Tuesday, October 29, 2013

In the Style of Lemony Snicket

Have you ever read the Series of Unfortunate Events books by Lemony Snicket?  If not, I strongly encourage you to do so.  While all the events are, well, unfortunate, the way in which the books are written is clever, unexpected, and very amusing.

My sister and I recently started reading a series called The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood.  These books are in a similar style, though different enough to not read like copycat work.  There are three books out currently, with the fourth due out in December.


Love and Ostriches,
Leah Joy

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Monday Rant: Let Me 'Splain

Sometimes on the Internet, I get really stupid comments.  As in, not thought through, purposefully spiteful (yet uninformed), or just plain stupid.  My first reaction is to argue back against their stupidity, but then I realize that this does no good.  It makes me mad, raises my blood pressure, doesn't solve anything, and only fuels discord.  So I take the path of simply deleting the comment.  But that doesn't mean it's not still in my head.  (Good heavens, I still have one stuck in my head from two years ago!)  So today, I'm going to argue back against one I received recently.

I read this book a couple of months ago (along with the other books in the series) and pinned it to my 'Books Read in 2013' board.  (Which, for the record, is simply a way for me to keep track of what I read.  My siblings keep an Excel spreadsheet, and I've never really had a system but wished I did, so this is what I use now.)

The comment was something along the lines of, "Childish?  Maybe you should read it again.  I love Wendy Mass and her books are so great.  If you can't appreciate books for younger audiences, maybe you should stop reading." 

Okay, can you just go for a second to my board?  Now, do you see any books for younger audiences?  Just about all of them, right?  Do they all have negative reviews?  Now let me tell you something.  If I read a book in a genre/style/lexile that I really don't enjoy, I may try one more book in that group, but if I don't enjoy that, I'm going to stop reading that group of books, not read 80 more. (Not an exaggeration.  I counted.)  I appreciate books for younger audiences.

What I meant by the word 'childish' is this: the book was written as if the children for which it is intended do not have a very large vocabulary, do not enjoy a book that challenges their reading ability, and need things explained very clearly because they can't understand the first time.

Of the 105 books I have read so far this year, 80 of them came from the Juvenile Fiction section.  Of these 80, many of them were truly well-written.  The writing style did not hamper the story.  It may not have challenged me (as an older reader), but it did not drag along either.  Do you get what I'm saying?  There are childish books that are well-written and then there are childish books that are childishly written.

For example, The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell by Chris Colfer was nearly torture to read.  Why?  Because it reads like a 5th grader wrote it.  Almost everything is explained twice, any slightly difficult word was explained in the text (instead of sending readers to a dictionary), and the story drags.  Now, I still read it because I found the story interesting, but it was far less enjoyable than The Wide-Awake Princess by E.D. Baker.  This book has a similar idea: a character journeying through the fairy tale world and meeting all sorts of different characters.  But instead of deeply explaining everything ad nauseam, Baker assumes that her readers have a basic grasp of the English language and how to use a dictionary.

I would like to end by saying that I actually did enjoy Finally by Wendy Mass (and the rest of the Willow Falls series).  It just wasn't as good as other books that I have read.

Love and Mugs,
Leah Joy

Friday, October 25, 2013

Dollar Tree "Washi Tape"

So, I know I'm a little late on the washi tape train.  I bought my first roll a couple of months ago when there was a crazy sale + coupon deal at Meijer and I got the roll for under a dollar.  (For some reason, I lost that roll last week very randomly.  Seriously, I had it one minute, and then I set it somewhere and went to look for it for 10 minutes and couldn't find it.  It is still missing!)  Anyway, that one was Scotch Expressions brand and it was a turquoise with just a bit of a feather pattern in the background.  I picked it out for labeling.  Then, for my birthday last month, my aunt sent me a really cool roll of music note washi tape.  

And then at the Dollar Tree this week, I discovered 'washi tape'!  Of course, they call it Decorative Adhesive Paper Tape.  And there is a difference in quality and feel.  While the other tapes feel very flexible (like tape), this one feels more like sticky paper (much more stiff).  But it does still pick up easily and stick back down, which is helpful.  And it's $1!  (Duh.)

I bought 7 rolls, but gave 3 of them away as gifts.  Here are the ones I kept:

You can see all the styles available here.

And now they're posing with my music note washi tape:

So far I've used them for labeling, decorating cards, wrapping presents, and as masking tape for the chain chomp ornament.

Have you gotten on the washi tape bandwagon?  What do you do with yours?

Love and Paisleys,
Leah Joy

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Nothing Says Christmas Like Ninjas

In my 101 Things Update yesterday, I shared this fun ornament I made:

Since I had to purchase a 6-pack of black ornaments anyway, I thought I'd try this other ornament I saw on Pinterest:

I followed the tutorial on the original website (although I don't have beige paint - only red and white - so I just used white) and made this little guy:

Now I can't decide if I want to make the other 4 ornaments into Chain Chomps or Ninjas!  What do you think?

Love and Acrylic Paint,
Leah Joy

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

101 Things Update - October 23

So, I did some thinking, and some math (both dangerous pastimes), and I realized that of all the 101 Things left to do that will actually happen, two a week is a good rate.  Here are the two I finished this week:

10. Apple Pie Cookies

The Original:

I don't have any fancy bit-into-cookie pictures, but I have a couple before-baking pictures:

We then packed them up and took them to a party, so I had to quick snap some pictures with Caleb's cell phone for the after-baking pictures.  My apologies for the quality:

So, they're cute.  They taste good.  But so much work!  And I didn't have the size cookie cutters the recipe recommended, so I used cups.  They were bigger, but gave me the right ratio.  But that also meant this recipe only made 12 cookies.  (Although, I also heard that mine were a good size and any smaller would have been silly.)  So, yeah.  Probably will just make pie next time.

22. Chain Chomp Ornament

The Original:

Mine is not technically done yet because I have to add the chain, but the painting is the hardest part:

Some of the edges are a bit inexact, but I bought a 6-pack of black ornaments, so I might make a few more to try to get a perfect one anyway.

Love and Mario,
Leah Joy

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Book Review: Fairy Tale Retelling

If you follow my Pinterest board 'Books Read in 2013', you may notice a theme: I'm really obsessed with retellings of fairy tales.  REALLY obsessed.  Just this year I've read 11 retellings, and have several more planned.  Just in case you're as obsessed with fairy tales as I am, here are some of my favorites:

The Thirteenth Princess by Diane Zahler

Diane Zahler has some other retellings that were good, too; I just didn't feel the need to pin all 11 of the books I read in this category. :)

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

This one is fantastic, and also has two books that follow it: Princess of Glass and Princess of the Silver Woods.  They're sequels, so read them in order.  All three books are based on The Twelve Dancing Princesses, but the second is also based on Cinderella, and the third on Little Red Riding Hood.

Curse of the Thirteenth Fey by Jane Yolen

This book was not at all what I was expecting, but it was really good!

Fairest by Gail Carlson Levine

This one takes place in the same world as Ella Enchanted, and it's a very very cool story.

The Wide-Awake Princess by E.D. Baker

You can read my blurb in the pin there, but seriously, this book is so fantastic.  I cannot recommend it highly enough.  And I won't say that every fairy tale character is in here, but there are so many (whether the main characters or just a brief mention): Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, The Princess and the Pea, and Rapunzel, to name a few.

So there you have it: some great retellings of fairy tales.  I hope you enjoy!

Love and Glitter,
Leah Joy

Monday, October 21, 2013

Monday Rant: Or Sort Of

I'm not sure if this is really a rant or not, but it may or may not be interesting.

This weekend, I met a student from a local university who is Dutch, as in, actually from the Netherlands.  When I mentioned that my family was also Dutch, he ended up on his own rant about how everyone around here says, "Oh yeah, I'm Dutch, too!" when really only their great-grandfather or whoever came over from the Netherlands.  He says, "No, I'm actually Dutch - as I was born there." And he has a legitimate point.  But I have a counter point.

The USA, in comparison to other countries, is a relatively young country.  While there are people here who have been here since 'the beginning' and far before that, many people from our country immigrated here in the last two centuries.  And I can imagine that, for example, when my grandfather came to the United States from the Netherlands, most people identified with other groups of their nationalities, because they spoke the same language, had a similar heritage, etc.  So, "I'm Dutch" or "I'm Irish", meant something like what this student meant: I was actually born there.

And now, years later, when all their kids and grandkids speak English and have good American names like Robert and Sally, we still keep up that tradition of "I'm half Dutch, a quarter French, and a quarter Irish".

And I can imagine that somewhere down the line, when we all intermarry and have kids who are 15% this and 5% that plus a dozen other percentages, and then they have kids and they have kids and the percentages get smaller and smaller, that we'll stop identifying with our mother countries, because there's just too many.

So, I would like to say to this student: let us be.  We think it's unspeakably cool that you're from the Netherlands.  (Personally, I'm a little lot jealous.)  And we just want to identify with that.  If you don't like it, come back in 200 years and talk to our kids.

Love and Delft,
Leah Joy

P.S. For the record, this student was not being unpleasant about the whole thing.  I think it's just something he gets a lot and didn't really understand.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Scarf Storage

So, my earrings are now all nice and neat, but I also have a lot of scarves.  When I lived with my parents until Caleb and I got married, I kept them on one of those expandable wooden wall racks and in a milk crate.  With the two, I was able to keep them fairly organized.  When we moved to the apartment, I was lacking in space, so I kept them all in a milk crate.  Not the best storage, but it worked for the space.  And since we moved here, I've kept them in that crate.  But it's a mess.  Scarves spill over the sides, and I have a few nicer ones that get all crumpled and wrinkled.  Last night, I'd had enough, so I organized them a little bit.  I folded all my scarves and put them in the crate like this:

I shoved mittens and wrist warmers on the left side.  On top of that, I put easily moveable things: my hats and leg warmers.

The whole thing slides under our bedroom bookshelves.  But we already have a problem.  That pink one on top is the scarf I was wearing yesterday.  I did fold it when I put it away, but I did not put it in nicely with all the others. 

This either means that I will only wear this particular scarf again, or I'm back on my way to a mess.

I also have some lighter scarves that I use mostly for my hair.  I folded those, too, and placed them in a bag.

It sits next to the crate.

Now anyone who has ever met me can tell you this will last maybe 4 days.  I simply will not fold up a scarf every day and put it away nicely.  And I know this, too.  I just was sick of them being all over the floor.  But now I need to come up with a better idea.  

There are all sorts of ideas out there - here are a few that look good to me:

(Similar to the first, but on a wall instead of in the closet.)

The problem with the wall storage is finding a wall for it.  Yes, we have plenty of wall space in our bedroom, but I don't want these all over the wall.  Hanging my necklaces was enough for me.  I love that our walls are almost bare.  It's very serene and peaceful, and hanging up 30 scarves is going to be the opposite of that.  

So, that's what I'm trying to work through right now.  Any suggestions?  If you have half a million scarves, too, how have you organized them?

Love and Silk,
Leah Joy

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Batik! (Part 1)

This is a project from my 101 Things in 2013 list.  I haven't counted it as finished yet, because we're not finished yet, but I thought I'd share our progress so far.

We actually planned to do this about 3 years ago, and already had all the supplies for the first step:

- white fabric (we collected a couple pieces from the Field's Fabrics bargain bin)
- soy wax (Hobby Lobby)
- natural hair bristle brushes (you can find these anywhere, but I think I found these on clearance at Jo-Ann's) (you'll need these so they don't melt in the wax)
- tarps!
- a container to microwave the wax in - we had an old Tupperware (like '70s-green old)

We laid the tarp out on my parents' kitchen counter and laid a piece of fabric over it.  Once the wax was melted, we painted our designs over it.  Batik is a wax-resist form of dyeing - like crayons and watercolor paints, except on fabric.

We are dorks.  But we felt very artistic with the foot-long paint brushes.

For the next step, we needed:

- Soda Ash - helps the dye to stick - can be found at any craft store
- Fabric Dye.  We used liquid RIT brand and did not dilute it.
- As many tarps as you have pieces of fabric
- gloves!

I have no pictures of the dyeing process, because my hands were covered in gloves and dye, but we had a table outside covered in a tarp.  The fabric, after being soaked in a soda ash bath for 20 minutes, was laid out on top of the tarp.  We then took more brushes, and just poured the dye and spread it around on the fabric.  No real science.  When the whole fabric was covered, we rinsed the drips off the edge of the tarp and then folded it up so that the fabric was completely ensconced.  Repeat with the other pieces.  We left the tarps in my parents' basement laundry room for the afternoon and overnight.

(For the record: we had one piece that we weren't sure would take dye because it's a synthetic fabric.  We put this one in a bucket with slightly diluted purple dye and left it overnight.)

The next morning, we took each piece and rinsed them out in the utility tub.  Now's the tricky part.  The dye has to be machine washed and dried to set, but we can't do that until the wax is ironed out (because it will hurt the washer and dryer), but we can't iron out the wax until it's been dried - and we didn't dare drape it over anything to dry until it had been washed.  Quite the conundrum.  We ended up hand-washing them in Woolite, then doing a triple rinse outside, and then hanging them up to dry like so:

The synthetic fabric really didn't turn out so well:

The next step is to iron out the wax (place the fabric between layers of newspaper and iron over that, replacing the newspaper until it comes out clean), then machine wash and dry the fabric.  Then we can use the fabric for stuff!

I'm so excited to get to the next part!

Love and Sodium Carbonate,
Leah Joy

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

101 Things Update - October 16

I know it's been a really long time, and to have only three things accomplished seems paltry, but I should mention that I've been working on other projects: Christmas presents, trying new recipes in the slow cooker, cleaning my house and my mom's house and my aunt's house and my grandma's condo and my sister's bedroom, etc.  And I've also had to realize that I'm not going to complete all the projects on the list.  Some of them I've kind of 'replaced' with other projects, so at least I'm still doing things.  But really, how could I have known at the beginning of the year how things would go?  And even at the beginning, I knew that I couldn't do everything, so nothing lost.

Last week, I mentioned that I was going to work on this one:

11. Lavender Face Scrub

Like I said, it smelled good, but it's hard to say if it helped or not.  And then there were pieces of lavender all over my sink, which looked weird.  So I put them in the trash, which looked weirder, if that's possible.

32. Homemade Oreos.

I got to use my new decorating kit!  Okay, so no one could see how my piping turned out, but maybe that's for the best my first time around.

Chloe helped me with these.  We made round ones and butterfly ones.

Aren't they cute?  This frosting is spot on for Oreo frosting, and the cookies are just as delicious, if softer, than Oreo cookies.

34. Homemade Oatmeal Cream Pies.  

Chloe also helped me with these.  The cookies are amazing, but we had a bit of a disaster with the frosting.  I never use shortening, but this was one case where butter didn't cut it as a substitute.  The frosting was really thin and salty.  We added a lot of extra powdered sugar to sweeten it up and hopefully stiffen it up, which it did, but not enough:

VERY MESSY!  Oh well, they still tasted good!

Love and Sugar Comas,
Leah Joy

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

More Dragon Books

Is there such a thing as too many books about dragons?  I think not.  Here are some others I enjoyed.

The Dragon Trilogy by Jessica Day George is about a girl named Creel.  In desperation for money, her aunt decides to leave her for the local dragon in hopes that a knight will rescue her, marry her, and solve their problems.  Creel has other ideas, and the first book is about her friendship with Shardas, a dragon, and how they (with the help of a cute prince and the other dragons) put an end to a war.  The second two books continue with the fantastic adventures.  I highly recommend them.

Another standalone book is A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carlson Levine.  Elodie travels far from her family to find a trade in the city, but ends up being apprenticed to a dragon.

One thing I found so amusing about all these books is that there are things about dragons that "everyone" knows, but they're different for each book or series.

I hope you enjoy!

Love and Fire,
Leah Joy

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Monday Rant: Reading Levels and Bother

I must apologize for my unannounced hiatus, but that's not why I'm here today.  Today, I need to get this rant off my chest and out into the world, because this is something that has been bothering me for a very long time.  And I'm sure all my friends who live near me are sick of hearing about it, so now you get to.  This is a long and complicated rant, so please don't feel required to read all of it.

You may or may not know that until this year, both of my younger siblings have been homeschooled other than band, art, gym, and computers.  (What their local school system calls "Encore" classes.)  And before I go any further, I must add that this is not a homeschooling vs. public schooling argument.  I believe that different kids thrive in different environments because they're different.  I also believe that different home or school environments make one or the other a necessity rather than a choice, so we should all just shut up about one being holier or something.

Anyway, back to the point.  So, I don't know if it's a state law or a local school policy, but once a student reaches 7th grade, they must be a full-time student at the school ('full-time' meaning at least all but 2 classes) in order to participate in sports.  Have you met my brother?  If you took him out of sports, you might as well cut off all his limbs, too.  So my parents made the decision to put him in public school full-time.  (They were originally planning on sending him full-time starting in 9th grade before they knew about this rule.)

He was excited.  He's played on sports teams with many of his new classmates for years and wanted to go to school with them, too.

My parents were nervous, but hopeful.  He's a good kid.

I, having actually attended this school and knowing my brother's personality (smart, quick, sensitive, slow-eater, germaphobic, cares deeply about honesty/truth/justice), was dreading it, but tried not to let my brother know this.  Sometimes expectations rule his brain more than actual events.  Maybe it would be okay.

But for the record, here's what I thought would drive him nuts:
1. Kids who can't do math in their heads.  (Like me.)
2. Germs.  Everywhere.
3. All the time wasted in class with busy work.
4. The incredibly slow pace of the class compared to his quickness in certain classes...
5. ...And not being able to keep up in the classes with which he struggles, because he is too shy to ask for help.
6. Foul language and general bad behavior.
7. People not treating each other with justice and fairness.
8. How long school is and there's no recess (or basketball breaks like there were at home).
9. Short lunch periods.

Well, after his first couple days, he described how he felt about school in terms like 'despair', 'depression', and 'awful'.  They don't give the students enough time to use the bathroom between class, and they are only allowed something like 7 hall passes a semester if they need to go during class, so he usually doesn't get to use the bathroom all day. The math class in which he got placed?  He's done it twice already, but his teacher doesn't pay enough attention to notice that he's miles ahead, so he'll be stuck there all year.  The short lunches were bothering him, too, but he was learning to eat more quickly.  And he was surprised by the amount of foul language being used by kids his age, but thanks to me and my driving skills, it wasn't actually anything he hadn't heard before.

There were a few bright spots.  He had one teacher who didn't feel the need to fill every second of the class with material.  Once the lesson plan was completed, if there were 5 minutes left in the class, the teacher would tell kids they could work on their homework, read a book, or talk quietly to each other.  Art class wasn't as horrible as he had expected (this is as raving a review as art class will ever get).  He actually liked his science teacher.  And of course, he had classes and lunch with some of his friends.

But the big negative kicker was his language arts class.  This teacher had the students write a blog about school.  The teacher would create parameters for the post, and then check them later.  Now, of course Jacob feels he can't write a whole lot on there.  The teacher can see it, so he doesn't feel he can complain about the teacher.  The other students can see it, so he doesn't feel he can complain about them.  But whatever.  The teacher gave them an assignment for their blog and told them it needed to be completed in a few days.  My brother went home and wrote the blog post that night.  The next day in class, the teacher completely changed the assignment.  When my brother mentioned that he had already completed the assignment with the original requirements and asked if that still counted, the teacher said no, he'd have to redo it.  Seriously?  Let's encourage procrastination and discourage proactiveness!

This teacher also had the students fill out a reading interests questionnaire (my brother of course put 'sports books') and I guess they were tested for their 'lexile' (reading level).  The teacher then sat down with each student and talked about what they were currently reading.  My brother was currently reading one of the books from Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events.  The teacher told him that this was a red flag because it was "outside his reading interests that he'd listed" and it was "beneath his lexile".  Okay, so first of all, we're now apparently discouraging children to broaden their interests?  So, because The Bible isn't a sports book, is that a red flag, too?  And second of all, he shouldn't read a book beneath his lexile?  Okay, yes, if he only read one book a month, perhaps he should pick something more challenging.  But he read that entire book that day.  And he probably read at least 4 other books that week.  He's certainly reading more than their paltry requirements.  This makes me so mad!

The denouement involves my mom taking him out of two classes: math and language arts.  His schedule had to be rearranged a bit, but now he's not at school as long, and he gets to do math and language arts at home.  He's still struggling adjusting to public school, but my mom realized she's actually glad they're doing this in 7th grade when his grades don't stay on his transcript than in 9th grade, when they do.  He is really smart, but he's not used to the manner in which the questions are asked.  Once he gets used to that, I think he'll do fine in public school.

Again, I have to reiterate that this is not an anti-public-school rant.  No schooling environment can be absolutely perfect.  He has some really great teachers.  They have the budget to do things in classes that he couldn't have learned at home (firing clay in art class, for example).  There are things that my mom can't teach as well as they can in public school.  He gets to be with his friends more often.  And he's loving having lunch with his friends.  Mom will often pack him a chicken-and-cheese quesadilla cut into 8 pieces, and they are apparently the gold standard in lunch trading.  He's gotten chocolate milk for just a few quesadilla pieces.  :)

Love and Lexiles,
Leah Joy