Thursday, August 30, 2012

Thinking ahead

We attended a new families' reception at my daughter's school last night.  The headmaster was very excited and extremely dedicated--as headmasters tend to be--and he detailed all aspects of the school's mission and how it translates to expectations for the learning environment.  The school "inspires and educates students to engage their hearts, minds and hands to cultivate their full individual and collective potential in the service of a greater good."  The number one value at the school is not academic rigor; it is "character." He emphasized the belief that education without action and strong character is worth little more than the paper you receive as your diploma.

Although you could dismiss these words as rhetoric, I found them thought-provoking and motivating.  I have been blessed with (and have thoroughly enjoyed) an excellent liberal arts education.  I hold a Master's degree in International Development.  I have lived in four countries in the past seven years and have visited more than a dozen.  While I have always hoped and planned to be at home when my children are small, I acknowledge that those years are drawing to a close.  Now that my girls have reached an age of greater independence, I'm starting to look outward and ponder where my next steps should be.  "In the service of a greater good" seems an excellent starting point.


Where are your thoughts taking you this week?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Wishing you a happy weekend

This video of a wonderfully elegant flash mob sent happy tears streaming down my cheeks.  So beautiful.  Happy weekend to you!

 Found via DesignMom

Friday, August 24, 2012

Soaking it in

We have entered that window of perfect late summer weather.  The days are still warm but not unbearably hot or humid.  The windows can be open all the time.  All meals can be eaten outside.

summer evening

summer evening

One of my favorite aspects of seasonal change is the awareness it brings of now and of what is to come.  We know these days won't last.  A recent cool snap reminded us that autumn is not far off and a colder winter than we've experienced in years (and the girls have ever experienced) will soon follow that.

Right now, there are less than two weeks until school starts, giving us two more weeks of playing, reading, lounging, discovering, enjoying... 
Right now, we are soaking in the warmth, the long days and the freedom our lack of schedule provides.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Early morning fog

A small cold front resulted in three very cool, foggy mornings.
Sunlight breaking through the early morning fog is magical.

foggy morning

foggy morning

foggy morning

Wishing you a beautiful day, friends!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Quickie jam recipe

It has been atypically cool here of late.  I love it...but part of me worries about winter if August is so gentle and kind.  Best to enjoy and not think about it too much.

The good news is the cool-down has helped spur me along in my knitting.  I really lost my mojo this summer (understandably), but I'm such a slow knitter that I know I need to get working if I want to have new things for the girls this year.  I may even finish the cardigan I started for myself over six months ago...(cough cough).

I've also been happier to be heating things up in the kitchen.  I've baked bread, chocolate quinoa cake (and watched that disappear in a flash!)...and this morning, I used up some too-old plums from the farm box to make quickie jam.

Homemade jam is a revelation.  Store-bought cannot hold a candle to it. The flavour (and sense of accomplishment) is top notch.  Do I worry about preserving safely with my self-taught methods?  A bit.  Quickie jam takes that worry away.  Quickie jam just uses up whatever too-old (but not bad) fruit or berries you have and gives you a small jar of something heavenly-good to smear on your bread (scone, muffin, bagel...) or stir into your morning oatmeal.  It takes far less sugar than regular jam and no pectin.  You need to use it up in a week or so, but that is easily done.

You want to try it now, don't you?

The ingredients are very simple: around 1 pound (half a kilo) of fruit or berries and 1/2 cup of sugar or less.  I had less than a pound of plums.  I sliced them up into large but manageable bits (remember it needs to be spreadable when done) and tossed them into a stainless steel pot with about 1/4 cup of sugar.  I cooked it on medium until I bubbled itself down into something gooey and beautiful (30 minutes or so); then, I spooned it into a jar, labeled it with elegant masking tape and put it in the fridge.  That was it!


I've also made quickie jam with a punnet of blueberries and half a cup of sugar.  You could get fancy with cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans or sliced ginger.  It only makes a single jar, so this is a great way to try out flavour combos.

If you want actual recipes and even video instruction, head here to Mark Bittman and the NY Times.

Which flavour jam is calling to you?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Love the Place You Live: The Strip

My mom is visiting this weekend.  She knows Pittsburgh about as well as we do (not much!), so on Sunday afternoon, we did a bit of exploring.  The weather was glorious, so it was the perfect day for a stroll.


Hubby had a bicycle tour of the city courtesy of a friend, so he wanted to introduce us to The Strip district.  Inspired by DesignMom's Love the Place You Live series, I want to share our finds here.

The Strip is several blocks of fabulous grocery stores (hippie, Italian, Indian, Chinese...) and small restaurants.  Food is king in The Strip.  Apparently there is an amazing farmer's market there on Saturdays, but being there Sunday means we missed that this time.  We ate a sandwich lunch in a little bakery/cafe and then discovered two treasures I have to share with you.

First up, Mon Aimee Chocolat.  Such an inspiring variety of chocolate bars, chocolate nibs, chocolate chips (and cappuccino chips!)...  The most beautiful item I spotted was the assorted bag of giant malted milk balls.  Those things were the size of jawbreakers.  Each had a different flavoured candy shell, and the colours ranged from bright red (hot cinnamon) to green (mint) to speckled (various) to traditional chocolate brown.  They were so pretty, and I bet they are absolutely delicious!  What a gorgeous gift that would make for a birthday or a hostess.

Mon Aimee Chocolat

Alas, my two small children were tempted to inhale just about anything they could get their little hands on (and who could blame them?), so I left with one photo (by permission) and without the malted balls (though I'll be back!).

Next up was Pittsburgh Popcorn.  My mom wanted to go there after having read about it in a foodie guide.  She has a secret passion for cheddar and caramel popcorn mixed together (who knew?), and the book said Pittsburgh Popcorn had that.  Did they ever!  They had movie popcorn (butter and salt), cheddar, caramel, sour cream and chive, peanut butter and chocolate, caramel and chocolate, chocolate covered pretzel was popcorn heaven.  The shop didn't look like much from the outside, but inside was fantastic.  The smell alone is enough to pull you through the door.

  Pittsburgh Popcorn

My mom was happy with a little sample size of her treasured mix, but my girls each chose "small" (big!) bags of their favourites: caramel chocolate and peanut butter chocolate.  I may or may not have eaten some of each after they fell asleep last night.

Once school commences and I have some solo daytime hours, I will be back to explore those grocery shops thoroughly.  An Italian cheese shop caught my eye, and I am still looking for a good source for various ingredients I like to keep in my kitchen.  I'm guessing The Strip will yield new finds each time.

How was your weekend?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Summer evenings

The mad, intolerable heat of early summer has given way to glorious days and beautiful late summer evenings.  Dinner time has become magic hour for golden sunlight filtering through the trees, lighting up the grass and warming the soul.  I snapped these pictures the other night, trying to capture the gorgeous light, knowing I will need to look back at these images in the depths of winter, reminding me of the warmth and the light...and this new favourite spot of ours that never stays empty for long.




Happy weekend to you!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Classic t-shirt source

Have you heard about Everlane?

I found it via Cup of Jo.  It's a company selling designer-quality tees at realistic prices (they advertise via word-of-mouth and only sell direct-to-consumer online, keeping prices down).  A well-fitting tee for $15?  Yes please.  I'm not a big wearer of t-shirts, but my curiosity was piqued.

A visit to the website requires a log-in/membership (free, requiring only basic information).  Once in the site, I found really nice tees for men and women, attractive unisex belts (my big girl insisted we have the red one) as well as totes, weekend bags and backpacks in simple, classic styles.  Everything is less than $100.  Shipping and returns are free for the first 24 hours of your membership, just to get you hooked (can you resist?); after that time, shipping is free when you buy 2 items or more (pretty easily done).

As extra incentive, if you pass the info along to friends, their visits open your access to the Secret Shop.  You want to know what's in there, don't you?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A new neighbour

From time to time, we spot a groundhog in our backyard.  Every time we do, I am reminded that we live in Pennsylvania now.  Since we move a lot, I love those little reminders, the little iconic moments that speak of a place.

 our backyard groundhog

This is the best photo I've gotten so far because he always runs straight for the hole in the fence and disappears when he catches me watching him (see Exhibit B).

our backyard groundhog

Every time I see that groundhog, I also think of the scene in the movie "Groundhog Day" when Bill Murray has Punxsutawney Phil in his lap, steering the truck, saying, "Don't drive angry!" (that scene starts around 7:40 in this clip).

Of course, I feel I have to go to Punxsutawney for Groundhog Day.  This statement makes Hubby roll his eyes to the heavens at this crazy woman he lives with every day, but if I went to the Rayne Frog Festival and the Angola Prison Rodeo when we lived in Louisiana (I only missed the Shrimp and Petroleum Festival because of Hurricane Katrina), there is no way I am missing Groundhog Day in Pennsylvania.

Happy Wednesday, friends!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Encaustic painting

Sunday afternoon, Papa had to go in to work and our visitors were out for a walk.  My girls were twitchy, so it was time for a project!  Time to try encaustic painting!

encaustic painting

Encaustic painting is painting with hot wax.  Seems ideal for kids, right?  Actually, it can be.  Children can amaze you with their ability to use caution when they realize actual danger lurks.  Hot wax can (and does) burn*, as can the tray you use to heat it.  My four year old surprised me with how careful she truly was...and how much she loved working with this medium.  Maybe it was the inherent danger, but she couldn't get enough of this project.  My six year old, however, got a bit over-enthusiastic, burned her knuckle on the muffin tin we used and lost all interest (her knuckle is a-ok, don't worry).

encaustic painting

You'll need:
wax crayons to melt
old muffin tin
thick craft paper (watercolour paper, cardstock or even light cardboard will work)
cotton swabs

Peel any paper off the crayons and break them up into pieces for quicker melting.
Place bits in the muffin tin.  We only used 4 colours and kept them separate.
Heat an oven to 300F.
Place the muffin tin in the hot oven and melt crayons completely.
Set hot muffin tin on protected table next to your artist.
Use cotton swabs to "paint" the wax onto the paper.
The wax will solidify as it cools, so you may need to place the tray back in the oven more than once depending on how long the artist works.
The final result will have a lot of interesting texture, which is a good bit of the fun!

encaustic painting

*A little first aid goes a long way.  As soon as you can, get the burned area under cold, running water and let the water run over it for several minutes.  Plunging it into a glass of water is not nearly as effective as running water in the sink.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Friday, August 10, 2012

Happy weekend


I don't know about you, but I am looking forward to the weekend!  Weather-wise, we are expecting a cool front (hooray!).  Family-wise, we are expecting guests!  My brother, his girlfriend/partner/lady and their baby daughter are coming for a visit.  They are on the road right now, and we're all very excited. I've been cleaning like a mad thing for the past few hours (ahem), but the end result is pretty darn satisfying.  Even the girls noticed.  When I enlisted them in a major playroom tidy, my older daughter had a meltdown...but later when the room was all clean, she stood back, put her hands on her hips, and said, "I'm feeling very proud of myself!"  Amen, sister.

Wishing you a wonderful weekend!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Fashion help

I am in need of some cool, casual summer dresses with sleeves (sun-cover).
This dress is darling and simple, but it's a good 6 inches above my knees.
Is it too short for an over-30?
What do you say?

Toothpick sculptures

A few weeks ago, we were trying to beat the heat with a big art day.  Project after project was started and abandoned.  It was too hot to think, too hot to be satisfied, too hot...until snack time and art project combined with a pile of toothpicks and some mini-mallows.

marshmallow sculpture

This activity would also work with grapes, blueberries, melon long as the snack is slightly firm.  Just present the kids (young or old) with a pile of toothpicks* and watch the fun begin.

*remarkably, no one was seriously poked during this activity, though you might want to keep an eye on littles with their sharp little sticks

Monday, August 6, 2012

Why "cat person" is usually preceded by "crazy"


You know you are a cat person when you sit hunched over in an uncomfortable position for an extended period of time so as not to not to disturb the cat who has opted to nap on the back of your neck.

Dogs have owners.
Cats have staff.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Happy weekend

cool chick in Mama's sunnies

Another heat wave is moving through.
We're ready.
Happy weekend to you!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Tie-dye with permanent markers

Inspired by this post on DesignMom, we invited our neighbours over and made our first foray into tie-dye with permanent markers yesterday afternoon.


The process is easy.
Start with a clean shirt.
If you don't want the design to transfer to the back, smooth a plastic bag inside the shirt.
Draw whatever design you like in whatever colour* permanent markers you like.
Use a medicine dropper to drip rubbing alcohol on the design.  The more alcohol, the more the colours will blur and spread.
When the shirt is completely dry, toss it in the dryer for a few minutes to heat-set the design.

tie-dye with Sharpies

*Keep primary colours--red, yellow, blue--in mind. When those blend and merge, you will see more colours.  Red lined with yellow will merge orange; purple lined with green could merge brown.  We used Sharpies brand permanent markers and were very happy.  Be sure that you use permanent ink not regular markers or textas, because those will not set in the fabric.

Don't be afraid to outline in unusual ways.  My daughter first drew a yellow star and announced she was done.  I encouraged her to add in more detail.  She outlined it in red and then drew purple lines down the centre.  The photo above captures it in mid-drip process (see how the colours are moving?).  Check out the end result:

 finished shirt

This was such a fun project!  It also saved this shirt, a favourite of my daughter's that had a large ink stain front and centre that is now covered by the heart design.  Plain shirts with stains will now be kept for future fun.  Hooray!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

CSA day

When you can't get motivated to cook dinner, photograph the goodies from your CSA box instead.

CSA box: Aug 1

CSA box: Aug 1

CSA box: Aug 1

My favourite is the world's smallest cantaloupe (spelled incorrectly, ahem) next to the world's biggest tomato.  I should have put a ruler in there for scale.  They were about 5 inches wide.  Can you tell we don't live in a tropical region?  The cantaloupe is so cute we almost don't want to cut into it.

I have no idea what variety those yellow tomatoes are, but they are really delish.  They almost taste salty at first bite.  I gave them a valiant effort (you may recall my issue with tomatoes), but Hubby ate most of them.  Between the gorgeous yellows and the huge red, yesterday's box did make me wish I were a tomato lover.

Last night's dinner turned out to be easy after all.  I cut up cucumber and tomatoes from the box and put them out with extra-virgin olive oil, sea salt and chèvre.  It was beautiful.  Rainy, warm summer days yield glorious produce...even if I choose to fill up with peanut butter toast in lieu of tomatoes after the kids go to bed.