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Adding to our Menagerie

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This fall Clark’s 4th grade class did a unit on live animals, keeping and studying millipedes, frogs, and crabs. It’s definitely one of his favorite things he’s ever done in school. Well, the unit has ended and the creatures were all up for adoption. And of course he wanted some and of course we said yes.  So now we have 4 teeny tiny frogs, a bunch of millipedes, and a bunch of little crabs.  Paul was most interested in the millipedes, Clark most interested in the crabs, and I stated that they could have them and they would not be my responsibility. I thought I’d be really grossed out by the millipedes

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but then Clark took one out and it was really neat to watch it’s many little legs undulating in waves as his crawled all around.
Our new "pets"
And they are pretty when spiraled up.
Our new "pets"

The frogs are very tiny and really do nothing but kick around in their water.

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But the crabs! I found them pretty unsettling at first. There are 8 of them and they climb around and make little scratching noises against the plastic and they seemed really creepy. But then I started looking at them. They have eye stalks!! And put their little pincers around the stalks (to clean them?) and don’t cut them off!
Our new "pets"
And you can see them putting things in their mouth!
There are two males, very distinguishable by their gigantic left claw. They are so uneven looking!
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Doesn’t it look like this one has a bowtie? Or a smile?
Our new "pets"
I’m really enjoying watching them go in their water and do what looks to human eyes like taking a bath. But you know who really loves them? The cat.

2014-11-20 21.05.34It’s hard to get a good picture of the crabs-they are very alarmed by the camera near them and they skitter about very quickly. I hope to get some better pictures of the millipedes, too.



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Can you feel yourself falling into the holiday season yet? We’re just one week out from Thanksgiving (still don’t know what I’m making), and while I have my awesome Thanksgiving decorations out,

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I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited to think about getting the house all dressed up for Christmas. I just realized today that we bought new Advent calendars at Bronner’s this summer and I can’t wait to look through the ornaments and see what else we got. Remember last year I was working on an embroidery Christmas project? Well, I’ve had it professionally framed in a beautiful burl wood frame and it is stretched and framed to perfection. I love it and look forward to hanging it.

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I’ve bought a couple of gifts already and am hard at work on a fantastic gift for someone. It’s that time of year where we show-offy crafters cannot show off pictures of our works in progress lest the recipient see the picture.
It's that time of year
Since our return from Florida I’ve been anxious to sew up Tabby’s quilt, finish binding my quilt, and other sewing projects, and just haven’t had a chance. I did make the binding for our quilt

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and machine sewed it to the front. It should just be a matter of a few hours of hand stitching. Ideally suited for evening tv time, except that I seem incapable of watching television upright.
What else has been going on? Well, we finished the soccer season with an extra cold makeup game. Everyone had a fun season, but everyone is also glad it’s over.

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I’m really missing my camera. All these phone pictures! (which just tempts me to overshare on Instagram.) I’m excited that it’s heading into the season where I love to be in my living room for a certain hour in the afternoon when the winter sunlight is perfect for curling up with a book, sewing, etc.

I’ve been very remiss in doing yardwork and our yard is not at all prepped for winter. I did pull up all the remaining carrots in the garden and it was a lot.
Heap of carrots
I’m worried about it looking w/t, but have been assured that since our car isn’t up on blocks in the front yard yet, I don’t need to worry. I’m glad we’re looking at a mild day next week so I can finally yank stuff out of the garden, hopefully get bulbs into the ground by Pippin’s grave, and a bunch of other things. In the meantime, I need to do my annual post about the garden review so that next year I’ll have my tips for myself all nicely laid out.

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Yesterday I spent the day geocaching with a couple of people, one of whom we slightly know already. It was super cold out and we spent 4 1/2 hours hiking around the Watchung Reservation. It was actually really cool and I’m so glad I went with them. In addition to experiencing new kinds of caches, and adding 10 more finds to our list, it was a historically interesting place to visit, with deserted buildings, an old copper vein, and graves from 1776 (which may be distantly related to me?? I need to do a little research.)

Finally, today we are adding to our menagerie. Clark’s class just finished a unit of study on live animals-frogs, crabs, and millipedes, and we will be taking home some of each.  I’m putting my foot down that these creatures are not my responsibility-it’s all on Paul and Clark.

It’s been so long since I’ve done a fun photo with our animals. Here’s Crookybeak, ready to take on the icy temps.

A Hat & Scarf for Crookybeak


Florida Travelogue (Part II)

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When last we left our travel story we had just finished four days at Disneyworld. We were now ready for part 2 of our trip-Universal Studios.

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(Paul’s already written all about it here and here.) Paul and I had been there once, many years ago, when it was smaller and newer and we were there as part of a library event. I only remember 2 rides from that outing.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect-in my head Universal is somehow crasser than Disney, but now they’ve got the whole Harry Potter thing. And make no mistake about it–that’s basically the entire reason we were going.  We were all super excited to see what the Harry Potter world was like, go wand shopping, and ride the Hogwart’s Express. As we watched the first 4 movies at the end of the summer it only heightened our anticipation.
When we arrived it was so immediately different than Disney-a parking garage, for starters! And you have to walk through their “Citywalk” before getting into the parks and it is a nightmare of every giant “fun” chain you’ve heard of-Margaritaville, Bubba Gump Shrimp, Hard Rock Cafe, etc. But once you make it through that gauntlet (which prompted Paul to remark “A-ha! It’s like Disney’s tacky cousin!”) you enter the park. There are two parks and we got the tickets that allowed us to go between them, so each day we spent time in both. Happily, everyone was feeling well and healthy for these last two days. That said, we couldn’t persuade Clark to go on the Revenge of the Mummy ride. The rest of us eagerly rode it (Tabby twice) and were thrilled by the effects.  And effects are definitely where Universal excelled. They have some big scary traditional roller coasters (which I was pleased Tabby was finally not tall enough for so that ended any discussion about getting on one that I was too afraid of), but they have a lot of rides that are combination roller coaster or moving seat, effects, video, and 3D video. Like Star Tours to the nth degree. Like Disney’s Hollywood Studios there were recreated sets and backdrops, and these were cool.  After the mummy ride we walked through “San Francisco” and “London” (I was charmed to see that the bookstore-just a front-was the store from 84 Charing Cross Rd (I think so since it bothered to say Charing Cross, don’t correct me if I’m wrong), which was a book and movie I really enjoyed and I wondered how many people who visited the park were excited to see that.) and then, wait! What?! Paul and I spied Springfield. As in, The Simpsons’ Springfield. Now, we knew that there was as Simpsons ride and we were psyched to ride it, but somehow had no idea that there was a whole section filled with things from The Simpsons. Like Moe’s…

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the Kwik-E-Mart…
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Lard Lad Donuts…
Jebediah Springfield’s founders statue…
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fun photo ops with Nelson…
Answer the phone, dingus. It's for you
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friendly faces like Chief Wiggums…
Springfield's finest
just hanging out with Milhouse
and DuffMan…
Duff Man!
And that’s before you even enter the giant clown’s mouth and go on Krusty’s ride.
Step right into the giant clown's mouth
Which was phenomenal and we laughed and laughed and laughed. And thrilled! You’re in a car that goes on a crazy ride through Krustyland and you really feel like you’re flying through the air, being chased by Sideshow Bob, and more. It was pretty funny because the kids really had no idea why we were so excited. Even though Paul and I are fans, they’ve never watched it yet.  It was so unexpectedly wonderful and funny that we forgot all about the main attraction-HP! Before heading over there we settled in to eat an actual Krustyburger and some fish tacos from the Bumblebee man. Fortified and delighted we went back to London to  go through the brick wall and into….Diagon Alley. And…WOW. Diagon Alley is cleverly hidden so that you can’t see it from the outside, you have to walk through an opening in a wall and then voila! there it is! You are in Diagon Alley. And you gasp in wonder because you are suddenly and truly surrounded by the magical world of Harry Potter. Gringott’s bank is in front of you with a gigantic dragon atop it, the Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes shop is to your right, Ollivander’s Wand shop is there, as are the robes shop and the bookshop, and many other shops that just storefronts with wonderful window displays and names. And while we were standing there taking it all in, to our delight and surprise (I can’t believe we didn’t know this would happen) the dragon roared and breathed fire.
Atop Gringott's

We were overcome with taking in all the details, checking out the shops, exclaiming over magical and funny things. In this section there is just one ride, and it’s a big one–Escape from Gringott’s. You enter and are immediately inside Gringott’s, complete with the troll bankers busily working on either side of you. Down you go until you are loaded into your car.  This ride was, hands down, one of the BEST RIDES I’ve ever been on. Except for the one part where our car (and it was a 4-across, which was nice for us) tipped us forward and dangled us and I shouted out “I don’t like this! i don’t like this!” (it’s the one sensation I particularly dislike in rides) it was amazing. Your car goes up and down and all around, but not a crazy roller coaster-the thrill is in the combination of that and the story playing out in combination video and other effects around you. The very best part was when a gigantic solider type thing reached out and grabbed us and threw us to the side. The soldier wasn’t real but it sure felt like it since our cart did go whirling off into space. It was exhilarating. A refreshing butterbeer was just the ticket after that.
We were all very eager to try this and it tasted like a Butterscotch Lifesaver to me. The other very exciting part of this whole experience was the wands. Ollivander’s Wands is a wand shop just like in the book. The shelves are crooked and packed with long thin boxes. They offer for sale a different wand for all the major characters, plus Ollivander’s original designs. You can also go in and watch a special wand choosing, which we did. You get taken back to a little room where the wand shop manager picks a child and basically recreates the scene in HP when Harry gets his wand. He has the child try different wands and different effects happen until music swells, a light glows and a specific wand picks the child. How thrilled were we all that Clark was the chosen?! He was so excited, it was wonderful. And of course we got him that special wand. Tabby also got one, and they were both the interactive models.
Tabby & her wand
This meant that they got a cool map that showed different locations in both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade where you could stand, cast a certain spell, and see what would happen. It was really cool and both kids loved going around and doing all the spells and seeing the results (water spurting from a fountain, a feather levitating, marionettes dancing, etc.) Speaking of Hogsmeade…this is in the other park and you can get there by riding the Hogwarts Express. We went to King’s Cross Station (looking like a regular British train station) and squeal! Went through the brick wall on Platform 9 3/4!
Platform 9 3/4
And oh look whose luggage and owl are there too!
a certain someone's luggage and owl in the train station
The train is more than meets the eye. Yes, it does take you physically over to the other park, but what’s really cool is that in each direction things actually happen looking out your window and in the corridor so that you really seem to be traveling as Harry did.
Hogwarts' Express
And then you disembark and find yourself in the magical village of Hogsmeade and it is enchanting and charming.
Clark and his wand in Hogsmeade
More shops! (See Honeydukes back there? The candyshop? Just like in the book and selling all the things mentioned in the books. You’d better believe that Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans and Chocolate Frogs were purchased.) More spells! More butterbeer!And Hogwarts itself!
By now it was evening and we were all pooped so we just had a sneak peek before taking the train back and then leaving for the day.
But we were back the next day, ready to fully explore Hogsmeade, including the Hogwarts ride. This attraction was phenomenal even if you didn’t go on the ride because you actually get to go inside Hogwarts and it’s exactly as you read in the book/see in the movie. The portraits on the walls talk, you peek into Dumbldore’s office, you see the pensieve, and Ron, Harry, and Hermione come out from under the Invisible Cloak. We really loved immersing ourselves in this magical world. Eventually we shook off the magical spell and went into the rest of the park. It felt strange going to the next section, which was based on Jurassic Park. It seemed so outdated now, and sadly empty, but wow was it a great replica of the movie.
Objects in Mirror are Closer Than they Appear
We went on the river ride and it’s a testament to how great and frightening the dinosaurs were that I forgot we were essentially on a flume ride and thus was completely startled and screamed like crazy when we went down the 85 foot plunge. There are other sections and cool rides, which Paul describes more, but I’ll just point out the strange (but pleasant) section based on comic strips. And old Sunday paper comics at that. A strange concept (what kid is going to say, “Ooh! look, it’s Mark Trail!”), but it was visually a lot of fun and there were great picture taking setups all over.
Slow down Marmaduke!

Fortunately the ride didn't really have this effect on them!


So, that was our two days at Universal Studios. We were absolutely enchanted by the world of Harry Potter and it was so much fun for us to all share in the excitement of that. (And the rest of the park was fun too.)
Despite some bumps in the road it was a great vacation. Lots of fun and lots of great memories.
my new favorite family portrait

Florida Travelogue (Part I)

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There’s so much to say about our trip that I’m going to have to break it down into sections. And would you believe Paul has beaten me to the punch by doing write ups about each of the parks over on his blog? So, we went to Florida for a week. If you’re from NJ you know that we went now because our schools always have off two days in November for the teachers’ conference. At least that’s the way it was when we were kids. But now our school district has decided to add days off for parent-teacher conferences, leaving a mere 1/2 day of school in session on Monday. As you might guess, a lot of people who want a family trip to Disneyworld go now because who can resist those days? A much less crowded time, it’s not a million degrees, it’s ideal.  We have been to Disneyworld as a family twice before. The first time was one day in Magic Kingdom. I had to go to Orlando for a work thing and we couldn’t pass up a first visit. Tabby was infant and Clark was 2. We took our first big trip when Clark was in kindergarten and Tabby was 3. It was wonderful. Tabby didn’t remember too much about that trip, so almost everything was new to her this time. I’m a big fan of Disney and believe that the parks have something to offer everyone of all ages and that if you don’t have a good time there you must be a sourpuss curmudgeon. For this trip we decided to go to Disneyworld for 4 days and Universal Studios for 2.  We were all really excited about the world of Harry Potter (we watched the first 4 movies of HP this summer) and left that for the end of our trip.

We did experience what I now think of as our usual “serendipitous vacation good luck” several times on our trip, but we had one really big bump in the vacation–both kids got sick with stomach bugs. It was pretty rough, especially on Tabby. There were a solid three days where at least one person was unable to eat/drink, weak/tired, not feeling well. And I’ll never forget having both my kids throw up right there in the parks (2 out of 4!)  However, I don’t think that’s what they’re going to remember and we ended with two days of everyone feeling marvelously healthy and energized, so that’s good.

One of the great things about this trip was how we got there and back. We flew out of our new favorite small airport, rather than Newark or Philly. It was so awesome and made the trip a breeze. Not only that, but we also flew to the smaller Orlando airport. Since we were renting a car (and even brought our audiobook with us) it was easy and efficient. We stayed at the same resort as before, which is lovely.  The pools are beautiful and even though it was actually chilly out the first couple days, we all went swimming anyway.

So, let’s get to the pictures and what we did!
Day 1: arrive, swim, a fun lunch out, settling in
a chilly swim
Day 2: Animal Kingdom.  I feel like this park gets the shaft when people talk about Disneyworld and I’m not sure why. I find it enchanting. I love the entire Indonesian section. It’s probably as close as I’ll ever get to actually visiting Tibet, India, etc and it seems authentically replicated-at least in terms of visuals. All the beauty, none of the less nice aspects!
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We enjoyed the safari and animals walks (though the Komodo dragon and bats would not come out because it was too cold for them!). We also did not experience any lines that were too long and were able to ride Dinosaur (much anticipated) twice in a row, get right on Primeval Whirl (a favorite-spinning around and going up and down and around corners), and right into It’s Tough to be a Bug (which I can remember waiting for a long time many years ago.)
tree of life
It was a beautiful day for exploring and a good choice for our first day, because I think you can enjoy it at a reasonably leisurely pace.
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At the end of the day we decided to give the big roller coast-Expedition Everest-a try.  Using a clever combo of fast passes and single riders, Paul, Tabby, and I all got to ride it twice (Clark didn’t want to go on this one.) Exhilarating and exciting with great Yeti effects, plus you go backwards through the dark for part of it. It was a wonderful end to our first day! [Paul’s write-up, which has a ride rundown.]
(Sadly, in the middle of the night Tabby woke up throwing up and continued to do so all night long.)

Day 3: We had planned to do Epcot in the morning and evening, leaving the afternoon for hanging out at our hotel. We did end up going in the morning, though not too early, after Tabby felt up to going out. Clark’s most looked forward to think at Epcot was going on Spaceship Earth.
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I’m not sure why, other than it is pretty cool to go into that ball and it is iconic. So we got online to do it first thing. Unfortunately Tabby threw up on line. Paul and Clark did end up loving the attraction and all it had to offer while Tabby and I rested in a comfortable spot.  After a while and some scrapings of a frozen lemonade she perked up considerably and we set off to explore the World Showcase. We participated in a Phineas & Ferb secret agent mission, which was pretty cool. We explored a little, had wonderful snacks in Norway (but were bummed that the Maelstrom ride has been removed to make way for a Frozen attraction) and then left the park to swim and relax for the afternoon.

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We returned in the evening, but it really wasn’t quite as good as we’d hoped it would be. Our luck was not with us this time (see Paul’s description) and I’ve concluded that as much as the Illuminations show is fantastic, Epcot is really more fun in the daytime.

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We did happen to be there during the International Food & Wine Festival, which meant that in addition to the usual fare from around the world there were over a dozen new small booths featuring rather fancy foods from around the world. Delicious small bites that, had everyone been healthy & hungry, we probably would have sample more of. As it was, the things we did try were amazing.

Day 4: Magic Kingdom. Tabby was much better, just a little tired still, but excited and ready to explore the star attraction–Magic Kingdom.

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castle shot
We did a lot here, though we just didn’t get around to exploring the new section of Fantasyland, as I’d hoped we would. But who cares because we had the best time ever riding Splash Mountain two times in a row and Big Thunder Railroad twice, going on Space Mountain, and soaking in all the magical details. Boy do we ever love trying on ears and hats and stuff in the gift shops. ARggh! It’s Pirates of the Caribbean!

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Tabby finally chose the ears she wanted and looked so sweet in them.
prettiest mouse ears ever

Clark got his giant turkey leg.
Official snack #2 of WDW: a giant turkey leg
Again, we did not stay for any nighttime performances or fireworks, but we did catch the end of a parade and saw the castle lit up, which was sufficient. We don’t usually get the pictures they take of you going down rides (but love to see them at the end), but we couldn’t resist these since our trips on Splash Mountain were so especially wonderful and a terrific end to the day. [Here’s what Paul had to say.]

MK_SPLASH_7092783981 MK_SPLASH_7092783982

Unfortunately…that night Clark is the one who was throwing up in the middle of the night. He seemed to rally more quickly than Tabby and we were able to go to Hollywood Studios by midmorning. This is probably my second favorite of the parks.
@ Hollywood Studios

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I absolutely love how they’ve created the film noir days of Hollywood.  We took it pretty easy, strolling around, sitting for the long Indiana Jones stunt spectacular (which I’d never seen and I do love those movies), enjoying the Muppet 3D-vision (it never gets old), and playing around in the Honey I Shrunk the Kids play area.
sniff, sniff
My top two attractions at this park are Star Tours and Hollywood Tower of Terror. I would have happily ridden Star Tours several times, but Clark didn’t feel too great after one time and so we stuck together. This has been revamped since I was last on it, and it’s great.
This Stormtrooper's got his eye on Clark
We also went to see the Beauty and the Beast stage show, which is wonderful, and Tabby adored it. And we had planned on skipping it, but there was just enough time for my little thrill seeker and I to go on the Tower of Terror. Oh my gosh, I love this ride so much. The backstory! The setting! The insane drop of the elevator! It’s awesome. Here’s me and Tabby making our anticipated scared face while we waited:

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[And here’s Paul’s Hollywood Studios rundown. You might be surprised that we write different things about all this! ]Basically what I love about Disney and what so impresses me, is the attention to detail. In nooks and crannies all over the parks you’ll find things that complete the illusions that you really are in some back alley of NYC, in a store in 1940s Hollywood, in a fairytale, and so on. Someone remarked to me that she was surprised our family likes Disney so much given that we like “literature” so much. I thought that was kind of strange because can’t I love books and literature and rides too? But anyway, the other thing I love about Disney, is that it is a place that rewards and celebrates imagination and creativity. And I feel like in most people’s daily lives it’s hard to find that. In fact, I often feel that people put down creativity and imagination (the old “you have way too much time on your hands to do that” insult) and it’s nice to be somewhere you can truly be wrapped up in it.

We had a wonderful time! Disneyworld, I love you and you are loads of fun! (post Space Mountain ride. Btw, if you are ever on a thrill ride with me, be forewarned-I’m a screamer! I love to scream and laugh hysterically as I am whizzed about up and down, around corners, and dropped.)

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Stay tuned for Part II, in which  will tell all about what an especially magical time we had at Universal Studios.

(It was a) Happy Halloween

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“Hey! Halloween was over a week ago and now we’re thinking about Thanksgiving!” you’re saying. True, true, but this year we took off on a vacation just a few hours after Halloween, so no post about it until now. (And mega vacation post coming up.) So, we had a terrific fun-filled Halloween. This year Tabby dressed up as a gorgeous regal Queen. I like to say that specifically she was Mary, Queen of Scots. Here she is in her school parade.
Halloween 2014
And, posing with Clark’s axe as she is a beheading queen. A photo-op for Uncle Tim.
Halloween 2014
For Clark’s school parade he was King Tut, a costume he had most of the elements for from his Egyptian Art camp this summer. He looked great.
Halloween 2014
His evening costume was a Viking, complete with much weaponry and a big fur vest I made him.
Halloween 2014
I dressed up a bit to watch the kids’ parades (I love it that so many parents do!)
Halloween 2014
And in the evening for trick-or-treating Paul wore a fantastic red metallic devil mask that Clark and I picked up at CVS the day before, and then had him wearing his Devils jersey and carry a hockey stick. Get it? The Jersey Devil? But also, a Jersey Devil?
Halloween 2014
Trick-or-treating was a blast, as usual. It really is the most festive night of the year in our little town.  And when we were done we came home, sorted the candy, packed the carry on bags, put the suitcases by the door, and went to bed. We woke up early and headed off to…Florida!

Quilting, Piecing, Stitching

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I’m so excited-yesterday I picked up my quilt from the long-arm quilter lady! I am absolutely thrilled with how it looks. First of all, I’m pleased to say that my worries about feeling like it would be less of my own quilt were totally put to rest. When I saw it I remembered how much I liked designing it and putting it together, and the quilting she did for me just enhanced it. She chose an all-over rose design to complement the roses in most of the fabrics. It looks amazing.
BIrdhouse in My Soul--Quilted!
This is also the first thing I’ve made that has been this densely quilted and it’s really neat to feel how flat it is.
BIrdhouse in My Soul--Quilted!
Neatest of all is that since I backed it in muslin and she quilted it in light blue thread, the design shows up perfectly on the back! The design is also really apparent in the dark blue border.  In some places the roses just happen to perfectly fill a block.
BIrdhouse in My Soul--Quilted!
I can’t wait to get this finished and on our bed.  I need to make the binding and then put that on, but that should only be a matter of a few days stitching.

In the meantime I’ve made great headway on the Wee Wander quilt.
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I’ve completed 35 blocks to make it 5×7. After some gentle persuasion I got Tabby to see that it would look better this way than with the panel in the center, as we’d originally planned. (not all blocks pictured here):

20141021_153216Instead we will make a matching pillowcase out of the panel (which I still need to order, but fortunately there are plenty of yards currently in stock at Hawthorne Threads.) I’m really pleased with each and every block and am looking forward to figuring out the perfect arrangement for them.
Wee wander, coming along

I’ve really been trying to work on and finish up projects on my creative list, so here’s one little embroidery piece that I completed this week. I’m going to hang it on Tabby’s wall:
Finally finished this little embroidery piece. #unicorn #embroidery

It’s the Great Pumpkin!

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This weekend we did my favorite fall activity-visited the pumpkin patch. Apple picking is fun and scenic, but the pumpkin outing has become an absolute tradition for us. Mostly because it’s the only “annual photo” we do. Ever since Clark was 3 months old we’ve taken his (and subsequently Tabby’s) picture in front of the “How Tall this Fall?” sign at Norz Farms. (Yes, this sign is at other farms too! I guess there’s a big supplier of all the farm cutouts and signs.) My how they’ve grown:

mosaic howtall clark


mosaic howtall tabby

And every year I remind us all of the year we visited and Tabby was just one week away from being born.
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And now, here we are:2014-10-25 17.11.48

It was a nice time of day to go-late afternoon and the sunshine was made the pumpkins such a bright orange. We had a good time picking out what we wanted. Clark went for a huge pumpkin, while I went for a small interestingly shaped one that I thought would make a good head.
Take a bite out of...

Father Daughter Pumpkins

Family Portrait in the Field (with camera perched atop two stacked pumpkins)
Afterwards we ate popcorn and carved our pumpkins, lit the resultant jack-o-lanterns, and then watched It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. It was pretty picture perfect. (And more than made up for the meh apple picking outing.)
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