For my regular visitors, if you find that this blog hasn't been updating much lately, chances are pretty good I've been spending my writing energy on my companion blog. Feel free to pop over to Moving On, and see what else has been going on.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The last three - almost done!

Here are the last three in the light coloured set of decorations I'm making. All I need to do now is the edges.

This is the only one of the set where I didn't use gemstone beads. I forgot. *L* So it's just silver twisted bugle beads, plus clear seed beads that have the holes coloured black. I had to go into Eldest's supply of beads for those.

This one was simple in design, but difficult to do - I had to do it without a hoop. I'd marked the squares on the fabric in a row, which was a mistake. I had already finished the one pictured above, and when it came time to move the hoop to this one, I was catching the beads on one side, and the mirror from the one below on the other. I truly dislike working without a hoop!

The ribbons are done in back stitch using rayon floss and the stone chip beads are rose quartz.

I was able to use the hoop for this one, at least. :-D

The points are done in the same clear and black seed beads I used before, with hematite chip beads for the accents.

Before I finish any of the edges for this set, I'm going to have to find a way to wash off the pencil marks. I really expected them to rub off easily, like the white pencil crayon I'd used on the red set did. No such luck here.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Easy Christmas craft

As we're unpacking the bin of Christmas decorations and, with the tree done, turning our attention to the walls and windows, I thought I'd share one of the things we've made that are getting use year after year.

There's two versions, but they require the same things. You'll need some Christmas patterned wrapping paper, scissors and adhesive backed, clear plastic. The plastic is sold in rolls as shelf liner in places like Walmart, or in the scrapbooking section of places like Michaels. It's the same stuff we use to protect our flat travelers, which don't take much at all. One roll will last us a couple years. I suppose you can also use a laminator if you've got one, but I've never tried it.

For wrapping paper that is solid coloured, or has an all over pattern, cut out squares in various sizes. Fold and cut them to make snowflake or star patterns. Because wrapping paper is pretty thin, you'll be able to make more folds in larger squares. Just make sure the largest ones are about an inch or so smaller than the width of your plastic. Open the finished cut outs and lay them flat. If the creases are particularly noticeable, you may want to press them between some heavy books for a while.

If your wrapping paper has individual objects on the design, such as ornaments, angels, toys, etc., pick out your favourite ones and cut out the shapes.

Once your shapes are cut out, cut pieces of the plastic to fit them on. You can usually fit a bunch of small shapes together on one large piece. Just make sure there's space in between them (about half an inch will do), as well as from the edge. For the larger shapes, make sure the plastic is about an inch larger than the cutout. The rolls will have measurements printed on the paper backing to make the job easy. You'll then need second sheets of plastic in each size.

Once you've got your plastic cut out, carefully remove the backing of one sheet and lay the plastic flat, adhesive side up. Watch out for stray pet hairs. ;-)

Arrange the cut outs on the plastic, ensuring there is open plastic in between and around them. For the larger pieces, it's easier to work from the middles, out. Gently press the paper down as much as you can without touching the adhesive. Just enough to make sure they're nice and flat.

Next, remove the backing from a matching piece of plastic and carefully lay it down so that the cut outs are sandwiched in between. It's really easy to go crooked or wrinkly with this part, so take your time with it.

Next, rub the surface of your plastic to remove any air bubbles and ensure the two pieces are well stuck together. Pay extra attention around the cut edges of your designs. The back of a metal spoon is good for that.

Finally, cut the shapes out of the plastic, making sure there's an edge around the outside of each shape. You just want a curvy outline of plastic around them.

That's it! You can now use your shapes to decorate your walls or windows, year after year.

Here's what we've got on the outside of our apartment door instead of a wreath, which would get stolen rather quickly. Click on the image for full size. There's a few more that aren't in the picture. Some of the others we have are a set of Victorian style decorations (balls, fans, an angel) that we tape to our living room window.

Have fun!


I love it!

I'm subscribed to Word of the Day, and absolutely LOVE what I got in this morning's email.

Abibliophobia: the morbid fear of running out of reading material.

I think that describes most of my family. ;-)


Sunday, November 25, 2007

Happy First Day of Christmas

Today is the Feast of St. Catherine's which, for us, is the first day of our Christmas season. In my husband's family, it was traditional to make Tire (pronounced a bit like tear). The Acadian tradition, as my MIL told me the story, goes back about 300 years or so, when the French were colonizing the New World. Nuns had come to Acadia to build schools for the Native children. They built the schools, but had no students - the children were too shy, and would run away when approached.

When November 25th came around, the nuns celebrated the Feast of St. Catherine, and made Tire. One of the sisters went outside to pull the cooling toffee. As she worked, she noticed children hiding in the woods, watching her. She said nothing to them, but continued working. After the Tire was done, however, she took a small plate of the finished candy and left it outside. Sure enough, the watching children made their way to the plate to take some candy. She continued to leave the treats out for them, eventually earning their trust - and their attendance in the school.

We didn't end up making Tire today, but we did put up our tree. If you'd like to give it a try, however, here's our recipe.

Tire (Pull Toffee)

2 cups (300g) brown sugar
2 cups (1/2 kg) molasses
1/2 cup (1/8L) water
2 Tbsp vinegar
1 Tbsp butter (must be butter - do not substitute, or it won't work)
1 pinch baking soda
icing sugar for coating

In a LARGE pot, boil brown sugar, molasses, water, vinegar & butter until a drop of toffee hardens into a hard ball in cold water. The syrup should be approx. 130C (254F)

Take off heat and add baking soda (sprinkle). Mix well.
(note: it bubbles and foams like crazy at this point - that's why you need a really big pot)

Pour into a buttered container until cool enough to handle.

Stretch pieces of toffee until golden in colour. It's best to do this outside in the cool temperatures, if you can. When ready, snip the stretched ropes of toffee with scissors.

Roll pieces in icing sugar to prevent sticking.

Store with layers separated with waxed paper.


Just as a warning, resist the temptation to have too many of these - they do have a slight laxative effect!

Here's a picture of our finished tree. It has a lot fewer lights this year. I had lots of regular lights - last year, I was finally happy with how many I had - but when I tested them out, one string wasn't working at all, and the other had about twenty working lights in the middle of the string of 60 lights. These are the type that are supposed to work, even if a bulb is removed. Well, I'd been wanting to replace them with LED lights anyways, so I ended up heading out to pick some up. They only came in packages of 35, though. I got three packages, but I probably would've done better to pick up 5. They look great, but there's empty spots! *L* The down side with the LED lights is that we can't plug in our angel tree topper. She looks awfully dark without her candle lit up!

Most of the decorations are hand made, including the very first set I made for Eldest's first Christmas. I didn't want to had to keep her away from the tree all the time, but couldn't find child safe decorations that I liked, so I finally learned out to crochet and made some! They are the spirals, as well as some crocheted balls stuffed with polyester fiberfill. Among the ones we've made ourselves is an origami garland made by our home school group that Eldest won when it was raffled off last year, and even a few that were gifted to us by our flat traveler friends. I'm not sure if you can see them, but our permanent flat guests are in the tree, too. :-) Of course, the decorations I'm still working on will be added on, too.

Next on the list - decorating the apartment.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Yesterday's library list

I didn't manage to post this yesterday, so here it is now...

Youngest chose to keep what she's got for a bit longer, so she didn't add any more to the list - though she did end up choosing a couple of dvd's, which I'll list later.

Eldest is on an architectural bend, it seems...

Towers of Time, Ontario - a book of clock towers.
Venitian Architecture of the Early Renaissance - that one's.. well, fairly self explanatory, I suppose! *L*
English Cathedrals - also pretty self explanatory.
The Stones of Venice - this one is neat - not just interesting buildings, but floor mosaics, planters, stairs, statuary... all sorts of interesting features.

Then there's my list. With a bunch of the more serious books I still have to work my way through, I had to get myself some "fun" books for a bit of balance, many on a Christmas theme.

Keeping A Canadian Christmas with Don Narron & Catherine McKinnon - a cross country look at how Canada celebrates Christmas.
An Old Fashioned Christmas - the legends, carols, games, toys, food and drink that have had surrounded Christmas celebrations of the past. I'm liking a lot of the old time crafts and decorations.
Christmas Ideas for Families - a little bit of everything seems to be covered in here.
Victoria At Table with Family and Friends; Treasured Recipes of Memorable Meals - for a moment there, I thought the title referred to the city of Victoria (and if you've ever lived there, you know why that would make sense), but they mean the Victorian era. It's a combination of recipes with quotes, menus, tips and interesting bits of information to entertain in Victorian style.
Enduring Harvests; Native American Food and Festivals for Every Season - with brief descriptions of various seasonal celebrations, and a short blurb with every recipe. This looks to be a great read, as well as a source of great recipes. Besides. Everyone can use a good recipe for Hickory-Smoked Buffalo Jerky (my GOD that sounds good!!), Canadian Cree Bannock, or Aztec Chocolate Nut Fudge!
Feast; Why Humans Share Food - animals will fight each other for food, or drag it away to eat safely in private. Humans will seek out other humans to share their food. The books examines why, and some of the cultures that have developed around food.
Making Great Cheese; 30 Simple Recipes from Cheddar to Chevre - I'm in no position to actually make cheese, but gosh I love reading and dreaming about it!
The Squire's Tale; A Dame Frevisse Medieval Mystery - 'cause food isn't the *only* thing I read about for fun. *L*

It occurs to me, with all these food titles and cookbooks I take out, you probably think I'm some gourmet cook. Or at least an interesting one. I'm not. Sorry. I just like to read about it. That and there's a rather large disconnect between what I'd like to cook, and what I can afford to cook. *L* Well, that and a significant lack of space and equipment. Maybe that's why I like to read about it so much? ;-)

And now, on to the dvd's.

I went around the section, just grabbing a bunch of titles that looked interesting. A couple I wanted to take out for myself, while the rest I let the kids go over and choose. Usually, we just get 5 - the limit for dvd check outs per card in our library. Of the ones I picked, only 2 were rejected - one with hesitation, the other enthusiastically *L* - and the girls made a point of checking out their favorites on their own cards. :-D

Dance of the Warrior - a CBC documentary featuring over 20 dancers and dance troupes around the world, and their ritual war dances, both ancient and modern.
Edmonton Remembered - I was a bit surprised this one got picked. I thought the kids might find the concept a bit boring, but I guess they share at least some of my ideas of what's interesting. *L* I'd love it if this were part of a series - one on Winnipeg would really catch my attention.
Instructional Bellydance with Jullina, level 1 - I've been lax in my bellydancing. Maybe this one will get me going again. I'm really hoping it's an actual instructional video, and not another weight-loss video in disguise.
The Life of Mammals, part 2 - we just returned part one of this series. It's another I wasn't sure the kids would choose. When we finished watching the last one there were a few moments of silence followed by Youngest exclaiming, in a vaguely stunned voice, "there were... so... many... placentas..." LOL I guess it takes more than watching live births and placentas to turn my kids off.
Legacy: The Origins of Civilizations Disc 2; China: The Mandate of Heaven and Egypt: The Habit of Civilization - I didn't even notice the "disc 2" part when I grabbed this one (there's only 1 disc in the case). If it goes over well, we'll have to check out the rest of the series. I just thought China and Egypt would be interesting. The kids did too, it seems. :-D
The History Channel: The Aztec Empire - just because we like ancient civilizations.
Cirque du Soleil; La Nouba and Quidam - we've taken Quidam out before, but somehow Youngest never managed to watch it before we returned it. Eldest was wanting that one specifically. La Nouba seems to be one we've missed until now.

So we're going to have to make some effort to watch these in the next week. That's not usually all that easy for us. Most times, we forget we have a tv. We finally got a good dvd player, though, so maybe that'll help. It'll be nice to see movies on a player that doesn't stutter between the chapters. I'm real happy with it - I could finally watch the dvd photo album I made on tv! The old dvd player died a slow and painful death, so we were never able to watch in on there. The replacement was just a cheapie, and while we could watch commercially produced movies on it well enough, it just couldn't handle home produced discs. This time we got a much higher end machine and, best of all, it was free. Those grocery store points are worth something, after all!

Well, that's it for today.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Cool site

Earthcam - Webcam Network.

This site has links to webcams all over the world.

I wonder if I can find the ones around our city? Time to go looking...


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

First set done!

There they are! The first set of this years decorations are done! I'm really happy with how they turned out. We'd brought them with use for park day yesterday, where I could keep working on the second set, and found they really sparkled in the sunlight. That's exactly what I was after, so I'm really looking forward to how they reflect the lights of the tree. :-D

The surface stitching for the larger decorations in the second set is done, but so far I've only applied the mirrors on the small ones.

With the fabric for this set being so much heavier, I'm able to go with heavier materials. The very first one ended up being very light, anyways. I did the alternating circle of red coral and gold glass beads, then couldn't figure out what to do next. Eldest pointed out that it was fine just the way it is, which is true. The bulk of this one will be in the trim after it's sewn.

I'm going to have to figure out how to wash the pencil marks off this one. I'd started out with longer points in the corners but, remembering how tight that fit when sewing them up later, I decided against it. Pencil doesn't erase well on this type of fabric. :-P

The border is done in twisted chain stitch, though it's kind of hard to see the twists. The stone chip beads are goldstone, which we all really like. The inner star is couched metallic floss, with the points filled with glass beads in 2 different golds.

This one was SUCH a pain to stitch as first! The outer ring is done in open chain stitch. With the rayon floss being so slippery, it was a challenge to keep the loops open. Not enough friction for the next stitch to hold open the previous one! The outer edge is finished with knots. The stone chips are turquoise, the star is couched metallic floss, with gold filament in between the points.

Now it's time for me to go. Youngest has the monopoly board set up and is waiting for me to get off the computer. :-D

Friday, November 16, 2007

Today's library list

Hmm... I've been pretty lax in posting these. Ah, well.

Our library days have been a bit messed up lately, with things being renewed or returned on non-library days, so when we headed in today, we didn't have anything to return at all, though we do still have a few items at home.

Youngest didn't take anything out at all, as she's still working on one book with another as yet untouched, both from the Enchanted World series of books. She's really liking those.

Eldest was quite pleased with her finds today.

Smithsonian Institution Animal; the definitive visual guide to the world's wildlife from DK. She really misses her encyclopedias. This one is a monster of a book - I swear it weighs almost 10 pounds all on its own! *L* ok, maybe eight. ;-)

The Collector's Book of Twentieth Century Fashion: Plenty of images in this one, from photos to advertisements. It's always interesting so see how fashion has changed over the years.

Creation; Life and How to Make it: Written by Steve Grand, who makes some of the most advanced artificial life yet possible. Should be an interesting perspective.

My own choices were on the lean side today. We had to head out before I had a chance to finish looking. Which is probably a good thing, all things considered. *L*

Eco-Imperialism; Green Power, Black Death: I snapped this one up as soon as I saw it, having had it on my reading list for a while now. I've been interested in reading this since I first encountered the issue in some of my research. The author exposes the damage being done by today's environmental movements, which increasingly have little to do with the environment and more to do with money, politics and anti-humanism.

Heat; How to Stop the Planet from Burning: If you read my other blog at all, you'll see I've been spending quite a lot of time on the issue of AGW and climate change. Lately, I've been trying to alternate between pro-AGW and con-AGW viewpoints, though that's not always been possible. This book had been on my reading list, but not near the top until it came up in a discussion about the author. I decided to put a hold on it, along with a couple of other books on the subject I already had on hold. Unlike the "skeptical" books I've got on hold, where I'm 32 and 18 in line, this one didn't have a waiting list, so I got it a lot faster than expected. Hmm...

Conservative Environmentalism; Reassessing the Means, Redefining the Ends: I've actually borrowed this one before, but never got to read it before it had to be returned. Once I finish the current pro-AGW book I'm reading, I'll be moving on to this one before going on to Heat.

Environmental Overkill; Whatever happened to common sense? This book seems to confront how extremism has overtaken science and logic, with an insider's perspective that I look forward to reading.

On to the videos...

The Blue Planet: Seas of Life - Open Ocean and The Deep. Eldest was thrilled when she saw this one, as she has particular interest in deep sea life.

The Life of Mammals: the BBC seems to come out with some really interesting dvds. :-)

Engineering Disasters: this one is from the History Channel. We'd borrowed More Engineering Disasters and enjoyed it so much, I had to go looking and put a hold on the first one.

The First Beliefs: part of the Secrets of Ancient Empires series. The only one left in the series for us to see is The First Armies.

All's Well that Ends Well: from The Complete Dramatic Works of William Shakespeare series by the BBC and Time-Life.

I think we're set for the next while. :-D

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

A bit of modern history

I still remember when this happened! That plane was bigger than any of the hangers.

Learn about the Gimli Glider.

When did Barbie (TM) become classy?

A couple of days ago, the kids and I were in a department store. Youngest likes dolls, so they soon wandered off to see the newest additions they're bringing in for Christmas. Shortly after, they came back to me and dragged me over in disbelief. There was a new Cher doll out - and it actually looked like Cher! What an amazing concept.

Now, when I was a kid, Barbie (TM) was the epitome of everything wrong with toys for girls. She was unrealistically formed, with gigantic breasts, minuscule waist, and deformed hips (though that, at least, could be blamed on the need to attach the movable legs). Then she had all that sexy clothing. She was also promoting a consumerist lifestyle, with houses and cars and toy boys (Ken's gone now, apparently). The list of all the terrible things Barbie (TM) taught our girls was quite long. Personally, as I kid, I hated dolls. I preferred interlocking bricks (no Lego (TM) back then - am I dating myself?), and cars - or better yet, running around outside and playing with sticks. Did you know that you could make a really neat whip that snapped most satisfyingly with a stick and some bale twine? But dolls? Nope. I sneered at those. They were "girl stuff" and I hated girl stuff, whether in toys, clothes or the behavior expected of me.

My kids are a lot more opened minded about such things than I was. *L* They were as comfortable playing with dolls as they were with their tool kits (they each had their own), play houses or cars. My only restrictions were with make up. No toy make up. That stuff is gross. If they were going to have make up, it would be the same stuff that's sold for grown ups.

So it's been interesting to see how they are responding to the dolls that are available to girls today. Barbie (TM) is now pretty much the most realistic, classy doll available right now! The latest Bratz (TM) dolls and their imitators now dominate the shelves, and the girls find them disgusting. The heads are gigantic and misshapen. The faces look deformed. The bodies make Barbie (TM) look realistic. Then there's the clothes and accessories - talk about skank!! They exude a sexiness that's crude, blatant and disturbing.

With what's on the market right now, I'm happy that Youngest prefers the elegant and beautiful Barbie (TM) and friends over the others that are available now.

Man, have things changed.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Monday, November 05, 2007

Evolution of a Home Schooler

Recently, a mom considering home schooling her children asked my husband and I why we decided to home school. What an interesting question! Like many others, I grew up thinking that, if I ever did have children, either my husband (if I married at all) or I would stay at home until they were old enough to go to kindergarten, then they would go to school. An alternative, if the thought of one ever occurred to me, might have been private school instead of public. I vaguely remember home schooling being mentioned as something some parents did, though the only reason I remember it at all is because most of the class, including myself, scoffed at the idea.

Yet even then, the seeds of the home schooling parent I eventually become were already being sown. My parents greatly encouraged my siblings and I to go to school, then college, then get good clean office jobs - or in my case, become a church organist, get married and have a lot of children. ;-) My own parents considered themselves uneducated, and they didn't want us to have to work hard for a living, like they did on the farm. The thought that any of us might want to be farmers didn't seem to occur to them. Both from Poland, I'm told my father went to school until about the 3rd grade, while my mother went up to the 6th grade. In both cases, school was something they went to as long as the weather made it safe to walk, so even what schooling they had was interrupted. Unschooled they may have been, they were far from uneducated. Both were multi-lingual before coming to Canada. ESL classes didn't exist back then, so they taught themselves how to speak, read and write in English, too. My father was one of those jack of all trades who seemed to excel at whatever he put his hands to. He was carpenter and electrician, welder and mechanic, arborist and veterinarian, as needed. I remember helping him build a desk for me and watching in awe as he perform mathematical calculations, using a method I'd never seen before, faster than I could've punched the numbers into a calculator. My mother, determined to fit into her own distorted view of housewife and struggling with a possible mental illness, seemed almost to hide her sharp mind and prodigious intelligence. While they both insisted that we needed school to become a success in life, I could see by their unknowing example that one didn't need school to learn what one needed to know.

As the years went by, I still assumed that any children I had would go to school, while the groundwork for a different path continued to be laid. When my older nephew was about 8 years old, I got a tear-filled phone call from my sister in law. They had moved to a new town and the school he was in had diagnosed him as ADHD. Their doctor simply agreed and wrote out a prescription for Prozac. They didn't want to drug their son, as he didn't display any symptoms of ADHD at home, but while my brother was out of country on a business trip, the school was pressuring her to drug her son. She managed to hold them off until my brother got home, but they finally gave in to the pressure and tried it. The experiment lasted a single day, as my nephew's behavior became erratic and bizarre. After that, they flat out refused to drug him. Eventually, the school backed off, but the pressure was always there. It wasn't until two years later, when my nephew finally got a different teacher, that his "symptoms" suddenly disappeared. This was a story we saw repeated among our friends, as well.

When I became became pregnant with my first child, I was about as prepared for parenthood as anyone who hasn't had a child could be. I had no illusions about how much work a baby could be. I joke that God looked down at me and said "she's just too confident for her own good!" when he gave me my first daughter! After she was born, we quickly discovered that she was not like other babies, and I discovered the whole different world of parenting a "high needs" baby. With the help of La Leche League, we overcame breast feeding problems the doctors we went to didn't even recognize, and it was through them that we learned how to walk down a different parenting path. As we explored our new life as the parents of a high needs child, the memory of what happened to my nephew still strong in my mind, I quickly realized that our daughter would not be a good "fit" for a classroom setting. I could already foresee the day when some school official would tell us our daughter was ADD, and that we needed to drug her. I knew there was nothing "wrong" with our daughter. She just experienced the world in a different way - a way that classroom teaching couldn't accommodate. The idea of sending her to school became increasingly uncomfortable.

LLL had become the source of support and information I needed so much of at the time. The leader that had helped us those first days of my daughter's life had came to our home late in the evening, her two younger daughters in tow. Concerned about the late hour, I'd asked her if it would be a problem for them in school the next day. She told me it wasn't an issue because they home schooled. I wasn't in a position to ask more then, but by the time I met a different leader some months later and learned she also home schooled, I had only one question that mattered. "Is that legal?" As soon as I heard her say "yes," my decision was made. Thankfully my husband, who had been at sea at the time, was willing to give it a try.

My older daughter is now 14. She and her sister have never been to school. As I watch them grow up to become the amazing young women they are today, I find myself thankful that we discovered home schooling as early as we did. If anyone had told me, all those years ago, that I would some day be educating my children at home, I wouldn't have believed it.

Today, I can't imagine doing anything else.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Catching up - again

I hadn't realized it's been so long since I posted! Oops.

It's been productive time, though. Among other things, I've started this year's Christmas decorations, which have shisha mirrors as focal points. Here's what I've got so far.

This is the first one that I've "finished." I'm doing all the surface beading and embroidery before they're cut out. I had originally expected to add more to this, but after the border of beads was done, I felt that anything else would've detracted.

This one looks kind of lopsided to me. I used metallic thread in chain stitch to outline the leaves. It was horrible to work with. I'm specifically using materials with a shine to them, but I won't be using metallic like that again. Not worth the fight.

After finishing this one, I could think of a whole bunch of ways I could've done it better. Ah, well. I was coming up with the pattern on the fly and had only a vague idea of what I wanted when I started.

This one is Eldest's favourite. Just rows of chain stitch in rayon floss with a few beads for interest.

There's going to be a total of 12 when I'm done, 6 on this red cloth, six on a creamy coloured cloth (left overs from the girls' cotehardies), in two sizes, and each will be different.

Unfortunately, as I was stitching another that I don't have a photo of yet, the last one's mirror popped out. I was afraid it would - the guide threads ended up being pulled a lot farther to the edges than I was comfortable with. Better that it falls out now than later, though! I had to do a lot of cutting to get the embroidery out.

It's stitched back in now, and there's no way it's going to fall out again! *L* I've found a way to keep the guidelines from moving too far out. Now, I just use 4 stitches to hold the mirror in place, with the threads wrapped around each other at the intersections. I then go back and wrap the thread around each intersection before going back to the edge and taking the thread to the back. The second image above, with the leaves, has a mirror put on in that manner. It makes for a slightly smaller opening for the mirror, and a tendency for the opening to be a bit to one side, but it's much more stable.

So far, I like how they're turning out.