Monthly Archives: February 2014

I woke up to the snow…

I woke up to the snow, but didn’t really give it much attention (other than groaning at the delay of Spring) until I tried to step outside for a quick jaunt to visit “the ladies” to gather some eggs.  I say that I “tried” to step outside since at first I couldn’t tell where the steps up from our basement were.  The three squat steps from our basement door to the driveway had been reduced to a fluffy hill of snow, with no indication of where each individual step might be.  I stood there for a moment, confused, as if trying to remember what the landscape was supposed to look like.   In my defense I hadn’t had any coffee yet, and my only goal was to get the eggs quickly so that I could make breakfast in time for the gold medal men’s hockey game between Canada and Sweden.

So I girded myself, clutched my egg basket tightly, and plunged outside into what I hoped was the path to the hen house.  I more or less found the stairs and with my sorely abused pink Uggs, plowed my way up the low rise.  With each step my boots disappeared into the 2+ feet deep drifts, and with each step some snow made its way into my boots.  Who needs coffee, a little snow inside your sockless boots will get you going in the morning.  Snow hat flopping.  Egg basket dangling.  Balance swerving with each step into where I hoped the path to the chicken house lay.  I was a picture of beauty and grace, and hopefully I was the only witness to my progress.

My poor, abused boots disappearing into the snow they were not designed to handle.

My poor, abused boots disappearing into the snow they were not designed to handle.

Once I retrieved the eggs, I realized that I hadn’t considered the difficulties of returning to the house through the deep snow with a basket full of eggs.  Luckily both the eggs and I returned to the house unscathed, if a bit frozen around the edges. With the eggs secured for breakfast I put together a “fancy” version of Eggs-in-a-Hole.  In the spirit of the gold medal game I used a maple leaf cookie cutter to cut the Canadian symbol into our toast.  Little Man got the more traditional torn out hole for his toast to accommodate his Scrambled-Eggs-in-a-Hole.

A fancy version of Eggs-in-a-Hole in honor of the Canadian men's gold medal hockey game against Sweden.

A fancy version of Eggs-in-a-Hole in honor of the Canadian men’s gold medal hockey game against Sweden.

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Alas my yolk broke for this picture, but in my defense my fingers were still frozen and I really wanted to get the food served so I could watch the game.  Little Man’s toast was torn to accommodate the volume of his Scrambled-Eggs-in-a-Hole.

My well-intentioned ode to Canadian hockey.

My well-intentioned ode to Canadian hockey.

After breakfast and with two gold medals in hockey for Canada we donned whatever snow-sort-of gear that we had (we are still woefully under equipped for weather) and ventured outside.  The snow came up to Little Man’s hips, and he was not impressed until we got him out onto the “sort of plowed” road where he could run and move more easily.

The snow came up to Little Man's waist, yet his dad doesn't seem to mind.

The snow came up to Little Man’s waist, yet his dad doesn’t seem to mind.

Trucking down the "sort of plowed" road.

Trucking down the “sort of plowed” road.

Hoops, anyone?

Hoops, anyone?

When we couldn’t take the cold anymore, we retreated back to the house.  Little Man had a well deserved warm bath, and then we all were treated to steaming mugs of Auntie Erin’s Hot Cocoa.  The past present to ourselves on our Big Snow Day was an afternoon nap.  Bodies tired out from playing in the snow.  Bellies warm and filled with cocoa.  Toddler snoozing in the other room, and us sprawled gracelessly across the bed.  It was heaven.

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A fairytale wilderness

A fairytale wilderness

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A Bad Heidelberg Sort of Day

Let me begin by stating that I loved my study abroad experience in Heidelberg, Germany.  It was world changing.  Paradigm shifting.  Everything was different for me after that.  But even if amazing study abroad times, a bad day comes along now and then.

This bad day in Heidelberg was the first day where it felt like Spring.  I didn’t have to wear my much-hated winter jacket.  The scarf and mittens were in the hamper.  Even the stone steps…  ah, the stone steps…  leading down from our haus were free from snow.  I stepped out of the door to make my way down the hill to town where our classes were held.  The air was fresh and green; invigorating.  I took a deep breath of air, filling my lungs and spirit with Spring, and went skipping down the stairs.  But skipping didn’t match my exuberance at being freed from that jacket.  So I started ski hopping, slaloming one way and then the other down the stone steps until the last few where I didn’t see the ice.  Yes…  Gravity got between me and my Spring day.

I tweaked my knee that day, sliding into home down the icy stone steps with one knee bent awkwardly behind me.  A few years later I would exacerbate that injury practicing tae kwon do and dislocating my patella.  Now my yoga instructors all look curiously at my Warrior 2 pose as my poor knee shakes like a banshee, trying to get into and stay in correct alignment.

That is the back story for my “Bad Heidelberg Sort of Day” story.  Fast forward to last week when we got a not necessarily unusual snow fall for this time of year, but one that was followed almost immediately by rain and then by freezing temperatures again.  The rain melted the snow overnight, and the sun shone in a turquoise blue sky that I hadn’t seen in a long, long time.  It was still cold, but not cold enough to require the much dreaded heavy winter jacket.  I was, however, wearing my scarf and gloves because they are too cute to retire for the season just yet.

We were heading out the door, running just a hair late as usual, and rushing.  Little Man didn’t want to walk to the car and asked to be carried.  So I picked him up, opened the door, smelled the early Spring air, filled my lungs with the green smells, and glanced down at the four short wooden stairs leading from our door to the sidewalk.  Something about the scent of the air, the feeling of imminent (hopefully) Spring, and the sight of the steps brought back to mind that bad day in Heidelberg.  Eyes widened, arm tighter around Little Man, I moved carefully to the side of the steps and gripped the handrail, taking slow, measured, careful steps.  All to no avail.

The last step was slicked with a veneer of ice, looking exactly like the rainwater that adorned the stairs before it.  I stepped on the stair and suddenly found myself falling both forward and backward at the same time, trying desperately to keep Little Man from going down hard too.  I almost succeeded.  I hit the ground, he was set down abruptly as I then slid backwards turtle style over the other edge of the sidewalk into an ornamental garden bed, and he tipped backwards bonking his head.  In the end we were both in tears, mostly from shock, but also from our bumps.  Dave wasn’t sure who to comfort first or more, rightly picking up Little Man and giving boo-boo kisses where ever he could.

Once again gravity and the laws of physics had gotten between me and a nice Spring morning.  It took a couple of days before Little Man was willing to let me carry him to and from the car, and it was slightly amusing to see him battle with himself over whether or not he really was tired enough to want to be carried and risk a “bad Heidelberg sort of day,” or if it was a safer bet to walk on his own.

The whole experience got me thinking about my time in Heidelberg, especially when I saw a few Facebook posts from former students reminiscing about their times in study abroad programs.  I’m going to have to do a little research to see if I can’t recreate one of my favorite Heidelberg dishes…  I need to replace the bad sort of day memory with a good one, and the best way to do that is through food.  So keep your eyes peeled…  It will be coming your way soon.

On a Frozen Pond

Like many other places we’ve been having some unseasonably cold and unpredictable weather.  As a SoCal (southern California… aka someone raised to believe that “normal” weather is 85 and sunny) girl, I have to remind myself that the rain and snow are good, and that we need them to maintain and create the beautiful greenery around us.  Not to mention the fact that we subsist off of well water and if that runs dry…  This recent cold snap with snow has turned everything a brittle white.  You don’t sink into fluffy snow, but instead break through icy snow leaving a wake of crisp foot falls on the way to the wood shed.  This also means that for the first time in years (so we were told), the pond at the farm has frozen solid.

What better way to celebrate such cold weather?  Why, yes, a hotdog roast and skate-fest down in the sheep pasture.  Ever since one of the new lambs almost froze to death by the frozen pond, the Farmer-Landlord has closed this pasture off to the sheep until things warm up a bit.  Don’t fret, the lamb is now healthy and happy.

The day before the hotdog roast we could see the Farmer-Landlord and his family down by the pond with a snow shovel and ice skates zamboni-ing (scraping off the ice) the pond.  Then the day of the roast, after Little Man’s nap, we headed down the hill towards the party.

There was a fire pit for roasting the hot dogs, a table with a propane burner for a vat of delicious hot chocolate, and lots of other munchies.  There was also the frozen pond.  I’ve never been on a frozen pond before, and luckily this one wasn’t too slick.  My poor, misused Uggs will not survive this winter, but they did just fine keeping me upright on the ice.

Little Man and I on the frozen pond.  Note the texting going on in the upper left of the shot.

Little Man and I on the frozen pond. Note the texting going on in the upper left of the shot.

I don’t know if you can make it out in this shot (check out the top image of the post and you might be able to see it better), but Dave even caught one of the skaters texting while enjoying the ice.  🙂

016This was Little Man’s inaugural experience with hockey, and I’m glad to say that he emerged with all of his teeth intact and no spills.  In the above picture he’s getting his first “lesson” in hockey, namely how to hold the stick with awkwardly fluffy gloves.  His second lesson would come quickly as he learned that the farm dog likes to eat the pucks, so the goal is less to pass the puck to your friend, and more to keep it away from the dog.  The dog usually won.

026Here’s Little Man and his buddy playing hockey.  They actually did a great job passing the puck back and forth to each other, until the dog stole the puck that is.  This is also where we learned of the importance of having an ice helmet for him.  Little Man has inherited my grace, which means that we’re both lucky that neither one of us fell and dragged the other one down.

Little Man "skating" with the Farmer's Daughter.

Little Man “skating” with the Farmer’s Daughter.

Always the innovator, Dave went to get Little Man’s bike helmet and saved the day.  Little Man is completely enthralled with the Farmer’s Daughter, and is the happiest when we’re all outside playing together… or even better when she babysits.  Here the Farmer’s Daughter is giving Little Man a tour of the ice.  When they got to the far side of the pond, Little Man decided he was done with the ice and started hiking off over the snow.  When Dave caught up with him, there was a slight disagreement since Little Man had decided he was going to walk to the snow covered mountain in the distance.  I’m not exactly sure how a peace accord was reached, but shortly thereafter Little Man appeared at my side asking for some hot chocolate and his Pooh Bear.

We didn’t last long at the pond after that, but it was nice to be outside again, and to play (even if ever so briefly) on the frozen pond.  It likely won’t happen again this season, and this morning (only a couple of days after the hot dog roast) the pond is mostly melted and the pasture is flooded with rain waters.  Not a nice hot dog roast site now, but the geese seem to prefer it this way.  But the evening of the hot dog roast, the snow was still on the ground, crunchy as ever.  Since we didn’t get to stay long at the roast, we hadn’t eaten our fill of hot dogs.  So Dave grilled some delicious pork chops (sourced from the farm we live on, of course) out in the snow.  If you can read his mind from this photo, you have to know he’s only missing a beer.

A boy and his grill.

A boy and his grill.

Chinese New Year – Nanaimo Style

One of the fun things about our move to Canada has been learning about all the different holidays celebrated here.  Like the differences between American Independence Day and Canada Day; the fact that Boxing Day has nothing to do with the sport; and holidays that are even new to the province like BC Family Day.  Many of the holidays that are new to me on Vancouver Island have a decidedly British flair to them, so while I find them fun to celebrate I’m no longer surprised to find them here.  I was surprised, however, when I learned that the Chinese New Year is celebrated on the island.

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I have celebrated Chinese New Year in a minor way whenever I’ve taught one of my anthropology of food courses during a spring semester, but I haven’t lived in a place where it was celebrated in the community until now.  Nanaimo is a city of malls, and people give directions to places in town based on which mall it is closest too.  This gets a bit interesting since a number of the malls have old names and new ones that can be used interchangeably.  In this case, the Nanaimo North Town Centre has an annual Chinese New Year celebration that is free to the public.  Combine the words “celebration” with “free” and it is a good bet that I’ll do my best to attend; especially if there is the possibility of snacks.

Welcoming the year of the Horse at the Nanaimo North Town Centre.

Welcoming the year of the Horse at the Nanaimo North Town Centre.

The Chinese New Year celebration at Nanaimo North Town Centre (and yes, I do keep having to go back and respell “center” as “centre” since even when I focus my fingers feel like that is backwards spelling) lasted from 11am-2pm and consisted primarily of the traditional Lion Dance.  I had read about this, seen versions on TV and in movies, in fact Little Man (and his parents) just learned about the Lion Dance in one of his favorite cartoons Justin Time, but I had never had the chance to view one live until this year.

One of the lion dance costumes.

One of the lion dance costumes.

The Lion Dance is iconic and highly symbolic in Chinese culture, and I know very little about its intricacies.  In short, each costume is worn by two people (front and back) and there are certain moves that are always included.  Around the dancing area there are generally hung pieces of lettuce (or other greens) that the lions eat and other items like oranges or red money envelopes that the lions chew on but do not consume.  All of this is done to a strong drum beat.  The students from a local Kung Fu studio, Hup Ging Do, practice throughout the year to perform here and at other venues.

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Entrance of the lion dancers.

Entrance of the lion dancers.

Unfortunately between the rapid lion dancing and the loud, reverberating drum, Little Man was not interested in staying around for long.  We came, we celebrated, and we retreated to one of the stores in the mall where Little Man “bought” a birthday present for a friend (and a corresponding one for himself) of a cool Chinese style dragon complete with Warrior.  I’m hoping that next year we can last a little longer at the dance, and maybe even try some of the Chinese-inspired snacks set out by the Fairway market.

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Now, what I am really excited about is a hybrid event related to the Chinese New Year that I would like to attend next year.  The event is called the Chinese New Year and Robbie Burns Celebration.  Yes, in this amazing melting pot place there is an annual event where they combine to celebrate both the new year in Chinese custom, but also the birthday of beloved Scottish poet, Robert Burns.  My only sadness is that I didn’t learn about this event until it had already passed, but they had me at “haggis wontons.”  From all accounts this is a fun event complete with traditional Chinese celebrations and highland dancers.  I can only imagine how great this would be and I can’t wait until next year!

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A Sick Snow Day

This week dawned bright and sparkly on a few inches of unexpected (at least to us) snow.  These were the sights that greeted me when I stumbled out of the house on Monday morning with an old cardboard box to gather wood from our shed for the day’s fire.  I’d forgotten to tuck my pants legs into my sorely misused Uggs, and would have wet, cold ankles for a bit once I got back inside, but the beautiful pink light from the morning sun coming over the dusted pines made me forget about that.  The farmer’s dog hadn’t been let out yet, so our snow was still pristine, without dog footprints or other offerings.

Snow-frosted fencing curled up around the border of our back yard.  Just waiting for Spring so the garden beds and "real" fencing can be put in place.

Snow-frosted fencing curled up around the border of our back yard. Just waiting for Spring so the garden beds and “real” fencing can be put in place.

Unfortunately this was not just a snow day, but a sick day with our toddler totally knocked out with the flu.  It was almost with tears that we had to turn away the farmer’s daughter when she came to see if Little Man would like to go sledding.  He, of course, said “yes!” through a fit of fevered coughing, and almost succeeded in rolling off the couch towards the door.  We’ll have more chances for sledding later, once he’s fit as a fiddle again.

A view of our little summer "gazebo" bench, and the lone Canadian flag windsock.  A nice punch of color for our white and black landscape.

A view of our little summer “gazebo” bench, and the lone Canadian flag windsock. A nice punch of color for our white and black landscape.

In the meantime, when Little Man did have enough energy to roll off the couch he decided he wanted to “decorate the floor.”  He’s done smaller versions of this on the dining room and living room tables, but nothing quite to this extent before.  If anyone had the audacity to walk into the living room while he was working, they were greeted with a firmly outstretched toddler hand and a croaky “don’t step on my cars!” warning.  We’ll get back to practicing kind words later, but on this sick day we let the mini-artist have a bit more leeway as he looped and swirled his cars and other precious toys around the rug.

Little Man's rug "decoration."

Little Man’s rug “decoration.”

All in all, it was one of the best sick snow days I’ve had… especially since it wasn’t me being sick.  Now that we’re in February, we enter the anxious waiting period for Spring.  I know I can’t expect it to come too soon, but I keep waiting and plotting the things I want to plant in the garden this year.  Little Man has already requested that we plant carrots for his stuffed fox and Cheezies for his stuffed bear.  For some reason I think we’ll be more successful with one than the other.  I’m just trying to figure out something else we can plant that will get him excited to eat things from the garden, even if it won’t produce artificially cheese-flavored snack chips like he hopes.

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Party Animals: A Child’s Animal-Themed Birthday

As mentioned in a recent post (Birthday Party Food for Kiddos…), Little Man has finally reached the stage where he can understand that a party is being thrown for him, and he can have a blast celebrating with his friends. He will “remember” the event through the stories he is told and the pictures he sees, but not likely through any true, long term memories.  So we wanted to throw him a fun party, but not one that would hurt (or even dent) our bank accounts.

After trolling various internet sites and Pintrest boards, I knew what I didn’t want.  I didn’t want something based on television, movie or comic book characters.  Little Man has his favorites, but none that are really shared with his friends and we wanted this to be fun for all not just for those “in the know.”  Then my list of “do not want” started to grow…  No guns or camo, not based on cars or construction since I wanted all his friends (boys and girls alike) to have fun, nothing based on junk food (see the Birthday Party Food for Kiddos post), and the list went on.  I started to get nervous that I was being too picky.

Then I started to see a number of posts and websites focusing on animal-themed birthday parties.  Within the broader animal theme some parties focused on woodland animals, barnyard animals, wild animals or zoos.  We decided to keep the party focused on favorite animals, so that I could personalize the party to Little Man’s guests, as well as to him.  This would not have been possible if the party had been a large one, but our goal was to keep the number of kids close to 4… then we couldn’t resist expanding for a few more good friends and ended up with a total of 6 buddies for Little Man at his party.

The decorations were from a dollar store, the food was all home made, but the special part about Little Man’s party were the animal masks.

What does the Little Man Fox say?  More Cheezies, please...

What does the Little Man Fox say? More Cheezies, please…

A very happy Red Fox with his very cool Blue Cat cousin.

A very happy Red Fox with his very cool Blue Cat cousin.

Each mask was personalized for a specific friend based on her/his favorite animal.

Each mask was personalized for a specific friend based on her/his favorite animal.

These masks were very simple to make and the cost is quite low; just the felt and embroidery floss needed.  I don’t have a working sewing machine, so everything was done by hand.  If you have a sewing machine this can go much faster, but just like making bread you don’t need the fancy machine to make these.

Red Fox mask

Red Fox mask

I don’t have any patterns to upload since I basically free-handed the shapes, but I can share the pictures with you and let you know what I did.  Then if you want to try your hand on the masks, just keep the ideas that you like, and improvise where you think I went astray… and I’m sure there are many places where that happened.  🙂

Blue Cat mask

Blue Cat mask

In the evite we sent out for Little Man’s party, I asked that in the response parents specify a favorite animal for their child.  Then I did a Google image search for children’s masks of that animal and basically picked and chose my favorite ideas and features from multiple images to create the look that I wanted. The basic shape of each mask is the same,with the more or less bean-shaped profile that covers the child’s forehead and stops just above the nose.  Then it’s just a matter of tweaking small features to make one animal unique from another.  For example the cat and dog masks are actually quite similar in shape, but the cat has a little “fluff” accent to the sides and the dog’s ears droop.  It is amazing how these slight adjustments can make very different animals apparent in your masks.

Brown Bear mask

Brown Bear mask

The body of each mask is comprised of two complementary colors of felt, one cut slightly larger than the other.  The background color then peeks out around the edges of the mask, adding a little more color fun.  The stitching around the eyes was done with a blanket stitch, and then the edges were done with a simple running stitch, as were the various felt embellishments.  There are a number of great websites out there with instructions for how to do these different stitches.

Green Lizard mask

Green Lizard mask

For each mask I started by stitching the felt embellishments, like the insides of the ears or the noses, to the front piece of mask felt.  For instance with the Green Lizard mask, I first stitched the light green ovals where the eyes would be, as well as the rectangular shapes down the nose, to the dark green front piece of the mask.  Once those were in place, I pinned the two pieces of the mask together and then cut the eye holes through both pieces of felt.  In the first two masks I made the mistake of trying to “eye ball” the eye openings.  I eventually came up with the idea (slow to the uptake) of cutting an eye hole stencil out of stiff paper, then using that to cut out the holes for the remaining masks.

Pink Elephant mask

Pink Elephant mask

Once the eye holes were cut, I then blanket stitched to fix the front and back pieces together.  Then I used a running stitch around the outer edges of the front and back pieces to fix them together, and the masks were complete.

Grey and Pink Dog mask

Grey and Pink Dog mask

The last thing I did was to stitch either elastic or ribbons to the back side of the masks to allow them to be worn.  My planning was off here, and I did not have enough elastic for all of the masks.  For those masks without elastic, I took lengths of red ribbon and attached them to the back of the mask so that it could be tied on.  For the most part the two ribbons worked well, but there was the added issue long hair getting stuck in the tied ribbons.  Sorry girls!

Yellow and Brown Giraffe mask

Yellow and Brown Giraffe mask

The party started with letting the kids play and the parents chat.  Then we ate.  Once the little bodies were full of Mac n Cheese, we were ready for the dance party.  Before the dancing started, Little Man gave each of his friends the animal mask that had been made especially for him or her.  Then they all donned their masks and danced away with DJ Daddy to a few of Little Man’s favorite Imagination Movers songs.

All in all the masks were a great hit, and I have to say I’ve felt a little bereft since the masks have been completed and my hands have been idle for the last couple of evenings.  But now that I’ve had a bit of a break from the masks, there are a couple of other projects that I need to finish up so that I can share them here too.  Who knew that felt could be so cool, or that I’d love being  crafty?

The animal masks on a tray of Goodie Bag items including personalized bags and homemade cookies.

The animal masks on a tray of Goodie Bag items including personalized bags and homemade cookies.