Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Moving, Merry Christmas, and Morning Sickness...All Good Excuses Not to Write

That's right...there's going to be another wee addition to the Warren house! And now that the first trimester is over and I feel like a real person again, I am horrified to realize that weeks and weeks have gone by when I didn't even think about the computer, much less spend time writing on blogs or reading my email - or, if you can imagine, even fueling my addiction to couponing websites.

Also, in those hazy weeks, we moved to a new house, celebrated Halloween (all on the same day), went to Chicago for Thanksgiving, had my 30th birthday (which I celebrated with a chuch potluck before driving to Chicago), and, oh yeah, Christmas!

First, moving: I don't like to move. I am, however, really good at it. I figured in the five years Jonathan and I have been married, we've moved 7 times. Some of our moving boxes, which we keep under the bed, pre-date our wedding by a few moves. And even though this is Hannah's third move, it's the first that she remembers.

So rather than dreading it like the rest of us, she happily pitched in with getting everything ready for the New House. And I taught her my philosophy that the kitchen should be unpacked first, since there's nothing worse than waking up in the morning and not being able to have a bowl of cereal.

As soon as the cereal bowls were unpacked, we started thinking about Christmas, the celebration of which is a really big deal at our house.

It was also a big deal at church, where Hannah was in her first Christmas play, for which she learned all the songs, although she wouldn't sing a single word in front of an audience. But she sure looked cute!

Christmas morning was every bit as magical as we hoped it would be with a two-year-old. Hannah's plethora of grandparents lovingly showered her with gifts. The hands-down favorite that she wouldn't let go of all day (or since)? Her very own Chap Stick.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Picking Pumpkins

I just love pumpkins. I love their bright orange color. I love that some are round and some tall and some are a little squashed-looking (pun intended). I love the way they smell. I love roasting pumpkin seeds, and then roasting the whole thing, which I puree and freeze for pies and cookies and all sorts of fall goodies. So when the gals in my Thursday playgroup suggested going to the local pumpkin patch, I was all for it!

In the 45 minutes before we left for the event - while Hannah wasn't napping - I even made her a Halloween shirt with pumpkins on it. Imagine my dismay when we got there, and I looked at the thermometer in the car, only to see that it was a crisp 82 degrees out...just right for a long sleeve black shirt, right?

The woman at the farm stand showed us a map of where the pumpkin field was: around the outbuildings, up the hill, past the peaches. Can't miss it. Someone had been forward-thinking enough to call ahead and ask if it was a reasonable walk for mothers and young children. It was, she was told. Other moms had been forward-thinking enough to bring strollers and wagons. Me and Hannah? We had a custom-made black Halloween shirt, a camera, and sunglasses, for that movie-star effect.

So, in good spirits, and ready to do some pumpkin picking, off we went: five moms and seven kids under three (none of whom would look at the camera, but aren't they cute?).

It turned out that by the time we got around the outbuildings, some among us were considering going back for the cars. Others, however, pointed out what a nice day it was for a walk, and wouldn't it be fun (I was in this crazy group...go figure). By the time we got up the hill, we were all a little miffed. What kind of person thought this was a doable walk for moms and young children? Maybe for robust pumpkin farmers. Maybe for teenagers. Maybe for people who weren't carrying 23 pounds of toddler and hadn't thought to bring the wagon. On the other hand, the kids were having a blast. The road was dirt (read: dirty), with a plethora of rocks and sticks to pick up, throw, carry, and put into pockets.
There were goats, sheep, and a dog bigger than goats and sheep combined. We passed peach trees, apple trees, and pine trees. A car, carrying a family with young children passed us. The mom, from the passenger window, gave us a look that very clearly said, "What in the world has possessed you people to WALK up this road with all those children?!" We waited in the sun while someone went ahead to see if the pumpkins were really there. The car drove back down the road. I didn't look at the mom this time...I couldn't bear the scorn.
At long last, we reached the promise land of pumpkins! Cameras came out, pumpkins were chosen, and it was really fun for about five minutes, until a couple of dirty diapers appeared, it grew too hot to pretend that it was a nice fall day, and everyone was generally tired of the outing. Although there was a nice selection of good carving-sized pumpkins, I noticed that everyone chose one or two small pie pumpkins, perhaps because they looked a lot easier to carry back down the road.
And so began our trek back. Babies cried. I thought about crying a little. Since I was totally without wheels, someone was kind enough to haul my pumpkins in her stroller. We appreciated that the walk was downhill, and some of it was in the shade. We were much quieter as we hunkered down and made our way back to the farm stand. "This part is not fun," said one mom. "I know what will redeem our suffering," I thought. "I will write about this on my blog. Every thing's always funnier the next day, especially when you make fun of yourself."

But when we got there, a beautiful surprise awaited us. They had slushies! Cold, wonderful, fruit-flavored slushies, just right for hot, dusty pilgrims of the pumpkin patch trail. Within minutes, every one perked up. Kids were smiling, moms were telling jokes, and all was well with the world once again.

As we got ready to go, I thought about the fun we'd had. Hannah doesn't remember that the walk was hot and long. I don't even know if she remembers that we went pumpkin picking at all. You know what she remembers? She got to ride in Ella's wagon, and there was Special Drink. What a great day!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Black & White Bird Skirt

I finished this skirt this morning, just in time to wear to church. Hannah liked that it not only had red birds and hearts, but also has white birds on the underskirt...just full of fun! The birds are an enlarged version of the black and white bird pattern.

The pattern is from Sewing Clothes Kids Love, by Nancy Langdon and Sabine Pollehn. What a fun book! I can't wait to make more of their patterns.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Abby Costume Tutorial - Just in time for Halloween

As I mentioned before, we try to keep TV to a minimum at our house (at least while Hannah's awake), and her one viewing hour a day is usually Sesame Street. She LOVES Abby. I mean, loves her, as only an almost-two-year-old can. Hannah's Abby doll goes everywhere with us, from the grocery store to the doctor's office to church. We decided that Hannah's upcoming birthday party should be Abby-themed, and then decided to do one better and keep the fun going for Halloween in four more weeks.

So being me, I decided to make her an Abby costume. It's really just a glorified tutu, but it is rather pretty. I finished it while Hannah was napping, and put in on the couch beside beloved Abby doll. When Hannah saw it, she lit up like a thousand-watt bulb and said, "It just like the same! Hannah have just like the same as Abby!" It was pretty cute.

So I wanted to share with you how to make the skirt. Like I said, it is really a tutu with some extra "petals," but I searched to the end of the Internet and couldn't find another tutorial for an Abby costume, so I thought I'd add this to cyberspace. This is the first tutorial I've ever written, so I hope it make sense. If not, please let me know, and I'll try to explain things better.

One note about the pictures: I didn't take any while I was sewing the actual skirt, so these pictures are of different fabric, which I didn't actually sew together. I hope the changes in colors aren't too confusing.

  1. 1/2 yard of sparkle fabric (if you were in a hurry, or on a budget, you could omit this layer, but as you'll see later, it makes for a nice, reversible skirt)
  2. one yard of purple tulle (you could also use pink)
  3. two yards of blue tulle
  4. 1/2yard of chiffon-ish blue fabric for the petals
  5. 1/2 inch no-roll elastic, cut to 2 inches longer than your child's waist
The first layer is the sparkle material. This takes two steps to hem (and this is the most complicated part). First, make a narrow hem on the bottom of each long edge. (Note: I didn't hem the bottom of my original fabric because it doesn't fray. As you can see, the fabric in this picture is already fraying, so I would hem this.) Second, fold the fabric lengthwise, RIGHT sides together. Sew the short sides together, making the fabric into a tube. Press, if it's the kind of fabric that can be pressed. (Don't melt your sparkles!) Turn it right side out, then fold the skirt in half lengthwise with the right sides facing out.

I used two layers of tulle. This was mostly because I bought the fabric for this project on sale in July, when the whole idea of Halloween was just a fuzzy notion, and I was standing in the fabric shop at 9 PM trying to remember what Abby looked like. So I came home with one yard of purple tulle and two yard so blue tulle. It came out like this:

First, fold the purple tulle in half lengthwise, being careful to match the long edges (good luck!) Next, fold this unit into thirds. This will give you six layers of tulle. Being careful to match all the top edges, pin the top of the tulle to the top (folded) edge of the sparkle fabric.

The blue tulle is done in much the same way. Fold it in half lengthwise, and then fold that into thirds, giving you six layers. Since you have two yards of blue, you have to gather it to make it fit. I made sort of pin tucks across the top of the skirt (along the fold of the sparkle fabric). As you can see from all the pins, these were about every inch.

Now you have a three-layer skirt with a LOT of pins in it: first the sparkle fabric, then the purple tulle, then the gathered blue tulle. Sew the whole thing together one inch from the top of the skirt, leaving a two-inch part unfinished for the elastic. You now have a nice casing for the elastic.

So what makes this Abby-ish, rather than just a fun dress-up skirt (which it could also be, by the way) is the fairy petals. If you wanted to get fancier - and even more Abby - you could add a second row of pink petals on top. Like I said, 9 PM at the fabric store = only blue petals.

I drew a petal shape free-hand on stiff paper, then pinned it to the uncut fabric, which was folded in half lengthwise with the right sides together. Next, sew around the pattern, leaving an opening to turn the petal right side out. Then, cut it out, leaving a 1/4 inch seam. Turn right side out and press (again, don't melt it).

Pin the petals to the skirt at even intervals, and sew along your 1 inch hem. (Don't sew through the middle of the elastic casing.) I made seven petals out of my half yard of fabric, and used six of them on the skirt.

Last, measure your little one's waist, and cut a piece of elastic about 2 inches longer. Insert the elastic through the casing, using a safety pin fastened to the end to help pull it through, gather the extra fabric as you go. If you're going to be very nice and meticulous about this, you would sew a rectangle through both ends of the elastic to hold it together, and hand finish the gap in the seam. I am not this way. I'm a lazy mom who wants this skirt to last for a long time. So I made the elastic about 5 inches too long, pinned it to fit with the same safety pin I used to pull it through, and left the gap open. Now I can make the (slightly unfinished) skirt bigger as Hannah grows.

The skirt will gather nicely. Of course, Hannah's a little bitty thing. If you were making this skirt for an older child, it would not gather as much, but you could always add to the width.

And here it is again.

Lazy/resourceful mom trick number two (and you thought I was wasting fabric by using the good stuff on the inside of the skirt!). Turn it inside out, and you have a fun sparkle dress-up skirt that's filled with 12 layers of tulle. Go sparkle-mushroom-princess!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Camping with a Toddler: Another Lesson in Parenting

Last weekend, we took our first camping trip of the year. We found a lovely campground in the Smokies, and were excited to get out our extensive gear that we have collected, but rarely had the opportunity to use. Jonathan and I both grew up camping, although not quite like this: my family had an RV and Jonathan was in Scouts (which involved many, many boys and no one who wanted to get up in the morning and put on makeup). Needless to say, we came with a list of expectations for what the perfect camping trip would look like.

1. Lots of time to enjoy the peace and quiet, and to do nice outdoors things like fishing (Jonathan) or reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets for the 10th time (Siobhan).
2. Enjoying nature, specifically through taking what we call a hike (but what some people might call a leisurely stroll on an easy trail).
3. Have awesome outdoor food. This one is definitely influenced by our childhoods. Jonathan's Scout troop was the one where the food was so good, other boys would trade their candy for a serving. My mom was a good cook, even in the miniature RV kitchen (think full Thanksgiving dinner in the woods!).
4. Smores around the campfire. For me, it's the smores, an essential part of which is the perfectly roasted marshmallow. For Jonathan, it's the fire itself.
5. Getting away from everyday cares and worries. Need I say more?

Enter the 2-year old. Just in case we forgot that our plans + Hannah = total change of plans, this camping trip was a huge reality check. Here's what really happened.
1. No peace and quiet. Instead, we ended up playing with plastic toys from home, pouring sippy cups of juice and doling out pretzels, and singing a constant refrain of "Keep away from the road, Hannah," "Don't walk in the road, Hannah," "Stay out of the road, Hannah." Fishing was out of the question. Harry Potter made his sole appearance at 6 am when I was the first person awake, but couldn't get out of the sleeping bag because a certain little somebody was using my left arm as a pillow.
2. Hike? Huh? Before dinner, we started up a promising trail, labeled 1.3 miles. We could do that easy, right? Wrong. Hannah wanted to walk. She wanted to pick up rocks and put them in daddy's pocket. She wanted to look at unidentified nuts on the ground. We finally convinced her to let Jonathan carry her under the condition that I sang "I'm a Nut" (don't ask) over and over again. When we reached the .7 mile marker, we turned around and fled back to camp.
3. Awesome food to a toddler turns out to be hot dogs, or as Hannah says, meat dogs. Enough said.
4. By the time we got to smores around the campfire, Hannah was exhausted. She hadn't had a nap, and was more than ready for bed. After a long pep talk, she was sufficiently respectful of the fire, but we still watched her like a hawk. This meant that only one person could roast his or her marshmallow to perfection at a time. This also meant in half an hour I had one smore, two burned marshmallows and most of the chocolate bar. Then we went to bed, where Jonathan and I pretended to sleep until Hannah fell asleep, and then out came the iPod touch for some silent evening amusement.
5. Getting away...not so much. As Clair from Modern Family said so well, "I'm a mom. This isn't vacation, it's a business trip."
So after our HUGE reality check, we woke up Saturday morning with new expectations. We had bacon and eggs for breakfast, and for that gourmet touch, stale croissants. It was good! Jonathan built a really nice fire, and we had breakfast number two: smores! Hannah loved waving around her marshmallow on a stick, which spent 80% of its time in the dirt and 20% of its time in the air. I had three beautiful, perfectly roasted smores, and was totally satisfied.
Tired of the plastic toys from home, Hannah started wandering dangerously close to the poison ivy, so I racked my brains for what I used to do when I was a kid on a camping trip. I remembered spending hours making tea parties. I introduced Hannah to the world of nature as make believe. We had a lovely time! Here's a feast, presented on leaf plates, of meat (rocks), grapes (nuts), and string cheese (sticks).

We left for home feeling like the trip had been the most fun we'd had in a long time. We were once again humbled by our inability to remember that things are different now, but usually turn out better than life before baby. Even more, we're looking forward to camping again.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"I Made a Paper Chain!"

Thanks to an especially fun episode of Mr. Rogers that aired on PBS recently, construction paper - and specifically paper chains - have been items of interest at our house. Mr. Rogers made a huge paper chain that stretched all the way from one end of his little house to the other. Then he showed a video about how construction paper is made.

I don't think Hannah quite put the whole thing together until I hauled out a huge stack of construction paper. Then came one of Hannah's favorite phrases: "Just like on TV!!!" (She says this all the time, and I always cringe, because TV is really kind of a treat at our house. Hannah usually watches about an hour a day, often Sesame Street, sometimes a Winnie the Pooh video, and when it airs on Saturdays, Mr. Rogers. But when she sees, say, a bear or a piece of paper, or a tricycle, or anything that makes her think of one of her shows, she shouts, " just like on TV!")

During Hannah's nap, I cut strips of paper in all colors, and when she woke up, we got to work making a paper chain "just like Mr. Rogers." I think the most fun part was watching it grow longer and longer. First it was a tall as Hannah, then as tall as Mama, then Daddy, and finally, even taller than Daddy! Wow...that's tall!

When it was finished, it wasn't long enough to string from wall to wall like Mr. Rogers did, but we put it over the curtain rod in Hannah's bedroom. Now, every time she enters her room (or sees a smallish piece of paper, for that matter), Hannah shouts, "Hannah made a paper chain! Just like Mr. Rogers!"

Monday, September 13, 2010

In Search of the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

I used to make these really good chocolate chip cookies. I mean, they were really good. Every time I made a batch, somebody asked me for the recipe. At one point, I even had it memorized. But somewhere along the way, I stopped making them. Maybe it was because my new boyfriend Jonathan preferred this new recipe I had for banana cookies. Maybe it was because after Jonathan and I got married I was more interested in baking bread than cookies. In any case, these cookies went unmade for years. One day, I pulled out the recipe card and gave them a try, but they weren't really good anymore. They used to be chewy and soft. These were crunchy and brittle. I chalked it up to living at 5000 feet and turned my attention to muffins.

For some reason, in the last couple of weeks, I've been obsessed with making good chocolate chip cookies again. I tried two recipes in the last two weeks. The first batch looked great and the cookie dough was so good, it almost didn't make it to the oven at all. But they were of the hard variety. The second batch, the recipe for which I painstakingly copied from a TV cooking show, promised to be The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies. They came out nice and big, but almost too big. They were very soft and chewy, to the point where they crumbled when you picked them up.

At lunch today, I fished the last crumbled pieces out of the cookie jar. There were only enough crumbs for two, so Hannah got a remnant of the hard and crunch batch. She didn't seem to mind.

As soon as Hannah went in for her nap, I dug out my old faithful recipe again. I thought it's time to give it another try. Since I was running out of butter by this point, I mixed up half a batch, which still turned out to be three dozen cookies...or would have been if I hadn't eaten a good deal of it straight out of the mixing bowl. (Obviously, I'm not one of the people worried about salmonella from eggs. I know it's not exactly safe, but you can save your lecture. I love cookie dough.)

Right out of the oven, the cookies were great: chewy in the middle, with just a hint of crunch around the edges. Golden brown. Small enough to feel like you could eat two or three. After they had cooled, still chewy and good. Maybe two or three more.

When did I ever doubt my wonderful recipe? Perhaps the problem really was the high altitude. In any case, I've got my chocolate chip cookie groove back!

In case Jonathan asks when he comes home, half a recipe makes TWO dozen cookies. Can't imagine where the rest of them have gone!
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