Monday, November 26, 2012

An Evening With Anna and Leland

I know the blog's been kind of quiet lately.

This is because we don't do very much stuff.

Every night, we watch Netflix and I surf Pinterest and when I find particularly cute pictures of animals, I show them to Leland.

Leland loves cute pictures of fuzzy animals. Especially bunnies.


For the record, this is the picture he was looking at.

It was the second time he'd seen the picture in about two minutes.

And yes, that is a turkey leg he's gnawing on.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Movies You Have To Read

We don't have cable because we are cheap poor, and so we watch a lot of Netflix. A LOT. We're watching it right now! One of the great things about Netflix is the wide variety of documentaries and foreign films that are otherwise very difficult to find.

And just because no one asked... here's a list of my top 18 favorite foreign films that can be in your home instantaneously via the power of the internet. Maybe I'll do documentaries later if anyone's interested. (By the way, I have other posts I'd like to do about what we've been up to with pictures and stuff, so hopefully those will come soon.)

1. The Man From Nowhere

Bin Won stars in this Korean action movie about a mysterious pawnshop owner who goes on an EPIC RAMPAGE to rescue the little girl who lives next door from the drug lords/ organ thieves who have kidnapped her. Stick with it through the first half hour, which you will spend largely being confused and trying to keep track of the dozens of characters. Because: EPIC RAMPAGE.

2. Mother

Bin Won again, but this time he plays a mentally retarded man who is accused of a brutal murder in a small South Korean town. Hye-ja Kim, who is amazing, plays the mother who goes to incredible lengths to clear her son's name. As the plot progresses and more and more details are revealed about the night the murder occurred, your allegiances to all the characters will shift and twist until you aren't even sure who you're rooting for.
3. Trollhunter

A Norwegian movie which relies on the "found footage" style (for which I am a total sucker) to tell the story of a group of student filmmakers who discover a bizarre secret: trolls are real, and the government pays a select group of individuals to track and, if necessary, kill them. All of the troll behavior is based on Norwegian folklore.

4. Lake Mungo

This Australian movie is presented like a documentary about a family going through the grieving process after their eldest daughter drowns. It's quickly revealed that the daughter seems to be haunting the family's home. This isn't a scary movie for people who like gore or CG monsters. It's a slow, haunting meditation about grief and death that still manages to get in a couple good jump scares. Stick with it through the midpoint twist, and watch the credits.

5. Downfall

This one was pretty popular when it came out, so all I'll say is that it's a German movie about the last few days of Hitler's life in a bunker under Berlin. It's as good as you've heard.

6. Dragon Tattoo Trilogy: Extended Edition

The books were all right, the American movie was pretty good, but the Swedish originals are better, in my opinion. Particularly since Netflix has the extended version which was originally a six-part miniseries. Six hours of Lisbeth kicking ass and far less of Mikael sleeping with random women than this Mary Sue character got away with in the books. Even the last installment, which is largely about the Swedish justice system, manages to be interesting.

7. Valhalla Rising

This is one of Leland's suggestions, I haven't seen it. When I asked him, "Is this Swedish or what?" he said, "It's crazy. It only has like five words and they don't make any sense. It's pretty much just a crazy Viking acid trip with lots of punching."

8. Powwow Highway

Not a foreign movie, but if you want to step outside American culture, there's nothing better than this road trip buddy movie about and by Native Americans. The buddies here are a demoralized, angry activist and an even-tempered sacred clown* who act as excellent foils for each other while they undertake a crazy quest to rescue the activist's sister from jail. This movie is goofier than I normally go for, but by the end I was grinning and sobbing at the same time.

And if you like this one, watch Smoke Signals next, which is based on the incredible book 'Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven' by Sherman Alexie.

*Heyoka is a Lakota concept but the description fits the Cheyenne character perfectly

9. Sabah: A Love Story

Sabah is a forty-something Muslim woman from a conservative family who falls for a white man in this Canadian movie. It's a pretty standard deviation on the cultural clash romantic comedy sub-genre, but a sweet and satisfying one. Plus - older non-conventionally attractive female main character!

10. Strictly Ballroom

If you loved Moulin Rouge but haven't seen this Australian movie by the same director, Baz Luhrmann, then get on it. Especially if you are a dancer, ballroom or otherwise. A talented male ballroom dancer must partner with a clumsy newbie - will they have enough time to prepare for the upcoming competition?? Quirky and stylized, though not quite as visually arresting as later Luhrmann movies.

11. Bliss

When a young woman is raped, her family in rural Turkey decides that she must be killed for the sake of the family's honor. To carry out the deed they enlist a male cousin who has recently returned an emotionally-scarred veteran from the endless Turkish civil wars. Except the cousin can't do it, and the odd couple flee from the family's vengeance, ending up as crew on the small yacht of a sophisticated professor who represents the urban, modernized yin to the couple's rural, traditional yang.

I liked the movie so much I read the book it was based on, "Bliss" by Zulfu Livaneli. The book is a challenging metaphor for the fundamental urban/rural cultural divide in Turkish culture, and so I suppose I'd say that it's actually "better" than the simplistic movie - but I liked the movie better anyway.

12. Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame

Detective Dee is in jail for leading a rebellion against the Empress - who springs him loose when she needs him to solve the mysterious deaths of several court officials in this Chinese movie set in the Tang Dynasty. Beautiful sets and martial arts in the Crouching Tiger style. Detective Dee (or Di) is based on China's version of Sherlock Holmes, Judge Dee, who in turn is based on the actual real historical figure Di Renjie. 

13. Battle Royale

A class of high school students wakes up on an island and is instructed that they must kill each other or risk death themselves, with the last student standing crowned the winner. AKA: the Japanese book/movie that Suzanne Collins has been accused of plagiarizing with The Hunger Games. The movie is kind of nonsensical and not that great, with numerous plot holes (the book is much better), but don't tell me you're not curious about the controversy.

So... I know some of the slasher purists will get annoyed about this, but even if she copied the essential concept, who cares? They're like variations on a theme, a perfect example of how two authors with the same idea will create very different stories. The authorial intents and purposes are totally different. Battle Royale is an almost satirical exploration of teenage identity and utilizes extreme violence as a juxtaposition against the petty interests of the teenage characters. Hunger Games is a dystopian commentary on authoritarian control and the extremes of reality tv that at times takes itself too seriously.

14. Shall We Dance?

In Japan, ballroom dancing is a taboo activity for men. So when a businessman starts lessons, he hides his growing talent and passion from his wife, further deepening the divide between them. When the truth comes out, it will either restore their marriage or finally destroy it. A movie about finding joy in life.

15. Jiro Dreams of Sushi (documentary)

Normally I hate "sound bite" documentaries that feature an endless arrangement of people not saying much about a particular subject. But somehow in this documentary about legendary sushi master Jiro Ono, it really works. The camera work is luscious, lingering over every gleaming piece of glorious fish. And the man himself is amazing with his incredible life story and epically Japanese dedication to work.

16. Waste Land (documentary)

Hundreds of scavengers pick through each load delivered to Jardim Gramacho landfill in Rio De Janeiro, gathering materials that can be sold. For his latest project, Brazilian artist Vik Muniz photographs some of the workers and then enlists them to help create enormous versions of the photos from the garbage itself. The stories of the workers - and how many of them find new self-worth as they see themselves transformed into art - will make you first hate humanity and then love it again.

17. Burma VJ (documentary)

Burma, AKA Myanmar, AKA the Happiest Place on Earth, was at the time of filming a brutally restrictive military dictatorship that controlled all media sources. In order to document the truth of life in their country, both for the Burmese and for the rest of the world, independent journalists Burma VJ risked their lives to gather footage of the government's abuses. As riveting as any drama, except this is really happening to real people.

(Today Burma is technically under civilian control, though the military still retains a large amount of power.)

18. Unmistaken Child (documentary)

When Buddhist teacher Geshe Lama Konchog dies, his dedicated disciple Tenzin Zopa is dispatched to find the child who houses the lama's reincarnation. Tenzin Zopa is incredible - disarming, open, sweet, personable - I basically fell in love with him. And after Tenzin finds a child who may be the reincarnation of his master, I was enthralled by the implications, for Tenzin, for the child, and for the child's family.

So that's my list! What foreign movies on Netflix have you enjoyed?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Mmmm, Food

Let's be clear about something: Leland makes pretty much all of the food in this house. If I had to guess a percentage, it would probably be about 99%. Maybe even 99.9%. It's not that I'm a bad cook. I guess I'm fair to middling. I can follow a recipe. But I don't really like cooking, it stresses me out.

And before everyone chimes in at once, YES I ABSOLUTELY know how amazing it is that my husband cooks every evening and I do NOT take it for granted. Sometimes Leland will ask "what's it like to just sit around and have food magically appear on your plate?" Sometimes he is grumpy when he says this. And I always respond, "it's AMAZING. You should try it sometime!"

But I have picked up a few things from hanging around him (and his mom, and my mom, all good cooks).

1. Don't mess with it.
Usually this is communicated to me at high volume because I have an endless drive to stir things. I think this is pretty common. Don't mess with stuff! Just let it cook!

2. Always add salt and pepper to a savory dish and vanilla to a sweet dish
Even - no, especially - if the recipe doesn't call for it. Just a pinch of salt, a few twists from the pepper grinder, or a slosh of vanilla. You can't go wrong.

3. Throw a very generous pinch of salt in to the boiling water before you add the pasta
A VERY generous pinch. Somewhere between a pinch and a handful. As Leland says (every. single. time. he makes pasta), "the water should be as salty as the ocean".

4. Low-fat is for pansies
Leland likes to make fun of those people on All Recipes who mess with the ingredients to remove all of the flavor calories. "Instead of butter, I just added whispered 'butter' into the bowl!" Now, this is also a man who likes to say, "anyone can stop eating when they're full. It takes a real man to keep going", so let's take this directive in context.

5. Let the meat rest
Meat should rest for about ten minutes before serving. Or so people say. I don't really know why, and I can't testify that it actually makes the meat better. But if you say stuff like this, people will think you're a real foodie. (PS - Leland is going to be annoyed that I said I can't tell if it makes the meat taste better.)

And just for funsies, here are some of my favorite recipes. Most of them are so simple that even I can make them (though I usually make Leland do it instead). You may recognize a certain bacon-y theme. What can I say? Bacon is good. Bon Appetit!

Pumpkin Pancakes
Even Leland likes these and he doesn't like pancakes (I KNOW.) Great with bacon.

2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tbsps brown sugar
2 tsps baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups milk
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 egg
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp vinegar
1 slosh vanilla

 Mix milk, pumpkin, egg, oil, vinegar, and vanilla. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking powder, baking soda, allspice, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Stir the dry into the wet, just enough to mix everything up. Then cook them like pancakes, do I have to spell everything out for you people?

Split Pea Soup
Now, you could make this without the bacon. The bacon does make it really really good though.

6 slices of bacon cut into small pieces
1 small onion, chopped
1 leek, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, chopped
2 cloves minced garlic
4 (10.5 oz) cans broth
1 1/2 cups split peas
(I find that this leaves a stupid little bit of split peas left in the bag, so I just use them all)
2 bay leaves
1 tsp fresh rosemary, chopped

Cook bacon over medium heat until it gets to be the way you like it (we like it still soft). Stir in onion, leek, carrot, and garlic, and saute until the veggies are soft. Add broth. Mix in split peas, bay leaves, and rosemary. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low, and simmer about 1 hour. Stir when you remember about it.

Serve with a spoonful of sour cream or yogurt in the center of the bowl.

 Sesame Noodles
 So gooooood you'll never get takeout again probably still get takeout a lot because you're lazy and they make it for you there. Also I think this is vegan? Is peanut butter vegan?

16 oz Chinese noodles 
(ramen works (yesIknowthatsnotChinese), or try a fun variety from the Asian grocery store or international aisle)
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
1 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsps grated, peeled fresh ginger
1 tsp Asian sesame oil
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
2 green onion
Matchstick strips of crunchy veggies of your choice - cucumber, radishes, carrots

Cook noodles as package directs, drain, and rinse with cold water. Meanwhile, with wire whisk or fork, mix peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, vegetable oil, ginger, garlic, sesame oil, crushed red pepper, and 1/2 cup water until blended. Taste it and tweak to your liking - if you like ginger, add more. If you like heat, add siracha or chili oil. Etc. There are no rules when it comes to tasty sesame sauce! Toss noodles with sauce and add veggies.

Bucatini all'Amatriciana
Pasta sauce with bacon that isn't cream based. That's all you need to know. (And according to my recipe it was named for the town of Amatrice an hour east of Rome.) (Leland always makes this one, it's a bit more advanced)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
12 oz thinly sliced guanciale, pancetta, or good bacon, cut into smallish pieces
1 red onion, cut lengthwise in half and then into 1/4 inch thick half moons
3 cloves garlic
1 1/2 tsps hot red pepper flakes
2 cups basic tomato sauce
1 lb bucatini or long pasta of your choice
Freshly grated pecorino romano
(Do not put that green shaker Parmesan on this or one million Italian grandmothers will haunt you)

Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot, add 2 tbsp salt. Meanwhile, in a 10-12 inch saute pan, cook meat med-low until most of the fat has been rendered. Remove bacon and fat - save enough fat for saute. In the same pan that is now greased with lovely bacon fat, combine the olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes; set over low heat and cook until the onion is softened. Add meat, toss together, cook for a minute or so.

Add tomato sauce, turn up the heat, and bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and allow to bubble for 6-7 minutes. While the sauce simmers, cook the pasta in the boiling water for about a minute LESS than the package directions (should still be very firm); drain. Add the pasta to the simmering sauce and toss for about 1 minute to coat. Top with grated cheese and serve hot.

Chicken (or whatever) Masala
Just about any meat can be substituted for the chicken - tofu, potatoes and sweet potatoes are good in this too. I also have a naan recipe if anyone wants it!

2 lbs chicken (or equivalent amount of substitute), roughly cut
1 medium large onion, diced
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup water
3 tbsp garam masala
(This is a mixture of Indian spices. You can buy it at an Indian grocery or make your own mixture from recipes like this.)
1 tsp chili powder
1 pinch salt
Olive oil

Saute chopped onion in olive oil and salt. Once soft, add tomatoes and chili powder (adjust amount for desired spiciness). Stir thoroughly, cooking about 3 more minutes. Add chicken and garam masala and brown chicken for about 10 minutes. (Obviously if you are using lamb or tofu or potatoes, adjust directions accordingly - add potatoes later and cook them in the curry, add tofu near the end, etc.) 

Add yogurt and water, adjusting to achieve desired consistency. Stir thoroughly. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for approximately 20 minutes. Serve with rice and naan.

Mom's Banana Bread
This recipe uses 6 bananas - more than I've ever seen in another recipe. It is also ridiculously bad for you - there are many ways you could make this recipe healthier, but I've never tried any of them. And it happens to be the world's greatest banana bread. I'll take any challenge on that.

2 cups sugar
3 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp each nutmeg and ground cloves
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 cup canola oil
6 medium bananas, smashed
3 tsps baking soda dissolved in 3 tbsps hot water
Generous slosh of vanilla
1 cup chocolate chips (optional) or nuts I guess if you hate good tasting things.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix dry ingredients, then add wet ingredients and chocolate chips and mix again. Don't go crazy on the mixing, it should be just combined. Pour into 2 9x5 greased loaf pans. Bake for 45-60 minutes (20 mins for muffins, 15 for mini-muffins). Test center with wooden skewer or knife to see if it is done. Don't be afraid to leave this sucker in the oven for a long time - a dark sugary crust will develop on the top.

Nellie and Joe's Key Lime Pie
This is the recipe from the back of this key lime juice, which is what I recommend. It is the best. The pie is very rich - even Leland can't eat more than one piece and I'm pretty sure this is his favorite dessert.

1 cup crushed graham crackers
5 tbsp melted butter
3 tbsp sugar
14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
3 egg yolks (whites not used)
1/2 cup key lime juice

Preheat oven to 350 F. Stir together graham crackers, butter, and sugar to make pie crust, and press into the bottom of a 9" pie plate. Combine milk, egg yolks, and key lime juice. Blend until smooth. Pour filling into pie shell and bake for 15 minutes. Let it sit for 10 minutes, then refrigerate.

Mom's Hot Fudge
This is THE best hot fudge recipe. Those who have tasted it know its power. Amazing over ice cream and with fresh fruit, or eaten with a spoon at two in the morning.

1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 stick butter
1 can evaporated milk
1 1/3 cup powdered sugar
1 tbsp vanilla

Melt chocolate chips and butter over medium heat. Add evaporated milk and sugar. Raise heat and boil for 9 minutes. Remove from heat and add vanilla.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Bad Statistician! No Cookie!

Hello internet. It is to you I come to vent my frustration over a statistic that I see over and over again and which makes me nash knash gnash my teeth with severe annoyance. Leland has heard me complain about this so many times already that he does not care to hear about it anymore. So here we are.

Here's the setup. I'm reading a book called The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the real state of the world, by Bjorn "screw your o with a slash through it" Lomborg. Basically, Lomborg is a statistician who was challenged by a right-wing anti-global warming type to actually look at the statistical evidence for environmental degradation. When Lomborg looked, he discovered that many of the statistics and statements about the planet are in fact misleading or just wrong, and came to the conclusion that things are actually a lot better than people think. I'm not exactly subscribing to Lomborg's newsletter just yet, but it's an interesting book.

ANYWAY. On Page 50, Lomborg breaks out this old chestnut:

"Until around the year 1400, human life expectancy was amazingly short - a newborn child could on average only expect to live 20-30 years... Stone Age skeletons from North Africa show a life expectancy of just 21 years... an average citizen of Imperial Rome lived only 22 years."

For a book that is dedicated to the misreading of statistics, this is pretty much jaw-droppingly misleading. Is Lomborg wrong? Not - exactly. But were most Stone Age hunters and Imperial Romans all going around and dropping dead in their early 20s? Not even close!

In fact, the 20s are when the fewest people were dying (even taking death in childbirth into account). The statistics are skewed because these groups had high levels of infant mortality. Mortality curves for such groups look like a U - most people either died really young or really old. If you have a data set, and half of the numbers are small, and half of the numbers are big, and you take the average, you're going to get a number that is neither small nor big - a number that does not truly reflect the "average" at all.

From our perspective, childhood in the past was a time of shockingly high mortality. In many places half of all children died within the first five years of life. So that's the bad news. The good news is that if someone jumped that first hurdle, they had a good shot of making it to adulthood. And once they made it to adulthood, they had a good shot of making it to their 60s or 70s, a perfectly respectable life span without antibiotics or air conditioning or seat belts.

Spouting off life expectancies that were calculated using the whole lifespan paints a completely distorted picture of ancient life. Can you imagine a world where most people died in their mid-20s? Even if you get a jump on having kids as soon as puberty started (which among hunter-gatherers is from 15-18), most children would be orphaned by age 6 or 7 at the latest. It would be extremely difficult to pass on accumulated information about - well, about anything that requires any skill or knowledge, since people would only have a few years to accumulate it. A once-in-a-lifetime weather event like a 50 year drought would wipe out entire communities, since there would be nobody around to relate how the group had made it through the last drought. 

Luckily for humankind, that's not what happened. First of all, no group with an average age of death in the early 20s is going to have such an extended pre-pubertal (childhood) period. Duh. Studies of still-existing H/G and subsistence farmers demonstrates that plenty of people do, in fact, survive well past their 20s. In fact, the best hunters in H/G groups are in their 40s. And there's plenty of suggestion that we wouldn't be who we are as a species without the routine existence of old people. The "Grandmother hypothesis" suggests that the evolutionary purpose of post-menopausal survival (which would seem to be evolutionarily disadvantageous since the woman is no longer able to contribute offspring to the species) is that post-menopausal women - grandmothers - watched the kids while their parents were off gathering food.

It's just stupid to throw this statistic around without explanation. It's the very kind of obfuscational behavior that people are always accusing statisticians of. And it drives me INSANE.

Lomborg does explain this statistic - eventually. Most people don't even go that far. But now you are EDUCATED. So the next time someone tells you that pre-modern existence was nasty, brutish, and short, you will know that they are WRONG.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Summer Adventures - Vacation and Stuff

Are you ready for a picture blast??

So we went on a little trip! First we stopped for a day to visit our friends Stephen and Jenn (and cockapoos Hurley and Joey) in Virginia, and had a lovely time wandering around the utterly adorable Old Town Alexandria area and watching the boats on the - Potomac? Yeah, that sounds right. And I don't feel like looking it up. Some historic-sounding river. The Potomac, the Delaware, the Rubicon... don't make me learn stuff, world! I'm on vacation. That's the US Capitol building in the background. Or possibly St Peter's Basilica. Or the Kremlin.

Riding the free trolley. Leland can't just take a normal looking picture. Like your shirt, Stephen!

And the best part of DC - food trucks. Like, twenty of them. Why is food from a truck so much better than food from a restaurant? I don't know, but it's science.

CUPCAKES FROM A TRUCK. YES. Sweet Bites, the best cupcakes in America. That's right, I went there. We ordered a bunch and then devoured them, sharing each delightful concoction amongst the group. The woman who runs the truck actually came out of the truck to tell us how much she enjoyed watching us eat them. We are magnificent gluttons.

Then we went and bothered the President for a while. 

And wandered around the Mall, stopping at the new World War II Memorial, where I almost slipped and fell right into a fountain that had a prominent sign posted asking that people not throw coins into the water out of respect.

We took in the Vietnam Memorial, which I had never seen. I love this picture of our three reflections on the wall.

After our too-short visit in Virginia, we continued north to Leland's cousin's wedding in Doylestown, Eastern PA, which is like a yuppie-hipster paradise, but in a good way.

TWEE. And stuffed with antique stores, homemade pretzel bakeries, and establishments that will sell you any variety of gourmet product. It was a nice sunny day in the low 70s, and although we failed to find a coffee shop that lives up to Leland's high standards, I did enjoy the sensation of breathing in an atmosphere that was less hot and humid than the inside of my own lungs. The wedding was lovely, the food was tasty, and of course the bride was beautiful.

Leland and I sadly parted ways, and he drove back to NC while I traveled with Leland's parents to Indiana, Western PA. I came bearing gifts!

This is the first time I tried making bags, and they came out really nice if I do say so myself. These are designed to be lunchboxes (actually bento box holders), and have a vinyl lining and a little cover that can be pulled up over the goods. If you are can sew (optimistic beginner or above) and want to make a few of your own, the tutorial I used is here.

For my 3 1/2 year old nephew Luke, I made a pillowcase with John Deere fabric from the remnants bin (freaking LOVE the remnants bin). And yes, the fabric is sideways. Let's all pretend that was a deliberate artsy choice instead of an annoying mis-reading of the instructions (which, once you account for bone-headed mistakes, was surprisingly easy).

The boys each received my first attempts at making stuffed animals, little mooshy bunnies with embroidered faces. And the faces even turned out kind of non-creepy! Almost! Hopefully they won't haunt little Harlan's dreams. You can see him here trying to give the bunny back. (Just kidding.)

On Saturdays I went with my mother-in-law Phyllis to Ligonier Country Market to help her sell her lovely homemade soaps.

Love those rolling hills. Miss them in pancake-flat Eastern NC! Here's the market as vendors begin arriving...

And just before the opening bell. Of course, Phyllis' stand was the prettiest.

Though the sunflower seller gave even Phyllis a run for her money.

After two weeks in PA, we crammed three adults, one toddler, one baby, and all of their stuff --->

into one car and headed off to the beach (Kill Devil Hills) via a visit to Aunt Jean's (EDIT: Joan, not Jean! I promise I know your name, Sis, it was just a typing error. Also Uncle Don was there). It was an interesting lesson in how three year old brains understand time. "Are we going to the beach now?" "Is this the way to the beach?" and then, when we hadn't arrived at the beach after an unacceptably long amount of time (twenty minutes or so), "Mom, are you sure this is the way to the beach?"

Yet somehow, we all survived and no small children were murdered.


It was great to spend some time with the nephews and see how Harlan's baby blanket held up to repeated washings.

And very excitingly, someone turned ONE! Things Harlan can now look forward to - being expected to use the toilet, feed and dress himself, and ultimately get a job and pay taxes and scrub the bathroom. It's all downhill from here, kid, so enjoy that cake while you can.

And be sure to lick all the icing off your arm before Mom is able to wash the rest of it away.

Luke and I had a good time goofing around.

For Harlan's big birthday, I made him a book of colors from fabric scraps. I didn't really have a plan or anything when I started making this, so it really came together better than I deserved. And it *should* be pretty durable.

All good things have to end - and as fun as a vacation with small children is (really!), it's definitely exhausting. Even when you're just the aunt. Leland drove up to spend the day at the ocean, and then we went back to Greenville.

I had a couple of big quilt finishes recently, too. First was this blanket for Stephen and Jenn's little baby boy, who should be here in just a couple of weeks! And for some reason, as I was trying to finish, bind, and quilt the blanket under a deadline - the baby shower - I suddenly developed standards.

I had decided to border the quilt (a combination of Irish Chain and Snowball blocks) with an orange solid. But after I put it on, I didn't like it. I mean, it was fine. But the fabrics didn't come together to make anything better. They just sat there. It was like the equivalent of a plain peanut butter sandwich. It's all right. Even tasty. Certainly nutritionally filling. But what I wanted was a nutella peanut butter sandwich. Two things combining to create something new!


At first I was going to let it slide, but then I couldn't and ended up ripping it off. I guess that means I've developed artistic principles. Luckily, I quickly found a replacement batik orange fabric that looked amazing against the amazing dark sky blue Robert Kaufman fabric that I got just for this quilt. Lots of quilters don't mix batiks with other fabrics. I don't know why, because it's like the equivalent of adding the nutella to the peanut butter.

I used the original orange solid to bind the edges. I just love those little suns on the fussy-cut blocks.

And finally, I finished the very first quilt that I plan to keep! It's a scrap quilt with mostly nine patch blocks - lots of clothing scraps. When I finished cutting for this quilt about six months ago, I'd used up almost all my fabric scraps. My fabric addiction has ensured that these have been replaced plus a bajillion more. Ha.

The colors are a little weird in pictures, but somehow work really well in person. The backing, which you can see peeking out in the first photo (tan background, brown and pink/coral leaves and plants) was a king-size sheet that I bought for 3$ at Goodwill. Boom. (Yes I washed it.)

One of my favorite blocks, made with leftovers from Luke's baby quilt, a wedding quilt for friends Adam and Sarah, and a white dress shirt that was Leland's.

Nova approves.

After our (ok, mostly my) lovely working vacation across this great land, it's been nice to kick back and make Leland make me mochas.

Suck on that, inferior coffee establishments!

And also, after getting a yogurt maker for my birthday (which: who knew?), I can make Leland make me yogurt too!

Boil the milk, add a container of store-bought (or some of the previous homemade batch) as a starter, and pour into these cute little glass jars.

The yogurt cooks in the maker for several hours (which you can also do in the oven I think if you don't want to buy a yogurt maker)...

And after a night in the fridge, this is what you get. Forget those smug people who eat the fancy Greek yogurt and can time their toilet arrangements down to the minute. You can be extra-smug if you make your own. Smugness IN YOUR FACE.

And now I shall mix it with nutella and counter all the healthy effects of the yogurt with a good helping of fat and sugar. Hoorah!