Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Apropos of Nothing

This is a completely non-knitting post. It's also non-family, non-craft, and non-a-lot-of-things. But it is about an issue that's close to my heart. And maybe it's really about family after all.

When I was a small girl I had a lot of interaction with a certain fashion doll. It was a love hate thing. I loved the wardrobe. I hated that she made me feel shorter and rounder than I already was. I sort of vowed that I would not allow her into my home if I had a girl child. Skipper, sure. But know who.

When Girl was a small Girl, and of an age to show interest in fashion dolls, I expended a great amount of energy explaining that we did not purchase those sorts of things because they were purveyors of objectification and unrealistic body image. In fact, by the time she was about 4 she could recite "Barbie promotes an unrealistic body image that is harmful to me and to other girls" almost as well as she could recite "Santa Clause is a mythical figure developed to turn Christmas into a retail event". Yup. I was THAT mom. Ice cream for supper? Sure. Dirty feet and pj's at the drive in? No problem. All the books you can read? You've got it! But Barbie, Santa and the Easter Bunny? No way.

Somewhere along the way I obtained a doll called "Happy to Be Me". My Aunt Blanche made her a whole wardrobe using custom-made patterns that she designed (I still have them). I gave her to Girl, and she did play with her - along with a few of those *other* dolls that she received as gifts from various well-meaning if misguided friends and relatives. Just the other day my granddaughter and I dragged my doll stash out...I was a little sad to discover that Happy's face had gone all green (matches her eyes beautifully). She has two friends - one blonde female Mattel doll that Girl kept because her make-up bleached off when she was left in the sandbox for a few months, resulting in a more 'natural' look, and an original straight leg 1966 Francie. They have some clothes - all of which fit either Happy or Francie brilliantly, but don't even come close to fitting what's her name. If it were up to me, I'd pitch the blonde, but Meg seems to want to hang on to her. It would be nice if Happy and Francie had some buddies to pal around with, and some updated accessories and clothes. Maybe someone a little fit and sporty? Someone with some shoes, since Happy has none? Someone who could fit in around here but still be fun to dress and play with and sew for?

Enter Lammily! You may remember that a year or more ago there was a bit of internet storm around images of what Barbie would look like if she had the proportions of a real actual woman. I was pretty excited to see it, and really hoped that someone would once again make a doll again based on that model. The closest I've come since Happy is a doll called Feral Cheryl from Australia that I still have failed to score - although I question her suitability as a play-buddy for my dolls here, with her bag of home grown herbs...we don't want any legal entanglements. But now here's the possibility - a small glimmer of hope - in the form of this new doll. Well, hats off to Mr Lamm, and here's hoping he hits his goal!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

And Then There Were Three

I don't even know where to begin with this one. Well. Maybe I do at that. It all began like this:

One day last summer the kids showed up at our house for a party of sorts. We were slow to move that morning. We had experienced a bit of disrupted sleep - I had a very vivid dream, woke up in the middle of the night, poked the man into awareness, and announced that our oldest and his wife were going to have a baby, and promptly went back to sleep. In the morning he said "You're nuts. You can't know that." But when the kids arrived and got out of there car, I watched them come in to the house, and I said to Mr. W "They are. She is. I just know it." He rolled his eyes. As I recall it was Father's Day weekend. There was sangria, an oddball clambake about to begin. But first there was the usual kitchen chatter - food prep, fruit chopping, and one little bit of business to clear up. 

Our oldest son handed me an envelope and said "We are going to want you to make us a couple of things, not right now, but within the next year, if you can. No big deal, just if you can...".

I opened the envelope, and found knitting patterns. Not just any knitting patterns - we are talking pitter patter of little feet type patterns - an adorable hungry caterpillar cocoon and the cutest little stuffed rabbit. I yelled "I KNEW IT!!" and Mr. W. turned to me with a surprised look on his face and said "You were right. How did you KNOW that?". I truly don't know how I knew, but I did.

The party that day proceeded with greater joy than might have otherwise been - and we are usually pretty good at joy around here. I love a party. Especially baby parties. Girl loves her sister in law, and wanted to have a shower for her, but doesn't have the space in her newlywed apartment for such things. Well, of course I offered up my humble abode - and assistance! After a lot of discussion of themes and plans, we decided on "Whimsical Woodland Baby". It started with an Etsy download of woodland clip art, and built from there.

We made a banner out of large pieces of scrapbook paper. I chose to use stash rather than print paper using the clip art files to save some trees and some pennies. I used my large simple wedge from Missouri Star to cut the triangles. We cut letters from cardstock to attach with glue stick onto the triangles to spell out a welcome for baby. Girl hole punched the triangles about an inch and a half in for ribbon to thread the letters on to.

The morning of the shower we hung it over our fireplace to good effect, I think - although I am biased.
Girl found a picture on line of cupcakes stacked on a cake stand made of wooden slabs. I loved the concept, and began looking for wooden slabs to make one of my own at local craft stores. The cost seemed a little prohibitive, and I thought I would have to discard the idea entirely, but the husband of a friend came through with slabs from a log in his yard. He also cut me a host of smaller logs, about the size of soup cans, to use as dividers between the levels of the stand. 
After some time with the drill I decided that drilling through the full length of a soup-can-sized-log is not worth the effort, and I substituted empty cans instead. If only I owned a drill press, right?! Each level of the cake stand was drilled through, and a central dowel was used to hold the whole thing in place. The soup cans were covered in birch bark that Girl and I peeled off of trees in my back yard. We glued the bark into place using a high-temp glue gun.
I love my high-temp guns. When I think back to my first glue gun - a little mini low temp job I had in the 80's? My how times and tools have changed. 
When we were done, we had cans that looked authentically birchy. 
And a stand that looked authentically woodland-y, too, right down to the part where it looks about to tumble down! We adjusted it for actual presentation, I promise.
Girl also found cupcakes with the most adorable red-capped toadstools made from meringue. I love meringue, so I jumped on that idea.
I made the caps and stems separately using this recipe. Once they were dry, I made holes in the caps with a chop stick and tucked the stems in, gluing them a bit with more meringue. They had another round in the oven to completely dry the "glue". When they were done, I carefully inserted a toothpick into the base of each mushroom so I could attach them easily to the cupcakes. I popped the picks into a couple of egg cartons to keep them safe and upright.
Early on the morning of the shower, I got up and painted the tops with awful, sticky, gloppy Wilton melting candy, then dotted on jumbo white nonpareils. If I had this to do over again I would find a better top for the mushrooms as this did not make me at all happy. A nice red glaze of some sort would have been a big improvement. These went on top of the red velvet cupcakes (adapted Alton recipe) with green-by-accident cream cheese frosting. My original idea was to frost each cupcake with regular cream cheese frosting, and place a single mushroom pick in the center of each cake. I had bought a special "grass" tip (Wilton #233) and thought I could then make a green butter cream, and pipe "grass" at the base of each 'shroom. Well, I made up the cream cheese frosting (Martha's), and without even thinking I dumped the green paste into it. At that point I could either scrap the whole batch and start over (expensive and I was running short on time) or just ice the cupcakes green and pop the mushrooms into place. I went with option two, and I am sad to say that I don't have a single picture. This is why I stink as a blogger. Once life starts moving forward, I don't stop for pictures. I just roll with it! You'll have to trust me that the effect of the cupcakes and whoopie pies scattered over the surface of the tree cake stand was both charming and whimsical. It was, I promise.
This bring me to favors - I had seen acorn shaped cookie and kiss combinations on pinterest, and so we decided to make some of our own. Finding just the right cookie was a challenge. I really like the look of mini peanut butter cookies because of the textured surface, but finding them was like looking for hen's teeth. We did find mini vanilla wafer cookies, though. And we had two types of kiss - dark chocolate and caramel filled. I loved the idea of the dark chocolate with a peanut butter cookie, and the vanilla cookie with the caramel filled kiss, but the elusive peanut butter cookies were ruining my schemes. After a long shopping day, I was on my way home and stopped at a gas station to refuel (me, not the car  - I needed a little Dunkin love!), and there I found exactly three serving-sized bags of miniature peanut butter filled cookies! Exactly what we'd been searching for for weeks, and exactly the quantity I needed! I bought them all, and we got to work.
We melted some mini chocolate chips in a custard cup. Each cookie was dipped into the chocolate, and a kiss attached. On the top of the cookie, a mini chip was similarly attached to form the acorn stem.
We placed 5 or 6 of the finished acorns into a glassine bag, then attached a little note of thanks to each, and placed them by the door for guests to take when they took their leave. I used the clip art in Publisher to make the tags.
 Adorable, if we do say so!
We also set up a onesie decorating station that featured two options for decorating. 
Grandma Mary had graciously assisted me by making a big pile of iron on shapes, and Gramma Jo contributed t-shirts and permanent markers. (Yes, the baby has three grandmas. We are an all-American family!) We set up a flat iron, directions, and laid out the pre-washed and re-pressed onesies, markers, and a box of shapes. I really loved this activity. It gives guests something to do, and is a great ice-breaker and conversation starter.
The t-shirts all stayed here, and I machine appliqued around all of the shapes so they will stay attached to the t-shirts during washing. Blast off! The shirts are adorable - again, you're just going to have to trust me on this.
We made so many things...let me see...oh! This was fun. A guessing jar stuffed full of needful baby things - each guest could guess the total number of items in the jar, and the guest who came closest won a prize. 
Mommy got the items from the jar, of course!
An unusual guest book idea - instead of the usual writing of names in a book, I used the clip art fox and traced him onto a piece of plain paper. Girl and I then hole punched a bunch of hearts. After guests write their name or sentiment on a balloon, they are invited to attach their heart to Mr. Fox's balloon strings. 
I love this, too! I also love that fox, bits n' pieces, I do.
Through it all, my faithful assistants stood by, ready to help in any little way they could.
On shower day, they were relegated to the bedroom where they did their best to contribute to the general chaos and noise of the gathering, per usual. Although they don;t know it, I even made them special "Do not open this door, please" signs for their rooms using the clip art and printed papers. They should be grateful, but they mostly were just glad when everyone left and they got their couch back.

When things got back to normal, Omie got to work on baby linen. Crib sheets, receiving blankets, swaddles. And everyone waited. We took a nice warm vacation to help pass the time. Baby even got to swam with dolphins before he was born.
And we waited some more.
And some more.
And a little bit more.
And then? Well. Let's just say the best things in life are extremely well worth waiting for.
 Don't you agree?

Monday, February 17, 2014

So There Are Still People Out Here?

I just sort of assumed everyone ran away! Since you've asked, this is a spinning wheel made by Betty Roberts in 1985. I posted pictures here because it gives me a link location for various websites where I am trying to sell the poor girl. She's a beautiful wheel, but I can't let her just go to anyone, so her value is a little high. $1600 high. Actually for a Roberts wheel, that's a really good price. You can see more images of Betty with some of her other wheels here. Mine is older than the ones pictured. Mine was made in 1985. It has lots of lovely turning, and the Betty's signature - "B.Jo" in tiny flowers embedded in the resin of the lower wheel.

She came to me sort of by accident, really. I remember the day I saw her in the barn of an estate clean-out shop near me. I had to have her, and I am glad I got her. But now things are changing here, and I have to find her a new home. Her name is Baby Rose. She can spin anything, with a huge range of ratios - although none are stated in her original paperwork. You just have to play with it and figure it out as you go, but she is can be used as either a double or a single wheel depending on how you tie up. Technically she is a single treadle, but the treadle is wide enough that you can comfortably sit and treadle with both feet, or with just one.
There's also a board that fits neatly along the back, not shown here, that holds an additional 4 bobbins. I have managed to keep most of the bobbins intact - only one has broken. There are 7 bobbins in all.
The problem is that these wheels do not, from what I've read, travel long distances well. The resin has a tendency to crack. They were (and are still) made in the Pacific northwest, and I really have no idea how this one wheel ended up on the east coast. But here she is. And we are set to travel next year - relocating - and I am afraid that with the amount of downsizing we need to do to make this move, there won't be room for her. If the right buyer doesn't come along, I will find a way to make room, because I adore this thing. It actually hurts me to think about parting with her, but sometimes life just makes changes for you.

That's all about the Baby Rose! But stick around - I am thinking about posting about a little celebration we had here a few months back. I could update you on what's going on in my knitting life, too, if you're interested! ;)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Punkin Season

No, I am not in New York. I know everyone is in New York. Life has been so awfully real in the last few years that Rhinebeck hasn't been what it once was for me. In the very beginning, it was Meg and Gene in sweaters I had knit for them, Dan dragged along for the ride, and a few barns and a couple of tents of things I had never seen before. There were no crowds, no lines, and it was a small slice of heaven for me, really. I am at my core a simple person with simple values who prizes small and undiscovered above all. That was a long time ago, before books, weddings, and grandbabies. Maybe next year, or maybe not - it depends on when this next book launches, I think.

But it is still autumn in New England - my New England, the one I've known since I was a pup. The colors change, the tourists come and take a gander, and clog up route 91 with their craning necks and indecisive speeds. Should we go fast? Should we go slow? Or can we just not make up our minds?

This week I spent a fair amount of time just being "in" autumn, as I prefer to know it. Girl and I went for apples in a local hill town, and made a splendid apple butter. I bought sweet pie pumpkins. I shredded and pounded ten pounds of cabbage into the Harsch for future sauerkraut. Tonight I chopped up an apple, added some extras, and stuffed a pumpkin. I am calling it dessert. Want to see?
Now, want to know what's in it? Ok, I'll tell you.

First, cut the top off of a tiny sweet pumpkin or two, and hull it/them with their tops. Then combine the following in a small bowl:

1 tart apple, cored and chopped
2T brown raisins
1 quite small sweet potato, peeled and chopped (about a half a cup when all's said and done)
2T brown sugar
1/4 cup apple butter (substitute 1/4 cup of applesauce plus a bit each of cardamon, cinnamon, clove and allspice)
2T butter cut into small pieces

Oil the outside of the pumpkin, including the top, with your choice of high-temperature oil (I chose peanut). Fill with the apple mixture, packing a bit as you go. Leftovers here went into a buttered custard cup to cook, but you can do what you will with them, if there are any. Place the top on the oiled, filled fruit and roast in a 375 degree oven for about an hour, or until the side of the pumpkin is easily pierced with a fork. Remove from the oven and allow to cool a bit - so it is still warm, but not too hot for what comes next!

Scoop some of the pumpkin stuffing and a bit of pumpkin meat into a dessert bowl. Top with rich, creamy premium vanilla ice cream. EAT ALL OF IT!

Happy Harvest, and may God smile on you as much as He's smiling on me!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Seeing is Believing

Well. I almost have a heckuva kitchen. You may remember that I had this kitchen about 15 months ago:

(Be aware: if I come to look at your house and I eventually buy it, I will post pictures from various showings on my blog, with all your stuff in them. Also if you look at a house with that many microwaves and toaster ovens? CHECK THE MAJOR APPLIANCES!)

What is not evident in the images is that the wood was in horrible condition in many places, rotted in some, worn beyond repair in others. The appliances, original to the house, were not great - although they did turn on and off - and sometimes without anyone pushing a button or turning a knob. The cabinets were not really functional for modern living, and certainly not for a cook. I think that this kitchen was a bit of a space age, TV dinner sort of a thing really. But I don't live that way, and for me this kitchen was just really intolerable. Kitchen snob: I am it!

Then I had this kitchen which I felt I had for entirely too long:

Then very (very) briefly I had this kitchen:

And then this kitchen:

which turned out to be a big old failed attempt to retain some of kitchen one in a misguided attempt to save money and resources.

Last but not least, I had this kitchen:

Definitely not a big favorite, except that it paved the way for the kitchen I have now. Because now I have a totally different kitchen, which is not quite yet ready for a full reveal. But trust me, it's amazing!

I have also had, for a long time now, a microwave cabinet of forgotten origin. You see it up there in a fair number of those images. I remember that it cost me all of about $100, and I know I bought it specifically for use in our old-old house during our kitchen remodel there. Thanks to a slick real estate deal I was able to double my money on a piece of land by selling it back to the original owner for twice the price I paid. Long story - just never sell a piece of land you think you might be attached to, or you'll find yourself buying it back for a lot of money. Anyway, I used the profit to invest in our old-old house - I had both kitchen and bath completely redone. At the time we still had kids at home, and we lived for a few weeks out of this microwave cabinet. It housed a microwave (who saw that coming?), toaster, and coffee pot along with lots of paper plates and utensils, bread, and peanut butter. And coffee. Lots of coffee.

Since then it's served us around the house(s) in a variety of ways. It has been used to hold video game systems along side it's junior sibling - who is identical in all but size. It has housed craft supplies. It was used by Mr. W to hold his cycling DVD's and two small televisions for when he rode on his bike trainer in the basement. It eventually became the island in my 1950's kitchen nightmare, and then most recently was again put into use as part of a temporary kitchen during this latest kitchen update.

I have loved it's usefulness, but it's appearance has left me pretty flat for some time now. I preferred it hidden in finished basements or craft rooms. It's junior sibling, for example, holds my primary sewing machine so that I can sew while standing up - a boon for ye old sciatic nerve problem. Out of public view, it does not offend. But in public view...well, I guess maybe I am just over it. Love, love the butcher block top, but over the unfinished exterior and the big blocky handles and drawer pull. So I decided that in order to continue to use it in the new kitchen (it makes a great island!) it would need a serious face lift. Initially I tried staining it the same color as the cabinets, which proved to be a hideous fail. The color wasn't a match at all and - worst of all - the stain clashed pretty violently with the aged and heavily treated butcher block top.

I started with a splotchy and brush-stroke-laden coat of the gray paint I'd used previously on the old cabinets we tried to salvage - Benjamin Moore Satin Impervo. I liked that color a lot - I think it's a Martha color, Chinchilla, which handily can be dumped into any Ben Moore paint. The neutrality of it would, I thought, work well in the kitchen again. Then I distressed the gray with a series of power and hand tools. Specifically, I beat the hell out of it with, in no particular order: a pair of scissors, an ax, a wire bristle brush, and my little DeWalt random orbit sander. Then I covered the whole thing with a brown glaze using a sample of brown paint left from Girl's wedding birdhouses and a jar of Martha Stewart glaze. I brushed that with a Martha Stewart wavy graining brush, being sure to go out of my way to get as much effect and odd layering as possible, but no waving. I just wanted the brush strokes and the removal of excess that this tool offered. Once that dried I coated the whole thing with Zar Ultra Max waterborne polyurethane; another leftover from a previous project. Waste not, want not!

And now I love it. I wish the butcher block was squared and not rounded. That's my only complaint.

It's neutral, distressed, abused, and has me written all over it. I love the rudely and roughly filled holes, the sand marks, the chips from the ax, and the lovely uneven brown glaze.

In the middle of this amazing new kitchen, surrounded by perfect cabinets and pristine flooring and appliances, it somehow fits right in. Just don't look too closely at the underside of that butcher block. I may have gone a little nutty...

Now, to find perfect knobs and pulls. Ideally I want something salvaged and old, maybe from a dresser, and with that in mind I stopped in at Fat Chance today on my way home from the Depot (where I procured a host of items ranging from silicone caulk to one ivy plant for that rejuvenated Crock Pot that works and still has it's cord but for now I've decided is a planter and is that a run-on sentence or what?):

I didn't find knobs. But I did find things to amuse me:

An adorable copper fondue set! It has forks, and even an old Sterno ad tucked inside.

Bunnies! Primitive bunnies missing body parts but needing love.

The new kitchen counter top doesn't come for days and days. Between now and then I can work on a book,  install the dishwasher, plan a baby shower, and make some newborn diapers for said baby. And try not to count the minutes before I can give you a tour of the whole kitchen, and explain how, on a budget resembling a shoestring, I managed to get a whole new kitchen in a matter of about 5 weeks. It's a good story, I promise!

Sunday, September 08, 2013

You'd Have to be There.

Sunday Morning Lap

Five women at prayer
enter into their chapel in Sunday best –
two in violet, one in blue;  two wear black.

A steeple rises outside the window
of their small watery church.
Each one comes to find solace in this place -
which to whom we do not know.

Their bodies slice through liquid blue like knives
as each finds the rhythm and pace of her prayer,

unspoken on the rippling waves that melt around them.

Sunday morning lap.


Saturday, September 07, 2013

Bed of Nails

Spent the morning tangoing with this... :

 (I did this one all by myself!)

which turned out to be the easy version of this... :

(I did not do this one by myself!)

a sheet of plywood sub-floor with enough nails to hold down a double wide in a tornado. The whole floor looked like this - nails, nails, nails, everywhere nails, in all shapes and sizes and styles and types. Everywhere. Nails. Mr. Wonderful pried the sheets up a little at a time, and I grabbed pieces as they came loose and held tension on them as high as I could from the sub-sub-floor so he could better position the pry bar for another round of tug o' war. As each sheet came slowly and gradually up, I found myself grappling to find a place to put my hands that didn't involve nails - hard to do when the nail-side is down, and my eyeballs are up. Once a sheet was free we carried it out of the house. Then it was lather, rinse, repeat until all sub-floor was removed.

We had visions of the "bed-of-nails-mouse-trap-effect" (use your imagination) described by a contractor friend, but managed to avoid it (Thank you, Father!). The most interesting moment came when I was holding tension on a sheet while Mr. W. pried on the opposite side. It was a tricky one; oddly shaped and resistant, so he told me to "go ahead and let it down" for a minute so we could rest and regroup - which I would have cheerfully done, because they are not easy to hold up when the forces of a million-billion nails (in a million-billion shapes and sizes and types...) are pulling them back to earth. But I couldn't let go without risking a partial mouse trap effect from knee to foot. Two of the nails had become stuck through my jeans, and had been scraping my leg with every movement. I hadn't mentioned it because I thought we'd have the sheet up and out in a few more tugs of the pry bar. One slip and I would have had nails embedded in my thighs just above the knee. Mr. W. was himself on the other side of the sheet of ply in such a way that he could not come around to assist. Eventually I managed to extract the denim from the nails, and let the sheet down for a minute before we resumed. Certainly an experience to add to the list of experiences we had at our first house (aka "hell house") and the new list we've begun compiling here. Based on the number of nails first in the cabinets and now in the sub-floor, Mr. W. has taken to calling it "Zombie Apocalypse House", as in "the builder thought one was coming any day, and wanted to be prepared".

Then we did some other little bits, much cleaning, and some temporary taping in of fixtures for visual support as we move through this. It's better to decide now that those recessed cans over the breakfast bar should be a little further back than to realize it after they're installed!

We won, in the end. And to reward ourselves we went to the fair for supper. Because nothing says "balanced diet" like real, skin-on french fries with vinegar and salt and ketchup, kettle corn, and lemonade, consumed while watching people, rides, and horse pulls. The sad part is that I did this - stuffed my freezer full of healthy meals so we would not end up living on popcorn until our kitchen is done.

(speaking of long do I think this kitchen will take, anyway?)

But who can resist the excuse of no kitchen to trot off to a fair and eat garbage for an evening? Between raw dog food and freshly killed chicken for people and meals ready to thaw and eat, I am officially declaring myself done with tomatoes. See this? Going to the chickens, every last fruit (excluding the corn), first thing in the morning.

I am completely out of freezer space. There's bags and bags of the things already in there, taking up space. They should be canned and processed and in the basement in tidy jars by now. But with an incomplete kitchen, that isn't going to happen until months from now. Frustrating, but it's just the way things will be. The fridge is stuffed with pickles (can't can those right now either) or I suppose I could make a whopping huge batch of salsa or something. Shame, but just the way it is. Figures that I have a bumper crop and no kitchen available.

Tomorrow I swim, leaving Mr. W here to finish off some kitchen things, and it may be the last swim for a week or two. On Monday things begin in earnest. Electricians and plumbers and cabinet deliveries, oh my! This means no kitchen, more or less at all, for the duration. As of tomorrow, dishes get done in the leaky bathtub on the other side of the house. Pray for me. I think I am gonna need it!