May 28, 2010

Pencil Cups

office after
Originally uploaded by Dried Figs
So since I'm a bit of a "place for everything and everything in it's place" kind of girl, one of the things I wanted in the office was lots of storage for all the little things that you need when you have both a writer and an architect in residence. Mostly this involves pens. we have lots of pens. Actually, we always start out with a lot of pens, but since we also have kids, they seem to vanish regularly. But pens are, in general, pretty important around here.
These mugs were something I picked up at Salvation Army whilehunting for teacups for Evie's party invites (I'll show you those next week!) and I thought that they would work in the kitchen or in the office, or maybe both, and snatched them up. When I got home I decided that perhaps have four different kinds of mugs in the kitchen was too much (big tea cups, little tea cups, mugs and these...humm, probably overkill) so I stuck them in the "to do" box and forgot about them for a week or so.

Earlier this week I picked up some inkjet decal paper from the hobby store to get to work on those invitations using this technique and thought, humm, maybe I could do something with those mugs while I'm at it. Actually I think the little organization bell went off in my brain. It's like the Bat Signal for organizers.

Alert! Alert! Labeling Possibility Approaching! Take Action Now, OCD Girl!

The invitations will be along the same lines, except with party information on them of course, not labels. Because that would be a little weird. Although maybe not, when you see what the party will be. Let's just say there will (if I can figure out how to write with frosting) be a food that says "Eat Me!" on it

If you haven't had a chance to play with Inkjet Decal Paper, you should pick up a pack. It has endless possibilities. It's really made for model making so you can create little decals for cars and buildings and things like that for your tiny little towns. But really, you can print anything on it and then put what you printed on, well, just about anything flat. Think of the labeling possibilities alone! But really, I think this stuff is crazy cool, next we're going to play around with using it for temporary tattoos...we'll see how that goes. If it works, my kids may spend their summer covered in playmobil inspired tribal markings.

The paper looks very much like good photo paper and prints about the same. I've seen a pour on fixative online but I've been using a spray version which I suspect is just a clear coat polyurethane. Once the images is printed, sprayed with fixative and dried, cut it out, as close to the edges of the image as possible and drop it into a bowl of water.

After about 30 seconds the image can be slipped off the paper backing and onto whatever you want. I like to spray the whole thing with another coat of fixative just to be safe.

You can't put anything with the decals in the dishwasher but you can wash by hand so it's a fun project for things like mugs and glasses. But like I said, the labeling possibilities go on and on. It makes me almost giddy, like when I had a label maker and labeled everything in the house. (and I mean EVERYTHING!)

May 26, 2010

At Home, At Work

So lately I've been having these conversations with myself. Mostly in the evenings when I'm painting the "office" which, by the way, I forgot how much I really hate painting. I mean, for a girl who's moved as many times as I have and who loves to have color on her walls, I really dislike painting. Hiring painters last summer when we bought the house was the best investment we made. Too bad we chose some colors in a hurry and are already itching for a change....Although after this switch up, I don't see much of that happening for a while.

Anyway, as I've been puttering away on the office I've been having these conversations in my head. What? you don't have conversations is your head? Not ever? Not even in very bad French? Huh, well, I do. It probably a sign of something, but I'm too busy to worry what that might be. So these conversations go like this.... (imagine the voice over guy from action movies)

"Two kids, two pets, two work at home parents...1 summer vacation. WILL THEY SURVIVE???"

I've been wondering, if you can't tell, how this whole thing is going to work. Who works when? who plays when? How does the balance work? If anyone out there is in a similar situation, I'd love to hear some advice.

Will and I work pretty well together. Sure there's a lot of opinions, but generally we get things done quickly and with a good laugh or two, and really, we compliment each other. I'm orderly (I know, you would never guess!) He's...not. But he is better at going on the fly than I am. We're both dreamers but about different things, so I think we keep each other grounded. All of that is to say that I'm not worried about the relationship side of things, or even if we will get out shit done. I know we will, because we always do. It's more the scheduler in me. The one who plans out what will happen when for the summer. 9:00 swimming. 10:30 Library, 12:00 Lunch 1:00 Pool...etc. I keep thinking about the logistics of the when's I can't help fixating on... I guess we'll find out come Monday.

And speaking of work, the office is not done, but is habitable, which is pretty good. In fact, it's not too terribly far from done. There will be more stuff (Will is still carting things home from his desk) and more art as we find frames. I'm still pondering the white shelf issue and want to make a whiteboard for the office like the one I made in the mudroom. It's turning into the Habitat/Salvation Army office. So far we've used 1 old ladder shelf, 2 bifold doors, 4 pieces of old hardood flooring, 4 thrifted cups with new labels and 1 Craigslist chair. Everything else, except the MDF sheathing on the desk, is from around the house, mostly the basement, which sadly looks more messy even with less stuff as a result of my digging. But yeah, it's getting there. And I like it. It's nice to have a space to work that's not also where the coats and the plants and the boots live. I'm sure once Will moves in it will be messier which wont be as fun, but we each have our own space, so I guess I can't complain if his side of the desk is a mess. He swears it wont be. But I've seen his closet.

This morning I ripped apart the cork board that used to hang in this room when it was a playroom. We both agreed that we needed some kind of system for keeping track of the various jobs we'll (hopefully) have.

I dug out my leftover vinyl decals and used some dark gray paint from the bathroom and went to town. It's fun over Will's old metal desk ( I used to hate that thing but now that it fits in with the office colors, it's won me over). So now I guess we are ready to roll. Fingers crossed.

May 25, 2010

And Again with the Wreaths

Yellow, you guys are so right. Except then when I started thinking about it, I decided what I really needed was a yellow wreath in the office.

The office is coming along nicely. Hopefully tomorrow I can post a few photos of our progress. Today I hung the light with only one minor sparks flying snafu, quickly solved (the wire with ridges on it is white Gillian, not black!) so now we have something other than the standard issue ugly half globe that casts a weird muggy glow. I realized as I was standing on a chair, pliers between my teeth, that we have replaced all but three lights in the house (yay!) and that three are DIYers (which could be good or bad, depending on your feelings about homemade lighting- fun? or scary?) But on top of the light I also made a wreath for my side of the office. Out of hangers.

I saw something similar in a window at Anthropologie this winter, can't remember if they were wreaths or shapes or how the hangers were, but I loved the idea and so today I traded all the wooden hangers out for plastic ones in Will's closet (they didn't match anyway :)) and got Gorilla Gluing. I love that stuff. Seriously, it's like liquid duct tape. Ok, maybe not quite as handy as duct tape. But close.

The (eight) hangers are the light weight IKEA style so the wreath weighs very little, which is good because I think it's going to hang above my computer. And things falling on my precious Macbook would not be good. I first glued them in pairs then in fours before attaching the two halves together. I'm digging the Mid-Century look, or maybe it's a sunshine look. I've kind of got the bug now to make another out of old school tinker toys if I can find some.

One question though, weigh in if you have any thoughts, hooks or no hooks. I'm leaning towards no hooks but they are a pain to get out, I think they will actually have to be cut, so that has left me undecided. What do we think?

May 24, 2010


So as it turns out, the blue funk was not a blue funk. It was a coffee problem. How sad is that? Seriously, We had been out of coffee for three days when I was in the midst of my poor me bout. I know what you're thinking, how can you be out of coffee for three days. Let's just say that day one was my fault (forgot to check coffee levels before ordering groceries) day two was totally Will's (how can you go to the grocery store with only three things on your list and forget one of them!) and I'm not even sure what happened on day three. I think by then I was so blahed out that I decided I wasn't safe to drive. I probably should have listened to my own mugs advice. But whatever. Then, surprise! Will brought some home at lunch on Friday and presto, funk gone. Really, this is terrible.

The worst part is that I made it all the way through college, grad school and one child before I even started drinking coffee. In fact, my relationship with coffee is really just a leftover pregnancy craving from the eight months I spent cooking Miss Evelyn. (it was one of about four things I could stand the taste of. (The others were goats cheese, sushi and ramen noodles with toast.So, yeah, basically I ate ramen. It was a rough eight months)

I'd like to think I'm just making up for lost time. Almost 30 years of not realizing just how wonderful coffee is. But after the "my life is crap without coffee" thing, I think it just may be a problem. I guess there could be worse things though.

So anyway, the coffee is restocked (and in my mug at this very moment!) the desk is done once this mornings coat of paint dries (which will be forever, I hate oil paint, but it's worth it) and tomorrow I can start, hopefully) hanging art and bringing in all the do-dads that make an office an office. Which reminds me. I need tape. And a place to hide the tape from the children. A very high place.

I even modge podged a filing cabinet this weekend with some funky, battered, possibly optical allusiony paper. That I could get down on the floor to do the work is kind of a miracle because I can barely bend my knees after a killer game of Broomball with friends Saturday night. Really, that game is rough. My helmet sent someone to the ER for stitches (Sorry Bruce!)

Whohoo, obviously I should not let us run out of coffee ever again.

May 21, 2010

Suggestions Please!

Well as part of of my quest to get my house back in order despite the jumble of activity (otherwise known as the mess that is the office and the kids room) I've been cleaning out closets. I really hate cleaning closets because they hold a sort of "out of sight, out of mind" space in my life. Things that I don't want to see or don't want to deal with go into closets. As I've explained before, our house has no shortage of closets. The only thing is that they are practically useless for anything other than shoving things into. But I'm on a quest to organize them all. Even the one in the office that I've been shoving things into during this whole switch-a-roo ordeal. (Well maybe not that one. No! that one especially! But it's soooo messy, I don't wanna do it! But it's a quest! You have to!)

Anyway, while cleaning out the Pit of Despair in our bedroom I found this shelf that is one of the five things that Will brought with him when he packed up his truck and moved to Oregon. The others, by the way, were a nasty armchair (now deceased), a Miller Lite neon sign (oops, I broke it, darn) A Tombstone Poster (rats, the flood got it!) and a trunk which is pretty cool and is currently living in the mudroom. When the shelf arrived it was stained a dark brown color but since it has appeared in various settings in our houses and in various colors. It was red in Briton nursery, white in Evelyn's nursery, green in her big girl room and white again when I thought it would go in their shared room but instead ended up in the closet due to the lack of straight walls that also led to our closet issues.

So the question now is, what to do with it? I was kinda leaning toward some kind of ribbon holder but am undecided. It could go either in the mudroom, the office or the kids closet which is soon to be a playhouse. Any thoughts? I need ideas!

May 20, 2010

And when your back is turned...

I've been in a weird funk all day. Grumpy because the washing machine repair people told me that they have the criticle part but can't get to me for another week (which was made even worse when I saw them stop at the house across the street this afternoon), irritated because we haven't made a lot of progress on the office and none at all in the kids room, and all in all just plain tired, like I haven't slept properly for a week, which isn't true because I slept half the day away on Sunday.

Evie and I went for a little mini hike, shopped for a dress for her upcoming four year old photos, played with the chicks, and puttered around the house before I gave up and decided to take a nap on the couch despite the beautiful day outside (Evelyn kindly agreed to watch Curious George while I snoozed, which might explain what came later).

When I woke up, not really refreshed but ready to shake off my blues, I stopped for a second on the way out to the yard to check email while Evie "washed her hands."

And filled her boots up with water.

And poured it all over the floor.

"Just to see!"

No More Curious George I think.

I probably should have been mad, but when your child dresses herself like this, it's hard to do anything other than laugh and take her out to swing while the floors dry...

May 19, 2010

Waxed Paper Wreath

Will told me it was about time that I replaced my recycled container wreath (I don't think I've ever had him care about what wreath is on the door but OK, whatever...) so to work I went. I was inspired by a newspaper wreath I saw somewhere but needed something a little more water resistant. Ah, waxed paper. What is it they say about necessity? Necessity is the mother of go digging in your kitchen cabinets? Something like that. Anyway, I like how fluffy it looks. I think I'm becoming a little too attached to white wreaths on my red front door (but they look so pretty!) so next time I'll have to branch out with some color. Maybe...

Also, I'm a little bit in love with this new photo processing App my friend told me about. It's called Camera Bag and it's so darn fun. Here's what the wreath looks like without the crazy finishes :)

May 18, 2010


I almost called this Truffle Shuffle, just for kicks, but then I thought if your not a Goonies Kid, that might fly right past you. :)

So my house is in Chaos. No, really. I'm not talking about post weekend, rainy day with the kids inside chaos. This place is - piles of stuff in every room waiting to be sorted, unfolded laundry in heaps (not at all helped by the still broken washing machine) nothing is where is should be- messy. There's a good reason for all of this of course, but that doesn't make it easier that my house looks like a tornado ripped through it.

That's the bad news. The good news is that the reason for all this upheaval is that Will and I have been making some big decisions around here, the biggest of which is that he is leaving his job to venture off on his own. Well, on his own with another guy, and also on his own with me for some smaller projects.

Will having his own design firm has been a forgone conclusion since the day he stepped off the plane from Texas to visit me in Oregon almost 14 years ago. Actually, if I'd payed more attention to what he was saying back when we first met years before that, instead of batting my little 13 year old eyes at the cute boy with the questionable hair cut (head shaved except for his bangs..hummm...) I probably would have known even earlier. He's always been a man on a mission. So it's always been in the cards, it's just been a question of when. And I guess when is now.

The funny thing about it is that rather than being worried about the normal stuff, like income and health insurance or the sheer fact that we will all be home all the time this summer, the thing that has been preying on my mind is that, in order for this whole thing to work, Will and I both need a space to work in. And while the mudroom has been my "office" for the past couple of months, it wasn't really big enough for the both of us. Which left the playroom. Not my favorite idea.

I don't know what my problem is but somehow the idea of the kids not having a playroom has really been bugging me. It seems like I've spent half of my adult life trying to convince other people that kids don't need a lot of room, that some of our happiest days was in our teeny little Dublin flat. But I'm still having a hard time getting over the loss of the playroom. The kids, funnily enough, are totally thrilled to have all their toys in their room. It's like a little wonderland up there. And probably once we get done turning the totally useless closet into a playhouse, I'll feel better about the whole thing.

I think part of it stems from the knowledge that it's time to let go of the way we've been doing things. For the past eight years I've been the mom. I've known the doctors phone number and the hours they are open, how much Tylenol to give, who has art lessons when, who needs to be signed up for swimming. I've planned the meals and the groceries and done the dishes and the laundry and the sick kids and the back to school shopping. And I loved it. All of it. Yeah, I've been tired and I've had bad days. But by and large, I've loved being a full time mom. It's not that Will doesn't know how to do all that stuff, it's just that that has been my job, the thing I do, for a long time now.

It wasn't that long ago that just thinking about working again brought on little bouts of panic attack. But as Evelyn's first year of preschool creeps closer, I've been sort of amazed to find that I'm looking forward to working again. Working from home this time, yes, and in a totally different field, but working none the less. It still seems odd to take calls and have meetings to go to, deadlines to meet. But not bad odd.

Part of the deal with Will's new gig is that I'll work some, he'll work some, and we'll both parent a lot. He's missed out on a lot of the day to day stuff, just because he's at work, and I'm not. So I think he's looking forward to being the one who does that stuff too. And I have to let him do that. I also have to let go of the playroom thing.

I'm sure once it's all in order I'll love having a nice big office without crumbling carpet on the floor or coats and boots to trip over every time I get out of my chair. And, truth be told, I've never really liked the color of the playroom, we kind of choose it in a hurry, so giving it a new coat of paint hasn't been all that bad either. I'm just not particularly patient when it comes to transitions. When I was pregnant I wanted it to be over in a snap. Once I was ready to be a parent, I wanted to get started NOW. During our multitude of moves I've never been very good at taking it slowly when it comes to unpacking. I want it done, the new life started, AT ONCE. And I can't even tell you how much I wanted to pour our counter tops in place even though I KNEW it wouldn't turn out the way we wanted just because it would be ready a little bit faster. So these piles of papers to be filed, toys to be moved, desks to be installed and supplies to be organized are making things, like the whole playroom issue, seem like a bigger deal than they really are.

I guess there's not much to do except continue the shuffle. Move to toys, put in the office, carve out a little niche in the world that's ours along. Let's just hope we don't have another series of snow storms with no roomy playroom this winter. That might get a little harry.

May 14, 2010

The Never Ending Knitting Project

So remember back when I decided I loved knitting again? An event that I now totally blame on the Great Storm and then the Second Great Storm of this past winter? Well, Of course as soon as it got warm I forgot all about knitting. It's not that I don't want to knit, it's just that I'd rather be out in the garden or going for a walk or doing something outside. And also, I'm a totally heat wimp. I'm already hot and it's only May. And when it's hot I can't stand to have socks on much less carry around a huge pile of wool for my knitting project.

Except this week it wasn't all that hot. Well today is hot, but other than today, it's been kind of cool and dreary. And gray outside. Which has me picking back up the never ending knitting project that I started During the Second Great Storm.

Sometime during those snowed in days I fell in love with a pattern from Pick Up Sticks for slippers that they call Snugs. They looked so warm and cozy and Will was constantly complaining about how cold my feet were (OK, I cant stand to wear socks in the winter either. It's just so much easier to stick my feet under Will!) and they had the pattern at the knitting store downtown... They were felted which meant they would have to be knit bigger, but they couldn't take that long, could they?

Alas, yes, they could.

It probably has something to do with the fact that I stopped knitting in about March, but these things are taking for-ev-er. And they aren't just big, they are huge. Clown like and comically huge. Every time I get them out to work on Will laughs at them. He's sure they are not going to felt down to size. And well, I have my doubts. Especially since the liner turned out bulkier and longer than the outside. But I'm going to keep my fingers crossed. And keep knitting.

I am, sort of, halfway there. Sort of because I still have to knit the bottoms but I'm a little worried that I'll run out of wool. So I'm saving the bottoms for last since I have a different color (because in my enthusiasm I actually ordered enough wool to make me and Evelyn a pair. Ha!)
that I can make the soles with if necessary. But I have the lining and the shell of one boot done. And I managed to remember to wind the wool this time instead of trying to use it in the big loopy skein. (Duh, I actually remember helping my mom do this, why I tried to make it through the first skein without, who knows.)At this rate I might just finish by next winter. And as for Evelyn's, well, I'll make them extra big, just in case it takes me another year to get through those. Poor Will and Briton are going to have to go without. I don't think I can face another my size (yes, Briton's feet are almost as big as mine! EEK!) or worse a giant size 13 pair. Can you imagine how enormous those would be unfelted? They'd take over the house!

Now I just have to keep myself going despite the return of the heat. Maybe if I cranked the air way up.... (kidding kidding, bad for the earth, bad for the wallet, I know I know. But it might help!)

May 13, 2010

Cape Closets..Oh the Irritation

When we first bought our house one of my thoughts, probably the one that came after "holy crap this place is a pit!", was Yay! Closets!

Will and I have spent most of our life together with basically no closet space. Starting with our first apartment that had one tiny closet in the whole place, which pretty much meant no storage at all, through the series of itty-bitty closeted bungalows and onto our flat in Dublin that had a long but shallow wardrobe that all three of us had to share. It's always been an issue. The house we lived in before we bought this house, however, had a very large closet in every bedroom plus two linen closets and a deep coat closet. Bliss. That's what comes form living in a newer house I guess. So this house, though not quite as blessed with closet space, seemed like a pretty good compromise. And best of all, the room with the most closet space was ours. We could even have something we've always wanted. Separate closets. Man, I am easy to please, I get all goosebumpy just thinking about ample storage space.

Because here's the problem. We live in a Cape. So while our room has FOUR closets, none of them are actually very functional. In fact, the room isn't really that functional as it is. Two dormers smack in the middle of two different walls, four closets and an angled ceiling means that we have no walls without some kind of issue. When we moved in we devised a plan to eventually put a series of drawers into the knee wall, which will, someday, happen- making the room about a thousand times better, but until then we faced a dilemma of what to do for drawer space, and hanging space for that matter. The narrow closet that will (fingers crossed) become the home of our washer and dryer if we can figure out how to get the drain situation figured out, is really too deep and skinny to be useful. It's dark and a pain to get things out of because you have to pull out the iron and the laundry basket to get back to the hanging part. So for now, it has out of season coats and crap we never need but don't want to get rid of (Ok, not crap. if it was crap I'd get rid of it. Let's call it sentimental items of clothing that are rarely, if ever, worn again. ie. wedding dress, fancy suits, dresses that I would love to wear but really, where do you wear a strapless dress in Charlottesville with two kids. Someday though...)

Then there is the small kneewall closet often referred to as the pit of despair. I probably don't need to explain why. I try not to think about that closet at all. It gives me hives.

The two closets flanking one of the windows were the best bet for actual usable space. They were, sort of, clothes closet like. Meaning they had a bar for hangers and were decently deep. We tried to find skinny dressers that would fit in each of them, leaving space still for hanging but everything was either too wide, too tall, too deep or too expensive for something that would only be there until the knee wall drawers made it to the top of the list. In the end we went with shelves and baskets which work fine. In fact, I've gotten kind of into the look of them. It;s sort of like a bedroom version of my no upper cabinets fixation from the kitchen. It (almost) forces us to be neat.

But still the hanging stuff never looks that good. Unless you have thirty white shirts all hanging in a row, I'm not a big fan of exposed hanging clothes.

Enter my World Market-wont-let-me-return-these-things curtains.

Back in November I started looking for curtains for our dining room. I knew what I wanted but I couldn't find them, at least not for what I wanted to pay. I popped into World Market, which has been a favorite store of mine for years, and picked up something that I thought might, might work. And then got home and hated the way they looked in there. Too dark. too patterny, and totally opposite of what I wanted. When I finally got around to taking them back after Christmas they had changed their policy about returns- you had to have the receipt for curtains or linens. I know, I hear you, always keep your receipts. But I'd gotten used to the whole, stores looking up your receipt with your card - which is actually kind of scary, like the part in Minority Report where he goes into the Gap and the store knows what his last purchase is...Ahhhhh.....snap out of it! Ok, back to World Market. I puffed and pleaded and told them I'd never shop there again which sucked because we wanted to buy a bench for our dining room that day and I was too pissed to do it and still can't bring myself to go back.

Anyway, I've had these shoved behind my shoe baskets for months now. Pissed that I couldn't return them and eventually, forgetting about them. So when I was fishing out a pair of flip flops the other day and spotted them I realized they were actually kinda cool in our bedroom. Which says one of two things. Either I was buying these subconsciously for our room, or, I get hung up on certain color combinations. Probably the latter. Sad. But also good because I yesterday I cut them up and made curtains to cover the ugly messy sides of the closets AND the really ugly mess that has resulted in our washing machine STILL BEING BROKEN (please be able to fix it when you come today Frigidaire repair person. PLEASE!!!!)

Will forbade me to spend money on this project. I did spend some but only $1.03 which is what they charged me for a piece of PVC pipe at the Habitat Store. It was close to nothing so I figured it counted. Because of the weird slanted walls inside the closets I couldn't use tension rods so I decided to hang the curtains on the pipe and screw the pipes into the wall directly.

I measured the pipe and cut them with a saw that I forget the name of (miter? maybe? Some kind of handsaw as we know I am not allowed to use power tools other than the drill, and then only if I'm good)

I sanded the ends and pre-drilled holes about an inch from each end.

Then using really long screws I screwed them into the wall, forcing the pipe to stay away from the wall a little so that the curtains slide open and shut easily.

It's not doors, or regular closets, but it's better. Of course now I can ignore the mess more easily instead of trying to keep on top of it. But that's probably better anyway. Who needs to stress out over messy closets? Right?

May 12, 2010

Full Cupboards and Excitement

And the jam is done.Phew. Let me tell you, 15 pounds (well, really 12, we ate or froze the rest, but still!) of strawberries makes a lot of jam. On a whim I picked up an extra set of 8 ounce jars when I bought the pack of 12 ouncers I intended to use for the jam and a good thing because I used all but three up. So we now have a very full (almost groaning) store cupboard in the basement with rows of deep red filled jam jars. Which is a satisfying thing.

I decided to go ahead and go the pectin free route this year, just to see. The test batch seemed to please everyone, it was sweeter but still very good. The much bigger batch turned out much the same. I used a combination of lemons and grapefruit for this one because I was worried about getting enough natural pectin for that many berries and you can kind of taste the difference. It's consistency is just the way I love it, thick enough to be jam, thin enough to blob and spread on bread without pulling things apart. One of my issues with the pectin variety is that I think the jam comes off too thick.

I think, however, in the end, I prefer the brighter strawberry flavor of the low sugar pectin based jams. If I had to choose between regular pectin jam and using citrus however, citrus would win hands down. Both use an enormous amount of sugar. It shocks me every year to add THAT much sugar to something that already seems sweet and perfect, but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do. Strawberries aren't fresh in February, so jam it is.

Here's the recipe although I'll warn you that this takes a VERY big pot and it foams quite a bit (which was ok because we mixed the foam with ginger ale to make a yummy drink- even yummier with a little vodka thrown in!) but you can pare it down easily to a much smaller recipe. In case you're not insane, like me.

Strawberry Jam (Pectin Free)

12 pounds of Strawberries, hulled and sliced at least in half
12 (yes 12) pounds of sugar
8 lemons
4 grapefruit (basically one citrus per pound)

Squeeze the juice into the pot with your strawberries and drop in the peels. Mix in half the sugar and let it set overnight. Pull out the lemon and grapefruit peels and add in the rest of the sugar. Put over high heat and bring to a rapid boil, stirring all the while, for about 6 minutes then reduce to simmer until the jam is set, skimming off the foam as you go. How long it takes to set varies according to how much fruit you have and how ripe they are. You can tell if jam is set by dropping a few tablespoons on a plate and putting it in the freezer for one minute. The surface should wrinkle when you push against it. If it doesn't, it's not ready, keep it a cooking.

And have I told you that a wide mouth funnel is an absolute must? Well it is. I went for years without one and have no idea why. It was, maybe, a dollar and made filling the jars so much easier. In fact, I would have had absolutely no mess at all to clean up except for the fact that while the jam was in it's hard boil the kids came roaring through with a lacrosse stick and a broom and I had to chase them down and explain, again, that that was probably not the best thing to do while mommy is dealing with boiling hot sugar, and some of the foam boiled over while my back was turned. Yuck. But really, get the funnel. It's awesome.

OK, so now that's out of the way I can get to the exciting news.

So after little chicklet # 1 didn't make it through the night, the other two eggs failed to hatch. Turns out you aren't supposed to move the eggs close to hatching time. Oops, and we thought we were being so clever by cleaning out the coop and nesting boxes in preparation for the hatch. (come on lady, that's not exciting! I know I know, I'm getting there)

Once it became apparent that we would have no chicks and still had two very broody hens, we decided to go the adoption route and snuck four little day old chicks from a nearby farm under the sleeping hens Monday night. All day yesterday we made quiet checks to see if the mamas were down with the switch. We caught a few glimpses of little feet so all seemed well.

This morning Evie and I went up to check on them and found the four little puffballs hopping around in and out from under their mamas wings. So freaking cute. No really, who can resist a chick. I want to carry them around with me in my pockets but I don't think the hens would like that much, so I'll leave them where they are. Although I'll probably have to go look at them again, just because.

May 10, 2010


Well I hope everyone had a lovely and restful Mother's Day out there. Did I have a lovely and restful Mother's Day? Well, Lovely, yes, restful? Umm....

The kids had the wonderful idea of letting us sleep in and took themselves down on Sunday Morning to watch cartoons. Which is fabulous because, although I loved, LOVED going down to watch morning cartoons on my own as a kid, mine seem to think that it's no fun unless there's a parent there to watch with them. So when I heard them whispering to themselves as they tiptoed down the steps, I was kinda excited. And then I fell back asleep. The problem with this whole plan is that they woke the dog up and took her down with them, and then didn't let her out to pee.

The responsible mother in me here is saying "well of course they didn't, they are not supposed to open the door while we are asleep for ANY REASON AT ALL." The sleepy, grumpy, I-want-my-Mother's-Day-Lie-In mother however, was not super pleased when they came tearing upstairs yelling that the dog had peed on the couch.

So not super restful.

But from then on it was pretty nice. Will cooked a big breakfast and then we drove out to a local pick your own farm and plucked 15 pounds of strawberries from the field for this year's jam (and eating- Evelyn's dress and fingers may never be a normal color again...) And later I sat in the yard while the kids played, hulling and slicing the berries into my big preserving pot. They've been soaking in sugar and citrus juice all night and are looking pretty scrummy. I have to go pick up some more jars today before I really get down to it, but I'm looking forward to a nice, sticky afternoon of jam making.

But that was totally not the point of this post! Berries make me gaga I guess, no concentration. I've just about got our butter/egg stock down to normal after two baking projects over the last few days and my son's sudden passion for hard boiled eggs. The first involved making 50 cupcakes to take to school on Friday and the second was the craved Pavlova's which I made on Saturday for dinner guests.

For the cupcakes I used the yogurt cake recipe from Chocolate and Zucchini which I love love love because it's always moist and delicious. While the cake uses no butter at all I made up for it my mixing up a batch of Swiss meringue buttercream which, I'll be frank, has all the best things in the world in it, except figs, but other than figs- butter (lots), sugar, eggs (well, just the whites) and vanilla - and lemon this time because I wanted lemon butter cream.

I was very very well behaved and did not eat a single (whole) cupcake (there might have been a few bites from a broken on though). Although I probably ate enough buttercream to more than make up for it. But the kids each got one - they weren't supposed to have any at home but them Evie pulled one off the counter and licked it while my back was turned so I couldn't send it off to the school. Sneaky that one. Good thing her big brother caught her before she licked the whole batch. Or maybe that was the plan all along....I smell a conspiracy...

Because I was using up the egg whites I replaced most of the eggs in the cake recipe with yolks which gave it a nice dense texture that we all loved. Might be a permanent change. The buttercream recipe can be found here. I still need to try that French Buttercream that he shows which looks, well, divine, but raw egg yolks at a school event...probably not a good idea. Some other time.

The Pavlovas were pretty and simple and I forgot to take a photo of them when they came out of the oven because, well, we ate them.

But you know, they were pretty basic, egg whites and sugar beaten into submission and piped into little nests for a pile of strawberries and cream. I used Ina Garton's recipe which has never failed me, even on a humid day, which, this being Virginia, is a good thing.

So, off to jam-a-jam. Anyone else do something fun (or have someone pee on the couch) for their Mother's Day treat?

Yogurt Cake
adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini

I tripled this recipe to get the number I needed, it works beautifully as a cake, even without frosting.

1 cup whole milk yogurt
1 cup sugar
1 egg and 3 yolks
1 tsp vanilla
2 T lemon juice
1 2/3 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt

Mix yogurt and sugar and add the eggs one at a time, whisking until combined before adding the vanilla and lemon juice. Sift together flour, baking powder and soda and salt and stir gently into the egg mixture just until combined. Pour into a buttered pan or cupcake liner and bake at 350 35 minutes (cake - the cupcakes took about 25) or until the tops are just beginning to golden. Allow the cake to cool slightly in the pan before popping it out.

May 7, 2010

Linen Flower Heaven

I really like wearing flowers these days. Actually, I think I've always liked wearing flowers. I wasn't a girly girl the way that Evelyn is, I was more of a fairy girl. I liked elves and magic, and shimmery things - kind of like a raccoon- hording all sorts of little sparklies in my hidey holes. I'm not sure if Evelyn's love for flowers on her head in any form has enhanced my interest in wearing flowers or if I somehow transferred my little girly tendencies in utero. In fact, I bet that's what happened, isn't everything amplified in utero? So every time I thought "ohh, pretty flower" her brain was blasted with "FLOWERS! FLOWERS!" which, you know, explains a lot about the kid (One of her consequences, by the way, for misbehaving, is that she isn't allowed to wear pink the next day. Tells ya something, huh!)

But back to my flower obsession. I've made a couple of different fabric flowers over the past year. Last Mother's Day I made this one for myself,

This winter this one came out of my felted sweater craze.

As did this, which went straight to Evelyn without a stop at my room.

And last month I revamped the first one with this which I kinda love for it's art-decoish ness.

And while I love them all and wear them regularly, along with some silk flowers that I have turned into pins which Evie and I fight over, really the fabric flower I want is one of these.

I know, who doesn't love Emerson's Flowers. They are amazing. But yeah, expensive. When I took the kids to the fabric store the other week to pick out tie/dress fabric (see how good I was working on their projects first!) I came across some blue linen that just, I don't know, needed to be a flowers.

So I've been puttering with it. I'll never be able to match the gorgeousness of EmersonMade, but it still turned out to be a pretty little thing. In fact, it was so pretty I made two and gave one to a friend.

Evelyn is already eyeing it. She keeps telling me "My flower is very pretty" which is code for "Mom, that will look better on me than you." I guess I'll have to make one for her as well (oh darn!) but, inevitably, in pink. Or maybe we'll get really wild and go with red. Nah, who am I kidding, it'll have to be pink.

Before I started cutting and sewing I heavily starched the whole piece of fabric with spray starch. I wish I had heavy duty starch because it could have been a little stiffer, but the regular worked pretty well.

Using a jar I traced a bunch of circles onto the fabric. When I cut them out, however, I added a point to the circles so they looked more petal like. I think I might try to make an indentation at the top of the petal next time for a more Peony like petal, we'll see.

I stitched a little tuck into every petal, most of them just got a small tuck but I also made several for the center with a deeper tuck so that they stood up and curled in more. I'd like to say that I used red thread so you could see the stitches, that would sound all smart and as if I had any forethought here. But I was just out of blue thread. I used to have so much thread in so many colors that I got out of the habit of ever buying any when I went to the fabric store. And now I'm down to red, navy blue (which, come to think of it, probably would have been a more logical choice here) and black. Time to re-stock I guess.

Once all the petals had tucks I started layering them around and around till I got to the center. It takes a lot of petals to get a good thick flower. I used up a 1/4 yard of 60 inch linen on just the two flowers (probably why Emerson's are so expensive) and it is time consuming, but in a meditative, sit under the tree and make a flower kind of way.

Tonight is the mother-son dance so I'll get a chance to spruce up and wear it out. It will go well with the pirate tie I think. Because everything goes well with a pirate tie.

May 6, 2010


Sometimes I think that the blog world puts my brain into overdrive. There are so many ideas out there to try, and so many more that pop into my head as I'm cruising around looking at other peoples brilliance. I could just about spend all day, every day making and sewing and baking and cooking stuff that I've seen or stuff that the stuff I've seen inspires me to do. Does that even make sense?

Anyway, that's how yesterday went. The night before I'd been puttering around on an evening blog time, which really means that I start with favorites and end up places I've never seen and probably wont make it back to until my head explodes and I have to go to bed. At some point I made it onto this post. Every so often I end up here, the projects are fun, not always me, but she does a great job at explaining them. Anyway. I saw that dress and though "Evelyn must have one!" I had fabric, after all, just waiting for a dress to be dreamed up for it. And I could find a shirt, probably. There was one snag. I had to do the tie next. My patient boy who today made me a "mother's day ring" out of some elastic that came off his sock, has waited while I fussed with fork dresses and getting just the right pattern. The tie must be next.

Which is how I ended up making a tie and a dress yesterday. I didn't find a shirt for the dress and so decided to combine the pleats and the wide sash of that dress with the shirring I use to make summer shirts for Evelyn every year. Except when it came down to it, I didn't use the shirring after all. Just more pleats. Evelyn was very helpful in both projects. And by helpful I mean she dumped out all the pins, picked them up, dumped them out, put them in the pin cushion, took them out, dumped them out again and then demanded to press the foot pedal while I sewed. Good think my sewing machine has a forced slow setting on it so she can "help" without stitching my fingers into some lovely floral fabric.

While I love to sew with a good pattern, sometimes it's fun to embark with only a vague sense of what you want and see where the wind takes you. When I was in high school I used to make long, A-line skirts for myself whenever I decided I didn't have anything to wear the next day. I'd rush to the fabric store before it closed and the sew when I should have been doing homework so that it would be ready in the morning. I never used a pattern and, to be honest, most of them were crap. I had to staple several hems up and once had to go home and change at lunch because my new skirt was verging on indecent with disintegrating seams and gaping waistbands.

Over the years I've gotten better about patternless sewing. Partly because I'm more patient. Partly because I've just sort of learned some of the basic rules for garment construction.Not that I'm some kind of fashion designer, I'm still basically a lazy sewer, only now it's my money I spend on fabric and not my mom's, so I'm a little more careful. Most of the time they work out, sometimes they fall apart after a few washes. Once I made a really pretty, well made little shirt only to find that, for once, I'd made the sleeves too narrow for my skinny little girl. C'est la vie. This time things went pretty well, for both the dress and the tie, not that ties are very complicated. But still, it's always satisfying when things turn out the way you want them to.

So now Briton is all set to have a tie to take off and try to re-tie in the middle of his school concert, an annual event that generally has the whole school zooming their video cameras in on my son to see what he'll do next. And Evie has a new twirly, girly, play in the dirt, swing till you touch the leaves dress.

Because this was essentially a sew as you go kind of dress, I can only give you general directions. But if you want to give it a go, here are the basics.

I started with a rectangle of fabric about 2 inches longer than I wanted the dress and a little more than twice as wide as Evelyn when measured under her armpits.

After ironing a hem and then folding over and ironing again on both the top and the bottom, I found the center point of the fabric and created a box pleat about 2-inches wide.

Basically that just means I made two tucks that faces away from each other and were the same width.

I made three more pleats on each side, checking their placement on Evie as I went. The pleats use up about 1/2 of the extra fabric and end under her arms.

Using a contrasting fabric I made a sash that was four inches wide and long enough to tie around her in a big bow with room to spare. I stitched this across the pleats at the top and bottom of the sash.

Next I stitched up the back of the dress. For me these were selvage edges so they didn't need extra hemming, but you could serge or zig-zag or even do a french seam here if you needed to.

When I tried the dress on Evie I found that it was still too big,even with the sash tied, so I added another box pleat at the back seam and stitched from where I left off at the sash to where the stitching ans sash picked up again. Originally I was going to shier the back but decided I was too lazy to wind elastic thread onto the bobbin.

I started off with a "v" of ribbon to tie around her neck. Later in the day she complained that she didn't like it so I stitched the ends to the back of the dress for regular should straps. That's something you kind of have to do with the dress on anyway, otherwise one shoulder is inevitably droopy.

The last thing I did was to use a decorative stitch to sew the bottom hem in place (obviously I need to work on balancing my speed on these stitches, you can tell when I tugged a little too hard on the fabric as it ran through)

And that was about it. She played all day in it and it was absolutely filthy by the time she took it off for bath and bed, which, to me, is the hallmark of a successful dress for my girl. If she can play in it, it's a keeper.

P.S. Sadly, little chicklet #1 did not survive the night. The kids were a little sad but are quickly learning that's just the way of life when you have farm(ish) animals. Hopefully tomorrow will bring two more, healthy this time, chicks for our little brood. Fingers crossed.