Wednesday, November 23, 2011

This Weekend

Things I’m looking forward to this long weekend (in no particular order):

1 – Spending time with the kids while they are surrounded by relatives and friends someplace other than our house. This means that I won’t be multi-tasking on chores while spending time with them and they will (probably) be on their best behavior because of the other people. Also, they will spend time playing with others while I sit and watch (and knit).

2 – Lots of time to knit and crochet in the car.

3 – Eating the pumpkin pie that I’m making for Thursday using my Great-Grandmother’s recipe. It is easy and it is my favorite pumpkin pie in the world.

4 – Time spent with family and friends. I expect to see some people that I really like that we don’t get to see very often. And I am hopeful for time that is relaxed and calm.

5 – Good food that I don’t have to cook. I will have some responsibility food-wise – the pie and the general task of making sure that there are healthy snacks around to keep the kids from getting hungry between meals. Also, making sure we have meals on a reasonable schedule as to not make the kids irritable or throw off bedtime. But thankfully, as they get older, the latter is better since they can mostly express when they are hungry.

6 – Not setting an alarm for four days. Yes, it is likely that the kids will wake us up before we necessarily want to be up, but it is still better than my alarm going off at 6am. And last time we were with my parents, the kids got up to play with them and let me sleep a little longer.

7 – I have a lot to do during the next two evenings to prepare for the weekend, so getting to Thursday morning should mean that my tasks are done. Hopefully.

Part of the reason I am focusing on these things is because there is a somber aspect to the weekend as well. This is the beginning of our first holiday season without my father-in-law and without my grandfather. I am not looking forward to the emotion and the sadness, but I know that it is part of the grieving process and I am thankful to have my energetic children to constantly remind me to live in the moment. There is actually something a little….refreshing (not quite right, but I lack of a better word) about talking with a 4 year old about death. It is a very straightforward conversation in that it is best to give straightforward and clear answers. The hard part is not really knowing what question will be thrown at you next.

Also, this post is to remind myself that the craziness and late nights this week will be worth it for the sake of our weekend together.

I hope, dear readers, you have a wonderful weekend with people that you love.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fall Chops

Have you ever found a recipe that sounded just perfect, but it took a half dozen tries to get it to really work and meet your vision? I just finally realized the desired goal last night on a pork chop crockpot recipe that I probably found over a year ago.


Ha, ha. Look – it was almost 3 years ago that is was posted, so I would guess that I tried it for the first time while I was on maternity leave with Todd. So it has taken me this long to get the recipe right *and* figure out my crockpot.

I’ve had pulled pork. I know that it is possible to get that kind of tenderness, and yet each time that I made the recipe we had meat that needed to be cut with a serrated knife and that had to be completely drenched in sauce from the first bite to the last. I knew it could be better, but it took me a while to figure out why I was having so many issues.

First, the issue with my crockpot. It is a very basic model. And honestly, I have no problem with that. I can hook it up to a timer if I need to it to start after I leave the house, I tend to simmer things on low all day while we’re at work and I have made a variety of yummy foods in it for the 4-5 years that I’ve had it. The “problem” is that the heat dial just goes from 1 to 5. There is no “warm”, no “low”, nothing specific about temperatures or that relates to the way that crockpot recipes are usually written. So this is the recipe that finally taught me that 1 is “warm” and 2 is “low”. I decided that there was enough liquid in the pot that I could afford to try heating the pork chops on 2 yesterday, and the results were perfect. Fall apart when you just look at it, perfectly cooked pork.

Second, in the past I have stuck literally to the directions in the blog post, but I found that when I emptied the can of mandarin oranges over everything else, it pushed the sweet and savory jam mixture off the top of the chops, leaving them with just a few orange slices on top and the jam mixture diluted in the crock.

So here are my directions for this yummy recipe that seems to me like perfect fall fare. The orange and clove smell emanating from the kitchen reminds me of the wassail I make for the holidays. Yum!

3-4 Pork chops (I use boneless)
2, 10.5 oz cans of mandarin oranges
1 cup apricot jam (I also like peach or a peach/apricot mixture. You can use orange marmalade as well.)
3 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ginger (You could use more if you like more “kick”)
¼ tsp whole cloves

Put pork chops in the crockpot. Pour cans of mandarin oranges (including juice) over them, leaving at least 5-6 orange slices on each chop.

In a small bowl, stir together remaining ingredients, except cloves. Dollop mixture evenly over chops and oranges. Then sprinkle cloves over the whole thing. (This makes it easier to find and remove them before serving)

Cover and cook on low for 10 hours. It might not need that long, but that's the length of time I'm away from the house on a weekday.

Someday, when my kids will eat rice, I will serve this with rice because I think the rice would absorb the extra sauce nicely.

(Enjoy the picture on the original blog because it didn’t even cross my mind to take one last night.)

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

More Kid than Toddler

Yesterday was election day. Neither R or I made time to go to the polls before work, so that meant that we had to go in the 2+ hours between arriving home from work and the closing of the polls at 8pm. This is a busy time in our house – making dinner, bargaining snacks, talking about our days, enjoying time with the kids while trying not to rile them up before bed, getting ready for bed, bath or shower, wind down and getting the kids to sleep. (That last part is still taking a bit of time with Todd, but I’m working on it and it’s getting better…)

R went to the polls while I got dinner started and gave the kids a snack (aka, something from their Trick or Treat bags) in the kitchen. Sometimes having the kids in the kitchen while I’m cooking is a disaster and sometimes it is lovely. Never can tell for sure. Last night was good, maybe just because the kids got the snack they wanted. ;-) As soon as the food had 15 minutes of simmering to go and R was back, Heather and I walked over to the polls together.

Two bits to share from this:

1) Heather and I had a nice little walk. We vote at the elementary school around the corner. Heather seems to be more free flowing with information about her day when we are walking together (rather than being questioned during dinner). And as she is still less “needy” than Todd, there are times that she doesn’t get as much attention from me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not purposefully ignoring her. But for example, in the rush of the morning routine, I am busy getting myself ready and attending to Todd’s needs. I don’t generally get up earlier than absolutely necessary, and she spends time watching TV to help her “wake up”. This combination means that the two of us don’t usually talk much on weekday mornings. Now that it is dark out by the time we get home it feels harder to make little walks like this happen, but truthfully we could still do it when the weather is mild.

2) While R was voting and I was cooking, I let the kids know my plan to go vote when daddy got back. Heather’s suggestion was that she could watch Todd while daddy and I left to vote together. She’s 4 ½. I fully expect that at some point she will be watching her little brother at home without a parent present (and she already does some “supervising” of him while we’re in a different room), but I don’t think it’s time yet for us to leave the house. I suppose I’m beginning to wonder when that will be. I certainly think that we have a ways to go…but I suppose we’ll dip our toes in the world of more independence when she heads off to Kindergarten next year. It will be interesting to see what that looks like.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Steeler Sunday

Just posting a two month old picture in honor of the Steelers game tonight...

Saturday, November 05, 2011


All of a sudden (or so it seems to us), Heather loves to draw. For most of this year she would like to sit and draw letters from time to time. And sometimes she would be willing to randomly draw in a coloring book or scribble some color in paper.

Within the last few weeks she really likes to draw, regularly chooses it as a quiet activity and draws people, animals, houses and anything else her little brain thinks up at that moment. She's also more interested in coloring and is asking us how to spell a lot more than the typical list of names she writes.

Lately, she writes
And then asks how to spell Daddy, Bapa and Grandma Sharon. Then she goes on to ask other names or other words she's read recently.

Here is one chalk drawing example from Columbus Day weekend:

Friday, November 04, 2011

Fall fun

The pumpkin picking part of our trip to the pumpkin farm was not the highlight. We were there for a birthday party. It was a lovely day and the kids had a lot of fun!

(These are just the highlights from my iPhone pictures. It is possible that, like the Halloween costume pictures, better photos exist in our main archive. But this is easier right now...)

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Halloween Costumes

The good news – I’m employed full time again. Yay!
The bad news – The two weeks leading up to working (visiting family out of town and trying to prepare) and my first week of work have been super busy, leaving little time to do anything on the computer, especially to blog. Insert praise for iPhone here, which has allowed me some semblance of an online life at random moments.

But let’s jump back in to the now…Halloween!

Heather was set on being Darth Vader and Todd was not consistently set on any costume. Add in everything else going on for the last month, and it was a perfect recipe for store bought costumes. There was a little drama with Heather’s costume (the first store we visited didn’t have her size) and Todd talked about a lot of different costumes up on that big wall of pictures. Over the two weeks we talked about it we heard: Chewbacca, Obi-wan, Gumby, Dinosaur, Darth Vader, Luke, Woody and probably 10 others that I’m forgetting. On our last visit to the party store, with two days to go until his class party, he chose Buzz Lightyear.

I considered some sewn hemming for the sleeves and pantlegs that were too long, but after attempting to alter the too big Darth Vader costume that we bought originally and making myself crazy trying to get the sewing machine to play nicely with the stretchy knitted fabric…I decided that shoes would keep long pantlegs from being tripped on and sleeves hanging over knuckles wasn’t a problem. Besides, given the number of times that last year’s Woody costume has been worn, I expect this year’s costumes to see some more action during playtime, so there is no reason to hem them down too much.

I did knit Heather a Darth Vader “helmet” hat. (I never got a good picture of it when she was wearing it, unfortunately.) Masks aren’t allowed at school and I didn’t think it would stay on during Trick or Treat. The baby/toddler version of the Darth costume I’ve seen has a cute little hat helmet, so that was my inspiration. I used the Hallowig pattern from Knitty as my starting point, adding some different shaping to be more like Darth’s helmet. A crochet edging adding some stabilization to help the edges flare and I decreased in a more pointed fashion.

The hat was a little too warm for the school parties (the parties always warm, even without costumes!), but it was perfect for Trick or Treat, especially given the teeming rain that was falling all evening. Todd was able to wear a wool hat as well, under his Buzz helmet. In hindsight, a new pair of gloves for him in white would have been better than his mittens from last year for the costume, but who wants to knit white gloves for a dirt-loving 2 year old? Both kids wore Nana-made wool sweaters underneath their stretchy costumes and it wasn’t as cold as Saturday when it snowed (!), so everyone was warm and happy despite the weather. And from a” mom of little kids” point-of-view, the rain kept the hoards of big kids down, which was nice.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Work Life

I made a passing remark on facebook that I would write a blog post about the new job.

So now I sit here wondering what to tell you about it. For a myriad of reasons relating to client confidentiality (which are, in some ways, more critical in this position) as well as a personal goal to not inadvertently piss off my employer, I haven’t really written about work much. Granted, there are blogging architects out there who write in detail about their work. Even some who don’t own the business that they work for, but I’m not sure that is me. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy showing off my completed projects and even took my mostly uninterested kids on a tour of one of my buildings (we’ll try again when they’re older ;-)…but I don’t think my architecture remotely relates to the reasons that I blog.

Anyway, so far the job is good. The people seem nice, the work seems similar to what was described and thankfully my first couple of projects aren’t big rush jobs. My position is new, so I think the department manager is trying to use my time to get ahead on a few things initially planned for December and January, allowing me to go a little slower to get my feet wet here. (Have I mentioned how incredibly awesome it is that this company uses Microstation, the same CAD program that my last employer used?! There are still adjustments, but I’m glad that isn’t one of them.) Any time now, there are several projects that could break that have more urgent deadlines, but I am enjoying the fact that I’m not putting out any fires. Yet.

We are still working out all of the kinks in our schedule and day-to-day life (having Halloween and related events happen in the first week means we haven’t really had many “normal” days yet.) Somehow I need to find a way to get to bed a little earlier and get a little more time to relax with TV and knitting each evening. Important for both my sanity and for getting projects finished. I have two book projects left, a waaaay overdue baby present, a design for an indie dyer, a sweater promised to Todd, several other baby presents not even planned and a few winter accessories for both Heather and Todd…which they will need very soon.

I am also quickly realizing that not making it to the grocery store over the weekend was a grave error and means that I going to have to go tonight after the kids are in bed. (It’s actually a lovely time to be in the store, just not really what I want to do at 9pm.)

But I am really and truly not complaining. I am thrilled to be working again, and my 14 months of uncertainty have given me a new perspective on work. I know that even when there are days in the future that the house is messy and I would rather be working on that than drawing floor plans, I will be thankful to be employed and be more positive about figuring out a better way to manage my time rather than just complaining about the things not getting done.

I do miss working at the yarn store, but I am still teaching a little and I have gotten to stop in to visit a few times during the weekend running of errands. If only yarn/knitting/crochet experts had the same earning potential as architects. ;-)

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Halloween Pumpkins

The one “craft” I did partake in for Halloween was the pumpkin carving process. The kids both painted pumpkins at school and got little tiny ones for table decorations, but I am a big fan of the carving. Part of it is my need to design and render something festive and part of it is my love of the roasted pumpkin seeds as a reward for all of that hard work.

I’ve always thought that the pumpkin carving kits you see in stores were silly, but this year I learned I was wrong. I got a hand me down set from Todd’s teachers last year and I actually remembered to use it. The downside is that the blades are really bendy and by the end of the process the two knives and one borer had broken off of their handles. But while they were still intact that worked really well for the carving and had a lot more control than the kitchen knives I’ve used in the past. I’m hoping that I can either find a sturdier set for next year or maybe find some cheapie ones on clearance to stock up. I will definitely be using those tools again. Not to mention that the scooper for getting the guts out was about 10 times faster than my ice cream scoop method (and the scooper didn’t break).

Heather helped for a lot longer this year than last – she scooped for quite a while and she drew the faces. Todd helped a little, but was more interested than watching. I look forward to a year when they are old enough to help more significantly so that four pumpkins don’t take 6 hours of work…but I am happy with the results and the two bags of roasted pumpkin seeds. J

Pumpkin #1 – Heather’s

She drew the face she wanted directly onto the pumpkin. Initially she drew more detail than I could feasibly carve and some of the features were proportionally small. But all I did was make the elements larger and simplify the lines. You could say I faithfully reinterpreted her design for the carving medium. :-P

Pumpkin #2 – Todd’s

When she got tired of scooping, Heather drew out a number of possible jack o’lantern faces for Todd and Daddy to choose from for their pumpkins. She had a variety of happy and sad faces, and Todd insisted on a sad face. Again, this is Heather’s design reinterpreted for the medium.

Pumpkin #3 – Daddy’s

This is based on one of Heather’s sketches, that was drawn onto the pumpkin by both of them. I’m not sure who added the extra eye – if it was on purpose or a chance occurrence – but daddy was very happy with Heather’s design.

Pumpkin #4 – Mommy’s

I started with a sketch that Heather had designated for me, but made a few alterations for my own preferences. This is my “ideal” face and the first year that I have been happy with the way it turned out. (Thank you, pumpkin carving kit.) Next year I may do something more different now that I have finally gotten a good basic face.