Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Thanksgiving Camping at Hodges Gardens State Park (Louisiana)

Over the Thanksgiving Break (or as we call it "American Thanksgiving") we finished up moving and then we went camping.

Months ago I reserved a campsite at Hodges Gardens State Park in Louisiana (http://www.crt.state.la.us/louisiana-state-parks/parks/hodges-gardens-state-park/).  It's about 3.5 hours from Houston.  The park itself is 14 miles from the Texas state border (there is a lookout point).  It's an exciting drive because you go through Jasper.  But not the real Jasper....Jasper, Texas.

In reality the drive isn't exciting but there is some pleasant scenery.

The Hodges Gardens, on the other hand, is wonderful.  I reserved campsite number 5 on the tent loop and it was perfect.  The tent pad is large enough to accommodate our mammoth tent and the site is on a cliff overlooking the lake.  It was the best tent site - I would not want to stay in a different tent site -  I thought the tent pads were smaller and the views were not as nice.

The one issue with the site (and in fact all of the camp sites) is that it is very far from the restrooms.  The restrooms themselves are also a bit of an issue.  The building is ancient and, while the women's was decently clean during our stay, my husband and sons reported that the men's was terrible.  The showers were not spectacular either.  The campsite was so far from the restroom we actually drove most of the time.  It's nearer to the cabin loop than the tent loop and this makes no sense as the cabins have their own washrooms.

Enough complaining - overall it was an amazing place to go.

Hodges Gardens is a formal garden that is built next to the lake.  The campground and cabins are next to the same lake and the whole area forms the park.  We arrived (on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving) just as they were setting the gardens up for a Christmas lights show that was to open on the night of Black Friday.  It was a bit strange - on the first day we were there they were testing the stereo system and blasting the same 3 Christmas carols over and over for hours.  My husband wasn't a fan but I enjoyed it.  That night we also previewed the lights.

The forest near our campsite

Some friends....

On the first morning of our stay (Thanksgiving Day) we rented canoes.  At first we went into very open water and fought the wind but after a while we found a pleasant canoeing area.  It was so pretty - just like canoeing through an oil painting.   Baby Boy even paddled a bit.

That afternoon we explored the gardens.  The gardens are very large and are divided into different sections.  The boys loved running around the paths and seeing all of the different waterfalls.  The highlight of the gardens for them was the "spaceship" lookout tower.

On Friday morning (Black Friday) we drove into Many, the nearest town, for breakfast.  After breakfast we went shopping to find a tummy remedy for Baby Boy who had developed an unfortunate case of diarrhea on Thursday night (remember how I said we were far from the restroom?  I drove him back and forth a few times that night.  Thank goodness he's well potty trained).  We went to the pharmacy at Walmart and the store wasn't even particularly busy, despite the sales.  I didn't find a tummy medication for a small child.

We drove on to Natchitoches, a small town that is home of Northwestern State University (https://www.natchitoches.com).  We found the main street and wandered around the area decorated for the Natchitoches Christmas Festival (http://www.christmasfestival.com).  It was lovely!  They were playing Christmas carols and everything was decorated.  We wandered through the small shops and in the garden next to the river.

The river in Natchitoches

When it was time for lunch, we had to sample a famous Natchitoches Meat Pie.  We went to Lasyone's (http://lasyones.com).  The meal was amazing.  I had a crawfish pie and my husband had a meat pie.  We all shared fried green beans and corn fritters to start.  I haven't eaten this much deep fried food in one sitting in a long time (or possibly ever) but it sure was good.

We went back to the campsite for the evening and attending the official first night of the Hodges Gardens Christmas Lights show.  We drove and walked through all of the displays and then went back and enjoyed our campfire.

The next day we drove home and Baby Boy's tummy felt better.  After a weekend of lovely weather in Louisiana, we returned to a cold, rainy, and glum Houston.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Happy (Belated) Birthday Baby Boy

While we were moving, Baby Boy celebrated his third birthday.  

On the day of his birthday we ate the foods he picked (lasagna and pizza) and had a birthday cake.

We were planning to have a camping birthday party but we had to cancel due to inclement weather and the fact that we were still unpacking and couldn't find our camping gear.  Our amazing friends hosted a Batman birthday for him at their home on Saturday night.  The kids had a blast eating pizza and birthday cupcakes and playing with their friends.

We are so fortunate to be friends with such lovely, generous people.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Tonight, we feast....on dumplings!

We've had a series of unexciting meals while moving.  I've made a bunch of suppers on the fly, just throwing together whatever was in the fridge.

I asked the kids what they wanted for supper tonight, and Big Boy asked for dumplings.  They take a bit of extra time but it was worth it!  

I could only find small wonton wrappers in the shop so I fold the filling into the papers and wrap them in accordance with the instructions on the packet.  The wonton wrappers made for cute, tiny dumplings.

Here are some photos.  I created a photo collage with a new app that I loaded onto my computer called "Fotor".  I like using it because it's easy and quick!

As you can see, I lightly shallow fried some of the dumplings, and I served some boiled in broth. Both were delicious.  We had broccoli on the side.

We Moved!

I've been out of touch of ra long time....because we moved to a new house.  The new house is close to the old house....in fact we are still in the same zip code.  Moving is still a lot of work, even if it is to a home that is nearby.

I'm not done moving and cleaning the old house - so - bye for now!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Jean Skirt with Darts (Simplicity 1717 - Amazing Fit)

I love jean skirts.  I love them in every style, shape, colour, and length. I can't get enough of them.

So I decided to sew one.  I used a Simplicity "Amazing Fit" pattern (number 1717).  The skirt in this pattern is an A-line.  This was my first "Amazing Fit" pattern and I'm really impressed.  The pattern package contains patterns for different fits (slim, average, and curvy).  Basically the difference between the fits is the dart layout.  The pattern package also contains extensive instructions for fitting the garment on the wearer's body.  It is almost like a mini text book on fit.  

I followed all of the fit instructions and the skirt fits very well.  I will definitely use this technique for fitting other garments in the future.  As for the sewing instructions, I followed most of them, but I fit the zipper into the waistband using a different technique.  I also found a blog post about how to do a perfect skirt hem and it works for me every time....so I deviated from the pattern there as well.

I used a light to medium weight stretch denim.  This denim was almost a black wash when I bought it, but after I washed it, it is a lighter, bluer colour.  I really like it.

The skirt is incredibly comfortable and it fits well.  I put in my first darts and it was much easier than I expected it to be.  

Here are some photos.  Because I'm not about to put a picture of my backside on the Internet, I will share a picture of the darts as I'm sewing them.

My first-ever dart!  The second one is pinned next to it.

The darts basically blank into the fabric, but if you look closely you can see them.

My First Knit (Butterick 5753)

I decided to try sewing with knit fabric.  Knits are (were) scary....before I started.  Knits stretch when you sew and they can pucker and jam up the sewing machine.  I read far too many blog posts and Internet articles about sewing with knits before I got started....I was very worried.

I picked my pattern (Butterick 5753), bought contrasting fabrics, and got to work.  My sewing machine came with a ball point needle and a twin needle, so I didn't need to buy any equipment except for ball point pins.

After I cut my pattern pieces I tried sewing a small piece of the extra fabric.  It was easy!  The machine fed properly and there was absolutely no puckering when I used the stretch stitch.  So I got to work sewing the top.

I didn't run into any real problems with the top itself.  I had to do some major alterations to the pattern (I have an extremely long torso, so I had to make a large size and then cut it down proportionally), but otherwise it all came together easily.  I even used a new technique - on the sides of the garment, I put in double pleats to shape the waist.  I worried about the pleating but at the end of the day it was easy!

And then I got to the hem.  The pattern called for a "narrow hem" and provided a description of how to make this type of hem.  I practiced on some scrap fabric and it looked great.  I tried it on one of the sleeves and the results were horrible.  The hem puckered and wavered.  It looked terrible.  

I turned to my friend "Google" and found a couple of other hemming techniques.  I tried one and it was perfect - easy to do and the finished fabric sat properly.  So I hemmed the neckline and bottom of the shirt using this technique.  I was completely happy with the results.  But I was still unhappy with the sleeve hems.

I went to bed and then woke up with the solution to my problem...the sleeves had fit awkwardly.  They fit awkwardly because when I was modifying the pattern, I took width out of the shirt and kept the length due to my long torso.  I forgot to adjust the pattern for my short/normal arms.

So I adjusted the sleeve length, trimmed off the terrible hem and hemmed it nicely with the new technique.  

So here are some photos.  It's my first project using a stretch knit, my first colour blocking,  my first cut out, my first pleats, my first time using the double needle, and my first featured top stitching.  I'm happy with the result....it is a wearable, properly fitting garment.

My camera doesn't love this pink indoors, but here is a picture of the full top.
Top stitching with the double needle.
The revised sleeve hem.
The side pleats.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Weekend...

Another busy weekend for our family....

On Saturday, we went to the Home Depot for a kid's building workshop.  The boys made airplanes.  Due to the weather the workshop was indoors, and it was not as fun as it usually is.  It was crowded and noisy in the workroom.  This time, 2 of the boys elected not to paint their projects.  I think they look cute with just the stickers...

We ran a bunch of other errands on Saturday and Sunday...I won't bore you with the details.  On Sunday, we closed out the weekend playing catch in the park and then eating some lovely cupcakes.  I made a vanilla cake (from scratch...from an Internet recipe).  It wasn't the best cake ever - I'm still searching for the perfect recipe - but the icing was spectacular.  I made a buttercream and stirred coconut flakes through it.  It was delicious!  Doesn't look great though....