29 January 2015

Pattern Review - Sketchbook Shirt from Oliver & S

Pattern:  I used the pdf version and all the pieces went together quickly and matched up just as they should. The instructions were clear.

Sizing: My son is a size 8 in commercial clothing. Based on  measurements, I opted for the size 10 and it's a good thing I did. 

Fabric: I used a cotton blend from my stash that I probably bought at JoAnn Fabrics. It has a nice feel and washes up really well.

Sewing: Again, the instructions were clear and organized. I think there are a few places where it wouldn't hurt to specify that if you are making the short sleeve view, you proceed this way, if long sleeve, this way type of thing. 

Project time: It took me about 3 hours to sew this shirt.

Favorite things: I love the button plackets and the finished yoke. They add a very professional touch and are really easy to do. 

What I didn't love: I don't like the funky angle on the collar and I will probably change that next time. Also, as you will see in the photo below, the shirt turns out to be fairly short in length. I think it needs to be a good half inch or inch longer for a size 10. It works, but as soon as he grows, it won't work.

And now, a few photos from a most unwilling model. He likes the shirt. He just doesn't like getting the photos taken. 

26 January 2015

Menu Plan Monday

Have I mentioned lately how much I love where I live?


WEDNESDAY - Pizza (also making extra to freeze for school lunches)

FRIDAY - Fish (whatever is fresh and inexpensive)


SUNDAY - Pasta

21 January 2015

Chickpeas with Bacon and Spinach

Sometimes, you have to get a little creative. The other night, I was low on groceries. I had bacon, chickpeas, and a bag of spinach that had got just a little frozen in the back of the fridge. I also needed something quick. I came up with this recipe, and we all really liked it. Even the picky ones. 

Chickpeas with Bacon and Spinach

4-5 strips of bacon, cut in pieces
1 (420g) can chickpeas, drained
6-8 cups spinach, washed
2 cloves garlic, minced

Cook the bacon in a large frying pan until crisp. Drain most of the grease. Add chickpeas and cook until they begin to brown just a little. Add garlic and spinach and cook until spinach is just wilted. 
Serve warm with bread or just on its own. 

20 January 2015

Tramping Around New Zealand - Queen Elizabeth Park

Queen Elizabeth Park is the last area of natural dunes on the Kapiti Coast. In addition to the lovely scenerey, there are also sites of historical significance, inlcuding pa sites at Whareroa and Wainui beaches and evidence of WWII United States Marines camps. 

 WW II United States Marines memorial

We walked the south loop, starting with the beach side. Above is a view over to Kapiti Island. The back side of the loop is through bush and farmland.


16 January 2015

Favorite Read-Aloud Stories For the Whole Family

Why read out loud to your kids? Years ago I read a great book by Jim Trelease, called The Read-Aloud Handbook. If you're not sure how to get your kids to be life-long readers, this is a book you need to read. In the book, Trelease explains the value of reading out loud to kids, even up to age 14. Here is a list of some of the benefits:
  1. Being read to increases vocabulary. "Children who are spoken to and read to most often are the ones with the largest vocabularies." The language and vocabulary in good books is rich and varied and just hearing the words gives a child an advantage.
  2. Being read to increases a child's attention span. 
  3. Reading out loud is a commercial for reading. Children do what they see their parents do.
"A child's reading level doesn't catch up to his listening level until eighth grade. You can and should be reading seventh-grade books to fifth grade kids. They'll get excited about the plot and this will be a motivation to keep reading." 

So, now that you are convinced that you should be reading out loud to your kids, what do you read? We've made a collection of our favorites from the last year to share with you.

  1. The Penderwicks (series) by Jeanne Birdsall
  2. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  3. The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
  4. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
  5. The Lightning Thief (Heroes of Mt. Olympus series) by Rick Riordan
  6. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
  7. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  8. How to Train Your Dragon (series) by Cressida Cowell
  9. The Best Worst Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson
  10. The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry
  11. Half Magic by Edward Eager
  12. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (series) by J.K. Rowling
If reading aloud is not your favorite, the audio book can do the job for you. The point is still to read the story with your child, but a good audio can be fun for the whole family. We highly recommend the audios of the How to Train Your Dragon series, narrated by David Tennant. 

What are some of your favorite read-alouds?

15 January 2015

Pattern Review - Coastal Cargos from Blank Slate Patterns

I've had this pattern a good while. I've been dying to make it and finally, this week, I had a day for sewing. I bought the digital version and it was a snap to print, clearly marked, and easy to put together. 
Cutting also went well. 

Everything went smoothly at first. The welt pockets came together beautifully. The instructions and photos were clear and helpful. 

Then came the zip fly. First of all, it's important to note that zips and I have a long history of not getting along. Zips are my sewing nemesis. So keep that in mind when I say that I had some trouble with the zip fly. I followed the written instructions exactly, and somehow ended up with the zip too far to the right. I picked it all out and went looking for a video. 

I found one. By Melly, who, it so happens, designed this lovely pattern. I highly recommend How to Sew A Zipper Fly for those, like me, who are not so confident with zippers. The video is really clear, and although there were a few times when I needed a better view of what she was doing, it worked out OK because of the pictures included in the pattern instructions. 

A word or two about zippers: my local fabric shop carries zipper tape and pulls. The reason I like to buy zips this way is that I can make a zip to the length I want without wasting a bunch of zipper tape. Just a thought. You do have to be a little careful not to accidentally pull the zipper pull off the zipper once it is installed and before the waistband is completed. Not that that has ever happened to me... and not that it isn't fixable, but it's a royal pain. Maybe I'll do a tutorial on that sometime. 

Anyway, back to the pattern.

Another thing I love about this pattern is the attention to detail. The bias tape accent on the legs hides the seams (I opted not to use it, but I like it) and the lining of the pockets allows for fun contrasting fabric if desired.

One teeny quibble - I couldn't find anywhere the length to cut the elastic piece for the back of the waistband. I solved this by putting the pants on my kiddo and gauging about how much they would need to be pulled in. 

Adjustments I made:

My son is a little wider in the waist and hip and shorter in the leg than the measurements for the size 8 of this pattern. I measured the pattern to make certain I would have enough ease, and then I adjusted seam allowance just a little, as well as shortening the length about 1.5", and the pants fit him perfectly. 

He prefers them rolled up.

And... the downside of a photo shoot at the beach...

14 January 2015

Cooking Mexican in New Zealand - Street Tacos

Street tacos come in many forms. This is not official history, but I believe they are called "street" tacos because they generally are purchased from a street vendor. At least they were when I was a kid growing up in Southern California. Basically, they are simple tacos with a bit of meat and whatever else you may wish to add. One of my favorite meats to use is carnitas, and this is the easiest and most delicious recipe there is. I use flank steak, because it's less expensive and when I cook this in my crock pot the flank steak will get nice and tender.

Street Tacos Carnitas

Spice mix:
2 tsp chipotle chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

2 kg flank steak
1 jalapeno or other chile pepper (we can't always get jalapenos here in NZ)
1 large yellow onion
2 capsicum (bell peppers)


lime juice

Turn the crock pot on LOW. Let it heat while you prepare the vegetables and meat. In a small bowl, mix the spices. Rub them all over the flank steak and place it in the crock pot. Chop the onion, bell peppers and jalapeno (be sure to remove the seeds) and dump them all over the top of the steak. Cook on low for about 8 hours. Remove the meat and shred it  with two forks. I like to put the shredded meat back in the crock pot for a little while to rest and soak up juices while we make corn tortillas. 

Squeeze lime juice over the meat and serve with pico de gallo, avocado and any other toppings you wish. Remember, simple is best.

Look for a corn tortilla recipe soon.

13 January 2015

Around New Zealand - Abel Tasman National Park

Our parents came for a visit back in November. We took a trip over to the South Island and stayed in a bach on Ligar Bay. One of the day trips we took was into Abel Tasman National Park. Abel Tasman was established in 1942 and is the smallest of New Zealand's national parks. 

Totaranui Beach

I don't have a lot of words to do justice to the experience. I will let the pictures speak for themselves. We loved every minute of this trip. Well, not the sand flies, but every other minute. So glad we could share this with our parents. Sometime I might tell you about sand flies. Right now, I will just say that I still have itchy spots and a few scars from the bites I got two months ago. Bug Repellant! Don't forget the bug repellant.

09 January 2015

Our Family's Top Ten Picture Books

I think we will all agree that it is never too early to start reading to our kids. I didn't go so far as to read to them in the womb, but pretty soon after they were born, we were reading stories. I'll be the first to admit that I am opinionated, but... Not All Picture Books Are Created Alike. There are some real duds out there. Fortunately, there are also many wonderful picture books. Here is a collection, again curated by my kids, of our top 10 favorite picture books. 

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr.
 Olivia by Ian Falconer
 Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
The Snowman by Raymond Briggs
Once There Was A Boy by Oliver Jeffers (yes, we realize it’s 3 books)

Corduroy by Don Freeman
 Joseph Had A Little Overcoat by Simms Taback
Freight Train by Donald Crews
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems 

Honorable Mention (timeless favorites from my childhood):

Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel 

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

The Little House by Virginia Leaf Burton

I could probably go on and on and end up with a top 50, but I'll stop here. What are some of your favorites?