Friday, May 25, 2012

Outta the Mouths of Babes: Great Britain Edition

ANNELIE-THE-INSECT-LOVER [joyously]: MOM! Me and Gracie went paddling in the river and it had tiny little caterpillars in the water, and they were so tiny and adorable, and they crawled all over my feet and legs!

ME: ... That sounds... great?

ANNELIE: Yeah! [face falling] But then I had to take them off, because they have teeth and they bite, and then suck blood.

ME [gagging]: Were they LEECHES?

ANNELIE [joyously]: Oh, yes! Nana said they're called leeches!

ME: Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.


ANNELIE: When the people here talk to me, how do I tell them in their language that I don't understand them?

ME: You mean the people here in Britain?

ANNELIE: Yeah. How do I say 'I don't understand' in their own language?

ME: Well, you can just say, 'I don't understand.' Because, like us, they speak ENGLISH.

ANNELIE [making a shocked-confused face]: They DO? 


And thus begins our UK adventure, filled with funny accents and unexpected wildlife! One day into our trip and the fun has already begun.

Happy Friday, folks!


Monday, May 21, 2012

(Almost) Packed and Ready to Go!

Our Grand European Adventure begins tomorrow, and Sophie decided to help us pack this morning, as I am taking waaaaay to long filling the bags.

And what did she think we needed to take with us for our two-month long vacation?

 Let's go in for a closer look, shall we?

 Yep, it's our cat Somer.

Gracie's favorite, so I don't think she'd mind.

I'm sure my ATC MIL (allergic-to-cats mother-in-law) would, however. Time to vacuum the suitcase before filling it.

I might blog a few times while we travel, but I also might not. So. I wish you all the happiest of summer vacations, and I'll see you all in August (or maybe sooner!)!


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Winter Shirt to Super Cute Sundress Refashion

Summer is, in my opinion, a time for sundresses, because sundresses are like nightgowns, and nightgowns are pajamas. I AM A FAN OF PAJAMAS. My girls agree that summer is a time for dresses, but they're more into the whole princesses-wear-dresses thing, which is where they base their reasoning.

Well, as the girls and I are leaving the country, and more interested in spending our summer spending cash overseas, I decided it was time I pulled out those too-small winter shirts I've been storing - the ones my kids loved too much to part with once they outgrew them - to sew the girls some sundresses out of 'em.

Pillowcase dresses from t-shirts are the easiest dresses to make, I'm certain. I have a couple variations below, and they each took an hour or less to make.

To start, you need a few things -
  • A shirt to cut up - a bit smaller than your kiddo currently wears is just great - I was using size 4T long sleeved shirts, to make size 6-7 girls dresses.
  • Basic sewing/pinning skills - if you can pin fabric together and sew a moderately straight line, this tutorial is for you.
  • fabric for the skirt, optional waist sash, and neck tie - I just pulled a handful of fabric off my shelf, but I don't think I used more than a half yard of fabric total for each dress (my fabric was aprox. 40in wide, and long enough to reach the knee)
  • Colorful bias tape - only half a package for the single layer dress, and 1.5 packs for the two tier w/sash dress)
  • Coordinating thread and a pair of scissors
To Make (and pardon the fact that my photos show me making many dresses at once - hope this isn't confusing):

Step One - cut your shirts! Just cut the sleeves off, and cut a straight line across the front and the back...

Fold over and pin the top (aprox 1/2 in.). Sew the straight line so that there is a little pocket to thread the shoulder strap. 

Step Two - make the thinish shoulder strap

Or better yet - have the kiddos make the shoulder strap!  

Now, I'm not one of those people who measures, or follows a pattern, and if you are... well, this might not be the tute for you. But if you are of the cuts-fabric-willy-nilly persuasion, like me, you're in for a treat, because making a strap is easy. You just cut your fabric into a straightish strip, fold it in half, sew to close it up - the unfinished edge will fray a bit. Or you can do it the hard way and make the inside-out tube, and then spend a million years right-side-inning it (no, that's not the technical term)

I gave my 5-year-old strap-cutting duty. She did a decent, if not slightly wonky, job.

Step Three - Make the skirt

Start by cutting off the bottom edge of the shirt. 

Sew your skirt fabric into a loop, and then top stitch so it's nicer-looking. If you're doing a two-tiered skirt (example picture below) do this for both tiers. 

Pin your skirt to the shirt! Just make sure that when you pin it, the correct sides are together, so that when you sew it, you don't have a big old backwards facing mess (yes, I have done this before). Also, pin it in evenly spaced intervals. I start with one pin at the front, back, and each side, to make sure it's all even, then pin each section, making sure to give an even distribution of gathered fabric.

If you are making the two-tiered skirt, just sandwich both tiers together. It isn't any harder than one tier, I swear.
Then you sew, like so. 

And flip right-side out.

Ta da! You're almost done!

Just weave the strip of fabric you made for the shoulder strap through the front, then around the back, so they tie at the shoulder. We tie ours with a bow in the front, so it doesn't tickle the shoulders as the kiddos play.

And if you want to add a color punch, sew colorful bias tape (mine is the color of the shirt) to the bottom, to finish the edge. 

Step Four - the sash! 

I made the sash the same length as every thing else (aprox 40 inches long) 

I like the sash because it gives the skirt a tailored look. For the two-tiered skirt's sash, I sewed some bias tape around the bottom edge before tacking it to the dress, just because I wanted to break up the busy pattern.

Just try the dress on your kiddo, and tack the sash in a couple spots - the front and sides are good. Then do a few stitches to hold it in place.


And that's all! 

Well, unless you're of the makes-matching-hair-accessories variety - which I am. The buttons and crochet flowers I bought on Etsy (just search hair bow supplies), and glued onto alligator clips.

Annelie is quite a fan of her new summer sundresses, especially the Rapunzel dress. 

But you want to know which dress is her very favorite to play in, because it's soft and comfy and made of her most favorite things?

A cute combo, now size 6/7, from her favorite empire-waist dress when she was 3 (and still cutting her own hair), and her favorite LOVE shirt from when she was 4 (and a princess butterfly)... 

 (she made the shoulder strap using the sleeves of her dress)

My sources say she will be living in these sundresses all summer long, she loves them so much. Gracie's are all in various stages of unfinished, and my sources say she'll be living in hers, too.

So what do you think? Want to make some simple sundresses, too? Have questions? Feel free to ask in the comments!


Friday, May 11, 2012

Parenting to the Personalities

Several weeks ago, I had one of those days where I looked at my two children and wondered, Where did I go wrong?

I KNOW. That's a terrible thing to think, but man, sometimes, when you're watching your 1st grader have a Veruca Salt-esque tantrum while your 5-year-old is giving you her hot laser eyes the thought hits: I have utterly failed as a parent.

And okay, that's the opposite of true, and I know this deep down. My girls are EXCELLENT people... So, as I scooped homemade chocolate sauce into my mouth, followed by a whipped cream chaser (my coping mechanism) I started to think, What can I do to understand these little people a bit better, to figure out why they're behaving the way they're behaving right now?

I guess timing is everything, because while the drama with my little kiddos was going down, I was also at the point in my new WIP (work-in-progress, aka, the new Young Adult novel I'm currently writing) where I like to bust out the Myers-Briggs personality tests (test HERE, type portraits HERE - thanks Maggie Stiefvater for the links!) and see what more I can learn about my characters. You know, figure out why they're behaving the way they're behaving, because after plonking out 1/3 of a first draft, I definitely have a good idea of who my half-baked characters are, but there is always room for more understanding.

And the more I worked out who my story characters are, the more I started to see that THIS might be just what I needed to understand my kids better.

Now, when it comes to children, the personality test is different than the one for the 13+ year-olds, because instead of the 4-letter type, kids have only three (preschoolers have two) - the missing letter develops as they grow. And when it comes to my kids, who I know pretty well, I didn't even take a test (although you can go ahead and google where to find kid's tests if you want), I just read through all the child types (HERE) and was easily able to pick out my kids, which my husband later read and agreed with.

***added later - I found a free, for a limited time, kids test - from the HERE ***

Annelie is an EFJ - Extroverted Feeling Judging

Gracie is an IFP - Introverted Feeling Perceiving (which was totally me as a kid)

And discovering this about them, has made a huge difference in how I've parented them the last four weeks - because though I do know my kids pretty well, having spent just about every day of their lives with them, sometimes I parent them the exact same way. And while this works sometimes (ie. when their traits are in line with each other) other times parenting them the same way creates mass amounts of conflict.

Which leads to me yelling, and Gracie's emotional meltdowns, and Annelie's spontaneous and furious hot laser eyes.

Last month, I asked for Gracie's help with something - something quick and easy. Gracie didn't want to do it, because helping me isn't high on her list of favorite things to do, not when she just wants to draw pictures or play in her room with her dolls.

"I'll do it!!!" Annelie shouted. But this didn't work for me - Annelie had already helped me when I asked, and I was too bothered by the fact that Gracie wouldn't help at all. Instead of giving Annelie the opportunity to help me elsewhere, I told her I didn't need her help and to go play. Then I yelled at Gracie, who still wouldn't budge.

EVERYTHING went downhill immediately. Gracie ran to her room sobbing, just at the thought that I was mad at her - forget the reason why I was mad, she wasn't concerned about that. Annelie hit self-destruct mode and flew into an angry rage which had me going WHERE IS THIS COMING FROM???? Because I wasn't at all mad at her, just wanted her to go play! I thought I was being nice!

In hindsight, I know where I went wrong.

Annelie's type has these qualities:
  • "They love to please people, and may go to great lengths for their approval
  • Thrive on praise, thrive on opportunities to help others, and can be crushed by criticism and rejection - cannot take criticism at all without becoming very upset
  • Their intense and passionate feelings make them hyper-sensitive"
Gracie's type on the other hand:
  • "Will resist doing tasks that seem impersonal, for which they can't see how it affects the human element (and presenting sheerly logical tasks within the framework of how performing the task helps humans will help the IFP face the task more willingly)
  • They're extremely sensitive, take things seriously and personally, and become hurt very easily
  • They are so internally focused that they are sometimes completely unaware of how anyone else is feeling - although they care deeply about others, they are self-absorbed and so may be seen as selfish"
After reading about their types, I had a-ha! moments like crazy. And I've become more careful as a parent, to make sure that meltdowns don't wreck what was once a perfectly lovely day.

(obviously this excludes the too-hungry meltdowns, and the too-tired meltdowns, and the someone-gave-Gracie-something-with-EVIL RED FOOD DYE-in it- meltdowns - although these meltdowns don't often hit when I keep the kids on schedule)

I'm also THRILLED to see that each personality type listed on the Personality Page site, lets me see how the girls learning styles are affected by their personalities, which is HUGE as far as I'm concerned!

We're in week 4 of me parenting to their personalities, and other than one mini-issue with Gracie, and one with Annelie, which I immediately resolved with a talk about their feelings (they both love to talk about their feelings) and big hugs and explanations about why I got mad, and what I expect from them next time, LIFE HAS BEEN RUNNING SMOOTHLY. As my husband travels for work several days a week, leaving me without his backup when things get overwhelming, a smoother life is quite high on my list of AWESOME THINGS.

Not to mention, the girls have taken on more responsibilities - Gracie will help with anything now, as long as she knows why her help matters, and finds a bonus in it for her. Annelie just wants to help - and now has joyfully taken on the task of preparing my breakfast every morning, in addition to other responsibilities.

Seriously, WOO HOO!


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Preparing for Take-off by Reading Books


Two weeks until our Grand European Adventure! The girls and I are getting more and more excited as we count down the days. 

When it comes to prepping for our trip, I've pretty much failed, unless stocking the Kindle counts as prep. I haven't even begun thinking about what to pack - the procrastinator in me tends to toss random stuff into suitcases at the very last second. Also, I should probably reorder contact lenses soon.... and buy some of those outlet converters, because the Brits have crazy prongs on all their appliances and my bangs certainly don't straighten themselves.

But I guess I can't say I've done nothing to prepare - Nope, I certainly can't, because the girls and I have been prepping for our trip Marisa-style.... through literature!

My mom read aloud to my older brother and me all the way through middle school, and sitting together on the couch, listening as she read the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, and The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart, is definitely among my strongest childhood memories - and a tradition I knew I'd keep up with my own kiddos.

So we started with James and the Giant Peach, which yeah, takes place in a peach, and the sky, but also takes place by the English seaside, before they cross the English Channel.

Did the girls absolutely love it?

YOU BETCHA. Especially when Centipede screamed, "IDIOTS! MORONS!" to the cloud men. (why does this not surprise me about my girls?)

When we were done reading - a chapter or two a night, so it took a couple weeks - we all hopped on the couch and watched the movie. And afterward, Gracie said, "That was good. But the book is way better."

And Annelie wholeheartedly agreed, saying, "Yeah, 'cause in the book, the centipede yells, IDIOTS! And MORONS!"

The girls couldn't wait to begin our next book, set in Scandinavia and London:

They LOVED every second of it. We have yet to watch the movie, but it was one of my favorites as a kid and we definitely plan on watching it ASAP.

In the meantime, we're prepping for the Swedish portion of our Grand European Adventure by reading none other than...

The girls adore Pippi Longstocking so much they beg for more and more and more, and two chapters a night just aren't enough for them (even though it's more than enough for my voice box). Pippi is HILARIOUS, and everything she says and does has the girls cracking up.

And Gracie's favorite part - chapter six, when Pippi, Annika, and Tommy had a picnic by the water. She gave a huge sigh and said,  "Oh they're so lucky. That sounds like the best picnic in the world."

I think it's time I bust out the pictures from our last trip to Sweden, so Gracie can see the place where we picnicked, and where we might picnic again.

We're three chapters from the end of Pippi, and with two weeks to go, I know we have time for another book. So I asked Will what his favorite book from when he was a kid was, and he said, "The Just William stories. Everyone used to tell me I was just like William."

Wouldn't you know it, Just William is from 1922, which means public domain, which means FREE for the Kindle! Woo hoo!


 - Just William - not a hit. We could barely make it through page one. Oh well! Next on our list:

Which is FREE for the Kindle, here - yay! Only sadly the free version is not illustrated by Arthur Rackham (one of my FAVE illustrators ever)

Will also suggested I prepare the girls for our trip to Bruges, Belgium, by watching In Bruges.... which is an AWESOME movie... 

But I politely said, "Um, no."

I should probably do a little more to prep - maybe put together a scavenger hunt for our trip to the Louvre, and sketchbook journals so the girls can keep up with their reading and writing, while recording their trip to share with their dad, as Will SADLY won't be able to join us this summer. 

Or maybe I should think about packing...

How about you guys? What are your favorite childhood books, or books you've read aloud to your kids? And have you done anything fun to prep your kids before a family vacation? I'd love to hear all about it!


Monday, May 7, 2012

Outta the Mouths of Babes.9

I've had these little bits saved up for awhile - a handful of things heard around Chez Hopkins.


ME [calling to Gracie in the other room]: Can you turn off the light?

ANNELIE [walking in from outside]: WHAT?! NO!


Oh, you meant can Gracie turn off the light. I thought you meant me, but my light is the sun, and I can't turn that off!!!


GRACIE [watching Will put on his suit jacket before a meeting]: You look really handsome. You look like you’re going to a mineral.

WILL: A mineral?

GRACIE: Isn’t that was you call the party when you celebrate dead people?

WILL: A funeral?

GRACIE: Yeah, you look handsome, like you’re going to a funeral.


ANNELIE [coloring beside me]: Do you like my little girl? She has grey hair.

ME [looking at Annelie's picture of a small child]: Your little girl is very cute. I'm curious about why you gave her grey hair.

ANNELIE: She has grey hair because she was from a long, long time ago.


GRACIE: Mom, did you get a hair cut?

ME: No.

GRACIE: Oh. I thought you did. Because of [gestures vaguely at my head] that thing.

ME: ...... what thing?

GRACIE: That..... right there.

ME: My bangs?


ME: I trimmed them ...... [officially paranoid] Is there something wrong with them?

GRACIE [long pause]: No..... They look fine.

ME: .....


ME [to Annelie]: Don't forget to turn off the TV!

ANNELIE: I won't. I don't forget anything. I don't even forget that one plus one is two.


ME [reading emails]: Boo, I just got another rejection.

ANNELIE [patting my back]: Well, that's not bad. I just got FORTY rejections.

ANNELIE [picking up drawing paper and a pen]: I'm going to draw myself a present, but I have to close my eyes the whole time because presents are a secret. 


ANNELIE [teaching Gracie how to sing]: Just repeat after me. [sings] Do... Re... You... La... So... No... Me... How..!

GRACIE: Do... Re... You... La... So... No... Me... How..!

(I think another viewing of The Sound of Music is in our near future!)


That's all the fun for tonight, folks! Happy Monday!


Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Hopkins Family Furballs: An Update and In Memoriam

 Somer's a total Daddy's boy

Soooo.... recently I had a comment from a reader curious for a kitty update, and...


I've been avoiding blogging about cats for about a year now because we had quite a lot of heartache in a very short span of months. See, the last post in which I blogged about my pets was on New Year's Eve, 2010, and incidentally that was the last time we saw our kitten Ollie.

After hoping he'd merely run away and found another family happy to have a rascally little stray, we learned that he wandered into the yard of the vicious dog next door.

We were all so heartbroken, so when a sweet little grey kitten followed us home from the bus stop about 2 months later, and waltzed right into our living room - to be perfectly well received by all four of our other pets - we figured we had another chance to help a stray kitten with a warm home and tons of food and even more love. She instantly decided Annelie was her mama, and the two of them were inseparable.

Boooo. Just thinking about our kittens makes me cry. These little cats were the BEST CATS IN THE WORLD.

Josephine was nothing but gentle and sweet. After Ollie died, we wanted her to stay an indoor cat, at least until she was a LOT older and faster. But she wanted to be with her mama Annelie, and after only having her for a couple of months, Josephine sneaked out the back door when the girls went out to play, and the next day our neighbors (after lying profusely when I asked them if they'd seen her) admitted their dog got her, too.

I'm not sure if the neighbors moved because they wanted to buy a bigger house or if they couldn't handle Gracie and Annelie bursting into tears whenever the girls saw them and their dog... but I wasn't at all sad to see them move away, that's for sure.

Nowadays, we're stray kittenless, but we still have all these guys!

Willie the blind German Shepherd
Hannah the neurotic chihuahua
Sophie the calico
Somersault the tabby

Sophie still thinks she's a tiny baby kitten who needs to be personally escorted to her food dish any time she's hungry, even though the food dish has been in the same spot since we adopted her in '09.

 Our cats both adore all visitors, especially curious babies.

Somer can be found wherever there is food. Or a roll of toilet paper or paper towels to shred. We call them Somerpaper - and wouldn't you know it, the girls prefer their paper cat-shredded to not.

Sophie is determined to keep me from folding laundry at all times so clearly she's high on my list of favorites.

And that's our cat update! We don't plan on adding to our household.... but if a stray kitten walks through the door and makes itself at home - like Ollie and Josephine both did - well who knows. We might find there is a little extra love to share.


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