Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Flowers in the Rain

I decided I couldn't wait for sunshine anymore.  So here are some of my flowers, and then, I took a little walk in the neighborhood with my camera because I love seeing how people put out flowers and decorations.  I have thought of doing a semi-regular feature on the gardening efforts in my city to document the loveliness and ideas.

I put thyme and begonias in my hanging pots on my porch.  I settled on this combination after trying a number of things, and both plants are always luxuriant and happy.

My big pot has creeping Jenny as well as a purple sweet potato vine to spill out over the sides.  Then there is a fuchsia geraniaum, 3 dark-yellow marigolds, a purple basil, and four begonias.  Oh!  And a spike! Which some stranger has already yanked up in passing, so I pushed it back in and stroked it and hoped for the best.  The squirrels also dug in the pot like crazy, so I put mothballs in bags and set them under the leaves and it seems to be keeping the squirrels out of my pot and the carcinogens away from my edibles.

I planted cilantro seeds in this container in the back yard, and I thought the squirrels and birds had eaten all of them, but lo! they emerged! I'm going to try the cut-and-come-again method to see if I can prevent it from going to seed right away.

I snapped a photo of this vine-weed for my Easter post.  Its vibrant growth needs no help from me, which I love.

A neighbor's window box with sweet little figurine.

No need for balustrades on this neighbor's porch with planter boxes.  And such charming colors.

A lush combination of creeping Jenny (my favorite!) and big begonias.

 This office building is slated to be torn down, but I'll enjoy the pretty mossy roof over the door until then.

How does your garden grow?

Thursday, May 25, 2017

A Little Tutorial for Patching Holey Jeans

Holes in jeans knees that you want to mend?  Here's one method (more methods at the bottom of the post).

Unpick a side seam on the jeans leg with the hole, whichever seam is not flat-felled but just a single seam, using a seam ripper.  You are trying to get it open far enough to fit it successfully under your sewing machine needle.  Probably at least 4" below and above the hole, but I just eyeball and unpick a little more if I need to.

Cut a rectangle of scrap denim or other sturdy cotton fabric and put it inside the jeans leg under the hole.  Pin it on the outside of the leg to mark the boundaries of the patch; you are going to sew on the right side, so you want your pins on the right side marking where the patch is underneath.

Now start at one end of the patch and sew back and forth in close zig-zags - I do parallel to the waistband of the jeans, but I suppose you could do parallel to the leg seams - which is attaching the patch.  I sew more densely over the holey/weak area, but I do patch generously beyond the hole, too, as insurance against more holes.  The pins are marking the upper and lower limits of the patch, but you pull the jeans out of the sewing machine and check what's going on back there.  I usually trim the patch a little bit where the sewing didn't get all the way out to the edge.

Turn the jeans leg inside out, match up the side seams, and sew it closed.  I sew a straight seam and then zig-zag the edges together to mimic the serged edge.  Done!

Sometimes I mend holes in knees by hand.  I use lighter-weight fabric for the patch and a field of hand stitches in perle cotton, contrasting or matching.  Here's Phoebe wearing a pair of jeans with both knees mended in blue perle cotton with blue fabric inside.

Genevieve is at this link wearing hearts on her knees.

Ben at this link has a monster on his knee.

I show a friend how to patch jeans' knees.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Steeping Tea the Pretty Way

There are these lacy cloth things that I've seen in old-fashioned kitchen that are used as lids.  Sometimes they even have beads dangling at their edges to weight them down.  So I rooted through my bag of doilies that I keep for sewing projects and found a suitable "lid."

I often put tea that is steeping for iced tea outside my kitchen window to keep every little bit of heat out of the house that I can, but I don't want anything or any critter to drop into my tea.  I also don't want a metal lid to seal to the jar during steeping. So now I have a pretty, breathable lid for my jar.  Does anyone know more about this method - is there a name for this fabric cover?

Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Etsy Problem

After a bout of making and photographing, I was all set to open my etsy shop.  And indeed, if you look at my blog sidebar, there are a handful of listings.  I had two main reasons for opening my shop:  to give Genevieve a venue for selling her handmade potholders (so happy and colorful!), and because I had a friend who was successful on Etsy willing to go over my shop with me and give me advice.


Now I am not sure what to do.  I was having problems with a listing, so I went to Etsy's forums to learn about the glitch, and I stumbled across a number of threads where sellers are explaining and complaining that Etsy is pulling strings behind the scenes in confusing ways and their sales are way down.  I had noticed a severe drop in my sales in 2015, and my theory was that Etsy was trying to force out shops like mine that were side-gigs that didn't shell out money for advertising or have slick marketing. 

I was poised to do the rest of the listings yesterday and today.  Now I'm not sure what to do.  I don't want to put time into a sinking ship, but I feel bad coaching Genevieve this far with no income to show for it. My husband shrugged and said, "Business."

So I'm recalibrating and hoping to find another venue for selling some handmades.  Discussions and advice welcome in the comments!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Another Antimacassar for Dad

This one is to replace the turquoise handtowel thrown over the back of the new recliner.  Mom asked me to make it "green, gold, and brown."  I didn't think I had much in my scrap bag to fit that color scheme (and yes, I limited myself to my big bag of small scraps), but I'm pleased with how it turned out.

Unlike the earlier antimacassar, I did not take the time to handstitch around the edge. I'm busy finishing up projects for my etsy shop instead!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Raspberry Buttercream: A Cautionary Tale

Pride goeth before a fall.  Yes.

My sister proposed a joint birthday party for herself and Phoebe and I jumped at the chance to make whatever birthday dessert she desired.  She ultimately wanted a layer cake and let me choose, as long as it involved chocolate.  I returned with high hopes to Vintage Cakes by Julie Richardson; I had made a wonderful Italian Cream Cake from her book, and I wanted to make another fancy cake.

I chose The Pink Cake, a luscious (read: lots of fat and special ingredients) chocolate cake with a "raspberry buttercream."  To me, a buttercream icing is the kind where you beat butter with powdered sugar and a little milk and vanilla and done.

However, there is an alternate universe of Buttercream-That-Will-Make-You-Cry where buttercream involves a pound of butter, six egg whites and in this case, a whole bag of frozen raspberries pushed laboriously through a strainer to make them seedless.  And the technique:  people, the technique is bizarre and tedious and there is a tightrope to walk and if you fall off, the buttercream will die (and you will cry).

Actually, after about 10 minutes of my mixer on high, my Buttercream-That-Will-Make-You-Cry did actually look like a dreamy cloud, but then I dumped in the raspberry puree with the vanilla and salt as Julie Richardson airily said to do and the whole thing went to curdled hell.

 I tried tricks because at that point, I discovered via Google that I had been walking a tightrope and there were tricks for this icing.  I tried adding chocolate, an emulsifier.  I tried a period in the fridge.  I tried calling my best friend and wailing (she recommended hurling it on the compost pile). I tried beating it an additional 20 minutes. Yes, TWENTY. I tried microwaving parts of it and reintroducing it back to the flecked mess in the bowl.

Please note that at this point, I had not cried.  I was mad because I had put a lot of time and ingredients into the Buttercream-That-Will-Make-You-Cry and I wanted to taste that chocolate cake against the pink raspberry heaven.  Instead, I whipped up a peanut butter icing and put it between the triple layers, and then swathed the whole thing in cheater Italian meringue (7 minutes to make, start to finish).

During the car ride to the party, guess what those dumb old stupid cake layers did while I cradled them like a precious baby in their cake stand?  They slid sneakily and irrevocably apart.  So that's when I cried.

The cake was pretty good.  The birthday girls were pleased.  I was mostly mollified.  But I still have a bowl of red and white curds in the fridge that I'm not sure what to do with.

Had it uncurdled itself, my icing would have been a much darker pink than Julie Richardson's photo of The Pink Cake in her cookbook.  I followed her instructions for amounts to the letter, although she did not indicate how much raspberry puree was supposed to result from 4 cups of frozen berries.  I think my buttercream suffered from too much acid and water from the raspberry puree, and I wish she had included an exact amount to add so I could have ended up with pink Buttercream-That-Made-Me-Cry-From-Sheer-Deliciousness.  But I've passed on my experience to you and I'm happy to hear your buttercream tales (of woe or delight), too.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Birthday Girls

Phoebe and Aunt Melanie celebrated their birthdays with a joint party and a cake which warrants its own post.

They both occupy the same birth position (third child and also youngest), and have a special delight in each other.

If you ask Phoebe how old she is, she will likely tell you that she's three.  She's two.  And if you confiscate the apple from her that she sneaked from the fruit bowl while you were on the phone and then wrote a note to the apple-eaters in the household to eat the apple that Phoebe started, all while she is screaming on your hip, she might lean down as you write and say unexpectedly, "I see Phoebe" because she recognizes her name in print.  That Phoebe.  She's our darling.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The Perfect Pink Dress

When I asked Genevieve if she wanted an Easter dress this year, she was pleased and we looked through my fabric together.  She pounced on the pink cotton/linen blend in my stash and begged to have it made up with lashings of white lace.  Oh dear.  I had bad visions of showboat costumes and overdressed darlings.  I suggested rick rack, or trimmings made of another fabric, but her heart was lost to white lace.

I wanted to make my girl happy.  What's the point of a mama who can sew if you can't get your heart's desire?

So I began.  And thought the lace she had picked out was too delicate for visual impact on the enormous pink skirt, so I sewed some white bias tape on top of it to give it more oomph. I love it!  Genevieve loves it!  The pink dress became sweet and classic and not Too Much, although perhaps the crinoline underneath makes it Too Much for some people.  Genevieve and I both agreed that the two lines of white lace on the skirt were enough trim for the dress.

The crinoline was one that I had picked up at a thrift store for a song years ago, but since I already had a crinoline, this one simply sat in the closet.

When I offered to size it down to Genevieve's size, she was ecstatic.  Truly.  I think she loves the crinoline more than the dress and has begged to wear it as a skirt (what if that creamy crinoline is a square-dance crinoline?  Should she become one of those sedate ladies at the farm show who look like regular grandmas except for their gingham dresses and outrageous crinolines flapping up to show their knees as they dance?).

I've even offered to make Genevieve a full circle skirt so she can wear that crinoline more often and twirl it out as wide as it goes.  The pink dress has a gathered skirt which limits its twirl factor.

 I did raise the neckline a little bit and in the process, accidentally rounded it out instead of the sweetheart neckline of the pattern.  But since it turned out evenly, I'm not complaining.  In fact, the dress pattern itself was very simple.

The pink dress became a spring dress instead of an Easter dress and made its debut at the piano recital last week. Genevieve adores the dress and I'm pleased that I got it to fit her 11-year-old frame so nicely.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017


"The word 'clutter' literally means being stuck together.  When we have clutter, we are preventing flow in our lives.  We are not allowing new things to come into our life, like relationships or hobbies."

"Clutter is a lot of unmade decisions."

"Envision your home and ask yourself: does it encourage your favorite activities? Does it reflect your values and the things that you love?  Can you easily access the things that you love?"

These quotes are from Colleen McDonnell ( in an article by Alison Pidgeon in the March 2017 issue of Susquehanna Style.  These thoughts really got my attention and made me think.  I haven't been feeling like my home in general is cluttered and truly, the photos I used on this post are not meant to suggest my idea of clutter - just unstaged life at my house.  But I do have some trouble spots - the basement, a few closets, an off-site storage space - that I would like to redd out and organize ("redd out" is a local saying meaning to clean up or tidy up).

What are your thoughts?  Does your house (life) feel cluttered these days?  What, if anything, are you planning to do about it?  I could use inspiration!