Saturday, October 29, 2005

Saturday Hike and Gingerbread

The Composer suggested a hike this afternoon, so we went up the highway to a trail we had never used before and it was beautiful. Foliage just starting to turn--beech and hickory and oak and maple, a cloudless sky, and blue haze at the horizon. Daisy submitted somewhat ungraciously to the indignity of the backpack (she was grumpy anyway because this morning I washed Soft Blankie!!!). Before we left the house I made this recipe and packed the pan in the back of the car along with a jug of iced tea. It smelled so good!

•Schoolhouse Gingerbread•

Combine and beat until smooth:

1 c. sugar
1 c. molasses
1 c. oil
3 eggs

In another bowl mix:

3/4 t. salt
1 t. cloves
1 t. ginger
1 t. cinnamon
2 c. flour
2 t. baking soda

Add to first bowl, then stir in:

1 c. boiling water.

Bake in greased and floured 8x8 pan at 350 for 45 minutes. Eat at picnic table before hiking. Eat it all.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Attacking the Mud Room

Cleared miscellaneous Goodwill bags, work gloves, summer flipflops, and wrenches off the stairs going down to the mudroom.
Swept the walls of the stairwell.
Vacuumed the stairs.
Washed the blackboard that hangs on the stairwell wall.
Had the boys haul and burn a gazillion bags of trash out of the mudroom.
Got rid of an outgrown bike that was living in the mudroom.
Swept 412 spiderwebs off the ceiling and walls of the mudroom.
Swept the floor of the mudroom.

Much better!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Book Review: Happy Housewives

Happy Housewives by Darla Shine has such an inviting title and charming retro-look cover that I was rooting to love the book. I did enjoy it, but it is so filled with crudity and vulgarity that it isn't even safe to leave lying around the house where a child might pick it up. Which is a shame, since the author's heart is in the right place. This is a cheerleading manual for being a housewife--encouraging women to take pride in the way they run their homes, in their cooking and housekeeping, in their appearance. All noble ends. It's just too bad the author doesn't have a more refined way of expressing herself.

In addition, her constant references to the t.v. show Desperate Housewives is going to date the book *a lot*. I doubt that D.H. is more than a flash in the pop culture pan. One would hope that a book written to encourage and inspire stay-at-home moms would have a longer shelf-life than than.

Overall: worth a library borrow, not a purchase, and keep it out of reach of children.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Hosting and Guesting

We get a lot of houseguests. Out-of-town friends come to visit. Out-of-town friends of friends come to visit, and I almost always enjoy having guests to stay.

If it's not hot, they get the girls' upstairs (two bedrooms, sitting room, bathroom), but if it's high summer, I put them downstairs in the boys' rooms. I know sometimes it's a pain for the kids, but generally they are agreeable about sharing their space for a few days: they like the upside, which, of course, is the guest. Bella especially likes guests with children of any age; they are all fair game to her.

I admire guests with good guest skills. My friend Elyse comes to mind. I love having her stay, for any amount of time, with her husband and three small children, or just with the kids, or any configuration. She always has something interesting in her knitting bag, she shops for good groceries while she's here, and one time she brought her whole share from the organic farming co-op. Oh, and that huge brick of Spanish artisan chocolate. Not to mention the really good Earl Grey tea!

I like the peek into someone else's daily life, and of course there's an even better look when you're the one who's the guest. Maybe I'm just nosy, but I love to see how people arrange their kitchens, what cookbooks they have, how they do their laundry. I always learn something to take home--a cookbook I want to order, a great vegetable lasagna recipe (that's Elyse!), or a wall color.

We probably won't get any more invitations to stay with anyone, now that I've revealed how nosy I truly am. But we will continue to welcome company. Just call at least two hours in advance, please!

Monday, October 24, 2005

Lighting the Fire

Yesterday was finally cold enough to light the first fire--such a cozy event. When we moved into this house we were clueless about how to start a fire in the woodstove, how to keep one going, and how to manage a wood supply. Now I take much satisfaction in the *generous* stack of hardwood that was delivered last spring, to season all summer and be ready to burn this fall. We have a wonderful wood man named Jamie who works very hard cutting, delivering, and stacking logs. He is so dedicated to doing a good job that he even photographs the woodpile after he's done stacking the wood for us (this is true).

Although I would love a stove where the burning fire is visible, I do love ours a lot. It is a Fisher, long from front to back, and It sits in the living room, burning very efficiently and heating the front of the house with the best heat ever. It does prompt many visitors to ask if we have heat and air (of course we do! Dad, do you hear that? We do!).

I love having the fire going when the I call the kids down in the morning. They all sit around it in pajamas having breakfast and I feel like a good mother.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Mending Basket

The biggest basketful of mending I have ever seen belongs to a friend who, for her own sake, should remain nameless. I had come to help her pack up for a move, and somehow we ended up going through her pile of mending piece by piece. Some items had been in the stack so long that they had been outgrown by her children and by her husband. Some only needed a button or a few stitches. I wanted so badly to do just *do* the mending, but of course, she wouldn't let me in the middle of a move.

I like to keep up with mine. If I have a few slow minutes in an afternoon, I get a twinge of accomplishment if I sew a button back on a dress and get it out of the mending pile. Today I put a buttonhole in a flannel nightgown that had had an embroidery floss loop that kept breaking. Earlier I fixed four inches of hem that had come loose in one of Clara's dresses, and put a button back on Felix's shorts.

Yes, it's a pain to mend if you have to gather up your scissors from the playroom, dig through a closet for thread, and go to the store for a button. The thinking mender keeps a basket of supplies together! Picture the tidiness and satisfaction of having everything you need in a dedicated basket . . . one with a little divided tray in it. . .

Don't forget: group your projects by color so you don't have to rethread your needle! Start with the easy things first so you get something accomplished! And if you really have a mental block, set your timer for ten minutes and stop with the time is up.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Clara's New Dress

Finished Clara's new dress last night. We especially like the fancy bow with pin-on sequinned pansy. It was supposed to go on the front of the waist but my waist seams didn't really match up at the zipper, and rather than rip and restitch, I just moved the bow. We beaded the neckline and wrists with groups of three brown glass beads--a nice touch which goes shockingly quickly. I think all the beading took maybe twenty minutes. Next up, another play dress for Bella!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Two More Snapshots

Here are two more photos of Daisy in England, doing what she does best:

Finding pretty things to point at (in Holt, Norfolk)

Bossing little dogs (in Broadway, Cotswolds). Daisy herself is a big fan of this shot.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Sewing for Clara

Today I cut out a project I should have started earlier--a fancy cold-weather dress for Clara. I am blessed in having daughters who will wear what I sew! A good thing too, as this daughter is *very* hard to buy for. I have not yet found the jeans that are manufactured for young ladies who are 5"1' and weigh 72 pounds.

Clara has tickets to a lesser-known Gilbert and Sullivan production this weekend. She has suffered from a love of G & S almost her whole life. Her fifth birthday celebration was a ballet party--all her guests came in their tutus, and danced to the special music she had picked out: "O False One, You Have Deceived Me," and "Climbing Over Rocky Mountains." So this is really a treat. And she needs a dress.

I started sewing this dress today out of a dusty rose satin with chocolate brown accents. It's a pattern I've used many times before--lengthening sleeves, adding flounces, substituting binding for lining, etc. I can never find girl patterns I like in the casual sections of the book, but I do find that the "fancy dresses" patterns can easily be made in cotton, flannel, etc. and look charming for everyday. This one's going to be fancy though!

Clara also has a grown-up musical event to attend next weekend with her grandfather, at the symphony, and in addition, will be giving a solo cello recital the *next* weekend of Suzuki books 6 and 7, so her dress will get plenty of use!

Monday, October 17, 2005

Shopping: Cath Kidston

One of the highlights of my time in London was a visit to a Cath Kidston store. Americans know her gorgeous book Vintage Style, but lucky Londoners can actually walk into a store and drop all their pounds on things like vintage-print ironing board covers, polka-dot plates, and oilcloth bibs. My haul had to be small (low on pounds and suitcase space), but I did squeeze in a wonderful apron, a dishtowel, and a rose-print tee for Daisy. I'm afraid the shopkeeper was glad to see us on our way though as Daisy did some major refiguring of the melamine eggcup display.

The catalog comes twice a year and is a magazine-bound book to daydream over. The next time I need to get rid of some money I will definitely call her up.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Last Marigold

A last bit of color from the garden. . .

Thursday, October 13, 2005

In the Garden: Summer is Over

My garden hit the dust a while ago (that three week trip in July spelled the end). The only things left are two basil plants which are enjoying the cooler air. Giles, Felix, and I have been working now to make next year easy and successful--everything weeded out and the beds freshly tilled. As soon as people in town start raking up their leaves, we will be bringing home big bags to spread, till under again, and this year, we plan to cover the beds with clear plastic anchored with stones. All of this in hopes that next spring we will simply be able to till and plant. No annual weeds to clear out and NO BERMUDA (the bane of the Southern garden).

Our garden is a big rectangle with beds bordered in upright brick. The paths are covered with black plastic, then 4-5 inches of mulch (this year's improvement). Just keeping weeds out of the paths this past year was a big help. Next year should be the best ever. Green beans, tomatoes, corn, squash, zucchini, cucumber, cantaloupe, basil, cosmos, and marigolds!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Planning the Birthday Dinner

The Composer's father has a birthday in mid-October and somehow we have fallen into the routine of serving an elaborate Birthday Dinner for him for the last few years. It is fun to plan and cook for--I get to be as extravagant as I want with ingredients, recipes, etc., as it is really the only gift we give him. He and his wife are well off and not likely to be in need of anything we could wrap up, but he really does enjoy being the guest of honor at this feast.

October is a lovely time of year to have a dinner party--still lots of good produce, but the weather is cool, so rich foods are not out of place. We have set the table outside on mild autumn nights, lit with lots of candles in hurricane glasses. The faces around the table look even more beautiful lit by candlelight and moonlight.

I think this year we will have:

•Grilled mushrooms filled with bacon and Brie, on a bed of alfala sprouts

•Beef Tenderloin or Standing Rib Roast
•Garlic roasted potatoes
•Steamed broccoli with lemon
•Angel biscuits

•Salad of mixed greens and herbs with balsamic vinaigrette

•Butterscotch Layer Cake with Fresh Pear Slice Garnish

The Composer's father is a lovely man. He is unfailingly courteous and respectful and affectionate--a wonderful father-in-law. It's a pleasure to help make his birthday special. And, as Clara says, finally, we're having a dinner with courses!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Home Again

Safely home and almost over jetlag! Although still getting up industriously early (Daisy's up too, but not that industrious). Altogether we had a delightful trip--traveling with a baby was really a blessing as it attracted a great deal of needed assistance and friendliness. I have never seen so many people willing to hoist the front of a stroller into a tube train.

The underground was the setting of my greatest triumph--navigating foreign public transportation unassisted. Daisy and I are now great fans of London's subway system.

My other triumph was successful use of the digital camera. I am so technologically ungifted its not credible (that's why I have Giles; he takes care of everything). Having reviewed my travel photos, I realize that I am bored to tears by pictures of monuments and famous buildings, but really enjoy the out-of-the-way corners that capture more of a place's details. With that in mind, I submit the following:

front stoop

sidewalk display

complementary colors

revelling in fresh sea air in Cromer

vegetables in North Walsham

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