Thursday, April 17, 2014


After I finished the never-ending blanket, I started another blanket. This one took one Saturday morning.  This is a Totoro blanket that I plan to use as a prop for K's Totoro themed birthday party. I want to use him for a photo booth prop so that kids can lay on him for a photo like this one of Mei in the movie. As you can see, the scale isn't great but it works to convey the idea.

I made it from a thrift store Army Surplus Blanket and a thrift store grey jersey sheet and some bits from my stash. I didn't use a pattern. I found an image of Totoro I liked and traced half of it on a double width of freezer paper that was ironed to the blanket. Then I folded the blanket in half and cut. I eyeballed the rest. I cut duplicates of his ears to reinforce the ears on his head as they are clearly a weak spot.

K was sick the morning I made him and she immediately wanted to crawl beneath him. So my first shots of Totoro are of him in use.

We are not sure but we think that whatever took K down the weekend I made Totoro took the rest of us down the following week when we were in Duluth for the Mache Homeschool Convention.

On our last morning there, C passed out on the bathroom floor. It was truly frightening, she fell beneath the sink and her eyes were open. She had just vomited. I was struggling to get her up when she started gagging and her eyes seem to roll back in head. I swear the child is all arms and legs, knees and elbows between the limbs and the dead weight of her body it was hard to get her out from under the sink. When Tim and I finally got her up, she opened her eyes and asked "What happened?" We told her she had feinted and she responded with a very characteristic statement "I always wondered what it felt like to feint. I don't like it."

By that evening, I was vomiting. By the next evening, Tim was sick. The girls are better but Tim and I are taking a bit longer. My stomach still bothers me a lot but Tim and I attribute it to the fact that I threw-up far more than anyone else. It is a great way to start the summer diet. :)

I am sure you all wanted to know all the gory details. Unfortunately, it is my way of throwing myself a pity party.

Monday, April 14, 2014

...late Christmas with Mom and Dad

Mom and Dad came up two weekends ago to enjoy a belated Christmas with us. They were going to come up earlier this year but Dad ended up in the hospital with heart concerns. Unfortunately, he had another angiogram instead of coming up to visit. This time, much to our relief, they made it up. While they were here there were crafts, food, walks, and gifts.

K and Mom made a rag doll together. Mom first made this project with my brother's daughter Hannah who needed to make a hand crafted colonial doll for a school project. So Mom helped both Hannah and her friend make this doll. She must have enjoyed the project because then she decided to do it with my girls (C passed). K loved working on this project with Grandma. She named her doll Charlotte (bonus to anyone who knows where she might have got the name from).

I have a stash of inexpensive books that I keep hidden to give the girls gifts out of when I want a spur of the moment gift (they both have giving and receiving gifts as a love language - one that I don't understand since it isn't my love language). I recently gave K a book on desert biomes. She found a paint with sand art craft in it and decided she really wanted to do one. Yeah for Amazon Prime. I was able to order the sand and have it here before my parents came so that she could do it with my Mom. I got out some maple syrup bottles to use for their art. They had a blast doing it and Mom plans to do it with my sister's daughters when she goes out to visit them.

K thrives on doing things with other people.

I think Dad may have wanted a chance for a bonding moment with K like those that Mom was having. He was perusing a cookbook that I found recently at the thrift store (an awesome cookbook that I had bought as a gift for him and then decided I liked so much I had to buy one for myself) and found a recipe for Cowboy Beans that he wanted to try out with K.

The cookbook in question is Heritage of America Cookbook by Better Homes and Gardens, the description for the book reads "Rich in heritage, historical detail, and lore, this volume includes more than three-hundred regional recipes gathered from people all over the United States." When I first was looking through the cookbook, K (for reasons, I am not sure of) decided to make a recipe from Rhode Island, so now she regularly makes us Corn Chowder. I found a recipe for Apple Cider Syrup, which has turned out to be a life-saver on pancake night (for as long as we've been married, Tim has made pancakes on Sunday night). Kira doesn't like pancakes but she eats them much better with Apple Cider Syrup.

Frying the smoked ham and onions for the Cowboy Beans

While they were visiting, we also celebrated my Dad's birthday. His birthday was on the following week. He looks a lot like his Dad in these photos.

In the photo above, you can see Dad opening his gift. His copy of the Heritage of America Cookbook.

Mom tries to make all her grandchildren pajamas once a year. The girls always look forward to their new pajamas from Grandma.

This year, Mom made all her grandkids stocking hats like the ones that she has crocheted for her and Dad for many, many years.

Then came the most amazing gift. Mom made special dresses for the girls' American Girl Dolls. The dresses are replicas of a day dress from the 1860's. Mom wrote a letter with loads of history about the time period and how the different articles of clothing were worn.

She even crocheted these little vests that they used to wear!! Based on this photo I just looked up, they are called sontags.

For those who are curious, the patterns come from Home Sew Inc and Newark Dressmaker's Supply and is the Little Women pattern.


I took three nice long slow walks with Dad. On Sunday, we were joined by Kira and Mom. I took lots of photos. It was a great opportunity. As you can see we still had lots of snow on the ground but it was melting very rapidly. We got a snowstorm later the following week but that is all gone now. However, the news last night suggested the possibility of accumulating snow again later this week.

My girl's ponytail looks right in place doesn't it?

On the walk, we met a group of women on horseback. They had stopped to let people pet their horses and to answer questions. They were wonderful and we had a mutual admiration party while we admired their horses, they admired Kei and Yuuko. It is always startling to me to take Kei and Yuuko out for walks. I get used to them and don't find them unusual but we get tons of questions about them.

During Mom and Dad's visit, Charis acted the part of a pre-teen. She had a youth group event one evening and the next day, she was very tired. She couldn't sleep after the party because she drank two Mountain Dews while at the party. :)

Hopefully, sometime in the near future, I can tell you more about this past weekend. We all went to Duluth for the Mache Homeschool Convention. I learned a lot about homeschooling through highschool.  I also got to meet and listen to a man whose work I admire (Jim Weiss). We also experienced a fright when C feinted in the bathroom after vomiting. Now the rest of us are ill too. It will be a quiet week in the Howard home. :)

Friday, April 04, 2014

It Is Finished!

A little more than two years after I started it. I finally finished this blanket for my father-in-law. Now, you must keep in mind that there were several six month stretches where I did not work on it at all. However, you can also blame it for why I haven't post in a very long time. I had a list of things I would not do until I finished the silly thing. I am very, very glad it is done!!

I backed it with camouflage fleece, which is hard to see in this photo. Then I blanket stitched the hem around the edge.


If there is one thing the girls could learn from my example is to see things through, no matter how hard or discouraging it might be. From a marathon, to this blanket, to an extra-curricular that I committed to that I find I no longer support, I stick it out (do not worry about the e.c. we will quit when the season for it quits in two weeks, however, I would never leave them in a lurch - I have an integral part in the program). 

I have a few things, I hope to catch you up on (my parents were here last weekend and Mom brought some stunning home-made Christmas gifts, the girls have been crafting, and I took some adorable photos of those twins about a month ago). 

But I will leave you with this for the moment.


Friday, January 31, 2014

plugging away

I am going to finish that blanket, I will, I will. Right now, I am taking a break to let you all know that we are alive and that I will try to read your blog soon!!

I don't know how many of you remember that last year, Tim's car was in an accident and totaled. For nearly a year, we have been a one car family. Mostly, it has been easy. However, Tim really felt we should have two vehicles. He also felt that we needed one that would carry everyone when either of our parents came to visit. As a result, we saved for all those months and were able to make a substantial down-payment on a 2011 Honda Pilot

Water always finds they path of least resistance and we have had first-hand experience with that this year. If you look at the photo of our house in the header you see that our house has a large semi-circular window. When C was a baby, some kid shot it out and insurance replaced it (thankful indeed, am I for insurance the window alone was $3,000). Unfortunately, it cracked within the year and they would not cover it.

We could not afford to replace it and since it was double paned, we did not. However, we did know that sooner or later it would become a problem. The extreme cold of this winter has done the job. The condensation build-up between the panes - finished the crack. Then on those rare days when we hit 20 degrees F and the sun hits the window the frozen condensation thaws (We are experiencing an unusually cold winter - not record breaking but still brutal. In addition, we have above average snowfall).

Last week it found its way through and started dripping through the frame of the lower windows. Insurance still doesn't want to cover it (I understand their position, but I know my position) and our repair guy still hasn't come look at. I realize that nothing can be done until after the snow is gone and the weather stabilizes but it is very frustrating.

This week has been a roller coaster. On Monday, Mom called at 6:30 in the morning which scared me to death. I was sure something had happened to Dad. She was just calling to ask if they could come for a visit on Friday. We said sure! I was planning foods and making a few things on Tuesday and I was excited to call Dad and tell him about the slow-cooked pork I was going to make. I was just pureeing the onion marmalade when he called. I was tickled and told him that I was just going to call him and tell him about the food when he tells me "Unless you are coming here, I'm not eating it." He was in the hospital.

He had heart pain in the morning (on the way to work or at work - I am not clear about that) and it didn't respond to two nitro pills so he went to the hospital. They planned an angiogram for Wednesday.

Mom called on Wednesday and said that Dad's angiogram went well. The arteries they were concerned might block up are doing well and his heart is creating by-passes around the blockages they discovered in August. Blood work did come back and show that Dad had low sodium and the physician thinks that might be the cause of the angina because low sodium can cause what they call galloping angina that doesn't respond to medication so they are going to remedy that - it may help increase his energy level which has been very low lately. The doctor told them multiple times that Dad's heart muscle is still strong. 

Wednesday night added another layer of frustration to my life. The hard-drive on our laptop died. We've been having problems and for awhile it was overheating and we took it to OfficeDepot for them to look at but they said there was nothing wrong with it. It has continued to act up and we've been diligently studying the problem. Now we know what it is. Unfortunately, the girls school records were on it (and not backed up) and a finished but unburned photo shoot. So Peggy's photos are gone. I am going to see what can be done from a recovery stand point.  All the other photos and stuff on the laptop I can give up with a good attitude but I don't look forward to talking to Peggy today about her grandson's photos. They were his three month photos and he is supposed to start wearing a helmet. 

I took it to Office Depot and they couldn't fix it. I put a plea out on Facebook and a friend of mine (I can't believe I didn't think of her right away) said that she thought she could fix it. I brought it over there this morning and we will see how it goes. 

Yesterday was the first day of Good News Club at a local elementary. The girls and I helped out last year and decided to help again this year. I decided to teach the verse in addition to being a group leader like I was last year. It went well and I got the kids active using a ball while we recited the verse, it went very well. 

All these photos are photos I pulled from FB as they were on the laptop. I will lose everything from right before the trip to California forward as the last time I backed up was right before we went to California. All the CA photos are on disks in CA as I gave Tim's Dad copies so I can restore those. Some of the other photos are on Walmart's Photo Lab so I can retrieve lower quality images of those. The worst thing was the photo shoot. 

I am praying that Deb can rescue the information on the hard drive.

Monday, January 20, 2014

pushing forward

We are still busy with school. As the girls get older, school takes a bit more time. Okay, a lot more time. Last week, we met with some other home school friends and went on a field trip to the Schubert Club in St. Paul.  The tour focuses on the history of the piano (including the clavichord and harpsichord).

The entrance to the museum had a wild sculpture using instruments to create a sort of tornado. We were told that a local music store owner had collected themwhen he conducted orchestras on cruise ships. They used the instruments from his collection that were either in bad condition or very common to create the sculpture. 

Not sure why this photos is showing up grainy... :(

The children got to play pianos that were played by a variety of famous people. 

They also got to compare the sounds of the instruments as the design of the piano changed and improved. 

These two photos are just gratuitous cuteness/sweetness. :)

As you can see, there was a lot of hands-on activity.

Regarding my big plans for the year, they are still on hold as I push forward on completing the two projects that I've told myself must be completed. I also had a photo shoot recently that will keep me busy for a week or so working up photos. Then I have another one in the beginning of February. Someday, I hope to have something much more interesting to report!!

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

the small details of winter

Yuuko puts the relax in relaxation.

It has been extremely cold here. On Monday, our high was -14 degrees Fahrenheit with a low of -22 degrees Fahrenheit with dangerous wind chills.  Monday was also our first day of school in 2014.

 The silly dog loves being treated like a baby.
For the past several years, I've picked one artist to study in depth and I buy a calendar of their artwork and hang it near the dining table so that we have it in front of us year-round. Last year, our artist was Gustav Klimt. I don't usually do lots of art projects with the girls, they produce so much on their own that I avoid special projects for two reasons. One, I  want the girls to feel free to explore their own style (they have loads of drawing books and videos to teach them the basics). Second, I don't want to create stuff that we feel compelled to keep when it really wasn't something they wanted to do to begin with. However, I do think doing one project in the style of the year is a good plan.

C's Tree

We used a tutorial from Art Projects for Kids as the basis for our Tree of Life project.We painted a stretched canvas with gold paint. Then the girls sketched their tree using the tutorial. I outlined their drawing with puff paint and then they painted their trees using metallic colors. We topped it off with glitter glue so that we could mimic the metallic/jewel like texture and tones of Klimt's work.

K's Tree
K really rebelled she said she hated Klimt because it was too simple. She likes detail and embellishment. What is interesting is she really loved looking at the calendar throughout 2013 and had thoughtful comments about most of the paintings.

This year we are doing it a bit different. I bought six calendars Valentina (because I couldn't resist the artwork - she is the girls' favorite too and so she actually hangs in the kitchen), Japanese Art Collection, Edith Holden, Johannes Vermeer (one of my all-time favorites), William Morris, and Leonardo Da Vinci. We are going to look at each months offerings and then pick our favorite to hang by the table. My favorite for January was the Edith Holden calendar but the girls out-voted me and so we have a painting from the Japanese Art Collection (a watercolor of a waterlily from the Meiji Period) hanging this month. :)

We used a tutorial from That Artist Woman to make these owls during our Poetry and Play Group.

Above you have a peek at one of my WIPs that I am trying to finish before I embark on my big goals for the year. It is a paper mache celtic knot - one arm (point to point) is about 34.5 inches. I hope that two more rounds of paper mache will finish it and then I can paint it.

I don't usually share images of the food I make even though I love to cook and bake and am pretty darn good in the kitchen. However, this brainstorm makes such great grilled cheese sandwhiches, I had to share.

My next door neighbor lost her Dad. Her husband and children are fending for themselves. I know that her husband is a very fussy eater so I racked my brain to think of something I could make for them. Right before dropping off to sleep that night, I thought I could try converting my stromboli to a ham and cheese sandwich. It is wonderful fresh but is even better brushed with olive oil and grilled under the broiler in my oven.

These are super simple to make. Take bread dough (I make my own but you can buy frozen and thaw it) and roll it out. Sprinkle with shredded cheese, cover with ham slices, and sprinkle with cheese again. Roll it up. Brush it with olive oil and bake in a 375 degree Fahrenheit for 20-25 minutes. Cut it into slices and serve or put in refrigerator until you are ready to make grilled cheese. It is perfect a perfect combination of crispy toast and chewy bread. YUM!!