Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Flowers to brighten my day

My husband is a man of many talents--have I mentioned that before?  One of them is reading my mind.  I was dreaming of a purse for fall, thinking of an elongated shape with oranges and flowers.  In my mind, it had browns and was made of either corduroy or leather or some silky blend...I was trying to figure out how and when I was going to make it.  Then, what does he bring home to me as a surprise?  This purse!

He does not, as a rule, buy me flowers.  He grows them instead.  But he made an exception for this amazing bag.   It was a squeal-worthy gift, it was so perfectly out of my wishes.   Now I'm going to make a little cell-phone cover and a little business card holder from my remnants.  

Like everyone else, we are on a tight budget this year, and this is an extravagance that I wouldn't usually indulge in for myself.   That makes it that much sweeter.  Aren't all great surprises like that?

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Bookmark: pink gardens

Pink gardens are cheerful and so is this bookmark, I think.  The latest from last week's bookmark craze around here.

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

More snails?

Okay, I said this blog wasn't all about snails, and it's not. I swear!
But who could resist posting about these tiny little guys? Ada found them outside this morning during a break in the rain. They are soooo tiny! I used the macro lens to get a nice view of them, and Ada added the penny for perspective.

What I can't get over is how she found them. Think of trying to spot something as tiny as the question mark on your keyboard. Imagine trying to find them on slick stones that are the same color of shells. In the rain.   This is one of the many magical abilities of a seven-year old.  Why do we lose this as we get older?  I'm working to get that attentiveness back.

Take a look at their little translucent shells. Ada found 22 baby snails, and they are now in what she is calling the "snail nursery."  If they are anything like the 10 big snails we have, they will flourish under Ada's care.

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Friday, September 26, 2008

Johnny Appleseed

Happy birthday, Johnny. Not really the hokey character he is sometimes made out to be, John Chapman was an innovator and a man who ran against the grain. A free spirit, he wandered the east coast of the US for most of his 80 plus years, without possessions or pretension. He did ride along the riverways in a hollowed-out log, and he prided himself on living without traditional comforts. The stories you might have heard about him giving out appleseeds and building nurseries are true; what you might not know is that he was quite talented in land acquisition. When he died, he had over 1200 acres to his name.

Why do I like him? Okay, he was bit of a nutter, and that against-the-grain thing appeals to me. As does his idealism. He was someone who made a difference for thousands of people, and he did it without too much fanfare for himself. I remember reading about him in school a bit, but I really was inspired by him by reading Michael Pollan's Botany of Desire, which is one of my favorite books, by one of my favorite writers.

To honor Mr. Appleseed (or Chapman), I baked an apple tart. The apples are Macoun and Honeycrisp, two varieties unknown to Chapman's time, but increasingly popular today. I made my own puff pastry (Thanks again to Jacques Pepin's Celebrations), and I made up my own little pastry cream for the filling using applesauce, flour, sugar, salt, and cream. A bit of cream and sugar glaze on the crust, and voila! Johnny might have thought it too fancy, I'm sure, but we all thought it was pretty festive and delicious...

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Vignette - Poem

Poetry is one of my first loves, and I find some poems are constant companions. Some old friends, like this one, visit me in snippets while during the day, popping into my head unbidden.  Tess Gallagher's poem, "I Stop Writing the Poem." is a recent visitor of mine. I got it from Garrison Keillor's edited collection of poetry, Good Poems, which is one of my favorite anthologies of poetry. Reading an amazing poem is like eating a great piece of chocolate for me--I swoon. This one does it for me.

I Stop Writing the Poem

to fold the clothes. No matter who lives
or who dies, I'm still a woman.
I'll always have plenty to do. 
I bring the arms of his shirt
together. Nothing can stop
our tenderness. I'll get back
to the poem. I'll get back to being
a woman. But for now
there's a shirt, a giant shirt
in m hands, and somewhere a small girl
standing next to her mother
watching to see how it's done.

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Paris bookmark, version 2

This one's for me! And so fun to make!

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Paris bookmark, version 1

Another bookmark, collaged with Parisian mementos. For a swapper in the UK who likes Paris as much as I do.

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Collage bookmarks: Patricia Cornwell

I'm on the collage wagon, and the next few posts are going to show some recent examples of bookmarks I've been working on.

This one is based on a novel by Patricia Cornwell--I like the black and white and red theme running through it. A little spooky...but the effect is really pleasing. I chose text that reflected the mood of the book itself.

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Monday, September 22, 2008

School days

Growing up so fast! Better late than never--here is the photo from the first day of school. See the happiness on Ada's face, and the admiration of a little girl for her big sister.

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Spider's eye view

My husband is a man of many talents, and one of them is taking photos. This spider caught his eye recently. Here she is in her house outside our front door.

A shift in focus, and here is how the spider sees our house.

I love her beautiful colors--so reminiscent of the fall to come. Happy autumn.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Naked crayons

Esme insisted that these old, broken crayons wanted "to be naked awhile, Mama." So they are. And into the oven they'll go to make lovely, new, chunky crayons for the girls. Ada arranged them into cups, and they're so pretty like this, it's a shame to melt them.

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Owl ATC #2

This thing has been chasing around in my head for a few months now. Trial and error, even for such a small thing, makes for satisfaction when the project is done. What took so long was figuring out how to make it open from this

to the larger owl that you see in the first photo. Cloth owls, while cute, don't hold up on a fold out. Velcro works better than button closures on paper. And reinforced cardstock was the way to go. As I said, small things, but lots of little tinkering...
Now it's done! And off in the mail to Nicole...

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Fabric! Projects!

Lest it seems this blog is all about the snails and chasing kids, I had to do a little show-and-tell about my project planning. I am in fabric heaven with these, and so I'm making a little batch of pencil cases and aprons. I know I'm not the only one who lays out fabric around the house just so I can walk by it and sigh...please tell me I'm not the only one who sighs at fabric stacks piled up around her house..

Here are some stacks that make me smile lately.

Love these with the winking owls. Now some pretty ribbon and some buttons...fun.

The strawberries print and the folksy print are for a swedish apron.

And these dots and birds are for Ada's pencil case...shh. Don't tell.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Making laundry soap

We are now on the bandwagon of "greener," and as part of that (and to save some pennies), I'm making my own laundry soap. 

I have to say, on the scale of pioneer women, I fall someplace between Laura Ingalls Wilder and Holly Hobbie. And I'll tell you right now I am addicted to electricity--the computer, the tv, the sewing machine, the phone, the washing machine and dishwasher, not to mention the fridge and the vacuum and all the other good stuff I use each day. Like lights.
So don't count me off the grid just yet.

But I do like to make my own stuff. Laundry soap is the latest on that list. It's not hard, and it's cheap, it works gently on the clothes, and best of all, it smells really good.  Oh, yeah, and I know what's in it--no toxic stuff to stoke my hypochondriacal fears.

To make it, I took recipes from several websites, and I tinkered with different combinations. After a few tries, I discovered the one that works best for me:

1 bar of ivory soap
a half bar of Fells Naptha soap
1.25 cups washing soda
1.25 cup Borax
16 cups water

scents, if you want. I use:
2 teaspoons lavender essential oil
2 teaspoons vanilla essential oil
1 teaspoon sweet fennel essential oil

Other things you'll need:
a grater or food processor with grater attachment
a large pot for dissolving the soap flakes
a larger pot for combining all the ingredients
a wide-mouth canning funnel
two old laundry jugs for storing your mixture

  1. Grate the soap in the food processor or on a grater. Stir the grated soap bits in 4 cups of water in the large pot , and heat it on medium heat on the stove. You don't want it to boil--it will bubble over! Instead, you want it to be hot enough to hurry the soap into a liquid. 
  2. Next, heat the other 12 cups in the larger pot. Add the dissolved soap mixture, then the washing soda. Stir it until it's dissolved, then add the Borax, stirring again until dissolved. It should get pretty smooth and glossy, like the picture. Set it aside to cool, stirring it a few times, and adding your fragrance.
  3. Once your mixture is cool, it will separate, and you'll have soapy water with clumps. You can break these up a bit and then use the funnel put it into your storage jugs. I did this a few times, and found it worked well, but the mixture didn't last as long because you end up wanting to add more "clumps" to your wash to make sure you get enough. The clumps, by the way, dissolve in the washing machine without any problems. You won't need to swish it around--it breaks down easily in the wash.

After making this a few times, I added one more step: I mix the completely cooled mixture in the blender, in several batches. Having an even consistency makes the soap last longer, and I'm able to get it into the jugs more easily.

For cleanup, I wash the pots, funnel, grater, etc, with the soap that's on them, then I rinse with a vinegar and water mixture before I dry everything. This removes any hint of residue that sticks to the plastic.

As I said, the soap works really well, on regular laundry and on stains. I fill two 77 oz containers with each batch, and they last me around 3 weeks, or 30 plus loads of laundry. The ingredients: about $2.50. Total cost of soap per load--8 cents. Not bad.   Saving or no saving, it's sort of fun. 

It takes about 15 minutes of active time to mix, stir, wash, and pour into jugs.  Less time than it takes to get to the grocery store.   And goody--I save gas!  But even better, I don't have to deal with putting Esme in the carseat for yet another trip...

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Green grocery bags

It's a trend, and a lasting one, I hope. I've got a thing for reusable grocery bags. (See the one I made for a swap in this post.) It's my fall resolution to remember to bring them into the store every single time I go out...I'm still working on it.

I added to my collection of bags this past weekend with one from my friend, Alex Kent, a local artist.

Don't you just love this rooster? He makes me want to run right out to the farmer's market!

I've got plans for more canvas bags of my own for a fundraising project...details coming in November.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

The sky was blue on September 12th, too

Like so many other people this week, I found myself lost in thoughts of seven years ago, remembering. Indulge me as I take a detour from the tone of my normal postings, and reflect on where I was this week in 2001...

Do you remember how blue the sky was? All along the east coast, it was a stunningly clear day, bright and clean, and a welcome reprieve from the summer. A perfect fall day. Normal, everyday, happy. Until.

Until the phone call from my husband that sent me to the television, and we saw the second plane hit. You know the story from there. We all do. The phone lines were jammed; the news, stammered by reporters as stunned as we were, became an instant addiction. The world tilted for me as the pentagon was hit, then as the impossible happened--the towers fell. I was convinced then that more terrible things really could happen, and would keep happening.

Anxiety, not a stranger to me on any day, was overwhelming that afternoon. The day was wrongly beautiful. The sky, eerily silent and empty of any planes, was sharp with blue and cloudless, yet the birds and crickets continued to sing, the sun continued blithely across the sky. Lines from Auden's poem, Funeral Blues, kept popping into my mind:

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the woods;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

The sky was perfectly clear on September 12th, too. And I was, admittedly, at a safe remove. I was near Washington DC at the time, but not in it. But "safe" was something I wouldn't feel for a long time. The low drone of fighter jets crossing the sky all night woke me for weeks, and comfort eluded me for much longer.

2974 people died in those attacks that day, and our world did indeed tilt off its comfortable axis. Peace to their souls and their families...

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

More uses for chalkboard paint: An art wall

I keep finding ways to use chalkboard paint. Fun and useful, it finds its way into many of my projects. Here is the most recent project: an art wall.

With school starting, we will need another place to put Ada's creations. Right now, we hang some on walls, and the rest go into an art portfolio we use to save favorites. But wouldn't it be nice to really display them, with comments and dates? My big idea is to rotate the artwork every few weeks, including some from Ada, and some from Esme, and let this be their wall of pride.

Some tips on how I did this:

  • The "frames" are actually gallery canvases in various dimensions, which I painted with several coats of chalkboard paint.
    I used this style frame because the depth on the gallery canvas sets off so well against the wall.
  • I hung them as I would other canvas paintings--putting very small screw-eyes into the interior, and wrapping a picture wire through the eyes.
  • Because I don't want these frames sliding around the wall each time I change out the art, I anchored them to the wall with a little velcro dot on the underside of each frame. One side goes on the wall, and one side goes on the frame. If you do this, learn from my past mistakes: don't undo the sticky on the wall side until you've got the frame where you want it--and level. I used a little level to assist, and it made a difference. I put the dots in the corners like this:

  • To hang the art, we're just using doublestick tape. I don't know if it will eventually peel the paint from the canvas, but that is easily fixed--unlike a whole wall.
  • Leave room under each piece for notes with a chalkpaint marker (love these too!), et voila!
  • When the exhibit changes, just swap out the art and erase the old entry.

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Friday, September 5, 2008

Photo Flashback

We found this photo recently after reminiscing about our surrey. Here's a shot of me when I was seven. Now they love it as much as I did, and the tradition continues...

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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Joyful moment

Sometimes our awareness of the world unclouds for a swift and fleeting moment, and for just that instant, you can feel the amazing gift of your own life. I love these joyful moments, and I try to hold onto the memory of each one when they come.

You must know what I mean--you are toodling along through your life, doing something very ordinary, when something strikes you as particularly poignant. And for that brief moment, you realize how full and beautiful and perfect life is, just as it is in that space of time. If I am lucky, I can hold that feeling for a few minutes--and then it's back to the routine perceptions of everyday life.

One morning last week I was hit by that feeling again while washing the breakfast dishes. The air was late-summer cool, and filled with lazy cricketsongs, and it flowed in the window near the sink. I turned on the faucet, watched the soap bubbles and steamy air as it floated around my face, and suddenly I was profoundly happy. While washing dishes.

Call it an epiphany, call it a brief rapture, call it crazy. But as mundane as life can be, it is a blessing just to be. In fact, mundane itself is a blessing. I am grateful for the slow times, my uneventful seasons, my simple routines. It is a fortune indeed to have dishes to wash, a sink to wash them in, and senses to notice the tiny beauties that surround the most basic of days.

May we all have these moments, shimmering, delicate, and fleeting as soap bubbles.

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Monday, September 1, 2008

Harvest time: part one

The garden is full of goodness this time of year, and I'm going to share my goodies with you--well, photos of them, at least.

This photo is a bit rough, but I like it--the texture and variations in color are really interesting to me. It looks how it feels under your hand--sort of bumpy and sticky and smooth all at once.

Anyway, this is just one of the enormous sunflowers that grew this year--the tallest is over 12 feet tall, and the heads are the size of dinner plates. I have no idea what made them giants this year and not last year, but they are glorious to look at. And the seeds are good, but very labor intensive. Drying them out and salting them is no big deal, but eating them is another story.

Following the model of how to make pumpkin seeds, we soaked them in saltwater overnight, then salted them, and baked them for 4 hours in a low oven. When they were done, they smelled great, and so I just popped a few of those salty little guys right in my mouth, like roasted pumpkin seeds. Which they are not. After hacking and sputtering out a few of the shells, I figured out --uh, you don't eat the shells. No kidding. Which is why I have never seen sunflower seeds sold this way in the store. Come to think of it, even the birds leave the shells on the ground...

After hulling a few to get the meats, we agreed that while the seeds are tasty, they might not be worth the effort right now. Looks like we'll be saving the heads for the birds to eat this winter. Sharing the harvest, as I said.

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