Sunday, October 10, 2010

Some time alone

Not very often, we split on the weekend and do separate things. Chris took the girls to the Santa Barbara Zoo today and I stayed home to work on a painting and hopefully do some fix-it sewing (hemming and such).

I've made some good progress on this painting and I need to stare at it for a while. I'm going to break and switch gears to sewing, laundry, vacuuming and scone making. Nice to have a little time alone, if nothing else to crank up the music without anyone complaining.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

10 Good Things About This Week...

1. We camped at Montana de Oro with some friends last weekend. Good times.
2. Rosie joined Tulip and laid some eggs. Yay!
3. I went to work for a regular 24 hours. Regular. Yesssss.
4. The chickens dismembered a lizard and ate it. Ok, maybe this one doesn't qualify as good, but we had a good laugh talking about lizard flavored eggs. Ewwww.
5. Sofia and Maia spent a couple afternoons with their "manny", Justin. All is well.
6. Chris' Swedish cousins arrived in California for a two-week tour. They stayed with us for two nights and will be back at the end of their trip. So nice to visit with them - their girls are 14 and 18, last time we saw them they were 1 and 5. We're hoping to take the girls to Sweden sometime - they've got horses.
7. We are having a heat wave. The good part is that maybe those million tomatoes and tomatillos I bragged about will actually ripen.
8. Chris and I went for a 6 mile hike on Friday in the heat. Good company, good exercise.
9. Sofia is making banana bread this morning, almost by herself. Yum, can't wait to try some.
10. We are having some friends over for wine this evening. More good times.

Hope you're having a good week, too.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Our Lady Tulip

Imagine my shock on Tuesday when I opened the sleeping quarters in the coop (to do some periodic cleaning) and discovered 4 little brown eggs. A little clutch. It appears that our Tulip is all grown up now.
So I immediately ran and got the camera of course. Then I brought them in to take some more photos. (The big one in the back is a large egg from the store for scale.) They are smallish because she still has some growing to do.
Then I took them back outside and placed two in each of the nesting boxes. Egg #5 was in the "wrong" place but she laid Egg #6 in a nesting box. Smart cookie, that Tulip.

Yes, we ate them. Yes, they were delicious.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


That's Maia's silly name for ratatouille. Gotta love 5-year old humor.
Ratatouille was a hit - now I just need a movie called "Broccoli Soup" and "Turkey Sandwich". I used a combination of several recipes but started mostly with this one from epicurious making some significant changes based on the comments. I also looked at Julia Child's ratatouille recipe and a version that was supposed to be like the one in the movie. Here's my summary:

2.5 lbs tomatoes
8 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
thyme* and herbes de provence*
1 T sugar*
tomato paste*
1 cup chopped parsley
olive oil (I used significantly less than what was called for in the recipe)
2 small eggplant (I think they were the Japanese variety)
2 large onions
3 bell peppers (I used 2 green and one red)
2 medium zucchini (I sliced mine thin, instead of in chunks)
1 other squash (it was green and round, quartered and sliced thin)
black pepper
* added based on comments in recipe

- I made the sauce per the directions in a 5 quart oven safe sauce pan, adding a few different ingredients, and leaving out the basil. My understanding is that basil is not a traditional ingredient in ratatouille.
- Then I tossed the cubed eggplant in salt as directed.
- I cooked the vegetables as directed but with much less oil and only sauteed the squashes briefly. I added the onions, eggplant, and bell peppers to the sauce as each was cooked.
- Instead of cooking longer on the stove, I layered the zucchini and other squash on top of the other vegetables and put a buttered piece of parchment paper (cut to size) on top of it all and put it in a 400 degree oven for about 40 minutes.

I could imagine using individual ramekins to cook in the oven and serve and it would look prettier on the plate. I could imagine more eggplant too. I think mine were a little too small.

I'm supposed to start working next week a regular 24-hour per week schedule. I still haven't worked out all the child care details but hopefully it will all come together. I am looking forward to the regular paycheck but I am a little (hehe, understatement) anxious about how "it will all get done". I don't want to give up my cooking adventures, my garden adventures, my trips to the farmer's market. I'd gladly give up some of the more mundane tasks of the week but of course I can't abandon that stuff either. So I decided to start a painting. I know, there's no logic but it will all work itself out. Hopefully. More the on the painting soon. Hopefully. There's that word again.

I have a new name that bird - can't believe we've lived here 6 years and we've never seen this little one. Any guesses out there?

Friday, September 03, 2010

Garden Fun

When we got back from vacation last weekend, we found that our garden had exploded. In a good way, not literally. Tomatoes took off, tomatillos too, spinach grew, basil, cilantro, parsley, pumpkins - oh my goodness - I think the pumpkins may try to take over the entire yard. It's been fun. Maybe it's the cool summer we've had, but things take longer to grow and mature than I expected. Growing some of my own organic food has made me appreciate what organic farmers are doing even more.

The other night I made a frittata using zucchini, tomatoes, and basil from the garden. This time next year, I'll be able to make it with eggs from the chickens, too! It was delicious. It also had goat milk cheddar and came from an egg recipe book I purchased recently. I'm getting really excited about the eggs (hence the egg recipe book)... none yet, hopefully sometime in October. Chickens are doing great, looking mostly mature but their combs and wattles are not fully grown or bright red yet.

Ok people, this is really good. It's my very own recipe for tomatillo sauce. Here's what you need:

30 tomatillos, without husks
1 shallot, chopped coarse
2 cloves garlic, chopped coarse
1/2 t salt
handful cilantro
juice of 1 lime
1 "Italian Roaster" pepper (I'm growing these in the garden, they're long and green, smallish, not spicy but of course you could substitute to your spiciness liking)

First you roast the tomatillos under the broiler for about 5 minutes on each side, so they start to blister but not blacken too much. Try to save the juice that inevitably spills out on the pan. Put the tomatillos and the juice in the food processor, along with all the other ingredients and process until smooth. I put the cilantro in last so you can still see some green flecks. If you find it's too thick, add some water. That's it. Super yummy. We had some on trout last night and I plan to use the rest on some roasted poblanos this weekend.
Here we are on vacation last week. We visited Chimney Rock Winery, where we married 15 years ago. Sofia and Maia enjoyed seeing our wedding place and had fun pretending to marry and then not quite as much fun while we tasted some wine. Afterward, we had a wonderful lunch in Yountville at a French bistro that served all kinds of "frenchie" things like rabbit and duck and other somewhat unusual choices. Among other things that weren't rabbit, we ordered their ratatouille, which was a big hit with everyone. Who would think that Maia would love ratatouille? I'm positive that the movie had something to do with that. That's fine. We need all the help we can get to broaden her narrow palette. Ratatouille is on my menu this week - let's see if the movie can help me too.

One final note, and hopefully won't sound too preachy. While we were on vacation, three of Chris' cycling teammates were struck by a car while on one of their regular morning training rides. Two were injured seriously, one requiring knee surgery, and one with multiple pelvic fractures, also requiring surgeries. He may be out of commission for the better part of a year. The third rider required stitches on his face. A fourth rider was able to avoid the collision. It was truly frightening for Chris (and for me). One of the riders is one of his best buddies. The good news is that they will recover. What struck me is the response I got from several people when I mentioned the accident. They said things like, "What are they doing riding on that road?" and "That's a dangerous road for cars even!"

Chris' friends were riding single file and obeying all traffic laws. The driver turned left in front of them. She said she didn't see them. I feel for her because I know we all make mistakes while driving. What I would like to point out is that cyclists have every right to be on the road and are protected by our traffic laws. We need to be looking for them. I love a cyclist. If you're reading my blog, you probably do, too. Let's keep our eyes out for them. So here's a new public service announcement slogan:

Share the Road. It's not just about kindness, it's the law.

Peace to one and all.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Happy Birthday, Stephen!

The Helgren family welcomed their second baby boy in the wee hours of July 4th, yesterday. His name is Stephen Christopher and he comes just a week shy of his big brother Thomas's 3rd birthday. We are very excited to meet him this coming weekend.
Look Stephen, we made these decorations for you! Well, actually we made them for our 4th of July dessert and fireworks party, but how cool is it that you'll get fireworks on your birthday every year! Once again, we failed to take photos from the party but it was fun. Lots of kids, lots of dessert and the annual walk over to the open field to see the fireworks. This year I made fresh fruit tart, brownies, blueberry crumble, and peach cobbler. Chris made peanut butter cookies and chocolate chip cookies. The peach cobbler was the biggest hit.

I decided to try batik dyeing silk play scarves for the 4th of July party this year. First, you might ask, who in their right mind tries batik dyeing for the first time and decides to make 17 silk scarves all at once the day before 40 people are coming over? Me. Ok, so it was a little ambitious. But I have a reputation to uphold. Every year we've done this party, I've given some sort of creative, homemade party favor to the kids.

I certainly have a new appreciation for batik dyeing. The results of my efforts were nice enough, but not at all what I intended. Partly the problem was that I had limited tools and it made painting the wax much more crude and messy. I had all these intricate patterns in my mind (I know, silly me). Also, I was under the impression that the blue I used would cover the red better so I really intended these to be red, blue and white - not red, white with a tiny bit of blue. I think I didn't use enough dye and maybe didn't use enough of the fixer.

So, I won't quit my day job to become a batik dyeing professional.
Lastly, here's a view of the birds from the kitchen window while we were getting ready for the party. I'm off to Oregon tomorrow for some soil and groundwater sampling. Then I'll rendezvous with Chris and the girls in the Bay Area to visit with our new nephew and his family. Have a great week!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Summer Fun

I have some fun stuff to share, all which are not original ideas, but still so fun. But first here are the birds looking cute. This is Poppy, Daisy (?), and Rosie. We can't tell the Barred Rocks apart at this point so it could be Violet, but no matter.
Last month I was browsing around in the Azure Standard website and found a sprouting screen. Ooo, that sounds like fun, I thought. So I bought one and some sprouting seeds and voila! Sprouts in just a few days. So easy! I followed the instructions on the screen package - you basically soak the seeds for a few hours, drain, rinse and store inverted to continue drainage. Then you rinse and drain a couple times a day, store in a cool, unsunny place. It took 3 days to fill this jar. And Maia likes them - bonus!
I don't remember where I saw the scrabble piece pendants first, but I've been gathering supplies for this little project for a while now. I had a 40th birthday party to go to last weekend and thought these would be the perfect gift. I followed the instructions in this tutorial by I found my scrabble pieces on ebay. My designs are made with some papers I had, except for the little bird, which I drew. I used a product called Ice Resin which seems pretty easy to work with (I've never used Diamond Glaze so I can't really compare).
I gave three pendants and a ball chain necklace to the birthday girl. This one is my favorite, on a leather necklace. Sofia and Maia each chose a favorite too.
This necklace tree idea comes from a couple places. My mom has a necklace tree made from twisted metal wire that I've admired and a friend of mine uses tree branches in her home to display various pretty things. I have some beautiful jewelry boxes but somehow I always forget to wear necklaces. Maybe I'll remember now that they're staring me in the face!
Chris had trimmed some branches from our pepper tree to use for the coop and there were some leftover branches - my jewelry tree was born! Its base is a glass cream bottle with glass marbles to hold the branch and weigh it down.

We're halfway into the second week of summer and having fun so far. Swimming lessons, library trips, lunch with Chris, harassing... er, playing with the chickens, eating snap peas straight off the bush... But work has reared its head and I may be traveling to Oregon for a few days. So, we may be scrambling to arrange child care but at least it's some work. How does the saying go - beggars can't be choosers?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

School's Out, Chickens Are Out

The coop is done and the chickens are out. They have been out for 4 nights now and have learned to put themselves to bed and come down from the roost in the morning. They seem to be very content. I am very content to not have stinky birds in the house.
I'm not sure why it is that the last couple weeks of school have to be so busy with BBQs, plays, potlucks, and last minute field trips. It didn't help that Sofia had her ballet recital on Saturday, which involved some extra rehearsals. She was fantastic though. After watching her Shakespeare play at school and then her dance recital, we have confirmed that she is a natural performer. And I'm so happy Grandma and Grandpa Marc came to visit this weekend. Sofia felt very special that they were there to see her. More photos over at flickr.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


My California Wild Rose. Isn't she pretty? There are a bunch more on the way. I love this plant and I kind of wish I had put it on a more prominent place in the yard.
We've settled on flower names for the chickens and since I don't run a military dictatorship, we have middle names too, which were selected by Sofia.

First we have Poppy Honeybee, our Buff Orphington:

Next is Violet Viola, one of the Barred Rocks:

This is Rose (Rosie) Cocoa Bean, a Black Sex Link:

This is Daisy Dear, the other Barred Rock:

And finally, Tulip Petal, the other Black Sex Link:

They are just over 3 weeks now and they weigh between 5.5 ounces and 7.4 ounces. Tulip is the biggest and Rosie is the smallest. Coop is coming along but no photos to share yet...

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

One of My New Favorite Things

I've made these veggie patties a few times now and I love them! Maia, not so much, but so few things please her that I can't really count her opinion on whether a recipe is a keeper or not. This provides the start to a very healthy meal and would be easy to keep vegan if you were so inclined.

I have been using this basic recipe from I've always made the patties for dinner, not breakfast as the recipe suggests. Instead of rice, I've been using the red quinoa that they have at Trader Joe's. The patties haven't held together well for me (though I have to admit I haven't followed the recipe exactly when it comes to the "refrigerate for 20 minutes" part) so this last time, I added an egg. To serve, I toasted some whole grain bread, rubbed it with a clove of raw garlic, and added some sliced goat milk cheddar. Yum!

Chickies are doing great. Growing like little weeds. They seem to get along just fine - no one has assumed the Queen Hen position yet. We spent a great deal of time in the yard this weekend working on the coop (mostly Chris) and the garden watering system (mostly me). I'm excited to show the coop in a couple weeks or so.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The chickies have landed!

We are now the proud parents of five chicks; two Barred Rocks, two Black Sex Links, and 1 Buff Orphington. I started out to get four, but the store selling the Barred Rocks would only sell a pair, whatevah!

No names yet. We are considering Greek goddess names, deceased family member names, or jewel names. Chris wants to name them Bob, Harold, Frank, Joe, etc. but I'm not so sure. Pretty silly. There are a couple more photos here and I'm sure there will be a million more soon. Peep!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Oh, hello. You still there?

Gosh, I didn't mean to go so long without a post. Spring has sprung and it's such a pretty time of year around here. We've got Santa Barbara daisies, several varieties of sage, lavenders, and every dandelion imaginable (ahem), all in bloom. We have a caterpillar named Freddie who should be emerging as a Gulf Fritillary butterfly any day now. But I guess the biggest thing going on right now is some serious yard planning and transformation. Think - lots of weeding. Think - homegrown veggies. Think - chickens! Here's how it happened...

Chris says one day recently that he wants to buy a new bike frame (you knew it had to do with cycling, right?). It's new, it's better, it has a custom Fast Friday paint job, and it's great deal, he says. It's such a great deal, that he can likely sell his current frame for the same price. Sounds great, right? So I say, as long as it doesn't interfere with my plans for planter boxes and chickens, (oh, and it doesn't involve me changing jobs), it's fine with me. Wink, wink. Chris must really want that bike frame because he's been working really hard in the yard.

We built three 4'x8' raised planter boxes, arranged them on the lawn, and re-routed the sprinklers to a drip line in each box. I have started a bunch of seeds inside - kale, spinach, tomato, zucchini, cucumber, ancho pepper, snap peas, beans, basil, catnip, cilantro. We're a little late on some things but that's ok, we're learning and we'll see how it goes.

We have also selected our coop location and we purchased some plans for the coop. We decided to get chicks and raise them because we've read they will be more docile and friendly than if we bought pullets. We're going to start with four and perhaps increase to six hens. We've been doing lots of reading and we're very excited.

I'm also stalled on a couple of cute tiered skirts - finished one but not the other. Maybe now that the girls will be back in school it's time to get back to that little project.

So that's what we're up to, how about you?

Friday, March 05, 2010

What a Week!

Ah, a finished sweater. This one took nine months. Not bad, considering the last one took a year. Yikes. I like this one, alot. Already got my eye on another... but no plans to start it, yet. The details: Pattern by Flint Knits, called "February Lady". I used Louet MerLin yarn, which is a merino-linen blend. I poured through buttons at Michael Levine in Los Angeles and found these, love them. Thank goodness there's still a bit of cool weather left in this winter.
We had a couple appointments for Maia this week. First, a check up at UCLA on Wednesday. They are very pleased with Maia's progress and decided to keep her medicines the same. We had a blood draw on Thursday that was one of the worst yet - and probably had to do with Maia having had a tough week already. She took a bad fall at school on Tuesday - running full blast, she tripped and fell straight onto her face. Poor thing had a huge fat lip and swollen nose. Today, the swelling has improved a lot but the bruise is - wow! - every color of the rainbow and runs from her lip up to her eye. I felt so bad, picture day was Wednesday, the day after this happened. I was there because I was dropping her off after the UCLA appointment and it was hard to watch them try to get her to smile. It will be a memorable picture I'm sure.

Over the weekend I read the "Young Reader's Edition" of Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. It is a truly inspiring story and I hope to read the original version soon. I think I will hold off reading this book to the girls for a bit or skip a couple parts, I haven't decided. It talks about him being kidnapped and held at gunpoint and I'm not sure I want to explain all that. I don't know, I'm still thinking about it. Anyway, he's a neat guy and he has a neat family and I want my kids to know about his work, sometime.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Making Ready a Plan

I find myself in between deadlines. Sure, there are unfinished projects (plenty of them), but nothing pressing. So, I am starting a new process, a new project, a new craft. I want to make a quilt coverlet for our bed to replace the tired old store-bought thing we now have. I want it to be fresh, bold, modern, clean. I want it to tell a story and last many years. I dug into flickr for some inspiration and here's what I came up with. It's sort of all over the place but it's a start.

1. Vintage Scarf Quilt by Ouno Design, 2. Birds & Blooms baby quilt back, 3. Two Baby Quilts, 4. The back of Strips and Bricks Quilt, 5. Front., 6. "Box of Chocolates" Quilt_02-25-09_09, 7. quilt, 8. "It Takes A Village", 9. blocks and stripes quilt, 10. Hideaway quilt, 11. Bridie's Quilt, 12. The Tree Quilt, 13. Waves of Green Quilted Wall Hanging, 14. Work Quilt, 15. five blocks, 16. fall, 17. 'proposal moon', 18. The Gobstopper Quilt, 19. DQS8 #1 "Think Spring", 20. Birthday Quilt

I haven't quilted before, but surely I can do this. I know the basic steps but I also know there are a million different ways to do it and infinite possibilities for the end product. I have a little less than six months. I'm aiming for 15th anniversary territory. No time (or money) for a class, I'm going to rely on the wonderful world of blogging quilters (and maybe a book) to figure this one out. Comments? Suggestions? Ideas?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Mommy, you know what's interesting about you?

Wouldn't that make your ears perk up? What? What does Sofia think is interesting about me? Wow, somebody thinks there is something interesting about me. I love the way she started the conversation. She's so interesting to me.

So, what she said was, "Well, you know how when I ask you what your favorite animal is...." and she went on to explain that I always say something about how it's hard to choose and I like cats and dogs and birds... "But," she said, "you are always coming home and talking about how you saw an owl or a hawk or something, and I think your favorite animals are birds." So there you go. The world according to Sofia.

Last weekend was pretty productive. I finished the announcements for baby nephew Sawyer. My sister has them now and she likes them. Yay! I love that gocco - have I told you that before? One thing that doesn't show up well in the photos is that I mixed up the green color with quite a bit of silver ink and so there's a hint of metallic sheen to the color. It's really pretty.

I had planned a Valentine present of pajamas for the whole family but hadn't had time to actually sew, so on Valentine's Day, that's what I did. The pajama bottoms were made using a pattern from Heather Ross' Weekend Sewing and some organic cotton flannel from NearSea Naturals. Good pattern, very simple. I decided for our pajamas to put elastic in the back only and use a cotton webbing drawstring for the front side. The flannel is nice and heavy and super soft. These are definitely cold weather pajamas. I bought thermals tops from Royal Apparel to go with the bottoms.
Here I am with the girls (Chris missed the photo shoot) and here's where the project would have benefited from a little better planning and research. I wanted to dye the pajamas somehow - I thought white was too boring and would get dirty and stained too easily (you know how messy Chris can be). I sort of copped out, got impatient and we tie dyed them - except Chris'. He didn't want them dyed. Hmmm. So, now the girls and I have tie dyed pajamas. They're fine. They're just tie dyed. It's not what I had in mind but the problem is that I wasn't sure what I had in mind. I'm sort of wishing I had waited a bit. At least they're just pajamas.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Happy Birthday, Maia!

We're off to the happiest place on earth tomorrow for the traditional 5 year old birthday visit. Maia's party was fun, although I was sweating for a few minutes when the little crafters were finished with their Valentine making about 40 minutes before I thought they'd be - and it was raining - so I couldn't send them outside. Nothing a little squealy-girl-freeze-dancing and some quickie coloring-page-printing couldn't fix. Maia requested Strawberry Cake and I made this one from an old Bon Appetit recipe. It turned out yummy. I'm about to have a piece right now and go to bed...

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Almost 5?

My baby is almost 5? How could it be? Maia turns 5 on Monday. We have a birthday party planned for Saturday and a trip to the happiest place on earth on her actual birthday. For the party, I bought some shirts (Royal Apparel, organic cotton) thinking our activity would involve decorating the shirts somehow. I wasn't satisfied with any of the ideas that I tried, so I ended up doing a gocco print on them myself and we will give them as party favors.
Instead of the shirt idea, I'll set up a table so our guests can make Valentine's cards and I asked Sofia if she would treat us to a puppet show. There will be 5 little girls plus my two. Ought to be fun.

Monday, January 18, 2010

A little knitting, a little weather

We have some friends who just welcomed their second little girl so I knit them up a little something. The booties (aren't they sweet?) came from Saartje knits (a free pattern!), and the hat is just a little something I copied and modified from a hat Erin made for Maia.

This week promises to bring lots of rain, they say. So far, 1.3 inches. It annoys me to live in a place that a week of rain requires so much news and preparation but eh, at least I can enjoy some rain for a few days. Today we are celebrating the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. by collecting gently used shoes to donate to Soles4Souls. I sent out emails to our local friends asking if they could spare some shoes. Since there is no school today, the girls and I will drive around to collect them from our friends. Sports Chalet is collecting the shoes at all its locations through January 31st. The donated shoes will be sent to Soles4Souls for distribution in Haiti.

In other news, Maia is recovering from another bout with bronchitis. We didn't bother waiting around to see if she could kick it on her own, straight to the antibiotics this time. It was a year ago this week that her scleroderma diagnosis was confirmed and we began treating her. Thankfully her leg has improved a great deal from where we were a year ago. The meds and PT are working, but it won't be a moment too soon when we can get her off these drugs and she can rebuild her immune system.