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Friday, August 31, 2012

Sir Percival

Well, I did it. As discussed in my last blog post I decided to post the entirety of one of my "full length fairy tales" online. I wrote this story about a year before Matt and I started dating, about seven years ago now. I hope you get a chance to look it over and enjoy it. It's not great literature, but I personally think it's a lot of fun.

Click for the First Chapter of Sir Percival: The Overly Ordinary Knight

PS If I get feed back on this novel, there is a sequel entitled "The Invisible Princess" which I would be happy to share as well.

Amanda’s Books and More

Cheesy Writing: My Personal Hobby

When one becomes a mom a lot of times things that were important to you get put on hold. They can be big flashy things like careers or trivial, almost embarrassing things like a World of Warcraft addiction, and while being a mom is fulfilling and worthwhile, sometimes you look over your shoulder at things you assumed would always be a part of your life and wonder how you left them behind so easily. Some things you don't miss (I never really had what anyone would call a "career" though I held steady jobs of one sort or another from 19 to 24, when Coryn was born, and working outside of the home doesn't tempt me at this point. I always had a "work to live" rather than a "live to work" mentality). Some things you think of wistfully every so often (Oh, World of Warcraft, how I would love to be farming herbs around Kalimdor or questing in Tol Barad instead of doing the dishes and changing diapers. . .) but you realize you have better ways to spend your time. . .some things. . .you just feel an ache inside when you think of what you thought you'd accomplish by your 27th birthday as opposed to what you've actually done. . .for instance, instead of being a published writer you are an easily distracted mommy blogger with maybe ten readers, several of whom are relations.

I can't really blame motherhood for my lack of progress in writing. I do have time in my day that could easily be devoted to writing rather than to the myriad of other ways I've learned to blow off steam, relax, waste time. I watch too much TV. I play too many computer games (not WoW any more, but I've recently mentioned my addiction to Nancy Drew puzzle games.), and omgosh, how many captioned pictures of lolcats have I seen in my lifetime? You make time for what's important to you, even if what is important is simply having some time doing things that aren't important at all to decompress.

But what if instead of spending an hour a day scrolling through Facebook or icanhacheezburger I spent an hour a day working on writing something truly meaningful? With just that amount of time, I could've written novels over the last several years, yes, novels plural. I have ideas, after all. I have a good dozen half finished novels and plot lines written out in notebooks stashed all over the house. Some of my notes are insanely detailed. It's just an issue of execution, and that's where it goes awry.

Because. . .and here is the big confession. . .deep breath . . .

I'm not that good.

It took me awhile to realize it because I was a very talented (and I'm not just saying this) teenager. Not the prodigy type that gets published, but the kind that wins local contests and places in statewide contests for poetry and essays and even short stories. I produced and edited a "school" paper for the home school kids in my area and frequently received compliments from the parents of my peers.

I still feel I can express myself on paper better than most people. I know how to string words together to create a sentence. I have a good vocabulary and can generally edit and rewrite for other people. However, that really isn't enough when dealing with a market as competitive as fiction writing.

Every few years I go back and read things I've written in the past and while there are some good parts and some ideas that I love, I'm always generally disappointed in what I once saw as "publishable" writing. I can tell it isn't good enough and needs a lot of work. Sometimes I think of taking the time to edit it. Sometimes I just feel depressed and wonder if I ever really had what so many people told me I did: the gift, the ability to write something that meant something, that would entertain someone, that would be marketable and original.

It's hard.

I have also come to realize that a lot of what I wrote was for personal gratification. I had a crush on my husband long before we were a couple (we've known each other since grade school and didn't start dating until we were in our early twenties), and from about fifteen on, I was head over heals in love with him but just couldn't catch his eye in the way I wanted to (when we finally started seeing each other a long time friend congratulated me for being the only person he ever knew to successfully fight their way out of the "friend zone."). . .so I wrote about "us." About how I thought it would be, hoped it would be, needed it to be. . . and while I'm admittedly not the world's greatest writer, I'm apparently somewhat of a prophet because it pretty much is exactly like I wanted it to be. I still connect to the love stories I was writing all those years ago, and even now, I can't seem to write a story that doesn't center around a guy and a girl that are somewhat like me and Matt.

My most recent venture is such a love story and I'm pretty excited about it. It's a trilogy involving a young woman who befriends a dragon who turns out to be an enchanted prince (I don't do frogs . . .dragons are much sexier). It's pretty sappy but has a lot of the cliches that get my heart going. . .in fact (and I've never read the series, so I could be wrong about this) I'm pretty sure it's a lot like Twilight with dragons instead of Vampires (I don't get the whole sexy vampire thing, but of course, I'm pretty sure most people don't get the whole sexy dragon thing, so to each her own). I enjoy the premise, but I walk a weird line. I'm too geeky to write true chick lit. I'm too girly to write true geek lit.

I've been considering sharing some of my finished fiction on here, just for the heck of it. I have two "full length fairy tales" that are just sitting on my computer which are a lot of fun. For now what I write fulfills my personal need for a very specific kind of love story and I guess if I'm happy with it being a hobby rather than a career that's enough for now. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Bruises and Blisters

Anyone who has read my blog knows that I have two precious girls, Coryn and Claire. Coryn is a hearty, happy four-year-old (at the moment) and Claire is just past six months, also happy and hearty but still a pudgy-full baby unlike her lean and tall sister (I've had people comment on how muscular Coryn is for a preschooler.) who has grown out of all her baby fat. 

Claire has really taken off in the last month or so, from sprouting teeth to increasing her mobility. She isn't crawling yet, but she gets around as if she were by doing the "military crawl," pulling her body forward with just her arms. Before she would wriggle and roll her way around the living room but couldn't really control where she was going. Now she sets her sights on something (my legs, the cat, the dog bowl. . .ugh. . .) and goes for it. She loves to abandon us in the computer room and independently scoot her way across the hall to her sister's bedroom where she'll crawl over and play the piano (you can see a video of her doing this in this post) or just examine the toys and books that Coryn has inevitably left lying about. 

Mobility, however, comes with a cost. The first day she was left to her own devices, no where dangerous, just chasing the cat in circles around the living room, I picked her up and found two red marks on her forehead, presumably from bumping into chair legs. They weren't really bruises and they disappeared without a trace before the end of the day, but I felt something akin to horror because her skin has always been so baby soft and. . .well. . .perfect, peaches and cream baby perfect skin. . .and things only got worse from there. That evening I picked her up for cuddles and saw a terrible, awful, bright pink blister on the bottom of her baby foot! Her precious, pudgy, perfect baby foot! It had a blister! Oh the horror!  

Yes, baby skin is perfect. It is soft and pure and beautiful, but it is so fragile. Every time she expands her world she takes that skin into peril. She rolls around on the dusty floor and picks up dirt. She bangs her head against chairs. Puts her mouth of the family pets. Rubs her lovely feet against the hard wood floors and gets A BLISTER!!! 

My first instinct was to give her socks, but that would adversely effect her traction and she really loves her freedom (though the next day she did manage to get around very well while wearing footy pajamas; she's very persistent.). 

So I need to just prepare myself for many many more scrapes, bumps, bruises and blisters because she's not stopping here. I remember when Coryn started crawling. She literally crawled the skin off her legs. No, I'm not using literally incorrectly. I'm using it to mean literally there were patches of bleeding, open wounds on her legs. Our first pediatrician dismissed them as carpet burns and with military doctors being what they are, I've never gotten a better diagnosis than that even though the sores/rash/scabbing persisted well past the crawling stage (it doesn't help that Coryn is a scratcher. If something itches, she'll take her skin off trying to make it stop. . .her bed sheets often have dots of blood all over them, and it is only now starting to really heal up). I know that crawling leads to walking. Walking leads to falling (Coryn's first word was "Boom" as in "Fall down and go boom!"). Then running which leads to crashing. Jumping. Bumping. Bouncing. Banging. . omgosh! When does it stop?1?!?!

Before too long I won't be able to look at her legs for the shame over what was once pristine baby skin but now sort of looks like an add for a plaque psoriasis medication. 

So what is a mother to do? I'm not sure if this is my answer, but it's what's in my head: 

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. Isaiah 43:2 

Water and heat can be hard on skin. God never promised we wouldn't have to go through trials but He did promise that they wouldn't consume us. I guess Claire's scratches and scrapes won't consume her either and while her baby skin might not be prettier for it, it will definitely be stronger when those blisters turn to callouses and she crawls on like a mighty little warrior. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Christmas Stockings

When you are an obsessive crocheter like me, a lot of what you make comes to feel fairly disposable. After all, there are only so many hats and scarves one family can use and when your friends cease to be surprised at your home made offerings at their birthday parties. . .well, you could pick up another hobby or you could start donating or if you are really good at marketing selling, but sometimes you just wish that you were making something that would be valued and treasured.

For me the only items I've made that I hope will become heirlooms are my Christmas stockings. My toys, hats, and doll clothes are meant to be enjoyed and used, maybe even used up, but my stockings I want to see brought out every year to be treasured and admired, filled and emptied, and then carefully tucked away until next year. I want my girls to take them with them when they leave the home. I want to make new ones for my grandchildren someday. . . Stockings are something that a crocheter can do that makes a lasting impact. 

For the most part a stocking pattern is really straight forward. The only real kink comes in that oh so tricky heel. The best instructions I've ever found for a crochet stocking are here: Free Crochet Pattern: Holiday Stocking. This is a free pattern, but it is through lionbrand.com and you will probably have to register with the site to view it (you can choose whether or not to receive email updates from them. . .I do because they include more free patterns. The subscription is free.). The heel is still a little tricky (it took me a little bit of thinking to figure it out), but once you get the hang of it, it is easy to do and even to alter so that you can switch up the size of your stocking and make one that is larger or smaller than the three sizes given here (I find I almost always need to make it larger).

You can see samples made from this pattern in my various photo albums on my Critters for Coryn Facebook page.

Here is one

Here are three in three different sizes. 

Anyway, I thought it might be helpful for you visual learners if I posted my own tutorial about the heel. 

Here is how the pattern goes for that part:

Row 1:
 Ch 1, turn, sc in first 6 (12, 20) sts (for Heel); leave remaining sts unworked.
Row 2: Ch 1, turn, sc in first 4 (8, 14) sts; leave remaining sts unworked.
Row 3: Ch 1, turn, sc in first 2 (4, 8) sts; leave remaining sts unworked.
Row 4: Ch 1, turn, sc in each st across, sc in next sc in row below - 3 (5, 9) sc.
Rep Row 4 until all 6 (12, 20) Heel sts have been worked. Do not fasten off.
Rnd 1:
 Ch 1, turn, sc in the 6 (12, 20) sts of Heel; sl st in side of Heel; sc in next 6 (12, 20) unworked sts of Leg; sl st in other side of Heel; do not join.

Any questions so far?

Here are some poorly focused pictures (someday I really need to get a handle on photography).
Anyway to build up the heel, you want to start by making a "pyramid" foundation of three rows decreasing in size each time. The first row in this example (I'm making a wider stocking than the ones in the pattern given on the site) is 26 stitches across so, Ch1, turn, sc in the first 26 stitches, leave remaining stitches unworked. . . I decreased my row length by ten each time. I did not have a mathematical reason for doing this. It just looked right. The important thing is to have each row decrease evenly (If you'll notice in the original pattern the smallest size goes "6, 4, 2" decreasing the row by two each time, the next "12, 8, 4" which is a decrease of four, and the last "20, 14, 8" so a decrease of six. I didn't count my original stitches, shame one me.). In the original pattern the first row equals half of the stitches in the original round you would be working on for the leg of the stocking. I find that when the stockings to get be larger (mine was roughly 70 around) this leads to an awkward looking heel. I chose 26 stitches as my first round even though this was a good deal shy of the 35 stitches that would make a true half. My rows were 26, 16, and 6. The picture below shows these rows.

So after you make the 6 row, you will chain one and turn, single crochet in all six stitches, and then dip down and single crochet into the row below, as shown in the next photograph. 

Now chain one and turn and do the same on the other side. Single crochet in the (now) seven single crochets and dip down, single crochet in the row below. . .this may feel awkward and strange but after a few rows, it will seem that the stitches are "consuming' the pyramid shape creating a pocket of sorts for the heel. Below we have an example of what it will look like part way through. 

And if you fold the stocking in half you can kind of get the idea where this is headed. . .

When you get to the end where all the rows have been consumed there will be a point that looks like this:

The heel here is definitely distinct from the body of the stocking. To fix this and start working in a round again (no chain one and turn, just around and around and around until you reach the toe and start to decrease) you want to do the following: slip stitch in the space between the heel row and the leg row (just below my thumb in the picture. . .yes, there is more than one loop here you could stitch into. Just do the one that is roughly in the middle.). Then do a single crochet decrease in the first two single crochets of the leg rows. This will pull the heel tight to the leg.

Below we have the stitches I described above: slip stitch, single crochet decrease. . .then continue crocheting around until you reach the two stitches before the other side of the heel. Reverse what you did on the first side (meaning: single crochet decrease in the two single crochets before the heel, slip stitch in the side of the heel rows, single crochet in the last single crochet of the heel row) and continue around. Is this making sense? I certainly hope so. . .

 And here you have it. . .

At this point you continue to work in a round until your "foot" has reached the length desired. The two, as described in the pattern, is pretty simple. If it gives anyone trouble, please comment below and I'll be happy to post pictures of the process. 

I hope you can get your stockings done in time for Christmas!!!

Biding Time

I've been feeling a little stressed for no particular reason this week. A lot has been going on. For instance. . .

  •  We have a hurricane/tropical storm headed our way. This should worry me, but I'm kind of intrigued by the idea. We might end up going to stay at a hotel for a bit. Apparently the military will pay for a few days in a hotel during a hurricane. I need to pack some over night bags just in case, but I'm putting it off. 
  •  Claire has learned to "sort of crawl" by pulling her body forward using only her arms and is determined to get into the dog's water bowl. She's really cute and she loves her mobility. Unfortunately it also has revealed how terrible I am at floor cleaning. I upped my sweeping from once a day to twice a day and she still picks up a ton of dog hair and I have to change her clothes after her floor sessions. I am kind of fantasizing about the "Swiffer Sleepers" from that SNL "commercial" skit. They seem like a really good idea. 
  • I've been crocheting a Christmas stocking for Claire. It's coming along really nicely.
  • I've been reading portions of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit. . . again.
  • I got a really cute video of Claire playing her sister's toy piano.
  • I've been exercising a lot and I'm not sure I really have much weight left to lose but somehow I still have that belly that won't go away. 
  • We're still one car short. Matt's has been in the shop for awhile now so we have to arrange me driving him to work if I need the car for a day. Mostly, though, he just takes the car and I'm stranded. It's made shopping and errands a major pain. 
  • Oh, and the dryer isn't drying. . .
I don't know why I'm so stressed. It doesn't hit me until the afternoon. About the same time as I have to make dinner I just have no patience. It's not like me.

Coryn was supposed to have her first gymnastics class this week but after a half hour drive across town, we found out that the instructor had had a death in the family and canceled class. She'd tried to get a hold of people, according to the guy at the community center, but hadn't been able to contact everyone. I guess you can't be mad when someone is dealing with a personal tragedy like that, but Coryn was pretty disappointed. 

Anyway, here is a dose of cute.
I've also made this monkey hat: 

Amanda’s Books and More

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Latest Library Books

We go to the library less often here than we did in Iwakuni, simply because it is more of a hassle. In Iwakuni it was a five minute walk away. . .and also right next to the post office where we got our mail every day anyway, so we were there usually about twice a week. Here it is a twenty minute drive (if I don't get lost which I frequently do) so to make it worth it, we have to hang around for a bit, and that generally means running into lunch time which adds on the cost of a drive-thru trip into our day. . .So we've been three times, each time just as our library books were coming due.

I picked up some books with great educational potential. Coryn picked out some that I kind of rolled my eyes at. In other words, it was a pretty typical library haul.

My first pick, Hurricane, by David Wiesner, was my "planning ahead" book. We're living in Florida now, and it seems like every week we have a major thunderstorm . . .and every day a mild one. I'm not sure what joke decided that "Sunshine State" was a good name for Florida. Anyway, so I figured that eventually hurricanes might come up and I'd want Coryn to be familiar with the concept. I liked the book. Wiesner's pictures are fun and fanciful. It would be a good addition to a preschool unit on weather.

Speaking of study units, my next two picks came out of the same series:

When Autumn Comes and When Winter Comes are both by Robert Maass. They are filled with interesting photographs of people doing seasonal activities. I was kind of disappointed that there weren't matching titles for the other two seasons (at my library; I found a Spring and a Summer title on Amazon when I thought to look), and these weren't Coryn's favorite books of the week, but they would, again, be good for teaching about the seasons. 

I picked out Uncle Andy's Cats because A. it has the word "cats" in the title and B. it involves a major figure in modern art, Andy Warhol. I'm not a fan, personally, of Warhol's work (it's not something I'd buy prints of), but his images are iconic and I do believe in introducing kids to all styles of art. It's good to be able to recognize an artist and this story, which is mainly about how Warhol's studio gets taken over by a pair of fertile cats and their offspring, features several pictures of his art. 

Alberto the Dancing Alligator by Richard Waring was Coryn's favorite and the one I rolled my eyes at the most. It simply isn't my style. It doesn't help that this story, about a pet dancing alligator who is accidentally flushed, features a lot of toilets, not in a gross way, but it still is just a little bit too silly, even for me. I'm sure that silliness is exactly what Coryn likes, but I prefer books to be a little more clever or heartfelt or. . .something. . .

Thankfully there was also An Apple Pie for Dinner by Susan VanHecke, which we both enjoyed. It's a chain reaction story in that the main character sets out to trade plums for apples and instead trades them for feathers which she trades for flowers which she trades for a coin, etc, etc, until she finally ends up with apples for her pie and a party to go along with it. The pictures are clay and cloth collages which seemed to confuse Coryn, but the book does come with a recipe for apple pie and did encourage us to bake one (I used my usually recipe, so I have no comments on how the one in the book holds up). 

Coryn's other pick was Twenty is Too Many by Kate Duke. It is a counting down story about twenty guinea pigs (who eventually are reduced to a single guinea pig). The counting aspect is nice and the pictures are fun (the guinea pigs get into a lot of trouble), but it's unremarkable. We only read it twice in the month that we had it. 

So those were our books. Of them I'd seriously recommend about half. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Our crazy (vegetarian?) pets

A couple of months ago I shared a video of my kitten, Carlton, consuming potato chips. Since that post, I've noticed that both of our pets (Carlton and Caen, our German Shepherd) seem to think they are entitled to people food. Carlton, being the more agile animal, is brazen about it, hopping onto the counters when I am cooking, my lap when I am snacking, and the dinner table whenever we are enjoying a meal. Caen, who Matt is training to stay out of the dining room while we are eating, is my constant cooking buddy since he knows that I am picky about trimming fat off of meat before I cook it.

He'll sit at my feet and wait for me to toss him chicken fat or a pork chop bone. . .and it doesn't matter if I'm not working on meat. He begs and even barks until I give him something, even if it is only the stub end of a carrot I'm grating for a salad. The other night I tossed him the green tops to strawberries and had him devour them. I had been composting, but now, I mostly just give everything to Caen.

Tonight I was making dinner in steps. I cut up potatoes, tossed them in oil and seasonings, and spread them onto a cookie sheet. The way I make potatoes (and basically the only way I will eat potatoes, otherwise I don't care for the texture) is to roast them under high heat twenty minutes on each side which requires me to take them (blazing hot) out of the oven half way through the process and flip them over. The blast of heat when I did take them out of the oven almost singed my face, but that didn't deter Caen who was sticking his nose inside of the oven. I nudged him out of the way and started to rotate the potatoes. One  closer to the edge of the pan slipped off and onto the floor. Caen dove. Tasted. Dropped it (because it had just come out of a 425 degree oven), then dove again and swallowed it (because he's either stupid or impervious to pain. . . maybe both.). I put the remaining potatoes back in the oven and continued in my cooking.

The second step for dinner was a basic green salad. Caen got his fill during this step. I fed him celery tops, carrot ends, and a couple of slices of tomato. He ate it all (well the celery he chewed on but didn't swallow for the most part; that was a pain to clean up). I rolled my eyes and put the salad on the table in the dining room then returned to the kitchen to work on the steaks.

I'm not that picky about my steaks as long as they are bloody rare. Matt is a little bit more so, and I know he would prefer well cooked, higher quality steaks, but I'm cheap so we don't usually have anything much better than round steak, which is what I was cooking tonight. I also don't grill. My steak is always pan seared. If it is thick I'll finish it in the oven, but with these really thin steaks, I just sear a couple of minutes on each side, cover it, and take it off the heat but allow it to stay in the hot pan. Gordon Ramsey am I not (Yoda may I be). Here is where Caen's waiting really paid off. He got tossed several pieces of fat, most with a good deal of meat still attached because I'm not exactly a skilled butcher.

I forget what brought me back into the dining room, but I found Carlton on top of the table, eating my salad. What kind of cat eats salad? Maybe he wants to be a vegetarian. On closer inspection, I discovered that he had only eaten the tomatoes, but he had eaten just about all the tomatoes, picking every one he could reach out of the top layer of the salad. I took it away from him. Crazy cat.

I'm actually really fond of both Caen and Carlton (Carlton is more my speed, since I've always been a cat person), but the begging is getting out of hand. I guess, if I want it to stop, I really need to stop feeding them both human food (the other night I let Carlton finish off my coffee ice cream . . .), but they are so dang cute!

Here are my furry babies:

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Nancy Drew, Crochet Hats, and My Blog

Four days ago I made a post saying I should do something special when I hit my 4,000 post. At that time I was at 3,667 views and with my average traffic of about twenty views a day I thought I would have a week or two to figure out what. . .but then, KA-BAM! Somehow over the last few days my page views skyrocketed and I'm now over 4,000 already (by about twenty views). Now I'm really at a loss for what to do.

I haven't thought of any great posts lately. I've been creating, crocheting baby caps including a brand new lion themed one and a Hello Kitty one I have up for sale on Etsy (the lion one will probably join it as soon as I've had a chance to take some better product pictures). I'm just enjoying crocheting but none of these patterns are original enough that I feel my readers would benefit from me posting them. Basically they are just basic flap hats with embellishments and you can find patterns for those all over the internet right now.

Claire does make a sweet little model, doesn't she?

A bit ago I made a splurge purchase of a set of five Nancy Drew Mystery computer games. I just finished the second one and while I feel a sense of accomplishment, there is also a feeling of, "ah, is it over already." I really like to feel smart solving puzzles. I've mentioned before that I would be so happy if life were more like Myst. I still have three games left in the pack but I'm unwilling to get into them because they are so addicting and I really should be doing more productive things. I'll probably break down soon, though. Nancy Drew needs me to solve her mysteries!!!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Climbing Page-views and Potential Rewards

I've mentioned before (here and here) how I get excited when I see my page-views go up on my blog's stat page. It's kind of silly and I'm not sure how accurate that counter is anyway, but I love thinking that people around the world are reading and enjoying what I write on here, maybe getting a chance to try the crochet patterns or the crafts or just commiserating with me on the ups and downs of raising little girls.

I keep wanting to do a give-away to celebrate my blog's "success" and attract more readers, but I keep putting it off. At first I wanted to do it to celebrate 1,000 views. . .then 2,000. . .I'm now at 3,667 views (this is of all pages over the entire life of my blog, so not all that impressive, the most any single post has is 151). . .so maybe I should aim for doing it at 4,000 and not let myself get away with forgetting again.                                        

The give away would probably be a small item I crochet or possibly a gift code good for use in my Etsy shop (here) . Since I don't have sponsors or make money from this blog (I've signed up to host ads but so far those aren't even going to make me back the $10 I spent buying a domain name), I'm afraid I won't be able to give away iPads or large cash prizes, but I'd love suggestions for small give aways you would like to see.

Speaking of my Etsy shop (even indirectly), I recently got the idea to bundle some of my crochet fish rattles into a set. Check them out!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Friends

 Amanda’s Books and More

Extremely Quick Double Daisy Pattern

The other day (the same day as my Gymboree meltdown) Coryn and I were browsing at World Market and Coryn brought me a hat she had found on one of the racks. I'm assuming it is a discontinued item because I couldn't find it on their website, but she thought it was pretty and I thought, "I could make that. It's a basic crochet v-stitch cap." So over the next few days I made a hat that looked a good deal if not exactly like the one for sale at World Market, only of course by the time I finished, Coryn had lost interest. The hat pattern needs a little more work before I share it, but I did invent two different flower motifs because I wanted a daisy to embellish the hat and I thought I'd share those with you now.

Daisy Accent Number One:
Starting in yellow
R1-Ch2, 6sc in the second ch from the hook
R2-2sc in each st around, 12 total, sl st in the first stitch of the next row, change to white yarn.
Here is a picture of it at this point.

R3-ch5, skip a stitch, slip stitch into the next stitch, around as seen below. 

At the end of the third row you should have six petal loops. 

R4-inside of each petal loop stitch the following, sc, hdc, dcx3,hdc, sc, around. 

This is the flower halfway through row four.

At the end of row four, slip stitch somewhere behind the first petal (to make your fasten off point invisible) and fasten off leaving enough yarn to stitch it onto your project. 

Daisy Number Two:
This starts out the same as Daisy Number One, also in yellow.
R1-Ch2, 6 sc in the second ch from hook.
R2-2sc in each st around-12 total, switch to white. 
R3-ch 4, 4dc in the first stitch, sc in the next stitch, (5sc in the next stitch, sc in the following stitch) around. You are basically working in a shell here. At the end of the R3 you will have six shell petals. 

Here is the completed flower. 

A quick side by side comparison. 

I think I'm putting daisy number one on my hat. Which do you like the best?

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

My Grand Educational Schemes

I've blogged a little bit about my concerns with formal/traditional education in an earlier post and it is something I feel passionate about (I recently learned that it really isn't a big deal to end sentences with prepositions and I feel so freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!!!!!), but I still haven't made any decisions, but I do have a plan to see how far ahead I can get Coryn before it is time to make a decision.

I have a lot of educational ideas and am always pinning new ones that I find. I had been pinning them onto my Momness pinboard where I put all activities for kids, but it's getting too big, so I'm now taking out the ones that are school related and placing them on my new board: Firestarters: Kindling for Education.

I'm also just trying to incorporate learning in a very organic way throughout our days. I'll point out letters and sound out words phonetically during story time. We sound out words together. Sometimes we even pull out Teach Your Child to Read in a 100 Easy Lessons, which I like even if I find the method in it a little bit stifling (They want you to use the exact wording in the book and I know they have their reasons, but I'm a rebel at heart, and it is hard for me to just play along.). We also use Bob Books which are a reasonably priced set of easy readers (their main drawback is they are very easy for Coryn to memorize and I know she's often reciting rather than reading) and a set of readers from Usborne that have a page of text for the child and a page of text for you so that you can read together (find those here).

Learning to read doesn't involve a lot of fancy equipment and curriculum. I've been amazed at how much Coryn has picked up just from the little games we've played. Yesterday I cut out scraps of paper and wrote simple words on them then drew a picture representing each word onto a square of cardboard and taped the scraps with the words over the pictures. I told Coryn that she could lift up the paper and see the picture when she had read the word. I didn't need to offer any incentive other than her own curiosity, and while at first she was just throwing out wild guesses, I just kept saying, "No, sound it out, what does this letter say?" and she always got it eventually. She then was overjoyed to pull up the paper and find out she was right.

Today I ripped off the papers with the words, shuffled them up, and asked if she could match the words with the pictures. She did this in about two minutes.  Then she invented her own game where she tried to copy the words onto her own scraps of paper so she even got some writing practice out of it.

Coryn likes math better than reading so sometimes I'll just draw out some math problems, usually illustrated by pictures, and let her go at it. She's pretty good at adding as long as we're dealing with small numbers.

We practice critical thinking and general knowledge by playing trivia in the kitchen. I started doing this the other day and was surprised at some of the things she knew that I couldn't remember teaching her. I'm going to credit television because when I gave her multiple choice questions about which animal was an amphibean or a reptile or a mammal she got the right answer every time even though I'm sure I never got into classifications with her. We also did questions like, "Which is bigger, the toaster, the  microwave, or the refrigerator?" that involved thinking more than memorization. I rewarded her simply by drawing a star on a piece of paper every time she got the right answer and she wanted to keep playing it long after I'd run out of good ideas for questions (so you might want to prep ahead rather than just make it up as you go along like I was doing).

Sorting games are a great rainy day activity with educational benefits, especially if you are sorting by color (as in beads) or value (as in coins) or size (I actually don't have an example of this off the top of my head.  . . rocks?) . Coryn loves to sort money.

I'm not giving up on my ideas about organic learning verses artificial/classroom learning. I really think, for the lower grades at least, that this is the way to go. I'm going to keep experimenting and practicing with it, but so far, teaching Coryn is a lot of fun. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Getting Around the Web and the World

Carlton makes such an adorable mascot, doesn't he? As I type he is sitting on my lap wondering, I think, why I'm not petting him. There are two reasons why I'm not petting you, Carlton. The first is because I'm typing. The second is because you keep stealing my yogurt. I'm on a Michael Westen diet. Eat yogurt and you become ridiculously fit and completely bomb and bullet proof (Burn Notice reference there. Burn Notice rocks. . .).

Anyway, so I'm still trying to learn my way around Pensacola. Have I ever mentioned that I hate driving? I think it should've come up but I can't recall a specific instance where I've actually sat down and typed it out. Well, anyway, it's true. I used to endure a relatively short drive to work thinking how much I wished I could just say, "Beam me up, Scotty," and get there. I still want that so much. Teleportation, scientists. Get to work on that.
I'm also an easily distracted driver. I claim that I'm actually a pretty good snow driver (my husband doubts me, but I know how to turn into a slide and where black ice is most likely to be encountered) but seeing as we are now living on the Florida Pan Handle, I doubt my ability to drive in icy conditions will come in handy. I'm also a native Oregonian which means I didn't learn how to pump my own gas until I was 22 and I still dislike/dread doing so (for non-Oregonians, we are one of, I believe, two states where pumping your own gas is illegal. You have to have an attendant pump it for you.). I'm overly cautious at intersections. I panic easily, and while I've only ever gotten one ticket, I used to be frequently pulled over by cops who, I'm assuming, just wanted to check in on me for being erratic. 

"Do you know why we pulled you over, ma'am?"
"For reinforcing stereo-types about female drivers?"

I used to like bumper stickers, but I realized awhile ago that any political, religious, or even cultural group I would want to support would not wish to be associated with my driving. In fact, I am thinking about putting on an Obama sticker and then continuing to keep other drivers waiting while I still trembling at the exit to the Wal-Mart parking lot, terrified to cross the extra lanes and knowing that some dude in a pick-up truck is staring with hate-filled eyes at my bumper. . .and that's the closest thing you'll see to a political endorsement on this blog any time in the near future. 

So the point to all this is going anywhere, especially anywhere new, is always stressful for me. Recently I've been a little bolder, but I'm always arguing with my GPS (69th is NOT a through street, GPS. Stop trying to run me into a house!). Still, I want to get out and meet people and do things, and Matt can be a major stick in the mud, so I'm learning my area.

I'm also learning the ins and outs of the interwebs. Just last night I finally tackled a major project and successfully made and placed a share button onto my blog. Now you can grab it and put it on your blog and we can link back and forth. Happy days!

I do have some updates on my Customer Service Issues with Gymboree detailed in this post. I'm on my third email with them (they asked for a phone number, but on the cheap plan I have I'm pretty sure even incoming calls count against my minutes, plus I'm a heck of a lot more eloquent online than I'll ever be on the phone. I find phone conversations awkward about 75% of the time) and am now dealing with a "dm" (which I'm guessing stands for District Manager) who has apologized and asked for details so she can take it up with the employees at the shop who were at work at the time. She has also offered to send me the item that my coupon was for at no additional cost which is a plus. I'm still not sure I will go back to that particular store because the thought of running into that employee again, especially if there is a chance she is going to get reprimanded and have some memory of me, would be more awkward than a phone conversation, but it does improve my opinion of the company in general. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Poor Customer Service at Gymboree

I had such a poor shopping experience at my local Gymboree Outlet that I am going to share it with everybody. Maybe I'm just feeling vindictive tonight, but I think they deserve it.  I emailed this to the company tonight. I'll share their response as well when I get it. It would have to be a pretty dang awesome response though to convince me to ever go back there.

EDIT 8/7/12: I've had some communication with Gymboree Customer service and a quick update on that can be found at the end of this post and my conclusion can be found here.

I recently signed up for email promotions from your company and was sent two coupons, one of which was for 10% off and the other for a free body suit with $10 purchase. I decided to use them today during my state's tax free weekend. The location this involves is your shop in the Cordova Mall of Pensacola Florida.
I don't usually shop in your stores because your prices are a little bit higher than I prefer, but I thought with the coupons I could get my daughters something nice for a special occasion. Unfortunately, your employee was the opposite of helpful. The shop was not busy. I waited until the customer she was checking out left the store to address her, and all I wanted to know was which body suits were part of the coupon deal. Instead of helping me, the lady couldn't get past the authenticity of my coupons. At first she told me I couldn't use them because I wasn't supposed to "print them out." I asked how I was supposed to use email coupons without printing them out, and she claimed that the body suit coupon was only from a booklet not an email. I told her I got it from an email. She said she would call someone and ask about it. A few minutes into her conversation my daughter said she had to use the bathroom. I asked if we could use one in the shop but was informed we couldn't because there were "dangerous chemicals" in there, which is sort of stupid in a shop that caters to children. Anyway, I told my daughter to wait just a moment assuming the issue would be over momentarily. Unfortunately, whoever my cashier was on the phone with appeared to know as little about the whole thing as my cashier did. I questioned whether or not she could just scan the bar code on the coupon pointing out that if it was a good coupon the bar code should scan but was told that counterfeit coupons sometimes scan too so that would't prove anything. At this point, I realized that she was actually accusing me of fraud and I started to get annoyed. About five minutes of waiting while she talked in circles with whoever she was talking to, my daughter's potty issues became urgent and I told her this wasn't worth my time and left your shop without making a purchase. I'm not sure whether this was poor employee training or poor communication but it was definitely poor customer service. I spent over $80 at the Old Navy in the same Mall and not a dime in your store because of your employee's behavior. I plan to post this story to my blog. It is one thing to be confused by a coupon. It is another thing altogether to accuse your customer of a crime (copying and forging coupons IS a crime) when you have absolutely no proof. I've used online coupons at other stores and sometimes the store keepers do make comments about not having seen my particular coupon before but never have they been rude enough to suggest I'm attempting to defraud them. This is unacceptable and I fully plan to share my distaste with my friends and acquaintances.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Wordless Wednesday Blog Hop: Carlton Wants a Story

 Amanda’s Books and More

Tinted Glass Bottles

Anyone who reads this blog knows that we love to craft here. Coryn loves to craft. I love to craft. Claire is indifferent. Matt is indifferent as long as we clean up after ourselves. . .okay, so half of the household loves to craft, and Claire will come around eventually (possibly about the same time as she learns to walk.).

I've also mentioned, I believe, that I have a little bit of hoarder in my system. I hate to throw anything away, especially if I see crafting potential. 

I don't drink much. Just not in the habit even though I like the taste of certain alcohols, but I love the bottles. One of the main reasons I don't drink is because going to the liquor store is Matt's job, not mine, and he usually won't buy any drinks that might jeopardize his Man Card. Apparently they have these Man Card Police who stand by the registers at these places and whenever a guy buys anything fruity they make him hand over the Card which is just awful. . .but the other day he somehow got past the check out process with his Card intact and a four pack of berry flavored coolers for me. 

Matt was pretty quick to point out that the amount of alcohol inside these coolers is pathetic and he wouldn't let me call myself tipsy, but all I know was I was sitting there lovingly holding the bottle up to the light, turning it around and around in circles, and admiring the aesthetics of it, and I'm pretty sure that isn't a normal, sober person thing to do. The point of this story was that I kept all four bottles. I washed off the labels and I decided I was going to try a craft I'd pinned awhile back for tinted glass jars and bottles with them. 

Now the instructions the pin links to involve gel food coloring, modge podge, and water. Coryn and I set up our stations and followed the instructions pretty much to the letter. I wanted to do them all in yellow, red, or blue because I like primary colors and only wanted to make one batch of dye. I let Coryn talk me into purple. We did the first one and she said, "Okay, let's make the next one pink!" 

I explained that, since I was only making one batch of dye to use for all the bottles we could only make colors that I could mix into the purple. . .so we added a lot of blue and made a blue. Then we added some yellow and green and made a greenish color, and finally a little more blue for kind of a murky teal, not what I'd envisioned but when allowing a four-year-old to make the artistic decisions you get what you get. 

This is what they looked like when wet.

Following the pin instructions, I let them drain and then popped them in a low heat oven for 20 minutes. . .and they came out basically transparent. They looked, at best, a little bit dirty. I didn't even bother to take a picture. At this point I was a bit discouraged but 
I'm going to put the blame on me not using gel food coloring. Actually, until about a year ago I'd never even heard of gel food coloring. I just assumed the only type you could buy was the liquid stuff that comes with the pointy gnome hats. . .so I decided to try it again.

Today I did it my own way. We put a few drops of whatever color we wanted to use and dropped it in the bottom of the jar. Then we added maybe a quarter of an inch of the modge podge and no water. With this thicker mixture it was a little harder to get the entire bottle coated, but we did it somehow and set them in the oven to cook. 

They came out awesome!!!

These are four berry cooler bottles and one Torani syrup bottle. 

Coryn was proud of them too. 

The blue one is my favorite. 

The purple one is Coryn's favorite. 

The pink one I had to do on its side because the bottle was too tall to stand up in the oven and the dye mix gathered on the bottom and streaked it a little bit. I'm hoping it looks a little better when it dries a tiny bit more. 

All in all, it's a craft I'd do again. 

The Peaceful Mom