Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Jane: Xmas Eve Day sightings

Are you dreaming of a white Christmas? We're having one!
It was a bit warmer yesterday, but it's getting colder again.
The cardinals, chickadees, titmice, and nuthatches like our safflower feeder.

Eli said the snow was going down his neck, so he didn't stay out long.
Robbie skied in the alley. He needs new boots--his are too small so he had to wear Bruce's boots and skis.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Robbie: Video Game Reviews

Inspired by Tolstoy Kafka Evsky* and the Angry Video Game Nerd**, I decided to make some reviews of my own. I haven't done many but here are some I have done.
Watch and learn... or not...
If you have any requests send them to me at

Enjoy the videos and don't forget to comment and rate :)

*He reviews obscure systems
**He angrily reviews games that are really bad. (PG-13)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Jane: Crochet Project

Isn't this little robin cute? I got the pattern online, and it's pretty easy--a nice change from the sweater project.

He's a British Robin--I didn't have quite the right brown for him--should be a bit lighter. Still, he's cute.

I think I'll make some Iowa goldfinches once I can find some bright yellow yarn!

The birds had a tough night of it last night--we had blizzardy winds and icy temps. We got up this morning to find the thermometer at -10F. Ugh. It's warmer now (maybe -1) but the winds are still nasty. I'm staying in to crochet and watch a movie called Center Stage, supposedly a fiction piece about the ABT.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Jane: Basketweave Crochet

I got a request for instructions on how to do the basketweave crochet.

Yes, it's a front post double crochet! At least that's half of it. But the rest is easy.

The pattern: 3 fpdc, 3 bpdc (back post dc). You do a bpdc the same as a fpdc, but just from the back of the work. YO, insert the hook from right to left around the post, YO, etc.

On the next row, alternate. That makes the lovely basket weave pattern.

My foundation row is just plain dc.

Keep in mind:
  • this goes slow--each row overlaps a bit with the one before it, so you make progress about 3/8 inch at a time
  • it makes a very thick fabric. You may have to crochet your pattern bigger to make up for the thickness of the fabric . . . something I didn't consider when I started my project :-(
Now if you don't mind, I'm going to take a bit of a break from that project! As you know, I'm crocheting sans pattern, just using measurements and drawings from a couple of other patterns to guide me. I'm figuring it out as I go along in terms of decreasing, etc. And it's very tricky. I've had to start and rip out my sleeve 4x already. I'm not in a hurry or anything, but it's getting a bit tiresome.

I'll do some small projects for a bit and then come back.

And if anyone has any thoughts about how to deal with a project that looks like it might be too small, let me know. One idea I have: crocheting around the sides and shoulder seams to make it bigger. Might make pretty seams to have something different along them . . . maybe a crocheted cable, or even just a row of plain dc.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Jane: Kitten in the snow

Look! Kitten tracks in the snow!
The kitten wants out!
What's that cold stuff?

Let me in!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Jane: Book mini-review

Mini review (in my Reader's Notebook):
Scientific explanations of what happens in "A Day in the Life of Your Body."

I like this kind of non-fiction, books that make science come alive. This one's angle, following the body's activities through a day, is clever and fun.

I found out the title of the book is also the title of a 1995 song by King Crimson.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Jane: Thank you, Governor Blagojevich

On the way to Robbie's trumpet lesson the other day, we were listening to a story about Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich on NPR. His profanity-laced (bleep-laced), corrupt statements filled the car. What a slime-ball.

"I think the coolness factor of swear words is going to fall because of him," I commented.

It's true. We haven't heard as many swear words in our house since the story broke, even from the person who, when about 8, said to me "Mom, aren't swear words cool?" (Robbie denies saying this, but I heard it from his lips.)

When the occasional swear word does occur here, all I have to do is yell downstairs (where video games seem to cause occasional swearing) "is Governor Blagojevich down there?" No more swearing.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Jane: Weird Cookies

I had lunch with a friend yesterday and told him I was making cookies. He looked interested until I told him what was in these cookies.

Besides the usual ingredients, they have candied fruit, strong coffee, and anise flavoring.

The cookies are Pfeffernusse, or, as my grandmother called them, peppernuts. They must be some odd variety, because most recipes I've seen for pfeffernusse call for the anise, but other than that are basic refrigerated butter-and-sugar cookies. My friend Karen makes them.

Ours are strange, but we all love them! When Grandma couldn't make them anymore, Mom did. Then I took over. Now it's tradition that I bake them.

It's an all-day project. First you make the very sticky dough, made with honey and corn syrup, as well as those odd ingredients. Chill the dough. Make small balls and bake them. Cool. Then dip them in icing made by boiling sugar, water, and anise.
Finally, roll them in powdered sugar.After all that, the icing hardens so they stay fresh pretty long, and freeze well.

I divided the batch in 3rds and sent some off to my siblings, who love them. Might as well; they're a little too weird to take to a cookie exchange or give to the mailman!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Jane: Useful Crochet

It's finals week, which means I've been doing a LOT of reading: final papers, portfolios, final exams. When I get home from work, I don't want to read a book . . . so I've been working a lot on my most recent crochet project, a cardigan of creamy wool-blend yarn. Here's the back:

I like this pattern and this yarn because it gives a kind of Fisherman's Knit look: bulky, textured, and warm. I had considered doing some crocheted cables (had a nice pattern) but I didn't like the way they worked up. Crochet can look very clunky sometimes, with chunky rows that fold in on each other. So I opted for this "basketweave" stitch instead. It makes a better whole fabric than many of the cable-y stitches, and it almost looks like knit basketweave.

The only trouble with this basketweave is it goes very slowly. It's almost two layers of yarn for each row, as you crochet "around the post" to make those neat basketweaves. That also means I'm using a lot of yarn!

Why didn't I just knit a fisherman's knit sweater, you say? I'm really a beginning knitter, and much more comfortable with crochet. In fact, I'm designing the sweater myself, working it out based on 3 different patterns. Crochet's construction makes it easier to tear out mistakes, too, and when you're making it up as you go along, this is important!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Jane: On Not Finishing a Book

Normally, I finish books I start. But not always.

I started this book with the expectation of enjoying it. I love "family under stress" novels and generally like 1st novels and novels from the UK. But I read the first two "Junes" of Three Junes, and I'm not going to read the last.

My 1 sentence book summary: Members of a Scottish family, most notably the gay son, have trouble communicating with others as they go through life and consider their past.

I couldn't figure out why this book won an award. Normally, I've enjoyed National Book Award winners. I read some reviews. The author called the "Three Junes" a triptych. Nice metaphor. But I didn't like the characters (nor did I find them intriguing), and the story, especially the middle "June", rambled along pretty loosely. So I just stopped reading

Oh well. Time for a new book!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Robbie: Duct Tape

My mom checked me out a book called Ductagami and it has the instructions for all sorts of crazy projects. I chose to make a wallet. Here is a picture.
After I finished that, I looked in the book for other cool things. I decided on something not in the book. A Nintendo DS cover. I freehanded the strips and did not stick anything directly on my DS.
It is possible to take off. Here are some pictures.

Btw. If you noticed a Yu-Gi-Oh card in my wallet I will clear things up before I get loads of hatemail.
NO I do NOT play Yu-Gi-Oh and that is my one of a kind uber rare card. Don't dis it.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Jane: It's beginning to look a lot . . .

It's been cold here in our town: in the teens with a wind chill. At least we have this beautiful snow cover to make it bright and cheery outside. It's also enough for the boys to enjoy when they go outside: Robbie to sled, and Eli to fiddle around with friends.

I haven't been outside to play; I've been very busy writing for City Revealed magazine, where I just got hired to do freelancing. They're keeping me busy. That's why there haven't been any blog posts recently!
Despite the busy times, I put up my mom's creche during the first week of Advent--I think she always put it up then, too. I wanted a star to hang above the stable, but couldn't find one I liked. But then I saw this beautiful berry wreath and knew that's what I wanted above the creche.

Maybe I remembered Mom's: I found this photo in the box with the creche. It was labeled "Christmas 1969."

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Robbie: Rats+Stairs=Tradition?

Let rats loose on the stairs? It seems like a bad idea, but as long as they are supervised, it is a great way for them to get out their energy and get over their fear of the "basement hawks"* Here are some videos of them (the first is NOT recommended, Scabbers and Link were VERY cooperative.)

Scabbers and Link

Fredrick and Snickers

*Btw the basement hawks are a rare species of invisible hawk that apparantly lives in our basement.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Jane: Book mini-Reviews

I haven't written a book review in here for a while, but I've been writing them in my reader's notebook. Just 1-2 sentence reviews, like my mom used to do. Here are a few I read early this fall.
(No, you can't look inside; I got my image from Amazon!)
A young teen girl observes the reactions of her small-town neighbors when a camp for Japanese-Americans is built nearby during WWII.
(This is also our choice for the 2009 Linn Area Reads book.)

When an editor is slain in the newsroom of a New York Times-like newspaper, chaos ensues. Delightfully mordant humor with Dickensian names and characters.

Tell me what you've been reading.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

This is my key collection. It has several skeleton keys, 2 jewelry box keys, 1 locker key,1 key that I'm not sure about, and 1 key to city.
Here is the largest key compared to the smallest one. The largest is 7 1/2 inches while the smallest is just under 1 inch.
This one I'm not to sure about. If you know email me (my address is
This is the largest key. I think it is a key to city or some other type of ceremonial key.
I got all these keys  at an antique store called antique avenue. I would recommend going there.
The store is located on 888 8th avenue in Marion, Iowa.

Jane: Yarn

What a lovely sight--a bag of yarn waiting to be crocheted!

I bought this wool-blend yarn on sale today so I can make myself a sweater. I've always wanted to crochet an aran sweater, so I'm going to do that. I didn't find a pattern I like, so I'm combining a few patterns--one to get the right sizing, another to get the right shape, and another for the basic stitch, a mini-cable. I'm thinking of adding some more fancy stitches, at least on the front panels (it'll be a cardigan).

That sounds kind of crazy and difficult when I write it out. But as for altering and combining patterns--when do I NOT do this??? There are very few items, garments especially, that I make exactly as the pattern says. I'm always altering, combining patterns, etc. etc. I'm pretty good at doing this in sewing, and I'm becoming a better crocheter, so I should be OK.

Let's hope this one works!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Jane: Music Video

We've been busy with the Handicam at our house, making videos. Here's one I made for Bruce.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Robbie: Super Mario All Stars

There is a long story of how Eli came to acquire this game but to make it short, he sold a Game boy Advance and bought it from Gamerz, a video game store in Iowa City. The game, Mario All Stars, is not a sports game as the title sounds, but a collection of the Mario games for the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Famicom Disk System. The games it includes are the Super Mario Bros. series (1,2, and 3) and Mario Bros. 2 Japanese Version. The games have graphics updated to the Super Nintendo's 16-bit color, and new music. One of the drawbacks , however, is the fact that the controls are still the original ones which are not very precise.
The game with the best controls is Super Mario Bros. 3 which is an awesome game. After you have played it, you realize how all of the later Mario games have looked back on this famously awesome game.
One of the games is a pirated game that most people recognize but don't recognize it as a pirated game. Super Mario Bros. 2 was actually not a mario game in the first place. The game even has references in later games but was never mentioned as a pirated game.

Since the Emulator wouldn't let me record an AVI, I will have to record it from a TV...I also need a camera... (movie in later post)

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Jane: New President for US

Election Day was quite exciting at our house.

Bruce had his usual stint at the local radio station, giving political analysis as the counts were coming in. He enjoys doing that--maybe you know that his original career goal was to be a radio announcer.

I had to teach that evening, so the boys had their favorite babysitter, Courtney, over.

They didn't spend the evening playing retro video games, like they usually do with Courtney--they watched the election returns!

Robbie had a US map and red and blue pens--a project for his social studies class. Eli was just interested in watching. We'd taken both of them to the caucuses in January, so they've been part of this all along.

Caucuses are great interactive theatre, by the way, and a great place to introduce kids to politics. The democrats elect their nominee with their feet, as in "everyone who's caucusing for Hillary, over in that corner. Obama, you guys come on up here." Then we count off how many people are in each group, determine which groups are viable, and reshuffle if necessary. Goofy! And very exciting.

We were all excited to see Obama slowly pull ahead--at first by just 200,000 votes, and then by more and more. I sent the boys to bed just before McCain gave his gracious concession speech.

Now we're looking at a new era, and it's exciting. I can't even imagine wanting to be president at a time like this, but I'm glad it'll be Obama.

I wasn't sure about him at first. I knew I'd go for a democrat because I agree with their policies; I just wasn't sure he was the one. But I was slowly convinced by his thoughtful, rational explanations of his positions (he is a former college professor!); his determination not to use the "us-and-them" approach--"we're not red states and blue states but the United States;" his coolness in stressful situations. And all of us in the Rhetoric department are thrilled--THRILLED--that we now have a president who is an eloquent and knowledgeable speaker!

That's why I voted for him: I think he has the makings of an excellent national leader.

It's odd how much of the news coverage is about the symbolism of this race: a bi-racial person was elected President--that means we are no longer racist in America! Or whatever. I agree that this election has a lot of symbolic weight--probably more for people of color than for me. But we all elected Obama--well I did--because we thought he was the best person for the job, and in a way, it didn't matter whether he was bi-racial or African-American or white. I was shocked to hear the radio reports about how some people found it difficult to support him because he's dark-skinned.

I hope that the symbolism isn't "now a dark-skinned person can be president" but "now the best person, no matter what they look like, can be president."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Eli: Squash Photos

This is a squash we got from the farmer's market. Photos by Eli.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Jane: Yet more useless crochet

I've never been interested in doing filet crochet, you know, this kind of stuff.

Too tedious and sweetly lacy.

But when I saw a pattern for this filet crochet window-hanging, I couldn't resist.

Plus the timing was right, as Halloween is next Friday! I made it out of some midnight blue cheap acrylic worsted from my stash.

Find the pattern in Stitch and Bitch Crochet: The Happy Hooker, also a great resource for crochet techniques and stitches.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Jane: Gardening Advice?

Would anyone like to give me gardening advice for my backyard?
Check out the movie, and leave a comment or email me.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Jane: Timely Useless Crocheted Items

When I saw these patterns in the Lion Brand Yarn newsletter, I couldn't resist making them!

Photo's a bit blurry, but I think you can tell who they are . . . The (free) pattern is easy--works up in about 2 hours or less for each candidate. I used scrap yarn from my stash.

Bruce said "I'm going to have to borrow those." I said, "I made them for your office!"

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Jane: Easter Island Head movie

This is the movie I made about our trip to see our neighbor's big art project. Enjoy!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Jane: Apple Season

My neighbor Ann gave me a big bag of apples this weekend, so I'm making applesauce. It's a great way to use windfalls and otherwise "unsprayed" free apples. You can just chop out the bruises and codling moth larvae tracks and use the rest. I found a recipe to make it in the crock pot so that's what I'm doing. It'll make the whole house smell great!

It's not really a recipe, more like instructions: 10 apples, chopped and 1/2 c. H2O in a crockpot on low for 4-6 hours. They say to add sugar 3/4 c. at the end and cinnamon as you serve. I don't think I'll need sugar, and I'll add a cinnamon stick, too.

The apples are really nice ones, from a century farm (the farm where Steve is building the Easter Island head--Ann is Steve's wife). The apples are dark, dark red, almost purple, which doesn't really show in this photo. They have Delicious-type bumps on the blossom end, but they're more round in shape. They're hard like Delicious, but much more tangy and flavorful. They kept their shape so well that when I made applesauce with them last week, I had to mash them a bit. With a potato masher.

I'd love to know the variety. They seem to be resistant to disease.

I saved out a half dozen of the big ones. My plan is to make a pie with those tomorrow.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Jane: Big Head

Our neighbor Steve is an artist. He has a day job, too, but he makes sculptures when he can, and his sculptures are awesome. There's a classical head in his garage, along with some other pediments and such. There's a wire deer next to the house and sometimes huge, funny-looking yard-art birds turn up, too. I think those yard art things are his pot-boilers: not his favorites to make, but stuff he knows will sell.

He's been telling us about his biggest sculpture yet-get this:

a 14-foot-tall steel Easter Island Head.

We went out to the place where he works yesterday to see it. I took my camera, and Robbie took the video camera. We're going to do a slide show or video about it once we have the chance to sit down and edit. But for now, here are some pics.

This is the back of the sculpture. It's hollow, and you can go inside. He's going to close it up with one more panel.
Here's Steve in his art shed. It has a forge where he makes bronze.
Here are some scraps from old cars. "Those are free," he told us. He uses the old hoods to make yard art birds. Here Steve is demonstrating a roller that shapes fairly thick metal. The boys were fascinated with this.
Here's the head one more time. It's almost done! Just about time for a big head party!

Jane: There Used to Be . . .

"Do you know what happened to Grandpa's bible?" I asked Bill on the phone the other day. "Did you find it when you sorted through Grandma's stuff?"

"Was it that big Abingdon Bible Commentary?" Bill asked. Grandpa H. was a life-long Adult Sunday school teacher at the Methodist Church.

"No," I said. "It was a black bible, and it lived on the end table in the living room, near that big greyish chair he used to sit in, the one that Grandma had recovered after he died. Don't you remember it sitting there? It had lots of bookmarks in it."

We talked about it for a while--about Grandmpa and his study in the upstairs of the house with Grandpa's big desk (Bill has that now, in his office at work), and the two shelves of commentaries and books of 19th century sentimental poets.

Bill didn't remember the bible on the end table--he was 5 or 6 when Grandpa died. He didn't see it when he sorted through stuff.

"But I know where it is," he told me. "It's in your memory. And it's sitting there on the end table. And you know you can always find it there."

And he's right. It's right there, and Grandpa's right there, too.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Jane: Pesto Party

It's supposed to frost tonight, so I went out to my little basil patch. It did OK in our new backyard, but not as well as it did in our old sunny yard. I had some in a pot and some in the ground. It's all about waist-high, as usual in October, but not as full. Still--enough for pesto!
Here are some of the pesto ingredients. Yes, I use walnuts instead of pinenuts. I like the taste better, and they're a bit cheaper.

Robbie and I made a cooking show video with the HandiCam I bought for our department last week. We'll get it edited and post it here later.