Saturday, September 30, 2006

Schoolhouse Brownies

These are our favorite house brownies. Clara can usually be talked into making them to share with our Wednesday night Bible study. They can be made dairy-free, which is a plus--just take care to use dairy-free margarine and baking chocolate (hard to find).

*Schoolhouse Brownies*

Melt over low heat:

3/4 c. butter
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate

Stir together and set aside to cool.

In electric mixer bowl, beat until light and creamy, maybe 5-8 minutes:

4 eggs
1/2 t. salt
2 c. sugar
1 t. vanilla

Gently blend in the cooled chocolate, and, with a wooden spoon just til combined:

1 c. flour
2 c. chocolate chips

Pour into Pam'ed 13 x 9 pan and bake for about 30 minutes at 350. I check for doneness with a toothpick but am willing to underbake a smidgen--makes them moist and good. Possibly the best brownies of all time.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Tea Party

Last week's lunch was so much fun that today I had friends over to tea. Besides, the round table was still under the maple tree ready for setting!

I didn't have a lot of time to prepare so I kept the menu simple: cucumber sandwiches on homemade bread spread with Greek yogurt, dusted with sea salt and fresh-ground pepper; brownies; and dried cherry scones with whipped cream and raspberry jam. And, of course, Cream Earl Gray tea.

My lovely neighbor brought over roses! They looked gorgeous with the table setting.

Eating and drinking and talking in the dappled shade of the maple, watching the sky change and the clouds blow by, was wonderful. If I had a staff, believe me, I would have a tea party every day.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


Time for new shoes for the girls! I find that colorful clogs are really practical for our life. They go with everything (by matching nothing), and are appropriate for everything but fancy dresses. They slip off easily at the door during muddy weather, they show off colorful socks, they're indestructible, and they're just so cute!

Clara and Bella enjoyed picking this year's models out of the Hanna Andersson catalog.

Daisy's not big enough for clogs yet, though she enjoys tromping around in any stray clogs she can find. For her, this year, I indulged once more in leopard-print mary janes. Mmm.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Cleaning a Large House

Here are some things that *haven't* worked for me over the years, in chronological order (also happens to go from dirtiest to cleanest):

1. Never cleaning and waiting for the Composer to sweep when things got really bad.
2. Hiring someone to clean every two weeks, and doing nothing in between.
3. Trying to clean the whole house all in one day, once a week. In an hour.
4. Doing all the dusting one day, all the floors another day, all the bathrooms another day, etc.

Here's what does work for me:

1. Breaking the house into five sections.
2. Cleaning one section each day--tidying, dusting, wiping stickies, vacuuming, mopping, cleaning bathrooms.
3. [GENIUS WARNING] Making the children "work for me" every weekday morning from 8:30 to 9:00, right before school starts. We get an amazing amount done in a quick half-hour, and there are no cleaning chores hanging over any of us the rest of the day.


1. The whole house is cleaned every week.
2. No cleaning on the weekends.
3. I may never have that all clean feeling for the whole house at once, but I can have it for a whole wing, the upstairs, the kitchen, etc.
4. My children have learned how and why to clean, and they are amazing contributors. And my house looks great all the time!

Monday, September 25, 2006

Beauty in the Bedroom

Afternoon light and breeze in the curtains:

Rose-scented geranium on my nightstand:

Pillowcases my grandmother embroidered and edged with crocheted lace:

Sewing Another Apron

I made up another view from this retro-style apron pattern (Simplicity 4692) and like it very much--the tulip-shaped pockets, the scalloped hemline, the nicely-shaped neckband which I sewed closed rather than using Velcro (which, heaven forbid, the pattern calls for!!!) or buttons. There is plenty of room to slip it over my head.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

"I May Dwell in the House of the Lord"

"One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek:
That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
To behold the beauty of the Lord,
And to meditate in His temple."

--Psalm 27:4

Friday, September 22, 2006

Dried Annabelle Hydrangeas

I love this green with the rest of the green in the room. Floral oasis makes a good enough frog for these very lightweight stems and holds them nicely in the bowl. They are completely dried and will last until I get tired of them and need the smell of hyacinths in January!

Flannel Big Girl Jammies

Clara and I made her these flannel nightgowns this week. Isn't that the best raspberry color? We added some hot pink velvet ribbon across the yoke. The great thing about doing side-by-side projects is that I can demonstrate and then she can do one herself--and then we have two finished! She has sewn before, but this pattern had an interesting back facing technique, as well as lots of gathers which were also new for her.

I was reflecting as I was finishing those long, long seams, that it might be time to get a serger. Since apparently the girls' seams are only going to be getting longer each year. I do make a point of finishing pajamas nicely, so that they will hold up for lots and lots of washing and wearing--more than a regular dress.

She'll be cozy this winter!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Ladies' Lunch

Today was my ladies' luncheon; I invited four friends over for a meal under the silver maple. The weather was cool and gray and breezy and everyone had accidentally dressed in cream and taupe, to look perfect with the table setting, the golden-turning tree, and the subtle colors of the autumn lawn.

The menu:

•Romaine salad with grilled Greek-seasoned chicken, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, Kalamata olives, and purple onion slivers
•Crispy pita triangles
•Cucumber spears with hummus

•Faux chocolate pots de creme with whipped cream
•Cream Earl Grey on a tea tray

It was cool enough that we went inside for dessert, which Clara kindly served in the living room. Our "pots de creme" were really just homemade chocolate pudding spooned into my Rosemeade china mugs and chilled yesterday, then dolloped today with whipped cream. Better and healthier than an egg-based mousse any day, in my book. Best eaten with silver spoons engraved "Helen".

A sleepy baby at the end of a delightful morning.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Ficus Tree

This past spring I tossed my ficus tree out on the front deck with disgust. It was infested with scale and dripping sap all the time, and the branches only grew horizontally, making it "hard to place"--about twelve inches tall and twenty feet square. Not so attractive. I purposely and deliberately abandoned it to the elements, hoping I would be spared from making a decision about its future; drought, heat, and neglect would do their thing and I could throw away the dead stub in the pot without a qualm.

I took a good look at the tree yesterday and noticed how pristine and green the leaves were, in spite of my horrid treatment. No scale, no sap--apparently the bugs, not the tree, succumbed to the elements. Felix and Clara helped me take the long horizontal branches and in about one minute braid them together into a beautiful (vertical) standard tree shape. Then they carried it inside, where it sits at the dining room window looking fantastic. Look at those leaves--that's clean living.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Vintage Sewing Scene

"Three girls were grouped together in a pleasant corner of the Red Cross room sewing . . . One was running the sewing maching gaily, putting together tiny garments for the other two to take over and finish. The second girl was opening seams, and ironing them flat, and then finishing them off with delicate feather-stitching in pink and blue, binding edges of tiny white flannel jackets and wrappers with pink and blue satin ribbon. The third girl was buttonholing scallops with silk twist on tiny flannel petticoats . . . And because these three girls were used to having all things lovely in their own lives, it never occurred to them to sling the little garments together carelessly. They set their stitches as carefully, and made their scallops as heavy and perfect as if they had been doing them for their own family. Others might sling such outfits together by expeditious rule, but they must make them also beautiful."

--Grace Livingston Hill, A Girl to Come Home To

Monday, September 18, 2006

Green Beans

We went to the city this weekend for Clara's first rehearsal (she's playing in the state student orchestra), and took advantage of all the city has to offer: a much bigger Saturday morning vegetable market, where I bought these beautiful green beans; a parrot store, where at Felix's request we did a little "research"; and my mother's house, where we ate grilled hamburgers and pecan tart.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Detail of a Plaid Dress

I just finished this fall dress for Clara--a woven cotton plaid in olive, cream, and black, with a black velvet ribbon at the waist and decorative buttons from my stash of vintage goodies.


Last night Clara and Felix had a party with their Sunday school group and were supposed to bring a snack. Clara got busy in the kitchen all by herself and made these chocolate meringues without any help. She managed to separate the eggs, whip them, sift in the sugar and cocoa, shape, and bake them! Felix also prepared a snack, from the Roald Dahl cookbook: Crispy Wasp Stings on a Round of Buttered Toast. Such a boy thing.

Friday, September 15, 2006

How to Think About Housework

Don't think: I just cleaned that.
•Think: Good thing I'll be cleaning that soon.

Don't think: I have to clean up after these messy people.
•Think: It's a blessing to live in a clean and tidy house.

Don't think: It takes too much energy to do that.
•Think: I'm exercising. This is good for my body.

Works for me!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The County Fair

Tonight we went to the county fair, an excursion which always throws us deeper into rurality than we usually are. We adored the 4-H exhibits of animals and produce, and Daisy not only loved the merry-go-round, she added cotton candy to her repertoire.

Beautiful eggs in all shades:

A deep blue sky:

Pears that speak for themselves with such dignity:

Pepper sauce:

Such a delightful presentation:

Beauty and skill:

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Daisy Under the Maple

The silver maple in the front yard is always the first tree to start dropping its leaves. Daisy was the first this year to drop in the leaf pile.

A Luncheon

I had a hearing this afternoon in a tiny town (we'll call it Tiny Town) 45 miles up the highway, and part of my judicial district. My wonderful friend Jody moved there with her four boys last year, so it is always a treat for Giles and Felix to go along and hang out at her house. Today, though, I took all the children because Jody had somehow finagled such a treat--a luncheon invitation from a new friend of hers. Now, this lady doesn't know me, or my five children, but she invited us anyway--two ladies and NINE children-- to her beautiful century-old house in this little downtown. Oh, this house: its lawn slopes down to the river, barges going by righ past her back hedge. Twelve foot ceilings. An enormous veranda, with swings and a pale blue ceiling. And a huge table set with her fanciest pink-flowered plates. Delicious chicken salad.

On the way there the kids reflected on the rarity of an invitation to a real lunch party. "Social life seems like it would have been so much more fun in the old days," Felix remarked. Myself, I am inspired to get some of that social life going again. I am going to find *someone* who can come over for luncheon.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Bella Made Cookies

Bella made a batch of the house cookies today, and was subsequently declared the Cookie Queen (fortunately, Clara wears the title of Cake Queen, so no competition there). She made very small cookies, and rounded the dough into balls with her hands before setting it out on the sheets. This made for delightful cookies, each smooth, rounded, and loaded with chocolate chips. And it made so many!

Monday, September 11, 2006

A Daisy Dress for Fall

Can't wait to see Daisy in this one. She loves the print because it features tiny doggies and tiny people. I love the perfectly-matching buttons from my stash (I'm sure my mother recognizes them). This is from the same pattern I used for Daisy's nighties last week.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Friday, September 08, 2006

Light and Air

First thing in the morning, the only one up in a quiet house, it is one of the pleasures of my day to open the house up to air and sunlight. Even in the hottest part of the summer there is usually a little bit of fresh air and maybe even a breeze as the sun is coming up, so I almost always open the front door for a while, which lets in a blaze of morning light. The kitchen door, which is shaded in the morning, stays open even longer. The outside air has to be pretty unpleasant before I stop thinking of it as "fresh air", and something desirable.

As the person in charge of the house during the day, I enjoy managing sunshine and air as the sun moves to the other side of the house. In hot weather I pull the shades down on the east side of the house in the morning, and raise them and pull the west side shades down in the afternoon.

If it cools off in the evening, I turn off the air-conditioner, open doors, raise windows and turn on the attic fan. Sometimes I wonder if I am fussing too much, but I keep on doing it. Free air that feels good, and beautiful unrestrained sunlight are such blessings, I welcome them into my home anytime I can.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Revisiting the Bungalow Apron

My cursory poking around in vintage fashion materials (I like to refer to those activities as "research") indicates that bungalow aprons were loose, comfortable, crisp-looking housedresses worn solely in the morning. I have long been wanting such a garment for myself for the mornings when I have to go to court (obviously, this would be for *before* leaving for court). I don't want to get dressed in a regular outfit, only to take it off at 8:30 when I put on a business suit. I don't want to hang out in my robe because I can't get anything done and don't look decent. I don't want to put on my suit because then I can't do housework comfortably without messing up my clothes. So I've been looking for my personal bungalow apron to fit these criteria:

1. It goes on in one piece; excellent for first thing in the morning when I'm not thinking yet.

2. It is domestically fabulous.

3. It does not go over the head. Consider the hot rollers.

4. Pockets for odds, ends, and bobby pins.

Front view:

Back view:

A fantastic pattern which went together beautifully--I didn't even have to change the dart placement. And it came with the applique transfers intact--that cup of coffee is definitely going on my next one.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


One of the last bits of beauty in my dry late summer garden--these moonflowers (perhaps just the local name: also angel trumpets?) twining around the back porch and geraniums. I bought one moonflower plant years ago with the instructions that it was an annual or at the very most a tender perennial, but have found that they both 1. return each year and 2. reseed freely. So no lack there.

Every morning I go out the kitchen door just to enjoy their lemony lily-like fragrance before they fade in the afternoon sun.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Beauty in the Dining Room

Schoolhouse Apple Salad

"There!" exclaimed Helen, putting the finishing touch to the last huge bowl of salad and stepping back to admire her handiwork. "That substantial salad unites beauty and utility."
--The Carter Girls' Weekend Camp, Speed, 1925

Uniting beauty, utility, and good taste at *my* house the last few weeks has been this delicious variation on Waldorf salad. The first apples are starting to come in at farmer's market, are crisp and firm, and have that delicious "I'm sort of a wild apple" tang to them. The Composer has had to ask if it was possible for a person to eat Too Much of this salad:

*Schoolhouse Apple Salad*

Wash, slice, and dice (but leave the peel on!):
4-6 red apples. Use the tartest, firmest, most interesting apples you can find.

Add to bowl:

4 stalks of celery, thinly sliced
3/4 c. raisins
1 c. coarsely chopped pecans

Toss lightly with 1/2 cup light mayonnaise (use as little as possible to barely coat), realizing that any and all of the above quantities are highly flexible. Use more or less according to what you like or have on hand. Best served deeply chilled--I like to chill my apples well before slicing. Even better tomorrow.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Painting the Kitchen Cabinets

I launched this *enormous* project ten days ago--last Saturday. My cabinets are beautiful birch, but the finish is worn off in lots of places, and they are coated with black grime around the knobs and well-handled places. Cleaning the dirt off leaves bare wood, which isn't that great either.

Instead of refinishing I decided to paint all the cabinets white. The kitchen is kind of dark anyway and I hoped that white would brighten it up. It has! I have finished two walls of cabinetry (lower cabinets only), and it looks like I've added a light fixture: it's delightful.

I've been removing all the porcelain knobs as I go, and didn't know how I was going to clean them--I really did not want to have to scrub each of them individually. I ended up dropping them in a bucket of TSP solution overnight, and all the grime miraculously floated off, with no effort on my part. TSP (actually I am using TSP *alternative*) is a new product for me, one which I am loving. I am going to keep it in mind for all the gummy, grimy things I ever have to clean up. I am also enjoying another discovery, the tack cloth. These are pieces of cheesecloth saturated with something really sticky, similar to flypaper but a lesser order of magnitude. After sanding each cabinet, I go over it with the tack cloth and all the dust and sanding bits are perfectly wiped off, with no residue left on my wood. Then I prime. Then I paint. And paint again.

So. Ten cabinets down, twenty-nine to go. Really.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

"A Bungalow Apron"

"One does not wear a dress under a bungalow apron. It is really a dress itself—an extremely simple dress made of sturdy material that will resist the wear and tear of housework. Smart little touches can be added to this type of apron that do justice to the originality of the wearer and her skill in clothes-making.

If you are planning a bungalow apron, choose a material such as gingham, percale, madras, or American print. These materials are sturdy, practical, neat and they launder well. Follow the directions in your pattern carefully, and cut your apron so that plenty of roominess is allowed. There is nothing quite as uncomfortable as a bungalow apron that is so tight that it hinders you in your housework."

From the New-Way Course in Fashionable Clothes-Making.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Fried Okra

You might ask *why* you should fry okra, but that is the wrong question. The real question is *how* to do it. I am here to spread the fried okra gospel. This is so good!

1. Wash all your okra in the colander, then gather three or four together to start cutting. First slice off the top and discard. Next, slice into rounds about a third of an inch thick. More refined people will also discard the tail end of the okra, but I don't see why. It's not too tough to eat, and throwing it out means you have Less Fried Okra, which is not a good thing.

Now, don't be alarmed when you see a bunch of seeds, and the sap seeps out a little. Sticky sap is good because it's going to hold your salty, crispy cornmeal in place later.

Occasionally you are going to hit a pod that is simply too tough too slice. Big pods tend to be tough. Don't buy these. But even an occasional little one is as hard as a rock. Just throw it in the compost.

A beautiful sight, sliced and ready to proceed:

2. Now, I usually work with two pounds of okra at a time--that's two bags from farmer's market. Over my bowl of sliced okra I break two eggs. Then I get a broad spoon or spatula and lift and drop and lift and turn my okra until it seems evenly covered by egg. Then I get out my cornmeal and pour on about a cup, and add maybe a teaspoon of salt. Then lift and drop and turn over and over until everything is evenly coated in cornmeal as well. The more cornmeal you can get to adhere, the better.

3. Pour about 1/4 inch of canola oil into a heavy skillet--I like to use an electric skillet. Heat it to medium high, and when the okra will sizzle going in, place it all gently in. It should be no more than two slices deep. Put the lid partway on. Do not stir, let fry for about eight minutes. Then gently, without stirring, turn it over with a spatula, disturbing it as little as possible. Fry for about another eight minutes, removing the lid towards the end of cooking. You want your okra brown and crispy.

4. Serve hot to your family, with another sprinkling of salt. There will never, ever be enough.

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