Brought To You By Hurricanes

When a hurricane shows up in the weather predicitions, no one’s very happy about it.  Except for maybe storm chasers or weather stations.  Or people who sell eggs and milk around here.  And makers of rain jackets and umbrellas.

And Riley.

Next time one comes up, however, I might be tempted to look for the silver lining around the ominous black cloud…

Last August, Hurricane Irene hit.  Not a big one, by New England standards.  Certainly not as heavy as many people thought it would be.  But it was enough to knock out our power for several days, making the ins and outs of daily life VERY interesting.

I have to admit that I enjoyed carrying pots of steaming water in from the campfire and doing dishes by flashlight.  There was something exhilarating about not having every convenience – living by the sweat of my brow and the work of my hands in every little task.

I felt like Marilla Cuthbert from Anne of Green Gables, carrying a tall candle up and down the stairs of our quiet home.

But it did get old.  Quick.

It says in Romans 8 that God works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.  Now why didn’t I think of that during the hurricane? while I listened, sleeplessly, to the wind picking up? when my 6 week-old baby was sick and I could only just make out his face by candlelight?

“All things…”

We had no electricity.  Therefore, we resorted to an old activity, simple and inexpensive, charming and intimate.  An ancient art…

Reading.

Not that we’re reading Little Women.  I’m on my own with that one.

Each night we sat by candlelight and whittled away the hours by word.  Punctuated only by the breathing of our baby and the neighbor’s generator, the hum of a story gradually took over our living room. 

I picked up knitting again.  Jon read, I worked with my hands. 

Eventually, the electricity came back on; and the constant noise of life returned.  We, however, are HOOKED on books again.

God bless the storms that renew our skill in the art of BEING together.

Now I can hardly wait for our nightly ritual, often accompanied by a cup of tea and a heating pad. 

Hopefully someday we’ll be old folks, still devouring this or that novel, chatting about it at meals, oohing and ahhing over handmade projects, and relishing each other’s company, shoulder to shoulder on the lumpy living room couch.

November Centerpiece Challenge

Now and then on Studio Tuesdays, I like to delve into home decorating.  It is an art form in itself.  And though I am not Martha Stewart or whoever the next guru of “good things” is, I can manage to get a smart-looking table up if I need to.

A while back, I learned that my Mother took a flower arranging class in college.  One of their assignments was to create a winter bouquet, using only what they could find in the cold, bland outdoors.  I was intrigued. 

Winter tends to take some of the twinkle out of my eye, being colorless and long…  But it doesn’t need to!  There’s beauty everywhere and all year round.  I am challenging myself – and YOU – to make a monthly centerpiece this winter.  One for November, one for December, etc.  We might be surprised by what we’ll find.

The only limitation is this:  Keep the focus on the thing(s) from outside.  Sure, add a piece of ribbon, a candle, or a vase.  But using one leaf to adorn a completely indoor display doesn’t count.  🙂

For my November piece, I went about as simple as possible:

We have an errant trumpet vine that’s trying to eat our garage like a boa constrictor.  I lopped off a section of it (yard work at the same time – look at me go!) and twisted it into a loose wreath. 

To this I added a tiny bow made out of a gift wrap ribbon I’d saved.  I am a fanatical packrat, and it does come in handy.

Lately I’ve been keeping a ceramic pitcher full of water on the table 24/7.  It’s cold enough in the house now that the water stays nice and cool, and it reminds me to drink up!

(Incidentally, look at the photo below.  Do you see a face in the pitcher?  I noticed one on the upper left of the pour spout.  Looks like a charcoal cartoon of some Charles Dickens character.  It’s not my reflection.  I promise.)

The vines seemed like the perfect complement to something functional, and a great way to dress up the table without burdening my eyes.  I love simplicity, like the lines of the vine shadows – quietly stunning.

What can you come up with from the cold outdoors?

Even if it’s not cold where you live, take the challenge.  It will probably only require 10 minutes of your day to put together an inviting centerpiece – something that shows your family or friends that you thought ahead about sharing the table with them.

This is also a great opportunity for getting your kids involved with the homemaking arts.  Could they help you collect leaves, sticks, acorns, or ivy?  Kids have wild imaginations.  Let them loose!

If you’d like your creation displayed on The Full Vine, take a picture of it, and email it to me at thefullvine@yahoo.com.  I’ll include any photos I receive in the December Centerpiece Challenge post.

Have fun! 

This is the day the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it. 

Psalm 118:24

Sea Shanty Workout

Yesterday was one of those cold, grey days when one baby cried to hear himself roar, and the other was not to be outdone; when every employee in the local dollar store treated you like you ran over their cat; and when you must sadly admit to your readers that you just polished off a giant spoonful of chocolate fudge sauce, expiration date unknown.

I did.  I know, it’s sad.  Look away.

To be sure, some days are harder than others.  But we are not without tools to help us.

Total thought change.  Stick with me.  I’ll circle back:

For a couple of summers, I worked as the music director for a children’s theatre.  It took place at one of those schools where a few parents were likely to drive up in their yacht.  I had a grand time. 

One intern in the program was an unusually free-spirited, marvelous young lady who loved music and belly dancing. 

(Sea shanties?  Free-spirited theatre chicks?  BELLIES?!  Not following…)

This intern furnished me with a mix of sea shanties, since we were writing an original pirate play.  That CD is what turned the day around for me yesterday.

See?  Told you I’d circle back.

One song in particular is part of the reason why I now weigh less than I did before I got pregnant with Quinn.  Although…  The chocolate spoon probably reversed that.  Forget I said it.

Are you having a good day?  Get up and dance to this song for the delight of it!

Are you having a ROTTEN day?  Did you run over a cat?

I defy you to sit on your duff when this song is played.  It could be, friends, that a little jig is all it takes to shake off the blues.

(My apologies to the slice of the population who have an aversion to feet.)

It is IMPOSSIBLE to stay grouchy when you’re spinning round and round out of control with a curly-headed, shrieking toddler, who has momentarily forgotten the 4 eye teeth he’s been cutting.

Today I am thankful for the chance to work out my crankies carrying a 16 lb. baby, and then a 25 lb-er, stomping and romping through the living room like a sailor on a night off.  Turns out the house wasn’t as cold as I thought. 

Click on this link for a good dance:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1RkCQKpyllU

By the way, I noticed a workout center next door to the dollar store, where people in overly tight clothing go to trim down and shape up.  Turns out I don’t need that either:  I can break a pretty good sweat on my own. 

Save some money.  CUT A RUG!!!

A Warm Week, a Wet Whistle, and Wonderful Walks

Thanksgiving Thursday seems to very often center around simple things.  I like it that way.  Most days there’s nothing profound happening, unless you count meditating on something about God.  That’s always profound.  But in the everyday, things to be thankful for are usually plenty and simple.

This week I’ve been basking in warm weather. 

No way should I have been outside with the boys today, wearing jeans and a T-shirt.  November in New England was always hats, mittens, and scarves, bright stinging cheeks, and piles of musty leaves.  Somehow we got an amazing blessing: 60’s and 70’s and all the sunshine you can handle.

Each morning before we plow out the backdoor, full speed ahead, I’ve been serving muffins and porridge and drinking tea.  Something about that hot, sweet beverage (English Breakfast Tea is the substance of choice, currently) fills me up and makes me smile.  I feel connected to my roots. 

I’m English.  Someone must have known that was awfully boring, and made a lot of teas to compensate.  Pinkies up!

I am also thankful for the wonderful walks I’ve been able to take with the boys. 

Our little makeshift tandem stroller has taken us on warm photography walks close to home, saving gas money and just enjoying the neighborhood. 

You should hear Riley crying out, “Woah!  OOOOooooOOOOOh!  BLECH! (for garbage cans) and “That!  Wuz that?!” all the way down the road. 

I love our outings. 

Quinn hangs out for the ride, and looks less than amused until someone directly socializes with him.  Next year, maybe.

What a great week.  It’s had its share of stress, to be sure.  But the “spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down” has been a big serving spoon this week. 

Thanks, God.  🙂

Chocolate Snack Cake

Guess what’s sitting in a pan on our stove?  With only two pieces left? 

CHOCOLATE SNACK CAKE!

By the time I’m done writing this recipe down, all the rest of it will be gone.  We must have mice or something.  Pfff.  I looked for a snacky chocolate cake like this for a while, and thank you Betty Crocker – yours is perfect! 

I love the lack of milk and eggs.  If it’s shopping day tomorrow, you can still make this – and lick the bowl!

Ingredients

1 1/2 C. all purpose flour

1 C. sugar

1/4 C. baking cocoa

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1/3 C. vegetable oil

1 tsp. white or cider vinegar

1/2 tsp. vanilla

1 C. cold water

Ice cream, whipped cream, or any topping you like (I like to sprinkle on chocolate chips and a couple tablespoons of sugar – makes it nice and crunchy)

Method

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Grease the bottom and sides of a 9-inch round pan or an 8-inch square pan with shortening; lightly flour.

If you have a sleepy toddler who needs something to do…

(note the chocolate all the way up his arm)

…lay out all the ingredients ahead…

…and let him dump them in one at a time. 

In a medium bowl, mix the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt.  In a small bowl, stir oil, vinegar, and vanilla until well mixed.  Vigorously stir oil mixture and water into flour mixture for about 1 minute or until well blended, utilising the unbridled energy of the toddler’s spasmodic stirring.

Immediately pour into the pan, and top with chocolate chips and sugar.

It won’t look like much, but the chips will sink into the cake and make little surprise pockets of chocolate.

The top will look similar to the picture below if you use 2-3 TBS of sugar.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Cool for 15 minutes.  Serve warm or cool with ice cream.  Or grab a handful out of the pan later while you’re making dinner.  That’s my favorite method.

Result

A spongy cake, moist and perfectly chocolatey.

A bowl for licking.

And a very happy toddler.

For a picture-free, easy-to-print version of this recipe, please click on the following link:

https://thefullvine.wordpress.com/chocolate-snack-cake/

A Box Full of Happiness

Friday’s photograph needs some explanation. 

What makes a brand new pair of sneakers look like that?

This.

And this:

And maybe this:

Come on, son.  Get dirty!

Jon worked hard to make a fun place in the backyard where the boys could sink their toes (and shoes) into the sand.

I don’t mind it so much either.

This giant sandbox, which required 3 yards of sand to fill, is made where the old garden used to be.  Jon finished digging the area, built a large frame, and arranged for the sand to be delivered. 

The whole thing cost about $170, which is pretty cheap considering the cost of lumber and sand, delivery charges, and the enjoyment of year after year of digging, sculpting, scooping, dumping, tossing, licking (unfortunately), and just plain playing.

I believe frugal choices are options that may require some monetary output at present, but will last a lifetime and keeping giving and giving.

A good investment and GREAT family time.  Thanks, Jon!  You’re the BEST.  We love ya. 

Reddi Whip

Some days need to begin with a good squirt of Reddi Whip in the mouth.

Some days require a squirt of Reddi Whip half way through the afternoon.

And you’ve got to end some days with a giant blob of Reddi Whip on top of Hot Fudge Sundae Cake.

I will leave you to wonder and shake your head about the disastrous parenting in our household.

Have a sweet weekend.

A Game For Theater and Family

This might seem like an odd idea for a Studio Tuesday post, but it makes sense to me:

If the purpose of these posts is to promote creativity, why not include all kinds?

Having dabbled in directing children’s theatre, I appreciate a good drama game.  (Try this one out as an ice-breaker, a way to train kids to focus on the things others say, and a way to build memory skills.)

Having kids, nieces, and nephews, I appreciate a good drama game. 

Having not so much dough in the ol’ pockets, I appeciate a good, free game.

Last Friday night found my side of the family around a campfire, celebrating my parents’ birthdays.  Somehow a game got started and everyone got involved, whether they intended to or not.

Since we just came through a pretty wild storm and lost power for nearly a week, this was the game.  It may sound familiar to you:

“We’re going to lose power for a week, so I have to make sure I get…”

Each person around the campfire added an item as we worked our way through the alphabet.  Person #1 did “A”, person #2 said “A” again and added “B”, person #3 said “A” and “B” and added “C”…all the way to person whoever-was-lucky-enough-to-get-“Z” and that person had to remember every item for the whole alphabet.  That lucky soul was me.

We’re going to lose power for a week, so I have to make sure I get

apples

blankets

C batteries

disposable diapers

eggs (Why?)

flashlights

gum (for the stress)

hurricane lamps

ice

Jenga blocks

kerosene

lighters

money (We’d all like to know where we can get some of this to add to our emergency stash.)

napkins

oranges

potatoes

quarters (If it had been Jon’s turn, he was going to say “Quilted toilet paper.”  Just for the record.)

rescue kits

sense of humor

tub full of water

underwear (Can’t do laundry?  Noooo problem!)

vitamins

wet wipes

x-cellent fruit snacks (Cut him some slack – he’s nine years old and it’s “x.”)

Yanni albums (for the fire, I believe)

ZZzzzzz’s (or a zeppelin, if you want to travel in style)

Now wouldn’t you like to be at one of our houses when the power goes out?  🙂

So no…  This wasn’t a “studio” post per se.  But it sure was fun to do something creative and spontaneous with the entire family, and to watch as everyone around the fire was drawn in to the excitement. 

Isn’t that what the arts are about?

I Descend, Wearing My Finest

a hush falls in anticipation

the room goes dark

a shower of tiny pyrotechnics from somewhere up above

chimes, Freddy

a spotlight on the staircase

I descend, wearing my finest

flipflops

capris

hoodie

oh yesssssss.

IT’S –

DATE NIGHT!

Why the dramatic intro?

When you’ve been pregnant for many moons, and you deliver a baby, and spend the next 6 weeks at home, caring for a newborn and a 16 month-old round the clock, and you feel like a milk machine wrapped in baggy skin with dark under-eye circles, and you and the love of your life see each other mostly in passing, you need

DATE NIGHT.

One burger joint with bottomless fries and a stroll through the mall COMING RIGHT UP!

Boy, did it feel good.  More refreshing than a long vacation.  Just what we needed, and

I

am

thankful.

My in-laws made this possible, taking on our two youngsters and all the noise they make. 

Thank you both!

Inspired Shoestrings: The Family Wall

For those of us who don’t shop at Pier 1 or Crate Barrel with any sort of regularity, here is a series on decorating with imagination.  Shopping at Salvation Army (or better yet, shopping from your own basement) may not be incredibly glamorous – but it’s incredibly satisfying.

Inspired Shoestrings: Part 5 – The Family Wall

I was inspired by my mother-in-law to start a family wall.  Her dining room wall is covered with beautiful old family photos in an array of similarly-colored frames.  I’ve been part of their family for a while now; but I still wander into her dining room and get lost in all those pictures of the generations. 

It’s incredible to look at our sons and see the resemblance they bear to men from 2 or 3 generations ago!

I decided it would be fun to fill our dining room with family pictures as well.  I’m a little kooky, though, and had to put my own spin on it.  In the center of the largest wall, I painted this:

If you look closely, you can a hairline crack in the wall on the left side of the verse.  Our house is very old, and I think I traumatized it by slamming it too many times with a hammer and nails.  I’m not a fan of horse-hair plaster and whatever else is behind the nice contemporary paint.

The pictures that surround this verse are of our little family unit, starting with Jon and I on our first date.  My younger sister actually showed up at the skating rink where she knew we were going, and took a beautiful picture of us talking off to the side, totally wrapped up in our own world.  She gave us that photo plus one from our engagement and our wedding day in matching frames as a wedding gift.  How cool is that?

Off to the side are pictures of us with Riley, our first-born – and soon there will be similar pictures of us with Quinn.  Below is a goofy photo of 3 of our nieces and nephews, and a Disney snapshot of us on Test Track.  Classic!  Other pictures fan out to the sides with shots of our extended families.

This is only the beginning of the project I have in my mind.  Hopefully our growing families on both sides will be represented, as well as shots of our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents on their wedding days, with their friends, etc.

It’s important to know and embrace where you come from.  We want our children to know the names, faces, and personalities of each member of their family, even the folks they won’t meet until they get to heaven.

One of the best parts of this has been shopping for frames at second-hand stores, where you can score some really great deals on perfectly good frames.  If you like this idea, consider finding old, used frames and repainting them.  It’s so much cheaper and fun, too!

Some decorating projects must be started and finished quickly, all at once.  This one can be done over the course of years and the space will look lovely in the meantime.

Do you have a family wall in your home?