Saturday, April 29, 2006

Rainy Saturday Pleasures

•Sleeping in til 8:05.
•Puttering in my sewing room while Felix lolls on the landing talking about birds.
•Baking a maple cake and oatmeal cookies.
•Taking Daisy out on my back covered porch to watch the rain, and seeing her fix a beady eye on a dead hosta leaf and exclaim, "Oh, my goodness, a titmouse!"
•Taking a walk at sunset when the clouds parted, under a gorgeous sky, and along lanes redolent of honeysuckle and privet.

Fun Retro Sundress

I made this this week in a pale pink cotton with cream polka dots. Having never fitted with princess seams before, I thought it would be wise to make a mock-up of the bodice to solve any fitting problems. In spite of that, it still doesn't fit like I would wish--odd looseness has arisen in the bust, and I left too much ease through the waist. Fortunately I can still wear it, and adding a cardigan on top not only covers my mistakes, but makes for that true co-ed look. Next time will be better!

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Vintage Finds: Driving Safety Tips

While re-reading a vintage Nancy Drew first published in 1932, I was struck by the syndicate author's fascination with all things driving. In that spirit I have compiled a few tips from the book:

Use your turn signal and other "safety devices."
"Nancy's new car had all the latest devices, and its clever driver certainly utilized them, yet without taking any undue chances. Dixon marveled audibly a Nancy took advantage of every opening, and when the traffic lights switched from red to green, had her car in motion before other autos in the line were started." (This doesn't actually sound all that safe--wouldn't you be ramming people?)

Choose the correct headlight setting.
"As soon as Nancy shifted to high gear she switched her lights from 'parking' to 'bright.'"

Timidity turns no heads.
"More than one head was turned, in envy or admiration, to watch the pretty girl manipulate her snappy maroon car with the dash and confidence of a veteran driver. Traffic did not worry Nancy." (Lucky her!)

Keep your car in good repair.
"How quickly the auto responded to the touch of the accelerator, how easily it picked up speed when traffic moved on. It was certainly a fine piece of mechanism." (Unlike my Suburban, Big Mike, who takes his time.)

Self-taught isn't necessarily a bad thing.
"A young woman as capable and self-reliant as yourself must be a wonderful driver,' Mr. Nickerson said, pausing at the car door. 'Wouldn't you like to drive?'
'I have never driven a car of this make,' Nancy said. 'But if you will risk the car---?'
Nancy accordingly seated herself at the wheel, studied for a moment the way the pedals and levers worked, and then started off. (This is about how Giles has taught himself to drive, actually.)

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Daisy in the Strawberries

Our strawberry bed is new-- I decided this year that I am only buying organic strawberries after too many news stories about the nasty chemicals on conventionally-grown berries.

After pricing the organic berries at Kroger, Giles pointed out that if each strawberry plant bears only two berries ever, they are still cheaper than buying berries at the store. Oh well.

Daisy is convinced that each strawberry growing in the garden is there just for her, and demands that it be picked, carried into the house by Mother, washed, and handed back over to her for her delighted consumption.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Felix On His Birding Trip

According to the Composer, he and Felix hit the right wildlife reserves at the right time to see great quantities of birds. Felix added more than forty birds to his life list on his three-day trip.

We love giving our children trips as gifts--there is only so much *stuff* that they need or want or can use or store. A travel adventure, on the other hand, takes up no space, gives them special time with parents, and will never be forgotten.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Parlor

" 'You are the lady of the house. Every mistress of a household has her parlour. . .Your temperament, my dear, is reflective, as mine is, and as you grow older you will increasingly need somewhere to go when you wish to be private. I suggest that the younger children and myself enter this room only with your permission'. . . Something inside her seemed to expand like a flower opening and she sighed with relief. She had not known before that she liked to be alone. She sat still for ten minutes, making friends with her room. . ."

--Eileen Goudge, Linnets and Valerians.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Schoolhouse Chocolate Pie

We had a beautiful Saturday here with lots of time in the garden, much of which was spent multi-tasking (digging/weeding/planting while at the same time convincing Daisy that her tools were better and she didn't need to trade or take ours). The Composer has gone out of town with Felix on a wonderful jaunt to the gulf coast in search of all the birds who are migrating north and, having just flown over the gulf, are dropping exhausted right in front of the binoculars of birdwatchers from all over the world.

The work load is always a little heavier when I am parenting solo, but on the other hand, with no husband to gaze longingly at it,I got the last piece of chocolate pie.

*Schoolhouse Chocolate Pie*

Prepare or purchase a chocolate crumb crust.

In a small bowl, whisk:
3 T. cornstarch
1 T. cocoa
1/4 t. salt
1 C. half-and-half

In a medium saucepan, heat:
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1 C. sugar
1 1/4 C. milk
until chocolate is melted.

Whisk in the half-and-half mixture and heat, stirring constantly, until it thickens suddenly. Turn heat to low and continue to stir and cook for one minute. Remove from heat and whisk in:

2 T. butter
1 t. vanilla

Chill for several hours in crust, and before serving, top with sweetened whipped cream:

1 C. heavy cream
2 T. sugar
Whip until peaks are stiff. I used to stop with the more elegant soft peaks, but in my tackier old age, I find that I like the tidiness of whipped cream that stays in place.

This is a great summer pie; it doesn't involve turning the oven on, and it tastes so chocolately and cool that it makes the world a better place to be.

Friday, April 21, 2006


The pink-flecked white peonies are in bloom this week. I'm especially fond of these plants because they were planted by my mother more than twenty years ago.

Chickens Looking Good

I couldn't resist Giles' photo of Hurtneck and Pearl in front of the barn with the vine making them look like they're somewhere in France. . .

Housedress Pattern

This is McCalls 4759, which I used on my housedress. I particularly like the darts in the bodice--both horizontal under the bust, and vertical. There are also darts in the back, and I added darts to the skirt front and back to get a nice shape through the hips.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

New Retro Housedress

Here is a glimpse (if you can get past Daisy's profile) of a most successful dress I have made myself. I got this fabulous silky cotton in a pale green with red rosebuds at the incomparable Denver Fabrics Store last summer, after first becoming acquainted with their website. I made up a pattern with a fitted bodice and A-line skirt and trimmed it in rick-rack used as scallops, along the sleeve cuffs,front placket of the dress, and around the collar. When I put it on, I just want to mop!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Loving the Work

From a 1903 book with the delightful title Millionaire Households and Their Domestic Economy by Mary Elizabeth Carter:

"No one can do anything well while hating the work, unless governed by an unflinching sense of duty, and a conscience that permits no laxness; even then, the aesthetic touch that can only be secured through love of one's occupation will be lacking."

Monday, April 17, 2006

Easter Dresses in Action

My lovely daughters in their Easter dresses. They are not always looking down; here they are hunting for Easter eggs. We had such a beautiful Easter, with intense sunshine, lots of music, lots of whipped cream. . .

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Easter Dinner Menu

Ham in Coca-Cola
Corn Pudding
New Potatoes
Roasted Salty Asparagus
Steamed Carrots
Green Salad with Cucumbers and Violets
Wheat Rolls
Pineapple, Cherry, and Mandarin Salad with Lemon-Whipped Cream Dressing

Orange-Marmalade Cake
Sour Cherry Upside-Down Cake
Chocolate Cream Pie with Whipped Cream

Fruity Iced Tea

Friday, April 14, 2006

Simple Dress for Bella

This was a quick sewing project designed around the fabulous denim my mother gave me to make girl clothes with--can you beat pink with purple flowers and purple sequins? No, you can't. This is a simple A-line dress (front and back are each one piece bound with bias binding), with a self-fabric flounce around the bottom for a little style. It suits Bella perfectly, especially when it is giving off purple sparkles on the white walls of the kitchen.

Planting Flowerpots

I'm not much of a container gardener, but we did put together a few pots for the front porch this year. This is my favorite--white petunias combined with white alyssum. In the high heat of summer, I find that pots are just too demanding to sustain, needing water two or three times a day. We will enjoy them until they get to be too much of a pain!

Daisy's Hair

. . . does this if I fail to brush it down neatly after bathtime. Here you see her in her beloved Purple Jammies, used as daywear for a special treat.

Thursday, April 13, 2006


Old mirrors are lovely. I love the little scenes they set up--their little reflected worlds look so inviting and so much more magical than the real room. . .

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Poking Around in the Garden

This is such a fun time of year to putter in the gardens--the perennials are filling in and doing the work for me, and the vegetable garden is empty and inviting. We have been planting bits here and there this past week--Giles put in a raspberry bush and the tomato plants, Clara has planted sweet peas, and we have spinach, beets, and sugar snaps up (including Daisy's own Sugar Snap Corner, with all the *rest* of the sugar snap seeds). Oh, and two long rows of potatoes. I haven't figured out yet where the other vegetable must-haves are going to go, but I'm sure it will come to me.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Not Again!

Yesterday while I was folding laundry I looked down and was horrified to see that the sapphire in my engagement ring was gone. It is such a beautiful stone, and I've never seen one like it--it's called a cornflower sapphire and is a beautiful medium blue, cut in an oval.

I had lost it once before, fifteen years ago. Just like yesterday, I Iooked down and it was missing. Several weeks later I was unfolding a pair of socks and it flew across the room. It has lived safely in my engagement ring ever since then.

Yesterday I was hopeless that I would ever find it. I was sure that it would get vacuumed up or had fallen out outside. I did pray that God would restore it to me once again but there didn't seem to be any point at all in looking for it.

This morning I put in a load of wash. When the cycle was over I was pulling out my wet laundry and heard the sound of something rattling around in the washer. I couldn't see it, and I couldn't even feel it, because it was wedged down in one of the round holes in the washer, but there it was. I'm going back to the jeweler with it, and this time I want it superglued! And thank you, Lord!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Oven Fries

My children have huge appetites. They are generally a joy to feed because they appreciate everything (well, no fish for Bella please), but boy, do they eat a lot of food!

I make a point of serving at least one good carbohydrate with every meal, to fill everyone up. Oven fries have been a big hit the last few weeks--easy, cheap, popular, and healthy! I generally prepare one *large* potato for each person present.

Preheat oven to 425. Scrub potatoes, leave skin on, and cut into fry shapes. Toss in a large bowl with olive oil--just drizzle it on til everyone's got a little--no need to soak. Spread out in a single layer on a Pam'ed baking sheet, and sprinkle with kosher salt (easy there, it's so salty!). Turn once or twice while baking for about an hour. They come out just like French fries, with only a little bit of healthy fat, and lots of fiber. Daisy always demands her fair share, and pass her the ketchup.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Simplicity 5961: A New Apron

I picked this pattern up at the fabric store yesterday, along with a yard of fabulous retro-style fabric that even I would not attempt to make into street wear--bright red with scenes in yellow and brown of little girls at a birthday party, including cutting the cake and pinning the tail on the donkey. But with some bright yellow bias binding trim and a great retro pattern (View B, shown in pink, perhaps?), I am on my way to a great addition to my apron collection.

Friday, April 07, 2006

When Life Gives You Chicken Breasts. . .

A child who will remain nameless left the door to the big freezer open last night. I threw out all the fruits and vegetables (could have been worse--we had used up our summer peaches already), and salvaged several Sam's Club bags of boneless chicken breasts. They were quite thawed but still cold, so I plunked them in marinade this afternoon (tamari, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and garlic), then the Composer graciously stepped in and grilled them *all*.

We enjoyed a huge Chicken Caesar salad tonight which consisted of my biggest enamel bowl filled with mixed lettuces and chopped tomatoes tossed with a very garlicky vinaigrette, and plates of these items to choose from: grilled chicken (ha!), fresh-grated Parmesan cheese, marinated artichoke hearts, black olives marinated in wine and herbs, sliced avocado, and whole-grain baguettes split and toasted.

The Big Salad Meal, while delicious and much appreciated here, is in my experience a dinner which costs much more in terms of actual time and money than almost any other, although it seems like it would be cheap and easy. By the time I've gathered and prepared all the goodies for a big salad, I could have fixed two or three meat-and-potatoes dinners, I think! Still, we all enjoy dinners of taco salad, salade nicoise, or grilled chicken salad. Just not all the time, please!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Monogrammed Napkins

Just in time for a fancy Easter dinner, I've finished monogramming the stack of twelve damask linens I picked up at the antique mall a few weeks ago. I do love to embroider! The stitching part is easy compared to getting a pattern I like. Vintage charm is good, but it's so easy to cross that line into twee. . . For this project I used an iron-on alphabet from one of those Aunt Martha packets which I only seem to find at off-brand general merchandise stores like Alco. Lots of those packets are girls in hoop skirts (no thanks), but I've found some nice letters and some wonderful pinecones and pine needles. And vegetable collections, which are good for the classic dishtowel set.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Giles took this photo of the wisteria blooming on the front yard arbor. Not only are the flowers a most delicious lavendar color, they are also fragrant, and swarming with bumble bees. Standing under the arbor looking up through the flowers, with all that buzzing overhead, is delightful.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Keeping Up with the Ironing

Some people hate ironing and would do anything to avoid it, up to and including wearing polyester shirts. I am not one of those. I find ironing to be one of the most rewarding of domestic tasks. You start with a pile of wrinkled things and end with a rack of smooth, crisp shirts and a stack of lovely folded pillowcases. At least I do: I iron the Composer's button-down shirts, dresses for the girls and myself, and the pillowcases, which at my house are all cotton or linen. I even iron the Sunday napkins when I can get in ahead of Clara.

Although I love to iron, I do not do it perfectly, sprinkling and rolling clothes in time-honored fashion. (See Home Comforts by Cheryl Mendelsohn for details and instructions). I use the shortcut my mother raised me with--the spray bottle of water used at the time of ironing. I have known people who sprinkle and roll before they iron, and believe me when I say that their ironing piles were much, much bigger than mine have ever been.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Raising the Potluck Standard

I'll be the first to admit that I spent a few years in a slump, bringing more than my share of canned vegetables, cookies from the freezer, and bags of baby carrots to our monthly church potluck. Several months ago, though, I became embarrassed about my own under-achieving behavior (Let's call it laziness! No! Failure to plan! No! Both!) and began to turn it around.

Potluck is its own institution, with its own rules. Lora shall bring her big Tupperware bowl of broccoli slaw; Maureen shall bring angel hair pasta with fresh basil; Barbara, blackberry cobbler and a pot roast. Ideally. But somehow we had all been slipping, and relying heavily on the takeout containers of Wal-Mart fried chicken.

Having repented, I have begun referencing my calendar when I make out my menus and grocery list. What do you know, potluck is right in there and I can shop and cook for it now! (Keeping the cardinal Potluck Rules in mind: 1. Food must look like what it is. 2. No surprise ingredients. 3. Try to present attractively.)

For this Sunday I brought a pan of manicotti (went a little wild on the dairy with Giles out of town!) with sauce from scratch, Clara's all-butter pound cake nicely glazed with lemon and presented on a rimmed cut-glass platter, and my very own new potluck signature, a romaine salad on a deep robins'-egg blue platter, with an arrangement of tomato and avocado slices on the top, all drizzled with Schoolhouse Vinaigrette dressing.

And guess what? At the end of dinner, there was lots of Wal-Mart chicken left over.

Saturday, April 01, 2006


Homing is one of my favorite Grace Livingston Hill books. The lonely, poverty-stricken heroine works soul-grinding hours at the button counter of the department store, only to go home at night to the world's worst boarding house. Meanwhile she is dreaming about:

"Wide windows and pretty curtains. Cool in summer and warm in winter. A little fireplace somewhere with the brightness and comfort of firelight. . . She would have a pretty rug. Perhaps not an oriental, but one with soft colors. And a bookcase with books she loved. A desk to sit and write letters at, only she knew no one to write to, and a little table to have five o'clock tea on with frosted cakes. . ."
Don't worry, her fortunes take a turn for the better and in fact she not only gets to visit the shore, but is able to purchase (for $1.98) a new dress to wear there, a light summer frock of pink dimity with a lovely white collar, and a wisp of black velvet ribbon making a tiny dash of smartness at the throat! And that's only the beginning. . .

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