Saturday 12 January 2013

This blog has the right name!

So, back in August we had a "staycation." It was relaxing; we fed ducks, went for walks, played with our sand-and-water table and got things done around the house. I decided I wanted to blog again and started thinking about a name for a blog.

There are so many aspects to my daily life and I didn't want my blog name to limit me to only writing about one of those. Sure, I'm a mom now and really love being a mom now that my son is old enough to give me hugs and laugh when I try to do something funny. I'm married to my best friend and feel strongly about how great marriage can be if you find the right person. I love my career and try to work hard at it -- and I can see how research influences my parenting in a positive way. I try to be a good daughter, especially as I'm an only child so I represent ALL of my mom's children. Anyway, you get the idea, it's a long list.

There are so many things I'd like to be doing. I have ideas of things to sew for Little J, work ideas I don't have time to implement, teaching materials I want to update, recipes I'd like to try, books I want to read... it's so hard to find the time. Quite simply: There aren't enough hours in the day.

That's why it's taken me so long to write another blog post :(

We had another staycation after Christmas but it wasn't as relaxing or as fun. This was partly due to some problems around our home that cropped up that we had to drop things to deal with. The pitch-black 4pm skies didn't help. And, I think the biggest difference between August and December, is that Little J is down to only one nap/day.

If I could go back in time I wonder if I would have warned myself to be more productive during his naps because soon we'd be down to one. And it's not just one nap. It's that he is Constantly Moving. I knew little boys were full of energy -- and I have one of those that likes to sit and look at books for a bit and do fairly constrained activities like play blocks. Some days I can't wait until he is just a little older so he can do other things like draw specific things ("draw me a house" ... "can you put a tree next to it?" ... "can you put a bird in the tree?") or sort things by color.

Another, perhaps stupid, reason I haven't posted in a while is a keeping-up-with-the-Jones problem I'm having. I want to have one of those pretty, pin-able, share-to-facebook-able blogs. But that requires I have pictures downloaded and watermarked (that's important to me because I use photos of my real kid). It is much easier for me to just start typing like this than to wait until I have the perfect picture for each blog entry. It feels similar to how I have a hard time emailing far-away friends because I feel like I have to write 2 full pages of updates. That's why I love Facebook for keeping in touch with friends. 1-2 sentences to update everyone? Yeah, that I can fit in.

How do those other people do it?! (Maybe they have dishwashers and don't have global jobs where they get emails 24 hours a day). Do people care? Do the 3 or 4 people who might read this -- do you guys care?

I'm hoping soon I'll just water mark random pictures to go with my entries. But, I've got to find time for that....

Anyone else feel like there are not enough hours in the day? Please share any short cuts you have in the comments!

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Still here....

Isn't technology great? I'm on a train home from London after a workshop, but I'm able to finally post an update.

This is just a short note to say I'm still here. Still thinking about all the things I want to blog about and do, but this December ... Hey, there's a reason I named this blog "Not enough hours in the day".

There has been a lot going on at work. First, I moved anything I could from November to December. Then, moved anything I could from last week to this week. Then, this week to next week. Now I have a list for January started because I definitely need some home time during the holidays.

So, back soon. But, before we miss it: Happy 12/12/12 everyone!

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Play Kitchen

I recently made a play kitchen for Little J! I made it back in August during the staycation, but I'm sharing it today:
This is what it looked like. I made the table top and recessed sink out of felt and turquoise oil cloth.
The base is the sand and water table we bought for the summer. We really like this table and have used it inside with water (less than on the left side in the picture) and outside with sand back when we were on our staycation.
The beauty of using our sand and water table for the play kitchen is that I have no more to really store (already had to store the sand and water table) and I could make the sink recessed, which I think adds to the fun.
For stability I "upcycled" a pampers box for the top (the oilcloth is kind of like a pocket for the cardboard). I'm really happy with that decision too because if someone stands on the kitchen (not that kids ever do things like that!) or it gets a lot of wear, I can just put new cardboard inside.

Personally, I actually don't like turquoise, but the sand and water table and the dishes were already pretty bright so I wanted to stay with the color scheme. I was thrilled when I found the turquoise oil cloth. I even stayed with the color scheme for the tea towel. I used leftover ribbon from my elephant, but I could have made the tea towel without ribbon. The tea towel is a piece of white fleece.

The burners flip to turn on and the knobs move a bit with coat buttons. For the burners, I found red and black velcro. The main black stove top (hob) is black felt with some "crunchy velcro" (hook) and the burners have a red side and black side with "soft velcro" (loop). I sandwiches some black ribbon in the burners and sewed that under the stove top so the burners can't get lost.

My D'uh Moment came when I was sewing the burners together and didn't like how the black thread looked on the red side. Then it ocurred to me: who says you have to have the same color in the top and lower bobbin? So, I ripped out my stitches (I had only done one, thank goodness) and sewed on the with red and had black underneath.
Importantly, Little J really likes his play kitchen. He has had a lot of fun with it, mainly just piling "dirty dishes" into the sink...
...but sometimes he also washes them with real water.

If you are interested in making a play kitchen, especially one for a boy, you might like a board I have on Pinterest:

Sunday 25 November 2012

House Guests for the Holidays

Today, I'd like to tell you about:

With the holidays approaching, I think it’s a good time to talk about menu planning. Not menu planning as in “what do I serve as my side dishes?” Rather, the logistical challenges of menu planning when you are having houseguests staying for multiple days.

Nowadays it isn’t uncommon for relatives to live pretty far from each other. In our case, we live in England, my parents live in Germany (American + German) and Ryan’s parents live in the Midwest US (American). Even within a single country, however, you might have relatives living far enough apart that they stay for several days at Christmas, Easter or another time of year.
Here are some first things to consider:

Know Your Guests. Like us, my parents love coffee (actually, I think they drink more coffee than we do), so when they are coming we stock up. Ryan’s parents don’t drink coffee, but Ryan’s dad loves Doctor Pepper, so we stock up on that. We also know what kinds of snacks everyone likes.

Most importantly, though, we know that when my parents come we can end up sending a lot of time out of the house and when we get home we might not all be equally hungry. So, we might end up eating leftovers where everyone can help himself at different times, as hunger requires.

Know Your Kitchen. This is our fridge:
That’s a TEA-spoon that I’m holding up to the freezer. The freezer is about the size of 2 shoeboxes. Yeah, that took some getting used to when we moved to the UK. It’s pretty common here for refrigerators to fit under the counter (worktop) like American dishwashers do. And it looks like they have dishwashers in most kitchens, but those are washing machines. Anyway, I digress….

You may have special needs in your kitchen. Maybe you have a really small fridge so you can only have so many items in there at a time. Or maybe making pancakes for everyone would make your smoke detector wake the neighbors. Think of these quirks when you plan your meals so you are not going to be in an awkward position when your guests are there.

Know Yourself. What kind of host(ess) do you really want to be? Me? Well, I like to make people feel special and wanted. But I also like to enjoy my houseguests’ company. I would rather spend two hours watching Home Alone again than making an additional fancy meal on my guests last day. I also need breaks, so I like to have leftovers for later in the visit when things are getting more casual.

And I HATE washing dishes. That is the #1 chore I hate the most. So, I like to factor that in too. (We don’t have a dishwasher. Again, not having one is more common in the UK than US.)

And, Think Like a Restaurant. I am definitely NOT suggesting you be a short-order cook for each guest. No, I’m talking about the economics here. Try to pick meals that use a lot of the same ingredients to cut down on your shopping and help your budget.

Have you ever noticed that a restaurant will have something, let’s say tomatoes, in several dishes? That isn’t just because the chef likes them. It’s cost effective to buy in bulk and use the item up. So although carrot could add some color to a salad, if you already need tomatoes for hamburgers it would make more sense to add red tomatoes to your salad than orange carrots.

Ok, let’s get to the planning. Here’s how I planned last Christmas. It worked well.

Step 1: Gather some index cards…

Personally, I love excel. Seriously. One year my students gave me an I HEART Spreadsheets mug. It’s that bad. But, as much as I think excel would do a great job here, this is one of those times when hard copies are easier.

…and a pen (or 6).

Not only do I love excel, but I also live by color-coding. I find color-coding really keeps me more organized and helps me identify things faster. So, when I did this for the first time I grabbed several colors: one for each meal (breakfast, lunch, dinner) and one for snacks and one for drinks. In my pictures you’ll see I used: blue for breakfast, red for lunch, green for dinner, pink for dessert, brown for snacks and orange for drinks.

Step 2: Count the days your guests will be with you.

In my case, my parents were coming for Christmas from December 23rd until December 28th. That’s 6 days, not 5: remember to count Day 1 ;-)

Step 2½: Count the meals your guests will have with you.

Will they arrive before lunch or will they only be with you for dinner? Will they depart before lunch or after dinner? It’s important to have the right number of meals planned.  

At this point, I wrote breakfast, breakfast, breakfast, lunch, lunch, lunch, etc. on my cards. I also added a card for beverages and a card for snacks.

I only wrote down dates on cards that had special meals (e.g., meals with friends) so that I could shuffle things around later if I wanted to, for example, in case I’d have two chicken meals on one day.

Step 3: Write down your meal ideas.
If only it were that easy, right? Maybe my strategy will help. Here’s what I did.

First, I decided what our “fancy holiday meal” would be (this year it was a ham recipe from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking). I also called my mom and discussed what she thought would make good side dishes because we wanted to make the meal together. We always have our “fancy holiday meal” on Christmas Eve.

I knew my guests and myself, so I knew we didn’t need two fancy meals (one for Christmas Eve and one for Christmas Day). We never have energy to make a big meal on Christmas Day after we’ve made a big one on Christmas Eve. And, besides, the leftovers are so tasty!

Likewise, I knew we only needed one dessert. In our case, we were only 4 adults, so one dessert would be fine for 2 days.

So, for Christmas Day lunch and dinner I wrote “leftovers” on my cards.

Next, I considered which days we would be out having meals with other people (we were invited as a family to share two other meals with others). On the cards for these meals I just wrote “meal with friends” and knew that meant I could skip it in my plans. It’s always so nice to have fewer dirty dishes time with friends. I also figured we would be out at an after Christmas-sale after the shops reopened on the 27th. So that lunch became “lunch out” and that dinner became “dinner out or leftovers.” Again, I knew from experience that we aren’t very hungry for real food when we return from shopping, but we are in the mood for snacking.

Ok, now it started getting trickier. How to fill up all of those other cards? First, I tried to use common sense. Am I really going to want to cook a lunch on Christmas Eve right before that big dinner? No. So, that meant I needed a meal on the 23rd that would give good leftovers for lunch on the 24th.

I knew I wanted to make a particular pasta salad at some point because it had capers and my dad likes those. I’ve made it before and it tastes better the next day (bonus) and there are always a lot of leftovers (extra bonus). But that salad requires a lot of prep, and it was also important to me to spend time with my guests, so I didn’t want to do another meal (beside my big one) that required me to be in the kitchen for an extended period of time. It made sense, therefore, to make that big pasta salad for the lunch on the day the guests arrived (so I could prep before they arrived). This was also a good idea because if their flight had been late, I could have just held the pasta salad (it can be made ahead, extra-extra bonus).

This still left me with a few other meals. My solution was to go with my tried-and-true standards that I make all the time. Crockpot meals would be another good option. Or Frozen pizza. Obviously, our freezer was deisgned with frozen pizza in mind and we don’t have a crockpot, so I went with salmon, chicken, etc. By using index cards I could move the meals around so I had a good balance so we didn’t have poultry too many times in a row.

Finally, I wrote down my ideas for breakfast, which in our case was eggs and more eggs. On each card I wrote down how many eggs I would need – which helped me know I needed to buy 4 dozen (there were also a lot eggs in Julia’s ham sauce).

So, on each card I ended up having a name of what we were having and notes about what I needed to buy. When I was done, I transferred the “to buy” items to my shopping list, keeping a tally of things like eggs that required a set quantity.
Here are some final considerations:

When you do this, it’s important to factor in leftovers for several reasons. First, leftovers can take up valuable fridge-space. Second, you can use them as an easy meal on a day when you know you won’t be in the mood to cook. Third, if something comes up (another invitation somewhere, extended shopping trip, etc). and you do not make a meal you had planned or not eating leftovers, you want it to be something you are willing to eat after the guests go home.

Also, allow yourself to take shortcuts. If you’ve ever worked in a kitchen, shopped at a restaurant supply store or seen one of those reality TV restaurant shows, you’ve gotta know that restaurants take shortcuts. Or, if you don’t like the sound of that, they outsource. In my case, I figured the ham was the enough work, so I <gasp> bought a dessert for Christmas Eve.

My final tip is to look up the phone numbers and holiday opening times of your local grocery store(s) and have those ready when you need them.

I hope you and your guests enjoy their visit!

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Thanksgiving's Coming!

It's time to start saving your toilet paper rolls if you want to make Thanksgiving Crackers!
I don't think we will celebrate Thanksgiving this year--there are a lot of other things going on and Little J is too young to care. Plus, being in the UK he doesn't know he will miss it.

But, if you are thinking about making these crackers and want more details, my original post is here.

Thursday 8 November 2012

Brown Bear Book Recap

Here is a recap of all of the pages I recently made for a touchy-feely quiet book based on one of our favorites.

Because felt doesn't fray I placed the different textured fabrics behind the felt and then top stitched around my shapes. That worked much better than dealing with the hems of the other materials. Or so I imagine, I didn't even try it that way.

Here are all the pages I made together:

In order (in the book, I made them from simplest to most complex) the pages are:

The Brown Bear

The Red Bird
The Yellow Duck
The Blue Horse
The Green Frog
The Purple Cat
The White Dog

The Black Sheep
The Gray Elephant
 There is a goldfish page before the elephant, but that's not pictured because a friend made the goldfish for Little J.

Each animal is on the color of the next animal so we can "read" the book. I think if I could do it over again, I would have put them all on white so that I wouldn't have had to change my bobbin between pages and also because I don't like some of the combinations.

Given the number of beads, you may not want to let a young child play with a book like this unattended.

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Quiet Book: Elephant

This is the last page in the series about the quiet book version of one of Little J's favorite books.
The real book ends with the teacher seeing the last animal, then children seeing the teacher and finally a 2-page spread with the children recapping all of the animals. I didn't think I could replicate that very well, so I created my own ending:
An elephant! I drew the elephant myself and was SUPER EXCITED when I discovered that a local fabric store has a basket of leather and similar remnants. I found a soft, leathery remnant that was perfect for a gray elephant. The best part is that it doesn't fray so I was able to make an ear that moves.

I also splurged and bought little ribbons in all of the colors of the other animals for the elephant's spray. The tail is an upcycled bookmark tassel.

For the elephant the steps were:
1 cut shape of the main body
2 sew gray material to the underside of the felt
3 sew on tassel tail
4 sew on pink felt mouth and bead tusk
5 sew on ear
6 sew on eye beads (I made the eye purple because I could)
7 sew on ribbon spray
If I could do it over again, I would not have cut the felt off where the trunk goes, and sewn the ribbons to that felt and then covered it with the trunk. Live and learn. Instead, I had to start the ribbons behind where they are and fold them over. I think it looks ok, but I think I would have saved myself some hassle.
Technically, to go full circle, the elephant should have been on brown, because the first animal is the brown bear. But, I couldn't bear [no pun intended] to do that to the pretty elephant. So, the gold fish are on brown (I don't have a post for those because a friend made them, there are 3).

I hope Little J likes the book and I hope you do too. I found this technique (under-laying the touchy-feely fabric so fun to sew, that I'm using it for other projects).
 The End

 P.S., Why aren't hassle and tassel spelled the same way?

Given the number of beads, you may not want to let a young child play with a book like this unattended.