Archive for the 'celebrations' Category


Happy New Year!

 We welcomed 2016 with about 100 friends crammed into our house! Actually, we welcomed it twice: we always toast with everyone at midnight GMT (the very family-friendly hour of 7 p.m. EST), and then again at midnight EST with whoever is still here (which ended up being about 20 people this time).

There’s a lot of food (all vegetarian), a lot of beer (thanks to the six-tap keg freezer in our garage), and lots of music.

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We had a scheduled concert at 5 featuring various friends performing different songs and everyone joining together at the end for a rousing rendition of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” (damn straight we demanded our figgy pudding, too!). And there was plenty of other impromptu singing and noodling around on the piano and ukuleles as well.
What fun! And how lucky we are to know so many wonderful people! I’m confident that 2016 will be a very happy new year indeed!
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Yuri’s Night

Today is the 50th anniversary of the beginning of human space flight! Celebrations are planned throughout the world. Maybe there’s one near you!


“If it’s edible, fry it.”

Several months ago, a group of friends started discussing various deep-fried oddities and our mutual love of deep-fried foods. (Me, personally, I think “the deep-fried group” should be on the FDA pyramid, right next to “the cheese group” and “the chocolate group.”) One thing led to another, and before we know it we were planning National Fry Day. Our motto: “If it’s edible, fry it.” Indeed.

One person graciously offered to host the event, which took place last Saturday. The oil was hot at 5 p.m., and although all participants also brought tasty non-fryable fare (e.g., salads, dips) to share and, ideally, make us all feel a little less guilty about the damage we were about to do to our hearts and GI systems, the deep-fried food won the popularity contest hands-down.

There were a few “pedestrian” dishes–that is, the sort of stuff you usually see deep fried, like samosas and sliced potatoes. They were good, but what interested me most were the things that one doesn’t often get to sample in battered and deep-fried form.


The list included:

  • bacon weave stuffed with sausage and cheese
  • fake bacon weave stuffed with fake sausage and cheese (a.k.a., “the facon weave”)
  • olives stuffed with Monterey Jack
  • olives stuffed with habanero cheddar
  • mac and cheese
  • Scotch eggs
  • Scotch eggs without sausage
  • Bacon-wrapped jalapenos
  • Tandoori chicken
  • Twinkies
  • Butterscotch Krimpets (Tastykake is a Philly company)
  • cake icing
  • cake batter
  • Snickers (of course!)

I’ve probably forgotten to mention several things that made their way into one of the deep fryers. I ate so much fried food that I think I slid into a brief food coma and missed some of the action. One thing I didn’t fail to notice was that a surprisingly large portion of the food that got fried was vegetarian friendly…though I suspect that after a trip to a deep fryer, much of this stuff probably wasn’t too friendly to anyone.

I am already starting to draw up a list of new stuff to deep fry. I hope we do another party like this. Maybe not until next summer, though–I think my body needs some time to recover from this one.


Two birthdays

Early May is a busy time around here, with Sylvia’s birthday and my birthday only two days apart. I don’t mind the busy-ness so much, though. May is a great month for a birthday! With so many flowers blooming, it seems like nature shouts “Happy birthday!” to us every year. And the weather is usually cooperative for an outdoor party.


Remember the party garland I made for Sylvia’s birthday last year? About a month later I lent it to my next-door-neighbor for her daughter’s surprise birthday party. A couple of days after the party, my neighbor knocked on my door and sorrowfully announced that she’d lost the garland. (The party had been held at a local church, and she’d put some of her daughter’s friends in charge of hanging the decorations. No one knows what happened to the garland.)

She felt just awful about this, but honestly I wasn’t too upset about it. She offered to make a new one for me, but I decided on a compromise instead: she could do all the cutting. She (happily!) did this while watching the Winter Olympics and gave the pieces to me in plenty of time for sewing them together into a new garland. And this one, at 80+ feet long, is even longer than last year’s 60-foot-long version!


Sylvia wanted to help made decorations, too. So Jan created a skull-and-crossbones stencil that she could place over construction paper and paint with craft paint. When the “pirate flags” were dry, we glued on eye sockets and nose openings cut from black construction paper, then strung the flags on some yarn.*


Jan is an awesome baker, which means that Sylvia gets pretty amazing birthday cakes each year. (Remember last year’s fairy cake?) To match this year’s pirate theme, he created a three-dimensional pirate ship. This is chocolate cake, with reduced-raspberry-jam “glue” in a few places, covered with chocolate buttercream. The cannons are Rollos, the ropes are red licorice, and the cannonballs were Whoppers. We even managed to find gelatin-free gummi-style sea creatures. And the whole thing is sailing on a sea of baked meringue.


My own birthday was a more low-key affair but just as enjoyable. We went out for high tea, then spent the afternoon flying kites in a park. Awesome.

*Red Heart acrylic yarn is pretty vile stuff. Seriously–I think I’d rather knit with boogers than with that stuff. But it is useful to have a skein of it on hand for kid-oriented crafts.


Hello goodbye

For now, at least.


The last few weeks have been super busy around here. Between preparations for Sylvia’s birthday party tomorrow, shopping for a new car, working on the garden, and getting the house in order for both the party and my parents’ visit, I haven’t had time for blogging. I’m got plenty to blog about, though–and hope to get to it next week or so, once the party/visit bustle subsides.

Where I grew up in the Midwest, people didn’t distribute “goody bags” at birthday parties. That’s a phenomenon I first encountered here on the East Coast, and at first it struck me as a little weird. Since then I’ve come to think of it as akin to [START GEEK ALERT!] the Hobbits’ tradition of distributing gifts on one’s own birthday [END GEEK ALERT!], and I think it can a nice way to teach small children about being hosts and thanking their guests for sharing a special day for them (and not just giving thanks for gifts received).

p5027714goodybags.jpgJan and I wanted the gifts to be something special, so I decided to start by using my newfound sewing skills to make the bags themselves. Each is a simple rectangle with two drawstrings. I went a little nuts and did applique letters (corresponding to the initial letter of each child’s first name) on each bag, too. With her pre-reading skills, Sylvia really enjoyed identifying which bag went to which child and handing them out herself.

p5027716bagsample.jpgEach bag contained a little fairy doll (Sylvia chose fairies as the theme for her party), some multicolored pencils, and a set of mini sketchbooks. The books were a lot of fun to make, not least because I used images from Japanese coloring pages for the covers. Those little animals are just so darn cute!

p5027713ethanbag.jpgSince one of our guests is only 17 months old, I figured he wasn’t quite ready for those items. So I made a stuffed rabbit-thingy for his bag. I winged it, so its ears are as long as its body, but it was fun to make. Experimenting with fabric is a lot faster than experimenting with yarn!

p4267532dolls.jpgThe little fairies were a lot of fun to make, too. I used recycled felt for the bodies and wings, a pipecleaner for the arms (with polyfill-stuffed muslin hands), and polyfill-stuffed muslin for the head. For the hair, I ordered four different sets of hand-dyed Border Leicester locks from Enchanted Yarns. I told her what I was going to do with them, and she suggested using needle felting techniques to attach them to the heads. Amazingly, I was unable to find any local vendors (either large craft stores or local yarn shops) that carried them, and by the time I started on this project I didn’t have time to order them. So I took a chunk of locks and used invisible thread to sew down where the center seam would be, thus creating a “wig” of sorts, which I then hand-sewed to each head. Perfect, no—but I think they turned out all right.

Nearly two years ago my good friend Gina gave me her starter Singer sewing machine when she upgraded to a more uber model. (By the way, her blog banner is out of date. She now has six cats.) Armed with Lotta Jansdotter’s Lotta Jansdotter’s Simple Sewing: Patterns and How-To for 24 Fresh and Easy Projects, I chose a tote bag for my first project. I got about three-fourths of the way through it when I got stuck. The sewing machine wouldn’t do what it was supposed to, the bobbin thingy was misbehaving, and I got annoyed. So I put away the machine. For a long time.

I brought it out of storage again last month, determined to figure out this sewing thing once and for all. I had lots of ideas for Sylvia’s birthday, and many of them required sewing. For some reason (maybe the stars were properly aligned this time?), the machine worked just fine this go-around. I finished up the tote bag (yes, it’s a little lopsided, but since it’s the first thing I ever sewed on a machine I think it’s not bad) and got to work on the birthday-related items.

p5027712garlandroll.jpgFirst up: a fabric garland. As soon as I saw this party garland a few months ago at the Purl Bee, I knew I wanted to make it. I ended up using various bits and bobs of fabric I had lying around, as well as some interesting cottons I found in the remnant bin at Joann. My garland isn’t as “pretty” as the Purl Bee’s, true. But then again, mine isn’t made out of pricey designer fabrics. Plus, I wanted to keep the color as non-seasonal and non-gendered—yet still very festive!—as possible, because I figured this would take a lot of work to put together, so the result had better be useful for lots of different occasions.

p5027915garlandopen.jpgAnd yes, it did take a long time to make this. That time was spread out over many evenings, though—a little here, a little there. Ten minutes before the official start time of Sylvia’s party, it was pretty clear that the rain was going to make us move the festivities indoors (eight kids and eighteen grownups!), Jan and his brother set about stringing up the garland inside. All told, it was over sixty feet long—enough to zigzag across the kitchen, dance across the dining room and living room ceilings, and crawl up the bannister a bit.


Busy times

Last Sunday (just over a week ago), the three of us did a day trip up to New York (about a two or two-and-a-half-hour drive for us) to attend a one-year-old’s birthday party at Shea Stadium. We left our house at 7:30 in the morning and had parked at the stadium lot by 9:30.*

I love New York City. I don’t think I would ever want to live there (unless I were filthy stinking rich enough to afford a home larger than a closet), but it’s a magical place to visit. Coming into the city early on a weekend morning is my favorite: everything is so quiet, there’s no traffic, and the city has a lovely otherworldly quality.

We hopped on the subway and took it one stop to the end of the line, right in the middle of Chinatown in Flushing. My brother (who lives in Greenwich Village) met us there, and we had dim sum brunch together at a terrific vegetarian Chinese restaurant. We took the subway back to the stadium and got to the party location (a box for thirty people) about half an hour before the game started at 1:10.

Neither Jan nor I are sports fans, but we were able to explain the basics of baseball to Sylvia. Well, not all of them: we didn’t get past the part about the guy trying to hit a ball with a special stick. That’s all she wanted to know. She enjoyed watching the first inning and a half of the game, then mostly lost interest unless the organist was playing a song.

Mr. Met stopped by the box to say hello to the birthday boy and pose for pictures. Personally, I don’t know why all the little kids who were at the party didn’t freak out at the sight of him. Think about it: it’s a guy with a giant baseball for a head. If that isn’t horrifying, what is?

The Mets trounced the Cardinals in just two-and-a-half hours, so we were back on the road again by 4:30. Even though Sylvia napped in the car, by the time we got home around 7:30 we were all exhausted. We all fell out.

There’s a knitting connection to this post, though. The gray toddler socks I knit last month were a gift for the birthday boy (whose birthday isn’t really for another week). His mom’s birthday was on Sunday (though totally downplayed because it was her son’s party), and I gave her a pair of socks I’d completed the night before (racing against deadline!). I neglected to take a photo of them, so I’ll have to see if I can get one from her.


*Of course it figures that when I finally make it to Queens (I’ve now visited all five boroughs—woot!), the one person I know there, Deborah (my awesome downstream pal in SP11), was busy running the NYC Half Marathon through Central Park and Times Square. I’m sure I’ll get a chance to meet her some day, though!


Weekend fun

It’s been a busy weekend here.

On Friday, we celebrated our nation’s birthday by taking a trip to our nation’s first zoo. The Philadelphia Zoo doesn’t hold a candle to the zoo I grew up going to—both in terms of animal habitats and entrance fees (the St. Louis Zoo is free, whereas the Philly one is a whopping $18 for adults and $15 for kids 2-11)—but it’s what we’ve got. And Sylvia loves it, so there you go.

Yesterday morning my brother arrived for a two-day visit. He lives in Greenwich Village and almost always brings us a dozen fresh bagels that he picks up at the shop around the corner from him on his way to Penn Station. We’re so grateful for this gift, because even though it’s possible to get decent bagels where we live, nothing compares to New York bagels. (Seriously. They’re standing on the summit of Mount Everest, with all other bagels in the world stuck in the Mariana Trench. They’re that good. The other bagels aren’t jealous, though, because they’re in so much awe of New York bagels that they can’t help but admire them.)

p7051739.jpgThis time, in addition to bagels, he brought a special treat that I’d asked him to find: vegan marshmallows. (Real marshmallows contain gelatin, which is made from animal bones and pig and cow skin.)* A few days earlier, I’d told him that Whole Foods stores in NYC carry them (but not any stores in my area), and because they need to be refrigerated it’s very expensive to get them by mail-order during the summer. “Don’t go to any trouble, but if you can find some, that would be great,” I told him. He took it as his personal mission to find these for us, and after visiting a few stores, scored two boxes of them (each holding about a dozen marshmallows for $7, if you can believe it). Thanks to her uncle’s efforts, Sylvia got to enjoy her first backyard s’mores yesterday evening. Which she loved, of course!

Once Sylvia was in bed for the evening, a few friends came over for some serious geeking out. Nine of us played a board game until 2 a.m. Yeah, I’d say we had a good time.

I also managed to get a lot of knitting done. Last night I finished knitting one new piece, and this morning I seamed it; it just needs a few more embellishments. Right now, I’m blocking Sylvia’s new sweater and hope to finish it up (finally!) this evening. A more detailed knitting update—with pictures—will be forthcoming later this week (I hope!).

I hope all of you, too, had a great weekend!


*A few years ago, the excrement hit the fan in the vegetarian world when it was revealed the Emes Kosher Jel, which had marketed itself as a vegetarian gelatin substitute, actually contained animal gelatin. (CNBC did a story about this: part 1, part 2.) The few companies that made vegetarian marshmallows using Emes products went out of business, and since then only a handful of companies in the world have figured out how to make vegan marshmallows.


Another birthday

p5230771meadow.jpgAll three of us have birthdays in May. Sylvia’s is on the 6th, mine is on the 8th, and Jan’s was yesterday. He and I are the same age for fifteen days, and then he leaps ahead again.

Jan always takes Sylvia’s birthday and my birthday as days off of work, but yesterday was the first time in a long time that he took his birthday off, too. We celebrated by heading to Longwood Gardens (which is where we’d spent my birthday, too).

It was one of those perfect spring days: sunny, clear, breezy, neither too warm nor too cold, not humid. The garden wasn’t very crowded, and the flowers put on a great show. The best part for me was just watching Sylvia be happy there. She loves that place, and it’s such a wonderful location for roaming and exploration and just being.

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