Saturday, December 31, 2011

Wrap Up: 2011 Goals

Back at the beginning of the year, I set a few goals for myself. Not vague resolutions, specific goals with measurable outcomes so I could concretely see how I was doing. And then I posted about them here so I felt accountable. Here we are on the last day of the year, so it's time to take stock on how I did:

Save at least 10% of our income (also 101 in 1001 goal #47): I want to put aside at least 10% of this year's gross salary in emergency fund cash. This one gave me a total headache because of Josh's job change! He had a couple weeks off work, and also switched from a set monthly salary to a slightly variable bi-weekly salary. I felt like I was doing some advanced algebra by the end of it. I did take the time to update it though, and we did put aside 10% of this year's income. Earlier in the year, I thought we would save a little more than that, but paying to move and choosing to go to Disney made it more feasible to stop at 10%.

Complete 12 sewing projects throughout the year:
  1. I made the kindle cover (incorrectly) and had to ditch it
  2. I helped Sierra sew a bag for her book club
  3. I finished the full size quilt I was working on
  4. I FINALLY sewed a sea turtle patch on Sedona's quilt that was supposed to be done years ago (it was hand sewing, so it totally counts even though it was small)
  5. I made my niece's baptism dress, which should really count as two projects because I made a practice dress out of scrap fabric and then made the real dress
  6. I made a table top fort for the girls (pictures coming later)
  7. I made some wings for Sedona
So, not quite 12 unless you throw in tiny, 5 minute mending jobs. Pretty good though. I have some projects in mind for the coming year, but we'll have to see how it goes.

Exercise (also 101 in 1001 goal #8): My goal was to tone up and get over the pregnancy aches and pains without losing weight. Success was to be measured by not throwing my lower back out at any point after March 31, comfortably fitting into my favorite skirts by July 31, and running one mile without stopping at some point before the end of the year. The gallbladder troubles I had for the first half of the year really got in the way of this. I did end up satisfying all the requirements I set for myself though. I still need to really work on building muscle mass and improving my core strength.

Work my Brain (also 101 in 1001 goal #12): My goal was to accumulate all 75 continuing education hours (CERPs) I need to recertify my IBCLC. I have 68.25 CERPs right now. I decided to take a few advanced practice courses rather than go through all the paperwork to get credit for the classes I teach, but I am already signed up for them and will finish them today or tomorrow and be done with that.

All in all, a good year. I'm happy with what I accomplished. Now to think about what goals to have for next year!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Year End Round-Up

Another year is drawing to a close and just like last year, that means it's time for a quick look back at what we've been up to!

In January, I shared our activities for studying Level 1 Ancient Egypt

In February, I figured out and posted about getting baby eczema under control. I also shared our activities for Level 1 Ancient Greece. Then I posted the ugly truth about hyperemesis gravidarum.

In March, I finally manged to catch some baby giggles on video

In April, we took a trip down to Moab, UT and I shared a hard earned lesson on pediatric dentistry and the contagiousness of cavities

In May, I compiled my friends' and my reviews of the individual recipes in Fix, Freeze, Feast and I shared activity ideas for Level 1 Ancient Rome.

In June, I set up a map of our road trips that lets you click on a marker and bring up a list of blog posts I wrote about that location, so you can find the ones interesting to you. I also announced we were moving back to Texas.

In July, Sedona gained another year and I lost a gallbladder.

In August, we moved back to Texas with stops at Devil's Tower, Mt. Rushmore, Jewel Cave, and The Mammoth Site along the way.

In September, we went to Disney World!! (there's actually an 8 post series on that, but I'm only linking to the first one)

In October, Sierra turned seven.

In November, Secora had her first birthday and we had a really great time visiting a fabulous children's museum.

In December, we had to say goodbye to sweet Max who passed away much too young.

It has been a year of incredible highs and incredible lows. There is a lot of 2011 I wouldn't trade for the world, and a few things I'm gladly leaving behind. I think the biggest lesson of this year has been the importance of friendship. Family is number one and always will be, but true friendship should never be underestimated.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

You'll Shoot Yer Eye Out!

I was born and raised in Texas. By staunch conservatives. I was shooting guns at Dr. Pepper cans and ranch pests before I ever made it out of elementary school. I grew up to marry a competitive shooter.

So when I was working on my 101 in 1001 list, I decided it was high time Sierra be introduced to gun safety and made it goal #60 to teach her how to shoot a BB gun.

My parents got her a BB gun for Christmas. A pink one, because it wasn't actually on her wish list and they hoped if she was horrified by it, the pink would somehow persuade her to at least give it a chance. Sierra is a rule follower and overly cautious and anxious about everything in life. She also loves the movie A Christmas Story, so we all wondered if she would unwrap the box and then refuse to touch it. To our surprise, she was very excited about the BB gun and all the accessories she got, and it was happy-go-lucky, not a care in the world Sedona who said, "Sister! You'll shoot your eye out!" Sierra very quickly pointed out, "Nun-uh! I also got EYE PROTECTION! And Daddy's gonna teach me all the rules!"

After some serious discussion about those rules, Josh took her out to give it a try

It didn't take her long at all to figure out how to aim

And she was so excited when she started making some good shots!
Not quite an official red ryder carbine action two hundred shot range model air rifle, but apparently a pink daisy works just fine.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Shaped Bokeh For Dummies

I am a photography dummy. We bought a relatively cheap DSLR camera 2 years ago and I've mostly left it set on auto or aperture priority. I've read through Pioneer Woman's basic tutorials a few times, but when it comes time to catch some good candid shots of the kids, none of the information seems to have really stuck.

But when I first saw a picture with shaped bokeh in the background, I knew I had to figure out how to do it. I tried and tried to follow what the tutorial was saying, but it didn't really click. A few days ago, I found more information and finally managed to put it all together and produce this

I was SOOO excited. And I thought some of you would appreciate step by step directions and visuals on how to do it.

First up, you need a shape cut out of black paper or plastic to hold in front of your lens. You can buy kits with shapes already done for you, or make your own. Ideally, it should be something that fits over your lens, but since I was just playing around, I just used construction paper and held it up.

But once you've picked a shape, you need to know what size to make it and this is one part I didn't understand at first. On your lens, there's a number followed by "mm". If your lens has a range, then as you zoom in or out, there is a mark pointing to a certain "mm" number. If you set your camera in aperture priority mode, there is also an "f___" number you can set. If I use a 50mm lens and set the camera to f2.5, my shape has to be 20mm (50/2.5) or less. Depending on your lens, you may need a pretty small shape.

Next, you want to set up a shot with lights in the background. I also didn't understand this. All those pretty fuzzy shapes don't just show up, there will be one "cut out" for each light. A lighted Christmas tree lends itself well to this, but some people also set up backgrounds with small lights.

I only have the one camera, so I just put one of my lenses where my camera would be to show you how everything was laid out. You're going to be far enough away from the lights that they will be fuzzy in the background and then if you want another object that's the focal point, it will be much closer to the lens


When you look through the camera, you want to adjust the focus until the lights look like this
Or with an object in front, it looks like this (perhaps with better lighting on the object, but you get the point) If you keep looking through the camera and move your shape cut out in front of the lens
What you will see through the camera and what will show up when you take the shot, is this: Because I was holding the paper and didn't have it completely flat, I got that fish-eye effect, but still, you can understand the idea.

Once you understand how to set it up, it's so easy to do even a photography dummy like me can make all sorts of neat pictures! I also had great fun taking off my glasses and holding cut out shapes in front of my eyes and looking around. I have extremely bad eyesight (worse than 20/1000), so I easily get the exact same effect you see in the pictures.

Have fun before you take the Christmas tree down!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Cauliflower!


Cauliflower is supposed to be rather difficult to grow. This is the first year I've tried it. I stuck transplants in a garden bed that hadn't been used recently, ran a drip line to it and pretty much left it for several months. I pulled weeds occasionally, but did absolutely nothing for pest control. And Voila! Cauliflower has appeared! Cauliflower has to be "blanched", that just means you use the leaves to cover the cauliflower, which protects it from the sun and keeps it white. I knew this, but had no idea how to go about doing it and have never seen it growing, so I searched the internet a bit and it seems you just have to shade it, so I went with the idea of using clothespins to pull outer leaves over the top. Apparently I was supposed to do this a little bit earlier than I did (before I saw the cauliflower), but it doesn't seem to have made a big difference. I'm plotting what cauliflower dish we'll eat later this week, I can't wait!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Gingerbread House Party

Earlier this week, I turned this and this
Into this and invited several of our friends over for a gingerbread house party!

I've been making gingerbread houses with the girls every year (though, last year they ended up being graham cracker houses). This year, to celebrate being closer to friends again, I decided to share the fun with them and turn our gingerbread houses into a party. I forced myself to keep the guest list pretty short for this first go around, there were 11 kids total.

4-5 days before the party: I made all the gingerbread. If you are making a lot of houses, you can start this a day or two early so you don't have to do it all at once. I was on the lookout for a new recipe this year and I found one that was a keeper once I made a few small changes. The gingerbread you use to make houses is different than the gingerbread you use to make cookies. It's stiffer and uses less of the spices and other more expensive ingredients. It's edible, but more suitable to holding up a lot of candy than winning any awards for good taste. Also, I'm providing all the measurements by weight, not by volume. This is a lot more accurate way of measuring things like the flour and shortening, and you don't really want to go to all this trouble just to have the houses fall apart, so I'm sticking with weights (even for the liquid ingredients). We have a small, cheap kitchen scale we use constantly that worked just fine for this (I put a measuring cup on the scale, zeroed it out, then added the ingredients).

Building Gingerbread (suitable for houses)
Makes 2 houses
8oz brown sugar
12oz shortening
10oz corn syrup (light is fine, dark will make darker dough)
6oz molasses
1 Tbsp ground ginger
2.5 pounds flour
2oz warm water

1. Mix sugar, shortening, corn syrup and molasses.
2. Add ginger
3. Slowly add flour, the mixture should be very crumbly
4. Add water.  If mixture is still crumbly (especially if there's not much humidity), add up to 2 more ounces of water.
5. Divide into 3 pieces, wrap in saran wrap and chill overnight in the fridge

***Update 12/12/12: I shared a spreadsheet that will create your shopping list for you if you are making multiple houses.  Input the total number you want to make, and you'll be given the amount of each ingredient you need to have on hand to be sure you're not running to the store at the last minute. I also learned the hard way that even the Professional model kitchen aid mixer cannot handle a double batch of this dough. 

***Update 12/16/13: I've learned that if you continually combine/re-roll your scraps, you can get away with eliminating about one recipe of dough for every 18-20 houses.  For instance, for 20 houses, you could make 9 (maybe 8 depending on how thin you make the pieces) recipes instead of 10.  

3-4 days before the party: I cut out and baked all the pieces. I got this cookie cutter set*, which kept everything uniform and let me do everything assembly line style. There are a few keys to getting nice pieces that are uniformly shaped. First, is having a well floured surface. Then, roll the dough out about 1/4 inch thick. Once the pieces are cut, use a scraper (this is mine*) dipped in flour to lift the pieces onto the pan without distorting the shape. Bake the pieces on a foil or parchment paper lined cookie sheet at 350 degrees for about 15-18 minutes. When the pieces come out of the oven, immediately cut them again with the cookie cutters. I've left out baking soda and baking powder in the dough recipe, but the pieces still puff up a bit. By cutting them as soon as they come out of the oven (when they're still soft enough to cut easily), you make sure to have edges that are straight and line up nicely. Once the pieces have cooled enough to pick up, they need to go on a cooling rack to cool completely. This helps air circulate on all sides so the pieces aren't soft. I stored the pieces overnight by stacking them with paper towels between each piece to absorb any moisture.

2 days before the party: I assembled the walls of the houses. Royal Icing works for this because it dries hard and holds the pieces together. Because we were going to have a bunch of kids over for this activity, who are likely to eat their houses, I used a meringue powder recipe rather than egg whites.

Gingerbread House Mortar
assembles about 12 houses, make extra for decorating
6 Tbsp meringue powder
3/4 c water
2 pounds powdered sugar

1. Mix all ingredients until smooth, add up to 1 cup more powdered sugar if needed. Icing should not drip off a spoon.

You can put the icing in a disposable decorator bag or a quart sized zip top bag and clip the corner off to pipe it on easily. Josh had the great idea of making myself a little template so I knew how big the houses were going to be. I cut out a piece of paper in the same size square the base of each house would be. I was assembling each house on a 10" cardboard cake base*, so I outlined my paper square lightly with pencil, so I had a very easy guide of where to put the icing.
I piped lines on the cardboard for 2 adjacent walls:
Then on the side of a gabled end piece:
This let me attach one end piece and one side (note, the side wall is outside the gabled piece):
After all of my houses were done to this point, I went back to the first house (where the icing was now set up some) and piped icing on the inside edge of the exposed side piece, along the edge of the gabled piece, and on the cardboard for the other two sides of the house:
 I attached the other two sides, being sure to add icing between the gable and wall that were being added:
At this point, the houses need to set up over night so they can support their roof.

1 day before the party: I put the roofs on the houses. I used icing I had leftover from the day before (kept it in its bag in the fridge overnight) and piped it along the exposed edges. Once both sides of the roof were on, I piped more icing along the middle top to help hold them. The roofs need to be held for a minute or two when they're put on, but they set up pretty quick.

I also made sure I had all the candy I needed this day. I requested each person contribute $3 per house they wanted to decorate to help cover costs (this took care of the candy and cardboard bases, I donated most of the gingerbread ingredients).

The day of the party: I opened up the bags of candy and put it all into plastic bowls. Be sure to split more popular candies into more than one bowl. I also made up another batch and a half of mortar. I put mortar in sandwich sized zip top bags so that each kid would have their own bag of icing to use. Update: I've switched to using disposable decorator bags because they hold up better.  I probably could've gotten by with just one batch of icing, but I wanted extra on hand in case we needed it and I used the leftovers to decorate some gingerbread men.

All of the kids showed up right on time. Turns out mine weren't the only ones anxiously wondering if it was gingerbread house time yet. With all the kids lined up at the table with their house in front of them, I got everyone's attention and laid out ONE ground rule before they got started. I asked them to try really really hard not to lick their fingers while they were working so we didn't share a bunch of germs. Then we turned them loose. I asked moms to stay and help their kid(s), which was helpful, I think, but 1 adult for every 3 or 4 kids (depending on ages) would be fine. The 4 and under kids needed a lot of help putting their icing on, the 6 and up kids were almost completely independent. I try to avoid posting pictures of other kids unless their moms also blog, so you'll just have to take my word for it, this was very serious business. Every picture I have, all the kids are very intent on their houses.
(those plain houses in the back are because one poor girl got sick the night before, so she and her brother couldn't come. I packed up icing and candy for them and their mom picked up their houses to decorate at home)

It took 25 minutes for them to cover the houses and decide they needed to go play outside. After all their friends were gone, my girls went back and added a few more pieces of candy.
She doesn't have mumps, her mouth is stuffed full of candy

A fun time was had by all and I think there's a good chance we'll be hosting another (bigger?! or maybe in 2 shifts) party next year!

Update!  The post all about the 2012 party (which I made 23 houses for!) is now up. 

*Affiliate Links

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Productive Weekend

Man, last weekend flew by.

Saturday, I went running with a friend. We meet up for our long runs, which has been really great for me because it keeps me accountable all week long. Josh and I usually run together (the little girls ride in the jogging stroller, Sierra rides her bike), but with just the two of us, it gets easy to say, "eh, we're too busy today to fit in a run". I have someone else counting on me showing up on the weekend though, so if I skip the weekday runs, the long run on Saturday or Sunday is gonna suck. When my friend and I get done, Josh goes out by himself, which gives him a chance to run faster than he can when he's keeping pace with turtle-ish me.

I also did some cake decorating. Max's big sister Holly has a birthday coming up this week, so I made the cakes for her little party. It was a wild animal theme and we decided on a paw cake and a monkey cake. They came out pretty good! Not sure if my Aunt Beth even reads the blog, but she gets total credit for getting me started on cake decorating! One day I'll teach the girls the ins and outs of frosting roses and shell borders and turn over my decorating tips!

The girls also got letters from Santa. They had written him letters and given them to his helpers at the local holiday parade. He always writes back and they get a kick out of it
I was impressed because Secora (obviously) did not write a letter, but one of her sisters (I can't even remember which one) included a line in her letter about "please bring some presents for my little sister, Secora". Well, Santa's helpers are really on top of things and really read these letters because Santa even wrote to Secora! She was very excited to be handed her very own envelope, but a bit chagrined when she remembered she can't read


The rest of the weekend involved gingerbread dough, gingerbread dough and more gingerbread dough. I'm very thankful to be closer to friends again and decided to expand our usual gingerbread house tradition into a party for several of our friends. The big day is coming up, so I started working on the houses Sunday. I'm looking forward to having everyone over and hoping the kids enjoy it!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

I Ran A Mile

That's right. I ran a mile. No walking. And I actually enjoyed it.

I haven't said anything because someone might get the silly notion to hold me accountable to the goal, but I'm planning to run another half-marathon in March. So I started running again a few weeks ago. It's actually gone really well. Surprisingly, I've done better at keeping my weight up since I started (not sure if that's because I'm hungrier or building muscle mass back up, but whatever). I feel better too.

But back to this mile. Honestly, the first 400 yards pretty much sucked. But then I got a good pace going and it was really alright. Took me 11 minutes and 20 seconds, which I think is pretty good for not having run in quite a long time. I have a lot more work to do before I can run more than a mile (consecutively, anyway, I've been alternating running with walking because overall I'm more concerned with distance than non-stop running)

And it completes 101 in 1001 goal number 8, which was really looking pretty unattainable for a while there!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Finding Normal Again

We are trying to get back into our routine here. Difficult with a homeschooling momma who can't sleep very well at night and feels at though the world is a bit off balance, but we're managing.

It's good to laugh though and there have been some laughs over here.

Last night, Sedona was talking to Secora in the car and she says, "Do you know you can be anything you want when you grow up Secora? Just like me! I'M going to be a cowboy! Hmmmmm.........actually......I'm gonna be a COW! Moooooooooooooooo!!!"

(we aim high...nothing but the best is acceptable here!)

Today Sierra is learning about cnidaria. Jellyfish are included in the cnidarian group, so we primarily talked about those (with a LOT of interjections from Sierra quoting Finding Nemo, complete with surfer dude accent). An adult jellyfish is called a medusa and I asked Sierra if she remembered the word "medusa" from anywhere else. I prompted her to think about last year when we learned about Greek mythology. After much thinking, she shouts out "Mike Wazowski's girlfriend with the snake hair! That's Medusa! so they're medusa because the tentacles look like a bunch of snakes!"

(we're not an anti-Disney family, in case it wasn't clear)

Part of the cnidaria lesson included making models to illustrate the jellyfish life cycle, so if you show up at our house today, there's a good chance you'll be attacked by a solo cup with pieces of yarn hanging out of it.

Friday, December 9, 2011

One Week Without Max

The last week has been draining, to say the least.

Yesterday, Max was laid to rest. He is at peace.

His family is at the beginning of the most difficult journey of their lives. There will be smiles and laughs as memories are shared. There will be tears and anger at the unfairness of it all. There will be good days where things seem almost normal again. There will be days a toy or drawing turns up and feels like a punch in the gut.

Those of us standing on the edges wish we could share the burden. Wish we could take the pain on ourselves for even a day so they don't have to bear it. But we can't. No words are adequate. No gesture is enough. We ask what they need, but we know the only thing they really want is something we can't give them.

So we do what we can. We love Max. We remember Max.

I knew that curly haired little boy before he was even born and his memory will have a piece of my heart forever.

If you would like to support Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy research in honor of Max, you can make a donation to Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy

Monday, December 5, 2011

Appreciating Today

We haven't woken up from this nightmare. My best friend's son is still gone.

I still don't know how the healthy 3 year old boy that was just laying in my living room and watching Dinosaur Train a few days ago could be gone.

Almost two months ago, I read this article about living with a child with a fatal illness. I saved it because it touched me and I planned to write about it at some point. The end of the article in particular got me:
"Parenting, I’ve come to understand, is about loving my child today. Now. In fact, for any parent, anywhere, that’s all there is."


Now, more than ever, the article hits home. Of course we have to plan for our child's future. We can't shield them from every disappointment, every unpleasantness, every floret of broccoli. As parents there are times when we insist on eating vegetables before dessert and buying clothes instead of a pony. But we also can't guarantee their future. Nothing we do will ensure that they will be here with us tomorrow.

As Ms. Rapp says, parenting is indeed about loving our children today. We do the best we can to help them through life, but primarily we have to focus on loving them in the present. Everything else comes from that.

Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy has set up a memorial page for Max at http://parentprojectmd.org/maxevans

Saturday, December 3, 2011

What We Can Do

A lot of people have visited here today. A lot of people are shocked and hurting and missing sweet sweet Max.

I can't tell you how many times I've heard "How can we help?" in the last 24 hours. I can't tell you how many times I've said it myself.

There is something you can do to help. That is by supporting Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy.

Please visit their page and make a donation in Max's honor. Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy specifically works to fund research into Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (the type Max had). It is the organization Veronica and her family chose to support and they have worked to raise funds for PPMD ever since Max was a baby.

We cannot take this family's hurt away. We can help other boys fighting DMD find a cure.

Max

If you've been around very long, you've seen me blog about Max.

I've known Max's mommy, Veronica, for a long time. Ever since we were both pregnant with our first babies. She is one of those friends where we just "clicked" right from the beginning. She is very very dear to me. Her children are family to me. I've changed them, bathed them, picked them up from falls. I've painted with them, read to them and fussed at them. My children don't know a world without her children.

I happened to get out of bed tonight because I wanted a snack. I noticed my phone flashing on the counter. I had forgotten to turn the ringer back on after turning it off last night. When I picked it up, I saw 4 missed calls from Veronica. It was after 10, so I texted her to see if she was still up. The phone immediately rang again and my heart sank. No good call comes this late.

Surely one of the kids was sick or broke an arm. She needed me to pick up one so she could be with the other. I never could have fathomed she would tell me Max had passed away.

Max was only 3 years old. I tousled his mop of gorgeous curls just Wednesday. He was fine. Absolutely fine.

Max had Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, but he was young and it wasn't affecting his health yet. I knew we were going to have to face losing Max, but knowing that lulled me into believing the next 20 years were guaranteed.

And now he's gone. And I can't breathe. I can't begin to fathom the depths of grief my dear friend who I love so much must be going through right now. My heart breaks because this sweet boy has left us. My heart breaks for my children who will face the reality of death much too young. My heart breaks for Max's entire family.

EDITED TO ADD: A lot of people have visited here today. A lot of people are shocked and hurting and missing sweet sweet Max.

I can't tell you how many times I've heard "How can we help?" in the last 24 hours. I can't tell you how many times I've said it myself.

There is something you can do to help. That is by supporting Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy.

Please visit their page and make a donation in Max's honor. Parent Project Muscular Dystrophy specifically works to fund research into Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (the type Max had). It is the organization Veronica and her family chose to support and they have worked to raise funds for PPMD ever since Max was a baby.

We cannot take this family's hurt away. We can help other boys fighting DMD find a cure.

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