Friday, November 26, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving from Our House to Yours!

This year, Lars and Anders were charged with the task of creating a Thanksgiving centerpiece.  I was expecting a turkey of some sort -- I printed a photo of a wild turkey off the internet and suggested construction paper, pine cones, and other craft supplies as mediums for consideration.  The boys were up in the toy room for hours, and they did build a turkey out of K-Nex (kind of like Tinkertoys), but they also surprised us with this Lego creation.  How cool is that?  If Luke Skywalker, Indiana Jones, Darth Vader, Yoda and Dr. Octopus can all set aside their differences and come together to break bread and give thanks, there's hope for the Universe yet.  Oh, and they are grilling their turkey, by the way -- Lars says that Darth Vader is manning the barbecue. 

Although I felt like I was playing catch-up for the last week, we did manage to pull off our traditional Ridiculously Complicated Feast this year, thanks to Bernie taking on more of the advance preparation than usual.  There were: Spiced Pecans, Roasted Turkey with Apple Cider Thyme Gravy; Wild Rice, Spiced Pecan & Apple Stuffing; Whipped Yukon Gold Potatoes with Horseradish; and Cranberry Citrus Compote (all from the October 1998 issue of Fine Cooking magazine, and reappearing on our Thanksgiving table every year since), and the Cinnamon Molasses Pumpkin Pie with Pecan Crust from the December 1999 issue of Bon Appetit, also a family ritual.  We skipped the Buttercup Squash Soup this year and tried out two new vegetable recipes instead, a Pomegranate-Balsamic Glazed Carrots (a keeper) and a Green Beans with Crispy Pancetta, Mushrooms & Shallots (not so much), both from the September 2009 issue of Fine Cooking.  Place cards are courtesy of Lars-of-Ours.

We learned some important lessons this year, such as that Harris Teeter closes at 2 PM on Thanksgiving Day, Food Lion closes at 3 PM, but Bi-Lo is open until 7 PM.  We also learned that it is best to provide more spousal supervision when it comes to Thanksgiving grocery shopping, so that no one would have to go racing out to the store for horseradish on Thanksgiving Day in the first place.

Notes to Myself for Next Year:
  1. Stop being such a baby about the pie crust.  It's not as big a deal as you think it is, and the homemade pecan pie crust is definitely worth the effort.
  2. It would be better if guests didn't arrive until after the bird is in the oven, when I've transformed back to my human self.
  3. Don't forget to plan a light lunch for Thanksgiving Day.
  4. Did you order Christmas cards yet?!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

One Designer Fearlessly Battles an Onslaught of Discontinued Fabrics & Trims

Ugh.  That's it; ugh!!  The Great Recession is wreaking havoc in the design industry.  It's not just a question of clients not wanting to buy anything -- even when you have clients wanting to place orders, you have to deal with an unprecedented epidemic of discontinued, unobtainable fabrics and trims.  Fabric and trim mills are going out of business all over the world, and no one wants to keep stock of anything but the most popular, most ordinary fabrics in their inventory so back orders and lead times are out of control.

If you missed my post back in August about how I'm having a discontinued fabric recreated through custom embroidery for a client's master bath project, you can read about it here.  Then in September, I showed you the first stitched sample of the custom embroidered motif on our drapery fabric here.  I selected a darker embroidery thread color in shinier rayon instead of polyester thread and asked the digitizer to make some changes in the way the computerized embroidery machine stitches out the design, and I just got the revised sample in yesterday's mail from the embroiderer.  Much better!

Discontinued fabric on top, two most recent samples of custom embroidery below
I'm very pleased with the way the design is looking now.  The puckering has been virtually eliminated, our thread color is an exact match to the chocolate brown velvet trim, and our new design has better thread coverage and more of a three-dimensional quality than the original design had.  It looks like a beautifully stitched custom monogram motif, exactly what I expected when I hired Richards Jarden of Embroidery Arts to digitize the design for me.  I'm going to give the embroiderer, Kadire Biberaj of European Design, the okay to proceed with embroidering the silk yardage with the revised design.

However, no sooner do I figure out how to get around this discontinued fabric crisis than a discontinued trim rears its ugly head and tries to sabotage another favorite design!  Remember the amazing game room project that I'm working on recreating for the same client, whose home is being rebuilt and remodeled in the wake of a summer house fire? 

Original Game Room Drapery Treatment, Pre-Disaster

We reordered the exact same fabrics and trims for this room back in late August, and the distinctive metallic wrapped bead trim from Kravet was supposed to be a current pattern, just backordered.  I need 45 yards of this stuff for the lead (inside vertical) edges of all the drapery panels in this room, as well as for the horizontal bottom edge of the little door valance. 

Fabricut black silk velvet for drapery panels, graphic woven cornice fabric from Lee Jofa
I waited and waited, and when I called to check on the backorder status I was told that this particular trim had been sourced from a trim mill in South Africa that had gone out of business.  Kravet was looking for another mill to supply the trim, and once they had approved samples from the new trim, my order could be produced and shipped.  Then last week I got the call of doom from Kravet informing me that they cannot find another trim mill with the capability to produce this trim, and it is discontinued.  Period.  Have a nice day.  May we suggest your grandmother's silk tassel fringe instead?

This was not an easy trim to substitute, and I spent days searching every source I could think of.  Then I stumbled across this Stroheim & Romann metallic wrapped bead trim that turns out to have come from the exact same South African trim mill as the original trim -- but Stroheim still has enough of this trim in stock for my project:

Now, how cool is that?!  No, we don't have the black and cream header anymore, but I like the larger, more elongated bronze wrapped beads even better than the squatty little beads on the original trim.  Also, since the replacement furniture that has been ordered for this room is even more contemporary than the original furnishings, eliminating the black and cream chevron tape will result in a cleaner, sleeker window treatment.  The new trim is going to be sewn in-seam this time instead of top applied to the edges of the drapery panels, so the header braid will be completely hidden in the seam allowance and nothing will show except the beads.  It will look something like this:

That red silk fabric is for several throw pillows that will be scattered on the big, black sectional for splashes of color.

Come on, Discontinued Dragon!  Bring it on!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Good Dog, Carl: German Rottweilers are On My Mind

Hulda, female from Guardian Rottweilers
Okay, so I'm not rushing out to buy a puppy today, or tomorrow, or even next month.  No crazy puppy-for-Christmas schemes are hatching in my mind.  But my husband and I have been discussing adding a dog to our household off and on for the last few months, and we're leaning heavily towards a Rottweiler.

Me &Byron in 1998 (nope, that's not my natural haircolor, either!)
It has been a long time since we have had a dog in our household.  Our last dog was a Golden Retriever named Byron Fussy that I had impulsively purchased at a puppy store while still in college, and he exhibited all of the health issues that are so common with irresponsibly bred "puppy mill" dogs: severe hip displasia and arthritis that rendered him lame after even a brief, leisurely walk around the neighborhood, extreme thunderstorm anxiety that had him racing around the house in a panic every time it stormed, trying to jump through windows to escape (even after we'd given him the doggy Valium prescribed by the vet), skin problems, digestive problems requiring special dogfood.  He even lacked some of the major breed characteristics that Golden Retrievers are supposed to have: he refused to go in the water, and didn't want to retrieve anything.  If we threw a ball or a frisbee, he'd turn his head to follow the path of the object and then look back at us as if to say, "I'm not your errand boy; get your own ball if you want it!"  Despite his issues and shortcomings, however, we loved Byron Fussy and cared for him faithfully for over twelve years.  It was difficult to lose him, and with two small children in diapers at the time, we didn't rush out to buy another dog.  We've been a dogless household for the last seven years.

So, why now, and why a Rottweiler? 

1. Well, for one thing, Bernie travels a lot for business.  The boys are in second grade and fourth grade, so they are not as hands-on, high-maintenance as they were when they were in diapers, and they are in school all day long.  Although I do work full time, I work from home -- and it's quiet here when Bernie's out of town.  It would be nice to have the company of a dog during the day. 

2. Secondly, when Bernie's not traveling, he also works from home.  The dog would very infrequently be left alone, since one or the other of us is almost always at the house.  I used to hate having to leave Byron Fussy alone day after day when we left for work, but we have a lot more to offer a dog now than we did back then in terms of the time and attention we could invest in the dog.

3. There have been a lot of break-ins in the area over the past year.  A few weeks ago, a car with a couple of men in it were scoping out our house while I was here alone, parked outside in the cul-de-sac, discussing and pointing, then drove away only to return 20 minutes later and park and again apparently discussing how to break in.  I stepped out onto the front steps so they could see me, my heart pounding, and took their picture with my iPhone, then jumped back in the house, locked the door, set the alarm, and called 911.  The car sped away after I took the picture, and the police came but did not apprehend them.  Later, when I told Bernie about the incident, he remembered seeing the exact same car parked in our cul-de-sac earlier that morning while he was packing suitcases into his car in our driveway before he left on his business trip.  Great, isn't it?!  Just last weekend, a home on the other side of our neighborhood was robbed in broad daylight on Saturday afternoon by men in a different car who had apparently been watching the home, because they pulled up and broke in through the back door almost immediately after the family left to run some errands.  I would feel a lot safer in my home knowing that any would-be-burglers scoping out a target would be intimidated by the Rottweiler and move on to some other house instead.

4. "Aren't those dogs dangerous," you may ask?  Well, they are large, strong, powerful, and naturally protective of their home and family, but if they are properly trained, well socialized, and supervised, it turns out that they can be wonderful family pets.  Responsible breeders like the former female police officer and mother who owns Guardian Rottweilers in Indiana (the source of all the Rottweilers featured in this post) intentionally produce Rotties who are family-friendly and good with small children.  However, if bad guys smashed in windows or doors at the back of my house, a Rottwieler would not greet them with love and affection the way my Golden Retriever probably would have -- and I think most burglars would move on as soon as they realized there was a Rottweiler on guard. 

Sango from Guardian Rottweilers
5. We need to be getting more exercise.  Because exercise is something that's just for me, I tend to put it at the bottom of the list after things like laundry, food shopping, helping the kids with homework, working on clients' projects, etc.  I used to enjoy going on long walks with Bernie before he started traveling so much, and I don't enjoy walking or jogging alone.  Knowing that the dog was counting on me for exercise, and knowing that a Rottweiler needs to get that exercise every day to be well-behaved and obedient, would help me move those daily walks up to the top of my list.  Then I'd start to see all the benefits I'm missing from exercise myself, like more energy, a more positive outlook, not feeling like an old lady when I get all tuckered out from climbing the stairs, etc.

Carl the Rottweiler looks after the baby in Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day
6. Remember the wordless picture book by Alexandra Day, Good Dog, Carl?  Obviously I'm not going to leave any dog alone with a baby, let alone a Rottweiler, but still.  I read this book easily a thousand times to my sons when they were little, and I'm sure it contributes to the warm fuzzy feeling I have toward the breed.

7. Rottweilers are beautiful!  Look at these gorgeous puppies that are currently available from Guardian Rottweilers:

Apollo, male
Audrey, female
This is by no means a definite.  I still want to do a lot more research about the breed, and find a breeder and local trainer that I'm comfortable with.  If we bring a dog into our family again, it's really important to me that the dog is extremely well-trained and well-behaved, no matter what breed it is.  No knocking down visitors to lick their faces, no begging at the dinner table, no jumping up on furniture and beds and refusing to make room for humans.  There will need to be puppy obedience classes and probably one-on-one sessions with a trainer, preferably one who has lots of experience with the breed. 

Initially we were thinking of getting two dogs from the same litter, but I'm having second thoughts about that as I consider the possibility of walking two dogs by myself, each weighing a hundred pounds.  It's probably a better idea to start out with one and see how that goes before adding a second dog, since you don't really know in the beginning what the individual dog's personality will turn out to be.  Some dogs are more challenging than others.  I would also need to get a fence installed around our back yard first, and I think that the best timing for bringing home a puppy would be the start of summer vacation when our schedules slow down.

Still, it's fun to think about!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

$80 Down the Drain: Psychotic School Portrait Photographers Strike Again!

So, it's that time of year again, when the school pictures come home and all the proud mommies and daddies are posting them up on Facebook for friends and family to admire.  My kids' school pictures came home last week, too -- $80 is what I spent between the two of them, for 8" x 10" and 5" x 7" prints to go in frames on our mantel and to be passed out to grandparents, aunts, and uncles.  Well, this year, the school pictures are not going to be passed out to anyone.  They will be shredded and destroyed.  The only thing they are good for is a few laughs, and I thought I'd share that fun with you in case you thought YOUR kid's picture was bad this year.

First up, my adorable little Anders.  A second-grader.  ALL second graders are cute, and it is practically impossible to take an ugly picture of a cute little second-grader -- unless you are a highly trained, professional school photographer, that is:

Anders' School Picture, Second Grade 2010

Don't these photographers have a digital preview feature on their cameras?  How could anyone think that was a decent picture?!  It's a grimace, for crying out loud.  One wonders if the photographer's assistant was dismembering bunny rabbits in the background, and the photographer yelled, "You'd better smile, kid, or we'll do the same to you!" before snapping the picture.

Picture of Anders taken the same week as the school photo
It's not like Anders isn't photogenic, either -- he looks great in every picture except the one they took at school.  How did they manage to make him look so emaciated and sickly?  I thought the camera was supposed to add ten pounds, not subtract them!  Do school photographers have a special software editing program for that?

Next up is the older brother, Lars-of-Ours.  He looks dangerous in this picture, like he might bite you, doesn't he?  And again, when they saw this picture in the preview pane, why didn't they take another one?  I'll tell you why -- it's because parents have to purchase the portrait packages before picture day, without seeing a proof.  No one cares if it's a good picture or not because they already have your money.  Grrr...  And why didn't anyone think to ask him to take off his jacket before they took the picture? 

Lars's School Picture, Fourth Grade 2010
Can we all just scream together?!!  AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGHGHGHKKKK!!!!!! 

This is what my sweet little boys really look like.  Can anyone recommend a good portrait photographer in the Charlotte, North Carolina area? 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Look What I Bought! Whimsical Happy Flower Head Artwork to Perk Up My Office Walls

I just found a terrific new-to-me watercolor artist via the Cote de Texas design blog!  Take a gander at the prints I selected for my office a few minutes ago:
Flower Head on Black by Harrison Howard
Flower Head Lady by Harrison Howard

Rendezvous at Night by Harrison Howard
Parasol in the Air by Harrison Howard
Now I'm really going to be stalking the delivery trucks!  To see more of Harrison Howard's work, visit his web site here.  He's running a 25% off sale on his limited edition prints that ends tomorrow.

I purchased a few oil paintings at High Point Market last month, too, and those are supposed to be delivered tomorrow morning.  Also, my in-laws brought me a beautiful Delacroix print when they visited us a few days ago.  It's one of two prints that I had always admired in their New Jersey dining room, and I have to reframe them before hanging.  And poor Bernie has to relocate the doorbell and thermostat, because our builder apparently was not thinking about wallspace for artwork when he stuck those ugly boxes there. 

I'm really looking forward to getting all of this beautiful artwork up on the walls so we can enjoy it!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Barnes & Noble's New Nook Color STILL has No Parental Controls or Password Protection

New Nook Color from Barnes & Noble
Someday, someone is going to come out with a genuinely child-friendly e-reader device -- but sadly, it hasn't happened yet. By child-friendly, I mean the device must have some means of allowing parents to control access to the internet and the purchase and download of new material to the device. It could be as simple as adding the option of password protection to access these features on the device, or more sophisticated parental control options that would restrict access only to adult themed or inappropriate content. Whoever comes up with this truly child-friendly device first is going to make a LOT of money.
When I first heard that Barnes & Noble was promoting their new Nook Color device for child readers, I hoped this meant they had added parental control features.  They have a whole page on their web site dedicated to promoting the Nook Color for use by children

 However, the fact that picture books look great on a Nook Color is completely irrelevant when the Nook has wide-open access to the World Wide Web – no parent in their right mind is going to buy that for an elementary school child whose favorite Google search keywords are “butt” and “poop.” Furthermore, when it comes to downloading content to the Nook, parents like me are concerned that our second-graders might browse the unfiltered online bookstore out of curiosity and impulsively purchase and download all kinds of questionable content without parental knowledge or approval – and we’d get an unpleasant surprise when the credit card statement came in the mail. Allowing at least the OPTION to password-protect internet browsing and/or purchasing new content on the Nook (adult users who found the feature annoying could perhaps turn off the password protection) would make the Nook the ONLY truly child-friendly e-reader on the market. If the Nook Color had those features right now, I would pre-order them today as Christmas gifts for my two sons, as would countless other like-minded parents of school aged children.

There is a huge untapped market potential here. Parents are already buying children similarly-priced Nintendo DSi personal gaming systems, yet the potential educational benefits of an e-reader device makes the price tag a lot more palatable to parents. We feel guilty about allowing our kids to play video games too much, but so many parents are really struggling to find ways to get our children reading more. Look at how successful the Leapster and Leap Pad technology has been for preschool aged children – an e-reader with parental controls would be a logical next step for beginning readers, something kids could use from kindergarten through college.

Kids love electronics and take to them intuitively, and do not have the same biases towards “real” books that keep many adult readers away from e-readers. Furthermore, I really believe that e-readers are the way of the future, and suspect that my sons will have most if not all of their textbooks and supplemental reading on a digital device by the time they get to college, so it makes sense for kids to get comfortable with the technology now. I let my boys play with the Nook at the bookstore, and they thought it was SO cool. I was really disappointed that no one at Barnes & Noble seems to have considered a child end-user when designing the Nook.

The "Read to Me" feature on the Nook Color is a great idea for early readers, but that's only the beginning of what electonic reading devices could do to help children with reading.  If Barnes & Noble does decide to make the Nook more child-friendly, there are a couple more features on the wish lists of parents like me:

1. The schools today are prescribing nightly reading – 30 minutes per day – as part of students’ homework. If the nook could track how long a child has been reading, or how many words he or she has read, both during the current session as well as an “all time total,” that would help with tracking reading for homework and would also be really motivating to the kids (“You have read a total of 836 minutes and over 500,000 words!”).

2. I don’t know whether the Nook has this capability yet or not (I know that when I use the Barnes & Noble reading app on my iPhone I have it), but the ability to point at a word and get a definition instantly would be enormously helpful to children who are supposed to go get a dictionary to look up unfamiliar words, but they never do because it’s too much of a hassle and who knows where the dictionary is, anyway?

Of the major players in the e-reader arena, Barnes & Noble is probably my favorite for kids because of the ability to share material between devices. Right now, if I buy a traditional paperback or hardcover book (who am I kidding – I never buy just one!), as soon as the first boy has finished it, his brother wants to read it. Sharing is a huge plus for families with more than one child, because we don’t want to have to pay two or three times to download the same Magic Treehouse book to two or three different devices.

I last blogged about e-Readers for children back in April (click here for that post in case you missed it) , and I’ve been amazed to see how many people have landed on that blog post after searching the internet to find an e-reader that would be appropriate for their children. Just today someone emailed me about that post, wondering whether I knew if the new Nook Color would have parental controls or password protection. After calling Barnes & Noble Technical Support to confirm, I was very disappointed to learn that we still can’t buy Nooks for children. There is definitely an unserved market here. Please let me know if or when you release a child-friendly Nook, because I want to be first in line to buy two of them!

Update, December 2011: We ended up buying Amazon Kindles for our boys about six months ago, and you can read about how they're working out for us here

Monday, November 1, 2010

Happy Halloween 2010

Every year, we hurry through dinner on Halloween, then the kids frantically scramble into their costumes as the doorbell starts going bananas with the early crowd of trick-or-treaters.  I'm dashing to the door to hand out candy with a camera around my neck, imploring my restless cowboys to hold still for a picture as they duck out the door and into the night.

But THIS year, we had tickets to the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra's Lollipops children's concert series, so we got the boys in costume on Saturday morning for the Thrills and Chills Halloween Spooktacular concert at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center.  It was a chance to test out the lipliner "scar" on Lars-as-Harry-Potter's forehead, as well as the orange spray powder for the hair of Anders-as-Ron-Weasley.  The concert was lots of fun, and I got my photo ops in afterward before the security guard came and scolded us for taking pictures.  Apparently there is no photography allowed in the skywalk between the Bank of America building and the Belk -- who knew?

 Bernie and the boys carved their pumpkins outside by the fire pit on Saturday night.  Anders drew his face and Bernie carved his pumpkin, but this was the first year that Lars got to do his own carving.  He enjoyed it A LOT!

 Then on Sunday, after church, all the kids changed into costume and went out "trick-or-treating" in the early afternoon to collect groceries for the local Loaves and Fishes food pantry, followed by a Halloween party at the youth choir director's home (we love you, Glenda!).  I got this group photo of all the kids before they left the church:

It was about 3:30 when we got the kids home from the party, and then we watched It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown on Hulu...

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, 1966
...followed by an old VHS tape of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  Not sure what that had to do with Halloween, but the boys enjoyed the ferocious rabbit with pointy teeth and the Knights Who Say Nih!

Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 1975
My husband cooked a delicious dinner of pork loin with sweet potatoes, then donned a purple-and-black witch's wig and black cloak before taking my little wizards trick-or-treating while I stayed behind to pass out candy.  All in all, it was a pretty good Halloween.