Monday, November 30, 2009

Manic Monday

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Early Christmas

I am about to do something I have never done before. I am going to set up my Christmas tree during the month of November! Not before Thanksgiving, mind you, but a couple of days afterwards.

Usually I put up my tree and all of my decorations on the day after the musical at church. By then all of my holiday stress is gone and I have more free time. However, that means we don't get our tree until around Dec. 15 every year. This year we are leaving for our ski trip on Dec. 18....that means only 3 or 4 days of enjoying the decor before we dash off.

So....on Saturday NOVEMBER 28th we will officially begin the Christmas season here at the Grove house. A little early for us, but necessary. Until then we will be completely focused on Thanksgiving, Brian's favorite holiday.

We don't have to be anywhere until 5 pm Thanksgiving night, so starting today at 2 pm we are going to lay around the house and play boardgames and talk and talk about what we are thankful for. Tomorrow morning we'll stay in our pajamas until noon and watch the parades. Ahhhhh, what a holiday. Genuine reflection and relaxation. I can't wait.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Manic Monday

Friday, November 20, 2009


Welcome to my first ever sewing tutorial! (It may be my last because it takes twice as long to make something when you have to keep stopping and taking pictures of it.)

I got this cute little girl's sweater in a bag of hand-me-downs. Unfortunately it had a stain right in the middle of the chest. I was bummed because I really liked the colors and the stripes on the sweater. Then I had an idea.

I turned the sweater inside out and realized that the knit was just as beautiful on the inside as it was on the outside....and the stain had not penetrated all the way through. That meant I could still use the fabric from the sweater for something. I decided to try my hand at making a drawstring tote bag/backpack for my niece.

I decided that since the sweater was her size it would automatically make the backpack the right size for her back. So I started by cutting off the arms and neck of the sweater, reducing it to two simple rectangles.

Then I cut two pieces of a coordinating cotton print for the lining. (The sweater wouldn't maintain it's shape with anything in it without a lining.)

I used some more scraps of the cotton to make tabs for the bottom of the bag. I folded up squares and sewed along two sides.

Then I pinned the little triangle tabs into the bottom of the bag and seamed it all up together (right sides together with the tabs sandwiched in between).

Next I had to put grommets into each tab. I bought grommets and a grommet setter at the fabric store and installed them according to the package directions. (If you've never done it before I do recommend practicing on some scraps. I had about 1 out of every 4 I tried turn out correctly when I first started.)

On to the lining: With right sides together I seamed three sides of the lining, leaving the top open and turning over 1/2 an inch.

I then slid the lining into the sweater bag.

Next it was time to make the band for the top. I cut a long strip of fabric and folded it lengthwise. I needed multiple layers to put the grommets through so that I could be sure they wouldn't pull out. I also wanted nice clean edges on the inside and outside of the bag.
I pinned the band to the top of the bag and marked where the grommets should be on each side. (They need to be equally spaced, one on each side of the bag.) I then took the band back off of the bag and installed the grommets. (Remember, the grommet does not go through both sides of the folded band, only one side. The band is the pocket for your drawstrings.)

Then I just sewed the band to the top of the bag, catching the ends of the lining and the sweater inside the band. After that it was time to put the drawstrings in.
This was a little complicated to figure out. Actually, I had to call a friend and have her look at her son's drawstring bag and explain to me over the phone how all of the strings went through the band.
You will need two long strings. Each string should go in to the band on one side of the bag, travel all the way around the bag and back out THE SAME HOLE that it went in. (One string entering and exiting on one side, the other string entering and exiting on the other side.)
Then one end of the string on each side needs to go through the hole in the tab at the bottom. Take the ends of the strings and tie them in a knot near the bottom tab.
That's it! It was a really simple project and a great way to use up old sweaters and fabric remnants. It would be an even easier project if I hadn't used a sweater. A sturdier, tighter knit fabric would not have needed a lining. With a simple canvas fabric you could just hem the top and run your drawstrings right through there, eliminating the need for a band. I may make a couple more of these bags using different fabrics to see how it goes.
For now, I hope Gracie enjoys her 4th Birthday present. Kinley didn't want to let it go.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Vacation: Day 10 Dayton

We've finally come to the last day of our summer vacation. (I know you probably thought I'd never get to it.) We could have driven straight home from Pittsburgh, like my parents did, but we decided to take one extra day and make it two easy days of driving. We pricelined a hotel in Dayton, OH and stopped early in the afternoon. We spent the evening in the pool and eating ice cream from Cold Stone Creamery. It was a nice relaxing way to wrap up our trip.

The next morning Brian and the boys headed out to the Airforce Museum on Wright-Patterson Airforce Base. We've been there several times before and the boys always love it. It is a terrific free museum full of full sized planes from every era of the history of flight....including the space program. (As a matter of fact some of the things we saw in the Smithsonian we had already seen before when they had been on exhibit at Wright-Patterson.)

One area of the museum is in a separate hangar, however, and we had never taken the boys over to that section before. So Brian decided to only tour that and the space section. The special section houses all of the previous Air Force One planes. You can walk through them and see exactly what kind of accommodations each president has had. You can stand in the spot where Johnson was sworn in and see the cargo hold that transported JFK's body. Of course the boys loved it. They were full of stories when they got back to the hotel around noon. It was a fun end to our great vacation. We packed up and headed home....arriving in Greenville around 7 pm. Home at last!

Looking back on this year's vacation I can see that it was a lot of fun and VERY educational, but VERY different from our normal vacations. Most of our vacations are all about nature and exploring God's awesome creation. We spend a lot of time hiking and climbing and swimming and observing wildlife. We enjoy experiencing scenery and climate much different from our own.

This time we were in urban settings almost 100% of the time. The scenery and climate were almost exactly like ours at home (except for the beach). And while we did "hike" for miles and miles around DC we only spent a few brief hours in nature (aside from sleeping at the campground each night) when we went to the state park near Pittsburgh. However, we really saw a lot of interesting and unique structures.....they just happened to be built by man instead of by God. We learned so much about colonial and Civil War history and modern day engineering. We were able to expose our kids (and my parents) to some of our nation's greatest man made monuments and show them the center of our government.

With that said, I think we are all ready to get back to our more typical vacation next year. Somewhere sparsely populated with miles of wilderness to explore. The kids are already talking about Michigan, or Colorado, or Yellowstone. After all, half the fun of vacationing is the planning.

To read about Day One traveling and Day Two in Gettysburg go here.
To read about Day Three in Baltimore go here and here.
To read about Day Four in Washington D.C. go here.
To read about Day Five in Washington D.C. go here. and here.
To read about Day Six on Assateague Island go here.
To read about Day Seven on Chincoteague Island go here.
To read about Day Eight at Antietam go here.
To read about Day Nine in Pittsburgh go here. and here.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Good, The Bad and the Ugly

It is long past time for me to update my reading list. I know of three book that I haven't written about yet, and I've got the feeling that I'm forgetting one more. I've been reading quite a bit, but it hasn't all been great literature.

The Good:
I really enjoyed this book. It isn't a cheery type of book and there isn't a happy ending, but it is very well written. The language is beautiful and the story is completely engrossing. I couldn't put this book down. It has a couple of twists/mysteries in it, which I always love. I love a book that keeps you guessing until the very end. This book is a novel inside a novel. "The Blind Assassin" is a novel published posthumously by the narrator's sister. So in some chapters we have the narrator telling us the story of her life in early 20th century Canada and in other chapters we have excerpts from the published novel. The story itself focuses on the lives of two sisters growing up in a wealthy, but dysfunctional, family outside of Toronto. Family is a major theme of the novel but it delves in to communism, war, revolution and economic depression as well. A really good novel, over all.

The Bad:
This wasn't a bad book. It had its good moments, but overall it was really weird. I love, love, loved Marilynne Robinson's book Gilead so I had high hopes for this novel as well, but no such luck. Robinson tells the story of two sisters, abandoned by their mother (she commits suicide) and left to the care of their slightly senile grandmother. When she dies they fall under the care of two old spinster aunts that simply cannot deal with the responsibility so they call in a long lost aunt who prefers the life of a boxcar riding vagrant to living in an established home, but decides to take the job of mother to these two girls anyway. The family is SO dysfunctional and sad. The younger sister is finally driven away to live with a kind teacher and the town begins to demand that the older sister be removed from the home as well. Instead of losing her last remaining charge the crazy aunt takes the girl on the road with her and they become hobos....never telling the other girl that they didn't actually die in the fire that engulfed their house the night they ran away. (Of course they set the fire.) It was just weird and depressing and too wordy. I don't recommend it.

The Ugly:
I love Odd Thomas. He is one of the purest, sweetest, most lovable characters in literature. As a twenty something fry cook with psychic abilities he gets himself into some unlikely situations...usually involving aliens or sadistic mad men trying to destroy the world with nuclear bombs. Koontz' writing is so clever and witty and easy to read. If you are squeamish or opposed to a few supernatural forces in your books you might not enjoy the Odd Thomas series, but I'm betting you just might find Odd's character so intriguing that you can overlook the "ugly" things that are happening around him. I highly recommend an Odd Thomas book. I think there are 4 of them.

You can see all of my 2009 Reading List and the reviews of each book here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pumpkin Muffins Two Ways

Recently I had to take breakfast for our MOPS meeting. I was also in charge of the snack for the 3 year old MOPPETS class. So I checked out the "muffins" section of my favorites list and found two recipes I had bookmarked to try.

For the adults I made Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins (a pumpkin muffin with a cream cheese filling and streusel on top) and for the kids I made much healthier Whole Wheat Pumpkin Mini Muffins. Both of them turned out well and went quickly at the meeting.

Here are both recipes for you to try:

Pumpkin Cream Cheese Muffins (from Annie's Eats)


For the muffins:
3 cups flour
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. ground cloves
1 tbsp. and 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
4 eggs
1 ¼ cups vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
2 cups pumpkin puree

For the filling:
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup powdered sugar

For the streusel topping:
½ cup sugar
¼ cup and 1 tsp. flour
4 tbsp. butter, cubed
1 ½ tsp. cinnamon

To prepare the filling, combine the cream cheese and powdered sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and whip until smooth. Form into a log on plastic wrap or foil, making sure that the diameter is small enough to fit into the well of a muffin pan. Wrap the log up tightly and freeze until slightly hardened, 1-2 hours.

To make the muffins, combine the flour, spices, salt and baking soda in a medium bowl. Mix well and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the eggs, vegetable oil, sugar and pumpkin puree. Mix until well combined. Add in the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until just combined.

To make the streusel topping, combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Mix together with a pastry blender or two forks until crumbly.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line two muffin pans with paper liners. To assemble the muffins, fill each muffin well halfway with batter. Remove the cream cheese log from the freezer and slice into 24 equal slices. Place a slice in each muffin well. Divide the remaining muffin batter evenly among the muffin cups, on top of the cream cheese. Sprinkle the streusel topping over the top of the batter. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Let cool completely before serving.

Whole Wheat Pumpkin Mini Muffins (from

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup honey

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease a 12 cup muffin pan, or line with paper liners.

In a large bowl, stir together the whole wheat flour, brown sugar, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Make a well in the center, and put in eggs, pumpkin, oil and honey. Mix just until the dry ingredients are absorbed. Spoon into muffin cups so they are about 2/3 full.

Bake for 10 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the tops spring back when lightly touched. Cool in the pan before removing from cups.

These recipes are linked to Tempt My Tummy Tuesday and Tuesdays at the Table. Head over there to find hundreds of other great recipes.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Manic Monday

Friday, November 13, 2009

Vacation: Day 9 Pittsburgh continued

Just as the drizzle stopped we arrived in downtown Pittsburgh at....
to watch the Cardinals take on the.....Eric got us tickets through his job. We had 4 tickets in 3 different sections of the ballpark. One of which was on field level.....on the VERY FRONT ROW!! Which of course means we were just a few feet from.... And we got to be eye witnesses to an argument between Tony LaRussa and the first base umpire.
In between innings Ryker stood up in all of his Cardinal red and tried to catch Albert or McKay's eye, but it didn't work. We didn't get any balls thrown our way.We were right there to watch the celebration after a Redbird victory. After the game there was a huge fireworks show timed to recorded music.

Interspersed with the fireworks there was a concert by O.A.R. (a band that none of us had heard of but all enjoyed). They sing "How many times can I break til I shatter?" if you aren't familiar with the name.

It was a great night and a fun end to our "official" vacation. But never the ones to rush home, we had a couple of more things on the agenda.

To be continued......

To read about Day One traveling and Day Two in Gettysburg go here.
To read about Day Three in Baltimore go here and here.
To read about Day Four in Washington D.C. go here.
To read about Day Five in Washington D.C. go here. and here.
To read about Day Six on Assateague Island go here.
To read about Day Seven on Chincoteague Island go here.
To read about Day Eight at Antietam go here.
To read about Day Nine in Pittsburgh go here.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Vacation: Day 9 Pittsburgh, Part One

Well, better 3 months late than never, right?

Our time in Pittsburgh was one of my favorite parts of our vacation this summer, so I don't know why it has taken me so long to post about it. At long last here it is.......

We left the mosquito ridden shores of Assateague Island just as thousands of poor saps were rushing in there for the weekend. We took a detour through the Antietam Battlefield and then rolled in to my brother Eric's house in Pittsburgh about 10 pm on Friday night. Everyone there was already in bed so we just threw some blankets on the floor and passed out. (Our first night not in a tent for 8 days.)

On Saturday morning we just vegged out, eating pancakes and watching the kids play. Eli and Kinley particularly enjoyed the princess shoes. Then on Saturday afternoon we packed up and went to a beautiful State Park near Pittsburgh. We hike through boulders along the river, watched the kayakers negotiate the rapids, explored an old grist mill and saw a covered bridge. It was our first real "nature" experience of the trip, which is really strange for us. Usually we are out traipsing around in the woods all the time when we are camping. Ironically, I apparently did not take my camera on this outing....or I forgot to use it. I'm not sure which.

Saturday evening it was time for the big event.....the reason we were there....well, not the reason we were in Pittsburgh, but the reason we were there on that particular weekend.....The Cardinal Game!!!! Eric got tickets for all of us to go together. We packed all of our red just for the occasion. On the way to the game we would have to drive right past the bridge that Eric's company was building. So we stopped for Eric to give us a tour.

It was drizzling a little bit but luckily Kira had an extra umbrella for Kinley to use.
At first we explored the job site from the ground. You can see how huge the support pillars are. Before they could be built the Allegeheny River had to be dammed around the job site and a base of rock many, many feet deep had to be built up.In this picture you can see the existing highway bridge (steel structure) on the right, and then the two new two lane bridges they are building on the middle and the left. As you can see they first build the vertical support columns and then they start pouring concrete horizontally in each direction for the actual road. They have to keep it balanced by pouring evenly on each side.
Pouring concrete horizontally in mid-air requires this contraption. I don't remember the technical term but I think we referred to it as a creeper. It is a form for the concrete that stays in place while the concrete is poured and while it cures for a couple of days, then it slides (or creeps) out a little further so that the next section can be poured.

These two sections of the bridge are just about to meet.Eric decided we could get a better view of the bridges from up on top but none of us wanted to climb the switchback scaffolding all the way to the top like the workers do. (If you look closely in the picture of the three bridges you can see it going up the side of the middle bridge. Scary.) So he took us around, through a toll plaza and up on top.

From there we could see the view that the workers have everyday of the river far, far below.

This is the creeper contraption. It is hard to make heads or tails of what all of the parts are but you get the idea.
This is the finished product before the next section is poured. The workers eat lunch inside these tunnels inside the bridge on cold or rainy days instead of going down to the ground. The bridge is actually open all the way from one end to the other.And here are the two new bridges, one mostly complete and the other still under construction. We were kind of shocked at how close together they were. (And you can see the existing bridge with traffic going by in the background too.) You can also tell that the guardrails have not been poured yet. That made it a little scary watching 5 kids run around up top.
The boys loved seeing the construction site and learning all about what Uncle Eric does. Truth be told so did I. "Engineer" is such a broad term. It was fun to see exactly what he has been engineering. I'm so proud of him.
Cainan and Eli were excited to see a real Gator up on the bridge.

I'm not sure what the people driving by on a Saturday evening thought when they saw 12 people, dressed all in red, roaming around an unfinished bridge, but who cares? We had a great time and we learned a lot. We had to tear the kids away, but the promise of a Cardinal game did the trick.

It was time to get on the road and go to the game. First we had to get back through the toll booth just outside the construction site. Eric went up to a State Trooper on duty at the "pass-through-for-free-gate" that the construction workers are allowed to use. He said the magic words and we all got through without paying a toll. Whew!

On to the be continued.......

To read about Day One traveling and Day Two in Gettysburg go here.
To read about Day Three in Baltimore go here and here.
To read about Day Four in Washington D.C. go here.
To read about Day Five in Washington D.C. go here. and here.
To read about Day Six on Assateague Island go here.
To read about Day Seven on Chincoteague Island go here.
To read about Day Eight at Antietam go here.