Friday, November 13, 2009

What?

Who am I?

Where am I?

Old age must be rattling my cage because here I am, about to leave for a 2.5 week trip, and I am feeling calm & collected. Yes, there is still laundry to be done. Yes, my kitchen floor is a disaster. Yes, the yard looks like the local birch, oak, and beech trees all had a giant collective sneeze directly onto our lawn. Yes, I still have to pack for all 3 of us. But I don't feel frantic at all.

I feel happy. And excited. And a little laissez-faire.

So we no longer have a portable DVD player, and I am little worried about how to keep the kids from screaming for 4+ hours on the plane. I suppose that's why crayons & coloring books are the eternal entertainment standby.

So I won't be home to start my Christmas crafts. Here's a little secret.... other towns have fabric stores too.

So Big Sis will miss 2 weeks of school. It's KINDERGARTEN for Pete's sake. If there is one grade level where I think I can keep up with the work, this is it. I may not have this luxury when she moves into first grade and starts learning quantum mechanics.

So our little family won't be all together for Thanksgiving. Big Daddy doesn't even like turkey!


I think my new attitude is one part unemployment (with a renewed appreciation for time with my family & what REALLY matters), one part desperate need for a vacation, and one part desire for a change of scenery before the bitter cold of winter.

Bon Voyage - we'll be back December 2.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

eBay Mania

I am a long time fan of eBay. While not an early adopter of any sort of technology, I happily admit to being on the eBay bandwagon for almost ten years - nearly a lifetime in internet years. You really can "find it all" on eBay. I've bought household goods, apparel, accessories, gifts, and even my wedding dress on eBay.

eBay is addictive. Enter a search term, and browse away. If at first you don't succeed, wait a day and try again. Eventually you'll come across what you want. It's also dangerous - it's so easy to keep adding more and more dollars to your bid - and then you realize you're in over your head, and spend a few hours (or days) sweating it out until you are finally outbid in the last hour. Not that it's ever happened to me, I'm just sharing a funny anecdote. Ha Ha.

I've always been a buyer, but never dipped my toes into the pool of selling on eBay. We recently came into possession of an item that seemed to be a great fit for eBay - a coveted technological device with a strong resale value, so I dove in and tested the waters. Beyond the anxiety of living through a 7 day auction and obsessively hitting the refresh button to update the most recent bid price, it was a great experience. Templates make it easy to organize the key information, and combined with crisp photos and an item description filled with flair, I think I could become addicted to selling instead of buying.

In a fit of practicality and organization, I've listed a handful of other items - all of which have sold for amounts that make me - and my Paypal balance - very happy. Looks like Christmas is covered. Do YOU eBay?

PS - I used to get really worked up about how much people want to charge for shipping.... but after being on the other side of the fence, I can assure you that shipping is EXPENSIVE. And sure, I may end up making a dollar here and there on shipping costs, but I can also guarantee that when you open a shipment from me, you'll be pleasantly surprised at the care I took in folding, papering, and packing your new treasure. Lesson learned.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Fab Friday: November 6

November has brought cooler weather and sunny skies (thank you for the sunshine!). A few mornings have delivered frosty coatings to our plants and cars, sparkling in the first rays of daybreak as we munch our breakfast cereal.

In effort to organize and reduce the clutter, I've been trying to clean, purge, and sort our bins of stuff. In doing so, I came across my first quilt. Begun in the days when we had moved cross-country to live with my in-laws while Big Daddy started school, this pink creation had languished in storage, nearly forgotten through the course of many moons & many moves. It was near complete, with just half the binding to stitch. I pulled it out and got to sewing, finishing it in a matter of a few hours one evening.

Do you believe in serendipity? I do.

(And no, I don't mean that awful movie with John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale. Blech)

Serendipity, as defined by the ever-trusty Wikipedia, is "the effect by which one accidentally discovers something fortunate, especially while looking for something entirely unrelated".

The same day I finished stitching away, I came across a blog posting on The Jet Set. She was making quilts for a few charities across the country, and offhandedly mentioned a project to send quilts to Appalachia. An unknown force compelled me to click through and learn more. Rachel Cox is the driving force behind The Mountain Baby Blankets project, which has created a blanket drive for families in Appalachia. Reading her postings and gathering bits of information about the region and its people have struck a chord in me. These are people who are among the poorest in America, with epidemic levels of prescription drug abuse, alcoholism, toothlessness, and the shortest life span in the nation. While I tend to nurture the hard shell around my heart, Rachel's description - "Part of my childhood was seeing babies in the supermarket, wearing only diapers, with little, tiny, dirty feet." tugged at me. My vivid imagination conjured an image of a malnourished babe shivering in the cold morning air, no blanket to be found, no cozy fire to snuggle up to, no fleecy pj's to bundle in.

I'm going to donate that blanket to The Mountain Baby Blankets project, and will make at least 2 more in the next week to send. There's a lot going on around here, but I feel this is something I HAVE to do. Looking at my precious little ones all snuggly in their beds, comforted by their own warm quilts..... No baby should be cold. And what's a blanket to me? Just a few short hours on the sewing machine. If you'd like to donate - and you can make or buy your blankets - please send them to:

Kendra Duck
Christian Appalachian Project
2610 Palumbo Dr
Lexington, KY 40509

I have bins of baby clothes that I've saved from years past, and I think now is the perfect time to continue to sort & disperse. Because if those babies need blankets, I'm sure they can use some very gently worn garments, too.

To learn more about the Appalachian people, please visit Children of the Mountains via ABC News.

I know this post is a digression from my usual self-centered Friday ramblings. But what could be more FAB than a little service??

Pumpkin Patch and More

In the middle of October I decided it was high time to check out the local pumpkin patch options and find our perfect pumpkins. I'd seen ads for Blakes Farm, so one Saturday - the least rainy but coldest & windiest Saturday in the last 4 weeks - we decided to pack up the family truckster and see what all the hoopla was about. And boy, was there hoopla.


Part fair, part carnival, part U-pick farm, Blakes Farm has something for everyone. And I think "everyone" in the metro Detroit area had arrived on that Saturday.


We took a cold and windy hay ride out to the pumpkin patch, which also took us through the U-Pick apple orchards. We abstained from both, as the pumpkins were very expensive, and I wasn't prepared for apple picking.

Apple picking is serious business you know, and requires extensive mental and physical preparation. Not really, I just didn't have any way to transport them home.


The kids had fun wandering amongst the pumpkins and deciding what size & shape they wanted. We actually ended up purchasing our jack-o-lanterns from a roadside stand on the way home - still keepin' it local.


Blakes Farm also had a large kid-friendly area with animals, a jump house, straw mountain, swings, tractors, tricycle race track, corn maze, and more. Sorry, no corn pool here. Must be an Iowa thing.


Big J checking out the wooden train while Sis & Dad climb straw mountain.


For a girl who is mildly afraid of heights, she did an excellent job.

See the tongue? That's how he looks about 66.2% of the time.


The winner & new champion of the Trike Track. Fun was had by all. But I think next year we'll try and go during the week.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Ultimate Cinnamon Buns

One Sunday I turned on PBS, and was immediately enraptured by Cook's Country. It wasn't so much the program - it was what they were making: Ultimate Cinnamon Buns. Big Daddy and I settled into the sofa, and watched, mouths ajar, as they whipped together the biggest, fluffiest, most delightful looking breakfast treat. I immediately printed out the recipe, and have been plotting a good time to test it out.

There are a lot of bad cinnamon rolls out there. From the mundane (Pillsbury) to the mediocre (Cinnabon), cinnamon buns are an indulgence that I have previously been intimidated by. About 2 years ago, I found a delightful recipe in Bon Appetit, and happily used that for a while. This recipe makes a good, solid cinnamon roll. Good cinnamon rolls take time, and because I am both lazy and hungry in the morning, I prefer to make them the night before, then pop in the oven once I awake the next day.

But last night, with a free weekday looming and a full moon luminescent in the night sky (that moon makes a girl do crazy things), I decided it was the perfect time to take those Buns for a test drive. They were everything I have ever hoped for in a cinnamon bun: the dough was smooth, malleable, and elastic. The buns themselves were pillowy, flaky, and with exactly the right amount of cinnamon + sweet. Paired with an icy glass of milk, these made a delightful - and filling - start to our morning.

Cholesterol beware: these babies have 12 tbs. of butter in the dough. I plan to make them no more than twice a year (Christmas morning, Big Daddy's birthday), and my love handles are already thanking me.

Ultimate Cinnamon Buns

From the episode: Rise and Shine, Cook's Country TV

Dough
3/4 cup whole milk, heated to 110 degrees
1 envelope (2 1/4 tsp.) instant or rapid-rise yeast
3 large eggs, room temperature
4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp. salt
12 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces and softened

Filling
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 1/2 Tbs. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
4 Tbs. unsalted butter, softened

Glaze
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 Tbs. whole milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar

Instructions
1. For the dough: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 200 degrees. When the oven reaches 200 degrees, shut off. Line 13-by-9-inch baking pan with foil, allowing excess foil to hang over pan edges. Grease foil and medium bowl.

2. Whisk milk and yeast in measuring cup until yeast dissolves, then whisk in eggs. In bowl of stand mixer fitted with dough hook, mix flour, cornstarch, sugar, and salt until combined. With mixer on low, add warm milk mixture in steady stream and mix until dough comes together, about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium, and add butter, one piece at a time, until incorporated. Continue to mix until dough is smooth and comes away from the sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes. Turn dough out onto clean surface and knead to form a smooth, round ball. Transfer dough to prepared bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place in warm oven. Let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

3. For the filling: Combine brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt in small bowl. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Roll dough into 18-inch square, spread with butter, and sprinkle evenly with filling. Starting with the edge nearest you, roll dough into tight cylinder, pinch lightly to seal seam, and cut into 8 pieces. Transfer pieces, cut-side up, to prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in warm spot until doubled in size.

4. For the glaze, and to bake: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk cream cheese, milk, vanilla, and confectioner's sugar on medium bowl until smooth. Discard plastic wrap and bake buns until deep golden brown and filling is melted, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer to wire rack and top buns with 1/2 cup glaze. Cool 30 minutes. Using foil overhang, lift buns from pan and top with remaining glaze. Serve.

Make ahead: After transferring pieces to prepared pan in step 3, buns can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated for 24 hours. When ready to bake, let sit at room temperature for 1 hour. Remove plastic wrap and continue with step 4 as directed.

Enjoy!

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go jog around the block 1,216 times to burn off this scrumptious treat.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween Happenings


I am so glad that Halloween is over. Although I like to dress up, and carve pumpkins, I don't really like decorating for the holiday, and I definitely don't like getting spooked. This year, Halloween dragged out over the course of a week, beginning last Saturday with Trunk or Treat. Big Sis then got to wear her costume to Ballet on Tuesday, to school on Friday for a costume parade, and then we dressed them both for trick-or-treating on Halloween. Although there's something to be said for getting my money's worth out of the costumes, I am still happy to be DONE for the year!

Big Sis was a "Night Fairy". Night Fairy because she wanted to be a fairy, and I wanted to re-use her black tutu from a previous ballet costume. I purchased a black leotard (which she can wear to ballet class), and we had white tights, her tutu, and silver glitter shoes. Her wings were from her Tinker Bell costume (2 years ago), and she had recently torn them by accident. I deconstructed them, wrapped them in tulle, then painted them with glitter. I bought the headband from the dollar store (a pack of 3), and wrapped a black rose pony tail holder around it for decoration. We accessorized with silver and opalescent eye shadow and crystals on her face. I think the makeup was her favorite part. She also won "Cutest Girl" at Trunk or Treat!

Big J was Indiana Jones. We had the shoes & pants, and I purchased the shirt & jacket from Children's Orchard. I made his messenger bag from some tan fleece I already had, braided the whip from some leather cording, and bought his hat from the Dollar Store. I trimmed the hat down a bit & added the brown ribbon hatband to make it look more like a fedora and less like a cowboy hat. Most people got that he was Indiana Jones, but some thought he was an explorer. Close enough. He wasn't that into trick-or-treating, but once he realized that people would put candy into his bag, he was VERY excited.

Halloween night was clear but cold & windy. We hit about 6 houses in the neighborhood, with Big Sis and Big J hand in hand up to the doors. J did not master "trick-or-treat", but would wave when he received candy. I retired home with Big J while Big Daddy and Big Sis continued around the block. Several nearby houses take Halloween very seriously, with adults all dressed up & "haunting grounds" constructed with places to jump out & scare passersby. I also noticed that several families drove & unloaded packs of kids to canvass the neighborhood. We were prepared with some candy, but will need to buy more for next year.

Hope you had happy hauntings!