Air travel and diversionary tactics


What about that little bit of celebratory travel I mentioned earlier? It has everything to do with our anniversary. Which is the big One-O. Which is a number that seems so big and momentous that I can't quite wrap my head around the fact that it's real and here and requiring immediate attention. It was a decade ago that we planned ourselves a little trip to Vegas and had our nuptials there, a ceremony that was small and simple and broadcast via internet. 

In the intervening ten years we've taken very few vacations. There were a couple of roadtrips the first few years. Then workaholism set in. Then saving up all vacation and personal time with the knowledge that we'd soon be trying for a baby while I was a job that offered no paid maternity leave. Then actually having a baby. Then a new job with no paid vacations. And then another baby. 

So family trips are largely unexplored territory. Save the annual Thanksgiving trip to turkey-gorge with the in-laws, we're really just homebodies. Air travel is a rather iffy proposition for us, having had a middling success rate, half our flights including some kind of child-weary breakdown. But ten is an awfully grand number, and so we've scheduled our first family vacation. To Vegas, the most family-friendly of towns.

As you might imagine, I'm not looking forward to the flight. The Girlie's become a squirmy rugrat, hellbent on mobility. Not an ideal candidate for confined spaces at high altitudes. So, I've resigned myself to a certain amount of pain on that front. But The Boy's reached that wonderful stage where he can be sat down with an iPhone stocked with videos and games, and as long as his sugar intake has been kept to a minimum, he should be a tolerable travel companion. But, so I hear, technology does not equate good parenting. And batteries run out. So I stock his special airplane backpack with little books and activities. Things like lacing cards and a thumbprint drawing book and simple connect the dots (I love you, Dover Books). 


And as part of that digital kick I've been on, I made up some writing practice sheets for The Boy. Just some lined pages for him to practice his alphabet. On the reverse side, I printed out a little diamond-y grid, for some open-ended coloring/patterning goodness. And then I did up some tic tac toe templates, because The Boy is nuts for that game. And I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but I did get my behind handed to me in a tic tac toe tourney the other day at lunch. Honest to goodness. He actually beat me repeatedly at a game that was deemed pointless by Ally Sheedy in "War Games" because of its propensity to end in a tie. I like to think this says more about the nearly-4-year-old's intellectual prowess than the lack of the same in myself. 


I sealed up the worksheets in some laminating pouches and tossed them into a pouch with some dry-erase markers and a swatch of wool for erasures. In my extensive research I've found that, for a nearly-4-year-old, there's no artistic allure quite as strong as drawing in marker. And as a parent, nothing quite beats being able to wipe marks off with a dry rag. 

And here's a nifty little tip. When you're standing in the office supply aisle, examining the laminating pouches, and you see that the self-laminating pouches are exponentially more expensive than the heat laminating pouches for which you don't have the corresponding laminating machine, go ahead and pick up the cheaper, heat laminating ones. Just apply a hot iron (and pressing cloth, of course) slowly and evenly over the filled pouch until it seals. The beauty of the simple iron. Not just for burning your fingerprints off anymore.


Wanna whip out your own set of worksheets? Too lazy to work something up yourself with Creative Suite? What? You didn't shell out $1800 for a legal copy of the software? Here's our version of the worksheets, in PDF form. Knock yourself out. And try not to burn yourself on that iron.

A little celebration


Today is Mr. New Media's birthday. But May is a big month at the Lovelihood home. Two birthdays, an anniversary, Mother's Day, some celebratory travel, and toss in some big plans for some big changes. It's a big month. On the midst of all this celebration and movement, you'd think I'd be a crafty little bee buzzing from one project to the next to mark these felicitous times. But it seems that under all this anticipation, I've just been sitting around, twiddling my thumbs, antsy and unwilling to commit to anything that might eat into time spent stressing over these events. 

Angst city.

So I haven't been up to my usual festive craftiness. No pillows in progress. Sewing machine hibernating under its cozy. Gifts, ordered online instead of whipped up, and pretty mediocre at that. All this idleness got me feeling a tad guilty, so last minute plans got under way to bake a cake. A carrot cake, Mr. New Media's preference. Teeny tiny carrot cakes, adult cupcakes baked into the little canning jars (I've been hooked on these since making those sweetbreads at Christmas) we'd been storing The Girlie's homemade baby food in. Is there anything that miniaturization doesn't make better? It's as close to foolproof as any cake baking method can be. I've yet to misfire a batch of jar cakes. Perfect.


You know what else is perfect? Having a couple dozen perfectly portioned cakes, shelf stable up to a year, lunch-packable and utterly palatable. Either these babies will satisfy a couple weeks' worth of sweet-cravings. Or we'll polish them off by week's end and feel pretty bad about ourselves. We won't let ourselves think about that.


Teeny tiny carrot cakes, of course, deserve a teeny bit of cream cheese frosting. In our house, that means soy cream cheese frosting. And I've got to say, it turned out rather well. Double perfect. Little cake frosting is a job for little boys, even if they don't quite get the logistics of piping from a pastry bag. And there was, perhaps, a game of tic tac toe played in icing. Whatever.

Tags: birthday, cake, jar

New Me(dia)


It occurred to me recently that I really need to update my resume, and by extension, my skill set. And by "occurred to me" I mean I awoke one morning with such resolve that I could hardly wait for Mr. New Media to likewise rise in order share my revelation and hash out the steps necessary to make entry into the current times and LEARN HTML already. 

Now, I don't actually have any plans to enter the job market in the near future. Nor does the idea of relegating kid and craft time to a few short work-sapped evening hours send me into a career advancement frenzy. But I have always had one eye permanently affixed to Craigslist job listings. And a quick glance at the software and skills on employer wish lists makes very clear the fact that, yeah, my skill set could use a little refresh. 

So I've been spending quite a bit of time aimlessly filling up blank space, flexing that part of my brain that coordinates the pushing of pixels and mixing of color swatches.


Thanks to Adobe's latest technological advancements in price, and my passing on the previous round of upgrades, the cost to bring my software to the now would cost about 2 months' worth of The Boy's preschool tuition, or 4,444 conservatively-priced ramens. The cost to learn HTML from someone a little more reputable than Mr. New Media (who, on the occasions that he works from home, wears what he calls his "coding pants," which look an awful lot like pajamas) is roughly one-third of that price. Still a lot of noodles, but a relative steal for being able to legitimately say that I have a working knowledge of something my kids will undoubtedly pick up as second nature


When I'm not trying to turn my online instructor to this blog by inserting Lovelihood bits and goodies into my practice coding, I've been tinkering with vectors and pathfinding, exercising my graphic designer muscles on woefully out-of-date software. But, It's not my natural state to perform creatively without a directive. So I've taken a cue from this and I'm using the alphabet as impetus to whip out pixels on a semi-regular basis. The first was, unimaginatively, a, done in apples, naturally. Sent that one off to Spoonflower for printing and I'm thinking maybe I'll do that for the entire alphabet of exercises, should I have the wherewithal to accomplish the whole thing. Up next: the letter g. This could make a sweet little quilt if I manage to finish it.


And I've thought for a while now that the kids need some play money. Because I'm not convinced I've done my part to prepare them for the rough and tumble world of short-sales and day-trading. These will likely also be sent off for fabric-printing, and then filled with something crinkly to please The Girlie's oral fixation.


And then a little something I've been drafting up for some japanese embroidery on linen. 


And then back to the thing that needed shoring up in the first place. As it turned out, what my resume needed was total reconstruction. What I refer to as the Great Hard Drive Meltdown of 2008 claimed, among its various, un-backed-up victims, all traces of what I'd been handing out as a resume. I searched and dug and tore up the office looking for a hard copy, a three-jobs-ago version, anything that would render a complete recreation unnecessary. No luck. But probably a good thing, because I'm quite happy with what I ended up making. Note to employers: when you ask for resumes to be sent in Word format, it makes me immeasurably sad.

So that's what I've been working on. The sewing machine gets some sporadic attention, and knitting needles still clickety clack, faithfully interpreting preordained patterns. Meanwhile, I'm plugging away at the machine, not sure to what end, but quite enjoying myself, nonetheless.

Tags: computer, design, html, spoonflower

In Bloom(ers)


A million years ago, pregnant with The Boy and not really having had much association with kids since the time when I was one, I conferred with all the checklists and newborn preparedness lessons and movies featuring seemingly-happy babes and came to the conclusion that we would need onesies. Lots and lots of onesies.

And for the first two or three months, that's all he wore. Oneseis and the iconic footed jammies. Then, personality started kicking in, revealing him to be stubborn and proud and prone to maniacal fits of the giggles. And, excited at the little man he was becoming, we started dressing him like one, which, in our interpretation, looked (and still looks) a lot like a frat boy. We've given him over to the layered look, stocking his dresser with t-shirts from our favorite establishments and indie radio stations, to be worn over a small collection of thermal shirts and lightweight hoodies, even when this Texan spring might suggest that a plain old tank top might be more fitting. For bottoms, he sports denims generally way cooler than anything his dad or I have ever worn. With pockets in absurd arrays and numbers. In short, he's a cool little dude.


So, when compiling the wardrobe for the not-yet-born-Girlie, we played it cautious, wary not to give in to too many items that might contradict her personality later on. There were, of course, the hand-me-downs and some irresistible little shifts in pink concentric circles. And the sewing machine made its own contributions of booties and bloomers and a couple of entirely-too-cute-for-everyday-wear dresses. And sure enough, nine months into her baby-life, that stuff has mostly given way to miniature versions of the clothes our tween-aged neighbor girls wear.

So, with good reason, I had thought that the bloomer-making days were past. And yet that's what I've been spending the last week's worth of sewing time doing. Maybe it's that it just prolongs her babyness, a period that seems to be flying by entirely too quickly this time around. It seems to be a daily occurrence that The Girlie makes some face or pulls herself up in some new way or gurgles out some new consonant that compels me to remark to Mr. New Media that I can't believe how big she's getting. Yes. It appears I've reached THAT stage of parenthood. But bloomers. Bloomers will keep her a baby longer. 

And the best part about these bloomers (from this book), aside from their youth-preserving qualities? As with anything else you can sew for a baby, the amount of material necessary is small enough that it can be extracted from just about anything. Like beloved t-shirts, too ratty to function any longer as adult attire.


There are people out there, very talented sewists and purveyors of tutorials, who make the baseless assertion that jersey is deceptively easy to work with. Emphasis on the deception. I've used the elastic stitch function on my machine and varying iterations of the zig zag stitch, and combinations of the two, each time hoping something will click that will make that statement true. I'm not sure what it is, exactly, that the elastic stitch function does. So far as I can tell, its M.O. involves increasing the slowness and decibel level of the machine operation. But I've come to the conclusion that those jersey advocates out there are all either secretly working on sergers or are seriously delusional. Or perhaps both.


But, the draw of the t-shirt is strong. And, as I've come to learn, there is no sewing imperfection so heinous as to be un-concealable by judicious applications of elastic. Elastic being The Great Equalizer. Made from an old t-shirt that had seen heavy rotation through my high school years, and then banished to the sleepwear drawer once the holes started developing, these bloomers have become a favorite once again with a few short lengths of elastic. And they'll keep the prom dresses and dress slacks at bay for just a while longer.

Successes and a near-miss


I mentioned before that last year's egg decorating was a disaster of fantastical proportions. And by that, I mean it was very, very, VERY messy. Glue everywhere, dripping off the wooden eggs so profusely that the little bits and bobbles designated to adorn the them verily flowed right off. We were left with moist, immodestly-dressed ovate masses, glitter and beads flaking off every time The Boy breathed upon them to examine their unending states of wetness. 

All I wanted this year was a better rate of return. I designed this year's activities to be messy enough to engage a near-four-year-old, but not so unconfined as to make me want to cry. In that regard, the decorating, spread over the half-week that The Boy abstains from school, was a grand success. And really, it was a success all around. After all, it resulted in my new favorite object around the house. 


There's something so ridiculous about this egg, it's really difficult not to love. We blanketed an egg with adhesive dots, packed on the fuzzies, and Boy and I were just giddy with pride. So proud that we nearly tripped each other up, eager to show our day's work to Mr. New Media when he arrived home from work that evening. Now, that's a good egg. 

The painted eggs were actually the first ones done that morning, basically a warm-up exercise and homage to your traditional PAAS-dyed egg. Nothing too exciting there, but I don't look at them, heart-broken at another crafty fail, either.


Easter day, kids fresh from their afternoon nap, we set to work on the two remaining eggs. We harvested up a little pailful of grass and flowers and friendly-looking weeds for the project. And after a liberal application of Mod Podge we hand-applied the bits of flora and fauna (there were some little bugs swept up with our loot that didn't survive the gluing process). And there it is, another egg success. We might have tried for a little more coverage, but I think it works. I don't know of anything more spring-like than a wooden egg shellacked with grass. 


Ah yes, the near-miss. The last egg, slapdashed in the moments right after Mr. New Media announced dinner's readiness, is a bit of an Easter disaster, something that might make dear Martha cringe. But this picture gives me the giggles every time I pull it up. And so, of course, I'm constantly pulling it up. So, really, on that basis alone, I'm going to tally this one in the Wildly Successful column. 


Tags: easter, easter eggs, glue, mess

In a handbasket (or two)


We're not particularly religious folk. Hell, we're not religious at all. We tend to celebrate holidays in a strictly secular fashion, mainly as excuses to splurge in the retail clearance aftermath and indulge in seasonally themed candy. I maintain that the best candy is Easter candy. Sure, there's Halloween and Christmas, abundant with sugary goodness spilling out of bags by the five-poundful. But when else can you get a Cadbury Creme Egg? Or the perfectly proportioned peanut butter eggs? Or, my favorite, the Cadbury Mini Egg? 

Oh, and I've been seeing amazing things being done with real eggs this year. I've been mesmerized by images of blown out eggshells, painted and dye and glittered and decoupaged and orthogonalized and intricately Fabergized. And I've seen the usual ones, hollowed out and filled solid with chocolate. Indulgent, sure, but I've been seeing those the past we years. This year, I've been lusting after the little cakes baked right into some emptied out shells. Genius.


But, of course, there is The Boy. His damned allergies prevent his enjoyment of eggs filled with milky chocolate, peanut-y butter, and, well, eggy egg. Me, I'm not too fond of those plastic dealios, so we do Easter our own way. Usually, I stitch up a couple of fabric eggs, fashion up a basket with whatever fabric I have sitting around (or fuse some plastic bags together for a base material, like I did last year), and toss in a one or two fun pick-ups from the toy store to round out the goodies.

Last year, we introduced the egg decorating component, gluing a quickly-scattered assortment of sparkly and pastely things to wooden craft eggs. That proved a fantastically messy and largely unsuccessful endeavor. I'm still finding bits and pieces from that exercise kicked under carpets and sprinkled between pillows and cushions.

This year, I went a little nuts with ambition. There were, of course, two baskets to assemble. I did that quite handily using that bucket pattern. It was the filling of the baskets where I may have gone a little overboard. There were all manner of little softies made, some using a circus-y print, some cut from linen I'd impressed with the stamp set I'd gotten for Christmas, some in a basic egg shape, big enough to slobber and clutch with schlubby little fingers. 


Oh, but there were more eggs to be made. One largish, to hold the stamped linen pieces. One teeny-tinyish, to tuck away a little boy fistful of jelly beans. One flatish, to pocket away some stitched notebooks I still had on hand and some cutesy crayons I picked up in the dollar bin. 


The Boy's basket was conceived as a sort of fleecy canvas, like those felt playboards you find sometimes in doctors' waiting rooms.Those linen pieces I'd stamped were backed with some scraps of cotton batting, and they grab on quite nicely to the basket's surface. Fun.


For The Girlie's basket I made my first ever linoleum block carving. Back at Christmas, Mr. New Media gave me a book of various printing techniques and a set of carving tools. Me and printing just seem to be a good fit, he said. Of course he's right. Holy cow, is it ever satisfying to carve something I designed into a block and then hand press it into permanence. Am I the only one who sees the addictiveness in the act of scraping negative space off a block? I foresee lots of this in my future. This first carving was pressed onto linen for a soft gnawable version of the real stuff in the yard that The Girlie's always trying to pluck into her mouth.

And then there's the matter of the egg decorating, which absolutely could not be omitted from the program, because (1) it's just good crafty fun with an almost-4-year-old, and because (2) he actually remembers last year's production quite fondly and has been asking on a near-daily basis for a repeat performance. But that's a work in progress for another post.

Spam and other delicacies


I like to cook. And eat. And watch other people cook and eat. I spent a fair chunk of time, back before there were kids, mesmerized by the tv chefs flipping and saucing and tempering and presenting. I've built up a pretty solid repertoire of culinary done-its, not so much as to be fancy, but enough to not be stymied by complex-sounding recipes. I've braised, seared, parcooked, deglazed, caramelized, whipped an egg into a meringue tizzy. I do a pretty convincing risotto. I've seared scallops to accompany a pistachio pesto, reduced balsamic to an oozy glaze, en croute-d brie injected with healthy dollops of fig preserve, en papillote-d fish to serve with herbed couscous. I'm convinced that salmon is best when raw, and I eschew green-canistered cheese toppings.

But I am, by no means, a food elitist. I like what I like. Hot dogs, nuked until they burst and develop crusty burnt parts. Ramen, as cheap as I can find it, with or without the flavor packet, cooked or simply cracked open for a snack. (I've long been fond of referring to durable goods in terms of how many ramens they cost, and harbor secret hopes that some newspaper will one day publish a "ramen index", but this is a wild digression, even by my standards.) Banana pancakes every Sunday morning, occasionally dotted with Boy-safe chocolate chips on the nights that I trot them out for dinner. Vienna sausages, chopped up into small chunks and thrown into box mac and cheese, stuck in the oven for half an hour or so, a dish I would make all the freakin' time were it not for The Boy's damned dairy allergy. Meat loaf.


So when such a dish as Spam musubi is laid out before me, I don't scoff. I don't hesitate. I dig in.

This is, of course, a Hawaiian contribution to American cuisine. Luckily for us, there was, strangely, a large expat Hawaiian contingent in the Seattle area. Attend a potluck, and if you're with the right crowd, you might just find some musubi arranged in a casserole dish. Between potlucks, I could always schlep the handful of blocks from my office to my favorite Asian food superstore/bookstore, where they had Spam musubi perennially stocked in the deli case.

Here in Houston, it's been a little more difficult to find. And after a year and a half living here I developed the most intense craving for it. We located one restaurant that served it. And it was fine. But the hour long dinnertime trek to get there and the cockroach rearing at us in the restroom were pretty strong deterrents for a return-trip. We had heard of a second, slightly less distant, restaurant serving it, but the down-turned economy got to it before we could. 


It had been one of those things so cheap and readily available, I hadn't considered making it myself. We'd tried our hand at sushi-making before, and found we just enjoyed it more prepared by a proper chef, or dispensed on a conveyor belt. But these were desperate times, and a musubi mold made its way to our kitchen. Yes, there's special equipment to make Spam musubi, which makes it all the better. Such a simple device, such satisfying results. I've been putting these awesomely vague directions through their paces, and we've come to this conclusion: paired with a bowlful of warm edamame (that's soybeans to the uninitiated), it's practically the perfect meal. Sweet, salty, hand-fed gooey. Just plain good.