Month: January 2019

Winter Weather: Tips to Entertain Kids

The Northern Hemisphere is in the midst of the winter season. Many places have already experienced hazardous winter weather. Here in North America the jet stream is pushing one system after the next across the continent. Both Canada and the United States have websites focused on issued weather warnings. I like consulting these sites since they are straightforward and without media hype.

In fact non-profit and government websites along with blogs offer good advice for dealing with adverse weather. Sites like Red Cross, FEMA and the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness (CA) have many lists to help one gear up to face adverse conditions sent by nature. But are there other situations to prepare for during the winter?

Kids and Winter Weather

Common sense needs to guide kid activities in winter weather. Most people understand bundling up the kids before letting them out to play. But how many realize how important hydration is in cold weather? Because of the extra layers, some activities such as sledding can cause excess sweating. Water is always good. But warm liquids help maintain body temperature. Since caffeine is counteractive to hydration think hot teas or warm milk with a sprinkle of cinnamon.

Yet sometimes the outdoors are unsafe for anyone. Blizzards come to mind. In fact the Blizzard of October 1997 was particularly bad for us. The National Weather Service had issued advisories for both human and livestock a full 5 days prior to the weather event. I stocked up twice that week at the grocery store. With four kids under ten and one still in Pull-ups I didn’t want to run out. The preparations were well advised.

Three feet of snow with high winds made things treacherous. But one of the biggest tasks was keeping the kids entertained inside. The older ones were quite curious. So much so that I had to keep close tabs because they wanted to test for themselves the outside visibility. They had still not formed a sense of mortality.

Indoor Activities

Furthermore, blizzards tend to cause power outages and cause disruptions to T.V. and Internet. So a plethora of indoor activities are needed. Fortunately, my kids were (and still are) readers. Other ideas to entertain are board games and puzzles. A table set aside or card table set up will allow a long game like Monopoly or large puzzle to stay out during meals or sleep.

Prior to losing electricity or if you have a generator, kids can bake and decorate sugar cookies. If a storm is just prior to Christmas, Gingerbread Houses are also fun to create. Some may roll their eyes, but often winter storms are slow moving and/or come with bitter cold. A 72-hour confinement can make things tense. So the more options for entertainment, the less stress.

Away from Home

One scenario that offers even greater challenges is encountering bad weather away from home. Perhaps you are visiting relatives or stranded in a hotel. There are still ways to keep kids occupied. Charades is a game not needing any props. Drawing is another. Although crayons and markers are desirable, pen and pencil will work.

A favorite of my kids was the alphabet game. Although we utilized it most in restaurants and on airplanes, this can be played anywhere. First you pick a subject like animals or food. Then starting with the letter A, each person comes up with a unique answer. Of course some letters are tougher than others. Again no props are needed.

These are just a few ideas for those winter days where normal schedules are disrupted. A little creativity goes a long way in de-stressing the situation. Keep kids occupied and their unhappiness of being cooped up will diminish. And your sanity will remain intact.

Snow man

Nine Perfect Strangers Book Review

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty is the most entertaining book I have read this year. One of those just can’t stand to put down books. If you like books that throw you for a loop then you must pick up a copy of Nine Perfect Strangers.

The premise is straight forward at first. Various individuals are participating in a transformational cleanse at a health spa in Australia. Moriarty tells the story through each one of the characters. The alternation of the point of view is aided by chapter titles identifying which character the scene is centered on. Each of the characters has a story to tell.

Nine people; two single men, two single women, a young couple and a family of three check into the resort for ten days of renewal. They are expecting to cleanse themselves. Both a physical cleanse and a mental cleanse. Thus, no outside food nor electronic connections to the world are allowed.

Noble Silence

In addition to a ban on comfort food and social media, the Tranquillum House retreat commands absolute silence for the first five days. This noble silence will start the guests on their way to healing. Of course a rebellion rears up. Tony starts pushing back first. He questions whether the staff has gone through his bags. Both he and Frances tried to sneak in goodies.

Seemingly, Masha the director of the retreat gets everything back on track. Even to the point of re-starting the Noble Silence. But the temporary revolt has thrown her off track. After five days of “silence” and ordinary expectations of what goes on at a spa, Moriarty throws the readers for a loop. A totally unexpected discovery (at least to this reader) by one of the characters turns the plot line upside down.

Nine Perfect Strangers Unite

The story line becomes quite tense at this point. Each of the characters unravels. And in that unraveling readers will identify somehow, someway with at least one. Laughter, some tears, and a shocking revelation or two will keep the reader spellbound as these nine individuals work their way through a crisis.

Liane Moriarty has written another bestseller. I loved it. She ties things up and yet she leaves some things to your imagination. Nine Perfect Strangers may be as transforming to the reader as Tranquillum House was to the characters. The book is fun to read, it provides food for thought…and perhaps, most importantly, food for the soul.

 

The Train Quilt

One of my favorite things to make is a baby quilt. First of all, a new baby is someone special. A quilt just for the newborn is a wonderful way to celebrate. Secondly, the small size of the quilt makes the process fun. Even if you can only work on the project nights and weekends, completion occurs in no time at all.

The Train Quilt I just made for a great-nephew comes from the Railroad Crossing pattern found in Sweet Dreams: Heirloom Quilts for Babies. This detailed book of instruction for over a dozen baby quilts was written by Deborah Gordon and Helen Frost. The design looked very difficult but I was pleased with just how easy the piecing was and the applique train cars are adorable.

Color Selection

The colors chosen for this quilt reflect those of the nursery. Before I began the quilt I visited the expectant mother and took a peek at what she was planning for the baby’s room. A palette of primary colors with a deeper tone will create a room the child can grow into. The yellow is mustard, the blue is very deep with gray overtones and the red is also deep, either garnet or wine. Finding fabrics in my stash to blend well with this combination was fun. Knowledge of the color wheel is a must.

The picture to the right shows the railroad ties. The above mentioned colors have lighter colors mixed in as accents. The overall tone is warm. All the fabric used in this quilt was already on hand. A few pieces came from fat quarters which had not been used before, but most have appeared in prior quilts.

Quilt using mustard yellow, garnet and gray-blue colors as a base
Primary Colors with a Twist

I diverged from Gordon and Frost’s directions in color choice and fabric. For example, I used all cotton fabrics. I am already planning the next quilt with this pattern and I will have additional changes. I plan to use ribbon for the train ties. The quarter inch width is difficult to work with and the ribbon will automatically finish the edges.

Cutting and Piecing

Railroad Crossing provides printed pattern templates for all pieces. But the authors also suggest strip sewing. I opted for the strip sewing. But to vary the tracks, not all the strips were adjoined the same way. This added time to the work but allowed the use of extra fabrics. The directions called for eight. But this quilt has fourteen in the tracks and middle border. Additionally, the tracks are not all the same which I think adds interest.

The middle border was pieced in the same way. Instead of using six fabrics at a time I used groups of two and four. I like the randomness but still save time over cutting each piece individually.

Train Quilt Outer Border

I must confess. I have never used this pattern before because I was intimidated by the border. But, I remember how much my little ones liked the trains that run through our little town. So I gave the pattern a try.

Template of a caboose atop wine colored fabric
Plastic Template of Caboose

Templates are created by tracing over the patterns in the book. I did not add seam allowances. If you are fond of needle-turn applique you will need to add a quarter-inch. I chose to use fusible webbing to secure the train cars to the border. Then a combination of decorative machine stitches and embroidery floss finishes the applique. Remember to pull any threads on top to the underside. This will help secure them.

Machine Decorative Stitching outlines passenger car
Machine Decorative Stitching

Quilting

The suggested quilting for the large squares is an outline of the train engine. I opted to put personal details instead. So the quilt has the baby’s name, birthplace, date, time, length and weight spread across the different blocks. A light blue floss gives a subtle contrast to the blocks. Unfortunately, the camera does not do justice to this part of the quilt. But the close-up photo provides a better look.

I loved making this quilt. The piecing of the train tracks is very easy to do. Even though the applique outer border is intimidating, all but perhaps the newest of beginners should be able to accomplish this quilt design. The Train Quilt made for this latest member of the family has inspired me with an idea for the next addition. The little girl due in June will have her own quilt based on the Railroad Crossing design from Sweet Dreams but there will be quite a twist to the outer border.

Check back this summer!

 

Adding inner order to center of quiltAdding outer border to center of quiltQuilt with binding addedpieced box carfabric cutout of caboosefabric caboosecomparing colors of floss to quilt appliquefabric coal carfabric train enginedetailed quiltingcenter of quilt railroad crossing patternironing quilt seamsquilt pieces ready to assemblefabric log carfabric passenger car

Troublemaker Book Review

Troublemaker by Linda Howard was released in 2016. Even though I just now read the book I am so glad I did. This novel intertwines romance and suspense. The romance is spicy not sweet. But the hot scenes are tastefully done. What I like most about Troublemaker are the characters.

Both respect and envy come to mind when describing Howard’s knack for bringing both major and minor characters to life. Morgan Yancy is the leader of a secretive government team. He is ambushed and barely survives. His boss sends him to an ex-stepsister who resides in the mountains of West Virginia. Isabeau Maran, Bo for short, is the Chief of Police in Hamrickville. She reluctantly provides the place for Morgan to recuperate.

Howard fully develops both main characters. Their personalities are brought to life through prose and dialog. A grudging friendship realistically develops into more. The relationship does not seem forced in order to continue the plot. Howard is a master.

An addition to the couple trying not to fall in love while danger abounds, is Tricks, the smartest golden retriever you will ever read about. Now I am a cat person but I would make an exception for this dog. She steals the show. She is the love of the town and the life of Bo.

Multiple plot lines

Troublemaker pushes the ambush plot to the background while developing the relationship of the two main characters. The subplot revolves around the people of Hamrickville. This allows Howard the opportunity to fully develop both the main characters and the support crew. True to life, a domestic violence incident divides the small town. Bo has her hands full both at work and at home.

Fortunately for the human heroine of the story, Morgan is intent on regaining his strength. He saves the day on several occasions. But Howard does not denigrate the females in the story. They hold their own. Furthermore, the developing partnership between Morgan and Bo is part of what makes their relationship one to relish.

Troublemaker is a great book for a weekend read. There is definitely adult content. But the scenes are not over the top. This was the perfect relief from some of the heavy books I have been working through. If you like the combination of romance and suspense, I encourage you to find a copy of Troublemaker. I think you will enjoy it.

Free Style

Sometimes topics do not flow easily. This is one of those times. Indecision strikes from time to time. Then my writing becomes free style.

Part of the problem is a waiting game. I have a wonderful baby quilt to post about, complete with pictures. But the baby isn’t here yet and the quilt is a surprise. It is hard to keep surprises when blogging on a public domain.

A great fun read has been written about. But it is not Friday. I plan to keep the book reviews for the end of the week. Just in case someone wants a weekend book recommendation.

I could talk about some of the horrible political junk out there. However, I do not want to run the risk of slander or libel. We live in such a litigious world. Plus negative news spurs on the winter blahs in my case. I lack the power to change others. I can only change myself. Hence, the tendency to make Econogal upbeat.

Even though I grabbed some herbs and onions out of the garden, wintertime is still in full swing. Not much is going on outside. Furthermore, planning for spring planting is limited to perusing seed catalogs with an occasional order.

My lack of photographing constantly hinders the kitchen articles. Last night’s pizza would have made for a great post. The dough was made from strong flour. The fine texture of the milled wheat lends itself to both pretzels and pizza dough. Perhaps I will make some pretzels AND remember to take photographs. Besides, my pizza dough is not measured out. I just look for the right consistency in the mixing bowl. Tough to share a recipe under those circumstances.

Thinking Block

I am actually experiencing more of a thinking block than a writer’s block. I have yet to decide any New Year’s Resolutions for 2019. So by default the ones I made in 2018 will continue. Plus, I have a number of quilts pieced and waiting for their turn to be quilted. For once I do not have one at the piecing stage. A similar decision problem is holding me back. I need to pick a pattern and a color palette. The same is true for the acrylic painting. What subject and what colors will I attempt next?

Free Style Motivation

Creativity can falter when you try too hard to come up with something new. Writing prompts can help motivate writers. But writing free style seems to help me the most. The unrelated paragraphs jolt my mind. Gray matter stirs into action just from putting words together into (hopefully) coherent sentences.

I am not a jealous type, but I envy the many prolific writers. Those writers that write and publish multiple times per year. They are far more talented. However, my writing brings me satisfaction and happiness. Two good reasons to keep writing. Even if the result is free style. The motivation derived from the writing is immeasurable. I am ready to create.

 

 

The Elements Book Review

The Elements

Some things I don’t remember learning. Reading for example came early, I just don’t know how early. Other concepts are vivid. Multiplication tables were memorized in third grade and the periodic table in high school. I wish The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe by Theodore Gray had been around back then.

Gray has produced a classic. The Elements is a fantastic example of how to make learning exciting. He starts off the book by giving a general overview of both the elements and the periodic table. Gray includes information on how the different types of elements are grouped together on the chart.

Also provided is a guide to the information he presents on each page. The reader can quickly identify such properties as State of Matter, Density, Atomic weight and radius on the sidebar labeled Elemental. Then Gray delves into the heart of the book-the individual elements.

Individual Elements

As you may recall, each element has a number. Thus the periodic table is not arranged alphabetically. (Probably why I had such a hard time memorizing the information.) Hydrogen has the first position on the table. The book finishes with Element 109 Meitnerium. To be honest, I don’t recall anything past (94) Pu or Plutonium. Fortunately Gray even has a brief explanation for these additionally named elements, those numbered from 95 to 109.

The elements I do remember each have a double page unto themselves. Gray includes pertinent information about the individual element. Then, photos illustrate the pages with either the raw material or examples of products made from the matter. Some elements such as lead and gold rate multiple page spreads.

Theodore Gray shares the information on each element in a readable entertaining style. He engages the reader and piques ones interest and curiosity. Thus one is not put off by the potentially esoteric subject matter.

For this reason, I include The Elements by Theodore Gray with photographic credit to Nick Mann as well as Gray as one of the must have books in a home library. The book was released in 2009 but I have seen it on bookstore shelves within the last 12 months. Of course online sources have copies as well. Take action now and add this to your collection.

 

Page from The Elements by Theodore GrayBarium Page in The Elements by Theodore GrayEinsteininium page from The Elements by Theodore GrayFluorine page from The Elements by Theodore GrayPage on Iodine from The Elements by Theodore GrayPage from The Elements by Theodore Gray on Protactinium