Wednesday, August 31, 2011

There's a catch-phrase for this ...


... and that phrase is "toddler negativism." It's totally normal. But let me tell you: it's also ass-kicking.

So, the other day, I made Joe some macaroni and cheese. It's my every toddler's favorite, right? Well, it was really hot. And I didn't want to burn my baby's mouth. So I shoved Joe's bowl in the freezer, for just a few minutes, to cool it off for him.

Joe started screaming, of course. He saw the mac and cheese! And then I took it away! Horrors!

Explanations did not help. Helplessly, I saw Joe descend into tantrum-mode. It's not a rational place to be. Once you've started in on a tantrum, it's very hard to get out.

So even after I pulled the cooled bowl out of the freezer and set it down in front of him, Joe kept on screaming. Because I had offended him by making him wait. I mean, gosh darnit, he wasn't even hungry anymore. That'll show me, right?

But all he actually said was "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!"


At which point, Joe threatens to throw the whole bowl on the floor! So I took the bowl back, because, hello, that's precious mac and cheese right there, kiddo. No way I'm letting it get fed to the dogs (sorry, dogs). Also, um, that's a ceramic bowl.

Which resulted in, completely unprompted, this:


(Ha! I ran for the camera. You know you're hardened to toddler drama when your first okay, second thought after your child starts to tantrum is that you might as well capture it on film. Especially that dramatic hand on forehead gesture! Poor kid, he doesn't realize that he is a (super cute) stereotype of melodrama.)

After a few more minutes of angry screaming, I took Joe out of his high chair, set his screaming self down, sat down at the table, and started eating myself. I think I tried to say some reassuring and upbeat things, but really, it's all a blur. As my friend Melissa told me, "Studies have shown that the sound of crying babies actually messes with our brains and prevents us from thinking clearly." And I'm here to say, anecdotally at least, that this is true. Especially if it's your baby.

At some point, I tried giving Joe a bite of food.

And he took it. The screaming stopped. Oh, thank heavens, peace and quiet.

I guess I was forgiven? Whew.

It's all part of Joe expressing his independence, becoming his own person, growing up, all that good stuff. But, like I said: Ass-kicking.

Monday, August 29, 2011


  1. I have a new sewing machine!
  2. I haven't really sewed anything with it yet, but I did read the manual.
  3. We have harvested two ripe tomatoes now! That's good because it would be embarrassing to enter September without a single garden tomato.
  4. I baked my Nanny's World War II Ration Cake, and it turned out ... better than I imagined it would!
  5. I'm thinking of painting our kitchen. 
  6. Joe is saying so many new words! And word combinations! Mostly in the form of dictatorial commands, like, "Daddy! Outside!" That's pretty much a sentence, right? (Or two.)
  7. I have so much to blog about, but for some reason, am lacking the motivation to actually write blog posts ... 
  8. But I'm sure that will change soon.
  9. Because that's how it usually happens.
  10. More soon!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Pillowcase Clothespin Apron.

I haven't sewn much this past week, but I did take a little time on Sunday to test a pattern for my new bloggy friend Jeannie at Life on the (Clothes) Line. After I posted about Nanny's recipes last week, I sent a quick email to Jeannie to let her know that I thought her series on her great-grandma's recipes was awesome. Since then, we've exchanged a bunch of emails, and we have tons in common: sewing, an appreciation for history and old-timey stuff, clotheslines, cute kids. It's hard to believe I've only known her for a week!

So I was very honored to test her pillowcase clothespin apron tutorial. It's super easy to put together, requires only one pillowcase and thread, and leaves almost no scraps.

Pillowcase Clothespin Apron

I used a yellow printed pillowcase that I suspect is a cotton/polyester blend. That's perfect, because I prefer to sleep on 100% cotton so I could repurpose this with no qualms (wash and wear!). Because I have a pathological inability to follow directions to the letter, I omitted some of the topstitching that Jeannie uses (also, my bobbin case was giving me some trouble, making topstitching a pain in my rear). It's a pretty subtle difference, though.

Here I am modeling it with my Colette Violet Blouse.

Pillowcase Clothespin Apron

It's a really fun project, suitable for rank beginners. And the end result would be perfect for holding clothespins while you hang your laundry to dry, or for holding bits and bobs while you sew or craft, or for harvesting shelling beans and cucumbers from the garden. Go check out the ones that Jeannie made! (She's also selling completed aprons in her Etsy shop.)

In other news, I might be getting a new sewing machine, thanks to my sweet and thoughtful husband!! And by new, I mean, new. I've never had an actually new sewing machine, I've only ever had new to me sewing machines, so this is a big deal. While vintage machines have served me really well over the years, I am not deaf to the siren call of a stretch stitch (other than zig-zag), invisible zipper foot, and decent buttonholer! (And I don't know - a bobbin casing without a spur that tangles up my thread and ruins my topstitching might be nice too.) Stay tuned!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Help with spider identification?

Speaking of our garden, check out this guy/gal!


Steve discovered him/her when he walked into his/her web the other night. After wiping web out of his hair, he looked up, and ... WHOA. It's about two or three inches across (including legs), which is probably nothing for you Australian readers, but for our area: freakishly big.

We did a little internet searching using highly technical terms like "Big Furry Brown Spider Northern California" and came up with nothing. We don't know what type of spider this is. It's big. It's furry. It has a large and somewhat odd-shaped abdomen. It makes big webs between our gutters and the side of the house (i.e., it does not burrow like a tarantula).

If you're still reading and haven't immediately skipped to "next item" on your reader or run squealing from your laptop, you probably know more about spiders than I do. What is this?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Year of the Bean? and Garden Tour.

Remember back in the early, optimistic days of Spring, when I declared 2011 to be the year of the shelling bean? Remember how I ordered four different types of beans from the Seed Savers Exchange and planted them in our front yard, where they were going to climb a bamboo tee-pee? And how I bragged that it would be epic?

Well, about those beans. They're sad, small, scrawny, stripped practically bare by snails, and haven't even made it halfway up the bamboo tee-pee.

They are decidedly not epic.

Garden August 2011
Small, sad, bean plant.

This Spring was wetter than usual for Northern California, and this Summer has been cooler than usual. In an area that suffers from cool, overcast, foggy summers in the best of years, we don't have much margin for error here. So this year we've had a bumper crop of snails, and not much else.

Nonetheless, I have harvested a few beans. Here is my haul from the other day.

Shelling Beans
Bean pods.

Which yielded this tiny bowl of beans.

Shelling Beans

And this larger pile of compost.

Shelling Beans

With shelling beans, it's a little hard to know when to pick them. I want the beans to be big and swollen, but still green and fresh. I haven't quite figured out what this looks like on the outside of the pod. But even when they are small and underripe, they are still tasty. These went into an orzo salad, which was quite yummy! (I only had to supplement them with half a bag of frozen baby limas. Sigh.)

While not "epic," the front yard is looking much lusher now than it did this Spring.

Garden August 2011
Note cloudy sky.

This roma tomato plant is threatening to take over the whole yard. I planted several different kinds of heirloom tomatoes, which are doing so-so with this cool summer; Steve got this plant for 99 cents at CVS and it is kicking the heirlooms' butts. We don't know what variety it is, so I've been referring to it as our "mystery cool-weather tolerant roma."

Garden August 2011
I think it's safe to say it's an "indeterminate" variety.

It's mid-August, and we still haven't had a single ripe tomato. Sigh. That tomato on the top left of this plant seems to be turning yellow-green now, so that one might be our first. If we could just get a few warm days ...

Our little pepper plant is hardly thriving but it has put out a few peppers!

Garden August 2011
Small, but cropping on our "hot" front steps!

I dreamed of having a front yard just full of sunflowers. I don't know about that, but as with the other plants, the sunflowers are hanging in there, and putting out some lovely flowers.

Garden August 2011

It's not the epic garden I dreamed of in April, but I haven't lost all hope yet. The Bay Area is famous for its glorious Septembers and Octobers, so we may have a "summer" yet. With no hard frost, we have historically harvested tomatoes in November in this area. That's if the sun comes out, anyway.

So please think good (warm) thoughts for our garden! And for me! It would sure be nice to be able to shed this cardigan, at least for a few hours ...

Monday, August 15, 2011

Child labor.

Poor Joe.* I made him scrub the kitchen floor.

Indentured servitude. I should be ashamed.

As far as Joe was concerned, dipping the brush in the soapy water was the best part.

As you can see, Joe grimly decided to make the best of it.  He insisted on taking the "big" utility brush, leaving me to scrub the floor with a tiny nail brush. So much for "child-sized" versions of adult tools, huh? (Eventually, I negotiated an exchange - I let Joe carry the bucket from spot to spot, and he gave me back the big brush. Can you imagine scrubbing the whole kitchen floor with a nail brush? I think there are whole Greek myths that revolve around tasks like that. So yes, there were some spills, but they were well worth it.)

That teeny weeny spot got very clean.

Also, yes, I scrubbed the floor in a dress. In retrospect, not the best choice, but you know how it goes: I decided to scrub the floor and I happened to be wearing a dress. When that type of motivation strikes, you don't want to risk that it will dissipate while you change into pants.

I'm not sure the floor looks that much better, but I know in my heart that it is cleaner, and that's something.

Am I the only one who finds mopping to be a completely useless exercise? You have to scrub to really get the dirt out and no mop really has that much traction.

What was that you just said? It's because I do it so infrequently?


* I made yet another Patterns by Figgy's "Tee for Two" shirt a couple weeks ago, before we left for Denver, and Joe's wearing it here. I skipped the exposed seams on this one, and I like the different look.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Nanny's Recipes.

Recently, I have been following Jeannie from Life on the Clothesline as she tries out some of the recipes in her (great-grandmother) Gram's Cookbook. These recipes were written down in 1916, although many of them are family recipes that date back much earlier than that.

Jeannie hasn't just documented her Gram's recipes: she researches many exotic-to-me ingredients (suet) and exotic-to-me processes (like mince-meat and steamed pudding), which makes for fascinating reading even if you don't plan to make mince-meat pie this week.

What's funny is that I've been reading and enjoying these posts for a while now, but I completely forgot that I have a stash of photocopied recipes from my paternal grandmother, mostly from the 1940s and 1950s, that may not be quite as picturesque to look at, but also includes a good amount of suet and steamed pudding.

Imagine my delight when, a few weeks ago, I found a stack of recipes in my grandmother's distinctive (and beautiful) handwriting under some ancient bank statements in my filing cabinet. My Auntie Gillian copied these recipes and sent them to me years ago; I promptly tucked them away safely in my filing cabinet and forgot about them.

My grandmother, Wendy Joy Herd, whom we called "Nanny," was a London girl turned GI-bride. My grand-dad, William Herd (we called him "Pappy"), served abroad in World World II, and met my grandmother at the office where she worked during the war. Their courtship was romantic and brief. They married in London during the war, and then they had to wait until the end of the war in Europe to see each other again. After that, they lived in rural Pennsylvania (where my grandfather grew up), France, Germany, and all over the United States. My grandfather was a career Army officer, so my dad and my aunt grew up as "army brats."

On the left is Nanny as a young mother. On the right is my dad and my Aunt Gillian. Isn't that shag carpet great?
An aside: I credit Nanny for much of my love of the domestic arts. She was superb needlewoman, knitter (she famously perfected her knitting skills in bomb shelters during the Blitz), baker of desserts extraordinaire, lover of children, and all-around perfect grandma. This is evidenced by the "Wendy Joy"s scattered all over my family tree. Everyone wanted to name their little girls after Wendy (of course, Wendy Joy is also a beautiful name, so I'm sure that didn't hurt).

Nanny's notes on her recipes reflect her constant movement. Many of them came from her time in Pennsylvania, but others were borrowed from friends in France, Germany, and various Army bases in the United States.

As I read through these recipes again, however, I was most struck by the very English recipes.

Like English trifle. I remember being just awed by this as a child. I get hungry just looking at this one.

English Trifle. Yum.

This one makes me very curious. "World War 2 Ration Cake." Presumably this made good use of rationed staples during the war. It calls for cold coffee (a frugal use of leftover coffee); it also calls for a cup of mayonnaise, which is not an ingredient I usually associate with cake! I might have to try this just to see how it tastes.

Doesn't get much cooler than this.
The collection also includes other English classics like Yorkshire pudding, Cornish pasties, and plenty of steamed puddings (English "puddings" are a bit different than American pudding).

You'll notice that although my grandmother was English, her recipes are "translated" into American-style volume measurements, rather than weights. Although born and raised in London, Nanny spent most of her life in the United States or on American Army bases - she never lost her accent, but she considered herself quite a Yankee after more than forty years of living with Americans. So even her traditional English recipes have been at least a little bit Americanized. (More of the recipes in the collection are Pennsylvania Dutch than English, which makes sense: Nanny really learned to cook as a young wife among her in-laws in Pennsylvania.)

Most of these recipes assume that you know what you're doing, at least to some extent. Instructions like, "Bake at 375 - Refrigerate" are common. How long do you bake the cake, Nanny? Well, until it's done, of course. In this respect they are a bit intimidating.

Also, a startling number of her recipes call for suet, which was beef or mutton fat, not an ingredient that modern cooks use frequently. Does anyone know if I could substitute butter or shortening for the suet? As a lifelong vegetarian who has only recently starting eating very select types of meat, I don't see myself cooking with mutton fat anytime soon.

I was so excited to see these again*, and I can't wait to try them out!

* Although seeing her handwriting and writing this post made me miss Nanny even more. Sigh.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Discovery of Markers.

It was only a matter of time.

As you can see, Joe was quite pleased with his discovery.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Two (!) Protect & Serve Aprons for my pals.


Before my trip to Denver this past weekend, I spent a couple of weeks making two more "Protect and Serve" Aprons, a reproduction 1950s pattern from Decades of Style, for my two bestest email buddies. Both are old friends, and both have babies around the same age as Joe (give or take a few months). We email three ways almost every day, and share our daily ups and downs, parenting stories, recipes, and anecdotes. They are both wonderfully supportive and loyal friends, always ready to deliver a pep talk when needed, and they both love to cook. So I decided they both needed nice, colorful, full-coverage aprons.

This makes four aprons I have made from this pattern. Here is the one I made for our housemate Rebecca, and here is the one I made for myself. Considering the pattern requires the application of more then twelve yards of bias tape, this represents a whole lotta bias tape (and for you sewing nerds, I use the "traditional" application method, because I seriously suck at the "sandwich" method, so, uh, that's a lot of sewing). By my calculations, you could circle my whole house in the bias tape I have applied to these aprons. But even though I always tell myself, mid-bias-application, that this will be my last version of this apron, I love the final results so much, I keep coming back.


My friend Melissa lives in Brooklyn, in a very urban environment. But for some reason, I was inspired to choose very "country" fabrics for her apron. Something about this combination is just so Dorothy in Kansas holding a cherry pie, huh? Hopefully it will brighten her kitchen a little bit through those rough winters.

For my friend E. in Denver (Joe and I visited her this past weekend), I chose this Amy Butler fabric. You may notice that it is actually the orange version of the fabric I used for Rebecca's apron (with the same accent fabric, but only on the pocket). This fabric ... well, let's just say if Amy Butler had sat down and said, "Let's design a fabric especially for E. today," she really couldn't have done a better job. Orange, teal, paisley, peacocks, check!  It suits E. to a tee. (And the blue version suits Rebecca to a tee as well.) When I showed E. the apron, her first comment was, "I can't believe this fabric even exists! It's perfect! Can I have a skirt too?"

For my part, I got really happy about applying turquoise bias tape to orange fabric with a green accent pocket. What is even better than orange and green? Orange and green and turquoise. Oh, yeah.

I loved picking out the colors and fabrics for these aprons. I worked on them in between the other projects you've been seeing me post, rather than trying to do them all in a night, and that helped keep me from getting too burned out and sloppy on the more tedious aspects of construction. When applying twenty-four yards of bias tape, it's important to take breaks. (Nonetheless, the binding would not withstand close inspection. There's only so much you can do. I figure it's okay for an apron to look homemade, right?)

Friends: I hope you enjoy them! You two rock my world.

Will I make more of these?


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Off to Denver!

Joe and I are off to Denver tomorrow! I'll be offline this weekend, but don't worry, I have several new projects to share with you. Here's the last Denver-related project I made for Joe. Don't get too excited, it's just another pair of Oliver + s Sketchbook Shorts. I've lost track of how many I've made at this point, but I think I could put this pattern together in my sleep.

Dog shorts.
Isn't it great when you have just enough fabric? (Don't mind those off-grain pieces, I fixed them. Sorta. Whatever.)

Dog shorts.
This plastic bag rocks!

Dog shorts.
Working at the butcher block. (Note flat-felled side seams.)

Dog shorts.
Mama is trying to take away my plastic bag!

Watch out Denver: here comes Joe! Have a great weekend, everyone!