Friday, November 28, 2014

salt dough--a couple of stories, a couple of links, and a how-to

Note: I wrote this post earlier in the year, like in January. But, I've been saving it for now, because it's a little more timely at this point in the year.

The older I get, the more impressed I am with my mom. One of my aunts once said that Barbara (my mom) has always had four great loves: children, reading, music, and singing, and that her life reflected those great loves in a very positive way.  I absolutely agree.

My mom has always taken mothering (and now takes grandmothering) very seriously. Not that she was a serious, no-fun mother, but that (as I now see it), she made her mothering responsibilities a priority, and dedicated the lion's share of her time and energy towards those responsibilities.

One way that this was manifested was that every Christmas for as long as I was interested, she would let me have a little "Christmas Craft Party". What that meant was that sometime in December, I could invite two or three friends to come over to my house and do something Christmasy. We did it many times, and I remember doing salt dough ornaments, ornaments made out of alphabet blocks and pom poms (kind of like these), peanut butter bars, and homemade suckers. I also remember letting each of my friends take a candy cane off our Christmas tree to go home.

It's a fond Christmas memory for me, so last year I decided to offer Heather the opportunity to do the same. I gave her a few options for activities, and she chose the old favorite of salt dough ornaments.

Wanting things to be streamlined as much as possible, I made up a half-batch of dough before the big day, cut out some ornaments, and baked them up. My thought was that when the girls came over, we could have some dough for them to roll out, shape, and create, and then while their shapes where baking, they could have some ready-made shapes to paint and decorate.

I used a recipe that I found at, and modified to my liking:


  • 3 cups flour, plus a little for dusting rolling surface
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 2 TBSP cream o’ tarter
  • 2 TBSP vegetable oil 
  • 2 cups boiling water
Mix dry ingredients.  Add oil to water, then add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix to incorporate.  Work the dough with your hands. 
Roll your dough out quite thin, and cut out your ornaments, being sure to make a hole in the top for ornament hanging. We used a drinking straw, cut into three or four pieces for added usability. 

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If you want to use that same drinking straw to make eyes for your snowman or whatnot, go right ahead.

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If you want to experiment with pressing random beads into your ornaments, then go ahead.  (We got the idea here.)

A word to the wise, a large number of our beads fell out once they were all baked (though none of them melted). The smallest beads (like the small green seed beads in the pictures below) fared the best. None of them ended up falling out while baking.

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Bake at 170 degrees for several hours, until they are set. I think it took us overnight.
(Technically, you can bake them faster at a higher temperature, say 200 or 250, but you run more of a risk of them bubbling or changing shapes, and we weren't in a hurry, so we took the slow-but-safer route)

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Once they're ready, go ahead and paint them. We like using acrylic paints--the colors are brighter and more permanent than the washable paints that we generally use for our craftiness.

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As it turned out, Heather was diagnosed with Hand, Foot, and Mouth disease the day before the big party, and so the "friend" Christmas Craft Party turned into a "mother-daughter" Christmas Craft Party. Not as fun, but better than nothing.  A whole lot better than nothing, actually.

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Because it was just the two of us, Heather and I had a hard time making it through the salt dough that I had made for four little girls. So we saved some and two months later, we made Valentine necklaces.

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Equally satisfying.

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Friday, November 21, 2014

lions- out of China and back to little 'ole me

From China to Cache Valley--here's a pair of lions I took in a gated community near my own home.

This first picture is a bit blurry because while I don't mind marching up to within inches of lions when they belong to people I don't know, I'm a little more circumspect when I'm in my own neighborhood among people who I may or may not know in real life. So, I had to use the zoom feature for these guys.

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Here they are un-zoomed.

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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Man of the Day

Today is Eric's birthday. Geesh, I love that guy.

Not in a "He's so hot I get weak in the knees whenever I think of him" way (at least, not anymore).

Not that he's not a handsome man--I mean, have you seen his mischievously glinting eyes? Have you seen the way he confidently walks from place to place--having an air about him that doesn't go all the way to "swagger" but definitely carries a hint of  "I'm okay, and so are you" about it? 

Okay, so maybe I do go a little weak in the knees when I think of that. 


Not in a "I don't know how I ever lived without him" way.

More in a "I've gotten so used to having his loyalty, his understanding, and his friendship that I've almost forgotten what it was like before he was around and so I definitely take him for granted much more than I have any right" way.

And in a "I love to add to his happiness, and I love how he takes pleasure and pride in my happiness" way.

And in a "There is no one with whom I relish sharing joys and sorrows, discoveries and confusions, successes and trials more than this man" way.

Geesh, I love that guy.

Eric cheers Heather on at a soccer game in the rain a month or so ago.
Don't even get me started on what a stellar father this guy is. You'd be reading all day.

Friday, November 14, 2014

A Star-Studded Farewell to our Chinese Lion Correspondent

So, after several years abroad,  Cherie is now back in the USA, living in her beautiful home nestled in a gorgeous valley with views of some of my favorite mountains.


However, what that means dear friends, is that we will no longer be treated to monthly or bi-monthly installments of Chinese lions.


Fortunately, in anticipation of this coming event, Cherie went all out and gave us a Chinese lion extravaganza for today. So, let's sit back, start scrolling, and enjoy this little treat. It will probably be our last.

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Baohua National Forest Park

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Lions in front of a hotel in Old Town, Lijiang, China - Yunnan Province

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Old Town, Lijiang, China - Yunnan Province

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At Tiger Leaping Gorge, Yunnan Province, China

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Red Lion in Lijiang, China

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Maqun in Nanjing, China

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At the entrance to the Black Dragon Pool Park in Lijiang, China
(Recognize anyone, Kami?)

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Old Town

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Lijiang City, Yunnan, China

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Lion at the entrance to the Naxi Family Restaurant in Lijiang, China

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In Old Town, Yunnan Province, China

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Lion at Mao Shan Mountain, China

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Lion at Painters Street in Shanghai, China
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Lions guarding the entry way to the Mu Mansion in Lijiang, China

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Temple Fork Sawmill--a gorgeous hike

On Labor Day this year, Eric's sister came up with her family to hike to the Temple Fork Sawmill. They invited us to join them, which was a real treat.

The hike is about two and a half miles through beautiful, and I DO mean beautiful country, filled with trees and streams, wildflowers and wildlife. At the end of the trail you come to a historical marker in a clearing of sorts. The marker shows where pioneers (mainly men) camped during the time of the building of the Logan temple and other buildings in Logan. They stayed there, cut trees down for the buildings, and floated them down the river to the valley. The wives would come up from time to time to visit their husbands, and there were a few women who stayed there to take care of cooking and other domestic work as well.

Anyway, it was a beautiful hike, and I was really grateful to be able to hike the trail with some people who actually knew how to get to the trailhead, and then to follow the trail.

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It turned out to be a truly delightful way to spend a morning. Great company, beautiful scenery, fresh air, and exercise? It doesn't get much better than that.

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Looking at this picture (below) just makes me remember how well I married. I mean, Eric is great--really really great, and he would be worth marrying just for him alone. But, to score a great second mother and a marvelous extra sister in the bargain too? Now that's called a cup overflowing. 

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Sorry for the sap, but that's how I feel.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Yellowstone - the "Charlotte" way

So, towards the middle of last June,  my mom announced that she had a "use it or lose it" week in their time share condo situation that would be expiring in December. She asked, almost begged all her kids to look over the offerings and availability and if we could find a match between our needs/wants and what was open, it was all ours.

So, I got clicking away, and I found to my delight that there was a one-week opening in a two-bedroom condo in Island Park, Idaho (twenty minutes away from Yellowstone, four hours away from Cache Valley) at the end of September, which is prime Charlotte travel time.

(I conveniently forgot that I would have a daughter in school at that time however. Those are the breaks I guess. Kindergarten isn't REALLY school, right?)

After clearing it with siblings, I got the go-ahead and booked the digs. It eventually became apparent that Eric would not be able to take off work (we'd been on three family reunions over the course of the summer), and so we determined that my daughter and I would go together, and open it up to any other family members who would care to join us. To our delight (and almost miraculously, given a heavy School Board slate of responsibilities), my mom's schedule was open and since she adores Yellowstone, she decided to join us.

And thus, the three-generation girls trip of a lifetime came to be.
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We stayed at the Island Park Village Resort, and its location was absolutely perfect.

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The city of Island Park is quite obviously a place that depends on tourism to thrive, but perhaps because it's so spread out, (at thirty-three miles long, it boasts the longest Main Street in America) it doesn't feel kitschy or over-crowded at all. The resort is located towards the eastern end of the town, which put us minutes away from the western entrance to Yellowstone.

The highlight of the whole trip for me was the animals. Oh MY! So SO many animals! I think this was my fifth trip to Yellowstone, and I have never seen even close to the number of animals that we saw this trip.

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Those black dots there are bears. We saw a mama bear with three cubs (!!!!)
This is as close as I was going to get.

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The of course, no trip to Yellowstone is complete without some significant viewing of the vast collection of other-worldly geological features.

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Funny story. Both my friend Annie and my sister-in-law Tamara (experienced Yellowstone travelers) mentioned the Grand Prismatic Spring when I plied them for information for our trip. So, like a drill Sargent, on the first day, I marched our little group through the sulfur-scented steam, among tourists of every nationality, through the rain, to the edge of the of the spring. Here is a picture of what we were supposed to see:

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Here is what we were able to make out:
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As you might notice from our clothing, it was quite wet and chilly during our trip there, and such a large body of super-hot water generated massive amounts of fog--so much fog that it was impossible to see the colors of spring, or even the spring itself!
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We dubbed it "The Grand Prismatic Steam" and had a good laughed at myself and how it all worked out. Then I marched our party on in search of other viewing gems.

We did find some other, smaller springs, springs that weren't covered in fog, and were beautifully brilliantly blue. That was nice.
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And then of course, the plain "old" (i.e. not powered by molten lava slightly beneath the earth's crust) scenery in Yellowstone just can't be beat.

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We took full advantage of the visitor centers, and in one of our best plans ever, my daughter participated in the Junior Ranger Program, earning a patch and even being officially sworn in as a Junior Ranger. That might have been the highlight of her whole trip.

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We brought our binoculars, and since we knew we'd be traveling during a time of unpredictable weather, we planned for almost any kind of temperature. That turned out to be kind of critical to our success on the trip, as we vacillated from snow to hail to rain to sunshine, sometimes all in a single day.

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Also, we tried to hit the park as close to the first thing in the morning as we could manage. This was a little outside of my "vacation mode" (you might remember that I'm one who loves to sleep in when I can), but being able to be inside the park early in the morning allowed us to see more animals and travel more freely than we could as the day waxed on. So, I'm really glad we did it.

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Now that we've been back a little bit and I can look back on the week (semi) objectively, I'm just beyond glad that we did it.Travel can be a time-consuming, energy-draining, financially daunting prospect at times, but particularly in cases where one can manage to travel without breaking the bank (as this was), I just don't know that there are many activities that provide as much of a return on the investment, relationship-wise, education-wise, or mental and physical health-wise as a good trip generally provides. I know not all people are "travel people" (I have a few family members who aren't really travelers), and that's okay, we all have different sources of rejuvenation and relaxation. But, as a "travel person", I've gotta say that this was a really great trip. I'm so glad we went.

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