Saturday, October 29, 2005

saving the world from brain-sucking aliens...

it's a good thing it isn't left up to these two goofballs.

This year's costume, improved from last year, had shirts from the OttoMatic game intro, with Chickie's shirt transfer digitally manipulated to be pink and purple and green. Their antennas featured glow-sticks and floral wire, and BigE had a green mahooka thanks to a major donation from the lemon juice bottle.

Still, maybe a younger generation of ottos will stop goofing around and save the entire world someday.

Or maybe not.

Friday, October 28, 2005

eat your Halloween vegetables, dear

BigE's first grade class had a Halloween party today. I signed up to make a veggie tray, because the teacher was imploring us to bring healthy snacks. So... no cute pumpkin cookies, no ghost marshmallows, no cupcake monsters with candy-corn teeth.

What's a mommy to do? A mommy who wanted to use her creative juices to make new, different, exciting Halloween costumes, and instead her kids ask for the same thing as last year?

Well, the answer came last night at about 9 pm. Piece by piece.

First came the flat pumpkins, formerly known as carrot circles.

the lovely plastic sign was cut out of an extra plastic raisin-canister lid which I saved even though it didn't fit any cheap tupperware I own. I folded the pumpkin part up and covered the base (ring part) with the carrots. I mean, with the flat pumpkins.

Next inspiration was the shrunken haunted forest, formerly known as broccoli and cauliflower. Then a pepper bonfire.

Then the hard part: red cabbage and celery. I thought of lots of spooky names for both of them... purple witches' cloaks, green moldy bones, etc. and then I thought, yuck! who's going to want to eat that? And why am I glorifying witches and death and rot?

So eventually late in the evening, the purple cabbage became "more leaves to rake" and the celery became stacked firewood. And I found a creative use for all my non-essential blank cheaperware lids.

I went to bed tired but happy. Halloween vegetables were adorned with shrink wrap. They went to school with BigE in the morning.

And they returned, 98% of them, in the afternoon.

These are first graders, after all, and presumably at a Halloween party there wasn't a lot of incentive to eat carrots, even when shaped like flat pumpkins. So it's veggies tonight and tomorrow night at my house, and veggie soup for supper on Sunday. I can hand out the rest to any trick-or-treaters I get on Monday night, right?

Soap dough... a first semi-successful attempt

I made my own soap dough on Monday.

Here's the recipe I used: 5 cups Dreft, 1/2 cup water, 1/4 cup baby oil (plus more on hands), small amounts of paste food coloring. As you can see, it was as messy and sticky as making hamburger patties. What you can't see in the photos is that it reeked of laundry-detergent perfume. Pyew!

Next time I won't use Dreft. Well, I guess I'm stuck using Dreft until the box is gone... sigh. I'm hoping Ivory Snow isn't quite as perfumey, or else I may be grating bars of soap to do this.

Next time I will also use more baby oil and less water. And if I can find a less-perfumey laundry soap, I might use Kool-Aid instead of paste food color, so that the soap dough can smell like lemonade or mango-berry or whatever.

After I got the dough into sticky balls, I left it out to dry for a day or so. It behaved much better then, and BigE and Chickie were able to make cute little pumpkin soaps.

After two more days, the leftover dough hardened into solid lumps. So I guess I should either use less laundry soap/more water, or use the dough right away.

Overall, the homemade detergent bath soaps were not as fun to handle as the expensive soaps that came with the soap dough kit. They tended to be sticky and/or crumbly, and they had a gritty texture from the undissolved detergent. If I added more water to dissolve the detergent, they turned back into raw hamburger consistency.

But my kids still had fun with it. And they had some homemade bath soaps to bring to school for the make-your-own pumpkin contest, so it served its purpose. Now I have to get cracking on Otto costumes and veggies for this afternoon's school party!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

gratuitous photos

I thought I'd take the time to celebrate the return of my pictures stored at Buzznet.

first up, my crocus pulchellus, still blooming in the middle of my sage, which I simply cannot stop taking pictures of. Look at how lavish the stamens are!

second, my youngest son, who helped himself to a book that I haven't had time to read yet.

note the title. And the blue colored pencil marks. I think Bubbie already has developed his own unique learning style.

Monday, October 24, 2005


Scratch the pumpkins and kitties for Halloween costumes. When BigE, Chickie and I re-discovered last year's "super hero" costume for spirit week at school, they both decided they want to be OttoMatic this year for Halloween. I'm not wild about gun-toting superheroes, but at least Otto is a grade-B science fiction alien robot saving the human race from brain-sucking aliens...

The mask is the bottom of a milk jug, with eye holes cut in it and pipe cleaners inserted into slits the top and duct-taped in place on the inside.
The "mahooka" (as a four-year-old that was BigE's word for bazooka, a.k.a. Otto's big gun) is the top of a one-liter soda bottle hot-glued to the handle of the same milk jug.

The iron-on transfer on the shirt is probably the most expensive part of the costume. We took a screen shot of the game's main menu (option+apple+3 on the Mac) and printed it out on a t-shirt transfer.

Now both kids want to be Otto. Chickie wants to be "a girl otto". I'll have to find some bows to tie on top of her antennas, I guess. We've got the milk jugs and t-shirt transfers... and now I suppose it's up to me to drink some more soda.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

mothers' clam chowder

This is not "my mother's clam chowder". This is a clam chowder recipe for mothers of toddlers.
  1. get toddlers to nap.

  2. Make white sauce over low heat. (equal parts butter, flour and milk - in this case about 2 tbsp each.)

  3. Toddlers wake up. Remove from cribs, allow to wake up fully before placing in kitchen.

  4. Rush back to stock pot. Scrape gook off bottom of pot. Work with lumpy white sauce until smooth again. Thin with more milk. Simmer over low heat. Try to remember to stir occasionally.

  5. removing lid from nearby chocolate chip container reduces lumpy white sauce stress considerably. Caution: do not add chocolate chips to clam chowder.

  6. find age-appropriate developmental toys for toddlers. In this case, unpacking bowls and potatoes provides at least ten minutes' fun for toddlers, and only an hour's cleanup for Mother.

  7. as time permits, chop three potatoes and an onion and add to chowder.

  8. as brain cells permit, rush back to soup and scrape gook off bottom before it burns, stirring frantically and removing from heat. When it gets unreasonably lumpy, add thickener (baby rice cereal works well), stir till lumps disappear, and re-thin with more milk.

  9. Chop another potato and throw it in to make up for the extra milk. The potato lobbed across the kitchen by a toddler is an ideal candidate, provided you can retrieve it from behind the chest freezer.

  10. don't forget to put the laundry in the dryer. Your eldest child is out of socks again.

  11. open a can of water chestnuts, chop the contents and throw it in the soup. Not only does it add a nice crunch, but it may convince any picky eaters you have that all the lumps are potatoes and water chestnuts. Do not mention the word onion in their presence.

  12. after potatoes are cooked, remove soup from heat and add two or three cans of clams and their juices. Add pepper and salt to taste.

  13. if you have chives or green onions in your garden, you can rush out and pick some to add for garnish. But the toddlers might cry if you don't stay outside and play for awhile. That's OK, your soup has to cool down anyways.

  14. Cut chives with scissors or knife into your bowl of soup. Immediately remove scissors or knife from running toddler's hands.

  15. Enjoy your chowder. If it's still piping hot (because you forgot to turn off the burner), frozen corn makes an excellent way to cool it down.

  16. Which is good, since you forgot to wash the ice cube trays and make ice cubes.

Monday, October 17, 2005

We have red! it must be fall now.

We also have yellow!

And purple! (my crocus pulchellus again.)

We even have all three together in one wacky flower!

this is my saffron crocus, finally blooming this year (probably because I forgot to water the garden, and they need a dry summer.)

I didn't know the stamens drooped down like that. And after looking at the colchicums that Knitting Iris brought home, I can see why they are called Autumn Crocus.

I had to Google to discover that the number of stamens is the easiest way to tell crocus and colchicums apart: crocuses have three, colchicums (which are poisonous, don't eat those stamens!) have six.

The three red stamens are the edible part of the crocus - the world's most expensive spice. It takes about 4000 stamens (which must be hand-picked) to make one ounce of saffron, and the flowers only bloom once a year. So I hand-picked my stamens and they're drying in my kitchen window now.

Chickie begged for a stamen, stuffed it in her mouth, chewed it up, and promptly spat it out with much melodrama. BigE nibbled off a tiny corner of his stamen, decided it "tasted like onion" and handed the rest back.

I guess it's a case of pearls before swine, because Mama swine (that would be me) never could taste anything 'wow' in the world's most expensive spice, either. But it does turn your rice or noodles a lovely shade of golden yellow... and Yooper saffron will make a fun surprise present for some of my less swine-ish friends.

Friday, October 14, 2005

the joy of sticks

We went to Wisconsin last week. We said goodbye to Daniel's dad, who died two weeks ago tomorrow.

Grandpa was buried near his father. And near his brother, who died at the age of three days.

It reminded me again how precious life is - and what a gift it is to have two boys born seven weeks early. If Mac and Bubbie had been born seventy years ago like Grandpa's brother, they may not have lived much longer than the uncle none of us ever met.

But Grandpa lived to the ripe old age of 74. He lived long enough (as was his plan) to see all of his children married - and to see thirteen grandchildren. We had a nice reunion at Grandpa's funeral. He would have loved to watched the grandkids playing.

We also experienced joy on a much smaller scale: the joy of sticks.

Sticks for deer antlers, trees for climbing, sticks for poking into the grill.

The cousins from Tennessee played "clay pigeon" by shooting their long skinny sticks at a short chunk of wood one of them threw up in the air. The cousins from Mississippi ran up and down the wheelchair ramp, running their sticks along the rails to make music. All the cousins traded sticks and traded stick games.

Sticks, the great unifier of the cousins, the source of fun for age one to ten. Who needs TV or Nintendo? Grandpa would have been proud of them, seeing how well they all played with sticks. And he probably would have had a story or two from his own "stick days."

Thursday, October 13, 2005

oh goody, Halloween!

I've never been a big fan of Halloween or trick-or-treating. But I love costumes, especially the challenge of thinking up costumes that can be made with limited time and limited resources. I think I got the love of that challenge from my mom. Buying a $20 pre-made costume at Stuff-Mart has always seemed like cheating to me.

This was BigE's Halloween costume last year - he wanted to go to Kindergarten as "three pumpkins stacked up on top of each other." It took a lot of mental energy to work it out, but not much effort to put together once we had an idea where we were headed.

Top pumpkin was his head, painted like a jack-o-lantern. The other two pumpkins were giant plastic orange snack bowls, punched top and bottom with paper punches and then strung together over Big E like a double clamshell, with "green vines" (green string and green curling ribbon.) An orange shirt and green pants (and green hair!) completed his costume.

And for nearly a year we had plenty of popcorn bowls... until Mac and Bubbie discovered they made great step stools, scooters and landing pads, at which point they all broke.
Chickie's costume was an emergency last-minute creation as she saw BigE getting all the attention (and makeup.) She wanted to be a kitty. Fortunately she had a kitty jacket, so all it took to transmogrify her was a black triangle nose and some white whiskers. As you can see, she was quite pleased.

This year BigE wants to be three pumpkins... with some bats flying around. Chickie wants to be "Hello Kitty." Believe it or not I'm actually a bit disappointed, and hoping to talk them into something different... so that I can have fun too.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

our "small" house

We live in a small house. A mobile home, to be more precise. A 1973 single-wide Marlette mobile home with two additions on it. A total of 900 square feet for six people.

By most American's standards it isn't nearly enough space. But by most of the rest of the world's standards, our house is huge.

There are times we are content living here. There are also times we're convinced we need more space - times where our contentedness is a conscious choice and not made easily. But it helps to remember the things we like about owning a small house:

  1. As Christians we know that "this world is not our home, we're just passing through." Owning a small, aging mobile home reinforces this concept. We're glad that this is not our permanent home, even if we do spend our remaining 50-or-so years on earth in this aluminum box. It makes us yearn for heaven, which is a good thing.

  2. Less floors to vacuum. Less windows to wash. Fewer knick-knacks to dust. Smaller tub to clean... need I say more?

  3. I can hear what everyone is doing from anyplace in the house, without monitors. I know if one child is picking on another, or if a baby wakes up from his nap, or if the washing machine is done.... or if everything is suspiciously quiet and I need to go investigate. At night I can hear when a child turns over, or cries, or is developing a bad cough... or gets up for the third time to see if the clock in the front room also says it's too early to get up.

  4. Fewer lightbulbs to change, less vacuuming, fewer rooms to heat. It's better for the environment -- and better for our utility bills.

  5. Because we made the choice to live within our means (in part by not buying a larger house), I can stay home with our children and not have the stress of finding and keeping a paying job and good childcare, taking time off work when the kids are sick, etc.

  6. We have to kiss a lot of "stuff" goodbye, because all our stuff does not fit in our small house. For a dyed-in-the-wool packrat, this is a good thing. It helps me not form too many attachments to mere "things" and frees me to be creatively generous with my extra possessions.

  7. We have to keep the house somewhat tidy just to survive. If the computer table is full, there is no other place for our papers to go without being eaten by a pair of one-year-old teething boys. Since I have no natural tendency to clean, it's good to have external motivation. This also keeps the piles from getting so large that I don't know where to start. (At least most of the time it does!)

  8. It brings our family together. Quite literally. And when we need more elbow room, we go outside and enjoy nature - something we have in abundance here. Something we might otherwise forget to enjoy.

Don't we want a bigger house? Sure, sometimes we do. But meanwhile, we're content. Sometimes it's an act of will to be content, and sometimes it is a genuine joy to live here.

And it also helps to remember that for most of the planet, our house is a luxurious mansion: Indoor plumbing! Three separate bedrooms! A room just for sitting in! Our very own washer and dryer! And even space to store hundreds of books, and craft supplies, and a computer and printer!? Who in sub-saharan Africa or rural Asia wouldn't trade houses with us -- provided they even have a house to trade?

These luxuries are all gifts that we take for granted far too often -- but they are that: gifts. Excellent, wonderful gifts that we don't deserve -- but are really glad to have.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

it sort of doesn't seem like fall...

...when there are raindrops on the Salad Burnet

...and the crocuses are peeping through the sage.

The Salad Burnet got a long-overdue haircut a few weeks ago and now has new green leaves.

We have two species of Fall Crocus planted in our garden: the Crocus sativus - the real Saffron crocus, which is supposed to bloom soon; and Crocus pulchellus, pictured above, blooming now.

Yes, these are real crocuses (not colchicums whose common name is Autumn Crocus.) Thanks to Odyssey Bulbs I learned that there are as many varieties (and colors) of true crocus blooming in the fall as in the spring.

After the first year we have never gotten a bloom from our Saffron crocus, though it faithfully sends up grasslike leaves every spring. But the Crocus pulchellus is doing well, even where the purple sage is overrunning its turf. It's wonderfully refreshing to see crocuses in October when the leaves are changing. It reminds me that Spring is coming soon... right after winter.

Monday, October 03, 2005

dough, dough, dough

It's dough time at our house.

Chickie got Soap Dough for her birthday, which is a fruit-scented, somewhat sticky play dough made of soap.

In a giant tackle box full of cutters, a dough press, and all sorts of pattern rollers, there were:

three tiny four-ounce tubs of Soap Dough.

We used it up pretty quickly making teeny tiny fruit-scented worms and blobs. (One of the websites I read suggested making small single-bath sized soaps to avoid gooey soap blobs laying around the bathroom. Made plenty of sense to me!)

I would feel cheated with the soap dough gone already... but for Google.

It's not a huge surprise that the internet is a ready source for recipes for replacement Soap Dough, whose basic ingredients are soap (grated bar soap or Ivory Snow) food coloring and water, and optionally vegetable oil and/or soap scents.

Now that we have the huge tackle box full of fun dough toys, we'll definitely have to make more soap dough. I'd far rather be making soap dough than buying cool play dough toys*, so I'm glad it worked out that way!

(*if you already have regular play dough tools, they will work just fine for soap dough, though you may need to clean them in between dough types.)

When we do make soap dough, I'll post the full report here.

But that doesn't end our dough fun.

Chickie also got plastic bubbles for her birthday. Somewhere between a soap bubble and a latex balloon, these bubble things have unaccountably given me the creeps ever since I was a child.

Fortunately Big E and Chickie didn't inherit this particular phobia of mine. They had a blast making wrinkly multi-colored bubbles out of toxic-smelling colored goo. The bubbles are now perched all over in their room on their dressers and bookshelves.

But that still isn't all.

We returned to our favorite dough: Sculpey Eraser Clay. We had bought more at Chickie's request, and broke them out after we got tired of the Soap Dough and Plastic Bubbles. The women made pencil toppers this time:

My apple and pear erasers,

and Chickie's beautiful ringed planets. (She left the purple ring on the left sticking out on purpose, to be funny.)

The guys made 'stick' erasers - BigE's are the blue knobby ones, Daniel's is the orange one.

Then Chickie and BigE each decided to wrap up a handmade eraser as a gift for their teachers. That made me glad, that they are learning the joy of sharing their creations. I hope their teachers enjoy them too!