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Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve

Is it really New Year's Eve? Hardly seems possible. It's been a winter whirlwind around here, with the holidays and family in town visiting. We had a wonderful Christmas in Yosemite, complete with fresh snow falling on Christmas night. Truly magical.

Fourteen folks got together for Christmas, and we had a lot of fun together. My sister and family have come and gone, as have S's brother and family and Nana J. My parents are still in town -- huge thanks to my dad for his help getting our computer up and running again!

Between the fritzy computer and the holiday travels, I've not been online much lately. Lots to catch up on, including many many posts that I've planned and hope to get to soon. I'll be re-opening my Etsy shop and Artfire shop next week. Lots to look forward to in the New Year, even if the first part of 2011 will be playing catch up to finish up 2010.

And in the spirit of wrapping things up, here's an excerpt from our holiday letter, summing up the year for the family:

1. Moved: NEW APARTMENT!
2. S: SABBATICAL!
3. BJ: KINDERGARTEN!
4. BB: PRESCHOOL!
5. Jen: ETSY!
6. BB: GYM CLASS!
7. BB: SCIENCE!
8. S: GAMES!
9. Jen: MOCFA!
10. House: SOLD!

Not a bad list, though I say it myself.

We'll be having a quiet New Year's Eve here with my folks and the kids -- karaoke, board games, pie and champagne. (Sparkling cider for the young folks, of course.) We may or may not stay up until midnight. But however it goes, it will be nice to ring in the new year with the people we love.

And then tomorrow night, S and I get a night away on our own -- the perfect way to start 2011!

Here's to the happiest of New Years!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Scientific Stuff

It's been a week full of technical difficulties (home computer on the fritz -- sigh) so while there's been lots to post about, I've not been able to get online to do it. So I'll be trying to play catch up, in between getting everything ready for the holidays and my family coming to town on Monday. Wish me luck!

Big news from the past week is that BJ did his first science project for kindergarten. Fish dissection!



The black bass that gave up its life to further my son's passion for marine biology.
Thanks, wee fishie.


You might be asking -- how did our kindergarten kid end up doing this sort of scientific stuff?

(Caution for the squeamish: this post will discuss fish guts, with accompanying pictures. You've been warned.)

When we'd met with BJ's kindergarten teacher for parent-teacher conferences, she asked us if we'd be interested in doing some enrichment activities with BJ -- of course we said yes! After all, this is the kid who tells us daily (sometimes multiple times a day): "Mom and Dad, I want to do something scientific!"

BJ and I met with his teacher A after the Thanksgiving break to talk about what sorts of scientific things BJ might want to do first. His list (in his exact words; I was taking notes):

astronomy
anatomy
marine biology
ecology
ecosystems
botany

He would have given us more, but we decided to stop there and see what we could come up with. The kinder curriculum starts out by following letter pairs -- the kids are currently on "f" and "v" the "lip coolers" -- and A suggested that we find science activities that would correspond with the letters being worked with in class. BJ immediately latched on to the idea of F for Fish!

A talked about the scientific method with us -- Question, Hypothesis, Experiment, Results, and Conclusion -- and BJ was thoroughly engaged. He's come across these ideas before in library books that I've brought home for him (How to Think Like a Scientist, among others) and I think he was really excited to hear his teacher talking about this sort of thing. Ever since starting kindergarten, he's been wondering when the really scientific stuff would begin!

A wondered what sort of question BJ might have about a fish. BJ said, "What's inside a fish?"

And thus an experiment was born. His hypothesis: Inside a fish is organs and bone. So we needed to test this out. On a real, whole fish.

Now I have to admit that I didn't anticipate that finding a fish with guts intact might be a challenge. I'd figured I could go to our local fish market and pick one up, no problem. But all their fish arrive eviscerated. It was suggested that we go to the pet store and pick a live fish, but I couldn't bring myself to do that. The division between "pet" and "potential food" might be somewhat artificial, especially for marine life, but even so I drew the line at going to Pet Smart for a specimen. So we ended up going to the asian market, where they sell live fish, to ask the fishmonger which type of fish they'd recommend for a dissection. Thankfully, the good-natured guy behind the counter was very helpful. He suggested a black bass, since the organs would be more visible.

So we watched as the fish was netted. Dead fish swimming, I thought with a wry smile. "Do you want me to kill it?" asked the fishmonger. "Yes please," I replied. What was the alternative -- bring it home flopping around in a bag? No need to make the creature suffer. Two whacks of a mallet and it was over. BJ proudly carried his bagged fish to the cashier, paid for it with $7 that I'd given him, and asked if he could hold it in his lap the whole ride home. (I said no; it lay on the floorboard of the front passenger seat.)

When we got home, BJ could hardly wait to get going on the scientific stuff. Having procured the fish, I was perfectly fine with letting S take the lead for the dissection. (Granted, I have had my fair share of such activities from my days as a biology major -- fish, crayfish, frogs, even an opossum -- but S is no slouch about these things either, so I shared what little expertise I recalled while taking pictures. Plus, we googled "black bass fish dissection" before starting and found this hugely helpful video. The Internet is Awesome when it works like it's supposed to!)
BJ watched the video with us -- so he knew we'd be cutting along the fish's belly to start the dissection. I have to say, I'm always astonished by how thoroughly un-squeamish my kids are. Here he is examining one of the fish's gills which S had removed.
In addition to the gills, we found and identified the heart, stomach, intestines, liver, kidneys, egg sacs, and air bladder. BJ was especially fascinated by the air bladder -- we could still see the air contained inside like a balloon. Here's BJ examining it.

BB was really interested, too. She's seeing what the liver feels like.

BJ was thrilled to have so visibly proven part of his hypothesis. Are there organs inside a fish? You betcha! But the bones were harder to find in all the muscle tissue. So after we had cut everything up, I put the remains in a pot of boiling water to try to isolate the spine. Here's the result, which satisfied BJ enormously:
I confess that if I were a more confident cook where fish are concerned, and if S had better butchering skills, I would have considered cooking the fish for dinner. But I'd decided early on that I was going to take a pass on that one and toss the fish remains when we were done with the experiment. (Besides, it was a little fish, so it's not like we would have made an entire meal out of it anyway. And I know that's rationalizing the waste a bit, but I'm OK with that.)

With a little help from us, BJ recorded everything in his Scientific Journal. Then we put together a poster, including some of the pictures we had taken and the following information (which was in BJ's words):
Question: What is inside a fish?
Hypothesis: Organs and bone
Experiment: Fish dissection!
Results: I saw organs and bone.
Conclusion: My hypothesis was correct!

And he drew two thumbs up next to the conclusion, orange marker scribbles that make me smile as I think about them.

When we met, A had asked BJ if he would be interested in sharing his experiments with the class, and he immediately said, "Yes!" Words can't fully capture how thrilled he was about all of this. When we left the meeting with A, I asked BJ how he thought it went. He replied: "It was really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really FUN!" With probably a few more "really's" in there for good measure.

So on Thursday, BJ brought in his poster and a baggie containing the fish spine and did a little presentation for his class. S was working in the classroom that morning, and he said that BJ did a fine job of it -- and his classmates were riveted. Several of the other kids had questions, and afterwards many (especially some very sweet girls in the class) came up to him and said they really enjoyed hearing about his project.

It will be interesting to see what the next project will be. BJ is making noises about V for Volcano. BJ had mentioned this when we met with A, informing her that he and his dad had just finished reading The Twenty-One Balloons for his bedtime book. Really, he would love to somehow do an experiment about Krakatoa. (He keeps asking us to look it up on Google maps so he can zoom in on the satellite view and see the volcano's crater.) A smiled hearing his enthusiasm for the book. "Yes! Krakatoa, East of Java," she said, and before she could finish, BJ said, "West of Sumatra." At which point A laughed and I did too.

Golly but I love my little scientist.

And I love his teacher too. I love how much joy she has for her work, how much she is willing to do to encourage and nurture each of the kids under her care. We are so very, very lucky to be in her class!

I had meant to get a picture of BJ's poster, but it's still in the classroom and will stay there over the Christmas holiday. (Hope the fish skeleton in its baggie is well sealed up!) A shared with us that she had been talking with one of the other teachers about BJ's presentation, and that teacher said, "Oh! He should have kept that for the science fair!" At which point, A told us, she smiled and said, "Knowing him, by the time the science fair comes around he will have LOTS of different projects to pick from, and he can choose his favorite." So stay tuned for more fun scientific stuff from our resident kindergarten kid.

Monday, December 13, 2010

To Baklava, or Not To Baklava...

Last year, for the first time since I started the Christmas-time tradition (at least 10 years ago, now!) I skipped baking my holiday baklava. BB couldn't eat it (since she wasn't yet allowed to eat nuts) BJ had announced he didn't like it, and a full batch for S and I seemed ridiculous, even if I gave away a bunch.

But this year, I'm hoping to start up the tradition again. This round of the Etsyblogger carnival asks us to write about favorite holiday recipe traditions, so naturally I thought of my baklava. I know that I made it for the first time in Arizona, maybe even before we were married. I don't really recall why I started making it -- I think it was just because I was intrigued by a recipe in my cookie cookbook. But it soon became an annual thing, even though it's a bit of a pain to work with the phyllo, but the results are worth it! And even though most directions for working with phyllo insist on keeping it covered with a moist towel, I've found that it was only really necessary to do that when we lived in arid Arizona.

Here's the recipe!


Baklava

For walnut filling, combine and set aside the following:
4 cups (1 lb) finely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

***
Make the phyllo/nut base.

1 1/4 cups melted butter
1 16 oz package of phyllo dough, thawed. (Timing the thawing of the dough is critical to the success of this recipe! If it is still frozen, it will not unfold well. If it is too warm, it will be frustrating to work with. Follow package directions exactly for thawing it out!)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Brush melted butter over the bottom of a baking pan (15X10X1 inch). Carefully unfold phyllo dough. Layer about a quarter of the sheets in the pan, brushing each sheet thoroughly with melted butter. Allow phyllo to extend up the sides of the pan and overlap as needed to deal with any tears in the dough sheet if the phyllo isn't cooperating. Sprinkle about 1 1/2 cups of the walnut filling over the phyllo layer. Repeat layering buttered phyllo/nut filling 2 more times.

Make a final layer of phyllo sheets, continuing to brush each sheet with butter as you layer them. This recipe doesn't pretend to be low-cal, so don't stint! Drizzle remaining butter over top layer. Trim edges of phyllo to fit pan. Using a sharp knife, carefully cut through *all* the layers to make pieces. They can be shaped in triangles, diamonds, or squares. I find diamonds to work best.

Bake in 325 degree oven for 45 to 50 minutes until lightly browned. Slightly cool in pan.

***
While the phyllo is baking, make the honey syrup.

Stir together in medium saucepan:

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup water
1/4 cup honey (or a little more -- use the best honey you can find and/or afford! The year we brought back Greek honey from Navplio was the unbeatably best batch of baklava I ever made. Sigh.)
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon finely shredded lemon zest
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 inches stick cinnamon

Bring to boil, reduce heat, then simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Remove cinnamon. Pour honey syrup evenly over warm baklava in the pan. (I find it easier to transfer the syrup to a large, spouted pyrex mixing cup for pouring.) Cool completely and enjoy!

Another First

We had a nice weekend, full of holiday preparations and fun. On Sunday, we took the kids to see their first movie in a movie theatre. It was S's idea -- I was a little hesitant, not wanting to spend all that money not knowing for sure if the kids would sit through the film. But S and the kids really wanted to go, so I relented.

We saw Tangled, and I'm pleased to say we had a very good time. The movie was cute and clever and even beautiful at times. It was less violent/scary than I'd expected. The kids both enjoyed it (in spite of BJ needing to be persuaded to go, since it was clearly a "princess" movie). Both S and I got teared up at the end (when the lost princess is reunited with her true parents -- easy heartstring pull for parents, for sure). We also both really enjoyed the horse character, Maximilian. We chose not to view it in 3D, since it was the kids' first theater experience -- we didn't feel the need to add another layer of possible complication or distress.

I admit I couldn't help but notice that the film adds another example to the "Female Disney Villain Whose Main Fault Is Her Vanity (Especially in the Context of Old Age)" phenomenon -- see also Emperor's New Groove and Snow White, of course. The theme was especially noticeable since Rapunzel's true mother (the Queen) hardly seems to age at all (in contrast to the view we get of her greying husband at the end of the film). It ain't easy being a crone.

It also ain't easy to make a truly great animated movie. And I wouldn't call this one great. (This review from LFM has many excellent reasons why, including this spot-on quote: "What’s subtly wrong with the film is what’s wrong with so many post-Shrek kid movies. Filmmakers insist on a winking referentiality, as if fairy tales are dusty old irrelevancies that must be rescued by pop cultural in-jokes and Lettermanesque (now Stewartesque) insouciance. These Generation X artistes are aware enough to recognize clichés but not inventive enough to transcend them. In the end, the clichés appear in horn-rimmed quotation marks, but they are clichés all the same. In Tangled, every last facial expression and turn of idiom has an antecedent in some movie or TV show or music video.")

I'm not sure how well the film would hold up to multiple viewings. (And we all know how kids love to watch the same thing over and over, so such a point is an important one for children's movies in a DVD era.) But after one viewing, I give the movie two mama-thumbs-up, and i'm glad we went to see it as a family. A fun first, for sure!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Long Week

It was a challenging week, with BB home from preschool on Tuesday and Thursday and lots to get done with holiday prep and the like. One of those weeks that rush by but feel like they last forever. The good news is that she woke up this morning and announced, "Mommy! I'm ALL BETTER!" Then she asked if we could make a cake to celebrate her not being sick anymore. That's my girl!



(Yes, we did make the cake. There's a reason I keep cake mix and frosting on hand in the pantry! And turns out that Trader Joe's new yellow cake mix and chocolate frosting mix are pretty good. Then again, given how much butter each contains, it would be criminal if they weren't tasty.)



The other good news is that we made it to visit Santa!


BJ has requested an astronaut suit (including helmet, gloves, and boots) and BB has asked for a pink yo-yo and an Eric doll (as in Princess Ariel's Eric). BJ had lots of questions for Santa: "What's your wife's name? What is it like at the north pole? What are the names of your helpers?"

(Santa's answers: Goody, cold and snowy, and Tonka, Fisher, and Mattel. There's Santa humor for you.)



Now if we could just all stay healthy for a while...! That's what I would have asked Santa for, if anybody was wondering.

Friday Feature -- Babushka Designs

This week's featured team member is Babushka Designs.




As I'm sitting here in my chilly apartment, these Magenta Slippers are looking nice and cozy!
Enjoy the interview!

1. Please tell us about the items in your Etsy shop. What do you make? How
did you learn your craft? What is involved in your creative process?

I have a few different items in my shop. I first started out making aprons, but then I realized that I like to work on things while watching tv/movies (hey, at least I'm honest, right?), and it can get pretty difficult to watch a movie when you're trying to not sew your fingers together on accident, so I started crocheting and knitting a lot more. I've been knitting for about 5 years and crocheting for about 3. I really like making hats in fun colors and slippers (or booties) that my Boonia used to make us when she was alive, like the photo below, which are custom slippers I made for my mom.

2. Tell us two (or more) other interesting things about you.

I'm half Russian and half Mexican. I am really proud of and embrace both my Russian and Mexican heritage and find it to be incredibly inspiring... and it makes me unique! I try to incorporate or reference my heritage in my work/crafts because I think it's neat to relate to others on that level.

By day I'm a communications designer, which involves a lot of graphic & web design and copywriting. It's fun (and pays the bills) but I really love coming home and making things with my hands and not looking at my computer screen (unless I'm blogging, of course).

3. How did you get involved with Etsy?

Back in 2007 I was a recent college graduate (Yay, UC Irvine, Zot! Zot!) and working as a research assistant. Everyday I came home hungry to make something and be creative. I was always sewing and knitting and I heard about Etsy through Livejournal, so I make a profile and started listing things. Slowly but surely, I found a following. To this day I sell more items outside of Etsy (word of mouth, family, friends, etc), but it has given me to opportunity to connect with people I would have never been able to meet in person.

4. If you had to be an animal for one week, which animal would you choose
to be? And what would you do?

Oh my god, I used to think about this all of the time my junior year of high school, which was arguably one of the busiest years of my life. I went to school, went to either tennis practice or rehearsal for a play, then went to work (Yay, In-N-Out Burger), and then studied for my AP classes. Outta control. At that time I would look at my dog Bonnie with envy and think... you are so lucky. What did you do today, sleep? I hate you. I didn't actually hate her, but I think I would go ahead and say, I would want to be a really chill dog.


5. What does buying and selling local handmade mean to you, and how has it
affected your life?

Buying and selling handmade means a lot to me. First of all, I don't come from a very privileged background, so I learned how to shop on a tight budget, especially in college. I started sewing because I loved shopping at thrift stores and finding great pieces, but sometimes they just didn't fit, or I wanted to use the fabric for something else. I'm still, to this day, really into upcycling. I feel like buying used, and selling or buying handmade helps minimize the amount of revenue that goes into garments made in factories. From pollution, to poor treatment of workers, to just over-consumption problems - if more people bought handmade, it would not only help the environment, but help your local community, and help us to become self-sustaining and not have to work for 'The Man'.

6. Where else can we find out more about you and/or your creations?

Twitter: http://twitter.com/lilmisstati
Blog: http://artsblog.tatianajimenez.com
Shop: http://babushkadesigns.etsy.com

7. Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your shop or your
work?

Overall, I just really love making things that remind me of items that our grandmothers would make, but I like to make them in a modern, updated way, like my Mary Jane style Slippers, and the Reversible Aprons I had in the shop for a while. I have big plans and lots of great items and ideas coming to the shop. I'm a recent San Francisco transplant (I've been here for one year now - all the way from Orange County by way of Victorville) and feel inspired by this city everyday. So happy to be a part of the SF Etsy Team!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Little Break

Yesterday was a long, full, wonderful day -- left the house at 8 a.m. for Urban Bazaar to participate in the SF Etsy Team's Winter Wonderland Craft Bazaar. It was great fun, and I'm pleased to report that Mama's Magic Studio did well. But I didn't get home until after 11 pm! And when I did get home, I found my girl still awake with a fever of 101 degrees.

So today it's time for a little break and some recuperating. Probably tomorrow too!

The kids have been drawing a lot lately, and I thought it would be fun to share some of their art, so while we're taking our break, you can enjoy a few of their pictures!

BJ's picture of our family, which he drew last week for S:
He did a lot of it in yellow crayon, so it's hard to read, but from left to right it's: BB, BJ, me, and S.

BB drew this picture of our family this morning:
From left to right: BB, me, S, BJ. Butchie, our cat, is in the lower right corner. (In the very lower right corner is a teeny tiny face, I'm not sure who it is) and below the heart and a little to the left (above BJ) is another drawing of BB, or so I'm told. I love it that she gave her dad glasses! It's fascinating to see how BJ still loves to scribble while BB is exploring with lines and dots.

Here's one of BJ's drawings from the morning: The Life Cycle of a Star.

Here's how he explained it to me: the upper left (green with red center) is a nebula. Moving to the right, the orange next to it is a proto star. The yellow next to that is a middle-aged star. Below that is a red giant. The purple with curves in the center is a super nova with planet ashes (the ashes are the curves). The red circle in the lower left corner is a neutron star. The purple object in the very lower left is a black hole. So there you go!

BB also drew a princess this morning. Princess Jennifer, I'll have you know.

Ah, there's nothing quite so wonderful as kids' art. Have a great Sunday!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Instead of the Usual Friday Feature...

I'm crazy busy over here, getting things ready for the Winter Wonderland Craft Bazaar tomorrow in San Francisco, so I won't be posting a Friday Feature interview. But if you'd like to get some good "sneak peek" looks and creative insights from the artists who will be at the show tomorrow (including yours truly!) you can check out the Winter Wonderland Craft Bazaar Blog.

Hope to see you at the show! For more info, you can check out the Facebook event page here.

It's Official.

It's been 17 days since BB took an afternoon nap. My little girl is growing up....

Of course, this has had interesting effects on the family schedule. The hour (or two) before bed can be pretty brutal, as she and BJ both begin to run out of gas. The good news is that she's being really cooperative about having an hour of "Quiet Time." In fact, she looks forward to it and after lunch will often say, "I'm ready for Quiet Time, Mommy!"

What's my secret for such a smooth transition? We put a CD player in the kids' bedroom, where she does her Quiet Time, and she is discovering the joy of playing The Same Song Over And Over. Both kids have fixated on a few Disney CDs, and they are really enjoying learning the lyrics to songs. BB will set up a "stage" for herself, line up her stuffed animals as an audience, and spend her entire hour of Quiet Time singing and dancing. Sometimes with costume changes. It's pretty danged adorable.

It means less free time for me, since she had been napping consistently for 90 minutes to 3 hours every afternoon. So I'm feeling the pressure -- for example, today there will be no Friday Feature interview posted, since I have so much else to do to get ready for my show tomorrow! But so far it's working out pretty well, and much as it's hard to give up the nap, it's nice not to be chained to the house for nap time any longer.