Friday, May 13, 2022

An Easy Calico Dress

 I made Genevieve a first-day-of-preschool green calico dress and then lengthened it as she grew taller and then saved it for the little sister who wore it to literal shreds.

Mending fabric that is shredding due to age or heavy wear is like bailing a leaky boat. I've become a savvy mender by inspecting items carefully to make sure I can truly extend their life with mending. Here the fabric was giving out at the bottom of each tuck and I had already mended a three-corner rip that had torn open again. 

So, the middle of the green dress went in the piece bag, the top was discarded, the buttons put back in the button tin, and Phoebe said sadly, now I don't have a calico dress.  

That is an easy fix!

I had a length of navy calico just barely enough for a Phoebe dress - I almost wrote "little girl" but Phoebe is just not very little anymore (and when you look at little Genevieve wearing the green dress - oh my heart! my little girls!). 

I planned to use the same dress pattern as the green calico, but apparently I had gotten rid of it at some point. I used a Style pattern a neighbor gave me when she cleaned out her sewing stuff. I added some rick rack and juicy red buttons and that is a very smart summer dress. 

Phoebe has been helping me set up garden beds and plantings all week long as she quarantines for COVID reasons. She has a pepper plant named Rosalind now. She gets to read books with her pasta and pesto and watercress lunch.  A good week to be at home wearing an easy breezy calico dress!

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Rhubarb Morning

I have my longjohns on again under my pants because the windchill is 29F, but the rhubarb is basically a bush again so I cut it for the first time this spring!

Those branches in the foreground are from little white swamp oak growing slowly but surely next to the rhubarb. There are lilies of valley on the other side. Other years, I have been planting zinnias in that bare patch but they really grow too tall for that space. I want to figure out another bright happy flower to sow there that is shorter. 

I'm planning to make a rhubarb custard pie to share with friends this evening! And I still have some jars of chopped frozen rhubarb from last spring, oh dear. I got a tip from another friend to use rhubarb in winter soups and sauces where he would normally use lemon for tartness. It worked great for me. 

Friday, April 22, 2022

Elbow Grease and the Cleaners I Use

I was inspired to write this post by Auntie Dorcas and now that I'm finishing it, it's Earth Day! (Let's keep Earth Day every day, ok? Like Mother's Day - honor the mothers and all the parents every day).

 I refill my dish soap bottles at a local store with Better Life unscented dish soap. I jazz up my life by adding some drops of essential oil. The current mix, "Happiness," has citrus and peppermint in it.

I also refill my laundry jugs at the same store with Ecos unscented laundry detergent. The clothes are scented by fresh air from the laundry line!

I refill these bottles because I have read that reuse is better than recycling. 

For our wood floors, we use Bona spray and a cloth as we see spots and over the whole floor rather, uh, infrequently.

To wash the tile floors and walls in the bathroom, I keep Dr. Bronner's castile soap on hand just because it smells so nice and I like the ethos of the company. I do have Murphy's Oil Soap for when we wash down the unpainted main wooden steps, but that is rare. 

I have some kind of wood polish or lotion or something for Grandma's rocking chair, the vintage buffet, and the vintage piano - a good job for a child who wants to earn some cash, so that task happens on whim.

I also have Windex glass cleaner around, but most of the time, a damp microfiber cloth is quickest and best on mirrors. I would dearly love to have sparkling clean windows all the time, but I have to really work up to the effort that takes with double-hung aluminum storm windows and cranky old wooden windows. 

For the rest of the surfaces, I mix up cleaners from vinegar and Sal Suds. For general cleaning, I put 2 Tbsp. white vinegar, 2 Tbsp. Sal Suds in a spray bottle and fill up with water. For toilet bowl cleaning, I use equal parts vinegar and Sal Suds and just squirt 1-2 Tbsp. in the toilet bowl before scrubbing and letting it stand. 

Before I detailed all of this, I thought I was just cleaning with Sal Suds and vinegar. Huh. I still am pleased with my current system and think it's reasonably earth-friendly. 

We use rags and elbow grease to clean (explaining elbow grease to kids is super-fun!). I have some paper towels way at the back of a closet, but in general, we avoid disposables and I have rags in almost every load of laundry which is just fine with me (also, am I the only one who will suddenly swipe off dust with an item of clothing headed for the dirty laundry hamper anyway?).

I'm interested in your cleaners and methods and thoughts.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Chickweed Pastries

Spring is springing lusciously everywhere and it's been a cold one in our area, so all the green and flowers (flowers!!) are so wonderful.

 A few years ago, I learned that chickweed is edible and available in my back yard. We never spray any pesticides or herbicides in our back yard because we have food growing there as well as children running amuck. I did plant some spinach seeds, but in the meantime, I made these spinach pastries by subbing in chickweed from the backyard. 

These pastries come from Extending the Table, which is a companion book to the cookbook I use the most, More with Less. Extending the Table has recipes from cuisines and people all over the world, many of them with stories and insights about food justice and simplicity. The spinach pastry recipe comes from the West Bank, from the Bishara and Selwa Awad family, and they are delicious. Simple ingredients and technique, yet the resulting pastries are definitely from another place and tradition. I love that.

This time, I had two balls of dough left and no filling, so I quickly grabbed some leftover curry from the fridge and made two half-moon pies with it to distinguish from the chickweed filling. Grated cheese would work well also, and I think I have done peanut butter and jelly under duress, too. I served them with home-canned tomato soup. The pastries make nice picnic food, and aren't we all eager to get out into the warm air?

Spinach (Chickweed) Pastries
Combine in bowl:
3/4 cup warm water
1 tsp. active dry yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups whole wheat flour
about 1 cup all-purpose flour
Knead a few minutes until nice and elastic. This is a lovely dough, not sticky, purely pleasurable to knead. Cover and allow to rise for 1 hour, give or take. Meanwhile, make the filling.
Mix together: 

4 cups packed, chopped spinach or chickweed, fine to include minced stems
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/4 tsp. pepper
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. ground cumin
2 Tbsp. olive oil
The dough doesn't necessarily need to rise, so when an hour is up, divide it into 18-20 balls. Roll a ball very thin (I find that flour is not necessary here). Put a heaping 1/4 cup filling in middle. Bring 2 edges together to form a cone shape, then the third side to form a triangle. Pinch seams tightly. Place on greased on silpat-lined baking sheet. Bake 350 for 15-17 minutes, until golden brown. Serve hot or warm. The recipe says you can freeze some unbaked pastries to bake later, but I have never done that. 

Friday, April 1, 2022

Rain Barrel Management

We've had a rain barrel under one of our downspouts for years. In our city, it's important to manage rainwater which routinely floods our ancient combined sewer system and pollutes the river which pollutes the bay downstream. I use the rainwater to water our outside plants. In hot weather, the water gets a little smelly - haven't tried very hard to solve this problem in an eco-friendly way, so I want to know if you have solutions (and any other rain barrel management tips - you can see we are a no-frills operation).

I think most people in our area disconnect their rain barrels from their downspouts in freezing temps, but we have not. I do actually use rainwater through the winter on houseplants and with compost activities. It is important to keep the rain barrel from freezing as the ice can damage the barrel itself as well as the spigots and overflow spouts through expansion and thawing. On warmish days, I would try to remember to drain water as needed to keep the rain barrel at half full or less. 

But I have hit on a more successful (for me) method: the stock tank heater. I don't love shopping as entertainment but it is true that sometimes shopping without a plan yields exciting problem solvers. I didn't even know there was such a thing as a heater for an animal's drinking water! 

"K&H De-Icer"

I just plug it in when the temperature is cold enough long enough to freeze the barrel. I do have to use an extension cord, which is not recommended, but our outlet is a new GFCI outlet so I am comfortable with the safety. The cord has a plastic sleeve to protect it from the top barrel edge as the heater floats along in the rain barrel. 

After I bought this heater and had it going, my dad told me it's possible to buy stock tank heaters that are "temperature limited," meaning they run on a thermostat and only heat the water to a pre-set temperature. That seems like a prudent energy saver that I would look for next time. 

I have now put away the stock tank heater three times this spring, mis-judging the depth of cold still in store for us. I am almost scared to put away the cold weather things again! Sadly, our neighbor's gorgeous magnolia buds were ruined in the last surprise cold spell, and I will miss the creamy pink blooms this spring. 

Friday, March 25, 2022

Mittens Yet

Last fall, I made Phoebe nice black felted wool mittens from an old sweater. I even placed the cuffs on the ribbing so that they hugged her wrists. She ignored the mittens all winter until I finally realized they were just too plain (and sophisticated and New Yorky) for her style. I offered to add hearts to them and then would she wear them? Oh yes, little pink hearts stitched on with blue perle cotton were just the ticket. 

I am still using the Purl Soho mitten pattern. It is so fast and uses just scraps of warm fabric! I can't justify knitting mittens again when these fleece ones are warm, fast, and economical. Plus, mittens are easy to lose, for anybody, not just kids, so I'm very pleased to have found easy, thrifty replacements. 

I even made myself a pair of leopard print fleece. I added a lining of grey knit cotton because I like very warm hands. 

We are having some spring-like days here and there - once I even put away the sleds and snowpants and stock tank heater from the rain barrel. That drew the attention of the snow gods and we got a not-little snowstorm, indeed we did. Spring, you really bring the drama! I have both my mittens and my barefoot sandals in rotation right now. I love it. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Family Salmon Pie

This is like shepherd's pie, only with canned salmon and white sauce instead of beef and gravy. I riffed on two recipes. One came from The Little Irish Baking Book, which is a delightful read that tucks me into the Irish countryside.

The other recipe was from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Country Cookbook, which is delightful for the interior photos of Rocky Ridge. 

I added some parsley and spinach with the peas, and kicked up the white sauce with some onion, celery seed, and dry mustard. When I drained the liquid off the canned salmon, I used that as part of the liquid for the white sauce. 

Even so, I thought the whole thing was a little on the bland side, but my family was enthusiastic. My husband called it comfort food. Good thing they all had seconds because the pie filled up my casserole dish more than I expected from my guesstimates and I was hoping I didn't have a big dud on my hands.


My mom filled this same casserole dish with macaroni and cheese when I was a kid. . . comfort food. . . one of the nostalgic necessities of home life.

And also, I realized I was making this Irish recipe wearing the Irish fisherman's sweater my parents got in Ireland in the 1970s when my mom was pregnant with me. I love these objects freighted with memories which are also in happy use in my current life!

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Seeking Advice on This Houseplant

My Grandma Weaver's house was full of houseplants, many of them given to her from owners who gave up trying to keep the plants happy. The entire wall in her daylight basement housed babies and big ones of all kinds, nurtured in plastic margarine tubs, yogurt cups, or old plastic nursery pots. When she passed on to glory 20 years ago, I was thrilled to get two of her houseplants.

My sister and I shared the jade plant and have propagated many baby jade plants successfully over the years (Locals! You can always hit me up for a baby jade plant). 

However, I am baffled by the spiderwort plant I have. It has nice looking pink and green tips, but all these papery dead leaves on the rest of the stems. I have tried re-potting, different light, re-propagating and starting over.. . . but it always reverts to this disheveled look with pretty tips.

It still looks strange even with the dead leaves removed.  I'm loathe to ditch the spiderwort because it's a direct connection to a grandma I cherish. . . but I'm not pleased with its looks. Any advice for getting rid of those dead-looking stems/leaves? For getting it to look less scraggly?

I think partly what is going on is that perfectly-shaped houseplants in trendy pots are terribly popular right now. This is testing my loyalty to my houseplants that are less cute. Also, spring is springing and I feel the urge to clean up, freshen up, and refurbish all the things. 

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Saving Towels and Washcloths

 Maybe it's just at our house, but our towels start to fray along the edges well before the actual terrycloth is worn out. I trim the strings off, zig zag the edge in matching thread, and then fold it over just a quarter-inch to stitch it down. Makes a new edge and the towel keeps going. 

Currently most of our bath towels are wedding presents from 22 years ago. . . and counting! 

Then there was this washcloth that turned up with a frayed corner. It looks like a dog chewed on it, but that's puzzling since we don't have a dog. So I cut off the top strip entirely and stitched down the flat part to make a new edge. Let's see if that one can go 22 years, too. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

A Calico Tunic for Phoebe

 Phoebe does really love her leggings, so I bought her a stripey pair as a Christmas stocking stuffer and found some blue calico in my stash to make her a tunic. In fact, all the materials for this tunic were on hand.

I have used this pattern before for Genevieve. 

As I sorted through notions for the tunic, I discovered the most astonishing matching flannel, a scrap I have had in my stash for years and enjoyed looking at.

Look! It matches like the calico and flannel came from the same fabric line in 1970! Different fabrics bought as scraps from different stores, marinating in my stash for years, joined in such happiness. I just love it. Phoebe does too!

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Why and How I Hang Laundry Outside in Frigid Winter

 Choose the whites to hang in sunny frozen winter. They will bleach!

I am willing to get numb fingers for anything that can really benefit from a free bleach. Otherwise, I put the unmentionables and rags, etc. inside on the radiators. Here, I hung these bits outside when the ambient temperature was 12F with a real-feel of 3F. The clothes were frozen stiff within the 5 minutes it took me to do this. 

Their line-dried deep-winter fresh scent was just exactly what I crave.

Also, please notice my nice big clothes dryer! It is this one from Lehman's, made in the USA. My old one was a similar umbrella style and had been repaired and babied along and rusted for a number of years now until it dramatically flopped to the ground this past summer (yes, with laundry on it - sighhh). 

I am very pleased with my sturdy new one. It is leaning to one side because I simply used my old ground screw (like a pipe you literally screw into the ground which provides a hole for the clothesline to stand in and is flat to the ground otherwise for mowing or running over). which is slightly large. The clothes dryer comes with its own ground screw which I'm sure, some day, I will get around to installing. When the weather is bad or we want the whole yard for our activities, I remove my clothes dryer from the yard. It can hold 4-5 loads of laundry, although keep in mind that my washing machine is on the smaller side. I am really happy with this clothes dryer and drying our things without electric or gas. 

My friend, also in town, uses the Amish method of pulleys with the clothesline high above her yard. Another city friend has a drying rack that she puts outside in good weather. Many ways to get the wet clothes out in the fresh air!