Thursday, June 3, 2021

Little Red Elephant Shirt

We got an interesting bag of hand-me-downs for dress-up from another family when Genevieve and Ben were small. I pulled out a little appliqued skirt for real clothes because it was so charming. 

I am avoiding buying new fabric, even new-to-me, until I really use up some of what I have. So I poked around what I had and came up with this red-striped fabric. It also starred in the Swedish summer pillow. I used the same shirt pattern from Phoebe's anchor shirt (look how little she is!), and just as I was finishing up the facings, I recalled that I had some vintage elephant buttons that my mother-in-law gave me a while back. Oh, how I love matching up disparate things to make something I love! My brain shuts down at the thought of selecting all the notions and fabric and patterns from the universes available on the internet. Truly. Much easier for me and more fascinating creatively if I poke through my own collections to design a garment. 

So I came up with these two little red elephant buttons and sewed them on the front, and I just love them. It's a whole elephant ensemble, with the appliqued elephants on the skirt.

I forgot to take  a picture of the pretty zipper pull on the vintage zipper. It's a nifty little ring. 

The big sister has requested a dress. I am thrilled - she is not into mom-made clothes much anymore. Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Green and Growing

Last weekend, I was talking to a blogger friend who has also drifted into silence on his blog, and we agreed that we missed writing and then we further vowed that we would blog again. So here I am! 

Let's start with all the green things. The plants are hard to distinguish in the photos. If you're local, come for a tour: we can safely do that again, praise the Lord! My loosestrife did not come back in the cute little olive pot, so I pulled a spider baby off a houseplant and a piece of creeping Jenny from the tree well and poked them in there. It's only been a couple days, but they don't look dead so I'm hopeful.
The big pot has lemongrass, purple basil, apple mint, petunias, marigolds, and creeping jenny. I love mixing edibles and flowers. The nasturtium seeds are germinating unevenly for the second summer in a row. I think I need to buy more and sow more heavily to get a decent amount. That parsley overwintered and surprised me. 
We are making a pea gravel patio in our backyard after talking about it for years. It's coming along and we are using it in its half-completed state, eating supper outside most days on our new dining set before the mosquitoes get going. 

We also made a rain garden to absorb the runoff from our roof after my husband piped the spouting under the patio. Our city has a runoff problem that is polluting nearby waterways, so this is one way we are working at it. We followed directions to blend the soil with compost and sand and dig the bed out to encourage absorption. The native plants can handle soggy roots if needed. We planted a redtwig dogwood, black-eyed susans, Joe Pye weed, turtle heads, and another shrub whose name I don't recall. I loved this project! 
I planted kale last fall and was pleased by the harvest and thought it was done, but it appeared this spring. Bonus! Or maybe that's what kale does? I still have a lot to learn about growing food. 

My sugar peas are just starting and we've been harvesting spinach for a few weeks now. I transplanted 4 tomato seedlings to nurture; we get volunteers every year from the heirlooms planted years ago. It's thrilling, but maybe not advisable for crop rotation and soil diseases.
 We grew okra for the first time last year and it was a huge success: easy to grow, nutritious, popular with the fam. The seeds my husband saved did not germinate, however, so I just bought seed (not really easy to find in the north) and we're trying again. 

The red and black raspberries are going nuts. I lost my hold on a container of organic berry fertilizer this January and whoops, they got overfed. 
The rhubarb is also turning into a bush! That is a little swamp white oak tree next to it, which is finally taller than me. It is a slow growing tree, but I was just reading this spring how oaks are the backbone of the regional tree ecosystem, so I'm pleased to be part of that. 

My family gives rhubarb the side eye, but I love it, so I'm still figuring out how much I can realistically use or preserve and whether I should give it away. I did already freeze some to use as a tart element in winter cooking instead of lemon: got that tip from a friend who also likes to cook with local food. 
How are your plants doing? And how are you? I missed you and plan to keep writing here!

Thursday, October 1, 2020


Here I am, now a homeschooler! Thanks, COVID. I mean that both sarcastically and sincerely. I am homeschooling Phoebe and she is a dear little student. Our school district is currently totally virtual, and it just did not make sense for Phoebe to enter kindergarten on a screen with me trying not to chew my arm off beside her.

I am grateful that I have a flexible schedule and some years of parenting under my belt. The skills that I need are not really the skills I gained as a high school English teacher, but rather the skills I learned through parenting: patience, cheerful matter-of-fact firmness, calmness, and capacity to enjoy my child and enter into her world. 

For curriculum, I queried the homeschool parents I know who have taught their children kindergarten. I read some websites in the manner of surveying the landscape. Our state uses the Common Core standards and since we intend for Phoebe to return to in-person schooling in the future, I read those standards and chose curriculum aligned with them. 

We are using:
Explode the Code Book 1

DK Geography, Kindergarten level

some partially used kindergarten math books from a friend in the district because the Argoprep Introducing Math! Kindergarten book I bought is too advanced.  

Daily, Phoebe draws in a journal and writes the date. We go over the days of the week, the months and seasons, and do some counting as we ascertain the date.  I read out loud to her; currently we are devouring the Little House books. We spend about an hour on homeschool every morning.

Then she plays her heart out and talks our ears off the rest of the day. She keenly misses peers as her older siblings are so much older - another reason we want to send her back to in-person school. 

As for Genevieve and Ben, they are doing their virtual school thing with their district-issued iPads. Each class has two Zooms a week and the rest of the work is asynchronous. Fortunately, they can still play their sports because these are outside and can be mostly socially distant. I'm grateful they have that fresh air, exercise, excitement, and teamwork. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Orange Linen Pants

I've been wanting wide-leg pants for a while, but I loathe pants shopping. I knew I would sew some wide-leg pants eventually, but I was held back by the complicated fitting and finding the right fabric weight.
But then my sister showed up to our (socially distanced!) backyard firepit fun wearing flowy black linen pants and that is exactly the right outfit on a muggy evening when the mosquitos are out. I actually started down the online pants shopping path until it occurred to me that these are not fitted pants: they are essentially pajama pants and I have made lots of pajama pants! I found this heavy, soft orange linen in my stash; it was enough for a dress, but orange is not a color I wear next to my face. I used my standard pajama pants pattern, modifying the crotch to be higher and cutting the legs to fall straight and wide instead of taper.  I added patch pockets and a paper bag waist, using a casing of bias tape inside. The drawstring has 20" of elastic for comfort. I also finished the hems with orange bias tape because they were just the right length and proper length pants are so important. These photos were taken by my husband on a (socially distanced!) beach family getaway. The beach in the evening means fewer people, no sunscreen, fabulous light, and (ugh) biting flies. The pants kept my legs protected - my husband, wearing shorts, spent a lot of time whacking flies off his legs with my flip flops. 
I'm  really happy with these pants! I plan to wear them with tops of all colors.
Are you wearing wide-leg (public pajama) pants? Do tell!

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Swedish Summer Pillow

We are fine. We are coping.  My silence on the blog is just due to underlying pandemic stress sapping my energy (amen?).

Due to some people in this house whacking each other with the living room throw pillows, I needed to replace a pillow cover.  I have a pillow cover for hot weather and one for cold weather.  That is about as seasonal as my decorating gets! They ruined the hot weather cover.

I made a pillow cover of reds and greens, with the colors lightening up into the middle of the pillow.  Normally I love the surprise of patchwork, but this time, the results lacked the gravitas I wanted in the living room.  It looked like a little girl's bedroom to me, and I could not unsee it.

I kept turning this problem over in my mind at odd moments, poking through my fabric stash at other odd moments, and then I came up this red striped fabric and doily. No patchwork this time!

Ah, now this fits my vision of a summer I want to have: a little cottage by a lake, with tall trees and wildflowers and blue pitchers of milk, whitewashed walls in the sunshine, and a rocker creaking on the porch. Probably I would be alone. I love my people dearly and am very grateful for the community support we give and get. . . .but oh, my, I am a little fried from my people home all the time.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

The Week in Suppers: end of April, pandemic-style

Monday: baked Boston blue fish using Aunt Maggie's recipe; lemony mashed potatoes (recipe below); green salad; oatmeal jam bars made with spiced grape butter)

Tuesday: Pierogies sauteed with radish tops + garlic, German red cabbage, sourdough crackers with cream cheese + pepper jam
Notes: I do not boil frozen commercial pierogies anymore.  Just thaw them for an hour or few at room temperature, then saute until they get some nicely browned edges and are hot through.  I like to saute them with onions and apples, but here I had some radish tops and was short on onions.  So I improvised!

Wednesday: polenta & eggs from Smitten Kitchen Everyday, French bread + olive oil, sauteed kale with garlic & lime, black bean brownies + the last little bit of mint choc chip ice cream
Notes: It took almost 30 minutes to bake the eggs when the recipe implied it would take only a few minutes. No evening commitments tonight, so it didn't matter.  Flavor was worth it, though!
Also, if you chop the kale stems very thinly and put them in the hot pan for 5-10 minutes by themselves with the lid on, they will be tender enough to eat with the sauteed leaves.  It's a small thing I do to cut down on food waste.
Thawing for supper.

Thursday: chicken tikka masala in the slow cooker from Stock the Crock with swiss chard as well; turmeric brown rice; nigella seed naan; pear chutney; pickled lemons
Notes: If I'm making a saucy stew with a flavorful sauce, I usually bulk it up with vegetables to capture the sauce.
Also, I mixed the nigella seed directly into the naan dough this time because it kept falling off when I sprinkled it on top in previous batches.  Success!
I'm working on using my little jars of canned goodness.  Hence the spiced grape butter on Monday, pepper jam on Tuesday, and chutney here.

Friday: pepperoni/onion pizza, fancy mushroom pizza with white sauce and truffle oil, radish top and green olive pizza; chips!!! frozen peaches
Notes: The fancy mushrooms are from a local farm who normally sells to restaurants. My husband gave me truffle oil and truffle salt for Christmas - I am totally hooked. I tried to recreate a mushroom pizza from a local restaurant I love and I'm very pleased with my version - except that I forgot to put salt in the dough when I mixed it up which shows the state of my brain these days.

Saturday: take-out Chinese!
Notes: We rarely buy take-out or go to restaurants as a family, but we wanted to support our favorite local Chinese place. It was a total treat - a break from the heavy-duty cooking I do and so delicious.

Lemony Mashed Potatoes
I got the recipe from Jennifer, who got it from Melissa Clark.  I don't really consider it a salad, and this is how I make it.

Boil until very tender:
2 1/2 -3 lbs. chopped potatoes with skin on

While they are cooking, mix together in bowl:
zest & juice of 1 lemon
1/3 c. olive oil
2 Tbsp. mayo
1 Tbsp. grainy mustard
1 tsp. dried rosemary
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/2 c. sliced scallions

Drain potatoes. Gently pour hot potatoes on mixture and mash with a potato masher until thoroughly mixed.  Serve immediately while hot or let sit and serve at room temperature.

Thursday, April 23, 2020


I do not have swaths of time for projects.  If anything, I have more editing than usual, and now my people are home all the time, so I cannot count on chunks of work time like I could before COVID-19 hit.

I am sewing masks  - have made about 50 and am glad I have skills and materials for this, but wish everyone would get masked already. I want to start a quilt for my sister who has a big birthday in a few weeks, but instead, I sewed her masks.

My mom loaned me The Chilbury Ladies Choir by Jennifer Grey, which is set in World War II England. I really liked it! It helps me to calm down to think of people living through wars where they wanted to carry on with normal life, wanted to "do their bit" to help the situation, and could not make plans for the future. That's how I feel right now, even though I acknowledge how fortunate I am that I am not deprived of any comforts of a first-world existence.  Really.  Sometimes the store does not have the exact groceries that I have on my list, but come on, I have lived in other countries where the store selection was spotty.  I do not think we will starve.
For a while now, I have kept a well-stocked, deep pantry.  I have flour and yeast!  Now I am not sure if we should eat to the bottom of my stores, or if I should replace my replacements.  I am confused.  I recognize this as a sign of the underlying grief and stress that COVID-19 brings and I just chug along, limiting grocery shopping to one market trip a week and the grocery store to 2-3 weeks. 

I am extremely proud of my menus, my resourcefulness with the food we do have on hand.  I know how to make do with odds and ends! I think my family is less impressed and wishes to know where I've hidden the chips. I am messing around with my sourdough as I have been since before Christmas, learning new ways and studying various methods.  When the library abruptly shut down lending, I won the jackpot with a full library basket that includes no less than four cookbooks, two on bread! Not that I have actually been reading them.  My big kids have been reading Harry Potter for the first time and coaxed me into reading along after I read the first book out loud to them. 

This is Phoebe's desk, her Christmas present; she loves it.
I have gradually come to expect nothing from the future, except that I can't wait to hug dear ones outside my family again and sing in groups again. Oh, I miss singing so badly! I am really not making any future plans so that COVID-19 can't steal my plans again. When I remember to look at my calendar, I usually see something that I need to delete. Sometimes I rage, sometimes I cry.

I like to walk the estate (we live in the city; we have a yard) and revel in all my growing plants: the three types of raspberries growing back, our little tiny oak tree, my big rhubarb, the persistent meadow tea, the peas and spinach coming up strong in the new raised bed.  Inside, I found a grow-light lightbulb and a lamp and trained it on my sweet little herb seedlings in the windowsill. All this green, growing hope.  I crave it.


How are you doing these strange, strange days?