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A short list of things that made me happy today, in no particular order:

1) Folding warm laundry on a chilly fall morning (with the windows open…mmmm)
2) Josh flew home today. I sure like that husband of mine.
3) Seeing my kids make noticeable improvement after just a few weeks of karate classes.
4) It’s official: I have a new job, starting next week. Yay!
5) Did I mention the cool weather? Giant smiles.
6) Decorating the house for Halloween with my boys.

Good stuff, all of it. I’m going to bed with a smile on my face!

Posted in kids, josh, good stuff | Comments Off

Yesterday was my dear husband’s birthday, and you know what that means, right? CAKE! Cupcakes, this time around. He’s watching his calories, so I figured a small batch of cupcakes fit the bill. You know how it is: if the sweets are there, they get eaten. If we finish it up quickly, there’s no temptation! Definitely the way to go, even if it means fewer tasty treats.

Josh’s absolute favorite is his mom’s Italian cream cake, and it’s the kind of recipe that will never taste as good as her version did. It doesn’t matter that I follow the exact recipe… it’s not her cake. I’ve made peace with that, and a few years ago kind of gave up trying to get it right. Instead, I decided to come up with a gluten-free, dairy-free rendition, and have been working to get as close as possible to the original flavors and textures. It’s almost there! This year’s cake was slightly less calorie-laden than usual. Even though it was his birthday, Josh didn’t want to let things get too far beyond his calorie goals. Unsweetened applesauce subbed out for half of the oil worked very well, and I used unsweetened, shredded coconut instead of Angel Flake. I think the cupcakes would have been more moist, had the coconut not been so dry; I need to see what I can tweak to remedy that. The cupcakes weren’t dry; they just weren’t quite as moist as Josh remembers the original cake. I used Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese in lieu of regular cream cheese for the frosting- it works very well! That’s exciting stuff, since Josh can’t do much dairy these days. I put sweetened coconut in the frosting, and that’s a departure from the recipe. The texture is nice, but it will probably get left out next time - the frosting just seemed overly sweet (and that did not help the calorie count!).

Beverly’s Italian Cream Cake, GF/CF:

1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup tapioca flour
1/4 cup GF oat flour
1/4 tsp salt
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp guar gum
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 cup almond milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 tsp coconut flavoring
1 tsp butter flavoring
optional: 1/2 cup coconut shreds

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Position rack in the center of the oven. Put liners in the cupcake tins. Beat sugar and eggs in large bowl at medium speed for about a minute. Add flour, salt, baking powder, guar gum, oil, applesauce, milk, vanilla, coconut & butter flavorings. Beat again at medium speed, for about a minute. Spoon the batter into the cupcake liners, filling the about 3/4 full. Bake in center of oven for about 20 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool on baking rack, then remove from tin to cool further. Let cupcakes cool completely before frosting.

——————————————————————–

GF/CF Cream Cheese Frosting:

1 8oz tub of Tofutti Better Than Cream Cheese
1/2 cup Earth Balance Buttery Spread
1/2 tsp butter flavoring
2-1/2 tsp vanilla
16 oz powdered sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans
optional: 1/2 cup coconut shreds

Instructions:
Beat cream cheese, margarine, vanilla, and butter flavoring at medium speed with electric mixer until creamy. Add powdered sugar, beating at low speed til blended, then beat at high speed until smooth. Stir in nuts.

Try not to eat them all at once. Even with the slight calorie savings, these are rich! YUM.

There’s a three-day weekend ahead- I just realized yesterday that the kids don’t have school Monday. Wahooo! Does anyone else have Monday off? I’m not even sure if Josh has the day off… I should check on that.

Happy weekend, all!

Posted in food, josh | Comments Off

Oh, internet, how I love you. You give me ideas and inspirations; sometimes I get excited and actually make those things happen. Let me just mention, again, how grateful I am for my very tolerant husband. He puts up with me! He nods and smiles when I show him my plans! He even sets aside skepticism when I say things like “painted wallpaper” and “Moroccan trellis”. He (bravely) agrees that some ideas are worth a trial run. I gave him full veto power on this project- complete repaint, no effort on his part. Onward! Painted Moroccan trellis, woooohooo!

Here’s the before picture of the front room in our house, oh-so-fondly dubbed the green room:

And….here’s the after:

(Wow, crazy color difference… taking pics at a consistent time of day might help.) It really didn’t take as long as I expected, though a little music and some strong black tea contributed a lot. I used a cardboard stencil, then traced it several times onto the wall with a pencil. When the design hit the corner of the room, I used a paper stencil so it could just be folded for the necessary shape. Unsure of what color would look best, it seemed that a trial run with a few different options would be worth the trouble.

A low-contrast color ended up being the winner, partly because it looked less busy, but also because any imprecision is less noticeable (and there definitely was some imprecision…good call). At that point, the test area needed a coat of the base color for a clean slate. Before tracing out six bazillion stencils, I decided to place the stencil-tracings right next to one another. That made things look less crowded by eliminating the appearance of a double line. Keep things simple, right?


Cue the tracing. Then some more tracing. Maybe some more, for good measure. At first, my kids were puzzled when I started drawing on the walls; by this point they could see where things were headed. (The neighbor kids just think I’m crazy.) After a couple hours with the pencil, it was time for the paintbrush. I used a size 4 synthetic hair artist’s brush…because that’s what I had on hand. It took about three hours to paint all of the tracings, but after it was dry, pencil lines were showing through the paint. Ohhhh, man. Sadface. I gave myself a couple days’ breather, then tackled a second coat. It required louder music.

The total cost of the project was about $20; the only thing I bought was a gallon of paint that was one shade lighter than the current base coat on the wall (base color: Valspar Contractor Finish, matched to Metro Mist, CI 35) . That ended up being lighter than I liked, so I mixed it with some of the leftover base color and just a touch of a dark green paint that we had in the garage. It really is kind of a Frankenstein color… it would be pretty tough to recreate the final product of my little-bit-of-this and little-bit-of-that approach to paint mixing.

Josh was away on a work trip for most of the time I worked on this, so he came home to a fully-finished project. Guess what? He likes it! This is a good thing, because I’m kind of done with paint (until I see the next super-exciting-internet-idea that requires paint). I should probably just back away from the computer. It’s the only safe thing to do.

Surely, I can’t be the only one who sees things like this on the internet, only to decide that it must be done. In my house. For reals. Do any of you paint things on your walls? Show me, show me!

Posted in house projects | Comments Off

Several hours a week, I help out in my kids’ school library. The librarian has more than she can deal with, and honestly, I’m not sure how she could keep her head above water without a handful of parent volunteers. The kids at this school really, really like to read - and I’m happy to encourage that, even if it’s just by re-shelving books so they can be discovered by yet another reader.

Recently, the librarian (I’ll call her Mrs. T) taught me how to secure the protective plastic around book jackets. It’s not something I ever really thought about or noticed, really… it was just part of the book. It’s a fairly exact process, making sure everything is lined up perfectly straight so there aren’t gaps or wrinkles, folding precisely, and then, before the tape is affixed, assuring that the cover isn’t so tight that the book can’t be closed. Maybe I’m weird, but I really like that kind of repetitive, precise work. It reminds me of measuring & cutting mats for framing… it requires attention, but also allows the brain to wander & ponder. Of course, unlike cutting mats, this doesn’t involve Exacto knives; my fingers thank me for that.

Wrapping the new book jackets also gives me a chance to see all of the books that come in- that’s probably the best part. <3 BOOKS! <3

I wish this were something I’d been aware of earlier, as we’ve gotten rid of SO many dust jackets after they’ve been shredded by children, multiple moves, lava, etc. Now I know: they could have been saved! This is the kind of cover that Mrs. T has; she gets the giant roll and then cuts the required length for each book. Considering the ages of my boys now, and the fact that they are MUCH nicer to books than, oh, ever before… I probably won’t wrap the dust jackets we still have. But, if someone could just send that little hint back in time, I’d be ever so grateful.

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Last time on “Words in My Life”, we left you with lingering thoughts of shelves in closets… and how they come to be built by a lady who doesn’t really know what she’s doing. What better way to figure it out, though, right? Jump in, head first!

The problem: awkwardly-shaped under-stairs closet, full of stuff packed into an ill-fitting, too-small bookshelf. Also, hyper-hyphenation of somewhat-descriptive words.

The solution: shelves. Deep shelves, built in the back of the closet where the floor-to-ceiling height is a cozy 55 inches.

In the front of this closet is a hanging rod that works nicely for our coats and jackets. Hooks on the side walls hold things like backpacks, umbrellas, my yoga mat, and kittens. Not really, I was just testing to see if you were paying attention. The kids’ backpacks rarely get hung in the right spot. The closet is also home to hats, gloves, a guitar, some tennis rackets, kites, craft supplies, LOTS of games, the kids’ science kits, and all of the other miscellaneous things that we don’t know where to put. It’s kind of a catch-all. The too-small bookshelf that was in there really did not serve the space well, and I decided to whisk it away to a place where it will be put to good use.

Badly-shot photographic evidence:


before: empty


during… one shelf in!


progress… two shelves


finished and full o’ stuff

I actually bought plywood that wasn’t quite thick enough, considering the width of the shelf. It wanted to sag… but a 1×2 glued and screwed to the underside of the front edge makes it strong and stable. We happened to have some wood leftover from a previous project that worked perfectly for the brackets along the sides and back when secured to the drywall with heavy-duty anchors (oddly enough, I think the most expensive part of this project was the multi-pack of drywall anchors). After some quick sanding and a coat of paint (leftover from the kitchen re-do in the old house), the shelves were ready to load up with STUFF. Despite a thorough purging once all of the closet contents were removed, there was still a lot left; at least it’s more organized and easier to access now.

Final Verdict: Are the shelves perfect? NO. Do they provide functional storage? Oh, yes. Definitely. Success!

Stay tuned, kids. Same bat-time, same bat-channel. Next time: ponderings on whether or not it’s really a good idea to cut one’s own hair on a whim.

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It’s best not to do the math. How long has it been since I’ve written anything other than a quick email here or there? So very long. At some point, the words just weren’t there anymore; they sprouted wings and flew away. That was kind of scary, because writing has always been something that I did without question, without any external prompt. I just wrote. Until one day, when I didn’t, and couldn’t. I still feel blank, like there are ominous question marks where the words used to be. Maybe if I scatter some words around, it will attract more words? Maybe I can repopulate that part of my brain.

What can I write about? Of course, my kids are easy blog-fodder. These days, it’s not so much the cute things they say and do; instead, it’s “OMG, how do I handle this situation/this question/this explanation?!” Josh is so much better than I am with the technical and anatomical question-and-answer sessions… his frequent job-travel seems to overlap these little question sessions. It’s unfortunate.

I can write about the many things I cook. I know, I know– no one wants to know what I had for lunch. BUT, if you have to cook gluten-free, dairy-free and soy-free like I do, there are never enough lifelines out there to help figure out what to cook for dinner. That’s probably true for everyone, no matter if there are dietary restrictions or not, though. We have to eat EVERY DAY? Multiple times a day? Yeah, that gets old, and fast. The menu starts feeling so repetitive, and I get bored. The internet, superhero that it is, frequently saves the day! New recipes! New ideas! O frabjous day!

Speaking of new ideas, the internet has millions of pictures and ideas that get my creative juices boiling. I see something, and that sparks an idea, then I have to make it, create it, build it, do it. Thankfully, I have the world’s most tolerant husband. He doesn’t even try to talk me out of it when I suddenly decide that something has to be built. To Lowe’s I go - did you know that an 8×4 sheet of plywood fits in the back of a minivan? It does! Maybe tomorrow I will post pictures of the shelves I built for the closet under the stairs. Josh helped - I have to give him credit where credit is due. He cut the giant sheet o’ plywood down to the correct shelf sizes. The saw still scares me… but I’m working on it. Guess I’d better build some more stuff.

Posted in writing, daily life | Comments Off

I’m blowing the dust offa this thing, brushing off the cobwebs. It’s vent-space, a place to spill out the babblethoughts that feel like a stomach full of rocks. That makes it sound more like vomit-space. Vomit-space, full of rock-vomit-thoughts.

Being a parent is hard. This transition to being the parent of a public school fourth-grader has me experiencing the growing pains right along with Max. I did not expect it to be easy, and as in most things, completely anticipated a whole different set of difficulties. There is SO much to keep up with, both for student and parent. There’s a lot of hullaballoo from the many fundraisers, activities, events, and PTA extravaganzas. The work itself is not so tough for him- it’s the amount of work that overwhelms him (and me, as well). A fourth grade kid should not be doing homework for 2+ hours every night! Granted, a lot of times it could be done in 45 minutes or so, but he is TIRED after a long day at school. Kiddo is tired all the time now, and that just makes me sad. This boy who is usually so full of life and energy is just tired and frustrated. That makes my eyes all watery every time I think about it. I just wish there were something I could do to help.

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(http://xkcd.com/590/)

It happens. *twitch* Although, Comic Sans is far worse, and I’ve had to talk more than one client out of using that font. Some people really, really like it, which makes me cry a little bit. I don’t get it.

Posted in webstuff | Comments Off

Those people on the internet who said they used a wire brush to remove grout from their tile were either lying or have a very different type of grout. I’ve spent a fair amount of quality time with the Dremel on the bathroom floor, and it’s taking WAY too long. It gives me kind of a sick satisfaction to see tile after tile freed from the grout gone wrong, though. About four more hours and I’ll be done… makes me wonder if a sledgehammer and a complete re-tile would make more sense than just re-grouting.

The local public schools are out this week due to Swine!Flu! and so the neighborhood kids have been ringing my doorbell at least once an hour to see if Max & Khai are home yet. I keep explaining that their school didn’t get shut down (yay, private school!!) but that they will be home a little after 3:00. So now they are ringing the doorbell to ask me what time it is. Is it three yet? When will it be three? I’m glad the boys have so many friends in the neighborhood. Wish they all had watches. :)

My parents get home from their whirlwind tour of Italy and England on Friday… I can’t wait to hear their stories and see the pictures! Also, I look forward to not compulsively figuring what time it is in that part of the world every time I look at a clock.

Things I like: xkcd, this way too expensive hoodie from Prairie Underground, the Dremel, and my husband. We’ve been together TEN YEARS as of tomorrow. Mind-boggling.

Posted in family, daily life | Comments Off

Max wants to dive into programming. Any suggestions on where he should start? Is BASIC too… well, basic, these days? He has been using Scratch for almost two years now, but mostly for simple animations and little movies. Should I help him find more complicated tutorials to move forward in that direction? Help me, nerd-friends. You’re my only hope.

P.S. It’s a gorgeous day! Get outside and into the sun as fast as you can!

Posted in family, geek | Comments Off

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