Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A little beauty for your Wednesday

Yesterday afternoon, I wore out four children ages 8, 7 and (two of them) 5.  After two hours of scavenger hunting around our village and a reward treat at the end, they were all completely happy and exhausted.  It felt like a major victory.  Of course, I wore myself out too.  Completely happy and exhausted seemed like the way to go, so a delicious salad for dinner and a glass of Pinot Noir after bedtime helped seal the deal.

roast chicken, green bean, tomato, and arugula salad with goat's cheese

I could try to segue beautifully to the following, but I'm still a bit too sleepy.  The truth is, I found this video online via DesignMom and I found it so peaceful and gorgeous, I thought you might like it too.  Filmed over two years to capture the fog and the light around San Francisco just so, the result is incredible.
Happy Wednesday, y'all.

Adrift from Simon Christen on Vimeo.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

ixxi tulips

room with ixxi flowers

Taking pictures has long been one of my favorite hobbies.  How to display those pictures isn't always so obvious.  We have tried a gallery wall, but we rarely change the pictures in the frames, despite intentions to keep them updated.  Besides, always living in a rented home leaves me wary of all those holes that must later be patched and repainted.  So, how to display a lot of pictures without a lot of heavy frames and oh-so-many holes in the wall?  Take a look at the pictures above the couch.  I'd like you to meet ixxi.

The system is very easy to use.  You can choose from images on the ixxi site or upload your own.  Then, you can drag and crop to get the squares just as you like them.  You preview your grid to make sure the finished system will look just the way you want it to, and then you let them to the rest.  The printing turn-around was very quick.  We were happy to find the assembly instructions were easy to follow, and ixxi included a printout of my finished grid so we would see where we were headed.

The photo tiles are very light-weight and hang from an included plastic strip which adheres to the wall with strong but removable adhesive tape (no holes and very limited patching-if any-to be done when you take it down).

Screen Shot 2013-07-18 at 10.58.37 AM

I found and pinned this supercool system on Pinterest over a year ago, but I waffled about using it.  How would the photos look?  How would the tiles feel?  Would it be something we would enjoy?  Finally, I admitted there was only one way to find out.  I thought about all the photos we have, and I found it too hard to narrow down the choices of what to print.  At the time, it was still winter here.  The skies were grey and I was desperate for colour, so I decided to print my tulip photos from our years in The Netherlands.

I really enjoy the look of the tiles.  It reminds me of Holland (ixxi is Dutch), which seems even better because that is the source of my images too.

I now plan to make large ixxi systems for the girls' bedroom with photos from all the amazing places they have been.  Sure, it's going to be hard to narrow down the choices, but we can't let these pictures hide in the computer any longer.

How do you like to display your photos?

Monday, July 29, 2013

Phipps Conservatory

On Sunday, we made a trip into Pittsburgh for our first visit to Phipps Conservatory.  Now, having been, we have no idea why we waited so long to go.  It is wonderful.  Such diversity of plant life, so beautifully laid out, and there's a delicious cafe onsite as well.  It is perfect for families, for dates, or for a solo visit.  If you aren't busy tomorrow, I suggest you go and see it yourself.

 Phipps Conservatory

dramatic entry


bromeliad colour

great floor compass mosaic

botanical glass

glass garden guardians

Hubby and I were awed by the incredible glass sculptures throughout the indoor gardens.  We especially fell for these etherial glass guys by Hans Godo Fraebel.  They were walking silently through a koi pond and moving noiselessly through the tropical lushness.

The girls thoroughly enjoyed the outdoor discovery garden.  There was a touch garden for plants of different textures, including an amazing "sensitive plant" that curled its leaves inward at the gentlest touch.  I showed them the bug-eating pitcher plants and Venus fly traps.  Best of all were the little child-sized watering cans thoughtfully set out near a small fountain.  Every child there seemed unable to resist them, filling and refilling, watering every little plant, shrub and bit of soil in sight.

learning about pitcher plants

watering in the discovery garden

Well done, Phipps.  What a wonderful visit!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Warm and toasty hand mitts

I'll admit it: although last weekend in Mississippi felt relaxing and wonderful and good for the soul, it hurt my heart not just a little bit too, remembering against my will because the place associations are just too strong.  I was surprised to feel it again when I pulled up the pictures to share with you.  After all, the views from that beach have always brought on all those feelings of joy and peace that we so treasure.

Let's move on to some knitting, shall we?

modeling the hand mitts

All that chair sittin' time in Grandmary's sunroom allowed for some good knitting.  I brought yarn and needles with me and left with one hand mitt done.  Some knitting on the plane, a bit more the next morning and voila!  A Christmas present, now complete, and it's only July!  I am more than a little high on my success.

wool-alpaca mitts

Being a slow knitter, or at least one who doesn't find (make?) much time to knit, I'm trying to plan and pace my goals out this year.  High off of two completed projects, I feel ready to tackle my list: big project, small project, big project...  The small projects will be Christmas gifts; the big ones will be pullovers for the girls and finally finally completing the cardigan for myself.  This is the first: handmitts to keep a loved one's pair of hands toasty warm in the cold winter months to come.
Here, they are modeled by my sweet wee girl, who insists she also needs a pair, just as long as these but perhaps not quite so big around.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Ocean Springs, Mississippi


she and her shadow





hermit crab tracks

A week ago, we were in Ocean Springs, Mississippi.  It was once a small, sleepy town on the Gulf Coast.  My dad was posted to the military base near there when I started high school, and he loved the pace and the views so much that he returned for good after he retired.  He passed away the year Hurricane Katrina barrelled in and changed everything forever, but we still go back.  We go to see our Grandmary.  We indulge in cake doughnuts at Tato Nut, barbeque at The Shed, chicken salad at Martha's, and iced tea everywhere.  We savour the views and the peace and relaxation it brings to us each time, even when the pain of that horrible year comes back to squeeze and bite and hurt, because sometimes in feeling that much pain and sorrow, I am reminded of all the good that has come since, all that I have to be thankful for in the present, and of all the strength and peace that can be found, just when it is needed most.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Blue striped beauty

blue Noro stripe 2

I'm feeling a little full of myself at the moment, having freshly completed a project at long last (raveled here).  With three hibernating (unfinished) projects squirrelled away, it felt wonderful to bind off this scarf and bask in the beautiful colours.

This is the simplest pattern to follow.  It is made with two different colorways of Noro Silk Garden, a yarn that itself changes colour.  Every two rows, change to the other ball.  The stitch is a simple knit one, purl one rib.  On the second row, slip the first and last stitch purl-wise to keep it from curling at the edges.  Knit a super-long scarf by using 2 balls of each colour (over 400 yards of yarn) or just stop when you realize you are going to end with an unfriendly colour combo at the tail end (I have around 10g of each ball left).

I have made this scarf before in a pink and green combo, and I wear it endlessly in the winter.  I have wanted a blue one since I finished the first, but it's harder than you might think to pair up the different skeins to make something you enjoy.  Once you do find that combo, though, wow.  Love.

blue Noro stripe

Monday, July 15, 2013

Card games for kiddos

our homemade card holder

My 5-year-old is a card shark.  It isn't what you think.  We haven't taught her poker (yet), but she is absolutely obsessed with card games.  It started so innocently with UNO.  I thought she would like it;  I had no idea she would love it nor did I have any idea we would soon be playing UNO almost two hours a day, every day, with her never tiring of the game.  After weeks of UNO, I felt a bit desperate for some variety, so I introduced Rat-a-Tat Cat.  Another hit!  She loves it too.

Rat-a-Tat Cat is a game that involves a bit of memory and helps with number order, in case you're the type of grown-up who wants some educational value built into playtime (ahem).  The goal is to have the lowest valued cards: all cats, no rats.  For extra math work, get your older kids to add up the scores and then play round after round to increase the addition challenge (there I go again!)...or you could just play and have fun.  My little one is onto me, so she now insists we play without keeping track of score, which is still good fun.

card shark

But don't you know...I tired of Rat-a-Tat Cat, or more honestly, my 7-year-old did.  She couldn't handle the score keeping (i.e., she needed to have the best score or else) and soon she refused to play.  This was a source of woe for my little card shark, so I introduced Sleeping Queens.

Sleeping Queens is just perfect for my big girl.  There is a tad bit of strategy involved but no score-keeping.  There is a bit of math, if you can handle it.  Along with queens, kings, knights, dragons, sleeping potions and magic wands, there are number cards.  You can trade in one number card at a time or a matched pair or you can trade in an equation (for example, if you have 3, 4 and 7, you can say "3 + 4 = 7" and trade in all three for better cards).  We play with our cards face up so we can help our little card shark with the math.

I can highly recommend all three cards games for young kids.  Trust me, we have played them enough to know.  My little one used to wake up, wander into my room and crawl into bed for a sweet snuggle as we both woke up.  Nowadays, she comes in and says, "Mama, I want to play Sleeping Queens" (or Rat-a-Tat Cat) before I've even unglued my eyelids.  I'm not suggesting you'll get the same bleary-eyed results, but I'm pretty sure your kids will like the games.

Friday, July 12, 2013

A movie for your weekend: Cloud Atlas

Do you get out to the movies much?  We don't, but I still love a good movie on DVD.  About a month ago, we saw the preview for "Cloud Atlas".  Hubby took one look at my face during the preview and ordered the DVD for me.  He said he knew I'd love it, and he was right.

There are six story lines running throughout history, starting with the time of slavery in America and spanning well into the future.  The actors take on different roles in the various story lines.  The stories can be hard to tangle out.  I think we spent much of the first two hours (yes, it's a long one) trying to figure out just what was going on...but fully engaged nonetheless.  The acting and directing is fantastic.  The cast is incredible.  All that being said, I don't think this movie is for everyone.  It's not your regular film.  It's not easy to digest or even easy to understand at times.  Add that to the length, and I'm guessing it's not going to be everyone's cup of tea.  Still, I found it beautiful and eloquent in its message.  You can cheat and look it up online, but I find it much more fun to watch the film and try to figure out the meaning yourself.  Go on.  And enjoy!

Happy weekend, everyone!

Thursday, July 11, 2013


Rainy days keep us home, but that can be a good thing.  More time for baking and crafting, no?  Don't I sound like the picture perfect stay-at-home mom?  In truth, I just love to indulge my sweet tooth, and homemade just tastes better.  This afternoon, we tried a new recipe, one that is super-easy to do with kids.  If you are feeling the need for something high on the yummy scale with almost* zero healthy content, this recipe is for you.


Tannies (because they are tan, not dark brown, get it?) from Picnic

24 squares of graham crackers
1/2 cup wheat germ
one 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup chocolate chips
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup walnuts, optional

Preheat oven to 350F/160C and lightly grease a 9" square baking pan.

Place the graham crackers in a ziploc bag (or more baggies if you have more kids), and use a rolling pin to crush those crackers into crumbs.  Fun times!

In a large bowl, stir together graham cracker crumbs, wheat germ, condensed milk, chocolate chips, vanilla and walnuts, if using (we omitted the walnuts).

Spread the batter into the greased pan and bake for 35 minutes or until lightly brown.  Cool for only 5 minutes, then cut into squares and remove from pan (otherwise, you may have one big tannie that you cannot remove from the pan).  Allow squares to cool completely on wire racks.  Eat without guilt and enjoy!

*hey, they have wheat germ!  that's healthy stuff!

Just one person

My girls were watching our Muppet Show DVDs during a rainy afternoon this week, and this song, as ever, stood out to all of us.  We love it.  I hope you will too.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Wild and wonderful

bright yellow sky

yellow and green

wild colour

A huge storm front is passing, and the world outside is lit up in an almost indescribable yellow.  The green grass is technicolor.  The effect is entrancing.  My camera cannot handle it.  It adjusts and balances and wants to tone down that wild and wonderful yellow, so I'm taking a moment to capture it in written form here.  My little words don't do it justice, but here I know I paused a moment and took in the wonder of nature, for the few moments it lasted.

storm moves past

Presque Isle

On Saturday, we took a day trip to Presque Isle State Park at Erie, PA.  None of us are big fans of long car trips, and yes two hours can seem long to us, but we went for it anyway and were happy we did.

Presque Isle is a long, thin peninsula that sticks out into Lake Erie, one of the Great Lakes.  The whole length is drivable by car, but it also has a wide cycle-pedestrian path (which unfortunately often runs along the road).  It is long and flat, so it makes a great spot for bikes.  On the near side, it seems more marsh-like with a lot of waterplants, birds and presumably fish.  The lake side is beach.  The lake is huge.  There weren't any waves and it wasn't particularly salty, which are the only clues that it isn't the sea.  The water just stretches on and on 'til Canada, and we couldn't see that from the shore.  It did our poor landlocked-in-Pittsburgh souls some good!

Bike rental is available on the isle, and for extra fun, you can rent a surrey.  Guess what our first stop was?


Just so you know, surreys are hardly ergonomic in design.  It was hard-going!  Also, there is only one section of the path where surreys are allowed (boring!).  We started the trail with parents up front, kids in the back.  We turned around after 40 minutes or so.  Parents were sweaty and tight-muscled, and the kids were bored silly.  I got out to take a picture, and the girls moved up front.  That was a game changer!  Giggling like mad the entire way back, the surrey ride turned out to be a blast.

riding in the surrey

After that, we were ready for the beach.  We got back into the car and drove further down the road, opting to stop at Beach 10 (there are 11 guarded swimming beaches).  A quick change into suits, and the girls were off into the water and playing in the sand.

 setting up the umbrella

swimming sisters

Presque Isle

Only the prospect of being too exhausted to survive dinnertime made us pile back into the car.  Even so, Stephanie only lasted about 3 minutes before falling asleep.

  worn out completely, 3 minutes into the drive home

still awake and happy

 It was a great day and a very do-able day trip from Pittsburgh.

Monday, July 8, 2013


Hi there!

I fell off the blogging wagon again for a bit.  It seems my family doesn't want me to blog (or journal or write or sew or practice yoga or...), or at least that's my excuse.  The truth is I need to adapt my routine if I want to fit these things in.  The girls are now home with me all day, every day, and we are keeping ourselves rather busy and entertained.  They aren't enrolled in any summer camps.  Aside from the occasional longings I have for time to get things done, I'm pretty happy about this.  Next year, Stephanie will be in kindergarten.  The year after that, "real" school.  I won't wish this time away (even when I have to remind myself that should be my mantra).

Did you get up to anything fun over the weekend?

In the States, we celebrated the 4th of July on Thursday.  That made a four day weekend for lots of people, thankfully including Hubby.  We postponed our anniversary dinner from Monday to Thursday, enjoying a super-simple meal and a beautiful bottle of Prosecco (grazie, Andrea!) on our back patio while the girls ran amok with the visiting grandchildren next door.

anniversary dinner

We spent a big part of Friday hanging out at the mall, in typical American holiday fashion.  Alas, I hate hanging out at the mall, but it had to be done.  We had finally purchased a new desktop, and its set-up had been a debacle.  It was visit #3 to the Apple Store, and we weren't leaving the mall until it was finished.  Since the Apple Store has a kids' table with tons of fun apps loaded onto iPads, the girls didn't mind one bit.  When we were finally free (with a high-functioning desktop, hooray!), we all headed to the pool.  Ellie braved her deep water test and passed with flying colours!  Being the pool, I hadn't brought my camera.  I wish I could have captured the look of pride and accomplishment on her sweet face.

  mall entertainment

Saturday, we took a day trip to Presque Isle, which will get its own blog post, so watch for that!

Presque Isle, Erie, PA

Yesterday, we had friends over all day while their parents finished some very important DIY work at home.  Hilarious creek play at the playground led to bathtime and fresh clothes.  Lots of imaginative play around the house.  When the squabbles set in and the rain clouds threatened outside, we took them all bowling, where we learned the invaluable lesson of "When bowling with four children 7 and under, insist on 2 lanes."  Of all the funny moments there, my favorite was when our friend Jo laid on the floor flat on her belly and pushed her ball with all her might right into the bumper.  It bounced across to the other bumper, back again and lost all momentum, eeking its way down the lane so slowly that other bowlers stopped to stare.  We all wondered if it would reach the end on its own.  Minutes later, it did.  The bowling computer clocked its speed at 0.4 miles per hour.  Awesome.

the 0.4 mph bowl

Happy Monday, y'all!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The lazy days of summer

lounging and reading

Quote from this morning's breakfast table:

"Mama, you put the peanut butter on my bread.  I did one myself, and it took me aaaaaaaaaaages."