Thursday, April 29, 2010

Gramma's Little "Helper"

Now that her Mommy has gone back to work, I am the lucky care-giver for Miss E one day a week and I L-O-V-E it. She is such a sweet little dearie to hang out with. We've gone on shopping trips (sorry about bringing her to WalMart, Jed), out to lunch with a special friend, to visit my library friends, out on neighborhood walks and so on. A couple of weeks ago, Ellie even "helped" out in the kitchen at the condo! We made a yummy chocolate cake and baked some flower cookies. Two different days, though.

Surprisingly, it is easier to hold Ellie in a carrier than with no carrier as far as the back is concerned. She loves all the motions of cooking as I stir, roll, mix and blend. Here's the recipe for the chocolate cake we made together --- and note that it has leftover coffee and applesauce in the mix.

Ingredients 1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour 1/3 cup cocoa powder 1/2 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 cup sugar 1/4 cup vegetable oil 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce 1 cup cold water or chilled brewed coffee

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract 2 tablespoons cider vinegar Mocha Frosting 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa 1/4 cup butter or margarine, softened (4 tbsp. butter flavored Crisco also works well) 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 2-3 tablespoons milk or soymilk Directions 1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. 2. Generously oil an 8-inch square or round baking pan and dust with a little sifted cocoa or line the bottom with parchment paper. 3. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, soda, salt, and sugar. 4. In another bowl, combine the oil, applesauce water or coffee, and vanilla. 5. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix until well-blended and smooth. 6. Add the vinegar and stir briefly; the baking soda will begin to react with the vinegar right away, leaving pale swirls in the batter. 7. Without wasting any time, pour the batter into the prepared baking pan. 8. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. 9. Cool for 20 minutes, then frost with frosting. 10. For the frosting, combine powdered sugar, cocoa, butter and vanilla in large bowl; beat until combined. 11. Add additional milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating to desired consistency. 12. Makes about 1-1/4 cups frosting.

The second time we baked together, Ellie sat in her little Bumbo on the counter top, watching every step of the process. I used the cut-out cookie recipe posted previously to make springy flowers.

Such fun times together --- and we've only just begun!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Pre-trip Warmup! (with CC #19 thrown in)

Maybe you have heard...or maybe you have not heard. We are going to China! Wes has been asked to teach a short-term class at a university in Guangzhou. We needed to get a special travel visa so we headed off to Chinatown in Chicago this past week. Never having been there, it felt like a pre-trip warmup for the real deal. It was surprising to be so close to our home, yet feel so far away learning about the long-time Chinese culture in Chicago. This is the Chinatown welcome gate, built in 1975. The four large characters translate to "The World Belongs to the Commonwealth" and reflects the drive, determination and spirit of the Chinese people.

Immediately after walking through the gate, there is this impressive building on the right called(originally) the On Leong Merchants Association Building. It was designed by two Norse architects, Michaelson and Rognstad, and was opened in 1928 to assist immigrants in their assimilation to the "new" country. In 1941 this building was used as a Catholic grade school. In 1993, the building was given landmark status and is presently used as a family literacy station with a Christian emphasis --- now called the Pui Tak Center.

We took a short walk up and down this street and here are some of the sights we saw:

The pictures of food (left) would certainly help to know what to order ( I confess that the food aspect of the trip is a little scary for me). The bakery (right) had some tasty pastries. We shared a treat made with melon "goo" inside and took home something that looked like angel food cake. It was yummy! Speaking of Chinese foods, I just had to do the related fortune cookie craft on pages 22-23 in
the Blanket Statement book by Vicki Haninger as I blog my way through all of her projects! How fun it was to see a Chinese fortune cookie done up in green wool. The tweaking came by filling the cookie with rice to turn it into a mini "bean" bag for tossing with Ellie when she gets to be a little older.

I made nine cookies - 1 set of three for Ellie, one set of three for Wes and one set of three for me. When we toss them at targets (such as colored dots on the floor), we'll be able to see who got the closest due to the personalized label "fortunes" attached to each fortune cookie. The tossers are stored in a blue plastic Chinese food take-out box.

China, here we come! We hope to learn more about your country and peoples in the not-too-distant future. We are up for this adventure...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Polly, Molly and Dolly --- and Their Garden Cottage (Copycat Challenge #18)

As I am blogging my way through a book (inspired by Julie & Julia) and using Blanket Statement by Vicki Haninger, I report that this project is my all time favorite thus far! The three mice "sisters" (Mouse Squeeks) found on pgs. 28 and 29 in the book were a whimsical stitch from start to stop. They each developed their own personality, and I think of them as older, church-going gals with their classic styles of pearl-beaded noses (from old necklaces), lace shawls (from old doilies), and one even wears a hat (with a vintage pink button). A friend at work, Sonia, took one look at the "girls" and named them, Polly, Molly and Dolly and I think those names are simply perfect.
Once the trio was completed, it just didn't seem right to set them out in the world without a cozy little home in which to live. They needed a Garden Cottage!
Luckily, I remembered a pattern I purchased something like 26 years ago to make for daughter Anne. At that time, there was no time to make a project like this with over 60 pieces, so it never got made. Isn't this what Grammas are for, after all?
The pattern was made by McCall's. Number 669. If you check out the price, you will see that it cost a whopping $3.25, which at that time was a pretty pricey pattern. Have you seen how much patterns cost these days? Shocker! Well over ten dollars, with many close to the fifteen dollar mark.
The pattern includes little bears, rabbits or mice with three housing options. But, I am happier with my Dolly, Molly and Polly sisters.
The house opens up with a zipper on each front corner. The roof folds up and back, and has a velcro closure. Flower boxes under windows on all four sides. A handle makes the Cottage portable. Furniture includes a couch, an armchair, and a bed.
My garden-fantastic (sounds maybe a bit nicer than fanatic?) neighbors across the street were happy to oblige my request to take photos of the mice sisters and their Garden Cottage in their yard...but I am afraid they now think I am even goofier than they have thought previously. It's all for you, Ellie, and I'm willing to be the neighborhood nut on your behalf. Polly, Molly and Dolly can't wait for you to come and play with them!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Restoration Admiration (P*S*C* #24)

As one who favors repurposing objects instead of trashing them, there are two places I'd like to highlight from our recent trip to Baltimore: The Old Town National Bank and the Seven Foot Knoll lighthouse. Both were saved from destruction and live on, restored, as special landmarks in the Inner Harbor vicinity.
First, the bank. It was built in the early 1920's. A beauty of a bank at that! However, by the middle of the century, another bank took over this original bank (sounds familiar?). By the late 1980s the bank became a state building which eventually left, too. Leaving one very tired building vacated and in disrepair. A couple of years ago, the building was purchased by one who thought condominiums were the way to go, but then that market vanished as well. Instead, along came the idea to convert the building into a hotel - a Holiday Inn Express as a matter of fact. Which is where we stayed, thanks to a great deal from And now I can say I have slept in a bank!
What a grand building this is! You walk right into the two story lobby and see the former bank hub transformed into a beautiful, open space. The original heavy brass doors, the vaults, the bank president's office to the left, and an open dining area to the right are all there.

Our room was lovely as well with a color palette matching the golden yellow hues of the lobby with a warm red accent wall.

Though there was no pool, we certainly didn't miss it as we were always on the go in the city.

The free breakfasts each morning gave us just the jump-starts we needed...imagine them in this pretty lobby space!

Next the lighthouse. This is the oldest surviving lighthouse on the Chesapeake Bay from the 1820s. It was still in use in the early 1980s, but with advances made in technology, it became obsolete. However, restoration began once the lighthouse was moved to the Inner Harbor area and it reopened for the public in 1988. This is a charmer, too!

This type of lighthouse is called a screwpile lighthouse because of the inner core construction. I found it interesting to note that during the winter months, the animals were kept on the lower platform.

In the center is a list of all the lighthouse keepers in its history. I wonder what it would be like to be a lighthouse keeper sometimes....was it too confining, or was it just right for the right person to be surrounded by water on all sides?

The view from the lighthouse was impressive --- and a perfect spot for those visiting the Inner Harbor area to get a better view of the harbor itself as well as a view of the Baltimore skyline.

Kudos to you, dear Baltimore visionaries, for recognizing that structures from the past should be restored and presented to people in the present!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Travelmore to Baltimore (Pink Suitcase Chronicles #24)

Quite some time ago when a conference was in the works for Wes, he asked me if I would like to join him for a long weekend in Baltimore, Maryland. Yes! was the ready answer. Pink and I would love to get out and about again...she was gathering dust in the closet since the last trip. We found the city to be very charming and certainly a study in contrasts. Old and new: architecture and buildings. Young and old: inhabitants. Built up and broken down: neighborhoods. Population: diverse. Cuisine: delicious. The Inner Harbor area is where we spent most of our time. It truly seems to be a cross between some of the most charming cities in the US that we love: the harbor aspects of Seattle, the walkways by the waterfront like San Antonio, the historical, stately buildings like Boston, the musuem campuses like Chicago, and the variety of restaurants like San Francisco. In short, this is one city that has a lot to offer to travelers with a personality all its own! If you like ships, this harbor has plenty for touring...and even cute "dragons" for paddling. The water taxi was a great option, too.
We certainly lucked out with fabulous weather while in Baltimore --- and the flowering trees and plants made the experience even lovlier.

See the yellow umbrellas on the top balcony? We had desserts there....mmm! Harbor view from here.

Just a couple of blocks away from the harbor, you can see these historic buildings:

In fact, this was the view we had out of our hotel window just as night was falling. Truly a city that merits exploration --- more to come!

Friday, April 09, 2010

Our Little Chicklet (Copycat Challenge #17)

Having a baby in our lives at Eastertime was so very special that I knew I had to make a little scrapbook about the event of Ellie wearing her first "fancy" dress, receiving her first Easter basket, and donning her first pair of bunny ears! She's our sweetie pie chicklet, that's for sure! So, when I saw the Chicklet on pgs. 74 and 75 in the Blanket Statement book by Vicki Haninger, I knew just how I'd tweak it into a project for a scrapbook.
I simply used the pattern flat without making a back side. I then cut a square smack dab in the middle of the chicklet to fit the size of a pre-made, open-windowed scrapbook from Target. Blanket stitches were made around the square as well as the outside edges of the chicklet.
What I love about this little cherub peeking out from the cover is that when you open up the book, you get the full mohawk look --- that baby has some serious hair going on here!
If you check out the top right corner of this page, you can see that the chicklet has been reduced in size, printed on cardstock with a window for journaling inside the square. A little sticker jewel was used for the eye.
Other supplies used: chipboard buttons from a Joann's pack,
miscellaneous stickers from my stash, embroidery floss, scrapbook
papers from my stash. I didn't have the striped paper from the cover, so I just photocopied the back side of the photo album to get some.
Aunt Margene loved meeting her Great Great Niece. (Again, journaling through the photo-copied square window.)
May I just say working with this little two-and-a-half month chicklet and using springy colors of green, pink and orange really helped to displace the gloomy snow showers we had yesterday? Ah, Spring. Ahhh, Ellie!