Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Layette: Baby Washcloths

Isn't a layette a quaint, charming concept?  A layette is simply a complete baby wardrobe for a new baby.  Our new baby doesn't need very much because I saved pretty much everything from the first two babies.  My dad very generously allows us to store things in his garage a few blocks away, so over the past two months, I have inched through the sorting of baby paraphernalia one box at a time.

I found three changing pad covers for a contoured changing pad (which was totally worn out and discarded years ago - I'm definitely buying a new one as I don't see any homemade options that work as well).  One of the covers let out that telltale ripple of pops when I tested the elastic - yes, the elastic had expired.  However, the yellow cotton terrycloth was still reasonably plush and soft, so I decided to cut it into baby washcloths.

Now, strictly speaking, a baby can be washed with any washcloth around, but since baby washcloths are adorable and I had the materials in front of me, I indulged my desire for cuteness.

I cut squares with rounded corners so I wouldn't have to miter any 90-degree corners which would create pokey corners that could irritate baby's delicate skin (if we're making baby washcloths, we might as well fall in with the whole "delicate skin" approach).

I made bias tape from cute flowered calico and used a zig-zag stitch to catch both sides as I sewed it on.  Now I have five cute baby washcloths for essentially free because all these materials came from my stash.

And yes, all those flowers mean that we are having a little girl.  Certain children in this family have needed some time to get used to the idea that this baby is a sister, not a brother. Someone has even suggested that maybe the ultrasound was wrong or that the baby might miraculously change into a boy. . . .but I think those wishes are in the past now, and we are all eager to meet our little girl.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Irish Oatmeal Muffins

I'm not even sure I can describe what makes these muffins so great - slightly chewy, a bit sweet, sort of buttery tasting?  It's the same phenomenon that's going on in soaked oatmeal pancakes, so I'm guessing it originates with the soaked oatmeal part.  The muffins certainly don't look promising and delicious, but they are.

I also really like how plain these muffins are.  Sometimes I just want a straightforward thing that doesn't have a spice or an herb or small pieces of something that I have to peer into my cupboards and fridge to find and chop.  Then I can pair these muffins with cheese, or marmalade, or any kind of fruit or yogurt that's on hand.  I think I might even eat these with soup, in the funny Mennonite way that I was raised (is it just Mennonite moms who serve raisin bran muffins with vegetable soup?  Shudder).

Also, as muffins go, these are pretty easy-peasy.  Marion Cunningham doesn't even warn you to stir them together briefly and gently the way you are supposed to handle most muffins and quick breads, so I've made them for breakfast in a rush and they've still turned out great.  We all love them.

Irish Oatmeal Muffins - tweaked a bit from Marion Cunningham in The Breakfast Book

Combine and allow to stand 6 hours or overnight, room temperature:

2 cups buttermilk, kefir, yogurt/milk
1 cup rolled oats

When ready to bake, add the following to the oats mixture:

2 eggs
3/4 cup dark brown sugar (if you don't have dark brown, cut back a little and add a dollop of molasses)
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. oil or melted butter

Mix wet mixture well.  Separately, stir together:
1 2/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda

Stir into oats mixture until completely combined.  Spoon batter into muffin tins (lined or greased) to 3/4 full.  Bake at 400 for 15-17 minutes, until top is springy when lightly touched.  Makes 20 muffins.  Eat warm, or freeze when cooled.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Genevieve Washes Dishes

One day I asked Genevieve to take the full compost bucket out to the compost pile at the end of the yard.  She fussed and demurred. Her daddy jokingly offered to trade her his dish-washing stint for the compost run.  She wasn't joking and she accepted so fast, his mouth dropped open.

I had been meaning to start Genevieve on washing dishes, but I was not sure I had prepared myself adequately for the likelihood of broken dishes and vast, heedless quantities of water and soap. I could see myself turning into a shrieking harpy over this experience, and it was just easier to wash the ding-dong dishes myself.

Well, Genevieve is doing pretty well!  Probably because she's nine-and-a-half, she needs less instruction because she's seen her parents wash dishes so often that some of the moves just come naturally to her. I still have to remind her not to just dunk dishes, but to actually use the cloth to rub all over.  She also tends to hold dishes at her chest-level instead of down in the water, meaning the dish water runs back her arms and gets on sleeves and countertops (eek - the vast heedless quantities of water!).  At this point, my goal is for her to wash the supper dishes once a week.  And I think I'll start teaching Ben how to dry. . . 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Why I Love MCC Gift &Thrift Shops

I don't know about yours, but our local Salvation Army and Goodwill Stores are junky, crowded, and disorganized.  There is lots of sheer junk stirred in - and there's no need to tell me that one man's trash is another man's treasure because I am a dedicated thrift shopper, but I'm complaining about broken things, half-used things, missing parts that render the object unusable. . . .  Plus, some of the items are priced disproportionately high, and then there is the rack of new clothes - cheap junk discarded from a retail store and given prominence in the thrift store because it is new. I realize I sound cranky.

I am willing to go a few miles out of my way to stop at any MCC Gift &Thrift store or any store owned and run by Mennonites or their ilk.  Here, they seem to have a limitless supply of cheerful volunteers who love to tidy up, organize, and iron.  Items are sorted by use and similarity, carefully labeled with pertinent information (the number of pieces in a set of dishes, size of tablecloth, size of clothing, etc.). Everything is so clean!  I've even seen those ladies dusting the shelves.  Their prices are low or reasonable - they have a sharp eye for the valuable stuff and they set it aside in a section, priced accordingly.

ironed and tied with a ribbon - all 4 for $.50!!
Look, here's the list of things I bought recently at an MCC Gift and Thrift store.  Everything was in perfect condition.  I am very pleased!

$2.50 - red linen tablecloth for my dining room table
$.50 - set of 4 linen napkins
$.35 and $.50 - 2 sweet hankies
$1.75 - navy Limited Too cardigan for G for school
$.75 - 2 hand-dipped gold tapers
$.25 - small glass votive cup
$.50 - 2 juice glasses
$.75 - 3 wooden hangers

$8.19 total (with tax)

I stopped by this store because I was driving to someone's house to purchase a stroller system from Craigslist (this one, for the unbelievably low price of $30!!!), so I took the opportunity to stop in a nearby thrift store with my lists in hand. I hate shopping as entertainment, but if I have items on my lists, I combine errands like this all the time.  I keep a groceries/toiletries list, as well as an other things list (currently on it: fabric for class set of birthday napkins, oil & vinegar cruets, regular mouth canning lids).

Because I'm the homemaker and I have my finger on the pulse of the household, there are some standard things I look for as well as some ideas I might check into.  All the things shown here were on my mental list.  All of these things are immediately useful and have a place in my house (I usually figure out where I'm keeping something before I bring it home - I no longer buy things for the sole reason that I love them because the love turns to loathing when the things clutter up the house waiting to be used or placed).

I think I'm going on and on about this stuff because I've sorted a mountain of baby things from storage as well as helped the children sort their rooms as we switched bedrooms around.  Anyone else share my sentiments?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Belly Bands are Thrifty

When I was pregnant with my first two babies, I thought you had to wear maternity clothes throughout pregnancy. Makes sense, right?  In the years since, I have seen tidbits here and there about women who make do with non-maternity clothes for a large part of their pregnancy.  I couldn't quite figure out how they did that because wouldn't normal shirts and dresses ride up in the front and did you have to wear stretchy everything?

Well, I'm wearing lots of my own non-maternity clothes this pregnancy because I found tutorials online for making belly bands.

These belly bands look like a cowl or an infinity scarf made of knit fabric (because it has that elastic stretch that woven fabric does not).  It would be possible to make them by sewing a strip of knit fabric into a circle with one seam, but I chose to follow this tutorial and make them double-thickness. I bought small cuts of knit at my fabric outlet using a coupon very early in my pregnancy with this exact project in mind.  I think I paid less than $5 for all three; by way of comparison, a single band is currently $17 at Motherhood Maternity.

I flipped the grey one inside out so you could see the seams - and yes, they are wrinkled from their shove-in-the-drawer-state.
I have a dark gray one, shown on me in the photos, plus light gray ribbed, and white.  I was thinking of how a camisole would look peeking out from under my shirt when I chose these colors.  The colors and the bands themselves are working great for me.

I'm not wearing any maternity clothes in these photos, taken when I was 21 weeks pregnant (I'm showing much more now at 25 weeks).  The magenta shirt rides up slightly, so the belly band keeps the bottom of my belly covered and also hides the occasional rubber band at my jeans button.  I'm still wearing my regular jeans and most of the time buttoning them without a rubber band - does that mean I wear baggy jeans normally, or that I'm carrying this baby really high, or that I'm just stretching my jeans beyond the point of no return?  Don't know, but I'm comfortable and covered, so I'm happy.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Homemade Marmalade (A Poem)

Part 1:  Obsession. I never really had good marmalade, homemade or otherwise, but only the random store-brand jar I bought back in early married life.  I liked that fluorescent goo, so I was really excited to taste homemade marmalade.

Part 2:  Research.  Jam-making is tricky for me.  I decided on Marisa's Three-Citrus Marmalade, despite some worrisome comments on the recipe that using the pith, peels, and seeds for the pectin made the marmalade too bitter or runny or both.  I've had wonderful flavors from Marisa's recipes (but dubious set sometimes - but that is the unreliable nature of jam-making).

Part 3:  Hard labor.  Seriously, all that peeling, chopping, supreming, ugh.  Fortunately, I pulled up a stool to the counter to rest my pregnant self while I toiled away.  Boiling and boiling and boiling the marmalade, worrying that it couldn't seem to get itself up to the magical 220 degrees.  I did take a small taste and horrors!  it was so bitter!  I even threw in some more sugar - I could not bear to waste all my time and the organic citrus. I canned it (6 half-pints) and the set was beautifully firm, the way I like it.

Part 4:  The Very Happy Poem.  I fretted to everyone about my pretty marmalade that was horribly bitter, but then I decided to just try it on a muffin one snowy morning, that maybe this marmalade wasn't meant to be eaten straight.  And it was wonderful!  

How did that happen?  Did I mis-taste the first time?  Did it cure or do something magical in the 36 hours it sat canned in its jars?  

I was slathering the marmalade on oatmeal muffins that were not overly sweet (more on those muffins in a later post) and here it is on an angel biscuit which has zero sweetening, but the marmalade is gloriously zingingly tart and sweet together.  I love it (so does my husband, but the children do not).  

And when you say "homemade marmalade," you have a rhyming poem, right there.  And then you can have a bite of poetry if you make this marmalade.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Dressing Up a Young Lady

Genevieve is 9, and this is an awkward stage to dress because girl clothes don't come in size 9.  Size 8 goes straight to size 10, and often it is not just size 10, but size 10-12.  Clearly someone made a mistake, yes?  Because I have a beautiful tall string-bean and commercial clothes either fit her shoulders while her wrists and knees stick out (size 8), or come down decently over her wrists and knees, but bag and sag off her shoulders and slender torso (size 10).  And this is just for school uniforms and play clothes - try finding something that can be called dressy!

Plus, I think it's a tricky balance to strike a sweet, yet not babyish or too adult, look for a girl this age (I cannot bring myself to call her a tween - sorry). I think we might be entering the era of be-resigned-to-a-time-investment-and-take-G-shopping-so-she-can-try-on-clothes. My current method is to run errands alone during the school day, doing my research and thinking ahead of time so I can be in and out of a familiar clothing store in 10 minutes if there are no lines.  I rarely browse in a store because I don't always make good decisions on the fly (thus frustrating the marketing and design of all retail stores - oh darn).

So here are my latest solutions for Genevieve's dressy clothes.

This is a gored skirt I made for her using a vintage pattern borrowed from Rebecca.

Although I measured the girl and read the pattern carefully, the skirt ended up being inches too large at the waist (another rant: trying to fit skirts that stay up on girls whose waist and hips are the same - yes, there is elastic, but I was trying for a slightly dressier, more grown-up look here).

I did not remove the waistband and reduce the waistband and seams; I simply sewed the side seam smaller, including the waistband as well, and then I cut off the excess inside. This is considered sloppy sewing, but I thought the repair would be hidden enough.  I added belt loops.

Now Genevieve can adjust the waist to fit and hide the seamed waistband behind the belt as well.  Braided belts are fabulous for children because they are full of holes, so you can buckle the belt however tight or loose it needs to be.  I found this belt at a thrift store for $2.

Showing a tiny flash of the yellow bias tape I used to finish the hem.

Genevieve is also wearing her brown boots, bought from Kohl's in the fall with a coupon, and a red shirt that was passed down to her by a friend.  I used fabric from my stash for this skirt, but I chose carefully so that the skirt goes with several sweaters and shirts that she already has.  And given the length and waistband of this skirt, I hope it lasts for several years.

Then Rebecca's Clara passed down a vintage linen shift to Genevieve.  We are using it like a jumper in the winter, and hoping it will be a sleeveless shift in the spring and fall (it's lined with polyester, so I'm not sure she will want to wear it in summer). I had so much fun going through my scarves and things to see how we could style this dress; I didn't buy anything new to go with it.

This peasant blouse.  I added a tiny vintage velvet collar  - it's just buttoned around the neck and is much too small for me, but so exquisite I had it tucked in with my scarves. She could wear brown boots and tights with this.  Or black flats and black tights.

Long-sleeved cream tee with another of those exquisite collars, this one beaded with seed pearls.  Crazy tights, plus black flats or brown boots.  But of course, she could wear cream tights with black flats.

The long-sleeved tee again, this time with this infinity scarf at the neck.

Genevieve herself, wearing the shift with a white button-down, crazy tights, and black flats.

She is nine years old, so beautiful and funny, and definitely a strawberry blonde in the sunlight.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Quaint Flannel Pajamas in Two Plaids

One of my favorite projects - private clothes that don't need to match anything else!  I needed pajamas because one of my pairs was literally falling apart (I wear my pajamas more than I will admit to), and I also needed to squeeze my stash into a smaller space, so I decided to make do with the flannel already in my stash.  Hence, I didn't have enough yardage for top and bottom to be the same.

However, I do like how these two plaids go together, and I am especially fond of the discreet lace trim on the collar and pockets and the mismatched milky-turquoise buttons (what is that color?  I adore that soft blue-turquoise color and it seems retro, like that jadeite green).

I used vintage 1960s Simplicity 4006 again.  I can still, surprisingly, wear these pajamas over my baby belly.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Simplest Homemade Mustard

Of all the condiments I make at home, this mustard is the absolute drop-dead simplest. I buy the mustard seeds in bulk (and I wish I had kept track of the math at the time, but the organic seeds I bought in bulk were cheaper than non-organic at the store).  The mustard seeds keep indefinitely at room temperature in glass jars - very handy in the spice cupboard, I must say.

 The end result is like a stone-ground, grainy mustard with my cheap stick blender; I got a more powerful stick blender for Christmas, so I'm curious to see if the texture is more uniform on the next batch of mustard. But rustic mustard as pictured here is great, too! I also still buy cheap yellow mustard because I think it does have its place in some recipes.

Homemade Mustard

Soak overnight (I do this in the glass jar I'm planning to keep the mustard in):
1 cup mustard seeds, yellow and/or brown
3 cups water

In the morning, drain off water.
pinch pepper
5 tsp. salt
1 cup vinegar (I use white wine vinegar usually)

Blend with immersion blender or stand blender.  Presto:  mustard!!  Keeps indefinitely in fridge as long nobody double dips with a dirty spoon.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Out With the Old, In With the New

I had a pair of greasy brown hotpads that were falling apart and would not wash clean anymore. I got the idea to replace them, but alas, not in time for all the celebratory meals we hosted over the holidays.  I'm sure I was the only one who noticed.

I had fun making the new ones.  I went crazy-patch style and then zig-zagged over the top of the seams the way I've seen Zoë do.  I added some handstitching in red perle cottonfor sturdiness and the love of handwork.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Point of Christmas Decorations

I finally get it:  the point of Christmas decorations is to completely clutter the house with color and needles and visual stimulation so that when you put the Christmas decorations away, your house instantly feels calmer and tidier and more spacious.


And you didn't even have to redecorate, buy bins, or throw anything away (although if you're like me, I'm always in a pitching frenzy after Christmas).

This is excellent news!  All your chi is unblocked and your new year energy is sparkling and strong!

This boy does not agree.

He stood in the space of the legendary tree (which left a legendary green carpet of needles behind it that I did not help clean up - hooray for big kids!) and proclaimed that it was too bare and he would be the Christmas tree.  No thanks, I am done with clutter and you'd better hide your toys from my pitching frenzy.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

"A Better World"

today's baking:  bagels and daily bread

". . .cut for yourself, if you will, a slice of bread that you have seen mysteriously rise and redouble and fall and fold under your hands.  It will smell better, and taste better, than you remembered anything could possibly taste or smell, and it will make you feel, for a time at least, newborn into a better world than this one often seems." - M.F.K. Fisher, How to Cook a Wolf, from the chapter "How to Rise Up Like New Bread"

Happy New Year to you all!  In this, the year of the baby, I resolve to eat, sleep, enjoy my family, and keep on baking bread.  The rest might have to wait its turn, depending on the nature of the baby and my mental state.  I maintain that the scent of fresh bread is one of the most heartening, comforting things in the world - may you find comfort and joy in your new year, whether you get it from new bread or elsewhere.