Monday, February 21, 2011

Koch Snowflake (Base-Motif Fractal)

It warmed up late last week. It was wonderful! Virtually all of the old ugly snow melted over the weekend. It was great to look out the windows and see something other than white. The skies were blue, the sun was shining, and the birds were singing. It was great...while it lasted.

As I sit here this Monday afternoon in February, there is yet again another winter weather advisory. It looks like a blizzard, and from what I hear, the snow isn't supposed to let up until after midnight. Great.

Speaking of snow, here's a little diversion we took last week. Instead of getting out the Algebra books, we decided to try our hands at creating fractals. We each chose one and spent a couple of hours being creative. I have to say, it was a lot of fun!

This is a Koch Snowflake...

We neglected to take a photo of the first nine inch equilateral triangle, but I think it's easy to see it. During the first iteration, every side of the triangle has been substituted with a base-motif. The line you see running down the middle is where two pieces of construction paper have been joined. That line ended up helping keep everything plumb.

Because there's a lot of drawing and erasing required for this fractal, it's best to start out with light pencil lines. Light lines make erasing easy, but viewing photos more difficult. Sorry about that!

The first triangle is the first iteration. The photo below is the second iteration.

In the third iteration, each of the 12 line segments have been replaced with the base-motif again.

And again... (fourth iteration)

fourth iteration finalized...notice the inside corners?

and yet again... (fifth and final iteration)

Isn't that cool?! This is but a speck in the world of fractals! We could keep going except it's virtually impossible to erase any lines after this point. Be sure to look at this link to get a much better idea of base-motif fractals.

photo credit

Hey, have a happy fractals Monday!

P.S. I just noticed this is my 200th blog post. Wow Wee!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Homemade Deep Dish Pan Pizza

Homemade Deep Dish Pan Pizza

When I think about some of the new things I've learned to do over the past year or so, I'm surprising even myself! Besides learning how to bake a pie, quilting and sewing, I tried my hand at homemade pizza dough back in November. It turned out pretty good the first time. I tweaked it a couple of times and ended-up with this recipe. It's really good, if I do say so myself!

Keep in mind that you can put any assortment of toppings on this pizza. I have found that no matter if it's plain cheese or loaded with lots of goodies, it always turns out fabulous. The crust is golden brown and crispy. Yum!

What you will need:

Medium-size stainless steel bowl coated with 2 tablespoons of olive oil;
plastic wrap

2 nine-inch cake pans
4 tablespoons olive oil

Ingredients for dough:

3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons of milk (or 7 oz.), heated in microwave for 30 seconds
2 teaspoons sugar
1 packet of instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/3 cups flour, divided into 1 1/3 cups and 1 cup
Extra flour for rolling out dough


3.5 ounces pepperoni
1 1/3 cups tomato sauce
3 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 200 degrees.

Coat the bottom of each of the 9-inch cake pans with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.

In a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook, mix together warmed 3/4 cup and 2 tablespoons of milk, sugar, yeast; add 1 1/3 cups of flour and salt. Mix on low until dough comes together, scrape down sides if needed. Turn off mixer and let set for 10 minutes. Turn on mixer to low and slowly add remaining 1 cup of flour. I have found that this sometimes needs adjusting (adding a little more milk or having to add a little more flour, if necessary). Increase speed to medium-low and mix until dough is shiny and smooth, about 5 minutes. The dough should pull away from the sides of the bowl. Turn dough onto a lightly floured counter, gently shape into a ball, and place in greased bowl, turning dough to coat with olive oil; cover with plastic wrap. Turn off oven. Place bowl on the bottom rack of the turned off oven until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.

While the dough is rising in the oven, place the pepperoni in a single layer on a microwave-safe plate lined with 2 or 3 paper towels. Cover with an additional 2 paper towels and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Remove from microwave and use your hands to press down on the paper towels (being careful as the pepperoni may be a little hot) to absorb the oil. Discard paper towels and set pepperoni aside.

Once the dough has risen, remove plastic wrap and transfer dough to a lightly floured counter, divide in half, and lightly roll each half into a ball. Working with one dough ball at a time, roll and shape dough into 9 1/2 to 10 inch round; gently place rolled dough into oiled cake pan. The dough will come up the side of the pan by a half an inch or so. Repeat process for other dough ball. Cover cake pans with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot until slightly risen, about 20 minutes.

Note: When I start rolling out the dough, I again turn on the oven to 200 degrees. When I'm finished rolling out the dough, I turn off the oven, cover each cake pan with plastic wrap, and place pans with dough back in the warmed oven for about 20 minutes or so.

Remove plastic wrap from cake pans and ladle 2/3 cup of sauce on each round (if your dough is slightly up the sides of the pan, take the sauce to the edge. If the dough only covers the bottom of the pan, leave a 1/2 inch border around the edges). Sprinkle each with 1 1/2 cups of cheese and top with pepperoni. Bake on the bottom rack of a 400 degree oven until the cheese is melted and bubbling, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven; let pizzas rest in pans for 1 minute. Using a spatula, transfer pizzas to cutting board and cut each into 8 wedges. Enjoy!

Another note: Use your favorite bottled or canned pizza sauce. I use Dei Fratelli Italian Sauce right out of the can. If you want to add sausage to the pizza, be sure to brown and cook thoroughly before placing on top of the pizza. I use Bob Evans Maple Sausage by pinching off small quarter-size pieces into a medium hot skillet. I don't turn the sausage until it's caramelized.


P.S. Yes, this is what we're having for dinner tonight. After all, it's Friday! Did I mention that it hit a whopping 60 degrees today? And that the sun is shining? And that the skies are blue? And almost all of the dirty ugly snow is gone? Yes!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentine's Day

This is one card Hallmark won't ever sell...

I'm one of those people who choke a little on spending $5 or $6 on a card that will eventually end up in the trash. And it usually doesn't matter if it's Valentine's Day or birthdays or special holidays. I'm a cheapskate. Over the years I've tried to be creative and will actually make something special. But sometimes it's easier to pick one off the shelf. That's what I did this year.

The card above is one I found from Mr. Wonderful a couple of years ago on Valentine's Day. It was right there for everyone to see. Right smack dab in the middle of the kitchen table! I left it there all day long until eventually I had to scoop it up and well, you know. There was a little love note left beside this card on the table, but the truth is, I've never forgotten this creative I Love You from my husband.

I hope your Valentine's Day is filled with love and many wonderful things that hold lasting memories. Long after the roses have faded and the chocolate box contains only crumpled papers, it's all the little things, all wrapped-up together, that make life special. Those things remain.

Hugs and kisses,

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Princess and the Pot

Look who got caught with her hand in the flower pot!

This is my precious little niece, Allison. She's 13 months old. This was her second incident in less than twelve hours. The first incident found her standing in the toilet. Yep!

I don't know about you, but I just love her little velour princess outfit.

I remember finding my son, Caleb, a little older than Allison, swinging from the dining room chandelier. I remember finding him hanging from the outside of the upstairs banister. He was smiling. I had nightmares for weeks. I remember finding him drinking from a bottle of rubbing alcohol. I was standing right next to him. This was my first call to Poison Control. I remember him sucking on the nozzle of Round Up. Again, I was standing right next to him. This was my second call to Poison Control. This little boy could scale the kitchen cabinets in 2 seconds flat...and there were no handles. I have a photo of him standing upright on a 3 foot ball. Yes, standing on it. My son lived a constant adventure. As you can see, I lived to tell about it.

If you're thinking, "Well, hey! Don't you think you should have kept a closer eye on him?" If that crossed your mind then you have never had the privilege of being the mother of a child who only stops moving when they are asleep. Even then, their little feet are still moving as they dream about their next adventure.

I think my sister-in-love, who is the greatest mama in the world, is in for some wonderfully memorable adventures! I survived. And she will too.

Then God knew I needed a break and gave me sweet little Rachel. It was a good thing or else I might have ended up on a funny farm.

P.S. If you are still wondering about the rubbing alcohol incident, I had poured a little into the bottle cap to use on Rachel's newborn belly button (I guess you don't do that these days). Caleb reached up, grabbed the bottle, and started drinking it. Poison Control told me not to worry. If he became drowsy, he would sleep off his drunken stupor. Thankfully, it was a new bottle and I don't think he got much more than a sip. Ewww!

The Round Up story? Well, the big bottle of Round Up was sitting on a shelf about 5 feet off the ground. The long-hosed nozzle had fallen off the container and was hanging behind the shelf. Caleb found it there and just couldn't help himself. He started sucking on it. Did you know that Round Up is soap? Poison Control told me he'd be fine.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Standing In Line

Photo Credit

This article grabbed my attention this morning. This positive article on homeschooling is interesting, but it was the comments that really got me going. Many of the comments are from homeschooling families. Some comments are not. Of course, it's the "some comments are not" that tend to make my blood boil just a little.

Honestly, the socialization claims in this day and age make me yawn. Move on, people! This just proves that anyone who still thinks like this hasn't spent much time, if any, with anyone who homeschools their children.

One of the comments made me think back to a situation that happened years ago when my children were still fairly young. I took them ice skating at an indoor ice skating rink. Once the kids are on the ice, parents who are not skating can wait in a heated, glassed-in room. Basically, you are sitting on the ice with the ability to see everything that's going on, except you get to stay warm!

Along with several other parents, I was sitting there minding my own business when a woman and her husband walked in. She sees another woman seated by herself, we'll just call her Sue, and says, "Hi Sue! Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. How's homeschooling going?" Sue responds, "Well, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, I put little Susie back in school this year." The other woman starts blabbering about homeschooling and then gives this stunning reason as to why little Susie is better off in public school anyway...

She has to learn how to stand in line and you can't learn to do that at home.

I kid you not.

It was all I could do to sit there and keep my mouth shut. I'm certain there was smoke coming out of my ears!

Hello? Ever been to the grocery store? Ever been to a gas station? Ever been to a restaurant? Ever been, dear me, to the doctor's office? Well, at least you get to sit in a line and not stand in line, right?

This past weekend our family had the privilege of being involved in a regional speech and debate tournament. Families from several states gathered to watch almost 100 children each participate in five debate rounds (each round lasts an hour and 15 minutes) over two days with a final debate round for the top two teams. In addition, many more students participated in individual speech events which included prose, humorous interpretation, impromptu, impromptu apologetics, informative, rhetorical criticism, extemporaneous commentary, persuasive, and sweeps, which is an event where one student participates in three separate speech categories. The tournament lasts 12 hours the first day and 13 hours the second day. It is a whirlwind of organized chaos. Beautiful organized choas!

Shortly after we arrived on Friday morning, I said I had never seen so many young men dressed in suits all in one place. It was an amazing sight! The girls were all so nicely dressed, many in skirts and suit jackets. What an encouragement to see so many young people being equipped to effectively communicate to the world.

Each family is required to recruit guest judges to judge for debate rounds and/or speech events. Like all of the other families involved, we had several people help judge. One young lady we recruited just happens to be our niece. She's a high school science teacher at a local public school. We had a chance to talk during lunch and this is what I found out...

This was her first time at an event like this and her first time around a group of homeschool students. I was told there was no comparison to the students she deals with daily at her high school to the group of kids she was around for the weekend. She said every student was polite and respectful. She told me the one thing that made the biggest impact on her was judging her first debate round and seeing kids that don't even know one another hug and then stand in a circle to pray. She said it was amazing sight to see!

But our niece also made quite an impact. Here's what our club's debate coach had to say about her...

I just wanted to let you know she was so encouraging to the novice debaters. When I heard her praise for the kids, I was so blessed. I'd never before heard a judge so generous and enthusiastic.

As the Bible says, A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. Proverbs 25:11. We were blessed! Kids were blessed! She was blessed!

Caleb joined a homeschool debate club back in October. The meetings are weekly and usually last for three hours. In addition, he has spent at least two hours every school day (Monday through Friday and oftentimes on Saturday), working on his case as well as preparing for his individual speech event. My son has been transformed from sweating at the thought of standing-up to speak in front of people to absolutely loving the idea. He loves debate! At one point over the weekend, I remember saying to myself, "Is that my son?"

I have been around homeschooling families for 14 years. I will admit that even I was amazed at what I witnessed this past weekend. What an encouragement! What a blessing! And we get to do it all again in March, April, and May!

If you've never had the opportunity to see an event involving homeschooled kids, it might very well be worth standing in line.

Thanking God for the freedom to homeschool in America,

P.S. After I posted this I thought I needed to clarify something. As much as I do not like the public school system for a variety of reasons, I am not dissing public school kids nor their families. The article I referenced gave me reason to reflect and pause on our choice to homeschool and I am thankful. By God's amazing grace, we have experienced great success homeschooling our children. Homeschooling, however, is not for every family. I am thankful that when we seek guidance from our Heavenly Father, He gives wisdom and direction for what's best for our children.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

How to Make a Fleece Blanket

Today was a major snow day around here. Everything is closed. It was a perfect day to snuggle in and make Mr. Wonderful's blanket. I started it late this morning and finished it late afternoon. I think he'll be surprised to come home from work and find it waiting for him!

These pictures are of the blanket I made for Caleb around Christmastime. I took pictures so I wouldn't forget what I did, but thought it would make for a fun blog post too. Let me just say this. If I can make a fleece blanket, anyone can!

Here's what you'll need:

Two contrasting fabrics:

Two yards for the top (which is the print), and three yards for the bottom. Have it cut in two pieces, measuring one yard and two yards respectively. The fringe uses about a yard of fabric and I have found it easier to have the store cut the fabric for me.

Embroidery floss in a coordinating color and a large eyed needle

Sharp scissors

Rotary Cutter

Cutting mat

Crochet hook

Sewing machine

The first thing to do is lay the two yards of contrasting fabric on top of one another and trim off the manufacturer's edge. I use a rotary cutter and a cutting mat for this. These are a little pricey unless, of course, you cut out the 50% off coupon for any item at the local fabric store! Actually, I bought all of the fleece on sale when it was 50% off too.

After trimming and lining up all of the edges, pin both pieces together and then, using a zigzag stitch or a stitch that's stretchy (my machine's zigzag doesn't work so I found this other one that works great) and stitch both pieces of fabric together. I use the cut edge of the fabric as my guide for the foot of the sewing machine. It sews about a quarter of an inch from the cut edge of the fabric.

I usually look at the fabric to see if I need to make any adjustments. Caleb's pattern was pretty random and so I didn't need to do anything special to it. Mr. Wonderful's fabric, however, was a grid of squares, so I ended up cutting off about two inches on one side so the blanket looked symmetrical (otherwise I would have had half a square running down the right side of the blanket). His blanket actually matches on both sides and along the top and bottom. I know this isn't necessary, but I just thought it made it look nicer.

The next thing I did was use a strand of embroidery floss to create ties across the blanket. This probably isn't necessary either, however, if you take this added step, it helps keep both the top and bottom of the blanket together and virtually eliminates sagging. I look for a pattern in the fabric and create the ties every few inches or so. Mr. Wonderful's blanket was very easy since I just followed the squares and created a tie at every other one.

In Caleb's blanket, each guitar was tied.

Notice my stretchy stitch!

Creating the base for the fringe is a little tricky if you don't have sharp scissors. Practice first on a couple of pieces of discarded fabric (when you cut off the manufacturer's edge) to get the hang of it. Don't make the slits too big. If your scissors aren't sharp, well, get them sharpened. Otherwise, you will become very frustrated. I know from experience!

Basically, fold over the fabric so there's about a quarter of an inch from the stitch to the fold. Carefully snip through both the top and bottom fabrics at half inch intervals. When finished, you will end up with quarter inch slits along the entire length of the top and bottom of the blanket.

This is the base for the fringe and it runs along the top and bottom of the blanket.

Now, take that extra yard of fabric and cut off the manufacturer's edge. You will want to pull on the fabric in order to determine which way it stretches. Fold the fabric in half so the stretch runs from top to bottom on the cutting mat. Next, using a straight edge, cut the fabric in 8 inch lengths. Then, using a ruler, cut each of the 8 inch lengths into one inch strips.

Are you following me so far? I think it's easier to do than to try and write here!

This is to show you what happens when you stretch the fleece. The top piece is 8 inches in length and an inch wide. When pulled, it stretches to 10 inches. If you cut the fabric 8 inches in length and a half inch wide, you can see it stretches to almost 15 inches! I have done this for fun, but have never actually created fringe this way. More so because it would take so long to make (you'd have to cut slits every quarter inch instead of every half an inch).

Using a crochet hook (this is a plastic hook that came with a pot holder kit that belonged to one of the kids) with the bottom fabric facing up, pull a stretched strip through the hole.

Just like this...

Next, pull the two ends through the loop and pull tightly creating a knot.

They line up very nicely and create a solid fringe all along the top and bottom of the blanket.

And there you have it! A fleece blanket that's very heavy and very warm.

Guaranteed to become the favorite snuggle blanket, especially on cold winter nights while watching Pride and Prejudice. Of course, you can do what I've done and make everyone their very own blanket or just make one really, really big one!

Stay warm wherever you are...