Monthly Archives: December 2014

Christmas Presents: Books and Toys

For the last couple of years, Lloyd and I have been looking for the edition of the Chronicles of Narnia series that we remembered reading as children. These are the editions with the black and white Pauline Baynes illustrations at the beginning of each chapter and one or two in the chapter itself. These editions are out of print, so when I stumbled across a full set for sale, we snapped up two: one for us and one for our niece and nephew. However, since our niece and nephew aren’t quite old enough for these books yet, we decided to give them toys they could play with now as well.

The toys we decided on were Mr. and Mrs. Beaver from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe for two reasons. First, there are two of them so Hadley and Jackson could each have their own toy. Second, the Beavers serve as the children’s guides in Narnia in this book so they seemed like the right choice to introduce children to the series.

My first step in this process was to find a knit beaver pattern. For some reason, I find it a lot easier to knit children’s toys than to sew them so I knew I wanted to find a knitting pattern. The one I decided to use can be found here and results in very cute beavers.

The initial knit beaver.

The initial knit beaver.

Next, I decided that I needed to “research” the beavers clothing and read the entire series again. This was a lot of fun, but Lewis never described the beavers’ appearance so Lloyd and I made it up. Since Narnia is a bit like England in the 1950s, we decided on a frilly apron for Mrs. Beaver and a tweed jacket for Mr. Beaver.

Mrs. Beaver and my first attempt at doll clothes since I was about 14.

Mrs. Beaver and my first attempt at doll clothes since I was about 14.

Lloyd doing his Mr. Beaver impression. The jacket is actually wool tweed.

Lloyd doing his Mr. Beaver impression. The jacket is actually wool tweed.

I had a lot of fun making the beavers and their clothes and everyone was happy with the result.

Mr. and Mrs. Beaver show casing the Narnia series. Sorry for the slight blurriness.

Mr. and Mrs. Beaver showcasing the Narnia series. Sorry for the slight blurriness.

2×4 Dock Christmas Tree

While visiting home this year, my mom gave me a project: make a Christmas tree out of lights for the dock. This is pretty common for people that live on a lake, at least in the South. Usually they are a commercial thing made from thin steel tubes draped with lights, but its is common to see a homemade wooden frame and that is what I went with.

Suitable festive sketching paper. Initial design on left, build design on right

Suitable festive sketching paper. Initial design on left, build design on right.

The directions are very simple: cut a 2×4 into one 5′ and two 3′ lengths. Nail the center of the 4″ sides of the 3′ lengths to the bottom 2″ edges of the 5′ length. Then put a set of nails halfway in on one side of the frame (7 on the 5′ vertical 7″ apart and 4 on each side of the 3′ base 4″ apart). Then string the Christmas lights up in a triangle fashion around the nails and you are good to go.

I think if I was doing it again, I would use 1×4’s and screw them together so I could disassemble and store folded up. I would also probably sand the lumber and not use construction scraps, and maybe even paint the lumber. But it looked nice and made my mom happy, so not bad for a first pass.

As built. It looks better than I feared it would when I was starting the project.

As built. It looks better than I feared it would when I was starting the project.

All pretty and lit up.  In an suprising turn of events cell phones cameras small lense = bad low light picutes

All pretty and lit up. In a surprising turn of events, cell phone cameras = small lens = bad low light pictures.

Travel Knitting Projects

I decided that I needed a fun, quick knitting project for traveling this year as I can never focus on one thing for very long on an airplane. I found this pattern for lace fingerless gloves and decided to give it a try and discovered that knitting is a great airplane activity for me because it requires enough of my concentration and gives me an excuse to move my arms around. Unfortunately, the pattern referenced it’s source of inspiration, Vogue Stitchionary, and I discovered just how deep the rabbit hole of knitting goes.

These were knitted almost entirely on the airplane.

These were knitted almost entirely on the airplane.

I liked the gloves, but once they were done, I had some yarn left and really wanted to try out some of the fun new stitches I found online. I decided mittens were a good next project since they would keep my fingers warm and don’t use too much yarn. So I picked a fun new stitch pattern and made up a mitten pattern.

This is what I have so far. I made a tree!

This is what I have so far. I made a tree!

I tried to use purl stitches to make a pattern in another project, but this one was designed by someone who actually knew what they were doing and worked a better. So far, it looks good and if the pattern works out, I’ll share it here.

In NC

We started our Christmas vacation a little early this year and we are currently hanging out in North Carolina with my parent so the blog might not have quite the same updates for the rest of the year. We’re in an awesome new house and we already took advantage of some kayaking yesterday and hoping to get some sailing in if the weather ever picks up.

SFO is a really nice airport, I seem to forget this until I arrive there again. I really like the rotating museum exhibits to stave of boredom.

SFO is a really nice airport; I seem to forget this until I arrive there again. I really like the rotating museum exhibits to stave off boredom.

Jasmine teaching grandpa  Frank to use facebook on his Ipad. Old people + technology = funny.  I hope that I can retain my sense of amusement at this when I am older myself.

Jasmine teaching Grandpa Frank to use Facebook on his iPad. Old people + technology = funny. I hope that I can retain my sense of amusement at this when I am older myself.

Panoramic view from the kitchen of my parents house.  Its a quite lovely view.

Panoramic view from the kitchen of my parents’ house. Its a quite lovely view.

Ice Skating

We went on one last local ice skate before we had to ship our skates out to the east coast with Christmas presents. We have gone to a handful of ice skating rinks in the South Bay, but the Shark Ice in Fremont is the nicest by a long stretch. Apparently it is one of the San Jose Sharks’ training facilities so it is a fairly large rink and it was full mostly of people who knew how to skate.  It also had this weird area with buckets for people to prop themselves up with when learning how to skate. There was also a snow machine to make it festive. I didn’t really understand it, but it kept the complete novices out of the main rink so I wan’t complaining. The only thing I had to watch out for was unintentionally barreling over some poor 5 year old that I didn’t see because they are only 2 ft tall and moving in unpredictable directions. I have never done this, but I am paranoid about it.

We are starting the vacation in North Carolina where we are more likely to go sailing than to ice skate, but we are also going to make our way up to New Hampshire so I think some frozen lakes might be in our future. I love ice skating in the outdoors; if you live somewhere cold do yourself a favor and get some skates. They are only $60 and they provide years of outdoor entertainment. And if you bring them to about 10 skating rinks, they pay for themselves with no rental fees.

The weird bucket area with snow machine.

The weird bucket area with snow machine.

Jasmine skating. I'm more proud of the fact that I was skating backwards when taking this picture than  I am of the picture itself.

Jasmine skating. I’m more proud of the fact that I was skating backwards when taking this picture than I am of the picture itself.

Pop-Pop Boat

Also know as putt-putt boats, they are extremely simple steam engines, normally just a coil of tubing over a flame.  The coil heats water into steam, which pushes out the entrance, creating thrust and a vacuum in the tube which sucks in more water and the cycle begins again.

So here are the basics: Take ~12-16 inches of 1/8″ copper tube and wind the center into a coil leaving the two ends around 4″ long and pointed in the same direction.  Create a small boat hull; I just used an isopropyl alcohol bottle cut in half.  Cut two small holes in the bottom for the tube ends to stick through. I cut my whole small and just pushed the tube thru with no caulking and it worked fine for 20 minutes before some bailing was required. PRIME THE COIL by filling it completely with water by just running water through one end till it comes out the other. Add a bottle cap full of IPA under the coil. Light and let go in the water and it should put along merrily after 30 seconds. That’s it. It is really just that easy and fun to do.

Building this, for all of its simplicity and basicness was very satisfying.

Building this, for all of its simplicity and basicness, was very satisfying.

It worked pretty well in the bathtub, we will have to go find a pond next.

It worked pretty well in the bathtub. We will have to go find a pond next.

Lloyd is not an artist

Yet sometime art occurs. I have been making some artwork for an upcoming project of mine and thought I would share some of the images.

Fwhoosh goes the rocket.

Fwhoosh goes the rocket.

The ISS does really move that fast

The ISS does really move that fast.

If you have never seen a redwood in person your life is missing something.

If you have never seen a redwood in person, your life is missing something.

And this is an old picture I drew of horse.

It is supposed to be a horse, and it is not.

It is supposed to be a horse, and it is not.

Pretty terrible, I know. Bad enough that I was mocked, rather understandably, by Jasmine and some others so I thought I would do something about it. Specifically, I spent an hour a day for two months drawing things – anything and lots of circles and cross hatches – and by the end of the two months this is what I could draw.

IMG_20141209_114624_488-001

Look north in Dolores park in SF and you’ll spot this building.

So, now a couple of year later, I have been drawing on and off and while I’ll probably never be a real artist, at least I am in the you can make sense of what I am drawing realm. And this is maybe my point: I never thought I drew well so I never really tried and hence I couldn’t. But then one day I decided that I needed to try and after a fair bit of effort I could draw, at least passably. It has for some reason sunk in the way that nothing else ever did; you can only achieve what you believe you can and what you try to do. If you don’t try hard, or at least try at all, and you don’t believe in yourself,  you’ll never get any thing done. It is weird that I was in my late 20’s and it took drawing a horse really poorly to learn that lesson, but I will take what I can.

Butternut Squash Tamales

I wanted to try to make something a little different for a change so I thought tamales would be fun. For those of you that don’t know, tamales are a traditional Mexican (Well, Mayan, but close enough.) pastry for lack of a better word. They are filling surrounded my corn meal and usually steamed in a corn husk. They are also quite tasty if made well and bland and dry if made poorly. This recipe worked pretty well for a first pass though it is time intensive

Ingredients:

-Corn husks ~18 (soak in hot water for 30 minutes-2 hours to make pliable)

The filling:

-1 oz butter
-1 butternut squash, small cubes
-15 oz can of black beans
-3 jalapenos, cut small
-1 onion, cut fine
-8 oz mushrooms, cut fine
-1 teaspoon of salt
-1 teaspoon cumin powder

The batter:

-2 cups cornmeal
-1 teaspoon salt
-1 teaspoon baking powder
-2.5 ounces of butter
-1 cup ricotta cheese.
-Warm broth or water

First, make the batter by combining all the dry ingredients then folding in the butter and cheese. Then add enough liquid, mixing constantly till you end up with around the consistency of mashed potatoes.

For the filling, saute the onions and jalapenos in the butter till the onions start to brown. Then add everything else and cook with a lid on till the squash is tender.

The filling was quite tasty, hard not to nibble on it while cooking.  The standard for tamales is probably ground pork though, not vegetables.

The filling was quite tasty – hard not to nibble on it while cooking. The standard for tamales is probably ground pork though, not vegetables.

Now to make the tamales, lay a wrapper out flat and spread a layer of batter over the inside half of the wrapper. Then put around 2-3 tablespoons of filling in a line down the middle. Now, roll the edges of the wrapper in to fold the batter on the top like a cannoli then back flat again. Fold the tops in, then fold the sides around them and tie of with a piece of the corn husk.

Here they are in the steamer, which is really just a wok.  They down look that pretty, but they cook up nicer looking.

Here they are in the steamer, which is really just a wok. They don’t look that pretty, but they cook up nicer looking.

Once you have made all of the tamales, steam for 1 hour or until the paper removes easily from the cooked batter.  They are quite tasty and by the end, almost as pretty as tamales you get off the street.  Enjoy.

All ready to eat in a convenient little package.

All ready to eat in a convenient little package.

Guadalupe River Trail (N37.34 W121.90)

Happy Thanksgiving! As it turned out, we took a bit of a break but now we are back. A tradition that Jasmine and I have is that the day after Thanksgiving we go out for a nice hike, but this year we switched it up a bit and went for a nice bike ride instead.

In downtown San Jose there is a trail that follows the Guadalupe River through the middle of the city and out the the Bay via the Alviso Slough. It was about a 27 mile bike ride for us with around 12 of those miles on the road, and 15 on the trail or a bit of the Bay Trail.  It was a really nice bike ride, even with the sad state of repair that the roads are in in parts of San Jose. We also got to see some historic rose gardens off of the trail which was nice, so this is probably going to see some repeat visits from us.

The trail in San Jose - not especially picturesque

The trail in San Jose – not especially picturesque.

The trail by the Alviso Slough - more picturesque

The trail by the Alviso Slough – more picturesque.

The rose garden was quite pretty, and smelled delightful, and was full of bees.

The rose garden was quite pretty and smelled delightful and was full of bees.