Friday, August 27, 2010

A Well-Earned Vacation

My mother, Roberta, opening gifts at her retirement party ~ August 26, 2010

Today is my mother's last day of work. She is retiring from Bowdoin College, after spending a better part of her life this far, working harder than anyone I've ever known. Her very first job was picking beans, followed by working on Cape Cod for many summers as a chambermaid. She worked as a bookkeeper in Bangor, and then came to Brunswick where she worked at the Bath Times, which later became the Times Record. Then, it was onto Maine Times, where she worked for 26 years, until it went out of business. How scary it must have been for her, having to look for a new job, 16 1/2 years ago. I've never really thought about that, until recently. My mother has always had an incredible work ethic, never missing work unless absolutely necessary, always concerned about how her absence would impact her work or her coworkers. She had cancer 10 years ago this fall, and even continued to work throughout her radiation treatments. Not all that surprising, because this is the same person who won an award as a senior in high school, for never missing a day of school. It is just the way she has always been.

I know my mother has some apprehension regarding the next phase of her life - - I think she's afraid she'll get bored. I have to admit, I'm very excited for what's to come. I'm hoping that now, my mother and father will be able to begin doing more of the things they've always wanted to do. Goodness knows they both deserve it.

On Sunday, they will set out on a road trip cross-country, with their destination being Idaho. You see, there is a little yellow house next door to my home, and they'll be living there for the next few months. I'm so happy I can barely stand it. I love my parents dearly, and the thought of having them as neighbors for a bit, makes me happier than I can even begin to explain.

Congratulations, Mum. I'm so incredibly proud of you, and I am so happy for you and Dad. See you soon!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

First Day of Second Grade

Griffin and I just returned from dropping Camden off at school - - where did the summer go? I'm not sure what happened this year, but it seemed like summer was over and done with in a flash. As you can see, my boy decorated himself with a multitude of industrial strength Star Wars tattoos last week, and for whatever reason, I cannot get those things off. We even tried nail polish remover, to no avail.

Camden was very happy to have received a call from Steve this morning, and a call from his Aunt Kasey and cousin Banzer last night, wishing him well. I think this helped get him really excited for the first day. Griffin has been down at the mouth ever since we returned to the house, and keeps saying, "How much longer til my Cammy comes home?" I just casually reminded him that now that Camden is at school, he can play with Camden's toys, and that snapped him right out of his little funk.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Teacher's Survival Kit

I've been seeing a bunch of versions of a teacher's survival kit on the Internet lately, as the school year is just about to begin. Camden wanted to make one for his new teacher, so over the last couple of weeks, we've been collecting treats for her. We went to Michael's where we found a plain photo box that was just the right size, and a great package of stickers to decorate our box with.

Here's to a great 2nd grade year for Camden, and a great first year of preschool for Griff!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Progress Report: Camper Edition

I've been a busy girl this week! Steve took the boys on a little camping trip and I even found myself ALL ALONE for approximately 24 hours - - I seriously cannot recall the last time I was alone for that long in my own home. I had grand plans of going here, there, and everywhere, but in the end, I never left the house. It was so nice to just do whatever, whenever. I spent most of the morning putting the finishing touches on the interior painting job in my little camper. Here are some befores and afters:

Kitchen before

Kitchen after

Icky light fixture before

Lovely little light fixture after

Boring little corner before

Tiffany Box blue delight after

I didn't get a picture of the closet before, but here it is after its makeover anyway

I love what a little paint can do. What was drab and tired is now bright and new, and I love it. The next big jobs to tackle will be laying the plywood down on the bed frame, and laying down the linoleum. Not sure when I'll be able to squeeze either of those in. I'm trying to control myself before I go too crazy decorating...want to get the big jobs out of the way first. I'm just itching to find the perfect vintage reproduction fabric to make curtains though, and decorate the walls. So much fun!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hand-Crafted Goodness

When I was in Maine this summer, I borrowed a necklace from my mother a couple of times, and I just loved it. It was green, with large, wooden beads. I love necklaces, and after returning to Idaho, I kept wishing I had one like it. One day I decided to email my friend Kate, and see if she might be able to fashion something similar. I've told you about Kate before - - I've known her practically my entire life, and I sometimes daydream that we are neighbors and that we spend countless hours crafting our brains out. Lo and behold, Kate said "no problem", and got right to work. Before I knew it, a package arrived in the mail, and I couldn't be happier with the results. Kate hand-dyed the wooden beads and added some extra flair, creating a unique, beautiful piece of jewelry that is going to get lots of wear.

I took the liberty of hijacking one of Kate's pictures (thanks, Kate!) because her camera takes awesome pictures, and I wanted to show the neat little details she added:

I love the detail on the end, and the clasp. Then, a few days after I received my necklace, Kate posted this on her blog. Now, I'm obsessed with her new glass tile map pendants, and am scouring the house for an unused map of Idaho so I can have her make one for me. I'm probably going to need a Topsham pendant as well, come to think of it.

If you'd like to see more of Kate's creations, check out her Etsy Shop here.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

How to Pop Popcorn (without your microwave!)

I think I've mentioned that my microwave died (it actually caught on fire) well over a year ago, and I've never bothered to replace it. The only time I really miss it is when I have leftovers to reheat quickly, but not enough to run out and buy a new one. However, without a microwave, how are you supposed to make popcorn? When I was growing up (back in the olden days, as Griffin calls it), my Dad always popped popcorn on the stovetop. Sometimes he would even shake the popcorn in a big paper bag with powdered cheese...yum. I seriously don't think there is anything quite as good as stove-popped popcorn. Go and make yourself some!

The most fool-proof way to make it is to make sure your oil is properly heated before pouring all of your kernals in the pot. So, place 1-2 tablespoons of canola oil in a medium-sized pot over medium heat. Add just 3 kernals of corn to the pot, and cover with a lid. Now, just wait. No need to shake the pot just yet. When you hear those 3 kernals pop, the oil has heated sufficiently, and it is time to add approximately 1/3 cup of popcorn kernals. Once you've done that, shake the pan back and fourth across the burner, so the corn doesn't burn. Once the corn stops popping, remove from heat and pour into a large bowl.

Then, quickly lop off a couple of tablespoons of butter (please, do NOT use margerine) and add to the pan. You do not need to put the pan back on the is still plenty hot, and that glorious butter will sizzle and melt just fine.

Then, spoon that melted butter all over the popcorn, stirring to mix evenly.

If you're feeling particulary froggy, steal the powdered cheese from a box of macaroni and cheese and sprinkle some of it over the buttery popcorn. Now, go snuggle up with a good movie and enjoy!

Monday, August 16, 2010

My New Favorite Summer Salad

I tried the following recipe last week, from one of my favorite blogs, Hope Studios. It is easy and really delicious...definitely a keeper. It makes a ton, so if you don't want a gigantic bowl of salad, just cut the recipe in half.

Hope Studio's Easy Tortellini Salad

1 bag of frozen, tri-colored cheese tortellini (plain will work fine if you can't find tri-colored)
1 can artichoke hearts, quartered
1 can large black olives
1 pint grape tomatoes
1/3 cup crumbled feta
1/2 cup Ken's Steakhouse Caesar Salad Dressing

Jennifer suggested adding grilled chicken to it if you intend it for a main course, but Steve and I found it plenty filling with the tortellini, so I left the chicken out. We ate it all weekend, and it got more flavorful each day. It takes no time at all to prepare, and is a wonderful summer salad.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Squash & Zucchini Casserole

My sister-in-law Kasey gave me a big bag of squash from her garden last week, and I was so glad because I had a recipe I was really wanting to try. I read about it in the most recent issue of Cooking With Paula Deen.
Squash & Zucchini Casserole
(I halved the recipe, and we still had enough for two meals. The amounts I've given are half of what was printed in the magazine)
3 cups yellow squash (sliced 1/4 inch thick)
3 cups zucchini (sliced 1/4 inch thick)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 cup yellow onion, sliced thin
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup crushed Ritz crackers
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray. In a large bowl, combine squash, zucchini, salt and pepper. Arrange half of the mixture in a layer on bottom of dish. Top with half of the onion, and half of the cheese. Repeat layers, ending with cheese. Sprinkle with crushed crackers. Cover with foil and bake for approximately 40 minutes. Uncover and bake until lightly golden, about 10 minutes more.
We both really enjoyed this dish, although next time, I think I may try sprinkling each layer with grated Parmesan for added flavor. Even better the next day, as leftovers!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Getting Started

This past weekend, Steve and I started working on my camper! The deal was that he was going to give me pointers and help me along the way, but as it turned out, he had a bit of trouble relinquishing the power tools and did most of the work. Oh well! He's very good at projects such as this, so I was happy to play construction assistant, and I don't know about Steve, but I had fun working on it with him.
I guess the first thing I need to do is show you what I am working with. Be forewarned - - it isn't exactly pretty. I got a heck of a deal on it, and I think it is going to suit my needs just fine. It is 45 years old, and for the most part, has been gutted on the inside. The man who owned it before me had used it to transport handmade jewelry to flea markets all over Idaho. Unfortunately, he'd cut a hole in the side of the camper and installed a ramp, but again, the price was right and I was willing to overlook the weird ramp.

Here is a picture of the outside of my camper. It is a tiny little thing - - only 10 feet long. On the left, you can see the ramp. Not ideal, but Steve assures me it can be removed, wall framed back in, and a window reinstalled. It doesn't really bother me that much, so it is low on my priority list at the moment.

Here is the back end of the camper. The ramp is on the left wall but not pictured. Pretty rough shape. Originally, there was a small bed that folded up to a bench seat, and a table. That had been removed.

Here is the hitch end. To the left is a good-sized closet, and to the right is the door to the camper. Even though I plan to camp "dry" (no plans to ever use propane), I like the little kitchen. Needs lots of work though.

This is my hired man, getting down to business. The plan was to build a sturdy frame for a full-sized bed. A comfy bed is the most important feature to me in the camper, so even though it will take up most of the floor space, I'll be sleeping like a queen!

Power tools!

The previous owner had slapped a bunch of white paint all over the place, not using tape or anything and kind of slopping it onto the light fixtures, too. So, I'll need to spruce those up as well.

Lots of white paint on all the drawer pulls, too.

Here is the finished project. All bolted into the wall and super sturdy. We have to add some supports to the center of it, and put plywood over the top. I'm going to make a bed skirt for it, and then I'll be able to store plastic totes underneath. I've got a bunch of paint swatches taped to the wall, and I think I've decided on some colors. Steve came up with a great idea for painting all of the cabinets that I can't wait to get started on. Next on my agenda is to apply sealant to all of the seams to protect against leaks, and then I will start painting the interior. More pictures soon!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Birthday Cake Fit for a Dog

A peanut-butter-bacon-milkbone delight!

Good old Riley celebrated his 13th birthday this past weekend. The boys wanted me to bake him his own birthday cake, so I paid a visit to my good friend Google, and, lo and behold, the Internet is just bursting with dog cake recipes. Riley is rather fond of peanut butter, so I settled on a peanut-butterish cake for him.

Peanut Butter Birthday Cake for Dogs

1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 very heaping spoonful of natural peanut butter
1/8 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup honey
1 small egg

Mix all ingredients together well. Spread into a 6" round pan. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for approximately 25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. (The recipe above is halved from the original, because I wanted a small cake. If you double it, just bake it in an 8" pan).

Remove cake from pan and cool completely on wire rack. Once cool, drizzle top with natural peanut butter, and sprinkle with bacon bits.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Status Report: Griffin Peter

Griffin, enjoying some "corn on a stick"

Age: 3 years, 11 months. 4 is so close he can taste it, but he is frequently overheard saying, "I'm about to turn 7!"

Height: 3 feet, 1 3/4 inches

Weight: 32 lbs., soaking wet

Hi Griffer, how are you? Good.

Griff, what's your favorite color? Blue, because I love blue so much.

What's your favorite thing to eat? I'd pick ice cream.

Who is your favorite person in the world? favorite person is....CAMDEN!

Then how come you fight with him all the time: Because I like to!

Griffin what are you doing right now? Playing trains!

Tell me about your mother: I love her.

Then how come you give me such a hard time? Because I love you, that's why.


Griff, would you like to be done with this interview? Uh-huh. Bye!

At least once per day, Griffin will say to me, "Mummy, wouldn't it be cool if you had a baby in your tummy, and we could name him Little Junior?" Rest assured, we shall remain a family of four.

Although Griffin is growing up, he still loves to be held, still loves to "rub" my hair, and isn't quite sure how he feels about starting preschool in October. That's just fine with me.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Summer Visitors

When my in-laws were here in July, they noticed a little nest in the lilac bush at the side of the Little Yellow House, next door. Turns out, it was a hummingbird nest, and so the boys and I have been checking in on it every day or so, to see how the babes were faring. Luckily, the lilac bush is right outside one of the bedroom windows, so rather than go outside and disturb the nest, I thought I would quietly lift the window and snap away. I was sooooo quiet about it, but Mama Hummingbird heard me, and appeared out of nowhere, chirping madly and dive-bombing my head. I did manage to snap this picture, though. If you look right to the center of the picture, you'll see the tiniest nest, with two little hummingbird heads sticking out of it. They are the cutest little things ever, and boy is their Mama protective. After the dive-bombing incident, I've decided to leave the poor things alone, and we'll go on from here, just looking through the window to check in on them.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Summer Yum

Because nothing says 'summer' like tree forts and Push Pops...

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Off to the Fair

I can now say that I feel like an official Gem County Resident, because yesterday I finally entered some items in the county fair. I have wanted to do this for years, but never just buckled down and did it. So, yesterday morning I got up at 5:00 a.m., and had quite a good time, baking my little heart out and preparing my entries for judging. Then, the boys and I trudged over to the Expo Hall and dropped everything off. I then spent the afternoon waiting to go back to the fair to see the judge's results, and to get a look at all of the other entries. In the end, my rosemary bread took first place (in all fairness, there was only one other loaf of bread entered!), my mother's whoopie pies earned a blue ribbon, Steve's favorite cookies earned second place, and my photo of Camden and Violet at Reid State Park took 3rd place in the amateur/action photography division.
Whoopie Pies are unheard of for the most part, out West...and when I submitted my entries yesterday, they really threw the ladies for a loop. They wanted to know, "Is this a cake? Is it a cookie? The name states 'pie' it a PIE???" Those poor women just wanted to know what the heck they actually were. After much discussion, they finally agreed with me that they should be entered under the "filled cookie" category, but I had to state that clearly on my entry tag 'so as not to confuse the judges'. Too funny!
I cased the joint and made some mental notes for next year, and have a new plan of attack, because I really need to win the coveted "Queen of the Kitchen" ribbon....

Sunday, August 01, 2010

UPDATE: Homemade Laundry Detergent

Remember this post? Well, I just made my second batch of detergent, and I did it a little differently this time. After grated the Zote soap, I spread it all out on a cookie sheet and let it dry out for about 24 hours. Then, I put it back in the food processor with the chopping blade. By drying it out before chopping it, I ended up with more of a powder consistency with the soap, which is what I'd been hoping for the first time I made it. So, I'd really recommend letting the Zote dry for a day before chopping it and adding it to the rest of the detergent mixture.

I'm still very happy with this detergent. Griffin's skin has been so much better since I started making it myself, and I really love how "clean" my laundry smells. Very economical, and there's something about making it myself that I just really love.
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