Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Bella's Dreadlocks

Bella has the most beautiful head of well-groomed dreadlocks, which are looking especially fine today as she visited her new hairdresser. Cynthia is an answer to prayer! Bella had a hairdresser, but her salon closed and it took several months to find someone who could do her hair.

Long before Bella was even born I owned these books:

Full of beautiful photographs of real people, they demystified natural black hair and taught me everything I know (which isn't much). When Bella was two, my friend Cathy, herself the adoptive mother of a daughter with *gorgeous* braids, helped me to put Bella's hair into the beginnings of her locks: two-strand twists all over her little head. Sure, they stood straight out at first, but within three months they were locking beautifully, and gaining the weight to lie down.

Her hair has never been combed out or brushed since that time, seven years ago. Instead, we wash it just as it is, condition it, and every coulple of months go to the salon to have the new growth (an inch or two) palm-rolled or twisted into place.

When her hair is wet, as it is all summer in the pool, her locks come more than halfway down her back.


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Daffodils in Full Bloom


In spring, Felix's fancy turns to thoughts of aviculture. Last year he successfully raised his first order of chicks, only to see his flock decimated one evening by an unknown predator which killed *all* the girls--Mavis, Sophie, Hurtneck, Pearl, and the rest. That was a hard experience, and he did not replace the hens because he wasn't satisfied with the security of his fencing.

However, my dear neighbor Phyllis made him an offer he couldn't refuse this week. She has so many chickens ranging around her house that they are tearing up her yard and insisting on roosting in the garage. She offered Felix six of them--five laying hens and a gorgeous rooster--as well as the use of the Chicken Mobile Home which fits nicely over my vegetable garden beds, allowing the hens to scratch and fertilize all day long in a chosen area.

They spent their first night last night and all was well (we even got two eggs!) until Felix lifted the lid to offer them some eggshells. That's when Prunella flew out. She spent the day dodging all four children, until at dusk they became determined to capture her. While Daisy and I watched breathless from inside the house, she led them under bushes and through briars, now looking cornered, only to escape at a breakneck run ("I'm so proud of her!" Daisy would shout). Finally she roosted in a cedar tree in the meadow and Giles nabbed her. We all petted her soft Araucana feathers before he stuffed her back in the Home.

We're off to a good start.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Backroads: Two Miles Out

Giles and I frequently go out on our walk together. We share a fascination for the empty house that sits at the two-miles-out mark.

It was just a little farmhouse, and it sits right by the road. Behind it are the woods, and a pond, and it's surrounded by ancient fruit trees and chicken coops.

Last spring we filled an entire punch bowl with the narcissus blooming there under an apple tree.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Backroads: My Walk

My afternoon walk never fails to offer its own particular beauty--doesn't matter what kind of day it is, there is always something fresh and good to see.

The stretch of dirt road:

After this morning's rain:

A small pond frequented by great blue herons:

The last few weeks of the winter's golden grass:

Giles with a camera:

"A Pleasant Custom Widely Followed"

"Entertaining at tea is a pleasant custom widely followed in many parts of this country. Some women make a habit of inviting a few friends in for tea in the afternoon.

The small tea is served in the living room. There should be a table low enough for convenient pouring and covered with a dainty cloth.

The tea service, silver, if you have it, or china, is on a tray of tole, silver or wood or Mexican tin. The tray, which has no cloth, will also hold a hot water jug, sugar bowl and cream pitcher, strainer, and a place of lemon slices, and, if it is large enough, tea plates, teacups, saucers and spoon. If not, these may be put on the tea table. The tea may be made in the kitchen and brought to the table in the teapot."

--The Homemaker's Encyclopedia: The Hostess's Complete Handbook (1952)

Friday, February 23, 2007

A Laundry Bag for Delicates

Tired of kicking aside the small pile of dirty clothes too delicate to be run in a regular load of laundry, I stitched together this bag to keep them out of sight but within reach in the laundry room. It's made just like a clothespin bag--I traced the angle of the plastic hanger I was going to use, stitched together the front and back, cut an opening across the front and finished it with bias tape, and left a little gap in the seam allowance at the top for the hanger to poke out (I machine-finished the raw edges there).

I love this fabric--it was a garage sale find ten years ago, a giant curtain and a matching long pillow which I use on the laundry room couch.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Beauty on the Porch Rail

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Vintage Fifties Coverall: Butterick 5744

I fell madly in love with this pattern the first time I saw it, but it took months to find an affordable copy. Isn't it charming? The sweetheart neckline, the back buttoning through to the front, the way the back and front pieces are cut out in one?

The illustration shows the coverall being worn as a dress, but I find that the sides gap far too much to allow this, and I wear mine over my clothes for serious kitchen and cleaning work.

I found a fun reproduction print fabric in pink, with lots of orange (recognize it from Daisy's smock?). And used delicious but hard-to-find and hard-to-match orange binding.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Daffodils in a Green Jar

Monday, February 19, 2007

Schoolhouse Coffee Cake

I have been all about coffee cake for breakfast the last couple of weeks. Yes, it has to bake for forty minutes, but once I put it in the oven I am free to shower, dress, etc., with no worries. It takes less than five minutes to put together, and is delicious, dairy-free, and so easy. This is a damp, crumbly cake that is sweet and comforting.

*Schoolhouse Coffee Cake*

Heat oven to 350.

In large bowl (I use my Kitchenaid mixer) mix:

2 c. whole wheat flour
3/4 c. sugar
1 T. baking powder
1 t. salt
1/3 c. oil
1 c. rice milk (or soy or regular, of course)
1 egg

until blended, then beat for 2 minutes. Spread in greased 13x9 pan.

Spread evenly over top:

1 can well-drained sour cherries (not pie filling!!
1 c. frozen blueberries
1 c. cranberries

Sprinkle evenly with this streusel:

1/3 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. flour
1 t. cinnamon
3 T. oil

lightly tossed together with fork.

Bake until set and edges are lightly browned, about 40 minutes.

Feel free to substitute white for whole wheat flour--I grind my whole wheat flour fresh and keep it in the freezer so I am able to use it in quick breads without them turning out like bricks, but I don't know about whole wheat flour off the store shelf.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Blustery Saturday Pleasures

• A windy, windy walk under a blue sky this morning.
• A tidy dry woodpile in the mudroom.
• The "Adagio" from Haydn's Cello Concerto in C.
• English breakfast tea in the middle of the afternoon.
• A big pan of homemade macaroni and cheese (Giles was out, so we did dairy).
• Rearranging my freshly-painted white kitchen shelves.
• Putting baby lotion on Daisy at bedtime, beside the fire.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Backroads: The Sanatorium

Don't ask me how I missed out on the fact that there is an enormous, abandoned tuberculosis sanatorium an hour from my house. Sitting on a ridge in the middle of piney woods, looking down on a little backwater town.

The Composer had to go there today on business and I could not pass up the opportunity to poke around in this evocative ruin.

The grounds were completely self-contained, because no one in town wanted to go up there with the sick people. It had its own water supply, fire station, chapel (burying grounds? I don't know), and below the hospital, rows and rows of tiny white cottages with screened porches among the pines. The fragrance of pines was thought to combat the disease.

The last patient left in 1973, but there are still paper towels on the side of the sink.

Every floor had special rooms for doctors and nurses.

Felix and I in the third floor foyer. The main hospital is Arts and Crafts style. Look at all that geometry: beauty for sick people.

But of course with no power we took the stairs.

Endless rows of doors. Every room held a human being: so many stories.

The x-ray light boxes were the most poignant things I saw.

A patient's tiny room:

A bathroom:

A glimpse of beauty:

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Pink and Green from Tiny Town

Yesterday I had court in Tiny Town, which is always a treat-- a beautiful drive with the children along, barbecue for lunch if we have time, and most importantly, the Tiny Town Antique Mall.

Yesterday I had fifteen minutes and one twenty dollar bill. I did good.

The world's best vintage tablecloth. Generously sized, pristine condition, delicate Christmas motifs, and it cost seven dollars:

My other find was the pink Pyrex bowl. Here it sits beside a green bowl I already own for comparison purposes, so I can enjoy seeing how it's just the same, only pink! I have a whole shelf full of these green bowls, and am delighted with new one. I use them *all* the time--for mixing, serving, melting butter, everything. I run them through the dishwasher and let the kids sling them around, so I'm always on the lookout for backups. Practical and beautiful.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A New Knitting Project

This is such a simple sweater design--nothing so far but stockinette stitch and increases. So why am I on my *third time* of knitting this section? I cast on the wrong number of stitches, then increased the wrong number. Ripped it all out. Cast on again correctly. Increased the Same Number of Wrong Stitches Again! Ack! Ripped it all out. Cast on again, so far, so good. It's going to be a little bolero jacket for Bella.

I hope.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Vintage 40's Dress: Simplicity 4060

If you had questions about what constitutes a housecoat, take a look at this pattern. The long-sleeved version is a trim, closely-fitting housecoat--not a loose bathrobe to put on when you're fresh out of the tub. Don't tell me you couldn't answer the door in this number!

But let's move on to some bright green rayon, because this pattern also makes up into a dress, and what says spring any louder than grass green with polka dots?

This pattern had a couple of twists new to me. Most significant was the technique of facing the back of a dart, then cutting it open and gathering the lower "leg" before joining it to the upper leg of the dart--resulting in the so-forties fullness gathered at the shoulder both front . . .

and back . . .


Monday, February 12, 2007

"A Constant Joy to the Wearer"

"The "house coat" or "breakfast coat" is an outgrowth of the hostess gown. Women enjoyed the hostess gown because it enveloped them completely. When women started to wear cotton slacks for the busy hours of the morning, a designer started producing the cotton house coats which proved to be far more attractive and they soon rose in favor. The modern housecoat is usually made of gingham, cotton pique or calico and it should be crisp, fresh and becoming. The same pattern which might be used for a velvet hostess gown might be used to make a cotton house coat.

Women of moderate means can now enjoy the luxury of extra garments of this type. Modern business girls find that it gives them a definite mental lift to shed their business clothing and slip into an inexpensive garment of this type after a difficult day at the office. It is quite correct to wear when receiving casual drop-in visitors and, due to its simple cut, it may either be laundered or dry-cleaned inexpensively. Every woman and girl should try to manage to possess at least one such garment in the wardrobe. There is nothing quite so depressing as to see one trailing around in a flannel bathrobe or a jaded negligee. A few yards of twenty-five cent cotton percale can produce a most attractive garment which will endure for months and be a constant joy to the wearer."

--Modern Pattern Design, Harriet Pepin (1942)

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Pink Cupcakes

Part of the kitchen was usable this morning while the Composer sanded cupboard doors outside, so Clara and Daisy busied themselves with Valentine's cupcakes.

Pink sprinkles:

Serendipitous pink tee shirts:

Friday, February 09, 2007

Pink Rose in a Blue Pitcher

This bit of beauty was very welcome today as we are in the middle of finishing the gigantic Cabinet Painting Project in the kitchen. Back in September we did the bottom cabinets; now we're in the middle of the upper cabinets. Bless the Composer for doing most of the hard work himself--all I do is scrub and tape off glass.

A note on the roses--the grocery store floral department was selling these as "spray roses" because they come on shorter stems, with several flowers to the stem. They cost only half of what a dozen long-stemmed roses would, and I always cut my stems fairly short anyway, so they were a great buy!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

A Nest for Felix

I did Felix's room in blue and white, with furniture painted white or left in shades of pale blue or green. But Felix did his room in birds.

The top of his bookcase:

The shelves:

On his bed, a guinea feather (love the polka dots!):

Above his bed, a watercolor painting of his favorite stuffed toy, Little Ducky:

And Little Ducky himself, in battered glory:

I guess it's the perfect nest for Felix!

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Backroads: The Fishing Lake

Yesterday we had a beautiful unseasonably warm day. We had obsessively watched it coming on the weather forecast for several days and laid our plans--school done early, and an outing to somewhere new. We decided to follow the advice on the sign in the middle of the tiny neighboring town:

How many years have we driven by this sign without turning off the road? I have never heard this lake mentioned once in conversation, in all the years I have lived here. So we set off without any preconceptions about our destination, except for my hope that we would find one of those evocative, run-down, forgotten has-been attractions that the Composer humors me by pulling over for.

We found a tiny lake full of dark blue whitecaps blowing in from the south. Cypress knees around the edges, tipsy little docks ricketing out into the water. A flock of ducks, a red-tailed hawk sitting low in a tree. It goes without saying that Felix brought his binoculars.

Special weeds, sunshine, a beautiful baby in a handmade sweater.

Oh, those backroads!

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