Saturday, March 31, 2007

Thrifted Goodies

Oh my. My best catch ever yesterday! I frequently stop in at the thrift store on Friday if I have a few extra minutes in town, and I'm so glad I did. See my fabulous mid-century turquoise ice bucket in perfect pristine condition? Fifty cents.

Flawless organdy aprons (red and white) crying out for embroidery. A length of dainty pink fabric with rosebuds. A Five Little Peppers book for $1.50. Two charming saucers with cornflowers on them for the top of Bella's dresser. My other crown jewel, Friday to Monday, by Irene Parrott (1941), an amazing book with line drawings--a guide to entertaining your city friends at your country home ("Be it Castle, Cottage, or Camp")--another $1.50 find. LOVE the chapter on "Number One Guest."

"Are you a week-end hostess to your husband? Tricks that make his short holiday seem more leisurely! The whole idea of going slow, making the week-end last, can commence the minute you meet the train--or even before. Of course you have arrived early enough to get a good parking place. And since you haven't asked John to act as personal shopper and express man combined, he won't be burdened with bundles. Neither will you have to stop in the village to do any last minute shopping on the way home . . ."

What a slice of retro life!

Friday, March 30, 2007


This is the week for the garden arbors to take center stage. Wisteria in the front garden:

Lady Banks' Rose in the back courtyard:

I do love to effortlessly enjoy the fruits of previous labors--not like in the vegetable garden where I am starting from not zero every year but way *below* zero as I confront the annual invasion of Bermuda and Johnson grasses. I have been spading out my planting beds all week and it's a lot of work!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Detail of an Embroidered Dress

I made this dress for Clara last year as one of my first embroidery projects. I freehandedly stitched some sunflowers and leaves around the front neckline of the dress, and I love how it turned out.

It has re-surfaced this year passed down to Bella, on whom it looks even better!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

"A Sort of Magistrate"

"The French mother is often the source of everything that informs the French girl: a sense of the feminine, of social conduct, poise, etiquette and, of course, cooking. She's an arbiter of continuity and tradition, a sort of magistrate who oversees the smooth functioning of family life--managing conflict, diffusing resentments, letting go of grudges in an elegant and seemingly transparent way. Through her all things eventually pass--the family's history as living memory as well as the future."

--Debra Ollivier, Entre Nous, (2003)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Bella Takes a Trip

The Composer and I just returned from a wonderful little trip with Bella and Daisy--the spring shopping and restaurant trip that Bella received for Christmas and has waited patiently for.

Bella had gift cash in her purse, and I was enchanted to watch her browse carefully through shop after shop, considering all the merchandise, only to hold on to her money til the very end, when she bought the fanciest, prettiest, girliest doll on record. And some Little Women paper dolls.

This is the purse in question--she always get complimented on its crazy fluffiness (her grandmother crocheted it and lined it in black and white polka dots. Bella found her shoes herself--her first thrift shop triumph).

She indulged me by requesting a stop at this antique store--known to us previously for its vast selection of affordable goodies. I may have picked up a few vintage linens and a large enamel bowl for soaking stained laundry in, and FIVE dead stock vintage cotton sheets still in their wrappers. Maybe.

A beautiful view to enjoy before playing a rousing game of "Mother May I?" on the green hillside.

A streetside bubble machine: always fun!

Cartoons at the hotel, desserts at dinnertime, and a new bathroom to take an extra shower or two in--what could be better? The Composer thought we got our money's worth in hot water.

Just a little more shopping: sour cherry preserves, cheerful dishtowels, rubber gloves with polka-dotted cuffs, and a fig-scented candle . . .


Monday, March 26, 2007

Vintage Forties Housecoat: Simplicity 1778

Remember this fabulous pattern? I made it up in the winter in flannel and have loved it.

But it's time to put the flannel away and get out something a little lighter. I made it up again in a crisp cotton print. I think it is my favorite garment I have ever made! This is a five-star pattern for sure--flattering, stylish, goes together well.

I love this fabric--an unlikely but very successful combination of lavender and bright orange, with some leaf green thrown in for good measure. I punched up the orange with rickrack used as scallops, and a vintage button. And of course, my facings are finished with orange binding!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Spring at the Cabin

Perfect spring weather at the cabin today. The water level was low, though--ordinarily our landmark rock in the river is almost submerged this time of year.

Daisy did a little wading.

Grandpa cooked hamburgers.

Grandpa's dog was just happy to be there.

Daisy got a blister on her tiniest toe.

We all admired the incredible sunlight that we always find there.

And the quiet.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Lilacs on a Green Tabletop

Felix Preps for a Birding Trip

Felix will be travelling to the Gulf Coast sometime in April on a birding trip to see the spring migration. He spent part of the day on these studies of warblers:

His plans include *many* warbler sightings, and he will be prepared for all of them.

Elephant Winner

"Sara-The Estrogen Files" has won the elephant! Sara, please e-mail me at

Thanks to everyone who put their name in the hat--I wish I had elephants for everyone.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

More Daffodils

Salome (with salmon centers) and Ice Follies (with cream centers): just beautiful.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Cheap and Cheerful Shoes

Since I'm always on the lookout for footwear that goes with my retro housedresses while being comfy and practical, I was happy to find these canvas ballet flats in a cheery red at my Target store--for only $15.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Straightforward Chicken Broth

Making broth from scratch is one of those almost-lost domestic arts. Which is a shame, because once you get in the swing of it, it's one of those household routines which reap a lot from a minimum of effort. That being said, it is a *big* pain to set out to make broth by going to the store and buying a chicken and a long list of special vegetables, and making a whole big Project out of it. There is a better way.

1. Have a roast chicken for dinner. That's so easy! Take it out of the bag, take out its innards, rinse and pat it dry, then stuff it with almost anything--three celery stalks, or two lemon halves, or a carrot and an onion, or if you want to be special and fancy, half a cup of currants, a handful of dried thyme, and some crushed garlic cloves. ALWAYS grind some sea salt on top.

2. After dinner, throw the whole leftover chicken carcass, and any of its stuffing vegetables, into your stockpot (don't include citrus here). Depending on what you roasted your chicken with, you will need to add to your pot until you have the following: an onion, a carrot, several celery stalks, and some garlic cloves. Seriously, that's it. I also scour the fridge for anything that might be available--leftover cooked sweet or white potatoes, wilting green onions, etc. Just don't add anything in the cruciferous family.

3. Fill your pot with water to cover everything, add a handful of salt, and bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and let it go for an hour. Take it off the heat, let cool a little, then strain out the solids and let sit overnight in the fridge so the fat can solidify at the top,

4. You're done. You have a big pot of your very own stock to use in anything at all!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Thrifted Mug

These are some of my everyday mugs--several years ago I found a set of them at an "antique" store (that term is used loosely around here and often incorporates a lot of actual junk). I love the contrasting robin's-egg interior.

I stopped by the real junk store last week and was delighted to find another one! I don't know much about them except that they say "Taylor-Made" on the bottom. And they are good for cocoa.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Influential Reading

The ten books which have influenced me the most in the last five years:

Romans (The Bible). An intellectual framework for my faith.

The Surrendered Wife (Laura Doyle). Stop trying to boss your husband and become much happier.

Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers (Gordon Neufeld). Offers a convincing, credible, and *useable* way to think about your child's need to bond, and explains how to harness it in the service of good parenting. Especially helpful and insightful for older children and teens.

A Framework for Understanding Poverty (Ruby Payne). Key to working with generational poverty in juvenile court.

The Artist's Way (Julia Cameron). Stop angsting about it already and do something creative!

Sink Reflections (Marla Cilley). After fifteen years of marriage I still didn't have it figured out, but Marla finally taught me how to run my home in a orderly way.

Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House (Cheryl Mendelson). Once I figured out that I could run my house, this book told me how to clean.

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think (Brian Wansink). Identify your external cues to eat, change them if you want--a little awareness goes a long way towards determining how much you consume.

Vintage Style (Cath Kidston). Beautiful photography, beautiful vintage aesthetic. Inspired me to sew.

The Bombshell Manual of Style (Laren Stover). A tongue-in-cheek look at old school glamor.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Elephant Family and a Giveaway

My little elephant family is complete--mother and three babies. But as everyone knows, the little male elephants are forced to leave the herd when they reach a certain age . . .

. . . so this little elephant will be going to a new home. He's made from genuine vintage fabric--my mother's dress in junior high in the fifties--with a braided cotton tail and a beady eye. If you'd like to have your name in the hat for a giveaway next Friday at noon central time, why then just leave your name in the comments!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Making Yogurt

I have tried in the past making my own yogurt, and I did it in this yogurt maker. I could never get excited about it though. For a large family, eight tiny half-cups of yogurt, in fragile plastic cups that *can't go in the dishwasher*, with lids that constantly crack and *also* can't go in the dishwasher, was not a good configuration.

But homemade yogurt is so good, especially when made Greek style (see end note), that I wanted to try again. What works for me is to ditch the machine, and use the following:

•half-gallon of organic whole milk
•two envelopes of starter
•two quart jars

I heat my milk, let cool, and mix in starter as directed on the starter package. While all that is going on, I fill my crockpot with hot water and turn it on to its lowest setting. When the yogurt is all mixed up, I pour it into my two quart jars, loosely cover them, and set them in the crockpot of water. I turn the heat off, balance the lid on top of the jars, and drape a folded bath towel over the whole affair. It's done in about six hours, or overnight. If I'm making it during the day I will occasionally turn the low heat back on for ten minutes or so--but this set-up holds a steady temperature surprisingly well.

Greek Yogurt:
Line a colander or steamer basket with a single thickness of paper towel. Set securely over a bowl. Put any amount of yogurt in, and refrigerate. It will immediately begin to drain off the thin liquidy whey. After a half day, the yogurt will be firm and extremely creamy, like a soft cream cheese. Drizzle local honey over your serving and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Vintage Forties Housedress: Simplicity 4099

I love this pattern for its pert collar, rickrack trim, and spiffy puffed sleeves. Some day I will make up the housecoat but this time I made the housedress version.

I have decided that I adore the front wrap opening garment. Such a breezy feeling of ease as I toss it on--no tiresome lines of buttons, no zipper to snag on my undergarments.

I appreciate that the pattern offers a complicated rickrack pattern for the pocket, but since I was using some jumbo rickrack I kept things simple with a single line of trim.

Ready to do the laundry!

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Scrubbing the Kitchen

My children, though initially reluctant, have become masters of speedy kitchen scrubbing. Tuesday is our day to thoroughly clean this room, and we have got it down to about fifteen minutes (not including the inside of the refrigerator or the ovens). In fifteen minutes we:

•dust and windex all seven light fixtures
•dust the walls and ceilings
•scrub the stovetops, stove fronts, and vent hood
•clean the microwave inside and out
•deep-clean the countertops
•wipe down the outside of the fridge and pantry door
•wipe down the inside of the compost cupboard and change the newspaper under the bucket
•vacuum very thoroughly
•and then clean out the sinks.

This only works when everyone has a good attitude--otherwise some of my energy gets diverted into being annoyed with grumpy teenagers. But today everyone managed to be cheerful, and we sped right through.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Embroidered Onesies

Embroidered onesies completed! Here is the set for Baby Girl Twin:

And a detail:

And here are the two for Baby Boy Twin:

At last! Cute boy motifs!

I know I could have gone out and bought a special iron-on stabilizer but I was possessed of that pioneer spirit and wanted to complete the project with things I had on hand. So I was well-satisfied with my freezer paper backing, which I was able to pick right off the back, and to finish things I cut out a square of very soft, high-quality fusible interfacing which I pressed on the back of the design, so there would be no tickly threads to bother the babies. I like these!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Morning Light on Spring Flowers

Incredible early light on this vase of hyacinths, snowdrops, and narcissi. Also, it smells delicious!

Friday, March 09, 2007

Embroidering Tee Shirts

To warm up for my batch of onesies--can I do four on one Saturday?--I tried out my embroidering technique on a little tee for Daisy. This is my first attempt, and I think I can improve. For instance, this cheap little shirt is made of very thin knit which wants to distort. For this project, I simply held wrapping tissue in place behind the stitching with my embroidery hoop. It quickly shredded into unhelpfulness.

I also learned to use as slender a needle as possible, to minimize snagging the loops of knit.

I did another tee this morning for Daisy (before she got dressed, and at her command) that I liked much better. I cut a small square of regular freezer paper and ironed it to the back of the shirt. It held the stitches beautifully, then I very carefully pulled most of it off the design. I don't know yet if the little bits are going to come easily off the back. We'll wash tonight and see.

The freezer paper actually made a hoop unnecessary. Which was good because I couldn't get a hoop over it.

More of my obsession to come soon!

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Potting Violas

Time to start spending too much money at the garden department! I couldn't pass by these violas yesterday at the store--don't you love their cheery faces?

I spent a few sunny minutes this afternoon on the kitchen porch planting two pots full. Here's hoping the deer stay out of them, since they're a scant four feet from the back door.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Embroidery Inspiration

Embroidery! I'm on a kick, finding fun inspiration everywhere. Such as this website for a truly comprehensive collection of Aunt Martha vintage-style transfers. Who knew there was a whole package of different parakeets in funny and embroiderable poses (now going straight onto a pair of cotton pillowcases for Felix)?

And I spent a fruitful morning browsing the big city book store during Clara's orchestra practice Saturday, and brought home this delicious confection, full of tempting photographs and best of all, page after page of charming transfers:

I have a five-pack of onesies in the dryer right now, preparing to be decorated with cupcakes, pie slices, ice cream cones, and Martians in spaceships, for a baby shower coming up.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Stuffed Elephant Baby

I made a baby to keep my first elephant company. With Daisy ruling this roost, everything comes in mother/baby pairs--even world maps sport this arrangement. Asia is the mother and Australia is the baby, according to Daisy.

And babies always follow their mothers around closely.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Backroads: The State Park

We had a lovely day yesterday on a spur-of-the-moment after church trip. The weather was sunny but chilly--a perfect day for a cosy meal and a hike! The Composer's parents agreed to meet us at the state park that's between our houses. It's on top of a mountain and has a charming lodge we had never visited:

It lay very quiet in the peace of a winter Sunday afternoon, and in the dining room we had a nice lunch. With ice cream. Then it was time to get down to business:

We started here:

And followed a beautiful trail down a very steep ridge.

A river was running at the bottom.

And we all sat down and looked . . .

. . . at this.

"There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God . . . Come, behold the works of the Lord." (Ps. 46: 4,8)

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