December 13, 2011

On with the Sugar Rush

English toffee

English toffee. It's the reason for the season. Or is it the traditional Christmas morning coffee cake ring? Family gatherings, carols, large meals and gift exchanges are all very nice, and I'd miss them if they weren't part of our rituals, but take out the candy or the coffee cake and I think my world might stop spinning. Even if it didn't, it would definitely develop a bad wobble.

I'm thinking of you, Grandpa!

December 12, 2011

She's a teacup!

Caitlyn danced on stage for the first time this weekend, performing with her pre-ballet class in Spectrum Dance Theater's holiday production of Alice in Wonderland. It was a dance-school showcase with 134 students, ages 5-20, a variety of dance styles (ballet, jazz, tap, contemporary), and plot that pulled from both the new and classic Alice movies and the book. Caitlyn's class danced the part of the Tea Cups after the tea party scene with the Mad Hatter (acted by a young man doing his darnedest to channel Johnny Depp), the March Hare and the Doormouse (who got to stand on the table at one point, which seems to one of Caitlyn's favorite details).

Caitlyn as a Tea Cup in Alice in Wonderland

Yes, she's a head taller than everyone else in her class.

After their dance, the Tea Cups sang a modified version of "I'm a Little Tea Pot" ...

Caitlyn as a Tea Cup in Alice in Wonderland

... then ran off stage giggling. Impossibly cute.

Caitlyn as a Tea Cup in Alice in Wonderland

(Second two photos by Grandpa Robert Gilman.)

They did two performances on Saturday, after a long dress rehearsal on Friday night. Caitlyn did well on stage and says she had a great time, only complaining about how the elastic that kept the tea cup on her head pushed on her ears. She's discovered there will be another all-school performance in June and she's already excited about it, not only (I think) because this time she'll get to keep her costume. She's also attempting to recreate the dances of the other groups in the Alice performance, which means she now spends lots of time inventing new lyrics for Stray Cat Strut, not to mention a new tune and a new rhythm.

Her class danced to "It's a Small World." I am grateful for small blessings.

December 08, 2011

In Progress

lots of pins

note quite finished

What am I making today? (Bonus points available if you are not related to me!)

December 05, 2011

My Weekend

Things I did this past weekend:
  • spent 2 hours shoveling gravel into buckets as part of a work party in our local urban forest, Cheasty Greenspace at Mt. View. We graveled 75 feet of trail!
  • attended a showing of Once Upon a Circus, a production of the SANCA Youth Company. They attempted to tell fairy tales but kept getting the details mixed up. Favorite segments: the acrobatic seven dwarfs and Red Riding Hood's aerial routine. The introduction skit mangling The Lord of the Rings was pretty awesome as well.
  • made a bag from In Color Order's tutorial:
    drawstring baggie!
  • started the holiday sugar binge:
    first batch of caramels, 2011
  • complained a bunch about the sore muscles from yesterday's shoveling
  • took Caitlyn to her first dress rehearsal for Spectrum Dance Theater's holiday production of Alice in Wonderland
  • wandered around Urban Craft Uprising for the first time. Hmmm. Ideas to come.
  • watched the classic Disney Snow White with Caitlyn
  • took gratuitous pictures of the cat:
    Wasabi, alert

How was your weekend?

November 28, 2011

Our Thanksgiving

We spent our Thanksgiving with our local family, spreading the over-eating over two days. I must admit I really liked how that turned out. There are enough strong preferences for what we eat at family gatherings that we tend to fall back on potlucks, so everyone can have what they want. This can result in a over-full table with a variety of dishes that may or may not compliment each other.

But when you spread it over two days, then you can have the salmon and the ravioli and the mixed vegetables in one sitting and the turkey and potatoes and cranberries on the following day. I may lobby for this to become a new family habit for Thanksgiving.

Not least because of the other benefit of multiple days: more opportunities for a wide variety of pie!

Thanksgiving reading

While taking a break between meals, Caitlyn and I shared Rapunzel's Revenge with the smallest member of the family. It's never too early for alternative arrangements to classic fairy tales. Rapunzel is one of Caitlyn's favorites, and she's determined she's up to five versions:

"There's Rapunzel's Revenge, and the one in the fairy tale book, and the movie, and the other movie, and the one in the cupboard."

November 22, 2011

Blogger's Block of the Month, block 2

Canton Village Quilt Works
Would you believe me if I said I've had this block finished for almost the whole month and I'm just now getting around to posting it?

I'm not sure I would believe me either, but there it is.

I'm sticking with the same fabrics I started with and plan to continue to do so for the rest of the blocks. Finding something that will work as a sashing or as setting blocks may be a bit of a challenge. Although, maybe I'll find I have enough of this white-on-white that I'm using as the background to use as setting blocks. The end result would be unusual for me - I don't think I've ever quilted with white, much less quantities of white.

I didn't quite stick with the directions. I'm feeling a bit stingey with the fabric (I've only got just this much of these!) and wanted to avoid throwing out bits.

Blogger's Block of the Month, block 2
Although, perhaps if I had more strictly done as instructed, my points might be lined up a bit better.

But no one is going to notice that, right?

November 16, 2011

A Little Autumn Craftness

The school district sent me an email yesterday (Wednesday) reminding me that there will be no school last Friday.

I realize that sentence makes no sense, but neither did their email. But it did remind me that Caitlyn and I spent some project time together last Friday, at her request, with somewhat mixed results.

Our first project was a kind of leaf printing. I'd done a search for crafts with fall leaves and found this. Note for next time: it could be significant if there are no photos with the instructions. Without pictures, my imagination provides the expected result, which, this time at least, was disappointing.

leaf print?
The idea was to collect some of our brilliant fall leaves, lay them on fabric, then pound on them and transfer the color to the fabric. I assumed that the color would transfer in the shape of the leaf, and we'd get a collage of leaf prints. Turns out, only the reddest of leaves have enough color to make a satisfactory transfer, and then only in those spaces you impact with your hammer (or other pounding object). We used a grape leaf in the photo above, which I think maybe you can guess if you squint sideways at it. Perhaps if we used a block to spread out the impact/weight of the hammer, we might have gotten something that looked more completely leaf-like. But, contrary to the instructions' promises, we did not get anything worth framing.

So, we made leaf collages on contact paper instead, and stuck them to the back door.

back door leaf collage
I found the this much more satisfying idea at The Artful Parent. Leaf colors and leaf shapes, held up where the light can highlight them. This is pretty spectacular on the days the sun comes out! And a bonus: the porch light over the door illuminates the top arrangement after dark.

back door leaf collage
Even better, this was a collaborative project, not just me setting things up and getting out of the way or both of us working in parallel. Caitlyn would place a leaf, I'd place a leaf, and we'd talk about using the space and leaf arrangement and which leaves were just slightly fuzzy and prone to falling off the sticky paper.

Not a bad way to spend a school-free morning.

November 15, 2011

Old News

I'm late, I know. Halloween is so last month. We're less than 10 days from Thanksgiving. Everyone else has already posted their Halloween Costume Posts and moved on. It'd be neat if I had some sort of reasonable excuse, but I don't.

And now, it sounds like Caitlyn's Halloween costume was some amazing, intricate thing. She had been asking for a mermaid costume "with a real tail." She was apparently fully aware that this would prevent walking, since requests for such a costume would move on to descriptions of locomoting in roughly the style of an elephant seal. How this was supposed to work for trick or treating, I have no idea.

Anyway, I talked her out of the mermaid idea. And told her that two back-to-back fairy princess costumes wasn't an option.

Caitlyn vetoed witches, pirates, and storybook characters. We had a brief flirtation with a potential cat costume (an Everything Cat, which is rainbow colored and winged and probably prone to feats of magic) before settling on a Pioneer Girl outfit.

Caitlyn's Halloween Costume, 2011
At the time, I thought the bit that convinced her was the possibility that, after Halloween, she could use the dress portion of the costume as a regular part of her wardrobe. Now, I'm wondering how much she was influenced by a friend of hers who scored a Little House outfit from her grandmother.

Caitlyn's Halloween Costume, 2011
I used McCalls 9424 and Caitlyn helped pick out the fabric. I'm working with her to get past the "more is better" approach to fashion (eg, if 1 color is nice and 2 colors is better, then all the colors at once would be best!) and trying to help her recognize how some colors/fabrics coordinate well and others shouldn't be allowed near each other. Caitlyn approached the fabric selection with the idea that there were three pieces to the costume, so she should pick out three separate fabrics. Maybe I'm old fashioned, but I don't think a brick red dress, a daffodil yellow pinafore and a turquoise bonnet would have worked out as well as she thought it would.

Caitlyn's Halloween Costume, 2011
I was still sewing buttons on both the dress and the pinafore the day before Halloween. But it was done in time for trick or treating. We both received lots of compliments.

Caitlyn hasn't shown any sign of wanting to wear the dress to school, though.

November 09, 2011

No, really, I had to

I usually try to have at least some idea of what I'm going to do with a length of fabric before I buy it. It's not like there's a shortage of fabric in my sewing space.

When Pacific Fabrics sent out an announcement that this fabric line, Catkin from In the Beginning Fabrics, had arrived in their stores, I sorta did a happy dance in my chair. How can you not love cats in paisleys?


A week or so ago, when I was popping in for sewing machine needles (not an excuse, really!) I happened to notice something small (a potholder, I think) on display using one of the fabrics from this line and I thought, oh, I'll go check to see if they have the cats-in-paisleys print. It wasn't there last time, and I figured it was probably all gone. With some of this stuff, if you don't get it when it comes out, you miss out - some fabrics get printed only once and that's all, folks.

Wouldn't you know it, they had some!


I still don't know what I'll do with it. I got enough (I think) to make some 8 inch setting blocks out of the cats to go between blocks made from the coordinate fabrics, but I may do something entirely different. Might just look at those cats any time I need a little happy dance.

November 08, 2011

Origin Stories

At the school bus stop this morning, some boys were discussing origins. One, a first grader and a child of a recent East African immigrant, pointed out to another boy, also the child of a recent East African immigrant, that they'd both come from Africa. The second boy, H, sort of rolled his eyes, "I know I came from Africa." The first boy, whose name I don't know, so I'll call him M, then turned to a third grader who is African-American and dark skinned and attempted a similar claim, which the third grader, T, denied.

Before things got out of hand, T's mom stepped in. "Yes, you all came from Africa, but at different times." I'm not sure what T made of this, but it seemed to baffle M a bit.

"I came from Africa not long ago," M said. "I still speak my other language."

"That's great!" I told him. "I wish I could speak more than one language." To which H told me he could speak two languages and M announced that his mother speaks seven.

"Wow. I only know English and some muddled Spanish. Oh, and I can probably sort of read a menu in German."

"You didn't come from Africa," M told me, clearly not ready to move on from sussing out where everyone is from.

Well, no. I'm far too pale-skinned to be recently from Africa. But I pointed out that if you go back far enough in time, everyone (probably) came from Africa, it's just that some of us took long detours through cold places to get here.

This seemed to confuse M. But before I could explain the time scale I was referring to (and wishing it wasn't so early, so I would have half of chance of being somewhat right in my arbitrary selection of "hundreds of thousands" or "millions"), H came swooping back into the conversation.

"You mean," H said, eyes alight, "a long time ago when the animals could talk?"

November 05, 2011

Colorful Pinwheels

I've actually finished a quilt this year!

Colorful Pinwheels
I have a pile of Works in Progress teetering on the chest in my work space and I keep adding new fabric for additional projects to it (see the sidebar for details). Somehow, the size of the pile doesn't seem to deter me from seeing some new project and rushing out for supplies for that, too. There's probably some deep psychological statement to be extracted here: I'm afraid of running out of things to do? I'm afraid of the risk of starting something?

Whatever. It's time to celebrate something being finished.

Colorful Pinwheels
This quilt got started because I wanted to make a quilt for the impending arrival of Caitlyn's cousin and wasn't going to be satisfied just contributing a square to the larger family/community quilt that was in the works. I even knew from the start that I wanted my square in the community quilt to echo the larger quilt. But since I was involved the in the creation of the community quilt, I needed to keep this one fairly straightforward.

Colorful Pinwheels
Thus, the half-square triangle pinwheels. I used half of two layer cakes from Timeless Treasures, Meringue and Hard Candy. (I suppose this means that I have leftovers on hand to make another. Hmmm...)

Colorful Pinwheels
I completely failed to make a note of the backing fabric. It's crazy colorful and has these awesome bees buzzing about. Ian found it on a family outing to The Quilting Loft (hooray for fabric stores who have a corner with a toy basket!), after I had nearly settled on a solid teal for the backing. The teal would have worked nicely, but it would have tipped the quilt into "respectable"; the bees keep the whole thing more firmly in the "fun" camp.

A bit of frosting: having one of The Quilting Loft staff suggest that maybe I'd like to have the quilt hang in their store for a spell. Squeee!

Here's hoping it doesn't take me a whole year (again!) to finish another quilt!

November 03, 2011

Another fall leaf post

The leaf pile was deliberate this year, I'm sure of it. And when the bus let the kids off, several dove right in.

kids and leaves
kids and leaves
kids and leaves

So much joy from one pile of leaves! Which, frankly, isn't much of a pile anymore, now being unevenly redistributed around the park. Fortunately the maintenance crew has blowers and can make short work of re-piling leaves before they haul them away.

The Annual Big Pile of Leaves in the Park Event means we are well and truly into Autumn. There was frost on the grass and some roofs this morning, and the kids played at being steam trains while waiting for the school bus. The fog burned off to give us a morning full of golden light, gone later as the sky clouded up ahead of a series of weather systems forecast to bring the first snow to the mountains. Time to hunker down. Time for soup and spiced cider, for extra quilts, for a (hopefully) less frantic pace.

November 02, 2011

Grape Harvest

I've brought in the fifth or sixth basket of grapes last week, wrapping up this year's grape harvest. For something I planted for summer shade and fall color, all these actual grapes are an unlooked for bonus.

my grapes

Funny how blue they look when outside on the vine, like I was growing some weird grape leaf/blueberry fruit hybrid.

my grapes

We still have grape jelly from last year's harvest in the pantry, so this year whatever we couldn't just eat fresh either went into the dehydrator to be converted to raisins or cooked down enough to be juiced. I have a bit of a tendency to over-dry the raisins (not sure about the location of that sweet spot of dry enough not to mold but juicy enough to be fun to eat), but they do still go nicely in my morning granola.

I've put the grape juice in the freezer because it's really good and I don't want to rush through it. It's tempting to look for things to do with grape juice since there's some effort involved in converting grapes to juice; all that work, surely I can get something more for it than a glass of juice.

But I'll probably just thaw it out in small batches and drink it.

October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Caitlyn's first jack o lantern

This is Caitlyn's first jack-o-lantern. She sketched the design and participated in the carving, with Papa's help.

Caitlyn's first jack o lantern

October 29, 2011

Adding inches

It seems Caitlyn's pants are always too short. Sometimes this condition coincides with wear and tear, and then we call the pants "grubby" and she wears them for things that involve dirt and mud (p-patch work parties, walking in the woods, puddle stomping, etc).

And sometimes the pants are in perfectly serviceable shape. They are just too short.

I don't know why it's never occurred to me before to just make the pants longer.  I've had this blue floral fabric in the stash for ages.  I've also got a red and white print that makes me think of red bandanas (although it's not paisley at all) that I think would have been really cute as the added ruffle.  Probably would have ended up clashing with the preponderance of pink shirts, though.

October 27, 2011

Candy Corn Restrospective

It was supposed to be quick and fun.

homemade candy corn
Instead, it took more than an hour and inspired some... er... colorful language.

So, should anyone else want to attempt making candy corn from the how-to provided by The Harvard Crimson Flyby, here's what I learned:
  • If you are using ingredients from the natural foods aisle (eg, not C&H powdered sugar), sift everything really well. I used powdered sugar from Wholesome Sweeteners and powdered milk from Organic Valley. Both of these clump up as a general rule but it's never been a problem with other uses, although those usually involved a mixer. No amount of stirring was able to get this stuff to a completely smooth dough.

    So what? If the dough isn't completely smooth, it's a pain to roll out into the long snakey things that is a necessary step to get the traditional three color combination of candy corn.
  • There's a lot of hands-on in getting the candy into it's final shape. If you wait until it's well and truly "cool enough to handle", it's firmed up too much. The arm strength needed to roll out the snakes and then squish them together with a rolling pin is more than I have. If you have them, consider some sort of gloves to protect your hands from the heat and get the dough moving before it cools down.
  • I'm not sure if the trouble I had getting the three colors to fuse together nicely was a result of the dough having cooled too much or if it had been toughened up due to excessive handling. But I had to wet the sides of my colored snakes of dough to get them to stick, sort of, most of the time.
  • If you have one, use a kitchen scale to get your dough division even. I ended up with more orange than the other colors.
  • Using "mainstream" sugar may result in a whiter white. My Wholesome Sweeteners Sugar produced a white that's really more tan. And better food coloring might result in brighter colors. I had generic food coloring (usually used around here for coloring eggs) and some higher quality cake decorating colors may produce more vibrant candy.
  • Roll your colored snakes out to much less than 1/2 inch in diameter. You'll end up with final candy corn that's a bit more reasonably sized.
homemade candy corn Otherwise, the recipe is really straightforward, without unusual ingredients. If you've got sugar, powdered sugar, powdered milk, corn syrup, vanilla and butter on hand, you can do this. It doesn't even need a candy thermometer. And it's pretty tasty stuff.

October 24, 2011

Nothing like Last Minute

About seven years ago, I picked up what I think was my first fat quarter bundle. I was at In The Beginning (which has since closed it's retail store and is a fabric design house and there was just something magical about these bundles of coordinated fabrics. I had no idea what I was going to do with the fabrics but I bought them anyway. I washed them and ironed them and put them away.  They've come out a couple of times, most recently when I was thinking about a skirt for Caitlyn.  When I visit fabric stores now, I take a spin through the precuts (fat quarters, jelly rolls, layer cakes, charm packs, etc), and most of the time I'm a little bit better at knowing what I'd do with a bundle before I fork over the cash.

Canton Village Quilt WorksBut that purchase may now be justified!  Just shy of a month ago, I found Canton Village Quilt Works (via Quilt Dad) and discovered the launch of Jackie's Blogger's Block of the Month. It's kinda like quilt-along, but since it lasts for a year, it's less time-crunchy. As an added bonus, this one is free, which totally compensates for not having a clue about how the whole thing is going to come together.
Block Number Two is announced tomorrow, so I've just squeaked in by finishing this first block (designed by Sherri at A Quilting Life) today.

bloggers' block of the month
There will be 12 blocks total (I think) and they are each about 8 inches square. With luck, the fat quarters I bought all those years ago will be enough for the foreground fabrics. (The background white is something I've had since I bought it in 2002 to drape over speakers at our wedding.)

bloggers' block of the month
Of course, if that's true, I'll probably have a harder time resisting picking up the occasional bundle of pre-cuts. I may have started something terrible here.

October 18, 2011

Prewash for shrinkage

Despite my best intentions, it seems that as the seasons tip into fall, I start feeling generally dissatisfied with the contents of my closet. It's not that there's a shortage of clothes in there (although I'm wearing holes in nearly all my jeans). It's not that I've grown out of anything (unlike Caitlyn). It's not that I have new places to go or people to impress with an up-to-date wardrobe. It's not like I need to be fabulous when I spend the day at home, banging away at the computer and stirring up messes in the kitchen.

I mentioned this to someone (I've totally forgotten who by now) and she pointed out that I probably had done the typical back-to-school fall shopping as a kid, enough so that I'm essentially trained to think Fall = New Clothes. It makes sense. And much of the time, I'm pretty good at ignoring the impulse to buy more clothes. I may feel I need new clothes because it's fall, but that feeling has yet to be strong enough to outweigh my general dislike of shopping.

Yes, I'm a terrible American Consumer. I don't like shopping. I especially don't like shopping for clothes, especially for me. You see, despite the fashion and advertising industries claim that the Ideal Woman is tall and slim, it's very hard to find clothes that actually fit a person who is tall and slim. I'm 6 feet tall, short-waisted (which makes me very long-legged), and while I'm not exactly athletically fit, I don't carry around a lot of extra weight. The CDC reports that the Average American Woman is 5 feet, 3 inches tall and 164 pounds. This is the body that ready-to-wear fashion is trying to dress, not mine.

Forced to confront the increasing population of holes in my jeans, I headed off to Eddie Bauer, my resource for jeans that aren't obviously too short for the last several years. My first mistake was to go to an actual store, where the selection is limited to the of-the-moment styles. But even online, where there are more styles, the fabrics are already pre-distressed. I wear my jeans until they literally fall apart; I don't need them to start out half-way there.

I'm starting to seriously consider giving up mainstream clothing entirely. I'll just make everything. That way I can have my jeans start off in new denim and go all the way to my ankles. And while I'm at it, why not make my shirts and have them neither baggy or cropped, with sleeves that go to my wrist. The only long sleeve shirts I have that are actually long enough in the arm were purchased in the men's department, which is hardly flattering to the rest of me.

So, when I saw that The Quilting Loft was going to host a class about sewing with knits, I signed up. I feel fairly confident when sewing with woven fabric (although I haven't actually tried to make a pair of jeans yet), but knits have been something I figured was out of reach without an investment in a serger. When Caitlyn was younger, I converted a stack of old onsies into t-shirts by cutting off the snaps and zig-zagging the raw edge. They rippled and ruffled rather badly, which worked on Caitlyn at age 2, but was enough of an unexpected result that I just figured that I wasn't properly equipped for knits. Recent reading has suggested that I didn't need a serger, but since the things I made with knits last spring now need to have most of their seams repaired, I still wasn't confident that knits were something I could work with. And if I'm going to move toward making things that actually fit me, I need to get this knit thing figured out.

a shirt

Sometimes there is really no substitute for getting a lesson from someone who knows what they are doing. Cheryl was great, not only minimizing the mystery of working with knits but also showing the class how to take a finished shirt and reverse engineer it. I came to class with two t-shirts, one that fit me in the torso and one with long sleeves. As part of the class, I made a pattern for a single shirt that wasn't overly large and had long sleeves. I added length so that the finished sleeves actually reached my wrists. We dropped the neckline a bit, and I think I could figure out how to change it up so I could make a v-neck or a scoop neck with some gathering.

a shirt

There's just one problem: I didn't manage to pick up my fabric before class. And while it was fun to have a whole store of fabric to choose from when it came time to lay out my pattern pieces (fantasy: having so much fabric on hand that anything I want to do is possible right now), it really is better to prewash everything. Including knits.

a shirt

Those luscious long sleeves are now three-quarter length sleeves. And the shirt is too tight in the underarm. And it's shorter overall than I'd like.

I'll be heading off to a fabric store some day soon to pick up another knit. I'll wash it before I do anything else with it. And I'm going to make that shirt again. The prospect of something that fits the way I want is really appealing, now that I've had a taste. Who knows, I might even take up fashion design, just for us tall, slim, excessively practical people. There are more of us out there, right?

October 13, 2011

Next time, I'll know better

If you can get your hands on 4 lbs of fresh peaches (a bit unlikely now that it's October, but there's always next year!), you want to make peach butter.

peach butter

I found the recipe over at Smitten Kitchen and was instantly obsessed. Like, I thought about it all the time and I hadn't even tasted it yet. I got too excited and bought too many peaches, then had to borrow a scale from a neighbor to avoid mucking up everything. I even planned out when I was going to make the peach butter, at a reasonable time on a Saturday, and then got up on Friday and knew I had to make peach butter immediately.

Next time, though, I'll know that it takes about 4 hours for the peaches to cook down all the way, instead of the 40 minutes specified in the recipe. Maybe I was overly cautious with the temperature, choosing to spend more time stirring and less time mopping peach butter off the kitchen floors and walls ('cause it spatters!). Either way, I've got jars of condensed summer and it's amazing.

October 11, 2011

Kids Clothing Week Challenge, Fall 2011

It's time for the Kids Clothing Week Challenge, Fall edition over at Elsie Marley! Pretty please, can I play too? It's only two days in and already there's cool stuff in the Flickr pool, like this skirt and this dress.

But Caitlyn doesn't really need anything in the clothes department this month. I'll probably need my own version of KCWC come December or January when she suddenly puts on another inch or two, but right now she's got dresses and skirts aplenty. I've got ideas about making some shirts someday, but that's a project that's a bit down the road as I'm still wrestling with the combination of knit fabric plus my sewing machine (it skips stitches sometimes when I'm sewing with a knit, and I've not got the zig-zag settings right since the shorts I made during Spring's edition of KCWC need to have most of the seams redone;  the stitches are breaking when the fabric stretches) and part of the plan involves hypothetical digital art. We did go out and buy shirts last weekend since last winter's long sleeve shirts are now three-quarter sleeved and cropped.

Pardon me while I take a moment to be pleased with myself: half of the shirts we bought came from a thrift store. I was a gibbering idiot when we left - massive sensory overload - but otherwise it was a successful thrift store outing.  Maybe the trick is to have very specific things in mind, look only for those things, and not shop for myself.

Anyway, Halloween is coming and I've got a costume to make for Caitlyn. I've also got three shirts to make for Ian (two of which are in fabric I gave to him last Christmas... at this rate I could make the shirts and give them to him again this coming Christmas!). And I've got a jacket to make for me. So, I'm doing my best to get in my hour of sewing per day this week, as if I were participating in KCWC. It's not Kids Clothing Week, though; it's Sew Something Already! Week. 

And if Caitlyn doesn't put on those extra inches by January, she will have done so by April and I'll definitely have things to sew for next spring's KCWC.  Maybe I'll have knits figured out by then, too.

October 01, 2011

I Grew a Crisp!

apple crisp

The apple tree in the backyard gave us enough apples for an apple crisp! And even better, lots of the apples, although spotted a bit on the skin, were completely bug-free inside. I wonder if that means that I could have left them on the tree a little longer? Would they have gotten bigger? Or buggier?

September 28, 2011

Leaving Everyone Behind

We've received two interesting letters from the school district last week.  One was to let us know that Caitlyn scored well during testing last spring and would we like to consider doing more testing?  The other was a notice about how the district isn't doing so well according to the standards established by No Child Left Behind.

According to the letter, school districts need to meet a set standard (which was left undefined) in up to 111 categories to qualify as making "Adequate Yearly Progress".  (Is it progress if you meet the standard two years in a row?  Or is that Adequate Yearly Stasis?)  The goal is to have "all students meet or exceed state standards in reading and math."  The letter doesn't define the standards, nor does it provide a footnote to tell me where I could go review the standards.

When I was in school, a million years ago and a couple states away, I heard a lot about The Curve, mostly from my peers.  Sure, the teachers mentioned it in passing as a grading method, but it was my peers who asked about it all the time, confirming it's use, determining who had the score that "broke" The Curve, knowing their place on it.

The Curve looks like this (image from EconomicsHelp)
bell curve

I never took a class in statistics. There's lots here I don't understand. I do know about averages, though. Take a group, total it, divide by the number of group members. If you plot out the individuals in the group, you'll usually get something that looks like the curve above. It represents something called a Normal Distribution. The idea is that, in a group, most characteristics (speed, size, intelligence, skill, coloring, etc) of the individuals in that group will fall into this pattern. Most of them will be average, at or around the peak of the curve, with some falling above or below average, tapering off to almost nothing at the extremes. There will always be a swallow who can fly faster than 24 mph, but most swallows will fly at or about that speed.

Unless something fundamental has changed in the last 20-odd years, Normal Distribution and the Bell Curve are still valid concepts. If so, then there is a very basic problem with the goal that "all students (will) meet or exceed state standards in reading or math." Either the goal itself is unachievable, since there will always be some students who are at the extreme back side of The Curve, or the standards are set so low as to be completely meaningless, since they would need to be something that every student, regardless of ability, could meet. Either No Child Left Behind is set up so that all schools and districts must eventually fail or the standards have been downgraded so that everyone can pass, translating to an educational system that doesn't even come close to adequately educating the majority of it's students.

At least one of the problems here is the unfashionable-ness of admitting that individual people are truly unique. Oh, sure, there's the general celebration of No One Will Ever Be Just Like You. We are all Unique and Beautiful Snowflakes. But it's not appropriate now to have an educational system that outwardly acknowledges that some children may be more or less intelligent than average. Someone's self-esteem might be injured. Or that some children may have extra-curricular access to supplemental resources. That would mean acknowledging socioeconomic differences. The result is a system that will ultimately leave every child it serves equally uneducated.

As a result of not achieving Adequate Yearly Progress, the district is now required to take a fixed portion of its federal funding and use it for "focused professional development for teachers and administrators."  That's money that perhaps could be used more directly for the benefit of the students, now reallocated out of the idea that it's not the fault of the system or of our culture's inability to acknowledge and constructively deal with individual differences, but the fault of poorly trained teachers.  If only the teachers could teach better, then they could simultaneously teach 30 children to pass a specific test, regardless of individual ability or situation.  It's really no wonder that more and more curricula  are about the tests, at the expense of science, art, music, social studies and recess.

September 26, 2011

Harvest Review

The garden suffered this summer from the weather and neglect. I didn't make it out as often as I might have to really maximize production. I should be grateful we didn't have a scorcher of a summer; I barely watered and things still limped along, more or less.

drying small tomatoes
On the other hand, I did assemble a checklist early in the year to guide me through the various harvests so I would know how much of what I was planning on putting by for winter. I may have only coaxed three whole carrots out of the garden this year, but I've got a full pantry and a full freezer.

My checklist is broken down by storage method (dry, freeze, can, store) and includes a goal for how many jars of something to put away. This year I've been trying to note down conversions so that I'll know for next year that, for example, 5 pints of of cherry tomatoes dries down to 4 1/2 pint jars or that 30 lbs of shelling peas shells down to enough quarts to last until next spring.

strawberry syrup
Sometimes I overshot. Caitlyn and I joined some friends and went strawberry picking. I had thought I'd only pick one flat, but the picking was good, the berries were awesome, the kids were happy, and we had driven something like 80 miles. So I picked a second. Even after selling off some of the berries I froze and making strawberry syrup, I've enough left for both baking and smoothies and a batch of jam (should I feel so inspired). (Love the way the sun shines through these jars!)

Our home blueberries put on a good show, despite starting late. We had berries with breakfast several times, and I think there are at least two quart jars in the freezer that are full of homegrown blueberries. Caitlyn liked packing frozen blueberries in her lunches last year; I think between the homegrown berries and the u-pick berries we have enough for both lunches and the occasional muffin.

I also put by some frozen rhubarb and a couple cobblers' worth of homegrown cherries.

Despite my fears of rust, the onions did well. I'll still need a box before the farmers' market shuts down, but it'll last longer than last year's since it'll be augmented with the homegrown onions. Must try to remember to get the onions on a different day than the 20 pounds of apples.

And the potatoes did really well. They are mostly small, but I've a good size box that's full up, and there are some plants still hard at work out in the p-patch. I haven't weighed the box, but I'd guess that the potato harvest this year is close to 50 pounds. For next year, I'm entertaining the idea of spreading the potatoes over more space (two back yard beds or more dedicated space in the p-patch); it's a super-easy crop, and I think I might be able to increase the size of the individual 'taters if I didn't pack the plants quite so cozily.

green beans
The green beans have produced, despite my neglecting them. I won't have extra to take to the food bank, but there are jars enough for us in the freezer. And the basil did better than previous years; we've had fresh basil to add to meals and I've got a dozen or so "basil cubes" in the freezer.

I canned a box of peaches and 4 boxes of tomatoes. I've blanched and frozen several jars worth of spinach (this time freezing the spinach directly in the jars, resulting in more tightly packed jars, which hopefully will keep us in spinach longer than last year), green beans, broccoli, zucchini, corn, peas, and roasted red peppers. I've dried a dozen pints of cherry tomatoes and an uncertain quantity of sweet peppers (4 bell peppers = 1 1/2 pint jar), both from the farmers' market. In another week or two, I'll move on to Asian pears before scrubbing the dryer out and putting it away for the year.

All that's left, I think, are the whole things that will go directly to the pantry and fridge. I'll need to get lots of carrots from the market (to make up for the small backyard harvest and my complete failure to succession plant new batches of carrot seed). I'm thinking I'll get 3 or 4 butternut squash since this was not a good year for me in the squash department. I didn't even get any homegrown zucchini, which, if you know anything about the general abundant nature of zucchini, seems rather surprising. I think the garden may provide a couple of petite pumpkins before the weather starts to freeze, but I might pick up just one at the farmers' market. And, of course, the onions and apples.

Hmm. All spelled out like this, perhaps we did better, both the garden and I, than I thought we had.