Thursday, December 8, 2011

Thanksgiving with the Tuthills

This past summer we were forced to make our annual pilgrimage to the Midwest at an inopportune time in order to attend the memorial service for Eric's grandfather.  It was a beautiful time and a lovely trip but, since Eric's semester wasn't quite over, we had to return again quickly and we had very little time to visit with Eric's family.  They decided to put aside their distaste for Thanksgiving travel and join us on the East Coast this year to make up for some lost visiting time.  We were thrilled to host Marga and Larry and even more thrilled that Ben flew all the way from school in LA to join the fun.  

I was all in a flurry preparing for their six-day visit and, at one point, Eric said, "So, basically, you want to renovate the whole house before Thanksgiving?"  To which I replied, "Yes."  I didn't, of course, but those of you with a good eye will see hints of several of the projects that have kept us busy this fall and which will get their own treatment before too long.

I love hosting people and putting together menus and while I certainly don't claim to have any particular expertise in that area, it's something I'm actively working on.  My "decoration" budget is pretty much non-existent but I was pleased with the results of working with stuff I mostly had on hand.  I sprang for a pot of mums for our sideboard and ransacked the attic for every small mason jar I could find.  

Pumpkin, Apple and Pecan.  
Of course I forgot to take any pictures of the table set for dinner because we were all starving but imagine a darkened room and all those jars behind the pies lit with candles.  And then a whole bunch more jars with candles on the table.  And food crammed into every square inch.  It was sort of amazing to see that candlelight can really overcome a multitude of shortcomings in the Fine China and Table Linens department. The food was delicious, the company was even better, and we enjoyed nice time with all three Tuthills through the weekend.

The shells make me crazy so these are a real treat around here.

Margaret can peel potatoes!  And squash!

A belated birthday present.

This is what my in-laws do when they are here:  wash dishes.  They can visit anytime.  It was like being on vacation.

Cranberry-red wine-cinnamon.  Note to self:  make a triple batch next year.

Remember Margaret's chicken apron birthday present?  Marga had a matched set made for  us.  I love them except that they make us both look fat.

I had a sinus infection over Thanksgiving which is why I look like death in these pictures.  Someone must have snagged the camera and caught me trying to relax with some knitting while the turkey roasted.

This is NOT our Thanksgiving table but, rather, our Leftover Tea that the three "girls" had on Friday .  We bought that china at an estate sale when we were engaged but we seldom use it because we only have four place settings.

Ben, in the Familial Garb.  Ten points to anyone not related to Eric who can tell me what the real family name is.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Joseph's Birthday, a little late

Guess who finally forked over six dollars and bought herself a new cable to connect the camera and the computer?

We rearranged our "office" awhile back and my not-so-UniversalSB cable for my camera disappeared.  I'm sure I'll find it tomorrow now that I've finally replaced it.  In the meantime, we've been pretty busy and I'll try to catch you up a bit.

Joseph also requested coffee cake for his birthday breakfast but we held off on a birthday cake until his party the next night.


I think he's excited about the treasure hunt.  Not sure why Isaac rearranged the furniture.

Joseph is now seven and we  had a lovely time celebrating accordingly.  After the big shebang we had for Margaret I was hoping for something a little quieter for Joseph and he was fine with that idea.  We had coffee cake for breakfast on his actual birthday and fried fish for dinner (his choice).  The next day his best friend, Andrew, came over, as usual.  I planned a very simple "pirate treasure hunt" for them.  Honestly, I wasn't sure it would be blog-worthy.  I typed up six very simple clues like, "Where do we go when we want to read about Hammurabi?"  Answer:  his history text.
Retrieving a clue from Margaret's sweater bin.

Studying a clue in the kitchen.

 I was worried about making them too easy or too hard but I think that the following along of the game was what was most fun.  Joseph didn't have to think more than a few seconds about each clue but he had a blast "hunting" for his treasure.
Thinking hard . . . where could the last clue be?

Found it . . . but where's the treasure?

On a whim I also made a very simple map of the entire route and this turned out to be a hit with Andrew who loves anything in the in maze/map genre.  He took charge of the map, Joseph read aloud the clues and together they found the treasure. At the end, Andrew immediately made another treasure map and convinced Joseph to play again.

A treasure chest!

With treasure!

Since Halloween was a bust due to sickness and rain the "treasure candy" was a nice stand-in.

And how is our not-so-little seven-year-old?  Joseph spends pretty much all of his spare time either reading or drawing. The last few weeks he's branched out a little into creating 3-D toys out of paper.  He's been really interested in drawing various characters lately and is working on a whole crew of pirates to decorate his bedroom walls.  We love his drawings and it is really fun to see the evolution of his artistic sense.  I will try to scan and post some of his work before too long.

He reads voraciously and has inherited my tendency to be completely oblivious to everything around me if I have a book in my hand.  Now that I see how annoying this can be, I'd like to take this opportunity to apologize to my parents.  But, of course, we're thrilled that Joseph reads so much.  He likes everything:  novels, picture books, non-fiction of all kinds, poetry, magazines.  He'll even pick up the Wall Street Journal, in a pinch.  And, happiest of all, from my perspective, he's often very willing to read to his younger siblings.  He has a real knack for expression and nuance when he reads out loud.

So there's a bit about our most recent birthday boy.  More to come!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Tea Party

Margaret found an old book of mine recently all about Anne of Green Gables.  It's a sweet book full of "behind the scenes" information about what daily life would have been like on Prince Edward Island in the late 19th century.  Included is an extensive chapter on Tea and, especially, more formal tea parties such as Anne would have delighted in.

Margaret became rather obsessed with the idea of planning a tea party of her own to celebrate her birthday.  We had a great time putting it together.  Margaret came up with the guest list on her own including all the women she knew within a two-hour drive between the ages of four and sixty.  There were twelve of us in all and with some careful furniture rearrangement and some fabric repurposing we were able to set up a few lovely little sitting places.

I, of course, failed to take a single picture but Robyn came to the rescue once again with a few lovely shots.

The menu included tea, of course.  We also served chicken salad sandwiches cut into triangles and cream cheese sandwiches in the shape of hearts.  Margaret seriously impressed me by using a cookie cutter to cut a dozen heart shapes out of whole sandwiches (the boys ate the leftover edges, don't worry).  Then we had strawberries and cream and plain scones with jam, marmalade, and lemon curd on the side.  I won't claim to be an expert on authentic British tea customs but it was a delicious menu.  And a big shout-out to Trader Joe's flowers.  We got three five-dollar bouquets of chrysanthemums (because that's the flower Anne spelled to beat Gilbert Blythe in the spelling bee, of course) and filled nine vases with them for the party.  Ten days later, more than half the flowers still look beautiful.

Robyn asked what she could bring and, while I can hold my own in the scone department, I knew that Robyn would come up with a dessert far better than anything I could muster.  And she did not fail to deliver.

Margaret (and Joseph) helped Robyn set up pink frosted vanilla cupcakes with handmade chocolate butterflies and fun butterfly cupcake wrappers.  We distributed them around the room and they were such a nice decoration until I ordered everyone to eat them and I was glad they tasted as good as they looked.  Margaret has crowned Robyn the Cupcake Queen.  And every day she is careful to wear the cupcake charm necklace Robyn gave her for a gift.

And, happily for the little girls, the cupcake wrappers make fantastic crowns.

It was a lovely afternoon with a lovely young lady and it left me wishing for more excuses to put together lovely little parties for friends.

Monday, October 10, 2011

She's Five!

And she's not even my oldest. I remember being five quite well and the memories are mostly pretty happy. Such a fun age and Margaret is already milking it for all it's worth.

The day was slightly less than it might have been because we were all in various stages of a cold that week. That day in particular my cold was exacerbated by Gregory's having been up hourly the night before. I did manage to drag myself out of bed to make Margaret's requested birthday breakfast: coffee cake. It's pretty much everyone's favorite breakfast so it wasn't too much of a sacrifice. Though after she insisted on a traditional birthday cake for dessert that night I've decided that we are having a One Cake Per Birthday rule going forward.

Then we were supposed to have lunch with "G.I. Grandpa" (my dad) and family on their return trip to Colorado but since we'd had a long visit with them the week before, my dad opted to just swing by and drop off presents rather than subject everyone to plague while on a road trip.

The highlight of Margaret's actual birthday was, I think, her violin lesson. She's been asking to start learning for awhile and Eric promised that she could start when she turned five. She was ecstatic and has been very enthusiastic about practice. In this picture she is also wearing one of her favorite birthday presents. Grandma Marga (Eric's mom) had this chicken apron made just for Margaret. It's practical and whimsical and cute and very well-made. And the thoughtful woman who created it basted the finished hem up four inches to leave plenty of room for growth.

The day ended with Margaret's favorite dinner which is "rice and beans." Fancy, huh? What she means, specifically, is the rice and beans that come from a particular Peruvian chicken place in the neighborhood. So, Margaret gets her rice and beans, the rest of us get awesome chicken, and I get out of cooking on a day when I'm sick and already making two cakes. Everybody wins. The cake was chocolate with chocolate frosting with vanilla ice cream on the side. Margaret is all about the basics.

And shortly after this picture was taken (imagine me shouting "don't set your hair on fire!") Margaret sat down on the couch and promptly fell asleep. It's exhausting being five.

Administrative details

UPDATE:  Never mind.  Fun as it was to tinker with different layouts, I like having the categories and archive easily accessible in the sidebar.

Blogger is finally starting to do slightly interesting things in the visual department so I tweaked the organization of the blog a bit, mostly just for fun.

I do want to point out that a neat feature of the new layout are all the options underneath the blog title: Classic, Flipcard, Magazine, etc. You can choose your favorite way to view current and past material and (I think) your computer will always revert back to the last option you chose. But you can change it at anytime. This is a nice option for you grandparents out there who might want to skim pictures or find a particular one. Each view is slightly different but in each one clicking on either a picture or a post title will take you the entire original blog post.

Monday, September 26, 2011

On her way to a big girl bike

We bought Margaret a little bike last summer. She had been begging for one for ages and when we finally decided to get one, the local big box store was sold out in her size. The local hardware store only had a red bike with a "flame" seat. I don't think it's a style typically marketed for girls, but she's never complained. She had fun tooling around with the training wheels for the last year but we decided it was time for her to really learn to ride.

It's kind of a trend now to teach kids to learn to ride bikes with "balance bikes." These are bikes with no pedals and no training wheels and they are based on the theory that riding a bike is all about the balance--pedals just confuse things. This idea appealed to our low-tech/lazy parents ethos but we were not about to drop $100 on a special balance bike when we had a perfectly ugly bike and a perfectly good hack saw already.

After a few minutes of hard work, Margaret was taking her new balance bike (or "coaster bike" as she calls it) out for a spin.

Almost immediately she had her first fall

but she climbed back on like a trooper.

And while I, personally, would have initiated a wardrobe change before riding a bike, Margaret is of the opinion that a long, twirly, pink dress is appropriate in any setting.

These pictures are actually about two months old now as anyone who has seen or heard about our patio recently can testify. On a recent outing to the park Margaret was zipping along on her balance bike a truly alarming speed and I think it might be time to upgrade to the real thing. And get her a helmet.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Oh! Is it Fall already?

Where did the summer go?

It was a busy one for us, full of lots of fun and lots of hard work. In between finishing up work on our upstairs rental unit and beginning our wheelchair ramp, we enjoyed a week at great-grandma's house.

When I was growing up, my mom took us to grandma's several times a week all summer long. While we can't quite enjoy that level of access, we have managed to say for a full week each summer the last two years. As long as my grandma can handle our crazy family, we plan to make an annual tradition of it.

Joseph spent hours hunting for sunfish and trying, in vain, to capture them with his hands. He thinks he was pretty darn close a few times. Better luck next year, perhaps.

Grandma tried, in vain, to teach Joseph to swim. If we were spending the entire summer at the lake, I have no doubt we'd have a couple of swimmers by now, but, with only a few days available, we were unable to convince Joseph that human beings naturally float. (To preserve my grandmother's reputation, she has a strong track record of teaching young people to swim, it was lack of time, not lack of skill that was working against us in this instance.)

Margaret was a bit more brave and almost dunked her head a few times and otherwise tempted fate by walking out as far as she could and jumping around a lot.

William only barely allowed himself to not be completely petrified of the water. He's always had a problem with water, even at bath time, but he did think examining sand at the water's edge was a pretty good time. Each time a motor boat came by he would move a respectful distance up the shore and wait for the waves to subside.

And Gregory just charmed us all with his (then new) sitting skills and winning smile.

I'm sorry it took me so long to get these pictures up. Happy Fall, everyone!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Sunday in the park, with garden

Sunday afternoons are so lovely. It's especially wonderful when we get up and out early enough to get to Mass at 8:30 so that we're home early with the whole day ahead of us. But what to do with that whole day? Typically we either take the train into Manhattan and wander around or go for a drive. Margaret was strongly lobbying for the latter this past Sunday. Eric pulled up a map and made us a list of parks we'd never been to while I put together a picnic dinner.

Making dinner has been a blast lately. Our garden is doing really well. All the lettuce sprouted but between our late start (we could have planted in mid-March) and slugs it was awhile before we got our first harvest. The slugs had us stumped for awhile: they'd emerge each evening just after dark and munch our young leaves down to nothing. After a bit of research we decided that hand-harvesting was the best bet. We--and by "we" I mean Eric unless the kids are up late--keep a slug stick stuck in one corner of our planter box. Each evening we head out, use the stick to pull off any slugs we find and drop them in a cup of salt water. I love animals but I love lettuce more.

Once we got on top of the slugs the lettuce went crazy. We've made lots and lots of salads and we just pulled out some bolted plants and started a second planting. We'll see how that goes. One of the lettuce varieties didn't do as well so we put some parsley in that space.

And we added a mint plant to one end although we hear that mint spreads so we might move that to a dedicated planter.

We also have cilantro and basil on the roof of our shed.

Between our garden and our weekly produce deliveries we've been eating well: lots of salad, lots of pesto, a yummy caprese salad for our picnic last night. We are definitely planting a much bigger garden next year. I never would have thought that container gardening would work so well.

But back to our Sunday. We opted to explore Palisades Park which is on the Hudson River, straddling the George Washington Bridge on the New Jersey side. It's a long, skinny park and it is very pretty but it is largely hiking/biking with some small marinas along the water. We were hoping for more of a "picnic spot with picturesque view." The first place we stopped seemed to promise this but after a few minutes we noticed that the water on the path was rapidly encroaching on our bench. Who knew the Hudson River was tidal?

We found a nice little picnic area and enjoyed our dinner. We are still loving Joseph's FreeWheel. It's great to see him getting around on sloped, bumpy, thorn-riddled terrain.

And here's a couple shots of my new haircut, courtesy of me. I've tried a couple hair salons since leaving Minnesota and the results was always a bad hair cut and less money in my wallet. So I did a little googling, got out my scissors and had at it.

I needed to do a couple of rounds over a day or two to get close to what I was going for but I'm pretty happy with the result. And it was free! Can't complain about spending zero dollars on a decent haircut. Eric has proclaimed it the best haircut I've ever had.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

How do I do it?

Love these rings . . . .

I get this question a lot and I've gotten it quite a bit the last few weeks. How do I renovate an apartment and blog about it and not neglect the children? Am I superwoman?

I thought it might be helpful to take a minute to try and clarify some of the behind-the-scenes logistics that go on around here. First, pretty much anytime "I" am doing something involving long stretches of concentration or power tools, you can assume that all the kids are asleep (rare) or that Eric is watching them. He's a teacher, remember, and doesn't have busy summers. His summer course was canceled last minute this year and that was the final impetus that decided us in favor of spiffing things up in the rental unit. He has plenty of independent work he'd like to be doing but we both knew that being landlords would be equivalent to taking on a part-time job and that's what we've been doing the last few weeks.

Look how I only sort of tip to the side when I'm in a highchair.

Even smaller projects, like building a nightstand, are things I do on the weekend when Eric is putting in time with the kids. It's a fun hobby for me and Eric supports it and it's the kind of thing I tend to blog about. But it's not like I'm operating a furniture store on the side or anything.

Also, the work we put it on things like this is pretty evenly divided. I'm the main blogger around here because Eric has plenty of writing projects of the sort that earn money or advance his career. It makes for more interesting reading to write in the first person so I only write about my half of things. I also tend to do the more interesting stuff. Anyway, I'd certainly rather read about paint color than about the experience of extracting 8000 staples from a wooden floor. But Eric is very generous about taking on some of the grunt work and (literal) heavy lifting that I don't want to--or physically can't--do so that I have the freedom to do fun stuff like finish floors and paint. He is also more gung-ho about plumbing and electrical work which are two things I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole. He's pretty aware of the risks involved and he doesn't do anything too complicated--we're not afraid to call professionals for the hard stuff. But no way do I want to hook up a dishwasher.

And we both kind of enjoy this sort of work. Not that we have very long experience, of course, but I think we're a pretty good team. Our approaches to DIY projects complement each other nicely. I like to do things "right" and Eric likes to figure out how to make do and rig something up. Usually the best solution for our budget and skill set is something in between. Our too-short kitchen counter, for example: If money and time had been no object I would have had us remove the counters, pry them apart, level the base cabinets, buy a new short section and cut it correctly the second time around. Eric thought we should just leave it or maybe jam something in there. In the end, we did use his solution but then I made it look nice and it worked out fine.

Wonder how many fingers I can suck at once . . .

So how do I do it? With a lot of help and by temporarily making these sorts of things a high priority. We didn't do any school during June. I didn't clean my own house at all last week. We didn't order take out but we didn't eat any very impressive meals. Eric didn't get any independent writing projects done. But it wasn't necessary to neglect the children. We only had a babysitter on Friday when it was really crunch time. The kids sometimes hang around when we're working on something but they respect power tools and they are good at keeping their distance. We're very careful to unplug things immediately and the kids have shoes with better toe protection than mine.

I couldn't be happier that our early adventures in home improvement are going so well. I've always been extremely over-optimistic and Eric is always very pessimistic when it comes to these sorts of things and I think we are starting to meet more in the middle (though he did just ask me to research how we could install a roll-in shower--maybe we'll try something simpler next!)