Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Messenger - Short Film - Josie

Josie had such a good time on this shoot! Some of her favorite local actors were involved, like Kyle who played her dad in Grace's World. She really loved getting to know her mom in Messenger,  Renee. She new to the area, but has a lot of acting experience. Between Renee, Kyle, and Jace, Josie was in heaven learning all sorts of things from them (some acting related and some not).

This is the first short film Josie has acting in that made me want to create a t-shirt for it. They had so many cast sayings by the end of the day. A good natured "Do better!" would definitely be included on a shirt. Josie really prefers to act with adults. She told me this after the Messenger shoot. She was totally treated with complete respect from the director, the actors, and crew. They included her in political to religious to acting discussions and while she did start showing her age with some gymnastics moves during the down time, they were all wonderful with her. She learned a lot about acting without words from Kyle in this short and she didn't mind at all the violent scenes since she knows they are all really friends. Arielle, the director, is graduating soon and I know she'll go on to do great things!

This film is a little longer than most of the short films we've been involved with and it has violence, offensive language, and blood. So view with your own discretion. We had a full apartment with a retired Marine and his wife (they have several dogs so we shared pictures of the canines in our lives), who was there to consult on the fight scenes and about the guns, me, and cast/crew. This meant for several hours I was crouched down in the kitchen with the film equipment, etc. trying to stay out of the scene. It was a long day of work, but so much fun. As soon as we left that evening, Josie turned to me and said "When can I do another film?!"

Behind the scenes:
This was Josie's first movie with prop guns and she's never seen a real gun in person so it was pretty interesting for her.
This was my view most of the day from behind the kitchen counter. 
The discomforts I endure for my kids to pursue their passions. I brought a book, but never got a chance to read it because I like watching all the behind the scenes and during the scenes action. I also had to move from time to time because my legs would fall asleep.
Josie was a trouper about being tied up and they were super nice about making sure she was comfortable.
We were joking about how many of Josie's short films have required her to be in pajamas.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Two Teen Household or Dema turns 13

Dema turned 13 today and since it is also Easter, we dubbed it Beaster (birthday/Easter). If he has a nice long life, we figured out he will only celebrate Beaster three times. He started on Saturday celebrating his last day as a 12 year old.
Dema loves Daiya cheezecake!
We've only had Daiya cheezecake once before, but he wanted to try it again for his birthday. I know vegan cheesecake is pretty simple to make, but it was on sale at the co-op.
The cheesecake is really pretty small, but perfect for everyone to have a small slice. If it was bigger, it would be too rich and heavy. Josie thinks it tastes like the Daiya greek yogurt.
Parker, Josie, and Dema waiting for a table at our favorite local Thai restaurant.
We were supposed to head up to Chicago for Dema's 13th birthday, but Parker is directing his first short film and his cast/crew were available to shoot this weekend and Dema didn't want to go to Chicago without the entire family. I love how supportive they are of each other. They don't always get along perfectly, but they always have each others' backs.
Rob and Dema enjoying their vegan pad thai and mock duck basil at Thara Thai.
The kids always want to celebrate their birthdays and other special events at Thara Thai. The owner is the sweetest, she adds extra veggies for us, and the food is a perfect blend of spicy and love.
The Sunday D and D group after the escape room adventure.
Parker is the dungeon master for a D and D group on Sunday evenings and one of the members just happened to plan an escape room adventure on Dema's birthday weekend. Dema was a little nervous with this being his first escape room adventure and this one involved zombies and handcuffs, but he had a great time and can't wait to do another one!
Josie, Dema, and Parker enjoying their morning smoothies and giving Dema his Beaster present.
Parker was up late shooting Saturday night so Easter morning came a little too early for him, but they were eager to give Dema his X Box One games. I miss the days of Easter presents being plants or seeds. Sigh.
The kids did get a little vegan Easter candy too.
Our awesome neighbor, Margie, has hosted a huge Easter Egg hunt every year in our park since we moved in, but this year she was out of town visiting one of her sons. Our other neighbors, Abigail and Aaron, invited Josie to join their little scavenger hunt Easter Egg hunt. It is a genius idea where each egg has a note that leads you to the next and finally to a gift.

We gave Dema Isa's The Superfun Times Vegan Holiday Cookbook for Christmas and he's been dying to make something from it. He flipped through and requested these Snuggy Bunnies, which is spiced cooked carrots in a blanket. We made a double batch and the kids wanted more. Parker and I really liked the carrots without the puff pastry so I'll have to cook the carrots again. Josie doesn't like soft carrots, but these keep a bit of their crunch so Josie approved.

Dema's 13th Birthday cake by Rob.
 The kids request this cake for every birthday. It is the Raspberry Frosted Cake with Chocolate Cream Center from Vive le Vegan by Dreena Burton. The kids have had fancier birthday cakes through the years, but this is their favorite tasting by far. Rob is the one who usually makes it since I despise baking so it is his special present to them. Parker needs to learn how to make it before he moves out.
Dema's 13th Birthday Cake is fabulous served with tea.
 We sometimes ice the sides, but I like saving some icing (it is make with frozen raspberries so it tastes so fresh and naturally sweet) for a bundt cake later in the week.
Dema has a sweet tooth so this is his favorite part of the day.
Dema and I went on several walks with the dogs and I told Dema's birth story to him again. The kids love reliving their birth stories. This year it took two days to tell it because Dema loves to joke around and slipping into different voices (British, Southern US, etc.) so we end up getting side tracked and laughing. I wrote this post about Dema on his 6th birthday and it is more true today than ever.
Dema's birthday cake with Ben & Jerry's non-dairy ice cream.
 The cake is great on its own, but we couldn't resist using Ben & Jerry's PB and Cookies and Ben & Jerry's Coffee Caramel Fudge to top our cake. These are two "new to us" non-dairy flavors. The Coffee Caramel Fudge is my favorite of the two and Dema agreed (he's a sucker for anything caramel). The rest of the family liked them both equally. B & J really knows how to get the consistency, flavor, and mouth-feel right. I can't believe how far vegan ice cream has come!
Parker in film director mode.
Parker is directing this short film on his own, using all teens to crew and cast (one adult is also in the cast), and he's editing it on his own. I don't even really know what it is about, but I did get a call a couple hours into shooting one night because they needed food stat! I knew they would need snacks, but all the kids were sure they'd be fine. Parker usually takes his own food on shoots when he's acting so he declined food service when I offered before the shoot. I made a quick run to the store and the cast and crew was so appreciative, but that is all the help I've given him. I love that it is teaching him about directing, organization, delegating, scheduling, and telling people what to do. They haven't been taking behind the scene shots so I got this one of him coning back from the filming location with the film computer.

I love having two teens in the house. Parker and Dema have a complicated relationship, as many siblings do. Since there is four years between them, their closeness has ebed and flowed, but I've noticed them getting closer as Dema has matured a bit as he approached 13. I think this will be a defining year for their relationship and I hope that they grow in a closeness that will sustain them throughout their adult lives.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Random Life Pictures - Flowers, Food, Family, Fur Friends, and Fun

Flowers my sister gave Parker after his Starmites performance.
Usually we don't buy cut flowers since they die, it seems like a waste, but it is really nice once in a while. We thoroughly enjoyed these for a few weeks. Parker's Starmites performance was in early March.
Love notes from Josie with dying flower petals.
Josie made good use of the petals as the flowers started to die off. The gift that keeps on giving.
Josie being more specific with her love note.
This one says "I love you Mom" heart "Jo" (my nickname for her). She didn't tell me about these notes, I just would randomly find them and they would brighten my day.
Parker and Josie eating Thai to celebrate Parker's 17th birthday!
Back in late February, we finally went to Thara Thai for Parker's 17th birthday. It is a tradition for us to go out to our favorite local Thai restaurant during each person's birthday month. We never had a chance to go as a family so just Josie, Parker, and I went after a her gymnastics meet hosted by a local gym. It seemed like a good day to celebrate his birthday and a great meet. We have our "usual" dishes, but this time both Parker and I decided to order something new. Parker ordered Prik King Mock Duck; asparagus, green beans, onions, carrots, mushrooms, and seitan. This has now become a new favorite. I ordered (not pictured) Eggplant with Basil Leaves; stir-fried eggplant, onions, carrots, and basil. I will also be ordering this again!
Twins; Dema and our dog, Gracie.
Gracie usually sleeps on Parker's king sized bed if she isn't sleeping on a dog bed, but lately she's been joining Dema in his twin bed. It is pretty sweet.
Parker's broccoli soup and roasted Brussels sprouts.
The other day when Dema and I were walking the dogs, I asked Parker to roast some Brussels sprouts and finish up broccoli soup I had started. I left him with a soup pot filled with chopped red onions, red lentils, broccoli, garlic, turmeric, black pepper, red pepper flakes, nutritional yeast, and water. We came back to a lovely lunch. Parker is now officially in charge of Brussels sprouts. Parker grew up making broccoli soup so he went ahead and added a bunch of spices to make it his own. The sprouts he roasted at 415 degrees F with olive oil, nutritional yeast, tamari, turmeric, black pepper, red pepper  flakes, hot sauce, and a bit of iodized sea salt. So delicious and just want my brassica loving teen was looking for in a lunch.

Josie worked really hard on minimizing her clothes recently. We rarely buy any clothes for her, but she gets a lot of hand-me-downs from friends. It helps to be younger than most of your friends. Usually, she wants to hold onto everything for sentimental value since "x" friend gave it to her or "y" made it for her, but all of the sudden she has matured and she was able to get rid of five bags stuffed full of clothes. Meanwhile, I was supposed to be getting the kitchen things minimized and I got stuck on the refrigerator and everyone pitched in. Don't look at the drawers, but we did get the rest of the refrigerator cleaned and better organized. It makes me so happy to open it up and have everything where I want it!
Dema (right reddish blob) and Josie (black and white blob) playing in the Spring rain.
While we really didn't even have a winter (scary), it is still nice when spring has sprung. The rain showers and the sunny days both mean Dema and Josie playing at the park. Most people like the smell of babies and I have to admit, that is a great smell, but my favorite smell in the world is child's head just in from playing at the park.
Canine boarder, Bodie, is so funny when we won't give him a treat he twists himself into this position on our kitchen floor.
We've had Bodie as a guest three or four times now, always a couple weeks at a time. He is pretty tightly wound and we joke that he might have OCD like Dema since Bodie has some interesting habits and suffers from anxiety. He's a great dog with loads of personality and we love him.
Josie can't do anything the easy way. This is how I find her watching movies.
Gymnastics touches every aspect of Josie's life, even watching movies.
Sale vegan Valentine chocolate.
I don't think I bought any Valentine's Day treats for the kids this year, but these were on sale recently at the co-op so I thought we'd give them a try.
 I didn't realize until Josie opened her's up that the outside was chocolate with chocolate truffles inside. It took them days to eat it, but thumbs up from all of them. They prefer dark chocolate, but the vegan "milk" chocolate was a nice change of pace.
I'm always amazed at how many vegan treat options we have now!
Canine boarder, Gunner, loves our soft sided crate. Josie made a  blanket tent next to it and the two of them had a great time lounging, napping, drawing, and reading.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Level 3 Girls Gymnastics State Meet and Mediterranean Eats

We drove up west of Chicago for Josie's last gymnastics meet of the 2016-2017 season. This was her first state meet since girls gymnastics doesn't have a state meet for level 2. We had to stay in a hotel since she needed to be at the gym around 8:30am and it is a bit over 2 1/2 hours from our house. I had looked up some vegan friendly restaurants for dinner, but once we got to the "downtown" looking area where the Thai Pavilion was supposed to be, it appeared to be long closed down or remodeling. Disappointed and hungry, we walked along the few blocks and found a golf supply shop, several antique stores, and an "adult romance products" store. We were about to give up when Rob noticed a Mediterranean place. Josie was sad since she had her heart set on Thai, but Mediterraneo Grill ended up putting a big smile on her face. It was one of those lucky locally-owned-gem finds. If you somehow find yourself in DeKalb, IL (home to Northern IL University), check this place out!
Spinach Pie with fries.
This Spinach Pie is a meal in itself. They describe this dish as "homemade dough filled with fresh spinach, sumac, Mediterranean spices, onion, olive oil, and topped with pomegranate reduction". The pomegranate reduction was a surprising addition to one of our favorite Mediterranean dishes. Rob and I had Lentil Soup with our sandwiches and Josie regretted getting fries instead with her Spinach Pie so I shared my soup. She shared her spinach pie because...look how big it is! Rob and I ate most of her fries because we're bad and she wanted some of my falafel sandwich and the foola, shown below, instead.
Foola, which is fava beans, garlic, onion, parsley, other spices, tomatoes, and in this case some pickles with tahini sauce drizzled on top.
I was expecting some ho-hum hummus and pita so I didn't think to take pictures until we'd already devoured the baba ganoush, which wasn't obscenely salty like a lot of restaurants or prepared baba ganoush can be, and it had just the right amount olive oil. The pita bread was the same pita all Mediterranean restaurants seem to have and it would have been better warm. The falafel sandwich was so good, I would go back to Mediterraneo just for that, sorry no picture. The falafel was perfectly spiced, toothsome, and not a bit oily. The veggies were fresh and flavorful. The tahini sauce added a bit of zing to the sandwich, but didn't overpower the other ingredients. I also didn't get a picture of Josie's lemonade, but it cannot be missed. They describe it as homemade orange blossom lemonade and it was perfection. Josie wanted to take a gallon home with us. We ordered way too much food, which was perfect since we had a refrigerator in our suite. Josie isn't big on eating before a meet so she was happy to have the leftovers after the meet on the drive home.
Rob is better at doing hair than I am, according to Josie. Getting her hair in a bun is not for the faint of heart.
Rob is a great help with Josie's gymnastics hair and he'll do what he has to do to get her unruly do in an up do. It sort of ticks me off that female gymnastics have pretty strict rules for hair, but the boys can pretty much do anything or really nothing with theirs. Double standard! I understand not wanting to get hair caught in a bar or stepped on, but I really don't get the bun. Not something I'm willing to fight.
Josie ready to head to the meet!
Kudos to Country Inn & Suites for a very nice clean room with king sized bed and pull out bed with a privacy door between, refrigerator, microwave, and pool. Most of the time the coaches suggest the kids not swim in the pool the night before or day of the meets, but Josie has been swimming conditioning for swim team all winter so I knew it wouldn't affect her gymnastics. When she got down to the pool after dinner, she quickly made friends with two girls from another team and they were all doing handstands and aerials off the side and into the pool. I quickly ruined Josie's fun since all I could think of was their little heads cracking open if their hands slipped on the wet side of the pool. Luckily, pretty soon Josie's teammate and her family came to the pool (we didn't even know they were staying in the same hotel!) and they also didn't agree with the gymnastics on the slippery poolside into the only four or five foot deep pool. I'm not the only mean parent. Josie and the girls still had plenty of non-coma inducing fun until it was time to go to bed.
Josie on the left and her teammate on the right waiting for their coaches.
She was a little nervous, especially since at state they are broken into smaller groups based on age so she only had one other teammate competing with her.
Level 3 Floor Routine at State Gymnastics Meet 2017. I think the judges gave her a 9.0125 
Level 3 Vault at State Gymnastics Meet 2017. Judges have her a 9.2 
Level 3 Bars Routine at State Gymnastics Meet 2017. Judges gave her a 9.150 
Level 3 Beam Routine at State Gymnastics Meet 2017. Judges gave her a 9.125 
Josie at the far right with 9th place for All Around in her competition level. Much better than we expected at state! 
Josie happy, tired, and a little sad that meet season is over.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Thai Green Curry, Passions, and Starmites

Parker, my 17 year old, is always looking for food he can prepare for himself when he's on his own. This Amy's Thai Green Curry has been a favorite for him when he needs a quick meal between play rehearsals or if no one else is home. They are sold as "Meals for Two", but in reality it is a meal for one hungry teen or two normal people. I'm not a big fan of processed foods, but this one is pretty veggie heavy and he adds another bag of mixed frozen veggies to it while it cooks. Sometimes he'll add cashews too. It is definitely higher in sodium than how I cook so it is once in a while convenience food. It definitely has a nice Thai flavor without being spicy. I've only been able to find the Thai Green Curry at our local co-op, although our local Target carries several non-vegan varieties of Amy's Meals for Two. It isn't the cheapest convenience food out there, but it is quick and if you do feed two people, it is much cheaper than Thai at a restaurant in our area.
One serving of Amy's Thai Green Curry with 10 oz. of organic veggies added.
I used to stay up late at night reading with a flashlight under my covers, but Josie stays up late drawing. If she isn't doing math to relax, she's drawing. I can't decide if I should put her in a class or not. It is clearly more than a hobby and she is always striving to "get better", but sometimes classes can take the fun out of art or it can open up a whole new level of fun.
Josie and one of her passions, art.
 Parker was asked to be part of a local private Catholic high school's musical. He doesn't attend the school, but he was in their fall play, Hamlet Thrill-ma-geddon, and had a great time. The kids were so welcoming and he made several friends. So when they asked him to be Shak Graa in Starmites, he was more than happy to make time in his schedule. I have no idea how he was able to memorize his lines/songs for Starmites while he was also memorizing his lines for Taming of the Shrew and a monologue for his acting class at our local community college, but he makes it look easy. I never hear him rehearsing at home and he never asks for any of us to run lines with him. Memorizing comes so much easier for him than it ever did for me. It was such a fun show and Shak Graa is an evil out of this world type character that Parker had the best time playing. It was his first time wearing lipstick and nail polish in a play and he even got to use some of his hip hop moves.
Dema and Josie came to two performances of Starmites to support their big brother. 
Josie was so sick the second night with a crazy cold, but she still wanted to come and watch Parker in Starmites. Dema had a great time catching up with friends. He's homeschooling again this year, but the three previous years he spent at a private Catholic school that sort of feeds into this high school. Parker got to know the kids at the school even more this production and he's been hanging out with several of them over spring break. Theater kids are the best! If you haven't heard of Starmites, you should definitely check it out.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Spring Break: Dog House, Taco Tuesday, General Tso's Tofu

We are finishing up spring break in our part of the world. This doesn't mean vacations for us, it means dogs! We had five dogs this week (counting our lovely old greyhound, Gracie) and two cats at a neighbor's house to care for. I love action time for others because it equates to a full canine house for me. We'll take our vacations later. We're pretty flexible since we homeschool. The weather here has been an even crazier than normal for Midwestern US so below freezing to almost 80 in just a couple days. The weather was fine for walking the dogs though. Most days with the five dogs were 6-7 mile days. Nothing makes a pack of dogs happier than lots of walks together.
Full grown beagle mix puppy, Zoe, on Rob's feet and big youngish greyhound pretty new rescue from the track, Wish Bone.
 I was so happy with all the dogs and how well they got along. I believe working with dogs is similar to working with kids. Things go best when you get to know the dogs and set them up for success. I always introduce new dogs to each other on long walks, while I keep a close eye on their body language. I don't let dogs, like greyhounds, out in the yard to run with smaller dogs. I don't want the prey drive to kick in with sight hounds. I try to keep our house as similar to home with the same rules so there is no confusion. Two of the dogs were first time boarding with us, Zoe and Wish Bone, and they were an unlikely playmates with the huge difference in size, but they loved each other. When their families picked them up, we found out they are friends (small town) so they might be able to set up regular playdates. So fun!
This is how my husband, Rob, multitasks. Zoe is a total snuggle dog and if there is a lap to be had, she was in it.
Zoe was just adopted a few days before she came to stay with us for break, but she was so eager to make new friends (human and non-human) that the transition was easy for her. She is still getting used to being house trained so I made sure we were outside a lot and she had long walks to get some of her puppy energy out.
My amaryllis is finally blooming, which always make me happy.
 When we weren't walking dogs, feeding dogs, grooming dogs, or petting dogs, we were sleeping. No, just kidding, we did have a bit of time to get started on some spring cleaning and I optimistically put some harder plants outside.
Josie working hard on Khan Academy.
No rest for homeschoolers. Josie loves to work on math via Khan Academy so she doesn't mind doing bit of homework during "spring break".
Example of the kids' daily smoothie with our reusable glass straws.
When you get a new kitchen gadget, like the Instant Pot, it is easy to forget about your old standbys. My Vitamix wasn't feeling the love, but about a month ago I started making morning smoothies for the kids again. I used to add veggies in every smoothie, but lately I've been concentrating on the fruit. I noticed my eldest, Parker, was great about getting vegetables in his daily diet, but fruit wasn't as big a priority for him. He prefers savory over sweet so when he does eat fruit it is apples or bananas with peanut butter. I start out with soy milk (something else the kids don't really eat/drink on a regular basis if I don't cook with it or put it in smoothies), dried barberries, ground flax seeds or hemp seeds, some type of nuts (usually cashews or pecans), and then different fruits. This day it was whole kiwi (I leave the skin on after I was them), frozen strawberries and acai smoothie packs I found in the freezer. I don't drink the smoothies because I don't need the calories, but the kids love to start their day with one. I came down with a pretty bad cold and even with tech week for a production, which means late nights, Parker was fine. I like to think it was partly to do with a healthy dose of anti-oxidants in his morning smoothie.
Pinto bean and chorizo seitan vegan tacos.
I think we had our first taco Tuesday ever and now the kids want this to be a regular thing. Usually, we eat burritos at least once a week, but Josie asked for taco shells on a whim. I made them on a Tuesday because party took pity on my cold and cooked us dinner on Monday. I started with diced red onion sauteing in the cast iron skillet, then added Uptons Natural Chorizo Seitan, pinto beans, turmeric, black pepper, nutritional yeast, red pepper flakes, diced jalapeƱo peppers, and taco seasoning. Rob made guacamole and I cut up some lettuce and the kids added Daiya pepper jack shreds. I made a soft taco with a whole wheat tortilla, but the rest of the family when for the taco shells.
Parker's General Tso's Tofu.
I mentioned Parker made supper Monday evening. His schedule has been much lighter during spring break and Rob and I were feeling particularly run down from this cold Monday evening, so Parker came to us and asked if he could make dinner. He said he felt bad about not doing more around the house lately and asked if we wanted him to make a mock duck curry. Well, none of us have made that at home before so I suggested he look up a vegan recipe for General Tso's. It turned out a bit salty so I won't link to the recipe, but now he has an idea on how to make it so he'll tweak it to match our tastes. Served over brown rice, it really hit the spot.