Saturday, June 26, 2010


We packed up for a week at the beach. I'm going to quilt the Klara Annabella - maybe not on the beach proper, but certainly as I watch movies and talk.  Maybe I'll even quilt as we drive.

I have a backlog of things to record here because I was just too dang hot, but all that will wait until next Saturday.  I'm off!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Swimming Lessons

This is the last day of Genevieve's swimming lessons.   She did so well! 

I used the lessons as motivation to finally sew with knits and made a swim cover up skirt. First I studied my copy of this book.  Then I cut two rectangles for a simple skirt.  I made a drawstring waist using an orphan shoestring in my stash, shirt tail hem on the bottom.  Genevieve really loves it (some of the flowers are PINK) and asks to wear it, so I'm pleased.

Her swimming lessons are so pleasurable for me, taking me back to my childhood and the jump into the chilly pool, suits and towels on the line, freckles coming out on cheeks, and the scent of long, wet, chlorinated hair. 

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Hot. Really Hot

We are in a heat wave and this is the summer that my husband and I decided to try skipping air conditioning.  Our old house doesn't have central air, but we're not planning to get out the window units either.  When I happened to check the temperature at 3am this morning (don't ask), it was still 82 degrees outside.  It came down from 91 when I went to bed.  That's hot for my part of the world.

It's possible we will get out the window bangers (as my dad calls them). 

I'm feeling feeble and listless, inclined only to drink things with ice in them and take arctic showers three times a day.  Last night in a fit of insanity I made a caftan, but I'm too hot to photograph it. 

I've been going to great lengths to keep the heat outside.  Not that we felt like eating Asian crockpot beef, but the roast had been thawed before the heat wave, so I did my best.

Too hot to sweep the sidewalk either.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Bunk Beds

Not only had a bolt come loose on Ben's crib, he was showing signs of being ready for a big bed.

We laid plans for bunk beds.  After scouring ebay and Amazon, I found two sets of cotton sheets at Marshalls for $19.99 each, one with cars, one with fire trucks.  I gravitate towards plain, simple things, but for some reason, I outfit my children with patterned sheets.  Maybe it's my way of softening the jarring adult-ness of a big bed.  I also found the white cotton blanket for $4.99 at a thrift store.

My husband and I planned a trip to the nearest Ikea, only to discover that the cool bunkbeds were discontinued but still on the website. We had burned our bridges that morning by dissassembling the nursery, so we shrugged and bought what they had (for $150 - I do love Ikea prices!).

Now, a week or so later, I finally figured out how to manage the children's clothes in one dresser (by storing little-used clothing under the bed and hanging more things in the closet).  Saturday's work is washing and changing sheets, so when everything was made up, I took some pictures.  With Ben's help.

We still have to have a diaper system for Ben.  The dresser formerly sat under Genevieve's youth loft bed.
The diaper bag (what's that thing called?) came from a thrift store for less than a dollar; dirty laundry goes in the hanging bag beside it.  The hanger is from my father in law's childhood.
My Great Aunt Isabelle took a trip to "closed China" in the 1980s and visited the factory where this hanging pocket organizer was made.  It is hand appliqued with infinitesimal stitches.  I'm pleased to finally put it to use.  The mirror used to look great when the changing table was under it, but that dang glue frustrates all my efforts to get it off (not so fond of Ikea for that).

The clock hung in my childhood home in the kitchen.  One day my dad stuck the banana sticker in its center.
In my closet-poor old house, I use a high shelf in lieu of a linen closet.  The first quilt I ever made is the blue and pink one next to the bottom; I must photograph that one of these days For the Record.  I also bound and appliqued the wool blanket on top - also needs documenting For the Record. 

So far, the new bedroom setup is working fine.  Ben has proved to be less willing to stay in his bed than his older sister was at this age.   All his reasons for being up:
"I want nink, Mommy" [drink]
"bossom baby" [his dolly, the Blossom Baby]
"tow tuck book" [a book about tow trucks]
"I bump my head!"
"I poopy-pee!" [but he doesn't care about wet diapers or the potty during the day]
"Tuck me in, peese." [please]

Well, ok, sweet boy.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Well-Proportioned Root Beer Float

One can of root beer, 4 glasses, 4 scoops of neapolitan ice cream (as in, the 2" diameter scoops).

A sweet treat to end a summer meal.

Child-sized portions, slender-adult-sized portions too.

Sometimes, have a tall root beer float with a side of french fries and nothing else for dinner.  And eat greens and brown rice the rest of the day.  Well-proportioned!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Monday: Cleaning Bathroom, Desk Work

When I worked in the professional world, I hated Mondays.  As a homemaker, I love Mondays.  I feel surprisingly rested from Sunday, and ready to launch into my work.

On Mondays, I clean my bathroom:  mirrors, toilet, shower walls, sink, tops of the tile and lights where the dust shows, and floor.  I change the rug and handtowel.  It takes me all of 20 minutes, unless the children want to help too.  If I'm feeling energetic, I use the bucket of soapy water to wash the foyer floor too; the rest of my floors are wood and take a different cleaner.

In the afternoon, I do desk work.  I answer emails that I've put off, go through the inbox and pay bills, return phone calls, and arrange our social calendar. We have two inboxes: one at the front door inside this desk where we drop all the mail, and then one on the desk upstairs where the bills go. As I carry the bills upstairs, I sort the rest of the mail into the recycling bin, reading material, coupon stash, or decorating the buffet.

Sometimes things come up that cannot wait until the nearest Monday, but usually, this weekly net works just fine.  My old way of managing the bills was to do a big chunk when I remembered, which meant a good hour or more of balancing checkbooks and paying bills, some of them mortifyingly overdue.  Now, I usually only have one or two bills to deal with per Monday and they all get paid on time.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Two Books

I truly agree with the premise of Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work by Matthew B. Crawford, but it was so densely worded that I had bad flashbacks of college texts. So I gave it up and agreed with the Crawford: working with your hands is very satisfying and requires creative intelligence.

I didn't try very hard with Crawford because I have several tempting novels on my mantel.  I just finished Except for Me and Thee by Jessamyn West, an author new to me.  It was very good.  I liked the crisp, lovely writing; the realistic characters and relationships, with heartbreak, joy, work, and tedium mixed together; the subplots involved serious themes, but the plot as a whole had a gentle bent  - a rare and realistic combination.  I'm pleased that there are more Jessamyn West books to read.

"She lit the big glass-bellied, unshaded kitchen lamp.  The lamp, its circle of yellow light her partner is secrecy, pleased her.  She had left the kitchen in beautiful order, the table set for breakfast and every chair ranged squarely in front of a plate.  The room was a joy to behold, but her nose didn't take the same pleasure in it her eyes did.  First of all, no one, expecting the night to cool off, had opened the kitchen windows." 
from Except for Me and Thee

Friday, June 18, 2010

Hand Quilting the Klara Annabella

I've hand quilted before as part of church sewing circle, but for the first time, I'm going to hand quilt my own quilt.  I pieced this top last summer as a living room throw, and I began quilting yesterday.  I'm going to quilt in casual concentric circles using the hoop as guide; this will be my major handwork for a week at the beach coming up.

The lovely name comes from the printed names on the fabrics' selvedge.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Camera Recommendation

(My friend A's barn, this spring.)

I have a little digital point & shoot that was cutting edge five years ago.  My husband and I are gearing up to think about possibly buying a new camera.

Can you recommend a camera to me?

My main complaint about my current camera is that I cannot take very close-up photos.  I love how my blogger friends do that.  From my limited knowledge, that's a specialized lens, so I need an SLR camera for the lens.  My husband has and knows how to use a "real" camera with all the f-stops or whatever, so he's excited about a fancy camera.  Me - I just want to zoom in on my sewing projects to capture the details and I'm overwhelmed by all the options out there.

I hope you can help get my research started in the right direction!  Thanks in advance.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Middle Eastern Meatloaf

This is a handy meatloaf: not hard, made in stages, excellent flavor. I pair it with yogurt cucumber salad or tomatoes, and oiled baked potatoes or couscous. Here, all the food is local and most of it is organic too.

This evening, I had also pinched off the tops of my coleus plants and loved their rich color so much I floated them in a bowl.  The pleasures of a pretty table. . .

Middle Eastern Meatloaf (from Simply in Season)

In food processor, chop very fine:
1 med. onion
1/2 c. fresh parsley, stems included

Add and process until smooth:
1 pound ground beef
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. EACH nutmeg, allspice, coriander, pepper

Pat into 9x9 baking dish and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.  Bake at 350 for 1 hour.  I try to follow a recipe exactly the first time I make it and I was doubtful about those spices, but fear not: they are subtle and perfectly proportioned.  Sometimes I double the batch so we can have leftovers in pita with cucumbers and yogurt sauce.  I've been meaning to grill this meatloaf, but haven't yet.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Ben's Beach Shirt

A loose white linen shirt with ties, collarless, faced with blue and white stripes. . .

I thought it would be perfect for Ben as a beach shirt, but I wasn't sure I could pull it off with the patterns I had on hand.  I did!  And I did it one day, from cutting out the pattern to finished shirt!  And there are no distracting, amateurish goofs with accompanying regrets as usual.  I am very pleased with myself and plotting grander projects already.

The shirt is from this pattern, with the cuffs eliminated, the collar flipped inside as facing, the placket double-faced with a strip of blue stripes, between which I sandwiched the ties (just tubes, knotted close to the end) and topstitched Xs on top.  I had to plan carefully to make the facings with white linen and stripes so the stripes would not show through.  This was the first time I set in sleeves on a garment and there is just one  tiny mistaken tuck:  I'm proud of myself!

Ben happily wore the shirt, but refused to cooperate with my modeling suggestions, choosing instead to stand on top of an outdoor storage box in dim light, looking serious and pouty. I don't mind: he's finally outfitted for the beach.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Doing Something About the BP Oil Crisis

(thanks to Emily at Little House on the Southern Prairie for the post that inspired this one; mind you, she cusses a bit)

I am depressed about the BP oil spewing into the Gulf and spreading everywhere. I've stopped following the news because it's so devastating to me. I won't go on: you know what I'm talking about.

I am in some measure culpable for this disaster. I buy and use plastic. I burn gas in my car going mindlessly and endlessly everywhere. I turn up the heat, fly on planes, buy products and produce shipped on trucks that use diesel.

But this post is not to paralyze you with guilt and hopelessness: it is to take some power into our hands. We can stop doing those things that demand oil. I believe firmly that little things matter, they add up. I'll list the things I do below and please, add your ideas and methods in the comments. Also, bear in mind as you read my list that I've been doing some of these things for a while and others only for weeks. . .and sometimes I don't do any of these things because I'm lazy or tired or grouchy. But let's focus on the positive!

Ways I try to avoid plastic/oil:

1. I try not to buy plastic containers - I use refrigerator dishes or canning jars in the kitchen, and baskets or metal buckets elsewhere (toys, crafts, etc.)

2. I usually wash and reuse plastic bags when I can't avoid them. My sis even got me this handy bag dryer, but I used to drape them over my cooking utensils next to the stove. I try to avoid plastic wrap.

3. I buy milk in reusable glass jugs and I'm sure it tastes better too. Our eggs come in reused cartons, which I return to the farmer's market or to friends with chickens.

4. I shun the plastic bags at the farmer's market when I can, instead putting the produce in my own old bags at home or into glass jars (thanks to my friend Rebecca for inspiring this). I buy bulk grains and flours in paper when I can, which freezes just fine as it is - no loss of flavor or freshness.

5. We use cloth hankies, cloth napkins, rags (not paper towels), cloth diapers, cloth wipes. To my embarrassment, I still do use rubber pants for Ben; since he's started potty training, I'm not sure it's worth switching to wool soakers.

6. I recycle what I can, even the stuff that doesn't get picked up curbside (paper, cardboard, household hazardous waste, styrofoam, metal).

7. I rarely accept a plastic bag from a store: I carry my own cloth bag or I just carry the item to the car trunk or chuck it in the stroller bin.

8. We use a reel mower for our small back yard.

Making this list and anticipating your additional ideas in the comments has been such a hopeful thing for me! I don't feel so helpless or puny.

I couldn't figure out a photo to treat your eyes, but here is a verse from a lovely song in my church hymnal, Sing the Story . . . (written music and the other two verses here)

Nothing is lost to the heart of God,
nothing is lost for ever;
God's heart is love, and that love will remain,
holding the world for ever.
No impulse of love, no office of care,
no moment of life in its fulness;
no beginning too late, no ending too soon,
but is gathered and known in God's goodness.

Music and lyrics by Colin Gibson, copyright 1994

Friday, June 11, 2010

Hot Weather Granola

My autopilot breakfast, year round, is eggs and toast. In the winter, my other autopilot breakfast is hot cereal; that changes to granola in hot weather.

A week or so ago, my desire for a cozy, warm breakfast finally disappeared. What I wanted was crunchy, not too sweet, with lots of cold milk and fresh berries. The only downer about making granola is the hot oven for a half hour, so that's why I make a big batch. Oh, those smart ladies of yesteryear with their summer kitchens!

I've been using the same granola recipe for years now, developed using the loose guidelines in More with Less. I could be tempted to try other recipes, so tell me your granola secrets and methods.

Margo's Granola

Grease 2 very large baking pans with sides; I usually use my roasting pan and a 12x14.

Into this, dump (14 cups total):
7-9 cups rolled or quick oats 1 c. coconut
1 c. sunflower seeds
1/2 c. sesame seeds
1 c. wheat germ
nuts - I use whatever I have, but hazelnuts are fabulous

Mix separately:
1/2 c. honey
1/2 c. oil
1/2 c. peanut butter
1/2 c. blackstrap molasses
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt

Pour wet stuff over dry, mixing well until evenly coated. Bake at 300 for 15 minutes; stir. Bake an additional 15 minutes (I never bake longer than this!) and allow to cool undisturbed for chunks.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Cowboy Playsuit

When I knew I was pregnant with our second child and that he was a boy, I remember how boring I thought boys' clothes were.
I'm finally figuring out what kind of boy's style I can fall in love with. Here Ben is wearing a vintage playsuit (or romper) with an appliqued sailboat and fish. I love it so much I snapped it up at the thrift store when he was a baby.

Nice playsuits are a rare find, so I made one! I complicated matters by setting my heart on a scrap of cowboy fabric from a friend's stash; I needed to piece it and pair it with the light blue in order to have enough. A close inspection would reveal lots of mistakes (and that's after I ripped out numerous seams. . . some twice), but overall, it's pretty cute for everyday play.

Ben is fairly tall and skinny for his age; the playsuit is sized for a shorter, chubbier child. I did check his measurements before sewing, but I'd like to make another one to get a better fit.

Genevieve chose to wear this hand me down Clara dress that day and then asked for a "ballerina bun" in her hair. Is it just my Mennonite baggage or does she look like a little plain Mennonite girl? I kept looking at her in wonder all day.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Summer Rice and Beans

Overheard last summer:

Mom: I wonder what we should have for supper tonight. . .
Daughter: Mom, couldn't we have rice and beans? We haven't had that for a while.
Mom (horrified): That's winter food! I can't think of rice and beans in the summer!
Daughter (wistfully): I just kind of miss it.

I went off to fiddle in the kitchen, and this, my very own recipe, is the result. Now Clara can have her rice and beans year round! This is a very sturdy salad without mayo - good for an outdoor summer potluck.

Margo's Summer Rice & Beans
In serving bowl, combine:
2 c. cooked rice, brown or white, warm or cold
1-2 c. black beans
1-2 c. blanched corn (thawed frozen corn, or cut off the cob in peak sweet corn season)

Mix and add dressing:
1/4 c. olive oil
zest and juice of 1.5 limes
1 tsp. salt
2-3 minced garlic cloves

Allow to marinate in fridge if time. Before serving, add:
1/4 c. chopped onion
1/3 c. chopped cilantro
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 c. grated cheddar

Taste to see if there's enough lime - use the other half lime as needed.
Sprinkle with crushed tortilla chips at the table.

add chopped cucumber or sweet peppers
add chili powder and/or cumin
vary the beans (I used pintos from my freezer for the meal pictured here)
serve on lettuce
use salsa if you don't have good tomatoes on hand
use avocado for part or all of the cheese - toss with a bit of lemon juice first

Summer rice and beans really is a complete meal (veg, carbs, protein), but it's strawberry season. . . .so we dipped them in what I like to call Italian Meringue, but is actually called Quick Fluffy White Icing in my cookbook (recipe in this post).

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


We tried container gardening last year because we weren't sure we had enough sunlight to make beds. It was dismal. However, we do have lots of light in the spring before the big trees leaf out, so I planted a rhubarb plant with high hopes for next spring. I am farmy enough to want to harvest something, even though I live in a city with a shady backyard.

The friend who gave me the start advised me to pick up the dried manure under hitching posts at stores the Amish frequent. I looked at her in horror: she is a nicely manicured, suburban mother. Well, if she can do it, surely I, unmanicured and with strubbly hair, can do it. In the meantime, I used compost.

Between the iris and the daffodils, I also planted some parsley, Thai basil, regular basil, and a random pepper plant my husband purchased. I was surprised to see some volunteer dill from last year's failed containers; I'm rooting for it so I can use it when I make dill pickles later on this summer. Last year I had to use dill seed instead of fresh dill heads.

There's also a surprise spearmint plant; in my naivete, I planted it when we bought our house eight years ago. It was too shady and then seemed to get a disease and die - very strange for take-over-the-garden mint! But lo, this spring, it came back, so for now I am reading life lessons into its persistence and vivacity.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Getting Ready for the Beach

Genevieve has all her beach garb, now that we found her sunglasses. I had to explain to her at RiteAid in a way that would not give offense to casual passersby, that in our family, we do not buy things with licensed characters on them. You try doing that sometime; I felt like a politician. I finally distracted her with gum, and then I bought the plain black sunglasses which turned out to be marked down to $1.99, unlike the pink glitter Barbie ones for $8.99. The new sunglasses look like the late 1980s to me, in a good way!

Genevieve is also sporting her new water bottle, another RiteAid markdown that we got for $2.49 because she asked if she could have her own water bottle like mine (I have a Sigg dating from my pregnancy with Ben which may not be recognizable because it is so dented and the paint is coming off).

As for Ben, he needs a beach shirt and hat. It sounded simpler and more satisfying to me to try to make a hat, than dragging my children through various stores until I found a plain hat in my price range.

I used some scraps of whale fabric from Mrs. R and lined it with white. I also used a pattern from Mrs. R rather than buy a pattern; I just ignored the scalloped edge on View A.

I also put in a bit of interfacing along the brim and then machine quilted a few rows to add structure for turning up the brim. I'm still planning to add some straps that will snap together at Ben's cheek.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Strawberry Freezer Jam

To prove that I could do it, I made "real" jam last year with peaches. But I prefer strawberry freezer jam for its flavor (plus it's just so ridiculously easy). We don't go through jam very fast - Ben and I are the only ones who eat it on toast at breakfast - so I just made one batch.

Around here, everyone with a garden patch seems to sell the extra next to the road with a little cardboard sign and an honor-system money box. Driving to a tutoring session, I got the berries for this jam for $3 a quart from a rickety little table.

I also used ThyHand's suggestion and had Genevieve mash up a quart of strawberries. My plan is to eat them over baked oatmeal in, oh, January.

The first preserving of summer 2010! . . . squirreled away in my spic and span freezer. Duly recorded.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Friday: Sparkle and Shine Cleaning

To further explain my weekly routine, Friday is sparkle and shine cleaning (I picked up that term from Leila's post). This is a short version of what my mother called "house cleaning," done every Saturday morning, all morning long. I got lots of cleaning ideas from Marla Cilley (The Fly Lady) in her book Sink Reflections. I shortened my house cleaning to one hour, tops, although living with my children means I spread it out over a whole day.

My Friday Sparkle and Shine:
1. dust
2. vacuum
3. shake rugs
4. dust steps with damp cloth
5. do one of the following: wipe doorknobs/lightswitches, clean/seal kitchen countertops, or wipe off kitchen cabinets

A few comments:
1. I don't have a lot of knick knacks. I do include the obvious baseboards, but I'm not moving furniture to get to any.

3. I have 6 throw rugs to shake in the summer, 8 in the winter. If I'm rushed, I just sloppily run the vacuum over them.

4. We have painted wood steps, and I learned this nifty trick of hand dusting the steps from my pastor Sue. I use a microfiber cloth.

5. These are all jobs that cannot be left to zone cleaning (deep cleaning), but don't necessarily need to be done every week.

Did you realize that my bathroom is not included in the sparkle and shine cleaning? It just felt too exhausting and overwhelming to me to clean everything in one day, but bookending the weekend with sparkle and shine cleaning on Friday and bathroom on Monday means that the house is relatively clean the rest of the week. And I don't think about it the rest of the week either, nor do I clean inbetween (except for the vacuum of obvious dirt on Tuesday - and I do mean obvious). I don't worry if I see dirt on Thursday because I know that sparkle and shine cleaning is tomorrow. My mind is free to focus on other things and consider other projects.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Perfect Spring Meal

Hulling the peas.

New potatoes, new peas, bathed in a creamy white sauce with spring onions and slivers of succulent Easter ham.

Fresh strawberry pie. With cream. That refused to whip, but tasted divine nonetheless.

(Recipes are from More with Less and Simply in Season and I will gladly post them if you do so request.)