Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Because I'm Craftier Than I Thought

I've been a busy elf with my new sewing machine.

Last weekend I took an old $0.50 sweater I bought at a garage sale and made Anna some wool pants. They turned out pretty well, if a little balloon-y up at the top. Then, this morning, I made these:

If you can't tell, they're wool soakers. I followed a free pattern that I found here. It was pretty easy to make. It would have to be for me to follow it.

After I get done lanolizing it a couple of times, it should be great for napping and overnights! Next time I'd like to try a lighter-weight sweater. This one was fairly thick, especially after I felted it. A fine gauge sweater would be terrific for day-time use.

I think it would be fair at this point to mention that I have officially become my mother. For years she sewed all of our clothes (except the legwarmers--those purple legwarmers were the greatest!) and on the side she explored a number of esoteric crafts. Among these were stenciling (and by this I mean our house, our garage, chalkboards, etc), paper-cutting (like lampshades), and straw weaving. Considering that the next project on my list is dipping my own beeswax candles, I think I can safely say the transformation is complete.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Question for the Knitters

This question is about sock yarn.

I knit a baby sweater out of sock yarn. It's for a friend who needs a low-maintenance quality to her baby clothes, but appreciates the finer qualities of wool. I knit the sweater and now I'm to the blocking phase of the knitting process. I've soaked the wool (I know it can be machine washed, but I wanted the sweater to have that nice lavender scent wool wash has) and now I'm wondering--can I lay it flat to dry or would it be better off if I ran it through the dryer? Does this type of yarn really need to be dried in the machine? I remember reading that superwash wool really needs to be put through the drier so that it will retain its shape.

Can anybody help me?

Also, I'm wondering if anyone knows about the flame-retardant qualities of sock yarn.

Lord, I feel like a nerd.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Cult of High Ideals

Every parent is an idealist. I think that it takes a certain amount of idealism and, dare I say, optimism to even attempt parenting. You start out in faith, believing that you can have a baby and raise a child and that it will go well. You believe that the odds are in your favor, at the very least. You look around you and see that all sorts of people raise children and have varying amounts of success and believing the best, you begin.

After beginning, you get smacked in the face with a big case of Pragmatism. I have found that Reality, harsh mistress that she is, carries it in her handbag and freely beats new parents about the head with it. You thought parenting would be difficult certainly, but your baby would never have a pacifier. YOUR baby would know nothing but the close, breastfed warmth of a mother's touch. Fast forward to ScreamWatch 2003 when you've sat in sore nipple misery as Colicky Baby #1 decides that nothing will soothe like some recreational sucking. You find yourself wondering how late Target is open and whether you can get there in time if you ignore traffic lights.

Similarly, you firmly believe that your infant would NEVER partake of anything other than homemade, organic baby food puree. Yeah. . . so you see where this is going. And for the most part I have made peace with the compromises I've made during the course of raising these two babies (as far as we've come, at least). Sure, my son clocked some serious pacifier time with his high need to do something, ANYTHING with his mouth--this really hasn't changed, talker that he is--and my daughter never saw a Nuk until I weaned her. I'm ok with that. Many things haven't turned out the way I've expected. Many, many things have been better.

But one thing that I've had a hard time coming to terms with is "Screen Time". We don't have a television, per se. We have a computer set up in the living room that we use to watch movies on. And, theoretically, I can accept a little video time every day for Thomas. He started watching some videos when he turned two and Anna was born. Mostly he watched the same three or four Thomas the Tank Engine movies again and again. He watched about an hour a day, sometimes an hour and a half if I was feeling overwhelmed. For the last 12-18 months, I've scaled it back to a half hour to an hour a day. I've tried to be very selective about the shows he watches. I pick shows that move slowly, tell a story, etc. He watched Mr Rogers for a while, Blue's Clues, and some podcasts about animals and home improvement. The three movies he's seen have been Mary Poppins, Cars, and PollyAnna. Lately we've started watching a video series called Signing Time. Anna has been watching with him.

It's been great, really. Both of the kids have been so excited about learning the different signs. I almost don't even feel bad about letting them watch. But I keep having this nagging, guilty feeling whenever I see them watching a video. It has more to do with my ideals than with what I actually think is appropriate. I worry that letting Thomas play with Google Earth or watch Blue's Clues is going to turn him into a drooling imbecile. I worry that they are going to loose all intellectual curiosity and that they will never learn to enjoy The Magic Flute. I'm afraid that they will grow up to spend their lives on their couches (or mine!) watching hours of daytime television with no end in sight. I feel comfortable with what I'm letting them watch and I almost feel ok about the amount of time they spend in front of a screen. But there's a part of me that wonders if there might be a better way for them to spend their time, even if it's just eating dried Play-dough under the kitchen table.

What do you do with your kids, and why?

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Recipe

My apologies! I didn't include the recipe for the Irish Cream with my last post. It isn't that I forgot as much as I didn't know that anyone would be interested. Forgive my misguided humility. Please accept this as remedy.

Irish Cream

1 C heavy cream
14 oz sweetened condensed milk
1 2/3 C Irish Whiskey *
1 t instant coffee
2 T chocolate syrup
1 t vanilla
1 t almond extract

Whisk all ingredients together. Makes about 4 C. Keeps up to 2 months refrigerated.

*Jameson is very good and worth the price if you can swing it. I picked up a bottle for $19 and I needed half the bottle. You'll never go back to Jack.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Winter Cheer

This is one of those things that you never knew could be so good. Bailey's is alright, I might say, but until I'd had homemade Irish Cream I never understood how good it could be. Rachel and Chris gave us a bottle last year for Christmas and kindly followed it up with a recipe a month later when we found ourselves forlornly holding an empty bottle.

This is strictly a winter treat. We made a batch to celebrate New Year's Eve (or was it Christmas?) and needed to refresh the supply this weekend. I love to have a bit mixed in my hot chocolate. I don't usually fix what isn't broken, but in this case mixing a bit in is all to the good.

Friday, January 18, 2008

A New Dress for Anna

Anna's new dress arrived in the mail yesterday. This is the second dress we've received from the AngoraKnitter, Susanna, who makes the most adorable dresses for little girls. She hand knits the bodice by her own design and sews the fabric bottom on for the skirt. She also includes a matching headband for your little girl's hair.

Anna will be able to wear this dress through the summer and probably for a year or two after because the bodice is so stretchy. I really, really love these dresses. I think Anna does, too. After I put it on her, she danced around as she enjoyed her new dress. She was delighted.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Brownies: As Written by Derranged Elitist Food Writer


Preheat oven to 450 degrees

5 oz unsweetened chocolate
2/3 c butter
1 T instant coffee
4 eggs
1/2 t salt
2 cups sugar (why are you looking at me like that?)
1 t homemade vanilla extract
1/4 t almond extract
1 c sifted all-purpose flour
10 ounces walnut pieces

First, select for yourself premium cocoa powder. We prefer Scharffen Berger "Pure Dark Chocolate". It can be mail ordered from the San Francisco seller for the price of a small cow, but lesser chocolates are not for you. Melt your organic sweet cream unsalted butter in a sturdy, stainless steel double broiler and gently whisk in your fresh cocoa powder until you get a smooth, dark blend. When these have melted together, you may add your coffee granules. We recommend that you avoid the national brands and opt for Cafe Don Jose, which can be found at the Coffee Roaster's Association in New York. You will avoid any unpleasant bitterness and add a full bodied, roasted flavor. There really is no substitute. After this is complete, you may set the mixture aside to cool.

After this is complete, crack your farm fresh, free range eggs into a small stainless steel bowl. Be careful to gently slide the yolks into the bowl wtihout disturbing the integrity of the yolk. Add the sea salt and, using a manual egg beater, blend until slightly fluffy. Gradually add the two cups of Organic Cane Juice crystals, or plain sugar--though you risk over sweetening your brownies!--and beat for about 15 minutes until the golden mixture forms delicate ribbons when beaters are raised. Transfer to another bowl.

Add vanilla and almond extracts to cooled chocolate. Slowly blend the chocolate with the eggs, scraping bowl with a wooden spoon to avoid shocking your batter with the cold harshness of metal. Stir ONLY ENOUGH TO BLEND. Stirring SLOWLY, add your flour. Any flour will do--it is not the star of this show--and mix ONLY ENOUGH TO BLEND, you FOOL! and then you may fold in your nuts.

Remember to use fresh nuts, even if you must scoop them out of a squirrel's nest, cracking them on a wooden board. Gently mix them into your batter, stirring as though you were turning an infant over in her sleep. The batter may be heavy and thick, but the benefits of hand mixing far and away out weigh the challenges presented in mixing ten pounds of uncooked brownies manually.

Spread batter into prepared 10"x18"x1.5" jelly roll pan and place into preheated oven. At this point you must IMMEDIATELY reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees and cook for 22 minutes. Test with a toothpick inserted near the heart of your brownies. It should just barely come out dry. DO NOT OVERBAKE. BROWNIES SHOULD BE MOIST!!!

Remove from oven. Eat brownies at once. They do not keep.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

An Activist of My Own

But I think the important thing to remember is that, should I ever take up playing cricket, I'll be fabulously good.

Left-Handed Liberation Front

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Of Ragamuffins and Princesses

Just a little update, for those of you who are interested (and I know you're out there).

Anna had her Second Haircut Ever last night. She had one maybe a year and a half ago and I haven't really given the matter much thought since then. Her hairstyle requires that little attention be paid to the actual length. Every day I simply pull up the top section of her hair into a little ponytail. It keeps her hair out of her eyes, and more importantly out of her boogers, and that's all I really need.

Lately, however, her fine, thin hair had been getting more tangled and A was objecting more and more to having her hair combed in the morning. The last two days everyone was sick with a cold so I let it go altogether. Yesterday morning Anna looked like this:

To be fair, it's a bit rougher than usual since I hadn't fixed it in a day or so, but you get the general idea. This morning, though, she looks like this:

The change is very dramatic when you see her with her hair down, but she wouldn't keep a barrette in and I still need to keep hair out of her boogers. She looks so grown up! I try not to get too sentimental about these sorts of things--I really can't afford to, emotional as I am--but I still can't get over how much my little girl is changed by a simple hair cut. My little bunny.

It's an Honor Just to be Nominated

I was given the Crunchy Parent of the Year Award over the weekend. I won it based on my latest entry which was submitted just under the wire on December 30th. I sewed A a baby sling for her dolls. Here it is, being worn by the grateful recipient.

She doesn't look too excited in the picture so you'll have to trust me when I tell you that she was thrilled. My little guy, T, even got in on the action.

He'll make a great dad, someday.
My sister in law, Rachel, thought this was the cleverest and the Most Crunchy Mom thing to do, so she is the one who gave me the award. I gratefully accept.

If I were really clever, however, I would have had it made before Christmas and given it to her as a gift.