Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Family Charging Station

Everybody has that one drawer in the kitchen.  You know the one I'm talking about.  It's a mess and useless because of the mess.   I had two.   A couple of years ago I tamed the other drawer with some plastic drawer organizers and decided what belonged in that drawer and what didn't.   It was such a success that my other drawer has really frustrated me.  Sometimes I even had difficulty opening it around all the stuff we didn't know what to do with.   
At the same time, my family developed a charging problem.  We went from a two device home to a six (or seven) device home.   Which meant, since there were children involved, that charger cord stealing had become a serious, and yet frequent, crime.  My husband and I could only ever keep one cord between us, a serious issue with three devices to charge. 

So how do you fix both issues at once?  Like this: 


I love it.   It's functional.  It holds exactly what I need it to.   And I always have a charger for my phone (and everyone else's besides.)   Isn't it pretty?   It was also very easy to build.  It only took a saw, a drill, some sandpaper, less than 6' of 1x3, and some planning.  

The planning is very important.  You need to decide exactly what needs to be stored in the drawer and how big those storage places need to be.  I knew I needed a section for phone charging, a section for bills and coupons, and a section for important papers (like the ones from school that I need to sign but always get lost.)   The rest of the space I knew would fill up with whatever fit and needed a home.  I planned a six inch wide section the full depth of the drawer for the charging station, a slightly larger than 8.5"x11 for the papers, and an 11x whatever was left for the bills.   If you have a family tablet, or larger phones, you will want a larger section for the charging station.  Six inches is a bit tight even for what we have.  

Next, you need to measure your drawer.   Get this measurement exactly.   I mean down to the 1/32 of an inch.   The better this measurement, the tighter your divider will fit.  Mine is so tight it doesn't slip at all.  This way we didn't have to nail or glue it in so it's easily removable if we ever need to change things.  

Now you need to plan your cuts.   I have two pieces the full length of the drawer and two the width of the two divided sections, so two 19.5", one aprox. 6" and one aprox. 8.5".   This allowed me to keep the pieces down to only four, so it was easy to put together and will be stronger.  In order to figure out my lengths, I made a sketch:  

Everything is perfectly to scale in that because I used an architectural triangle ruler.   I learned how to use one in high school.  It's so easy that even though I haven't used one in ages, I still knew what I was doing.  It's a pretty handy device.  If you would like to learn to use one, this video explains it well.   Because I drew my plan to scale, it made it very easy to figure out how long each piece of wood should be.  Then I double checked my measurements with math.   Once I had cut the wood, I also did a dry fit in the drawer.  Getting things cut perfectly even when you have the right lengths is very difficult.  A dry fit allows you to recut or sand until you get things right.  

Because I was using a clear polyurethane finish on the divider, I wanted it to have invisible fasteners.  Using doweling meant that I was able to fasten the boards together without anything showing.  To make things as easy as possible, I bought a doweling kit from Home Depot.  (You may have to ask to find these. They aren't in the fastener aisle or near the full length dowels at my Home Depot.  They were inexplicably back by the doors.)  The kit comes with exactly the right size drill bit, a drill bit collar, and two marking pegs, along with about ten ridged dowels.    It's pretty easy to use.  The collar sets your bit depth and the pegs are used to mark where to make the dowel holes on the second piece of wood without having to measure.   

So I used dowels, glued it up and then gave it two coats with a semi-gloss poly to match my drawers.

I then cut a piece of no-slip drawer liner to fit the charging station.  I had some of this around already, so it was free for me.   You can pick up drawer liner for pretty inexpensively in any kitchen department.   

The charger is an Anker brand charging port.    I liked that it could charge six devices at once, didn't overcharge, and I could charge both Apple and other brands from the same charger.   I bought six micro USB 1 ft charging cables to go with it.  They're white so they match, of course.    I did some research before I bought these to be sure they were sturdy and would do the job I needed.   The Anker charging station came with a piece of double stick tape so it was easy to attach to the side of the drawer.

The cord is secured with a wire fastener.  The drawer back was low enough that the wire goes over the back with plenty of clearance.
We used one designed for household wiring but you could use any type of cable clip as long as it's a low enough profile.    You'll also want to be sure to check the clearance of your drawer.  If there isn't enough room, you may have to cut into the drawer.   Most modern cabinetry should allow space for the cord, though.

We chose this particular drawer in our kitchen because there is an outlet in the side right here.   My husband was able to put a second outlet right next to it facing into the cabinet so the charger could always stay plugged in. It's also already on a GFCI circuit so it gives us a bit more peace of mind.    That's easy to do if you have electricity close by and have electrical experience.  Otherwise, hire a professional for that part.

All I had to after that, was start using the drawer.

I love it!  It's been so great to have and I know it will be a lot easier to keep organized.   

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Chocolate Peanut Butter Thumbprints

What combination is more classic than chocolate and peanut butter.   I'm always up for any cookie that combines my two favorite things.   Tonight I was up for something new, so I decided to take the classic jam thumbprint cookie and make it better.    The cookie has a bit of cream cheese to keep them moist and give them a lovely tang.   The filling is soft and gooey.   They are, in fact, perfect.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Thumbprints

2  cups + 2 T all purpose flour
1/4 c cocoa powder
1/2 t salt
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t baking powder
3/4 c butter
2/3 c brown sugar
3 ounces cream cheese
1 large egg
1 1/2 t vanilla

Sift the dry ingredients together and set aside.   Cream the butter, sugar, and cream cheese together in a large mixing bowl.   Stir in the egg and vanilla.    Mix in the dry ingredients until just combined.   This will give you a smooth, soft dough that holds it's shape.   Using a #60 food scoop, drop balls of dough onto a cookie sheet about 2" apart.  If you don't have the scoop, you will need to make 1.5" balls of dough.  It helps to keep your hands damp so the dough doesn't stick to them.  Once you have a full pan of cookie balls out, use a wet thumb to make a depression in each cookie.    Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.   While the cookies are baking, make the filling.

2/3 c peanut butter
2/3 c powdered sugar
4 T butter

Beat the three ingredients until thoroughly combined.   Put the filling in a pastry bag with a large round decorator tip.   Alternatively, you could use a plastic bag and cut the corner off.  Remove from oven and redo the depressions by pressing a round metal teaspoon into the center of each cookie.   Immediately, squeeze about a teaspoon of filling into the center of each cookie.  Return the cookies to the oven and bake for an additional five minutes.   Remove from pan and let cool.

Don't let them cool too much before eating because they are fantastic warm.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Games on Sale!

If you were interested in some of the games I recommended in my last blog post, they may be on sale today at Amazon.   Today's Bonus Deal of the Day is table top games for up to 50% off.   That's half off 7 Wonders, $20 off Ticket to Ride Europe, 40% off Machi Koro, almost half off two different Munchkin decks, and others.   King of Tokyo is another fun one as well as Small World.  My teen sons love that one.

I've got my eye on Tsuro, Tokaido, and King of Tokyo (we played with someone else so we don't own that one yet.)

What are you buying?

Thursday, July 30, 2015

17 Games For Families With Older Kids

I love games.  I love interacting with my family and friends and having a good conversation over a board or some cards.  Games work in all sorts of situations and can create some great family memories.

I have heard that old saw "there's a reason they call them bored games."  Her, her.  And while I understand that games aren't for everyone, if you are bored playing a board game it's likely you're playing the wrong one.   There are hundreds of games out there for every interest and game playing style.

Most game wrap ups are aimed at families with young children.   While we all love Candy Land and Uno there comes a point where your family has outgrown the classic children's games.    Here's a few games for families with pre-teen and older kids.  Kids who don't want to play Clue for the bajilionth time and SkipBo isn't bringing them to the table either.

Even though I've provided Amazon links (yes, they are affiliate links) for all these games, I recommend you buy them from a local game store.   Just about every town over 30k population has a game store these days.   They offer a huge variety of games (way more than I can list here) and can recommend new games based on the games your family already likes.   A good store will also have open box games you can try out in their dedicated play space.   Make sure you have plenty of time for your first visit so you can look around and try out a couple of games.  It's even a good idea to make going to the game store a family activity so everyone can try the new games and give suggestions. Talk to the employees; they will be able to offer you good advice and help you learn how to play new games as well.   Most game stores are helpful, but if you find one that feels a little exclusive and doesn't seem to welcome novices, try a different one.

Games for Mixed Aged Groups

If your family has young kids and teenagers, it can be very hard to find a game everyone can play.   Teens want more complexity.  Young ones need simplicity.   These games balance the two needs to bring you a game for everyone without having to get out the Uno cards yet again.  

1.  Quirkle

Out of box play: quick
cost:  $$
competitiveness: low
age range:  6 and up
number of players: 2-6 (with four being manufacturer's recommendation)

Quirkle is a tile matching game.  You build sets and arrange them on the table crossword style,  similar to the way tiles are arranged in a scrabble game.  You can build on other people's lines and you score based on how many tiles you lay down.  Scoring is simple, but the game can be made even more young kid friendly by doing away with the scoring altogether.   Kids are ready to learn as soon as they can match tiles and sit through a 15 minute game.  They may need to lay out the tiles so you can see them and coach them through the game the first few times.  Older kids still enjoy the challenge and bring an extra level of complexity with their defensive play.

2. Dixit

out of the box play:  quick
cost:  $$
competitiveness:  low to medium
age range: 6 and up
number of players: 3-6

Dixit is gorgeous.  Each card is a different fantastical painting with planets in trees, strange dice, knights, toys, and more painted in bright colors that appeal to all ages.   Dixit is a rotating judge game like Apples to Apples, but with much less subjectivity from the judge.  I've yet to find anyone who doesn't love this game.   Young kids may need help understanding the rules, but they will  love the cards.  You'll be surprised how quickly they get the concept.  Games can last up to 30 minutes, but you set the number of points to win at a lower value if you need a quicker game for impatient young ones.  

3. Takenoko

out of the box play: medium set up
cost: $$$
competitiveness: low to medium
age range: 8 and up
number of players: 2-4

Takenoko is frankly adorable.   There's a panda.  He eats bamboo that you grow for him.   What's not to love?   Well maybe all the pieces?   There's a lot of pieces to this game and it takes longer to learn than the other games I've suggested for this age group.   This is for a child who understands more complex game play.  You build a bamboo garden for the panda together.  You get points by making things in the garden match the cards in your hand, like growing bamboo to a certain length, making patterns with the colored garden tiles, and getting the panda to eat certain colors of bamboo.   The manufacturer recommends ages 13 and up, but I've had kids as young as 5 do well with this game.  They do need more help, but it's worth it.   I've recommended it for ages 8 and up because it does take longer to play and it can be hard to get younger kids to focus on the game and not the cute pieces to the game.  Older kids will quickly figure out how to play defensively and make it much more about strategy than luck.  

Games for kids who love complex games

If your kids are bored with easy games, you're in luck.   With the booming market for family games, there are dozens of fun, complex games to play, games that really make you think and work hard for the win.  

4.  7 Wonders

out of box play: medium to long set up
cost:  $$$
competitiveness: medium
age range: 10 and up (and 10 is pushing it. Save this for older kids.)
players: 2-7 

7 Wonders has complicated instructions, but once you figure out the game play, it's fun and quick to play.   If you know someone with the game, invite them over to teach you. If you have a kid into Magic the Gathering, they will be ahead of the game.   My son, the Magic player, tells me that 7 Wonders is a draft deck style game.  Decks of cards are passed around the table.  You take one and add it to the group of cards in front of you.   Points come from which cards you choose and how you combine them.  You can ignore everyone else and just play for you, or you can get aggressive and play cards based on what will screw other people up.   This game is different every time you play it.  I have kids who hate it, but if you have kids who love complex card games, this is a good one to add to the family game cupboard.  I also love it for how many people can play.   When you have a big family, being able to include lots of people makes game night more fun.    

5. Settlers of Catan

out of the box play:  long set up
cost: $$$ (if you get into the extensions expect to spend $$$$)
competitiveness: medium to high
age range: 10 and up
players: 2-4 (up to 6 with the expansion pack)

No game list is complete without Catan.  With it's varied game play, extensive extension packs, and unique set up, it's become a classic.   Teenagers love this game.  Adults love this game.   It's a great balance of strategy and luck.  Add the expansion packs, like the 5-6 player expansion, Seafarers, Cities and Knights, and others for even more fun.   This one is better to learn from someone who's played before, so invite an experienced Catan friend over to teach you the game.  

6. Discworld

out of the box play: medium set up
cost: $$$
competitiveness: high
age range: 12 and up
players: 2-4

If you love Terry Pratchett's books, you'll love Discworld the game.  (If you don't know the books, you can still have fun. You just won't get why your neighbor keeps giggling every time she draws a card.) What makes this one complex is that each player has a different win condition.  What you have to do to win the game may be different from what the other players have to do.   So not only do you have to keep track of your game, you have to watch what the others are doing so you can try to stop them.   There's a lot to keep track of, but that's what makes it a great game.   In the mean time you can laugh at how appropriate the cards are for each character from the Discworld books.  Everyone from Death to Captain Carrot to Mrs. Cake are here and ready to help you win the game.    

Games for families who love card games

If board games aren't your style, but you love cards, give these games a try.  

7. Machi Koro

out of the box play:  medium set up
cost: $$
competitiveness:  low to medium
age range: 8 and up
players: 2-4

In Machi Koro you buy cards to build a city.   It's the perfect blend of strategy and luck.      The set up is simple and the game is easy to learn.  You can be an expert after just a couple of plays.  That doesn't mean it gets boring quickly.    Using dice makes each game very different.  The competitiveness is going to depend on the group you play with.   There are a couple of cards that make it a bit more aggressive;  some groups will go for those cards first and some groups will ignore them.  

8. Munchkin

out of the box play: quick
cost: $$
competitiveness: high
age range: 8 and up
players: 2-10 or so

Munchkin is wild.  It's easy to learn and great in large groups.  The "Deluxe" edition only plays six because you have a board to keep track of score with.  Keep track of score on paper and you can play as many players as you have cards for.  More than 10 can get unwieldy and long, though.   Munchkin is good for kids who have played fantasy type games like D&D.  It's pokes fun at genre tropes in a great tongue in cheek way.   The additional decks can be added to your original or you can skip the starter sets and just play with the expansions on their own.   There are over a dozen now and it seems they come out with a new one every year.  You can send monsters to each other to keep people from advancing levels or winning the game, so be sure your family can handle the aggressive play before you bring it home.

9.  Killer Bunnies and the Quest for the Magic Carrot 

out of the box play: quick
cost: $$ (expect to feel the need to add $$$ as you buy the expansion decks)
competitiveness: high
age range: 8 and up
players: 2-10 depending on whether you have expansion decks

Killer Bunnies is crazy.  It's mean.  It's complex.  It's addictive.   I highly recommend playing this with an experienced player the first few times through.  The expansion packs add new bunnies and more fun to the game.   When I say it's competitive, I mean it.  You attack other players; they attack you.  It's the game.   If your family loves highly competitive games, they will love Killer Bunnies.  

10.  Love Letters

out of the box play: quick
cost: $
competitiveness: medium
age range: 8 and up
players: 2-4

Love Letters is a simple, well designed, and pretty card game.  There are only 16 cards in the deck and it comes with it's own little velvet pouch, making it very portable.   I actually keep this one in my purse.   The game is very easy to learn and quick to play.   It's not going to be everyone's favorite game, but it's a great choice when you only have a few minutes to play or don't want something more complex.  

Games for story tellers

Do you have a child who loves to talk?  Do they argue passionately for their side of things?  Do they have three different notebooks full of stories squirreled away that they work on constantly?  Story tellers and imaginative players will love these games that give them free reign to go wild.   

11.  Story Cubes

out of the box play: quick
cost: $
competitiveness: very low
age range: 6 and up
players: 1 or more

With Story Cubes you roll the dice to tell a story.  Each player takes a turn telling a piece of the story based on the symbol of the dice.   Younger kids love this one and it's a great one for mixed age ranges.   Kids with great imaginations who love to write or tell stories will love story cubes.  They are also a great educational game, teaching narrative and cause and effect among other things.  The manufacturer recommends 8 and up for this game, but your kid can play as soon as they can follow and tell a story.  This one is great for a large group.

12.  Gloom

out of the box play: quick
cost: $$
competitiveness: high
age range:  9 and up 
players: 2-5

Gloom is dark.  It's depressing.  It's so very, very fun.   Do you know someone who takes great pleasure in telling you how awful life is and how bad theirs is specifically?   This game takes that idea, turns it on it's head, and pokes  fun at it.   Everyone has a family that they try to make horrible things happen to before they kill them off.  The other players are trying to make your family's life better.  The person with the absolute worst family life wins. Good story telling makes this one even more fun because you are supposed to tell the story of the miserable event you just laid down on your card.  The better the story tellers, the more fun you'll have.  

13.  Snake Oil

out of the box play: quick
cost: $$
competitiveness: high
age range: 10 and up
players: 3-10

Snake Oil is another great game by the makers of Apples to Apples.   This one pits players against each other as they try to "sell" their crazy product to the "customer."   Watch out for players talking over one another; this one gets loud as the sellers get more impassioned about their products.   My kids love this one.   It's great for large groups.

14.  The World Needs More Jet Pack Unicorns

out of the box play: quick
cost: $$
competitiveness: high
age range: 8 and up
players: 3 and up

In Jet Pack Unicorn players argue with one another to prove their what if scenario is the coolest, weirdest, or worst.  The game is easy to play and pretty portable.   This one gets crazy and loud. The better at BS you are, the better you will be at this one.  This makes a great party game and is good for big families.  

Cooperative Games

If your family loves to work as a team or just needs a break from competing against one another, cooperative games may be for you.  In a cooperative game you work together to win the game, making it a great game when you need to build family unity or include a child who might be too young for another game.   It's great for teaching strategy to younger kids and making everyone feel included and important.

15.  Forbidden Island

out of the box play: medium set up
cost: $$
competitiveness: low
age range: 8 and up
players: 2-4

Forbidden Island pits the group against a sinking island.  You each have a different skill that helps the group.   The game mechanics include methods for making the game easier or harder depending on what you feel like playing that day.   We've also found that if we take out one of the "waters rise" cards we can play 6 players.  It puts the game at the experienced player difficulty but it's nice to get everyone around the table for a game.  If you do this, make sure everyone is discarding unneeded cards quickly to make the discard pile as big as possible.  It's also best to play several times with just four to get the hang of game play before you try to add in additional players.   The designer also has a game called Forbidden Desert that plays very similarly.  

16.  Pandemic

out of the box play: medium set up
cost: $$
competitiveness: low
age range: 8 and up
players: 2-4

In Pandemic your group must save the world from four viruses that are sweeping through the population.   It was also developed by the same game designer as Forbidden Island, so some of the game mechanics will feel familiar if you've played that one before.   It's also possible to make this one a six player game, but it's much harder and you have to go for the win quickly.   There's several expansion sets for Pandemic, a couple let more people play and one does add a "bad guy" who's working against the group.  

17.  Elder Sign

out of the box play: medium to long set up
cost: $$$
competitiveness: low
age range: 12 and up
players: 2-8

Elder Sign is a great game for your teenagers.  The game play is based on HP Lovecraft so if you've got a Cuthulu fan in your house, they will enjoy this game.   The game play is pretty complex, so even though it's cooperative, it's best not to try and play it with younger kids.  

This is only a very small list of the available games out there.   There is a huge boom in table top games right now.  There are games for all interests and play level.   Don't limit yourself based on the theme of the game.   If you base your choices more on what style of game play you enjoy, you are more likely to find a game you'll play often.  That said, don't limit yourself either.  It's good to branch out and try new things.

You may have noticed a few popular games I didn't list, like Ticket to Ride and Apples to Apples.  You can tell me what I missed. What are your favorite games?

Thursday, July 9, 2015

More Vinyl than any one wall should have

A couple of months ago, right in the middle of my busiest month substituting, my husband asked me if I would be willing to do some vinyl work for his bosses.   They were putting in a second office and wanted an inspirational quote wall.   Not just a couple of quotes, but as many as I could fit on the wall.

This is what I ended up with:

The final design is approximately 11'x6' with ten different quotes.  I used Oracle 358 because the wall is textured and I wanted to be sure it would stay.

Hanging a wall like this is a huge undertaking and I learned a lot doing it.  If I could go back, I probably would do a few things differently.  Things like I pieced more than I had to because I was worried about making sure the quotes were spaced properly.  I would try harder to not piece in the middle of words.  Some of those black boxes are in three pieces and took some clean up time with an Xacto knife to get them looking like they should.  I might even have gone to full outdoor rated vinyl as well.   Textured walls just don't like vinyl.   It's hard to get it to stick.

 The design was a challenge, but I'm very happy with how that came out.  I looked for inspiration for quote walls on the internet but just about everything is plaques or only has one or two quotes on it.   There just wasn't anything like this out there.  I could have used more quotes, but I wanted the letters to be large and have a big impact.   The boss said to "use lots of fonts" which is customer speak for "make it interesting, please."  You might notice there's only two fonts here, Playball and Potterybarn.  I added visual interest with the black word boxes.  Playball was a dream to work with.  Loved it.  Potterybarn looks great and paired beautifully with Playball but those serifs drove me nuts.

I enjoyed this job.  It was a challenge to do the physical work, but I loved best getting to exercise my creative muscles.  I love working with fonts.  It's amazing what beautiful things you can make just with text.   Words are lovely, aren't they?

Monday, June 15, 2015

What I've Been Working On

So between me working 40 hour weeks in May and the run up to my parent's 50th wedding anniversary bash, I haven't have a lot of time for blogging.   I've also been busy working on transforming my front room.

When we originally moved in, it was the living room.  It was also 1980's doctor's office mauve.  If you lived in the 80's you know exactly what I'm talking about here.  It was that dusty pink/purple that went with country blue.  I'm sure your picturing the tiny flowers on the wallpaper now.   Needless to say, we painted it pretty quickly.   I went with a lovely sage green.  I've enjoyed it, but it was worn out and needed re-done.  I decided it might be time for a change of color as long as we're going through the trouble of painting.  Then I got thinking about other changes we could make.

So I talked my husband into this:

I know, all that big talk about how "my house shouldn't look like other people's houses," and I go with board and batten wainscoting.   It looks pretty, though.   I'm very happy with it.  The picture ledge is fabulous.   I console myself with the fact that only four people on the planet have that pear picture (I only gave/sold three copies of it.  It's mine. It will also have a red "mat" as soon as I can find the blasted picture file.)  and that paper cut is a custom SVG done by my lovely friend Helena.  She sent it to me to do a cut test.   I loved it so much I framed it.  

Here's a close up of the pillow: 

That bench is right by the front door.   I figured at my age, a little memory prompting can only be a good thing. The words are iron on vinyl.  The fabrics are the leftover pieces from the pillows in the sitting room.   Since I used the same color scheme, it was a great way to tie the two rooms together.   

Here's a terrible picture of the other side of the room.

I'll take better pictures soon.   I have never been happier with my house.  It's been a long process, but I have found over the years that, contrary to popular style fads, the more color I add to my home the happier I am with it.   I would never have been happy with the room if I had painted the space above the wainscoting Sherman Williams Sea Salt like everyone else.   I need color.

Never be afraid to do your own thing in your home.  You do not have to decorate to make the online bloggers happy.   They mostly live in UT; they probably won't visit you anyway.  I read blogs to check the style trends to see if there is anything I might like and to learn some great design lessons.  You can take design tips and use them for the things that work for you.

I'll post better pictures in a bit.  I want to get a new centerpiece put together and I have to paint the eighth chair.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Peanut Butter Stuffed Chocolate Cookies

Many years ago I found this recipe in a magazine.  It was created to sell peanut butter and it does a very good job of it.  It's been a family favorite for three decades.  We love these cookies.  They are a bit more time consuming than a drop cookie, but that peanut butter filling makes it so worth the effort.

 Peanut Butter Stuffed Chocolate Cookies

1 1/2 c flour
1/3 c cocoa
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 c butter
1/4 c peanut butter
1 t vanilla
1 egg

Combine the dry ingredients and set aside.   Cream the butter, peanut butter, brown sugar, and sugar.  Beat in the egg and vanilla.  Sift in the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.   Then make the filling by beating together in a small bowl:

1 c peanut butter
1 c powdered sugar

Shape 1 T of the chocolate dough into a flat, oval disc and wrap it around a 1 inch ball of the peanut butter filling.  Be sure to seal the edges so you can't see the filling.  You can add or pinch off dough as needed to make a smooth ball.  Place on an ungreased cookie sheet.  The cookies should be about 3" apart.    Dip the bottom of a glass or flat measuring cup in sugar and flatten the cookies.   Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes.   Do not over bake.  It's easy to do so watch them carefully.  They are done when the tops look somewhat dry and the dough is set.

Have fun and enjoy!

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

He's Not a Loner

I'm a substitute teacher and that means I get to spend time with the teachers at my younger son's school quite a bit.   One day my son came up in the conversation (because I find lunch a good time to check and see if he's up to date on his work) and one of the teachers called my son a loner in passing.  The teacher was trying to be helpful and had a suggestion for helping him find friends, but still the comment bugged me.  I let it go in the moment but the longer I thought about it the more it rankled.

First:  my son is not a loner.  If you see him with his friends he's happy and very involved in the interaction.  You can almost see him recharging from the energy of being around people who like him and enjoy the things he likes.  He brings his best friend over to our house nearly every day after school so they can spend more time together.  At home with the family he's almost never alone in his room.  He's out interacting with us, having conversations and looking for hugs.  If he has the choice, he'll chose to be around people nearly every single time.

Does he have a lot of friends at school?  No.  He doesn't.  He has three, and two of those are more in passing friendships. They don't spend a lot of time together.  His other friends are either home schooled or attend a different school.  This has been very hard for him.   Because he is a little different (he's weird and proud of it) and he's so small, he's a target for harassing behavior.  Kids want to touch his head and tease him.  Nothing that would be overtly seen as bullying, but over time it adds up and it tears him down.   He hates it.  He wants more friends and he wants the kids at school to treat him better.

Second:  When you label someone a loner you are saying that you think they are choosing to not have friends.   Loners want to be alone, right?  But that's not always the case.  Actually, a person choosing to never spend time with anyone and not wanting any friends at all is vanishingly rare.

When you say "he's a loner," you're saying: "He wants that.    No one is doing anything wrong.  I don't have to change what I'm doing. We can all just go about our business and continue ignoring this kid."  "Loner" is a way of abdicating any responsibility for the situation.

I see these kids who are alone at school.  I see the hurt in their eyes as they walk the halls without friends.  I see the way certain children latch on to the teachers, desperate for some positive interaction during the day.  I watch them try to interact with their classmates and be rebuffed.  Do those kids sound like loners to you?  Just because a child doesn't have friends at school, it doesn't mean they are choosing for things to be like that.   Most kids want to have friends.  We are wired as human beings to be social creatures.  When our society blocks a person from that social interaction, it's harmful to them.   The pain can be long lasting and affect their relationships long into the future.

Third:  When you call my son a loner you call up all the denotations our society has for that word.   Loner is what we call the guy who hurts other people.  The one who just snaps and makes the evening news with tragedy and pain.  You make other people think of those kinds of loners and associate them with my son.  Then my son suddenly isn't just a boy who sits alone in class, he's the boy with the potential to cause harm.  They might not say it or think it overtly, but you can't live in America and not have that association with the word loner.   Calling a child loner can make other people treat them differently, as if that child has the potential to cause harm just because the other kids don't want to be friends with the "loner" child.  Kind of messed up, isn't it?

Stop.  Stop calling kids loners.   How about instead we notice who is alone and find a way to help them be part of the group?   Instead of labeling, can we try to heal?  Please, for the sake of my son and the sake of all the children who play alone.

They aren't loners.  They are people who need friends.  Be their friend.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Family Rules--Geek Style

Yeah.  I don't do cute, overly sentimental sayings.  It's not my style and it's also not my style to have my wall say things everyone else's wall says.

What I do enjoy doing is making sure our home reflects us as a family.   We are a geek family.  We love Douglas Adams and Tolkien.  We spend way too much time playing Minecraft and Zelda and lots of other video games.  We do not choose between Star Trek and Star Wars.   We are a dual Star loving family.   Agents of SHIELD is appointment television here for everyone.  And if we have a couple of hours of time on a Sunday, we may just be playing board games.   

So I made a sign that is all us.  I had the the kids help me come up with the rules so it reflected everybody.  I love it, even though it was the biggest pain to make.  The vinyl didn't cut cleanly.  The board warped.  The stupid clear contact paper stuck too well to the vinyl when I tried to transfer.  It was a mess.  Honestly, I should toss it and start over, but after spending hours on a project that should have taken me 30 minutes tops, it's a victory just to have it done.  So enjoy, wonky letters and badly made font and all.  

Then make your own Family Rules.  What does your family love?  Sports?  TV? Movies? Books?  Board Games?  Make your rules about you.   Have fun, and I hope your vinyl cuts properly and your transfer sheets work right.  Also, the font Episode I is badly kerned.  Skip it even if your family loves Star Wars.  

Monday, February 2, 2015

Sun Dried Tomato and Artichoke Pasta Alfredo

There are nights when I haven't the slightest clue what to make for dinner.  Sometimes that means we get something basic like chicken Alfredo, spaghetti, or even *gasp* buttered noodles (that's what happens when I don't feel like cooking and the 13 year old takes over.)   Tonight when I was lost for what to make, I just started pulling things out of the fridge and came up with a dressed up pasta Alfredo.

Sun Dried Tomato and Artichoke Alfredo

1/2 lb chicken cutlets (should be about one medium chicken breast sliced in half)
3/4 c cream
1/2 c chopped artichoke hearts
1/2 c sun dried tomatoes, cut into strips
1 T garlic
1/2 c grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 c grated mozzarella cheese
1 box whole wheat penne, cooked (the company I use packages it in 12 oz packages)

I seasoned my chicken with Montreal Steak Seasoning from McCormick, but a basic seasoning with salt and pepper would be fine.  Then I pan fried it in a touch of olive oil until just cooked all the way through.  I pulled the chicken from the pan and added the garlic.  Cooked it for about 30 seconds and threw in the artichoke hearts and sun dried tomatoes, frying them until they were just turning brown.  I added the cream and let it simmer until it reduced just a bit.  While that was reducing, I sliced up the chicken into bite sized pieces and stirred it back into the dish. Then I stirred in the Parmesan and the pasta.   Lastly, I spread the mozzarella over the top and broiled it just until the cheese started to brown a bit.

If you start your pasta water boiling right before you throw your chicken in the pan, the pasta should be done right about the time you need to stir it into your frying pan.  The whole dish takes less than 20 minutes to prepare, which is exactly about as much time as I want to spend cooking on a weeknight.

As to the flavor, it is really rich.  Next time I might cut the cream with a bit of chicken broth.  My family said not to touch it though.  They love it the way it is.  Even my super picky 13 year old ate it and he doesn't eat anything except Hot Pockets, bread, and oatmeal.  Feel free to add as much artichoke and sun dried tomato as your family will eat.  You could up the chicken amounts if you wish, but with the extra protein in the dairy, it's really not necessary.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Bling, Baby!

I've been doing a bit more sewing for pay recently.  Mostly just repairs, but a couple of months ago I was asked to make a blessing dress for a baby.   A blessing dress is for an LDS baby.  LDS baptize children at eight, but we still have a small tradition of introducing our child to our fellow church members by having the father give the child a blessing during our church service.  It's usually the baby's first blessing from the father.    A blessing is when the father places his hands on the child's head and prays for them.  The prayer gives the baby's full name, and then asks for the blessings the parents want for the child in their future life, things like having God's spirit with them, finding a good person to marry, blessing the child to make good choices and have happiness in their life. It's very special and sweet.  Traditionally in the US, babies are blessed in a special white outfit purchased or made for the occasion.

This little dress was made from her mother's wedding dress.  I took apart the skirt and had plenty of fabric and lining to make this lovely little number.  The rhinestone accent is straight off the wedding dress.  Luckily they were originally sewn to a small piece of sheer fabric, so I was able to reuse them in the exact same design.    They are even in the same place they were on Mommy's dress.

I'm very happy with the final outcome and it's even prettier in person.  The mom is thrilled and honestly, that's the best you can hope for when sewing for someone else.