Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Daisy, with Fan

Since last I mentioned Pirates of Penzance, Daisy has become smitten with the operetta. "Which girl do you want to be?" she asks, and without waiting for an answer tells me that she wants to be "Mabel, because she has the best dress, best ribbons, best hat, best handkerchief, best fan, and she can sing really high because her cheeks are pink."

Thank goodness she can now *be* Mabel, since Clara bought her a fan at the gift shop at the zoo. I say, if the shoe fits . . . .

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

A Little Trip with Clara

We love the little trips we give the kids as Christmas gifts: no present in a box could be as special as time together doing something out of the ordinary. Clara had her Christmas trip this past weekend (please ignore Daisy, who was not present in an official capacity, but was, as always, a contributor).

We started off with a brief sojourn at a Fancy Hotel, to enjoy the splendor of the lobby--carved marble, massive lily bouquets,


Ooh, and fancy brunch. Clara and I decided to conduct a comprehensive tasting of the entire dessert buffet, with a bite or two of each elegantly presented confection. A little embarrassing to see our tabletop covered with nibbled-on desserts, but the waiter was able to keep it somewhat under control.

Then we headed, in the rain, to a little out-of-the way state park. We had reserved one of the tiny cabins (Civilian Conservation Corp architecture, I love you! I love your six over six windows and your screened porches!) for the night.

Although it was cool and a little drizzly, we took a long evening walk around the spring-fed lake in the park . . .

where once again we were met by ducks.

Incredibly, just as it was getting dark, much darker than this picture would have you believe, we came upon a juvenile barred owl who would not get out of the path. All my life I have *longed* to see owls. I ended up moving him off the path, for his own safety, with my foot, and he climbed on my shoe! While clicking his beak in a threatening manner. So scary!

The sun came out in the morning and we found some serious backroads beauty--from antebellum mansions to abandoned railroad stations.

Then back to civilization for yarn-shopping,

and an afternoon at the zoo, where Clara's hat was eyed by a suspicious toucan,

and Daisy dreamed by the polar bears.

Monday, April 28, 2008

"Some Sort of Choice"

"'But one has to make some sort of choice,' said Harriet. 'And between one desire and another, how is one to know which things are really of overmastering importance?'

'We can only know that,' said Miss de Vine, 'when they have overmastered us.'"

--Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night

Saturday, April 26, 2008

After Dinner, at the Playground

(photo credit to the Composer tonight)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Orchids without Fear

Why would a person fear orchids? Is it the relatively expensive front-end investment, the very long stems, the rather alien shapes, the holes in the pots? For me, yes.

I'm so over it now. Having bought four orchids last August to decorate the table for a wedding shower, I have learned to love caring for them. My neighbor Eve advised me to adopt this simple routine and they have responded vibrantly--all of them are in amazing bloom right now!

1. Plenty of bright diffuse light. Mine live in my very sunny sitting room, where there is a lot of eastern exposure, but they sit in a north-facing window. However, they don't seem to really care where I put them. When they're in bloom I move them to wherever they look the best, and they continue to thrive.

2. Water on the 10th, 20th, and 30th of the month. I put it in my calendar until it became second nature.

3. To water, I bring them all to the sink, and slide them out of the clay pots (they sit in clear plastic inner pots). I wash each one under water for a minute, rinsing each leaf and letting water run through and through the pot. I don't wash the flower stems or flowers.

4. Then each plant gets one quart of water with orchid food in it. I simply pour and pour until a quart has washed through the pot. The pot does not retain water.

5. Then I give them each a kiss and put them back in their places, where they charm me every day.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


It's a mystery to me how my children have found their life work at young ages. As parents, we have never pushed our children into any particular hobby or activity. We have just gone about our lives doing the things we are interested in, and our children have done the same.

Clara plans to teach cello as a sideline to raising a family. She has played the cello every single day that she is not sick in bed or travelling, since she was four years old. That's every *single* day. She has achieved an amazing musical fluency and seems to always take joy in making music.

By the age of three she was obsessed with the film version of Pirates of Penzance with Linda Ronstadt and Kevin Kline. After watching the video, she assumed the persona of the soprano lead, wore bonnets, and answered only to Mabel. Shortly afterwards she requested violin lessons. Lacking a violin teacher in our small town, but having, of all things, a very accomplished Suzuki cello instructor at the local college, we asked if she didn't want to try the cello instead. That was a yes.

Felix plans to be an ornithologist, and teach and research at a university. Okay, Cornell. His first two words were beewee and weewee, Beewees were insects that fly. Weewees were insects that crawl. At age three he spent hours and hours dictating pages to me for a book of imaginary fish. Each fish's habitat, appearance, size, etc. were described in detail. And written down (by me) and illustrated (by him).

When he was eleven, we camped at Rocky Mountain National Park, and the Composer took the boys on a ranger-led bird walk. That did it for Felix. He bought the Sibley's Guide in the park gift shop, scrutinized it all twenty hours of our homeward trip, and never looked back.

When Giles was thirteen, the Composer took him along on a trip to Cameroon. The Composer was shooting video, and needed someone to do the still photography. Giles had no special interest in photography, and had never done any, but was willing. Several months later something clicked in his brain, he took over the digital camera, and from then on he has been totally committed to taking pictures.

So looking back, I can see my children's vocational journeys so far, but I can't explain them. But I will say this:

1. Don't force. It's like falling in love. It's there or it's not. God has his plans, and we may not be in on them yet.

2. Once they're interested, still don't force. My children own their vocations--not me.

3. Cast a wide net when raising your children. Do everything that seems interesting; you never know what will spark your child. I introduced Clara to Gilbert and Sullivan because I enjoyed it, not to further her musical education. We went on a bird walk because it seemed like fun, not because we wanted to raise a scientist. And why not take a teenager to Africa if you're going anyway?

4. Give them lots of unstructured time. We were slim pickings on the organized activities for a very long time. Instead of lessons and teams, we were home wandering around the yard, flopped on the couch reading together, or working in the kitchen.

5. Teach them to learn. In their fields of interest my children read widely, deeply, and constantly. They seek out periodicals, research materials, current information on-line, and useful people. They network with adults, make contacts, plan gigs, and generally go about their lives with gusto. They know how to do the next thing, and they do it every day.

Cake with Jam

This year I made my own birthday cake, because I was in a mood to bake. Chocolate layers from my usual recipe, put together with raspberry jam. I let the whole thing sit for an hour or two, then covered it in chocolate frosting.

Since the Composer was gone on my actual birthday, I had to make another just the same, yesterday. Too bad.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Felix Birds the Texas Coast. Again.

Felix just returned from his third annual Birding-on-the-Texas Coast Trip. At this time of year, the Gulf coast is a Mecca for birders.

The Composer tells me that as soon as they got out of the car the first morning, a middle-aged man shouted genially, "Felix! We wondered if we'd see you this year!"

Naturally, birders have excellent visual memories, and can easily recall names--it's what they do.

This was Felix's first year to use a spotting scope. He juggles that with the other birding tool, Sibley's Guide to Birds.

This year he really wanted to see a Magnificent Frigatebird. The Composer idly took this picture while Felix was elsewhere.

Felix will get it next year, I'm sure.

Linen Aprons in the Shop

You've seen the tutorial; now you can own it for your very own!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

How to Sew a Tailored Linen Apron

Make an elegant, fully-lined and uber-practical apron by reclaiming a dress! Beginning sewing skills needed, and these materials:

• linen dress (see step 1)
• enough coordinating cotton or linen fabric to cut a strip that's 4 x 80 inches

1. This apron is made from a dress, so first you've got to find a dress. I've been using dresses from the thrift store that were popular in the 90s. Watch for two things: fabric content (must be all or mostly linen), and cut (must be very simple, basically straight up and down). Ideally your dress has no zipper or buttons, but a zipper will do, and I will demonstrate using a zipped dress. With buttons, you're going to have to cut off both the left and right plackets, and your front side will be narrower, so don't start with that. Do that one next time!

Here's my dress:

Notice that it's shaped with darts, front and back (fine!), and that it has side slits (no problem!). It zips up the back with an invisible zipper.

2. Now, hold the dress up to your waist and figure out how much of it you want to use in your apron. Just let the unwanted bodice flop forward over your hand. Look at the length in the mirror--waist measure doesn't matter so much. Note the spot where you want to cut the dress off.

Now lay it down flat on a cutting surface, making sure that the centers and sides are lined up evenly. I pin my dress together at the sides to make sure it doesn't shift. Then with a yardstick and a pencil, draw a straight line across the dress where you're going to cut.

Cut it! Cut right through that zipper (it's just plastic), but you might want to switch over to utility scissors for that--I never use my good sewing scissors through a zipper.

Now, if you're dealing with a zipper, you need to get the zipper out. I find that they come out easily, even from expensive dresses. Just start gently pulling the zipper and fabric apart, clipping stitches with scissors as you go. There'll be a couple of tacks to snip through at the bottom, then you're done!

Now, stitch the open part of the back seam up on the machine.

3. Now it's time to sew the skirt into a single lined panel, so lay it out flat on a good surface, inside out. Line up the sides carefully, and the bottom edges. If there's any wonkiness let it be at the waist edge for now.

Now, see how the slits have bulky turned in edges? We're going to sew with a big enough seam allowance that we can trim all that off after we've sewn the front and back together. Same with the bottom edge. So the stitching line is going to be a bit far back from the edge of the skirt up at the tops of the sides. Just eyeball the necessary width, and pin to remind yourself.

Continue pinning around the bottom of the apron and do the other side also. For now, don't do anything to the top.

Now stitch, staying about a presser foot width away from the bulky seams.

Now trim off the seams as needed, and see the bottom corners? Cut diagonally across without clipping your stitches, so that your corners will turn right side out tidily.

Turn the skirt right side out, and carefully press the edges flat. Check the top edge for evenness, and trim if necessary. Sometimes the sewn darts will start coming loose--if this happens, just reinforce the stitching before moving on. Pin top edges together with raw edges matching, and machine-baste the top closed using a 1/4 inch seam allowance. Set skirt aside.

4. Now it's time to make a waistband. Choose any fabric that is sturdy enough to support your apron--I love a fun cotton print, in a little heavier of a fabric. Cut a rectangle 4 inches tall and about 80 inches long--longer of course if you want extra length in the ties. If you need to piece your waistband, go right ahead--just make sure all the pieces are cut with the same grain, either across the fabric, or parallel to the selvedge. A waistband cut across the fabric is going to be a little sturdier.

If you piece your waistband, press the seams neatly open.

Now gently press your waistband in half the long way, wrong sides together. Then cut each end into a point, at a 45 degree angle. The long point of the arrow will be on the fold.

Now, refold the waistband so that the right sides are together. Starting about two inches from the end, pin the raw edges together for sewing. Using a 3/8 inch seam, sew for two inches along the edge, then with the needle down, turn the corner and sew all the way to the pointed end.

Here are both ends sewn. One already has the corner carefully clipped (don't snip those stitches!). Clip both your corners (they're the oblique angles you just sewed around).

Now, turn the ends right side out, and gently poke something narrow but blunt--like a pencil with the lead broken out--into the corner to get it nice and crisp.

Lay the ends out flat and press them.

Now, open your waistband back up, except for the ends, of course. Press each long edge under 3/8 of an inch. Don't become weary of all this pressing--it's going to make the rest of the sewing a breeze!

5. Time to attach the waistband. Find the center of your waistband and mark it with a pin. Working on the back side of your skirt, find that center also (there's probably a seam there). Now, match the centers together, right side of waistband to back side of skirt, raw edges even. Pin in place first to the right of center, then to the left of center.

Using a 3/8 inch seam, stitch the waistband to the skirt. Your pressed line will guide you, stay right on it!

Now, press the seam allowance up toward the waistband, pressing first on the wrong side, then on the right side.

Time to refold the waistband as originally pressed, over to the front, just barely covering the seam. Pin it in place. Continue folding the ties in half, and pin them to be ready for stitching. Now, starting at the edge of the skirt, not the end of the tie, topstitch the waistband over, and continue to stitch all the way down to the point of the tie. Remember to leave your needle in the down position when turning the corner.

Starting back where you started before, this time stitch the other way, continuing to topstitch the tie all the way to the end. IF the top and bottom halves are feeding into the machine unevenly, you can *slightly* pull back on the tie as you feed it under the presser foot to correct that. Or just ignore the little bump at the end--I do!

Now, press one last time, and get out in the garden!

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