour and I don't have to share. Ha!

Back to Christmas presents...

Although Beth says she likes to bake, the real baker in the house is Laura. And this apron is for her.

This is upcycled from a dress I had as a much smaller person, maybe in high school already. I made it then and loved it. It had a very wide circular skirt. It seemed a pity not to use the whole circle, so this is decidely more feminine than Beth's apron.

It's not exactly an unqualified success. I should have used a pattern for this one because I had to sew the bib portion twice and it's still not quite right. An adjustment may still be required after I see her in it.

Even though it didn't quite turn out the way I wanted it, I still love the fabric and the general shape of it.

May many good cookies get produced in the upcoming years! And maybe in time it will translate to a night off of cooking supper for me as well.

But somehow it's harder to get a child enthused about vegetables and meat when sugar-y cookies could be made instead.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Returning and repetitious gifts

I love sewing with flannel. It's soft and it doesn't slip around as you're sewing it. You hardly need to pin it. And it's not so thick that my machine has any issues. And it's soft.

I wasn't at all displeased that Laura needed new pajamas for Christmas. She really needs them right now, but she'll have to wait.

I often don't buy patterns, preferring to hack things together with what I know of gathering and sleeve shape and stuff. Or Burda has a great site with free patterns and up-cycled clothes. I use it in the same way I use recipes. They are just the kickstart and inspiration I need to go and do my own thing.

But this pajama and nightgown pattern I have used and used and used. I bought it two years ago when Beth was Raggedy Anne in our Sunday School Christmas play. I figured that if I was going to have to sew a dress for her, it would have to be useful for more than one night. I made a blue nightgown that she hiked up for production and wore an apron over, and bloomers under it. The poor girl was so hot! However, it was a great nightgown and Laura is now wearing it.

Last year I offered a homemade Christmas gift exchange to a group of women. I would make nightgowns for anyone in exchange for whatever skill/craft/art they could come up with. I made 9 nightgowns in sizes from 2 to 14 (and then one for myself) in exchange for mead, cards, homemade buns and other homemade gifts. It was an awesome idea.

Today one of those nightgowns was returned to me for repair. The gift didn't really come with a service warrantee, but that's okay. And I made two nightgowns again this year as gifts for another friend.

Laura wore last year's PJs all year (even in the summer because they were thinning by then) and they are threadbare now. The pants are actually gone, having been turned into hankies once they started ripping in places not easily repaired. Although she has the Raggedy Ann nightgown now, she prefers PJs with pants. So this is her gift this year.
Maybe the wintery design will discourage summertime wear and she'll get two years out of this pair. We'll see. I am grateful that she likes my homemade gifts and doesn't lust after the store-boughten ones.
And did I tell you that they're soft? I love flannel.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Fluffy Stuff

We've managed to go to a few craft shows this season and all they do is give me ideas for more gifts. Many of them fit in the category of "necessary and useful". This is one of those.

Alice is quite taken with hats. She has a new one from my parents that is brightly coloured knit and has a cute bright yellow pompom. She calls it her lightbulb hat and I can see her in the school yard from the kitchen window. I love it, but she's discovered that the wind goes through it and we've had a very cold week.

She touched a whole lot of hats at the sale last weekend, trying on many of them. One of her favourites were very soft and fluffy. They brought out the baby in her and I'd like to keep her that way for a while.

The others were of the felted wool variety. I absolutely loved them, but they were sophisticated and lovely and very expensive. The two ladies who made them allowed her to touch them all, try on as many as she liked, and then egged her on by searching for the ones that would suit her best.

I realize that they were salesman, that their space in the craft show cost a lot, but did I look like I would be swayed into buying one because of the tears of a 5 year old? And it was very mean of them to go so far as to get her to the tearful stage. As I led my crying child away they cut the price in half for children, but even then it would have cost $40. That's a bit steep for a kid who still loses a pair of mittens every two weeks. How long would the hat last?

This is more in line with her need for softness and warmth. Again, it's out of scraps in my stash and took about half an hour. The prices of this style of hat were more reasonable than the felted ones, but I still look at them and think about how long it could take to sew three seams on a few scraps of fleece. I actually had a pattern for this and made two of them for the Operation Christmas Shoeboxes so I've had a bit of practice this year.

I wonder how long it will take for the fluff to stop flying from the hat. This tassle doesn't help matters. Alice doesn't have a black wool coat like mine luckily. It won't stick to her ski coat.

I love the way pictures actually make my ratty old furniture look good. Much better than the furniture as a whole or the way the whole messy room looks. Anyway, back to the hat...

I was going to skip the tails from the earflaps, but Laura thought they were needed. Now they are my favourite part of the hat.

I won't be able to spot her from across the field anymore, but I hope it keeps her little ears warm and cozy.

Friday, December 11, 2009

In which kids baked and I lost sleep

Those were actually two separate things, the kids baking and I losing sleep. Unrelated.

Last week I mentioned that we were getting a guest. A cousin came up for a conference and then spent a few days with us. She is not much older than me really, but when you're kids, the age difference feels huge. I think she finished her first degree while I was still in junior high. That meant that even though we spent a lot of time together as families, I was playing barbies while she talked to the adults. Now there is a geographic distance between us, but the age difference has shrunk considerably. Spending any time at all worrying about what we'd talk about or do was time wasted.

What we didn't do much was sleep. We talked until the wee hours of the morning and it was great.

And I did get some of the prep work done, but not all of it and it didn't matter one bit. The hot water tank was installed just hours before she came, meaning that all cleaning with water was done in a rush after that, or put off entirely. The recycling was taken away by the city, the garbage didn't quite make it. Laundry was washed, but there wasn't time for line drying in the basement so I had to use the dryer.

I'm hoping that her memories of the trip are not that there was dust on the mantle, but that we had a good time getting to know each other. (If you're reading this, thanks for coming and staying with us. Make sure you do it again before too much time passes.)

Now that I've put cleaning back on the back burner where it belongs, I've been baking up a storm with help from the girls. It started with a desire to thank our neighbours for shoveling our walks and being great company over the fence. Now I've got four recipes done and enough to fill a few cookie tins.

Want a good sugar cookie recipe? This is from Julie van Rosendaal again. I'm referring to her blog and her cookbook a lot lately. I've tried a few other recipes and sometimes they taste like dry flour and need the icing to make them edible, and often the ones that taste good don't roll out easily. These are tasty and good for rolling. Skip the nuts if you're giving to unknowns or people with allergies.

On a similar topic, the kids have actually been helping in the kitchen more. They do the dishes after supper most nights and they like helping with baking. With a challenge on the Aussie forum to return to the practical useage of aprons, I made this for Beth a couple of months ago already.

It's unlike me to get a jump on Christmas in October, but a challenge is a challenge. I noticed the challenge a bit late and only had a week to think about it and make this.

The interesting thing about blog deadlines is that they aren't real deadlines. No one is marking us. Nothing else depends on us for meeting the deadline. You can be late and no one will yell at you or look at you with disapproval.

Yet I took it on as if it mattered. These unknown, far away women were depending on me for final results. It was a great way to force me to get something done and out of the way.

I didn't have a pattern and just used some pretty fabric that had been given to me last year. There was enough to make a girl's dress, but Beth and Laura are getting too old and "cool" to wear something so frou-frou out of the house now. A kitchen is a lovely place to wear it and I hope she does.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Off Limits

This is a season of secrets. The good kind of secrets, but some people want to share everything with me. While it's great that the kids are so excited to give to each other, I actually don't want to see everything before Christmas Eve. Where is the surprise in that?

I am getting better at secrets though. I'm sharing with Yvon because technically the gifts are from him as well, and it's always good for him to know what he's given the kids. I remember my dad used to say "That's great - Who gave it to you?" "You did." That's a bit too much secrecy. You should never shop with your eyes closed.
Anyway, roughly following my year of handmade gifts, I am trying to make the majority of the gifts for the kids. Although they'd love a Nintendo, I think that memories are rarely made in the malls. Nor are those gifts kept and cherished often.

I remember a handmade stuffed rabbit that I found pre-Christmas under the covers of my parent's bed. I loved that rabbit and Mom had to fix the ears on it many times. I also loved a pair of purple pants that Mom made for me when I was in junior high. I particularly remember that they went all the way from my waist to the tops of my shoes, no ankles or socks showing. The simple pleasures of a tall stick girl.

Content on this site will increase if I'm allowed to disclose what goes on in the sewing room, so I'm locking the door on the blog until Christmas Day. No little eyes peeking! And I hope we'll be too busy on Christmas Day to be on the internet. Boxing Day then.
I needed to share the gift I finished yesterday because he's a cutie!
Laura had seen these pillows/stuffies in a kiosk in The Mall. You know the one I mean. I almost never go there, and it's worse than ever at this time of year. You have to circle the parking lot to find a spot, and it just gets worse once you are inside. The music blares, the fountains gurgle, the lights are too bright and it always feels air conditioned, even while it's -20 outside.
And when you bring kids, there are always lots of things they want. Laura actually started to cry when she saw the price tag on these animals because she knew I wouldn't buy one for her.
She's right, but I could see what a simple design they were.
While shopping at one of my favourite shops, one of the fabric variety, my friend and I kept touching this soft pink fabric and I knew that I'd be able to make it into something Laura could love. Another shopper followed me and the bolt around the store because she wanted to cuddle a grandchild in whatever fabric I didn't buy. There was barely enough for the two of us, but in order for her grandchild to get any, I bought a remnant piece with a mark on it for 70% off. I worked around the stain and made the whole stuffie for $3!
I was stumped about how to make the head, but with one simple question on my favourite forum (Down-to-Earth, an Aussie blog and forum) I was given a link to a pig pattern. I didn't use it in the end, but it had great ears that I wasn't doing quite right before.
His head is a little lobsided, but I think he just looks shy like his new friend Laura. I think I'll leave it that way.
And with a simple unbutton, the stuffy becomes...

... a comfy pillow. I hope she likes it. I know I could have a nap on it with no problem. It's the softest fabric I've ever felt. If you were making him for a baby, you might want to embroider the eyes, but I hate handsewing and an 8-year old isn't likely to swallow a button, so I went the easy route.

Thank you, kind ladies on the forum! I hope I can help you out one day.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

In which the angels sang

Many angels sang this weekend.

And we were able to spend hours listening to them. They were sweet. They were musical. Some of them were truly gifted.

My youngest angel was among the sweet as opposed to the gifted, but she made me go all teary every time.

And trust me, I heard her many times over the course of the 4 hour dress rehearsal. Poor kid. She just experienced for the very first time that you can have a sore throat for more reasons than the common cold or H1N1 (although she told me that's what she had).

I'm surprised that screaming at her sisters doesn't also have that effect on her throat, but apparently not. Or not yet.

Anyway, her debut solo was a treat for us to hear, all 8 bars of it. She didn't seem nervous at all and I envy that. If I were more patient, I'd get her video clip onto Youtube for your listening pleasure but maybe it's something only her parents really appeciate.

Laura also sang with her angels, the Taylor Baptist Community Children's Choir. They were really great. In tune, together, harmonizing -- all the things you don't really expect from children without training. It's their first concert and there was a real mix of talents in the group and the director is good at finding them out.

I'm glad Laura got in at the youngest age. Now she can sing with them for a few years before having to go elsewhere. I do hope she continues because I'd love to share singing with someone in the family. Why have girls if you can't force your interests on them? That's what I'm trying to do anyway.

And to end the post, have a listen to the "Amen" portion of one of Laura's songs. It's a lovely thing.