Friday, June 29, 2012

Happy Snapshots: June

This was such a busy month! Here are my favorite snapshots from June:

Spa time (with ill-fitting goggles)

Santa Monica beach (photo credit S.K.)

Burrito (photo credit S.K.)


Umbrella play on a hot Father's Day

Dear friend S's new baby boy

Closeup of sweet baby A

Beautiful vintage sitting area at the new local museum (we couldn't tell if it was part of an exhibit or not)

Sculpture of an antelope that reminded me of Miyazaki films

New aquarium fish -- lemon tetras

Paleo macadamia brownies from this recipe

Chomping on a brownie (if this photo looks familiar, here's why -- scroll down to the penultimate pic)

Homemade birthday card with the kiddo

Another homemade birthday card

Kitty hiding in plain sight (what a messy house)

Yummy meatloaf "cupcake" in silicone liner

Summer is just rushing by. Have a great weekend and I'll have a tutorial for you on Monday (in July!).

xo, Gladys

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Jennifer Crusie Crochets

It's not everyday you find out that one of your favorite authors -- who wrote the most perfect romantic comedy novel ever -- crochets ... much less that SHE CROCHETS STEAMPUNK DRAGONS AND BUNNY SLIPPERS. She says she did this as part of her brainstorming/story-making process and calls it "yarnstorming." (Sounds like barnstorming, ha!) Could she get any cooler?

Oh wait, you haven't seen how amazing her crocheted creatures are:

Nelson, the dragon

Lefty and Bob, the bunny slippers

These guys, in her story, were real people whose souls/hearts were trapped inside these items by a mad, mad inventor. So, yeah. Jenny Crusie just got that much cooler. Way cooler. Too bad I can't get Nelson the dragon included when I buy her books. LOVE HIM. And I totally want to read that (not-yet-written) steampunk book right now. :-)

Go read her super-fascinating blog post with a couple more photos of her fabulous crochet yarnstorming projects. I wish I could undertake projects like this that helped me write that novel I've been meaning to write forever now. Sigh.

xo, Gladys

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Project: Compost Bin

We left our old compost bin in our previous house when we moved into this one. But instead of buying another bin, my husband liked the idea of making a new one, this time out of wood. Our previous bin was made of ugly black plastic and cost just about as much (if not more) than the wood did for this project. It was also a little scary to open because you didn't know what was inside and sometimes big old flies buzzed out into your face as the lid popped up. Yuck. Plus it didn't work all that well. I don't think we ever used any of the compost that came from that old bin but it sure made the weeds around it REALLY happy.

Anyway, he found suggestions online and decided to create a modular bin so that we could make it as big or as small as we needed; and if any one section somehow got ruined we could replace it more easily than remaking the whole bin.

I think it looks lovely. I helped with drilling (yay, no wounds!), screwing nails, and sanding, and then I helped finish the wood with shellac, a safe and edible option. I had the hubby add the mesh on top (it's stapled on), so that animals can't easily jump into it and make messes. We had that problem with the garden; we might as well prevent the same problem from happening here. We'd prefer that worms do the bulk of breaking down the compost. The mesh won't prevent smaller animals from getting in between the modular bands, but if necessary we can narrow the gaps by trimming the legs of each band.

I hate throwing away vegetable and fruit peelings in the trash because 1) it's such a waste not to recycle them especially when we have a garden and other plants that can use the compost and 2) they smell up the whole kitchen and house. I'm really happy to have a compost bin again, especially a nicer one this time that makes me proud to look at it. (Great job to my better half!)

xo, Gladys

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Contra Dance

We had another full weekend, with a kid's birthday party on Saturday and, for more fun, contra dance later that evening! I even have an outfit for you, sorta...the contra dance photos are a little blurry but they were taken indoors with an iPad by my dear friend E's husband. (E herself, talented lady, was playing the flute in the live band.)

Dress: Mingle via Amazon | Flats: Blowfish via TJ Maxx

This was only my second time at a contra dance, the first time being almost nine years ago. Contra dance is basically the kind of dancing you'll see in Jane Austen films, although on Saturday we did many simpler dances because of all the kids present. Our caller was particularly fantastic for the children...she was a 3rd- and 4th-grade teacher and knew lots of dances/activities geared towards younger kids. For newbies like me and my husband, it was quite liberating to be given the directive to dance like a child! Make no mistake, we danced until we were sweating, and my leg muscles are still slightly sore a few days later. Dancing is one of the best exercises in the world. :-)

Besides the children, there were some elderly folks there, and I had a lot of fun laughing with them. No one laughs at themselves as well and as good-naturedly as our elders. Think of it, not-as-flexible older people trying to hunch over to pass under the tunnels made by short four- and six-year-olds joining arms...! There were pleas to "have mercy" and the like, and I was cracking up throughout the evening.

But my favorite part was the fact that my son actually joined in the dancing. He's the kind of kid who prefers to hang back and observe, and it takes him a while to follow movements and spoken directions. But it was a joy to watch him smile and dance and be led by older kids and other adults (not us). He was trying so hard, and I couldn't have been prouder of him.

Among the dances we did were the Virginia reel, a courting game/dance to the song "Skip to My Lou My Darling," and a waltz at the end. I also really enjoyed the dance where the caller asked each dancer what magical creature they were and what kind of creature they wanted to turn the other dancers into; everyone then had to dance like that creature for a few 8-counts. I was a unicorn who turned everyone into nymphs (er, whatever that meant to the kids), my son was a mouse who turned everyone into puppies, my husband was a turtle who turned everyone into bats, my friend's daughter was a grandfather clock who turned everyone into elephants, and someone (a magical ogre) even turned everyone into zombies. FUN!

Contra dancing here happens once a month on Saturdays, and we are planning to make it to the next one. It was so enjoyable! If you have the chance to go where you live, I recommend trying it out. You might just have a wonderful evening. :-)

xo, Gladys

Monday, June 25, 2012

Garden: Growth and Recovery

I've been taking more sets of photos of the vegetable garden, and ever since we put mesh over everything so that little animals can't jump the fences and rip off huge chunks of leaves (see here), the plants have exploded in growth.

The tomatoes are fruiting unmolested and bulging out against the mesh; some of the top leaves have even managed to sneak their way through the holes of the mesh:

The bell peppers are getting bigger -- it's amazing how much they grow in just a few days:

And even the poor lettuce are making a heroic recovery. They were picked over the worst by the small animals (including by our own 4-year-old kid, haha). But I wanted to show you how they've fared throughout the month ... actually, over the course of a mere 16 days. The top-cover mesh made a HUGE difference:

You can't see in the photos, but some of the lettuce plants look like they are growing upwards, with a large stem in the middle. This is probably because their bottom leaves were the ones that were ripped off earlier and the plants would look much fuller otherwise. While every single one has seen new growth, a few will probably never grow very much before the end of the season (see photo below on the right side):

Even though they're probably big enough, we can't harvest any of the garlic or scallions because we'd have to cut into the top-cover mesh (one of the downsides, I'm afraid). But when the rest of the plants are ready, I'm excited to harvest. We're still waiting for the tomatoes to turn color, for the eggplants to drop from their flowers, for the carrot heads to break ground, and for the broccoli to grow florets. It will be awesome when they're ready.

xo, Gladys

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Recipe: Foolproof Backyard Burgers

School's out, summer is here, and it's THE time for casual barbecues. I thought I'd share this recipe for the best homemade hamburgers I've ever had. Note that these burgers beat most restaurant burgers as well, IMO. (And my mother-in-law says it's better than the original burger at Johnny Rockets.) We've made this recipe three times in the last month alone, and each time reaffirmed why we love this recipe so much.

The spiciness of garlic and the tanginess of steak sauce make for a fantastic flavor combination, and the bread-and-milk mixture makes for juicy and tender meat. This recipe is recommended only for medium-well to well-done burgers (any less cooked and they might not have the right texture).

It's easy to double or quadruple this recipe, and we usually do just so we can eat leftovers. They're that good, even reheated. Because I'm not a bread person, I often eat only the burger itself without a bun. My preschooler eschews the bread as well, and he likes to break up his burger into bite-sized pieces so he can eat it like finger food. I dip mine in a mixture of ketchup, mayo, and mustard, and eat a side of lettuce with it for my meal. My husband likes his the traditional way, with meat, cheese, lettuce, ketchup, and mustard sandwiched between two hamburger buns.

Note that these particular patties are third-pounders rather than quarter-pounders. They cook well either size.

Foolproof Backyard Burgers
Serves 4
(adapted from an America's Test Kitchen recipe, shared on a network morning show several years ago)

  • 1 pound good-quality ground beef (we use 75/25 grass-fed ground beef but you can definitely go leaner)
  • 1 large slice good-quality white sandwich bread, crust removed and discarded; or 1 side of a hamburger bun. Chop or crumble bread into 1/4-inch pieces (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 medium garlic clove, minced or pressed through garlic press (about 1 teaspoon)
  • 2 teaspoons steak sauce (we use A1)
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

  1. Using a large chimney starter, ignite 6 quarts charcoal (about 100 briquettes) and burn until covered with thin coating of light gray ash, about 20 minutes. Empty coals into grill; build modified two-level fire by arranging coals to cover half of grill. Position cooking grate over coals, cover grill, and heat grate for 5 minutes; scrape grate clean with grill brush. Grill is ready when coals are medium-hot (you can hold your hand 2 inches above grate for 3 to 4 seconds).
  2. Meanwhile, mash bread and milk in large bowl with fork until homogeneous (you should have about 1/4 cup). Stir in salt, pepper, garlic, and steak sauce.
  3. Break up beef into small pieces over bread mixture. Using fork or hands, lightly mix together until mixture forms cohesive mass. Divide meat into four equal portions. Gently toss one portion of meat back and forth between hands to form loose ball. Gently flatten into 1/2-inch-thick patty. Press center of patty down with fingertips, creating slight depression in each patty. Repeat with remaining portions of meat.
  4. Grill burgers on hot side of grill, uncovered, until well seared on first side, 2 to 4 minutes. Using wide metal spatula, flip burgers and continue grilling, about 3 minutes for medium-well or 4 minutes for well-done. (Add cheese, if using, about 2 minutes before reaching desired doneness.)

If you try this recipe, let me know in the comments how you like it. And do share your own favorite burger recipes as well! I'm always looking for interesting new recipes. :-)


xo, Gladys

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Baby Shower #3, Part 2

As promised, here is the second set of photos from my brother and sister-in-law's baby shower over the weekend. There were lots of activities planned for the guests. My older sister loves to put things like this together, so she had at least four games planned for the adults and three activities/games planned for the kids. There were A LOT of activities, but I'd venture to say that the guests had a blast.

The party started around 2pm, so we didn't get to swim until 4pm or so. Sadly, we don't have a pool heater installed (we'll need to save up over a few years for that), but good thing it was still hot enough outside to warrant a dip in the pool. The water was cold but not only was there minimal wind to chill the skin outside the water, but we also have a spa set to the temperature of warm bath water. It was nice to transfer over from the pool to the spa.

Ultrasound puzzle race (The kids had a version of this, too.)

Painting ceramic elephant banks

Pool time! (And there's my goofy, cowlick-y hair.)

Hubby with kiddo and our nephew warming up in the spa

Egg hunt (for coins to drop into their elephant banks)

Opening the presents (These Busytown quilts for the twins were made by my mother-in-law.)

The other activities not shown were a stamping session for the kids to decorate their egg-hunt bags and three more activities for the adults -- 1) finding as many 4- and 5-letter words with the babies' names, 2) battling to sing lines from songs with designated words in them, for example, songs with the words "baby," "boy," or "two," and 3) decorating onesies for the twins.

I'm very glad that the party was successful, but I'm also relieved that our party-hosting endeavors are finished for the month. We now have a couple of weeks to get the house ready again for regular guests: in July, we'll have our local friends over 2 to 3 days a week for group swimming lessons for the kids (we got a good deal from a new small business in the area). It should be fun and I hope less stressful.

xo, Gladys

Monday, June 18, 2012

Baby Shower #3, Part 1

I mentioned before that I had to host/attend three back-to-back baby showers this month. This is the third of three, for my brother and his wife who is carrying twin (fraternal) boys. We are very excited for them, and this was a big family shower.* We held it at my house because we have a pool, which turned out to be a really fun activity in and of itself.

Because it was such a big party, I'll break up the photos over two posts. Here, I want to share some of the decorations and food that I put together with my mom and older sister. The theme of the shower was twin baby elephants, with the color scheme being blue, green, and brown.

Homemade pennant banner (L + G + 2 = FAMILY), diaper cake, and my son with a giant blue balloon

The candy/snack bar for take-home party favors

Yummy Filipino food, mini cupcakes, and juices

The parents-to-be modeling the cupcakes, with more decorations in the background

There was definitely A LOT more food than you see above. Sadly, we don't have photos of the Filipino barbecue and the grilled carne asada with taco fixings (I made homemade restaurant-style salsa too!). But trust me when I tell you that it was all delicious. We also don't have good photos of the rest of the party decorations -- garlands, crepe paper hangings, and paper lanterns -- which irks me because my husband did a great job putting them up. (My older sister enlisted one of her best friends to be the photographer, so she had my nice camera for most of the day. She did a great job overall, however, even though it was her first time using a DSLR.)

It was actually quite stressful to put the party together since I've had such a busy month in general, but it was great fun and I'm glad it came off without any major hitches. Next post, I'll share photos of the baby shower activities. :-)

xo, Gladys

* We're not the only ones excited, apparently. My brother and sister-in-law are being thrown FOUR baby showers for this pregnancy -- one by her family, one by his family, one by her best friends, and one by his best friends. It seems like overkill, until I remember that they're having twins AND dealing with moving into a new place. It'll take a lot of resources to hit the ground running with the new babies.)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

New Haircut

I know I was complaining about my hair, so I finally got another haircut on Friday. I didn't realize how much I missed short bangs. I took this photo soon afterward, when my hair was still conditioned and styled nicely. I washed it the next day and didn't bother to fix it up since I was getting in the pool later in the day. I wanted to share this before my next post, so you'd believe that I actually went to a talented and experienced hair stylist rather than that I sawed it off myself with with a blunt kitchen knife. Pool water is so hard on one's hair.

By the way, the little bit of shirt that you see is J.Crew from last year, and I loved the style so much -- stripes, drapey good-quality cotton, wide neck, functional buttons all the way down the back that always make other women comment how much they like the shirt -- that I bought it in four different colors (it was on sale). Because of the interesting style, the shirt kicks up my usual uniform of tee and shorts/pants/capris a notch. They are the perfect summer wear. (It's technically still spring, but we effectively entered summer the beginning of June here. It's hot!)

ETA: Here's another recent photo of me before the haircut wearing the same-style J.Crew top, this time with olive green stripes. You can see the shape here (next time I'll take a photo of the back buttons).

We went to Santa Monica beach last weekend with some friends. The weather was sunny but not too hot, and the water was actually not too cold. Fun day.

xo, Gladys

Friday, June 15, 2012


When we moved into a house with a pool, I had no idea that one of the things I might have to deal with would be this cuteness explosion:

Ducklings swimming in the pool

In my excitement to take some photos, I and my kiddo unwittingly scared away the mom. She jumped outside the pool and called for her ducklings to follow her. They congregated at one corner of the deep side but didn't get out. After just a few moments, as my son and I watched, the mother flew away with a big loud "honk," making my heart sink. Had she just left her babies for good? Had I messed up royally?

(Sorry about the poor quality; I had to crop and zoom the photo which was taken from far away. I know she's hard to see but the mama duck was definitely there, hiding in the shadows.)

However, it wasn't completely unlucky that we interfered because, as it turns out, ducklings who aren't strong enough to fly also can't get out of pools on their own. (At least not the kind of pools with steep sides and rounded edges like ours.) The mom must have been calling for them to get out, only to realize that they weren't able to do so.

After it dawned on me that 1) the ducklings weren't able to fly out -- as my four-year-old said, they don't have (developed) wings -- and 2) they were too small to hop out, I put a slab of plywood at one corner of the pool and tried to encourage the ducklings to get on it. They wouldn't be encouraged and in fact did a fabulous job of avoiding the skimmer I used to try to herd them toward the ramp. I'm sure they were waiting for their mother to come back. They kept cheeping, calling for her. It was both cute and sad.

It was a nerve-racking 20 minutes for me since I had no idea what to do if the mom didn't come back. If they had been unable to figure out how to use the ramp and stayed too long in the water, they could have drowned or gotten hypothermia. So I turned on the pool water in order to fill it to overflowing -- that way they'd have a chance -- and left them alone. My son and I watched them through our window.

And guess what? Mama duck came back! In like two minutes. She was probably waiting for my idiot ass to leave so she could get her babies and go! She managed to encourage them to climb up the ramp, and they filed out of our yard together. I wish I could have taken photos of that but I didn't want to freak them out again. Trust me, though, it was really amazing. The part of me that likes to anthropomorphize animals, especially cute ones, was doing a happy dance and giving my son high-fives and kisses.

As my friend M said, Duck Drama Done! At least I don't feel so bad about scaring away the mom the first time. After all, the ducklings couldn't have gotten out without the ramp, which I might not have figured out for a long time if the mom were still hanging around. I do feel bad that I stressed out the babies by trying to herd them out of the pool myself. Next time, I'll know what to do AND what not to do.

xo, Gladys
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