Monday, February 28, 2011

So Daisy Has Glasses Now

. . . and she's a little smug about being able to see well. And she's started using phrases like "for instance."

"Would you bring me my glasses case, for instance?"

I love her.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Alabama Studio Style: Beaded Tank Top

The more I dig into Alabama Studio Style the more I love it. I also find that I can only absorb so much, then I need to go do a little of it: then the next time I go through the book I grasp more.

These are just beautiful garments. This is a beaded tank top. Every stitch is done by hand. I kept it simple, with just the decorative viney stitch to finish the seams and the neck and armhole binding, and then a little necklace trim done in brown bugle bead eyelets.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Drying the Lasagna Noodles

We've been using 2 1/2 cups of flour to two eggs. Sometimes it's too wet, sometimes it's too dry. What proportions of flour to eggs and liquid work for you?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Bright Red Macaws

Thrift score: a paint-by-numbers pair of scarlet macaws.

And that means that now I have a collection.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Daisy and The Annotated

This is what I see every time I go down the hall these days. She's poring over the Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan. And wearing a stocking cap.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

In Praise of the Floor Cloth

What is not to love about a floor cloth? I needed a new rug for the living room so I whipped one up *from the stash*--you know that means it was free. I had a length of black and white floral, a pass-along I never thought I'd use, and doubled it was just the right size for my space. I interlined it with a piece of canvas, stitched it on the machine, pressed it, and was done. With my fabric on the top and bottom, I only have to wash it half as many times--the rest of the times I'll just flip it over.

I have only used these when I have a piece of furniture weighing the center down, so I can't answer for a free-floating one. But for anchoring my living room? Yes.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Bella's Beaded Skirt

Here is the finished skirt I started for Bella, inspired by Natalie Chanin's work. The printed jersey needed a *lot* of beading in order for the sparkle to show, but that was okay with me because it turns out I love beading! I beaded only the front center panel, thickest at the bottom and tapering up about eight inches. And do they make it swing? Yes.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Quilts in the Shop

Just to say that quilts are in the shop. Good night!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Waiting on Your Late Bloomer

So many of you had questions and similar stories when you read about Felix this week. So, more thoughts on letting children take their time with the important tasks of reading and writing.

• Every six months or so, I would pull out the Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons to see if Felix was ready for phonics. This was never successful, not once.

• I misspoke in my earlier post. I think he actually started reading at age eight. Interestingly, this is also when he lost his two front teeth. Same week as Clara, who is two years younger.

• He started reading by perusing book after book of Garfield comics. That's right. He taught himself at that point.

• How to do school in the meantime, while you wait for neurological readiness? We did math every day. He was very good at decoding numbers and operation signs, but did not write his answers--I did that for him, which was natural as we were sitting together talking about the problems anyway. He always sailed through math.

• In the years when he could read but not really write, he dictated almost everything that needed to be in written form. If he struggled to write it down himself, he simply could not hold on to his thoughts. If he were speaking to an amanuensis, they flowed smoothly and fluently, always.

• Forget spelling.

• For a couple of years, we did a once-a-week session with a learning disability specialist through the public school. She had all kinds of exercises--visually plotting your ideas, spelling tricks, finding rhymes, etc. This was sort of fun and not too stressful, but did not seem to help at all.

• Now for the important stuff. Keep reading to your child. Keep taking them to the library. Talk about your day. Tell stories to each other. Draw. Color. Help them get set up to do the projects they want to do (not the ones you think will be educational). Write down the thoughts they want to record. And above all else, do not allow them to spend their day in front of a screen, any screen. No educational TV. No spelling video games. No phonics drills on the computer.

• For myself, I would not choose to keep trying to teach a child something they were not ready to learn. I know others might do differently, but I value a happy life, a relaxed child, a family atmosphere of mutual respect, and a love of learning more than a deadline for mastery.

• It is well to remember that we are not in control of our children's development. We can wait and maybe they will succeed brilliantly. Or maybe they will never be stellar students. Maybe there will be another path for them, with other gifts.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Buttermilk Bundt Cake

We used the recipe from Joy of Cooking for buttermilk layer cake, then Bella melted a block of caramel and drizzled it over the top. Served warm it was gooey. The next day the cake was wearing something of a helmet--still tasty, but more work to eat.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A Mirror for the Living Room

These old pieces from dressers come in the most ambitious shapes. I've got my eye on a perfectly round one next.

This one is three feet high and two feet wide. I love the way the reflected vignettes change, according to where you stand.

And it's just the right amount of over the hill. A chipped corner. A mist blooming. A darkened spot.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Some Good News for Felix

National Merit Finalist this weekend. I love this for my boy that couldn't read until he was seven, could barely write til he was thirteen. But brilliant, and it all came together in his own time.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Easiest Little Girl's Skirt, With Beads

This very successful experiment was a variation on the easy elastic-waist skirt for a little girl. I started with an extra large cotton tee shirt from the thrift store, cut it across the body just below the sleeves, then made an elastic casing at the waist. Softer, drapier, and even easier than a skirt from a rectangle of woven fabric, because there's no hemming necessary, and no finishing--the jersey won't ravel.

Which leaves you time to do the fun part: sew pink beads around the bottom. Even that goes quickly, and you can do the whole skirt during a half-hour piano lesson.

I love that it looks like those candy buttons, or a stylish wedding cake with the little rounded dots.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Artisan Bread: Getting It Right

Several readers have mentioned difficulty with the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day dough. Folks. I can help.

1. My dough is too wet or soft or slack. Don't be afraid to use a little more flour than the recipe calls for. The humidity in your environment is going to vary from the author's. Nothing bad will happen if you bump up the flour to get a manageable dough. Mine is quite manageable, maybe even a little too dry, yet the bread comes out fantastic. And don't be afraid to generously flour your board, your hands, and your stock of dough while you're making up a loaf.

2. I don't have a dough bucket. You don't actually need a dough bucket. Just get a plastic pitcher with a lid (you know, the kind made for mixing up Kool-Aid) at the thrift store. It will work great, although I wouldn't try actually *mixing* the dough up in it. Just throw it in after you've mixed it in a bowl.

3. I don't have a peel, or a baking stone either. Right. I bake mine on a regular cookie sheet, and it comes out wonderful. I use cornmeal to keep it from sticking, and I let it rise right on the pan I'm going to put in the oven.

4. My bread is too soft in the middle. Keep it in the oven until it's almost *too* brown, see if you like that better. Or make dinner rolls. Or pitas (see photo).

Always bake with confidence, and never hold yourself to some impossible standard of perfection. That's what I say.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Nice Selection of Finches

Gold. House.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Frederick at the Kitchen Sink

I don't remember how I discovered that Frederick loves to drink hot water, but it's a daily treat now.

I carry him over to the tap and warm up the water. "What is it?" he asks, using his "sweet" voice. He always asks that when he sees a treat coming his way.

Then he drinks and drinks. Then I carry him back to the cage with a burp cloth under his dripping chin.

For the record, the water is not hot enough to burn, so no one should lose sleep.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cheap Thrills

Total makeover for the sitting room simply by trading furniture with the living room. Which really fulfilled my entire wish list--it warmed up this room which tends to be chilly and unvisited in the winter, as we congregate around the fire in the living room. And I got all the white furniture free to fulfill my living room vision.

Giles and Felix and Owen got me this paper wasp's nest during Christmas break. Felix had to climb very, very high to cut it out. After the boys realized the air-soft guns weren't going to get the job done.

You're too polite to mention the crazy geranium mirror, aren't you? That was a pass-along from my mother. No way, was my first thought. Then I saw how it pulled everything together, and I counted myself lucky. And thrilled.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

China Cabinet, Back in Service

Back on duty holding the china. Which is good, because Felix was not allowed to come home from school until the china was off his bed.

Now he's welcome, if he gets a free weekend.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

When We Are the Engine

On the difference between working by hand, and working with machine power:

" . . . There is an undeniable satisfaction in using our own sheer animal power and energy. We feel a deep sense of satisfaction when we alone are the engine that makes something happen."

--Alexandra Stoddard, Gracious Living in a New World

Monday, February 07, 2011

Towards a More Beautiful Living Room

I have got the tiger back in the cage. Mostly. The books went back in the shelves on Sunday, and oh, how beautiful! This gray is everything I wanted--cool but not cold, pearly, changeable, subtle, and perfect with every other color. It's Benjamin Moore's Titanium: such a metallic name for such a perfect color. Why couldn't it be called Barn Owl? I would have tried it first, not fourth!

Just a little more trim to tweak, outlet plates to change (that's the Composer's job), then light fixtures to install. And I'm already revelling in my beautiful gray splendor.

The magazine racks are currently styled to pay tribute to the Composer as a gesture of thanks for his hard work in painting. And as tribute to citizen scientists everywhere, I guess.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Chocolate-Filled Coffee Cake

I knew we'd want a treat this morning before we put in a long day, so I made this up last night. I used half a batch of artisan bread dough from the fridge (made up according to Artisan Bread in Five Minutes instructions), and rolled it out in a big square. Then, freely adapting from a recipe in this month's Living magazine, I made up a filling from 1 1/4 c. chocolate chips, 1/4 c. butter, 1/2 c. sugar, and 2 t. cinnamon. I sprinkled most of this over my square, then rolled the dough up as if for cinnamon rolls. Then I curved it into a horseshoe and laid it in a greased pie plate. The reserved bit of filling I sprinkled over the top.

A half-hour rise, then 45 minutes in a 350 oven. Then, empowerment to paint all day.

And amazingly, this can easily be made dairy-free, by substituting margarine for the butter, and using dairy-free chocolate chips.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Beads for Bella's Hair

Being a creature of habit, when I visit Hobby Lobby I march straight to the fabric section, pick up my bits, and head out. Which is why I didn't really know about all the beads on the other side of the store.

Crystal beads! Huge enameled beads! Beads in all shapes and sizes and colors. And these round, softly copper-toned beads to sew into Bella's dreadlocks.

I used a regular needle and my craft & buttonhole thread, in a dark brown to match her hair. I knotted the thread and did an anchoring stitch in the end of the dreadlock, then strung the beads on thread, wrapped it up around the bottom bead, and threaded back through the beads and into the dreadlock, where I knotted it and cut it off. Removing them will be just a matter of snipping the thread.

In the meantime we are all enjoying the extra twinkle.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Just a Little More Alabama Style

Because I'm not really sewing until I get the living room finished. But before bed I need something to stitch on by the fire, so I'm doing all of this by hand, the seams and the seam finishing (a simple felled finish this time).

The knit is a cotton from someone else's stash. She was moving across the country and decided to give away all her fabric. She brought it all over, maybe hundreds of pounds, and dumped it all on my dining table, for all our friends to help themselves. Thanks, Jodie!

After I finish the seams, I'll put in a simple elastic waist, perhaps bead the hem with some turquoise sparkle, and give it to Bella. She's always telling me she doesn't have enough skirts. That will fix her wagon.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Thoughts from the Gym

• Bella has been doing her runs with me at the gym this winter. I do my strength training, she goes three miles on the treadmill. I love that she wants to do this with me. I think it's mostly that she doesn't like going out in cold weather, but I'll take what I can get!

• So glad the Composer gave me a tiny pink iPod for Christmas. So don't like the morning shows on the gym televisions. I've turned into a bandit, turning them down or off when no one is looking.

• The Composer and I were running side by side on our treadmills last week, our legs were moving in perfect unison, and we were both running our easy pace, same number of strides per minute. I was running an 11:06 mile. He was running at 8:30. If I set my treadmill to 8:30 I would not live through the experience.

• Newly in love with the stationary bikes! Always thought they would be boring, but it turns out I adore them! I set them at the highest resistance and go for forty minutes, and it feels like a party. Bring it on!

• So grateful for a safe, dry place to run or work out in bad weather. For space and time in my life for exercise.

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