Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Trains and the Woods

We are a camping family. It's not that we don't have other interests, or that we spend every weekend camping (though we might if that were possible), but more that it's our default happy place. When there's an opportunity for time off or a vacation, we always think of camping first. I daydream sometimes about travel to exciting destinations (I love roller coasters, for example), or far away places (I very much want to see Australia and Scotland, among others), but if you ever ask me what I want to do for a vacation I always say camping. 

There are certain special places I go back to over and over again (more about those another day), but I also love to try out new spots. I'm very lucky in that I married a man who loves camping as much as I do, and we're doubly lucky that Max loves it right along with us. If you just mention that there's a camping trip coming up it's all he can do to think of anything else (even trains!) until it's time to go. We do mostly car camping these days, but we've got our setup and clean up down to under an hour, which is pretty decent. 

He's quite the little camping helper by now too. He helps set up tents, collect firewood, pack and unpack the car, digs firepits, carries water, etc. He also seems to behave better while camping, which is a pleasant bonus. One of his favorite parts of camping it all the dirt. Max really loves digging in dirt, and it's wonderfully convenient when camping. 

A few weekends ago we set off into Washington state for a weekend of camping, with a train bonus in the middle. I picked a new spot for us, Middle Fork Campground, and boy was it gorgeous. The campground is a good 10 miles down a winding dirt road, so you really feel off into nowhere. It's on a beautiful river and we're hoping to head back later this summer to fish there since we didn't bring the poles this trip. 

Camping is fun in and of itself, but I also love that it helps Max love nature and animals and bugs and trees and really want to take care of them all. He's very conscientious about how we can take care of the planet so there will always be camping, and wants to rehome any bugs we disturb, for example. We also have a family clean up tradition for when we're leaving. We clean up everything we brought, try to erase that we were there, then everyone has to collect 10 pieces of trash so that it's a little cleaner than when we got there. Max takes it pretty seriously, which I love. 

Max and Matt goofin' off in the forest. 

It's not really camping without s'mores.

Enjoying the fire they built. 

Playing in the trees. 

Hugging a tree before we leave. 

But the weekend wasn't only about camping this time. Max loves camping, but he might love trains a bit more. He's been a devoted train fanatic since he was about 18 months. This was our 4th year at the Day Out With Thomas, and he loves it as much as ever. The train ride itself, certainly, but also all of the train-related activities are a major source of happiness. We've gotten into model trains a bit at home now, which only made him more fascinated by the set-ups at the show. And of course the beautiful view of Snowqualamie Falls from Thomas' boxcar is hard to beat. Then we got to finish the day with more camping! Max was over the moon.
In line for Thomas with tickets in hand. 

Couldn't be happier than on a train in the woods. 

Watching the models and taking notes.

What are your kiddos' favorite adventures? Any more camping addicts out there?


Monday, July 29, 2013

Interview time! with Dot of Busted Button

Happy Monday, folks!
Today we are fortunate to share our space with Dot Falcon of Busted Button. For those who
haven't heard of Dot yet, let me give you the low-down: She is equal parts talented and
lovely & creates not only sweet handmade jewelry but these amazing button paintings that
utilize so much vibrancy and life it'll make your head pop off, or at least put a big ol' smile
on your face. 
I first meet Dot when she donated this amazing peice to Aria's Elephant Fundraiser and I was
instantly hooked!
Sweet Ele piece by Dot
 Dot was kind enough to answer some questions that have been simmering in my brain for a bit.
Grab a cup of joe and enjoy! - Lesley.
Tansy Dolls: Good morning, Dot! So let's start from the beginning - As a child, what did you wish
to become when you grew up?
Dot: I loved slugs and bugs, so I wanted to be an entomologist, but I also wanted to be an artist.
Dot's two loves, art & entomology, had a baby and it's this awesome necklace!
Tansy Dolls: Tell us about your background. What path led you to the work you do today? 
Dot: I am the 2nd oldest of 10 children, born to my very creative parents! In our house, creating
things happened more than playing with toys or watching T.V.

Tansy Dolls: What does a typical day at work look like for you?
Dot: On a typical day, you will find me sitting at the computer with a baby at my boob, while
I take an order or share an idea with my lovely internet friends. Then you'll find me creating a
project with a toddler hanging onto my leg, or you may catch me packing up orders with another
kid climbing on my back.

Dot with her newest creation, the beautiful Flora.
Tansy Dolls: I love that you include your kids in your creative process, they are lucky little kiddos
to have so much art and beauty as a priority in their home. What's your favorite thing that you
have made?
Dot: Other than my offspring, my favorite creation would have to be one of my button tree paintings,
Nuclear Beauty. I also love a very strange painting I did, called 'Lonely Roma', which features an
uncomfortable tomato in a bathtub.
Nuclear Beauty by Dot Falcon
 Tansy Dolls: What are your dreams for the future of Busted Button?
Dot: I have two dreams for Busted Button- firstly, I would love to have enough ordersthat this little
business could support my family with our crazy dynamics. Because we have a million children,
including two with special needs, it is difficult to find work that is flexible around therapy schedules
andwhatnot. And secondly, I would LOVE to get to the point where I could hire other mamas who
want to work from home. I would love to have them take on the jewelry side of the business, doing
something they love, while getting paid AND being tackled by children at the same time.
Tansy Dolls: Love it! That is a dream of Tansy Dolls too, to create work for other SAHMamas.
Is there a special place that inspires you? 
Dot: Pinterest. On my phone. In the bathroom.
Tansy Dolls: Hah, totally! Your home office? ;) What product or offers are you the most excited
about in your shop right now? 
Dot: My Four Seasons Button Tree painting, and my giant cockroach necklace.
Four Seasons painting by Dot
(Dot is also having a 25% off sale in her etsy shop right now until Sat, with the code:  25OFF)
Woo hooo!
Tansy Dolls: Do you have any advice for those just getting into selling handmade?
Dot: Be yourself, do what you are passionate about, and try to connect with people in a
meaningful way. Try not to make your vision about money, or popularity, because you
will get discouraged. My friend's favorite verse is "Don't despise these humble beginnings."
and there is so much truth in that. I think everyone hopes to get rich quick or make a lot of
sales, but even when the start is slow, it is all part of growing a business! Kind of like a
garden. I spent so many years that I wasn't able to pursue this many creative endeavors
planning, testing and creating my jewelry and artwork. At the time it felt slow and
sometimes meaningless, but it turns out that necklace I made for my grad, or the painting
I threw away because I was embarrassed - led to what is happening now!
Amazing custom work by Busted Button!
Tansy Dolls: Any favorite inspirational quotes?
Dot: Well, thanks to Facebook, I am overloaded with them daily, and my latest fave would
have to be by John Trainer, who said, "Children are not a distraction from more important
work. They are the most important work." 
Tansy Dolls: What handmade shops or artists' work are you admiring right now?
Dot: SO MANY, but I'll share my top three: Firstly, I love Penguin and Owl Acres- I can't
wrap my mind around how much talent it takes to sculpt something so perfect out of wool!
Secondly, I adore Happy Yellow Dress (not just because my twin sister is the designer!)
She makes the most beautiful, vintage-inspired dresses! And finally, for natural products,
like face masks, salves and deodorant I am obsessed with Wildside. OH! And I have to
mention Dick&Jane Cloth diapers! They are so unique and such good quality.
Here are those links:
penguin and owl:
happy yellow dress:
dick and jane:
wildside naturals:

Tansy Dolls: One last question for ya, Dot, what is your fave thing to make for other people?
One of my personal faves by Dot
Dot: My favorite things to create for other people are the custom paintings. Whether it's to
decorate the nursery of a soon-to-arrive baby, or to honor a bride and groom, or someone
who has passed away, I feel so honored to be a part of creating something so meaningful.
Thank you so much, Dot! Your work is so beautiful and inspiring, thanks for taking the
time to share a little bit about yourself with us today!

Dot of Busted Button is graciously offering a GIVEAWAY!!! Please visit her fb page to
answer a question from today's interview and be included in a drawing to win a $40 (wow!!!!)
credit to her etsy shop!

We love you, Dot! Go check out her shop and go win yourself some Busted Button magic - goodluck!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Thick with Plums

I am doubly lucky when it comes to fruit. I have that beautiful cherry tree in my front yard, and an awesome plum tree in the back. When we moved here I knew about the cherries, but the plums were a pleasant surprise. Last year there were a fair amount - enough to eat and gift several pounds. But this year there was a plum explosion. They grew in so thick they look more like bunches of grapes.

I'm not positive what kind they are, but from reading it looks like they're Victorias. Anyway, they're tiny but sweet and delicious. And plentiful. Really really plentiful. I've enlisted help with the picking and processing. Here's my sister Cary helping me pick.

The one real drawback is that the plums are not free stone ones, so getting the pits out of all those tiny buggers takes quite a while. That and the sheer mass of them. So far, I've pulled more than 90 pounds of plums out of that tree and there's a ton more up there. What does one do with 90 pounds of plums? Quite a bit.

So far, I've started 6 gallons of plum wine, made 20 pints of plum jam, 10 pints of party plum jam, and 3 dozen or so plum fruit leathers. I've also eaten more than a few and given them away by the pound. My mom and sister also made some delicious plum chutney. There's probably another 100 pounds up there, so the real question is whether I'll be able to get them picked and processed before they go bad.

Plums! Anyone have ideas for what else I should make? And what I should do with all this jam?


Friday, July 19, 2013

Raising a Resilient Child

I have a great kid, brilliant really.  She is amazing.  Smart, inquisitive, compassionate, spunky, creative...and when I say creative, I mean creative.  I know that I'm her mom and well...I might be a tad biased, but I am not entirely sure I've ever met a soul as unique as Aria.

Yes, that is a Willie Nelson shirt. :)
I think creativity and imagination are wonderful things.  Truly.  I wouldn't want Aria to be anything other than the beautiful and creative little soul that she is, but I also think that her creativity comes with some heavy burdens.  She feels things so intensely.  She holds herself to impossibly high standards. She frets and she worries constantly. I find myself failing more often than not when I try to sooth her concerns.  And I feel helpless. But the worst is when I find myself feeling angry at her.  Angry because she is on her upteenth meltdown over what appears to me to be something of little significance. Angry because my life has been a practice in being laid-back and invisible and Aria forces me daily into visibility with her loudness and her discontent.  Angry because while I never had delusions that parenting would be easy, sometimes it is just so hard.  But anger leads to feelings of guilt and inadequacy, which leads to more helplessness...*sigh* which leads to more anger.  Its a vicious cycle and Aria deserves better.

So here we are. I have to find a way to help her manage her fears, her concerns, her worries.  I have to learn how to manage my own emotions to her fears, her concerns, her worries so I can be the mother she deserves.

I put out a plea for help on a closed Facebook page.  When I call out for help, its a sign that I'm at my wit's end already and that I've tried multiple things to no avail.  I got some interesting advice, some book recommendations, and whatnot, but one thing in particular stood out to me. Somebody mentioned a resiliency program for children to help them learn to weather the inevitable difficulties of life.  So I did research and I bought some books.

These books in particular:
From L to R: The Optimistic Child appears to be written by a psychologist whose work is the basis for many resiliency programs for children, Freeing Your Child from Negative Thinking has some pretty good reviews that hail it as very practical, Socially Strong Emotionally Secure is supposed to be full of activities to help build resiliency.
So far, what I've read speaks to me.  I'll report back on the books for those interested.  In the meantime, if you are curious about this notion of helping children develop resiliency, I did find this website for the program Reaching in...Reaching out. They have a lot of information, including a free handbook.

For those of you that have been there and done that, I'd love to hear any tips you may have.




Wednesday, July 17, 2013

2 Dairy-Free Gluten-Free Desserts to Die For

I know I've mentioned it before, but we have some food intolerances in my family. The biggest are that my husband is lactose intolerant, and my mom is gluten intolerant. At big family meals this provides certain challenges. We do lots of meals with tons of dishes so people can just opt out of a few and still have a full plate. But my specialty is desserts. Since flour, butter, and milk are pretty main components in a lot of desserts, I've been getting more creative about finding substitutes.

Now, one strategy that works well for me is to make 2 desserts - one dairy-free and one gluten-free. That way everyone has something and some people get choices. But I always feel bad about it, and prefer when everyone can have a bit of everything. So for a recent gathering I decided to try for 2 desserts that were both safe for everyone. I decided on chocolate mousse and lemon bars. Yum!

For the lemon bars, I followed this recipe from The Baking Beauties (a great gluten-free cooking blog). I used Bob's Red Mill gluten free all purpose flour substitute instead of their particular ratios, and had to use Earth Balance in place of the butter to keep it lactose-free, but otherwise didn't change anything. They were very well received and eaten up quickly! I think I'll experiment with making them gooier next time, as I really think lemon bars should be a gooey mess, but otherwise I really like them.

For the chocolate mousse, I just followed the classic recipe, as it is already lactose and and gluten free. This is the one I'm going to show you, as it can look a little intimidating if you've never made it before.

14 oz. dark chocolate (70% cacao or more)
8 eggs at room temperature
1/2 cup rum
1/2 cup dark coffee
1/2 tsp salt

*This is a recipe big enough for a whole dinner party, but it's easy to halve for a smaller batch.

A recipe that starts like this must be good, right? Melt the dark chocolate with the rum and coffee in a double boiler over med-low heat. Don't let it burn! Way better to have it take a while that to have to toss if because the chocolate burnt! Also, this dessert gets its flavor from the chocolate, to spring for something good. I went with Ghirardelli for this batch. It should look nice and smooth like this:

Now you'll want to separate your eggs. This is classic french recipe, and they didn't always worry about the safety of raw eggs. To be clear: this recipe does not cook the eggs, so if you're at all concerned be sure to buy pasteurized eggs (though make sure they're the kind that will whip up ok). Don't the yolks look pretty like this? Almost like a flower. 

Stir the yolks into the melted chocolate mixture. This doesn't look totally appealing, but ignore that and keep with it. Once combined, set this aside. 

Time to whip all those egg whites! Add the salt, then beat on high until very stiff. Egg whites will beat to high volume better at room temperature. Don't overdo it, but make sure they're glossy and foamy like this. 

Now we'll fold them into the chocolate mixture. Here's a video on folding if you're worried about it. 

Just remember it takes time to do it without the eggs deflating. Don't give in and stir! Keep folding!

Finally, it will look nice and smooth with only a few little egg bubbles. Now just pour it into individual containers and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Top with fresh fruit, whipped cream, fruit puree, or eat plain!

I'd love to have beautiful finished product pictures for you, but it was all inhaled pretty quick and I'm afraid the camera was rather forgotten. I hope these are as big a hit at your house as they were at mine!


Friday, July 12, 2013

Picture Friday

Hah!  Okay so I totally realized today that not only did I miss last Friday's post but that it was indeed Friday today and I had nothing ready to go.  Whoops.  Its been busy over here.  Between prepping for the course I teach, working on a big research project for the Oregon Health Authority, bringing more Tansy Dolls to life, and working on our Comic Con costumes, well, life has been a little hectic.  So today I bring you pictures from last week.  If you follow all the photos until the end, you'll see a sneak peak of Aria with her white hair extensions for her Rogue cosplay.


So the headband is too big and the wrong color but I think the hair extensions look pretty good.  Once I get her leotard, gloves, and jacket made I think there will be no mistaking who she is supposed to be.  :)
Alright, next week, hopefully I have a real blog post for you.  :)  If you want something fun to do Saturday July 13, 2013, stop by the Mississippi Street Fair.  Tansy Dolls will be there! 


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Meeting Some Friendly Alpacas

We had a fabulous camp-out last weekend. Perhaps I'll get back to posting about that next week, but today I need to gush about the alpacas we met on the way home.
Marquam Hill Ranch alpacas
Personality to spare! Love these guys!
On Sunday, after breakfast, packing up, and a last minute treasure hunt written by the kiddos, we decided we just had to stop for the Open House at Marquam Hill Ranch on the way home. So Lesley, Stella, my mom Julie, Ron, Max and I got to meet the cuties while we let our hubbies relax and watch sleeping Ever.

We pulled up and were met at the front of the barn by Jennifer, who took us out to the paddocks to meet the fuzzy friends. They'd recently been sheared, so looked less teddy-bear than usual, but still wicked cute. One Mama alpaca in particular, Jayden, was especially friendly. She came right over to meet us and we all got some nice snuggles. Her baby, Jaywin, came over to meet us too. The adults got to take turns holding him once we convinced him not to nibble Mom's hat.
alpaca dam
Lesley, Jayden, and Cady.

kids hugging mama alpaca
Max and Stella giving Jayden a double cuddle.

baby alpaca face off
Julie and Jaywin face off. Ultimately, he let Mom keep her hat.

baby alpaca cuddles
Jaywin was very indulgent about being passed around. He was so sweet!

hay feeding in barn
This guy was cracking me up by helping himself to some hay over the edge of his stall. Stella decided to give him a hand (with the approval of the owners, of course).

We also got to tour the barn and learned a lot about how they care for these beauties. Our last stop was the gift shop where I immediately started to drool. If you've never felt alpaca fiber you're missing out. It's soft and silky and beautiful. Marquam Hill Ranch has a ton of beautiful gifts made from Alpaca yarn, as well as fiber for felting and spinning.
Some of the gorgeous items in the gift shop. 

alpaca fleece toy
Max completely fell in love with this guy. I totally understand - he was so soft it was like petting liquid silk.

dyed alpaca roving fleece

I love spinning with alpaca fleece, and couldn't resist picking some up. They even have some separated by the alpaca they came from, so I could really pick the perfect look and feel. And I couldn't resist some yummy colored blend too. You'll be seeing some of this gorgeous fiber turned into hair for the dolls over the next few months. Exciting!
sorted alpaca fleece
Choose your fiber by the animal!

david's tamar alpaca fleece
This is the one I chose. We're going to dye it ourselves - I'll be sure to post pics!

It was really fun to get the tour and made a wonderful ending to a super fun weekend. Hope all your summers are going as great as mine!


Wednesday, July 3, 2013

A Bounty of Cherries

I am lucky enough to have a big beautiful cherry tree in my front yard. It was harvest time a couple weeks ago and we were in cherry heaven. The only tricky part is that the tree is frikin' huge! My mom came over to help me bring in what we could. This mostly involves getting as high up as we can, then pulling branches down to where we can reach them. Here's me in a tree:

We started out on a ladder, but quickly switched to picking via Westie. This involved mom standing on top of her VW Westfalia and me pulling branches down into range. Here's a look at how big the tree is. The Westie is a good 7' tall, and mom's another 5'6", so the tree looks about 40' high. I think we probably managed to pick the bottom half.

That was a lot of cherries. I mean A LOT. Here's what my sink looked like after I had given away a whole bunch.

Mom was very nice - she let me pay her for her time in cherries:

Max was a trooper - he helped me pit about half of them before he got bored and went off to play.

We ate an awful lot of them just plain. Then I pulled out my awesome dehydrator. I did about 6 trays of just dried cherries. These are destined for granola bars, trail mix, muffins, etc. Yum!

I did another 6 trays of cherry fruit leather. You can do these without a dehydrator too - just spread your puree on a baking sheet lined in parchment paper and dry in a very low oven until it's no longer sticky.

Finally, I had enough cherries left for a big batch of raspberry-cherry jelly. So now my cherry binge is ebbing and I'm keeping an eye on the super-laden plum tree out back. Delicious!

All the wonderful fruit is one of my favorite things about summer. Oh, and water fun! What's been great in your summer so far? Have you checked out the giveaway we have going on right now? Just head over to our Facebook Page to join in!