August 31, 2010

The Magic of a Clean Window

As part of the house painting process, we've been slowly removing the storm windows so we can get in and paint the mullions and sashes that have long been languishing away under there. And by languishing away I mean disintegrating. Compared to the siding on the house which has been in surprisingly good shape for something that's been covered up for 50 some years, the windows are in TERRIBLE condition. At some point we are going to need to go around and re-glaze ever single pane. We have a lot of windows, and each has at least 12 panes so, yeah, it's going to be a big job, and not one we are willing to tackle this fall.

For now we are painting the glazing that remains to help stabilize it and giving the windows a good wash. Because on top of really needing to be re-glazed, they really, REALLY, need to be washed. For the past year I've been moaning about the state of the windows. I wash the insides every week (ok, Evie does most of that job, what can I say, the kid loves to wash windows, more power to her!) and I've done the outsides a few times with one of those attach-to-your-hose window cleaning things, but ugg, they are still disgusting. If I were a gambling girl (and I'm not, I have an alarming habit of looking at a lottery ticket or a slot machine and thinking "now I could use my money on that and maybe win a lot but probably loose it all, OR I could just go buy some shoes with it) I'd bet that the windows haven't been cleaned since the storm windows were installed. They aren't the horrible silver ones but are a pretty decent white aluminium, so they aren't TOO old, but still. I mean yuck. It's obviously been a very long while.

Sunday I scraped the paint slopover from the glass (on the window that I painted, which has very little slopover. Unlike the window Will painted which is pretty much all paint now, I'm dreading tackling that one!) and washed. And washed. And washed. And it really was disgusting. But wow, does it make a difference. I've already washed the storm window that goes on it but we haven't put it back up yet, in part because it's so nice to have such a sparkly clean window to look out of each morning with no double pane or screen to block the view. I suppose I should get the clean storm window up over the clean window before either gets dirty again, and I should probably also move on to the other windows instead of just staring out the one clean one, but that would mean tackling the gooped on paint of Will's window. Or worse, taking three more windows off the next side and starting the whole process over again. Sign, little steps...

Is it wrong to be so happy about clean glass??

August 30, 2010

Scavenger Hunt Party

On Saturday Briton finally (finally mom!) got to have his birthday party. Yes, I know, two weeks late. What I told Briton was that we delayed it so that we could make sure everyone was home from their various vacations. Which, really, was a good reason if you think about it. However, the real reason was that we were just really busy the week of his birthday and the whole party thing was too much to add to the mix.

The thought of a dozen seven and eight years old's at a party is kind of intimidating as well. I mean, what on earth do you do to keep them busy, especially when you have boys and girls at the party? Last year we (somewhat brilliantly I thought!) set up the tent trailer and invited just a few boys for a slumber party. They hung out playing playmobil all evening, barely tore themselves away to shovel down some cake and then spent the night giggling in the tent. But this year Briton had a much longer list of kids to invite. So something had to be done.

After some pondering (bowling? bouncy castles?) Will and I came up with the idea of a scavenger hunt downtown which turned out to be the perfect thing. They were kept on the move the whole 2 hours they were with us and having two competing teams kept them interested, because, of course, they all wanted to win. I took clues down on Friday to several business who had agreed to help (thank goodness we live in such a friendly town, everyone was so into it!) and pre-ordered cupcakes form our favorite bakery. Saturday morning we broke into teams, handed out bandanas and the first clue and off they went. The kids were hilarious trying to solve the clues, one came dressed as a detective and I overheard one of the kids say to another "the reason we could figure everything out was because everybody knew something and we all worked together to figure things out!"

I have to say, other than the time that I took cupcakes and plastic buckets to a public fountain in Portland for Briton's 4th birthday when we were in the midst of moving, this was by far the easiest party we've ever done. Still, I have to say I'm glad that birthday season is over at our house. Whew, and just in time to start planning our Halloween Party. Honestly, I must be out of my mind. (But secretly I love it :))

August 27, 2010

And Then There Were None (At Least Until 1)

When I got up this morning and stumbled down the stairs to make coffee and start breakfast, this was the first thing I saw.

I mean, I knew they were there, I packed up lunches and set them out last night so everything was all in one place, ready to go. But still.

She wanted to use Briton's old backpack. The one he had for preschool. I know from experience that in Kindergarten they will ask us to send her with a larger pack, so this is really her only chance. It's old and grubby but it was her brothers and she loves it. So who cares.

We got dressed, brushed hair and teeth and were ready to go, although a little nervous (both Evie and mommy I confess) by 8:15. School starts at 9. Humm, let's play dominos until it's time to go.

She had to wear her coat. HAD TO. So it's a good thing it was overcast and sort of cool this morning because I dont think we could have talked her out of it.

And then we were there.

Coat and backpack into the cubby with her very own name on it.

*cry* To busy for kisses mamma, gotta go mix challah with Miss Lindsey....

How did she grow up so fast?

August 26, 2010

More Back to School Sewing

Her backpack is packed up with her allotted two boxes of tissues and four photos - three of her and one of all of us. Her lunch box is cleaned and ready to be filled up tonight. And her new, mommy made dress is finished and pressed. Now we just have to wait one more day till school starts for Evie. Hopefully she won't explode with excitement in the next 20 hours or so till we drop her off.

This morning I listened to her and her little friend from next door playing upstairs. Both girls had to watch their older siblings get on the bus today and drive off for another day of school without them. So what did they play? School of course. Or dropping off at school really. They took turns being the mommy and the girl and I heard "let me pack you lunch honey!" and "It's time to drop you off for school!" drifting down the stairs this morning over and over. While they were busy I finished up Evelyn's back to school dress, giving it one more pressing to make sure the pleats were crisp (at least until she puts it on) and stitching on the buttons.

I picked up the pattern for this dress while we were in Dallas this summer and while I was in the coolest little fabric shop I've seen in ages deciding which Oliver + S dress I wanted to make this time, Evelyn picked out this fabric (and helped me choose some laminated cotton, some of which I used to make a waterproof bag for her "just in case" clothes to keep at school).

As I've said before, I love Oliver + S patterns. LOVE them. And this time I bought the bigger sized pattern (the last one went to 3T, this one goes up to a size 8) I used some of the never ending supply of trace paper we seems to have around the house (one of the dangers of having an architect in the family) to trace the smallest size so that down the road I can make it again, and again.

This pattern was more complex than the ice cream dress I made last time, but turned out equally as cute. It has sort of a 60's vibe - the fabric makes it even more go-go looking - and just enough bulk to make it twirly. I just wish I had some little white boots that she could wear with it to complete the outfit :)

I'm totally tempted to try out the rain coat, in fact, I'm kind of kicking myself that I didn't buy the pattern and enough laminated cotton from the amazing selection they had while I was at city craft. But if I'm realistic (after all, we did just buy her a pink and green coat that she HAD to have for school because it was pink and green and it had a flower pin on the collar just like mommy) I'll probably order this pattern once it's released some time next month. I love the hidden pocket, perfect for a crisp fall day. I kinda wish they had it in my size, but I can settle for making one for my girl.

August 25, 2010

One Off, One Lonely Girl to Go

The house is crazy quiet. Every summer I forget how quiet the house gets once Briton is off to school. And while it's much easier to get my work done without twenty five questions an hour or someone running up and down the stairs to get just one more playmobil, I miss the clamor already.

It's not that he makes all the noise, although I think he is responsible for the lion's share of it, but when he is gone, Evie gets quiet. No brother to banter and play and scream and laugh and play with. She didn't talk much at all until she was two and a half, almost three, instead preferring to communicate through her brother. She would look at him and he would tell us in that telepathic sibling way what she wanted.

The two of them have always been very close. They watch movies with their heads together or snuggle up in one bed. Last year we often heard the phrase "I miss my boy" from Evie during the day. And I worried a little that this summer of togetherness might damage thier closeness in some way. So much time together, both of them getting older, Briton reaching that independent big kid stage. And in the past few weeks there has been more bickering. Briton has begun to want to play on his own more, with no interference from his sister, Evie has gotten bossier in the way only a little sister can.

This morning as I packed up Briton's backpack for the first day, Evie insisted on packing her own lunchbox. When we were walking out the door I looked down to find her carrying the lunchbox on her shoulder, ready to go.

"Evie, you're not going on the bus this morning you know." I said
"What?" Wide eyed and disbelieving, she answered me.
"You start school on Friday, remember?"
"Briton is going on the bus today!" She told me
"Yes. But you go to your school Friday."

She sat on the sidewalk and pouted. No she did not want to come say goodbye to her brother. She was mad. Briton ran down to hang out with his best friend, comparing backpacks, humming with excitement. Our bus stop was packed with 21 kids heading off to school this morning. Strange compared to Briton's kindergarten year when it was just him and a girl in his class. That morning I cried, took dozens of photos, got twenty hugs and told him lots of reassuring things about how much he would love school. This morning, as the bus rounded the corner, he headed off without a backward glance. Not a hug or a kiss or a goodbye, too intent on getting the good seat at the back of the bus with his friend.

Evie stayed on the sidewalk and watched the bus go. When we were inside she looked at me with her lip pushed out.

"I miss Briton."

I know little girl. So do I.

August 24, 2010

I'm Starting to See It...

Slowly the house is getting painted. Slowly. As is, it's too d**m hot to paint unless the area you are painting is in total shade. So we have to wait until the areas we have ripped the siding from are shady and squeeze in a half hour or so of painting.

After getting as much of the back of the house that we can reach sans scaffolding siding free, we decided to move onto the front. The sides are going to be scary. One is taken up mostly by the mudroom which we have already discovered has no siding, which, um, we're not sure what we are going to do with. I'm voting for shingling it and then leaving the shingles unpainted to add some more interest to the house, Will seems to have some other idea in his head which he hasn't fully explained to me. I know it involves busting out one whole wall but beyond that, I can see his gears working but am not sure to what end. Thus is life with an architect. The other side is flippin huge AND covered with all sorts of connections to wires, phone lines, unused cable ports etc which we need to figure out how to handle before we can tackle. Plus we need some serious scaffolding over there. So the front it is.

I kinda dig that actually. As Will says, it "signals our intentions" I think that's architect speak for -let's the neighbors know why it is that we have a huge pile of siding out front and seem to spend most of our spare time in nasty paint clothes.

The color has turned out just what we wanted. It's a sort of "is it gray, is it blue" shade that looks different in different lights. Our only issue now is that, as former bungalow dwellers, we are used to a house having no less than FOUR colors. One for the main part, one for the trim, one for the inner parts of the window (mullions, sash etc), and one for the door. And sometimes a different color for the foundation, although it's usually the same as the mullions. It sounds like a lot but trust me, if you drive around bungalow neighborhoods in Portland, you'll see that the houses that you think "now that one I like" have four colors.

But Cape's? Not so much. We tried a different color on the foundation and it looked weird, we tried a different color on the windows, weird again. I think it's just the houses cape-ness, we need to embrace it and go with the blue (gray) on the house and white one the trim. And something fun on the door. Cant decide if the red is a little too Americana or not. We are, after all, living in Mr. Jefferson's hometown, so there's a lot of Americana here... but the door may change, Will is thinking Mustard, I think that may be too much like the kitchen but what they hey.

Today it's gray and overcast and almost "gasp" cool, so if we can get our work in and our last day before school starts fun in, we might get that last little bit of the front done before bed tonight. Also need to tackle the white, The bottom board is going to be white to make a break from the house and the foundation, I kept accidentally painting it. Whoops. Also have to get up to those dormers which look really weird and bright now. And ugg, roof, need new roof! AHHHHH so much to do.....

What do we think? Any comments on door colors?

August 23, 2010


This weekend, in between painting the front of the house (picture soon! Still finishing the second coat!) Organizing Briton's Birthday, playing board games, finishing up another back to school sewing project and hitting the pool, I canned. A lot. I didn't really intend to have a canning bonanza, it just that, well, while one thing was cooking away, I'd start flipping through my books and think, "oh I have everything to make that too!" and away I went.

Most of the things I made were based on recipes from the River Cottage Handbook no. 2:Preserves, which is one of the best canning books I've ever seen. For most recipes it offers ideas for variations or explains how to substitute pretty much whatever is ripe in your garden or the farmers market at the moment. So instead of making the Hedgerow Jelly with crab apples and mixed wild berries, I used apples and blackberries from the Fruit Share I ordered from a local CSA to make probably the yummiest jelly ever. I know Will will argue and say strawberry is still the best, but I really think this might be my new favorite. I also made Passata, a roasted tomato, onion and garlic puree that you use to add to soups and stews and a vegetable bouillon mix from the squash, carrots, parsnips and shallots we had in the garden (including one giant carrot that Briton pulled up) and parsley from the farmers Market. The figs I had started for drying weren't, unlike those from the neighbors tree, holding together, so I finished off the mashing and turned them into fig jam.

I've still got some chutney in the works and want to make another batch of Passata, and if I can get enough seed pods from my Nasturtiums, I'd love to try to make Nasturtium Capers. But the thing that was the biggest hit this weekend was a batch of Plum/Apple/Pear Squash which Briton is calling Grimmbena. Ribena has been a staple in our house since Briton was two. It's a juice concentrate, or squash, made from Black Currents and is the go to drink for kids in the UK. Sort of like their TreeTop Apple Juice. It's handy for us because you just keep it in the cupboard and pour a little into a glass of water when you want some juice. Which means it doesn't take up any room in the fridge. Great for us since we have limited refrigerator space. So when I noticed the recipe for whatever fruit squash, I couldn't resist. The kids picked out super ripe plums and apples at the farmer's market and I had some pears form the fruit share so we chopped them all up, added some water and let it cook away till the fruit was mushy. Once it was strained and the sugar was added and we had it bottled up we tried it out and wowzers was it yummy. Addicting yummy. I need to go back to the farmers market for some more plums and apples and make more yummy.

Grimmbena (Or Plum-Pear-Apple Squash)
Translated roughly to US measurements from The River Cottage Handbook No. 2

2 pounds of plums
1 pound of apples
1 pound of pears
4 cups of sugar

Chop up the apples and bears roughly, leaving pips and skin. Cut the plums in half, you can pull out the stones but you don't have to. I didn't!
Add 2 and a halfish cups of water and bring slowly to a boil, cooking until the fruit is very soft, about 45 minutes. Strain through a jelly bag and colander, or if you don't have a jelly bag, use a tea towel that you have scalded in hot water. Let it drip for several hours until the juice is drained away from the pulp. Bring the juice back up to a boil and then add the sugar, stirring just until it has dissolved. Pour immediately into bottles and seal. Use 2-3 tablespoons of concentrate per 8 oz of water.

The recipe claims that just by bottling it up hot it will keep for several months in a cool, dry place but that you can process it in boiling water if you want to keep it longer. I reused a glass bottle and put the rest in a jar, sealing them both up while it was hot and leaving it at that. I'm sure we'll use it up fairly quickly. However, for the next batch I'll pick up some good bottles and do the whole processing thing. You can really use any fruit for this that's ripe. Harder fruits need 1 3/4 cup of water per 2 pounds of fruit, softer fruits need 1 cup of water per 2 pounds of fruit. The sugar can really be adjusted to taste, just remember that this is a concentrate, so you'll want it stronger than if you were drinking it straight.

August 20, 2010

Back to School Sewing

I had this idea in my head that I would send both kids off to their first days of school this year in something that I had made, just for them. For Evie, this is easy. There are so many to-be-made dresses in my head that the mind boggles. Briton, however, is a different story altogether. I've always found it harder to sew things for boys, especially my jeans and a polo kind of boy. And the older he gets, the less he wants mom made things. When we looked through sweater patterns this summer so he could pick out something to knit for him for this winter, he wasn't super interested, "Slippers" he said. And maybe a hoodie, maybe.

A few months ago we were all watching "Annie" and his eye was caught by the hats the little boys wore in the street scenes. Ever since he's been asking for one. I looked around but couldn't find anything in his size but his Grandmother came through with one she found just in time for his birthday. And the kid loves it. The last three nights when I've gone up to tuck him in he's in nothing but boxers and his hat.

Which got me thinking, could you make a newsboy hat? I mean, you could, of course. But could I make a newsboys hat? I did some puttering around on the Internet and ran across this tutorial which looked perfect. And I just happened to have that Harris Tweed Jacket that I never did get around to making a skirt with. Perfect.

I ended up needing to add another wedge to make it fit, and if I do it again I'll probably make the bottom of the wedge wider so it's a little loose, I like how the one he got for his birthday has an elasticised back. But this one is pretty darn cute. In fact, it might just be the most bad-ass thing I've ever made. It was kind of amazing to me to put it together and have it turn out just the way I imagined. But sewing is like that. Even though I've been doing it for years, it never fails to amaze me when something comes together just right. And you think, huh, I made that!

August 19, 2010

Felix vs. Oscar

Back when we started this whole working-at-home thing, I remember thinking that our desks would be like the Odd Couple had moved in. I'm Felix, if you hadn't guessed, and Will would be the Oscar. And I fully expected that to be the case. I like tidy. I like organized, at least to a point. And I have a hard time working when the house is cluttered. So it stands to reason that I'd want to keep my desk clean. I always have before.

But this morning I sat down at my desk and started working only to look around and notice, "Holy crap! It's me! I'm the Oscar!!"
But then I looked over and, no, Will is still the Oscar, or he's also the Oscar. Because, well, yeah. At least my mess is colorful :)
I wont even show you what's on the drafting table behind me. It looks like a trace paper storm collided with a cardboard box tornado and then a tweed coat flew into the mix. Although to be fair, most of the cardboard is from a bunch of packages that we rescued off of our neighbors stoop yesterday during the storm.

But I have to admit that this is often how my desk looks when I shut down for the day. Half finished swing projects waiting to be pinned. My next articles craft in pieces waiting for photographs, notebook and calender open, coffee and breakfast (or lunch, depending) next to the computer.

Part of it is that I'm not really happy with our storage set up. We have plenty of shelves in here, but only one is very tall, and it's taken up with larger items. My writing space is also my crafting space and it's not really quite big enough to accommodate both at the same time.

Surprisingly though, at least to me, I'm not really bothered by it. Sometimes I look around and feel a little claustrophobic with all this stuff pressing in around me. Most of the time, however, I'm OK with the mess. Not that I wouldn't love for it to be magically pristine, but for now, I'm good. I still have a hard time working when the sink is full of dirty dishes. But hey, one step at a time, right?

August 18, 2010


On any given morning in our house, the order of wake up is something like this. Unless an alarm goes off earlier, I start waking up around 7, even on days that I want to sleep in. Who knows why, years of getting up for class and then teaching and then early feedings and so on I suppose. Evelyn is also, compared to the rest, and early riser, usually waking up as I pass their door, no matter how quietly I tiptoe. She'll be an excellent mother of teenagers if she keeps it up. Will rolls out of bed around 8, usually after some prodding. He'd happily sleep till noon if I let him. And then there's Briton, who is already showing the teenager-like habit of sleeping in till we force him out of bed. This summer we've been particularly bad about just letting him sleep, and generally he's in bed till 9:30 or 10. Rough life.

But not this morning.

This morning I could hear him chattering around 6:30 talking to himself, and then his sister whom I assume he woke up so that he had someone to talk to. Before long he came into our room, crawling into bed whispering "I'm so excited!"

I totally get it. When I was seven or eight, I was at my Aunts house the night before my birthday. Lying on the trundle bed in my cousin's room, surrounded by her Cabbage Patch Kids, I was vibrating with excitement. There was no way I would sleep. Eventually I went looking for my grandmother but found, instead, my Aunt who took pity on me and forever earned a spot as cool in my book by letting me open a present in the middle of the night.

So up we got. To open presents and get hugs and watch Briton turn eight. Evelyn, who for the past three days has been down with Strep, perked up this morning - whether for her beloved brother's big day or because the penicillin finally kicked in, who knows - asked to wear her favorite dress and a flower in her hair.

Eight. It seems very old. I remember when I was first pregnant with Briton, I used to daydream about introducing my son to people. A tall, handsome, sweet boy with his daddy's crooked smile.

He's upstairs now, in his much longed for newsboys cap, putting together the playmobil that I bought in the spring and have had stored in the basement where I suspect he spotted it long ago. But he's been good enough not to point out that he knew what was coming, instead telling me how much he wants the very set I already bought for him. Because he is that tall, handsome, sweet boy with the crooked smile, the boy of my daydreams. What kind of lucky mama am I?

August 17, 2010

Saintly Figs

Ok, maybe saintly isn't the word for them, consecrated? Except they weren't actually growing in the cemetery, so maybe not that either.

I love old cemeteries of any kind. I find them peaceful and beautiful with their overgrown plants and their hard to read gravestones. One of my favorite places in the world is a tiny cemetery tucked into a hillside int he Wicklow Mountains. In college, Will and I used to take out lunches to one on the University of Oregon campus and sprawl out on the shady grass between the tombs. But to combine an old cemetery and a fig tree, well, now you're talking!

Last summer one of our neighbors turned me onto a fig tree that overhangs into a nearby cemetery. It is growing in a garden next to the cemetery who's ground is much lower than that of the level of the graves, making the upper branches easy to reach and the figs easy to harvest. Perfect, except by the time I learned all of this last year, the figs were all but gone and I was only able to bring home enough for a few mornings breakfast. This year I was determined to get up there when the tree was bursting with ripe fruit.

This morning Nigella and I set off for our walk with a big basket and crossed fingers, and boy did we hit the jackpot. Because I know that there are other who pick from this tree (the owners have given full blessing, they don't like figs - crazy people!) I only took the fruit from one of the many branches. But even with the one branch limit, I was able to fill my basket up with fat, firm fruit, perfect for a second batch of my grandmothers dried figs. Heaven. Of course, after I'd finished picking and was attempting to hold the leash and basket with sticky hands, I realized that some dude had been sitting under the next tree over reading to himself while I chatted to the fruits I was picking about how pretty they were. So now there's one more person in Charlottesville who thinks I'm nuts.

The last batch turned out exceedingly well. The figs were smaller to start with the the variety that grew on my grandmother's tree, so the dried figs are only about half the size, but they taste almost exactly the same, and I've already worked my way through a third of the batch, which doesn't bode well for my plan of having enough dried fruit to get me through the winter. But hey, a few more early morning tromps through the cemetery and I might make a dent in the amount of figs we consume throughout the year.

My garden is coming to the end of it's season and I have to say I learned a lot about growing vegetables in Virginia. Corn, for example, will need to be planted in a more sheltered area (as seen in the total destruction of the main crop during the microburst, whaaaa) The number of tomato plants could easily be doubled, or tripled, if I want to make sauce. The sauce I made a few weeks ago was delicious, really and truly yummy, but it only made one large jar, which we finished off last night in a lasagna. Kale is crazily hardy, if only I can find something to do with it. Pumpkin vines whithered in the heat while squash and cucumbers went bonkers. Next year I'll want more pepper plants, more herbs and probably less carrots since I'm the only one who really likes them anyway. The popcorn was a hit, the beans went out of control and were all ripe at the same time, so next year I'll plant them in succession.

I'm puttering with the idea of pickled squash, or maybe canned squash if I can get my hands on a pressure canner for a few days. and Evelyn and I made a jar of grape jelly this weekend using the grapes from Will's "vineyard". One jar because, well, his vineyard is two and a half (the half is so little it didn't produce any grapes this year) young plants. That and Evie discovered that Nigella really likes grapes, so a good third of what we did manage to grow went to the dog.

It seems weird that, technically, the summer is almost over. Or at least the gardening part of the summer. Not that there wont be more canning to do in the next few weeks. In fact, the rest of August and September will probably see our pantry fuller than it's been all summer, starting with a fruit share that I've ordered for tomorrow and carrying on through the rest of the peaches, plums and apples. But school begins for both kids next week, my boy turns eight (EIGHT!) tomorrow and despite the heat, my mind is starting to think fall. Now if it would only cool down enough to actually feel like fall...That, would be fantastic.

August 16, 2010

The Teacher's Lounge(s)

It's funny, but I really don't remember being aware of a teacher's lounge at the elementary school where I attended first through fifth grade. I'm sure they had one, what school doesn't, but although I can mentally walk through the halls of that school today, remembering every classroom and closet, I have no idea where the teacher's lounge is. I suppose that's the way it's supposed to be. I mean,w ho wants the kids to know where the teacher are hiding? Right?

When I was student teaching, the lounge was a cramped little room in the basement of the school, and was pretty typical I think, of the species. Cast off couches, old microwaves, icky beige fridge - that sort of thing. But I don't remember it being so horrible that no one went in there. In fact, there was almost always someone hanging around in there. It was also the copy room, so that might be part of it, but still, it wasn't too awful. So I was surprised when one of the teachers at Briton's school said that every time she went into the lounge, all she could think of was getting out. How sad is that? And really, they were pretty bad. One was hot, cramped and full of broken furniture that you couldn't really sit down on without lurching forward. The other smelled of bathroom cleaner and damp. So the PTO budgeted some money for a little re-do and the project ended up in my lap.

I seem to have a standard thought process for these kinds of projects. First I'm gung-ho. I think about it constantly for a while, planning, plotting, arranging. Then I sort of push it to the back of my mind, knowing there's time to do it later, even when, really, there isn't. When it comes down to it I start panicking a little, drive Will crazy and tend not to sleep worrying that I wont get it done, then I work like a mad woman, cursing my way through the project, wondering why I get myself into these things. And then when it's done, I'm so happy I did it. I forget all about the stress and the work and the driving here and there to get all the things that I need. I forget so well that I'm almost immediately ready to dive in again. What's up with that? It's like what they say about forgetting the pain of childbirth. Although, frankly, it took me more than three years to get over the pain of childbirth with Briton, which is why my kids are four years apart. I'm much more likely to forget the stress of a big project than the pain of having a baby.

Friday was my deadline for getting the lounges done, I started Thursday. To be fair, it wasn't all my fault. It is summer, after all. People were out of town, days were lazy, and every time I went down to the school to figure out when I could start and what I needed to do, they were waxing the floors somewhere and I couldn't go down any halls. Oh well, it's always good to work under a little pressure, right?

I did manage, during various trips to the school, to haul home some furniture that needed a face lift and was able to get started on those, and then on Thursday morning, bright and early, a friend and I painted. And painted. And painted. And the Friday morning I went in and painted some more. Paint is always a little nerve wracking for me. It's hard enough to choose paint that you like yourself, but choosing for 70 people, ugg. But anything would have been better than old yellowing paint with teal trim.

But by the end of the day, things were pretty much done, the new (used but much better) couches had been picked up and delivered, Evelyn and I had driven across town with a table strapped to the roof of our poor overworked Passat and the repainted furniture was back in the room. And you know what? It looks pretty good. Not fantastic, fabulous, wonderful, but much better. I still want to get some more art on the walls, but between the paint and the rearranging and the new and refurbished furniture, I think, I hope, that the teachers will find the two rooms a little more welcoming. Fingers crossed.

August 13, 2010

A Good Decade

Ten years ago today, Will and I were married in a very windy ceremony under the slightly-cracked-from-an-earthquake dome of the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. It was so windy, in fact, that only Will, my cousin Bruce who was officiating, and I could hear the vows. My bridesmaids and I also spent a good part of the reception wearing other peoples coats to keep from freezing to death. A bum crashed our wedding although we didn't realize it until we looked through the photos later and came to the conclusion that he wasn't anyone we invited. Which says a lot about how I felt about wedding dress code I guess, I never noticed anything amiss.

It was a great day.

It's hard to believe that we've been married for a decade. It sounds like such a long time. Like we should be older, more dignified. Although, really, I think there is no hope for us on the dignified front, we're just too weird for it.

I don't think, if you would have told me ten years ago today, that by now Will would have his own business, or that I could say that I was a writer in the making money at it sense of the word. I'm sure I wouldn't believe that we would be living in Virginia. But I suppose that's life. Early on Will and I adopted the mantra "you cannot plan, you can only prepare" and that's kind of how we've lived life. Prepare for things to change, prepare for them not to. And be happy either way.

It's been a great decade if I do say so myself. Lots of fun, lots of excitement, many things I never would have predicted and many that I might have guessed at.We have two fabulous kids, a slightly spastic dog, a regal but not super friendly cat and a house that will, I'm sure, one day be done. Maybe.

I wouldn't change a thing.

August 11, 2010

Mail Box

Right after we closed on our house, my dad came to visit. Actually, I think he was there on the day we closed. Anyway, one of the things he told me that day was that we should paint the mailbox. It makes such an impact, he said. And I knew he was right. But at the time, what needed to be done was so overwhelming I couldn't even think about the mail box. There were cabinites to rip out, walls to knock down, and so much to paint. So, so much to paint.

When I painted the steps a few weekends ago I asked Will if I should paint the mailbox while I was at it.
"Let's get the house painted first" he said. Except who knows when that will be. So a few days ago, while I had some shiny black oil paint out to refinish some furniture for the teacher's lounge (pictures coming soon!) and Will was around back ripping off more siding, I decided to go for it while he wasn't looking. Of course, in the midst of trying to unscrew it from the post I realized that, as is typical with our house, the post wasn't even in the ground, it was just sitting on the ground and attached to the steps with some wire. Nice. SO out came the post, and then out came a Black Widow spider who had obviously been living under the post. I screamed, Will came running and there went my underhanded painting. The upshot is that since the post was out, and because he didn't want to put it back in to the spider hole, he decided it was a good time to paint the mailbox (it was sort of an exasperated "well now that it's out" kind of thing, but I still count it!:))

Long story long, the mailbox is now a shiny black instead of a rusty, faded red/brown. We have to find a new spot for it since we never really liked the location where it was anyway, so for now it's just leaning against the fence. But it looks better. And the mail man doesn't seem to care that it's leaning at a drunken angle over by the fence. Hopefully this weekend we can get the post hole digger out and get it back into the ground.

Also, check out my wreath over at Factory Direct Crafts. I think this is my cheapest home decor project ever. Well, the recycled wreath was pretty darn cheap too. Still, it was fun. I'm thinking of making a bigger one for the teacher's lounge since the budget isn't really big enough for art. But I can't bring myself to adorn the walls with just the "By Virginia State Law" posters (I guess I do have to find a place for those too though, boring!) I'm also digging this spoon sunburst mirror, but where to find a practically free round mirror before Friday....

August 10, 2010

Holy Grits

The summer after fifth grade, my parents moved my brother and I from the small, picturesque Northern Idaho town where I'd grown up and my brother had been born, to San Antonio, Texas. It was, you might say, something of a shock. We moved there at the beginning of August, and I still remember stepping off the plane and into the sweltering humidity of a Texas summer. I thought I was going to die. I thought my parents were crazy. But no, they were just ready for a change.

My father was starting his Master's Degree at the University of Texas and so for the next two and a half years he was home with us, studying, instead of spending his days in a crowded and noisy newsroom. I loved having him home more. We had two fantastic summers that involved lots of trips to the Alamo (my brother was obsessed, REALLY obsessed, with Davy Crockett) boat rides along the river walk, day trips to the missions, hot afternoons at the Texas Folk Life Festival, and jalapeno grits.

My dad had started a garden the first spring that we lived there. Nothing new about that, we'd had a large garden in Idaho brimming over with potatoes, beans, tomatoes, onions and peas. But in San Antonio, the things we normally planted didn't grow as well. I'm probably remembering this wrong, seeing it in my mind as I did at eleven, but I think the only things that really grew in that garden were peppers and okra. And I hated both. Okra I disliked on principle. They were slimy and ugly and even the name sounded bad to me. I turned my nose up at them without even tasting them, and admittedly to this day, I'm not sure I've ever tried okra, which is probably something I should remedy. Peppers, however, I lived in mortal fear of.

On one of our first nights in San Antonio, we'd gone to eat at the Alamo Cafe. I was fascinated at the tortilla makers behind the glass partition and couldn't wait to try them out, crisp and hot, straight out of the pan. When a basket of chips arrived at our table I picked one up and dug it into the bowl of chopped tomatoes, loading up my chip and shoving it in my mouth only to find that my head felt like it was on fire. I'd never tasted Salsa in my life and I sat there, tears running down my cheeks from the pan on my tongue, wondering what I had done to deserve this horrible fate.

So when my dad's garden produced a bumper crop of pepper and he tried to introduce us to Jalapeno Grits, there was no way I was going to try them. I didn't do peppers thank-you-very-much! I didn't do spicy at all. And somehow, grits, in my mind, became just another part of the "No Thank You!" that the peppers had caused.

And I've spent the last twenty odd years no eating grits because of it. Until a few weeks ago when my friend Stephanie invited us over for Pulled Pork and Grits. Now I still had my fear-o-grits, but a few things convinced me to give it a try. First, Stephanie is a great cook, so how bad could they be? I've never eaten anything at her house that wasn't stellar. Second, poor Will loves grits. He's a Texan for goodness sakes. They give them Dr. Pepper, steak and grits as soon as they pop out! And in all the years we've been together, it's probably the one thing I've always refused to make for him. Also, the older I've gotten, the more open I am to trying things at least one. So I tried. And guess what. Yep. I LOVED them.

This wasn't just "humm, that's pretty good" love either. This was have two giant bowls full, holy cow what have I been thinking my whole life, dream about it at night love. I LOVE grits. I also, incidentally, tried Sriracha hot sauce that night. Yeah I know, everyone and their dog is talking about sriracha, but I hadn't ever tried it because, well, I'm still a wimp when it comes to spicy things (see salsa story above) Ya know what, pretty darn delicious too.

So now I'm a grits freak. It's my new go-to meal. Will thinks he's died and gone to Texas heaven. It's like the day halfway through my pregnancy with Briton when I went from vegetarian to "I WANT RIBS!" I thought he was going to cry with joy.

Stephanie used the WIlliams Sonoma Cheese Grits recipe which, as I said, is really good, but has a lot of butter and extra cheese and is slightly more time consuming than I'm willing to go for when I want grits. So instead I've been using this very simple recipe, which is fantastic with a few shrimp tossed on top. Excuse me while I go stuff my face.

1/2 cup stone ground yellow grits
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup water
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cups cubed cheddar cheese

Bring 2 cups of water to a boil and slowly stir in the grits. Cook on medium low for 10 minutes. Stir in half the milk and stir until absorbed. Add cheese and remaining milk stirring as you go, and dribble in water as needed. Season to taste.

August 9, 2010

Down Came the Siding

We had had great plans to go DO SOMETHING this weekend. Go rent a canoe, go drive out to a park or some caverns or the peach ice cream festival (yum!) but Briton woke up on Friday morning with a high fever and by saturday it was no better so off to the doctor we went. One quick throat culture later (remember when they took days?) and we found the cause, strep throat. It seems like such a winter sickness to me. But there you are. No weekend wanderings for us. Instead, we ripped off siding. Not all of it of course, but half of the back of the house is now siding free.

Other than the weird, there once was a window there spot by the deck and some truly horrible glazing that will have to be fixed before our windows start to fall out, there weren't even any big surprises (knock on wood) Paint has been chosen, trim tried and accepted, we are all systems go. Now we just have to firgure out how to deal with the high bits.

Although it's nice to have the paint question settled, I'm ready for it not to be 99 degrees out so we can get down to some serious work on this project. This weekend we worked around the sun. Weeding the yard where the shade was while the back of the house baked in direct sunlight and working in short spurts on the siding and paint to keep from getting burnt to a crisp. Still, it's progress, slow progress, but progress none the less.

We also painted the mail box, pulled it out of it's current location (finding a black widow spider lived under the post in the process, eek!) make a make shift solar dryer under which a tray of figs is at this moment drying, and I got to work painting some of the furniture that will go into the teacher lounge at Briton's school once we get the room repainted and a new couch and chairs in. So in all, not a bad weekend, even with the Tylenol/ibuprofen rotations and the grumpy sick boy. Now, fingers crossed that the little sister didn't lick her brother at an importune time so that this weekend we can be penicillin free. Hey, I can dream...

August 6, 2010

Freakishly Healthy Banana Muffins

I've made a lot of banana bread in my time. In fact, I think it's a requirement of motherhood that you make banana bread at the very least a dozen times a year. This is, or course, because children love banana's. I've never met a kid who didn't. Banana was, sort of, my first word. I say sort of because I called them "das" so I'm not sure if it really counts as a first word, but my parents knew what I meant. But the reason that banana bread is a fact of parenting isn't because kids love bananas, since if they really loved them, their wouldn't be bananas left to make bread from, but because children love to mess with your mind. The LOVE banana's one week, so much so that the next week you buy three pounds of them so that your child can have all the banana's they want. And that's when they decide they don't care for bananas after all. It's just a law of life, right about the time you think you have something figured out, it changes. Thus banana bread.

The other things about banana bread is that it's almost healthy, sort of. At least healthy enough that you don't feel totally guilty giving them a few slices for their snack (or meal, who are we kidding), much better than, say, that bright blue gogurt they wanted at the store (why would yogurt makers think it was a good idea to make neon blue yogurt? It just screams BAD FOR YOU! But I digress).

So I've made a lot of banana bread. And because I really like to tinker and toy and try out new recipes, I've tried several different versions. I had high hopes for Molly Wizenberg's recipe. It was good, but not as great as I'd hoped. The kids weren't too nuts about it. But this version, they seriously love. I mean, gone in a second, they don't want anything else for lunch but banana bread when I make it crazy for it.

And the best part is -not that I would ever tell them because then they'd probably turn their noses up at it - it's by far the healthiest version I've ever EVER made. Or even come across I think. Maybe they aren't really freakishly healthy but they are pretty darn good for you. I've made this as a loaf but I think it's even better as muffins, so that's how it works in our kitchen. Super (shhh..healthy) good banana muffins.

4 very ripe bananas
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup Splenda (or sugar if you don't like Splenda)
1 can pear halves (I use the packed in juice variety)
2 eggs
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose white flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 T cinnamon

Mash the bananas and pears in a medium bowl with a potato masher before stirring in sugar, Splenda and eggs. Sift in dry ingredients and fold gently until combined. The batter should be slightly lumpy with chucks of pear and banana.

Scoop 1/3 cupfuls into lightly greased muffin tins and bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Remove from pan immediately and allow to cool slightly for a few minutes before serving.

As soon as these are cool I put them (what's left of them that is) in a Pyrex dish with a lid to keep them moist. But I don't think we've made it through the end of the day without eating the whole batch, so I've no idea if they keep longer than that :).

August 5, 2010

Fig Season

So as it turns out, I'm feeling bold. Or at least this morning I was feeling bold. On my way up to feed the chickens I spent ten minutes picking a basket full of ripe figs. I could have spent an hour and had bushels, but that would have required a ladder, and the chickens were starting to squawk with impatience.

After removing a handful for my breakfast I weighed (3 1/2 pounds) and washed the figs and set them out to dry off a little while I decide what to do with them. I can either go with the Drunken Fig Jam recipe from Epicurious or I can get my grandmothers dried fig recipe going in the hopes that by the time the four days it takes to prep them for drying, Will and I can have some kind of solar dryer rigged up. I'm thinking the latter, because Will likes dried figs as much (well, not really as much, but he does like them) as I do (drat the man, I used to have them all to my self!:)) And while I like fig jam, well, it's certainly not as high on my list as dried figs. I mean, duh, I named my blog after them. Right?

My grandmother's dried fig recipe is something of a mystery to me. I could, of course, ask her about it. But it's kind of fun to just wonder. Here's how it reads

5 lbs fresh figs with stems (I may have to get that ladder out to make up that 1 1/2 pound difference!)

wash and add 2 cups of water and 1 cup of sugar

1. Boil one hour covered. Pour into a glass dish
2. Next day - boil 1 hour uncovered
3. Next day - boil 1 hour uncovered
4. Next day - boil 1 hour uncovered

Drain in colander, let set until cool. Take out and shape. Lay on racks to dry in the sun. Dry until no longer sticky feeling. Turn over at least once while drying.

OK, so here's my theory. My grandmother had five kids. FIVE. And she was one of those wonder women who made most of their food from scratch, preserved a ton of things from the garden, sewed clothes and quilts and whatever else needed making. So I'm not saying this is how it happened, but if that were my recipe, it would have come about from a) starting to boil my figs too late in the day and then realizing that I needed the pot for dinner, hence the glass bowl. And then I would have forgotten about then so the next day I would have to reboil them. And then I'd forget again and have to reboil them again. And then I'd have to run out and get some part that my kids took off my dryer for a project that I didn't remember until just that moment so I'd have to reboil one more time. But my grandmother was probably far more organized than that, so I'll just take it on faith that this is just the way the recipe has to be. And after all, I've never in my life had a dried fig that was as good as hers always are, so I'm willing to follow it to a "T". Although I may have to use a ceramic bowl instead of a glass, unless I feel very virtuous and go out and buy a glass one. But I've already been bold today, so virtuous will probably have to wait until tomorrow.

August 4, 2010

Elsewhere in the Blogosphere

I have a few projects up at Factory Direct Crafts Blog this week and this one is my favorite. I wish I'd thought of it sooner, I love the way it looks on the dining room table and freezer paper stencils are quickly becoming one of my favorite craft techniques. I've still got some leftover burlap and I'm thinking about making some placemats for the outdoor table with a similar look. Although I haven't decided on what they will say this time. Maybe I'll opt for a shape instead of words. Hummm.

August 3, 2010


When Will and I were in college, we had this monster, MONSTER vegetable patch in our way overly large for two college students yard. And when I say the thing was big, I mean it. Right now our garden is plenty big for the four of us (which doesn't stop me from making plans to expand it) and I'd guess that it's a third the size of the space we planted back then. I'm not sure what we were thinking. Actually, Will was thinking I was crazy and just went along for the ride and I had - no surprise here- dreams of growing most of our food. It hadn't occurred to me to get chickens at that point, probably good since we were poor as dirt and couldn't even splurge on things like, say, tomato cages, so building a chicken coop would probably have been beyond our means a bit, not that we wouldn't have done it anyway.

Because we were experimenting in pretty bare bones gardening, our cageless tomatoes were held up, sort of, with some sticks tied together with yarn. Not much help. By August the tomato patch, which was oversized, even by our garden's standards (I had started tons and tons of tomatoes from seed because I had heard it was hard to get them going, and then they all lived, and I couldn't stand the thought of killing any of my little plants so, yeah, there were a lot) was a giant tangled jungle of brandywines, sweet one thousands, yellow pear and beefsteak tomatoes. We couldn't possibly eat that many tomatoes. Not even if we'd had them for breakfast lunch and dinner. I wanted to preserve them, somehow, and sauce seemed too complicated with all the warnings about botulism and spoiling and the need for a presser canner, which, given the fact that I didn't have tomato cages, was not high on my priority list of things to buy.

In the end, I dried them. I took all the screens off our windows, hosed them down and filled them up with slices and halved tomatoes, stacking them inside the barbecue that we got at a garage sale for $5 and which almost blew up the first time we used it (scared us off of gas grills for years!) My reasoning was that the barbecue would help collect the heat, covered in black who-knows what as it was, and I could close the lid each night to keep the evil raccoon that lived under our house from eating my garden largess.

Surprisingly, it worked. I had stacks and stacks of sun dried tomatoes. Most went into baggies and then into the pantry, some were packed in jars of oil, and for the rest of the year we ate sun dried tomatoes in and on and with, just about everything. Not a bad way to dine for a couple of starving students.

I've never gone that crazy with tomatoes again. It was too much work to keep up with the harvesting and drying. And besides, we use our grill too often these days. But I did plant eleven plants this year. Most of them heirloom varieties that came in a mix from Southern States Seed Exchange with a few garden center romas thrown into the mix. Despite the heat of the summer, it wasn't until last week though, that any of our fruits were ripe enough to pick. But suddenly we have tomatoes coming out our ears. And isn't that always the way, you wait and wait for that first garden tomato and then all of a sudden you have more than you can handle.

So far I'm not drying them, although I have a scheme that involves Will building a solar dryer like the one my grandmother had in her yard. But that really hinges on how bold I feel about harvesting the figs off of two trees down the road (the owners are away in France all summer, last year I took some here and there, but for this to work I'd need tons. On the other hand, they are just falling to the ground up there...) In the meantime, I've decided to try making sauce.

I still don't have a pressure canner, but after perusing many, many recipes, I think I've come up with a plan that will produce a good sauce without killing my family. Batch number one is in the works right now, cut into chunks and roasting in the oven (no oil! Oil is bad it seems in terms of canning) making our whole house smell wonderful. And if at the end of the day, it doesn't taste good enough to jar up, well, I've still got another basketful of ripe beauties waiting for some other recipe, and several more that will be ready tomorrow.

And now that I think about it, we do need to pull off all the screens to paint.

August 2, 2010

The Front Steps

It's amazing what a few days of cool weather will do to a "to-do" list.

Lately I've been feeling so worn out by the never ending heat that I haven't really had any interest in getting things done on the house. Between work, kids, heat and the craziness of the past two weeks, any plans we had had to get moving on the outside of the house went down the drain. But Thursday it was miraculously cool, and then Friday as well, and it continued on through the weekend. Even today I'm amazed to find myself sitting at my desk in a pair of pants and a (light weight and short sleeved, but still...) sweater.

It won't last. It's supposed to be back in the 90's by tomorrow. But while it was cool, we got busy and tackled a whole list of outdoor chores which has left me feeling more satisfied than I have in weeks. It's also made my hands look more like my hands, dirt stained and blotched with multiple colors of paint.

I wish I wasn't such a heat wimp. When we lived in Portland I spent whole days out in the yard. Digging, planting, mowing, harvesting. Hanging out with our chickens and the cat while Briton dug in his gravel pit (ie the fire pit that never was because he claimed it for his dump trucks) and Evelyn napped or rolled around with a few squeeky toys in her playpen. It felt wonderful. To be outside for hours without having to worry about sunstroke or tiger mosquitos (what is up with those? They are out in the day! Not nice!)

I miss that. I know Virginia has lovely springs and falls, and winters that aren't marked by 90 day stretches of rain. But the summers, at least this summer, well, the heat is a little too brutal for this northwest girl. Truthfully, this cool spell came just in time. When I was starting to day dream about Oregon, putter through real estate ads for Portland (not seriously, but just to torture myself a little) and think longinly about places where 90 degrees is not the low. So we put the cooler days to good use, topping up our outdoors-o-meter from it's below empty position.

Evelyn and I dug out all the potatoes at last which was hilarious because with each and every spud we unearthed she said "a potato!" as if she'd never seen one before. Actually she kept saying "A corn hot dog potato!" She's got a thing for corn dogs ever since she got one in Dallas and most of the potatoes I put in this spring were Russian Fingerlings which, I will admit, do look a lot like corn dogs, but it was still funny. We pulled out old bean plants and harvested a few ears of popcorn (now I have to figure out what to do with popcorn on the cob) and our very first fig, which I should have taken photos of but instead just ate right there next to the fig tree.

And we painted. Not the house (sigh, I'm so ready for the house to be painted I can't even tell you) but both the front and back steps into the house. The back deck got it's final (I hope) coat of paint and is looking much, much better than when it was ugly and red and the front steps got a coat of what I think is our official house color. I say I think because Will is still dithering a little. As it turns out, we didn't actually change colors, just sheen and quality of paint.

When I went in to buy paint after we had chosen a color, I decided to do something I never do with house paint, buy the good stuff. Generally I just go for the run of the mill, Lowes or Home depot paint. This is in part because we once bought Sherwin Williams paint and hated it, which turned us off to expensive paint in generally. And also because, well, it's always been easier to fit the standard house paint into the budget.

But this time I thought I'd be smart. I'd buy the fancy, primer and paint variety. We are going form white, crumbly paint to a very dark paint which means a lot of coats right? So the primer paint seemed like a good idea. Except it just didn't look the same. I think the fact that I'd chosen a satin sheen didn't help, but really, it looked like a different color altogether. Which just, ugg, was so frustrating. But low and behold when we picked up a quart of the color in flat paint, regular base, there was our color again.

I think Will is a little gun shy about the color now, he hasn't decided if he likes it or not. I painted the steps, which have always been an eye sore to me, in the hopes that after a few days he'll get used to it and we'll be set. But then again, we did repaint every single kitchen cabinet last summer when the color was not quite right. So I'd much rather he decide he wants a different color when just the steps are at stake than after the whole house is painted.

The funny thing to me, although maybe this isn't that odd, is that just having the front steps painted and the yard freshly mown makes me love my little house so much more. And just when I was starting to get frustrated with stalled projects and not quite strong enough air conditioners and stir-crazy, we-no-longer-have-a-playroom-and-it's-too-hot-outside nuttiness.

Now if it would only stay cool enough to get started on removing the siding. That, would really be fun.

(Did I just say removing siding would be fun?)