Archive for September, 2010

I’ve grown weary of tomatoes rotting in my kitchen.

Thus begins this year’s review of The Garden.  And what a year it was – the Year of the Volunteer Plants, the Year of Mud, the Year of Mosquitoes, the Year of ‘Hey – Stuff Actually Grows Here,’ all of which boils down to this one designation:  2010:  The Year of Rain. Lots of it.

While I haven’t much spoken about the unceasing bounty of this year’s garden, it’s because I was reporting on other, shinier things.  Behind the scenes, I’ve actually been quite busy picking and washing and canning and pickling and jamming.  Most of that inevitably happened in the hour or two preceding a big weekend trip out of town.  For at least three weeks in a row, this scene played out in a relentless loop, leaving me breathless and exhausted and quite pickled-out, with no energy left to photograph or blog about any of it, and even less energy to properly preserve any garden thing that came after.

And now I’ve arrived in that season where the over-ripe tomato hits the fan, so to speak.  It’s the time of year when there are so many balls up in the air to be juggled that a few inevitably crash to the ground, some making a bigger, smellier mess than others.  I’ve just now decided to pull my head out of the sand to assess the damage and while I’m at it, dispel a persistent myth.  As we speak, a kettle of tomatoes sits atop my kitchen counter emitting a steady stream of noxious, rotting gasses.  I’d feel better if I could tell you it was the first batch of the season to suffer such neglect, but, well… Isadora just had a birthday, complete with a party!  We just painted the living room!  Four coats of paint! I just got a spinning wheel, which didn’t shop for itself! Said living room needed to be redecorated! Completely! Did I tell you we got another batch of chicks? Yes, we did! Did you see I participated in KCWC? Yes! And on, and on and on.  Can you see, (quite clearly) can you smell, even, just how vividly I don’t even come close to ‘doing it all?’ Can you see that all of the triumphs that I report about here are the result of choosing how to spend my time, leaving some key tasks to fall to the wayside?  Sigh.  I get accused of ‘doing it all’ all. the. time.  Here I shall set about swiftly debunking this grievous myth.

There are tomatoes rotting on my kitchen counter.  My family was unreasonably challenged in finding clean clothing to wear this morning, yesterday, the day before, etc.  Yeah, I bake all of our bread and make all of our yogurt, but I only just made a batch of dough a few days ago, after going without for quite some time.  It’s been at least three days since I’ve served a vegetable with an otherwise protein-laden supper.  (gasp!)  File these tidbits away, please, for the future when I post some magically-lit, beautifully-enlarged photo of something wonderful that I just made and you are tempted to beat your head against the wall for not having the time or the idea to do or make whatever you think you should be doing or making if only you had more time.  It’s funny (and kind of sad) how blogging, which is really just holding up a magnifying glass to a tiny aspect of what is actually Real Life, tends to portray the bloggers as super-human.  I find myself feeling the same way, usually when reading about some wonderful approach to parenting that someone is generously sharing, which I take as finite proof that I’m not nearly as good a mother.  I’d really like to be done with that.  You?

In that spirit, I shall resume my Garden Recap, serving it up with a healthy dose of grace and self-forgiveness.  Deep breath.  Come wintertime, we will be light on stewed tomatoes, but still enjoying the many quarts Grandma so generously canned up last year for us.  We will, however, enjoy some new additions to the pantry:  a few quarts of the perfect marinara, a delicious riff on Soule Mama’s Tomato Soup, and roasted red peppers.  Our delicious homemade bread will be enlivened by the Strawberry/Raspberry jam I finally got around to making, but I fear we’d enjoy it lots more if I weren’t so skimpy on the honey to sweeten it.  Noted for next year.  In the height of my preserving burst of energy, I put up legions of Grandma’s World-Famous Dill pickles, which I’m delighted to say I grew entirely from the bountiful Pickle Bed of my garden.  It was my first time growing them myself and the soaring high I gleaned from harvesting the cukes, garlic, and dill all from the same garden bed was elating enough to propel me through all of those quarts of canning in such little time before rushing out the door for the weekend.  The squash are starting to take shape, there are sweet potatoes, popcorn, beets and cabbage all a bit small to harvest.  An abundance of swiss chard and kale is making me frantically rummage through back issues of Eating Well magazine for all of those recipes I remember seeing that prompted me to plant all those leafy greens in the first place.  The onions are still laughing at me, having disappeared from existence before producing a single bulb.  And it’s about time to plant the garlic for next year.  I didn’t get to all of the fall seed planting and cold-frame-building that I was dreaming about when I kept compulsively buying seeds mid-summer, but I suspect they’ll keep till next spring.  Oh, and there’s TOBACCO.  But that’s a story for another day.  Next week, perhaps?  I also plan on showing you our awesome new living room, so cleverly put together from all kinds of repurposed things.  If, on that day, seeing those pictures makes you feel like your own living room is a failure, and that surely the water out here is infused with some kind of genius, just remember that I probably still have that same pot of rotting tomatoes on my kitchen counter.

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KCWC – Day Five

Click on photo for tutorial for pattern weights.

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KCWC – From the Runway of Bus 847

Like a shoemaking-elf, I snuck into The Girl’s room late last night to deposit this dress on her What I Shall Wear Chair for her to find in the morning.

It was ridiculously simple to take this Girls Size 10 long-ish shirt and make it into a dress for a 5 year old.  First to go was the hood – I hate them.  I left a half-inch attached, folded it over, fancy-sewed it with my free-motion foot, and called it good.  The sleeves were cut off to length, raw edge rolled up into a sort of cuff.  To secure it, I literally ‘drew’ a sleeve tab with free-motion stitching.  Perhaps you can see it a bit in the photo below.

The single most important part of this dress, however, is the part that ensures ‘wearability.’  That’s the flower.  Statistically speaking, my daughter is 98.64% more likely to willingly wear a piece of clothing I make for her if it includes one or more of the following:  PINK, flowers, sparklies, or fuzzies.

The hardest part of this ensemble?  Braiding her hair.  We suspect she may have the world’s most sensitive scalp, which pretty much guarantees that every hair-brushing is fraught with tears.  Most days we opt for an artistically-tangled cascade of loose curls.

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KCWC – pants, but more importantly, a Printable for you!

I thought I’d do some sewing calisthenics to get the week started and whip out these pants.  The stripedy boy pants have been languishing on my shelves for an embarrassingly long time.  Let’s just say we’re lucky they still should fit him.  The loud starry pants were a new project, however, and were made from a larger pair of loud starry pants.  A pretty easy process – all you need are a few measurements.  I did have the presence of mind to measure the girl before she ran off to bed or to school, but wasted a whole passel of time looking for that shape-shifting scrap of paper when the time came later to cut and sew.

And then it hit me.  How about investing in a solid piece of paper, well designed, and capturing all the measurements I will ever need in one place?  Perhaps I could even keep it in a safe place so that I could, for example, refer to it more than once.  Major breakthrough here.  We all know how it goes – sewing time only manifests when the littles are napping or gone or otherwise unavailable for periodic fittings of whatever we’re sewing.  While I’ve taken their measurements a million times over, I’ve never done so on a piece of paper I’d ever be able to find again.  I’m not alone here, right – this happens to you, too?

I took the liberty of solving the problem for all of us and designed this snappy little Measure Up! Cheat Sheet – one for boys and one for girls.  It should last as long as they do in a given size.  Might be handy for the rest of the KCWC?  Enjoy!

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Refashion – a piggyback KCWC challenge

The Kids Clothes Week Challenge (KCWC) is just around the corner.  Do you have a plan yet on how you might proceed?  I am especially inspired this morning after putting together a rather questionable ensemble for Isadora to wear to school.  Having ransacked all of her drawers, pulling out anything with a size 4 tag to sell at a local resale event, we were left with one long sleeve shirt and one short sleeve dress.  Both had pink in them, so they match, right?  I’ll be refilling those drawers with some size 5 goodies after I visit the sale today and also as KCWC progresses next week.  Which brings me to a sort of piggyback challenge:  Refashion.  Can we rock this challenge and crank out a whole pile of wonderful clothes, refashioned from larger thrift store cast-offs?  Hell yeah!  Join me!

The biggest wardrobe void I need to fill for The Girl is long-sleeve shirts.  We’ve had the problem before, and I’ve found myself frustrated with both the quality and variety out there.  I really can’t be bothered to shop for brand-new clothes if I can avoid it – underwear, socks, and sometimes pajamas excepted.  With this in mind, I tackled the problem head-on about a month ago, driving somewhere in the vicinity of Dig & Save, our thrift Mecca, when I suddenly realized that it was Wednesday.  Half-price day.  Clothing on Wednesdays sells for just 50 cents a pound, instead of the usual $1.00.  Yes, I think I shall, I said to myself in that most-satisfied-with-my-rampant-cleverness tone.

In the amount of time it took me to schlep the kids out of the car and into a cart, weave around the congestion in the paltry store aisles, divert the attention of my nap-deficient kids with things that were SHINY or FUZZY or (God forbid) LOUD, I was able to heap the cart with a delicious array of clothes from which to construct smaller clothes.  I heaved the shopping cart onto the industrial-grade scale at the checkout, removed my kids (they were already paid for) and proceeded to hand over $12.00 for the whole lot.  Hot damn.

So I shall be working from this collection all next week.  I happen to have this Jalie pattern for knit tops that I’ll use for reference.  I will also reference the infamous 90 Minute Shirt tutorial, where I hope to glean some tips on the best way to apply binding on the edges.  Mostly, though, I’m going to sharpen my scissors, take a deep breath, and start cutting. The real beauty in working with thrifted materials like these is the freedom they give you to cut and pin and experiment with abandon.  You don’t need to be too ‘precious’ with the fabrics, or too afraid to cut into it because you’ve only invested a few quarters into each one.  This is where incredible design innovation happens!

Care to join me?

Pull out the pile of clothes you were going to donate, or the pile of clothes you might already have collected for this very purpose, and use your kids already-fitting clothes as a template.  You sure don’t need a pattern – they are far less useful, actually, when not working with linear piece of yardage.

Some hints –

+  If using your child’s clothing as a pattern, be sure to consider the stretch (or ease) needed.  Using a pair of knit pants as a pattern to make cotton pants will give you a pair of new pants with too little ease to fit over the butt.  Try to match like pattern clothes to like fabric.

+ A good exercise to help pair up fun and clever design combinations?  Pretend you’re doing a photo shoot of your collection, like for a blog, and try to lay them out in the most interesting way possible.  Fan-tastic.  I dare you not to drop everything and start sewing that very minute.

Let’s do it!

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Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

This week is neck and neck with last week in the contest for Busiest Week Ever.  While I wade through the thick, murky craziness, why don’t you feast your eyes upon this?

Sheep courtesy of the WI Sheep & Wool Festival (alas - not ours)

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{this moment}

Playing along with SouleMama this week:

{this moment} – A Friday ritual. A single photo – no words – capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. If you’re inspired to do the same, leave a link to your ‘moment’ in the comments for all to find and see.

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Today she fledged.

Our first baby left for Kindergarten this morning.  With a giant grin on her face and a twinkle in her beautiful hazel eyes, she donned her backpack and jumped right out of our cozy little nest.  Her wings were sure and we trust that they carried her with ease to new adventures, new friends, new ideas.  At the last moment, though, I tried tethering her just a bit, carefully attaching a string from my heart to her, to be extra-sure she wouldn’t fall.  This panic hit me rather unexpectedly – I had been excited right along with her until that very moment.  How can this be, I thought to myself, tying an extra knot in the heart-string.  How can this be our girl – so big, so fast?  It was the same refrain I imagine all parents sing when that very real incarnation of Time Passed smacks us square in the face and we have to let go of our baby’s hand, if only for a bit.

Of course we’ve been anticipating this day for quite some time.  Before Isadora was two years old, we realized the uncommon decision we’d have to make for her regarding school.  With a mid-September birthday, she would miss the official cut-off for starting school by a mere pocketful of days.  What would this mean for her?  Would the extra time at home work to her advantage?  Would she be better served as the oldest or youngest in her class?  For years we sorted through the pros and cons.  We considered her personality, her aptitude, her hunger for knowledge and the deftness with which she absorbed new information.  We considered ourselves and our own preferences, asking, if if were us, which scenario we would prefer.  Pretty early on, it became clear to us that she might be ready to jump in on the earlier end.  We continued to assess, observe, consider.  And then the time came to begin the rigorous process of early admission testing.  To be allowed to start school before the state-mandated age of 5, she would have to test exceedingly high in a battery of tests and peer interaction.  She passed the tests easily; our conviction was validated.

So here we are on this day sending our almost-five-year-old off into the Big World.  Or at least into the Kindergarten corner of that Big World. We all walked her to the end of the driveway to wait for the bus to come.  (only marginally less exciting than going to school was getting to ride the bus)  She was clearly ready to go, of this Daddio and I have absolutely no doubt.  Her brother, though, I was a bit worried about.  He prides himself in being her biggest fan, her shadow, her willing puppet.  We had to wake up The Boy this morning well before his normal time, so that he could physically see his girl get on the bus and leave.  Without him.  Last night, in a particularly sweet heart-to-heart, Isadora expressed some of this same concern for her brother.  ‘I just told Errol something very important and special,’ she told me.  ‘I told him that I was going to marry him so that we could be together always.  I will never ever leave him, even when I’m old enough to go away to college, because he would just wail and throw a fit.  So we are going to get married and always be together.’  Okay.  ‘Well,’ I said, ‘you have lots of time to think about it.’  So that took care of that.

We heard the bus before we saw it, rolling down the road.  My eyes welled up, and we walked her across the road.  Confident as can be, she marched right up those bus steps and tugged at that string that I had so carefully tied around her.  She tugged it clean off, leaving a small, but fresh wound on my heart and it stung.  Boy, did it sting.  I was truly surprised at how much.  And then she was off.

So here I sit, bawling all over again as I write out the details, lest they be lost in the swift current of time.  The house is quiet now; The Boy is sleeping.  It is a house full of promise and new adventures for me, too.  And I am off.

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