Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Onesie Refashion

We are blessed with an attic full of hand-me-downs for Lucy, so moving to the next size of clothing means opening the next box. But because of her big cloth-diapered bottom and homemade longies, Lucy sometimes needs different clothes than we've got. In the 6-9 month box, I've been wishing I had a few more dresses. So it was time for another onesie refashion.

I pulled out a few long-sleeved onesies that seemed like they'd make nice dresses. One of them was patterned, and I didn't have fabric that I thought went nicely with it. But then at Goodwill one night, I spotted an adult t-shirt I thought would look great with it:

I love the combo, and thought it would be so easy: cut off the bottom of the shirt, gather the top, sew it onto the onesie, and it's done! It would already be hemmed! But then I took a good look and realized there wasn't enough width to gather it. So I cut the shirt into two pieces, split them up the side, sewed them together into a bigger tube, and gathered that. But now the front of the skirt was hemmed, and the back not. And there was glittery serged stitching on the front, not on the back. So I dug through my vintage trims and found white bias tape with a pink scalloped edge, to cover the mess and tie the top of the dress visually to the bottom. And laboriously picked out all the original stitching. But now, I'm really pleased with how it looks:

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bowls in waiting

I love the Waldorf idea of a nature table, which inspired me to set up a seasonal arrangement on top of our CD cabinet. It was time for these shells to make way for fall. I set out one of my favorite Autumn books (I always use the books from this series with my seasonal displays; I love them all.) And I added a collection of wooden bowls, and my beloved wooden acorns. But I left the rest empty, as a provocation (an idea from the preschools of Reggio Emilia, where teachers set up something compelling to provoke children's thinking.)

By the end of the day, this is how it looked (above). The children and I had filled one bowl with a variety of seedpods from the garden, and another with various nut shells (we'd intended acorns, but couldn't find any. Where are they this year?) We'd also added a vase, to hold the dried fern frond we'd picked. One of the children told me he knew of a park where there are lots of acorns; he said "I'll collect some for you when I go there." We're thinking crab apples and colored leaves for some of the other bowls. And the rest? We'll see...

Monday, September 28, 2009

Independence Days challenge, week 22

Time again for Sharon's Independence Day's Challenge:

Lucy comes for a bite of pear as Andi preps them for canning, arm-chair style.

1. Plant something: No. Must become a better gardener!
2. Harvest something: Eggs. Goldenrod.
3. Preserve something: Canned 9-1/2 qts. grape juice, 1/2 pt. jalepenos, 12-1/2 pts corn relish, 4 pts. ketchup, 9 qts. pears. Dried goldenrod, 3 pts. tomatoes. Froze 2 lbs. broccoli, 4 lbs. tomatoes.
4. Waste not: Same old, same old.
5. Preparation and storage: Re-organized canning shelves into clear categories (pickles, ketchup/salsas/chutneys, canned fruit, jams/jellys/syrups), tomatoes/tomato sauce).
Got a big pile of future homeschooling books at a book sale.
6. Build community food systems: Blogged about how we organize our food storage inventory. Continued canning "lessons" for friends.
7. Eat the food: Nothing new here.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Orange biography mystery, solved at last

This weekend was one of our favorite annual book sales. I maneuvered myself, Lucy in the sling, and my two rapidly-filling tote bags through the crowd around the children's book table, and then all around the room, and came away with a lot of treasures! I didn't find as many picture books as usual, but I got a bunch of good books for the future. (I justify my book hoarding because "it's our children's education!)

These were my most exciting find. When I was in elementary school in the 70s, I read every one of a series of biographies in my school library. I remember their orange covers. I remember where they were on the shelves. I remember loving them. But I haven't been able to remember what they were! I finally figured it out when I spotted these and recognized them instantly (under those dust jackets are the orange covers). They're from the "Childhood of Famous Americans" series. Now I remember that what was so engaging about them was that they were about kids, and you got to see what made them into the adults they were to become. I'm excited to get reacquainted with them and see if I still like them as an adult. If so, I'd love to collect more of them for our children.

I also found two other 1970s books that I would have loved had I known of them back then (who am I kidding? I love them now!).

The first is Kids are Natural Cooks, which was written by a parent-coop nursery school. It perfectly suits the way our family cooks now--it's organized by seasons, emphasizes whole foods, and teaches children how to make things (yogurt, sprouts, even gelatin) from scratch. And--how cool is this?--they set up a table of ingredients for the kids, let them choose what they wanted, wrote down the recipe they created that way, and then cooked up their concoctions. Some of the yummier creations ended up as recipes in the book. Awesome. I've got to do that some day.

The other one is Miss Patch's Learn-to-Sew Book. This book makes it look so easy, and yet doesn't talk down to kids. In fact, by the end, she's got them sewing doll clothes and even clothes for themselves from patterns they've drafted! I needed this book long ago!

There's more...lots more. But those were the ones that really thrilled me.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Rockabye, baby...

...on the clothesline. Best nap all week.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

"Goes where the fun is...year 'round"

Here's a lucky find from the Goodwill last night (It was $1! I love their prices on linens.)

It's super soft and cozy, and gives me inspiration for re-doing the couch and chairs for the fall. Yes, I just made new pillow covers, but they are summery. Now I want to make more. Hmmm...what fabric would go with this color palette?

I love the tag in the corner:

Let's hope it brings lots of fun this fall!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Doo doo, doo doo, doo, doo, doo doo doo doo doo...

I am loving... "new" $1 tag-sale percolator, bought to replace my dead Mr. Coffee. We have made a commitment not to buy new unless absolutely necessary, so I was very lucky to find this shortly after our coffee pot quit.

The coffee's good, it's hot all day long, and this pot's much prettier on my counter; what more could you want? Sometimes, I really wonder why on earth we think newer is better.

(That title? It's the 1970s commercial jingle that runs through my head every time I think about percolators. I don't remember the brand, just the ditty. Do you? It's bugging me that I can't remember.)

Monday, September 21, 2009

What's on the basement shelves?

So why all the food preservation talk around here? A few years ago, (after reading Barbara Kingsolver's then-brand-new book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, of course), we decided to make a much more concerted effort to buy only locally-produced food. As with many other decisions we've made, we decided to see how far we could go, and never turned back. For us, it's come to look like this:

We eat only locally-grown produce (with the exception of lemons, which we haven't been able to do without. And dried coconut. We all have our weaknesses.) Because we live in New England, this means we have to preserve a lot of food in order to eat in the winter.

We try to choose locally-produced other foods, whenever possible.

We try to avoid buying packaged, processed foods. We do better or worse at this depending on how crazy our life gets. This winter, I am determined to return to baking bread, and making yogurt, for example, but for now, we're buying those.

It became clear early on that we'd need a system to keep track of what we'd stored, to help us use it up efficiently, and to help us remember from year to year what worked and what didn't. Above, you can see the system we're using now, our food storage inventory. On graph paper, we keep track of "item," "date," "source and recipe," "quantity and status," and "notes." (You can click on the picture to see it larger.)

Under "item," we list the name of what we've stored, using specific recipe names if applicable so we can remember which recipe we'd used. We list everything from dried herbs to frozen veggies to canned jam to storage squash all on the same inventory. Some day, I might further organize things by type, but for now, it's all organized chronologically.

The "date" part helps us remember what's in season when so we don't miss mulberry season, for example.

Under "source and recipe," we note where we got the food--which farmer, friend, or foraging spot. And we write down where we found the recipe so we can find it again. "CBHP," in the photo above, for example, is the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving.

Under "quantity and status," we make a slash in a box for each item, and write below what size it is: gal. bag, or 1/2 pt. As we bring it up from storage, we put another slash through it, making an X, to mark it gone. This way, we can see at a glance what we have lots of and what we should use sparingly. As I plan meals, I use this tally to help me figure out what we should eat.

In the final "notes" column, I write down if we loved or hated it, if I altered the recipe, if I bought too much and it all rotted, or whatever might be useful the next year.

Now, back to the kitchen. There's lots more pages to fill if we're to keep to this commitment this year!

Independence Days challenge, week 21

Time again for Sharon's Independence Day's Challenge:

1. Plant something: No.
2. Harvest something: Eggs. Mystery squash from the compost bin. Crab apples from a local park (with the kids). 4 pecks pears and 1 peck peaches from Quonquont Farm.
3. Preserve something: Canned 3 qts. pears, 3/4 pt. pear butter, 16 qts. tomato sauce, 3-1/2 pts. peach salsa, 27 1/2-pints crab apple jelly, 1/2 pt. peach honey, 10-1/4 pts salsa, 6 qts. tomatoes, 5 pts. tomato juice. Froze 2 qts. green pepper, 2 qts. red peppers.
4. Waste not: Saved money and waste by picking up "drops" under pear and peach trees rather than from the trees.
5. Preparation and storage: Worked on cleaning and organizing canning shelves.
6. Build community food systems: Gave canning advice to a parent in my program. Taught two friends to can and helped them can their first batch of tomato sauce. My proud moment of the week came as we walked back from the park and one tired child asked "is your house close?" and another answered "you just have to turn after that mulberry tree." It's true; I'm raising 4-year-old foragers.
7. Eat the food:Nothing new here.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Canning central

Friday was a gorgeous fall day, and the kids and I, joined by some friends, walked to the park to pick crab apples.

Today, it's canning central in our kitchen, with us and two sets of friends canning in shifts. Here you see 2 pots of Barbara Kingsolver's "Family Secret Tomato Sauce," a pot of peach honey, and another of crab apple jelly, all boiling down at once.

On these marathon weekends, we can all day and into the night. Here's our outdoor set-up around 10:00 this evening: still processing.

Friday, September 18, 2009

How to make felted-sweater diaper covers

I had a request for more information about how to make diaper covers from felted wool sweaters. There are several good tutorials out there, so I'll point you in that direction rather than re-write what's already been said. But I've picked up a few tips along the way and combined two patterns last time, so I'll share some of what I've figured out here.


This is the first tutorial I came across for making wool "longies" (long pants that serve as a diaper cover). I've followed this basic design for most of the longies I've made. They are really cute and useful. (Lucy's modeling a pair, above.) As she gets bigger, I'm finding that these are sometimes too short in the back. I'm going to experiment with some different waistbands. I loved these--how smart to use the cuff of a pair of pants as the waistband! Other tutorials I've seen use some of the waistband of the sweater to make a waistband for the longies--a great idea I want to try. And I've never tried this pattern, but it looks very promising; I like the fitted bottom.

*edited to add: How embarrassing! I was looking at Lucy's diaper peek above her too-short-waisted longies tonight and realized what was wrong with them. My own stupidity; I forgot to allow for the casing when I was cutting down the side of the sleeve! I just cut it to match the pants I was using for a "pattern," so when I added the elastic casing, I lost nearly an inch. I'd still like to try those other ideas, but now I'll also be able to make these and have them fit! Can you say sewing while exhausted?

I also love this pattern for a "bum sweater". Here's the first one of these I made. Super cute shorties (short pull-on diaper cover), and nice and trim. It fits well under clothing and also looks cute under summer dresses. I don't put in the recommended drawstring, and so far, haven't needed it.

When I made the pink pair, I followed the suggestion to use the cuffs of the original sweater as the leg bands. But that meant that when I later made longies from those sleeves, they didn't have a nice finished edge. For less waste, and a more finished product, for the brown pair I made next, I cut the neck of the original sweater in half and used those strips to make the leg bands. Much better.

The bum sweater is also the pattern I started from to make her latest cashmere longies. Rather than sewing on legbands, I sewed on long legs made from the sleeves of the sweater. The sleeves were long enough that I was able to cut them in half and make two pairs. However, I'd cut the top of the sleeves off the sweater following the angle of the shoulder--so they came to a point--and I decided to try to incorporate that into the design, to see if it would give her more space around the diaper. You can see how the legs come to a point at the top in the pair on the right, below:

I like how they fit, but they come down a bit too low in the front; I think this pair would benefit from an added drawstring.

To make any of these diaper covers, you'll want to start with a largish, not-too-scratchy, 100% wool sweater. I use no special techniques for felting--I just throw the sweater in the washer and the drier and let them do their thing, and then decide what to make out of it based on how big it ends up! Once you've made your cover, you'll want to lanolize it to help it absorb water. I dissolve a few drops of liquid lanolin (from the health-food store) in a bit of hot water, then fill my bucket with room-temperature water, let the covers soak for a while, rinse, squeeze out the extra water by rolling them in a towel, and then hang to dry. It takes forever for them to dry that first time, but don't worry--you only have to lanolize them every month or so.

Well, now, that was wordy! Hope it's helpful! Let me know if there's anything I should clarify or add.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

One little flower

I've been enjoying the wonky log cabin tutorials over at Quilt Dad this week. I had pretty much figured out how to make crazy log cabin blocks on my own, but it's always interesting to see someone else's techniques, and he's definitely given me some new inspiration. So even though I felt too tired to move last night, I hauled my lazy butt up to the sewing machine to make another block for Lucy's quilt. I made this:

Now, I know it's not the best block ever. But I'm psyched about it, because I finally used a technique I hadn't gotten to yet--a pieced strip. See that blue piece on the right side? I love that one flower shining out from the middle of it. I went safe and obvious this time, with the solid turquoise and the coordinating bit of vintage sheet, but next time I'll try mixing up some patterns.

These feet were made for crawling

I couldn't resist a picture of these filthy little feet yesterday! This is what she looks like now that she's on the move all the time. Today, the weather's shifted, and she's bundled up in her new cashmere longies and some soft shoes, and zooming those through the dirt and leaves and grass. Filthy. Just the way a kid should be!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Lucy's stool

Several years ago, I picked up a hideous stool at a tag sale. I sure hope it was free, because boy, was it ugly. Here's the sort-of "before:"

The actual "before" included filthy yellow-and-brown shag carpeting used as upholstery. I had to get that off of there fast--too fast for a photo shoot!

It's been sitting around, naked, for quite a while now. And then when spring rolled around and the weather warmed up, I took it outside and spray-painted those legs red to match her room. That's when the stall hit: I never upholstered it, because no fabric I tried was the "perfect" fabric for her room.

But a few weeks ago, Lucy began pulling to a stand on any available handhold. And this week, she discovered the naked stool, tucked under the bedside table in her room. Whenever we're in there (it's "her" room, but she doesn't actually live there yet; just stores her stuff in there), she crawls right over and pulls to a stand. So it was clearly time to get the job done. Last night, I decided "perfect" was never going to happen. I pulled out several choices of fabric, and finally settled on a worn-out piece of chenille bedspread--far from perfect, but lovely in its simplicity. And really, how hard is it to re-upholster a stool? When perfect comes along, I can just change it!

Lucy promptly fell over while testing it out, and was too sad to demonstrate her awesome standing skills for the "after" photo. She was willing to pose atop it, however. I think she likes it.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Independence Days challenge, week 20

Time again for Sharon's Independence Day's Challenge:

1. Plant something:
2. Harvest something: Eggs. Good King Henry, swiss chard, kale, chives (sounds like a bunch, but we're talking enough to make one meal of "green eggs" for the kids. But hey, it's something grown in my own very shady yard.) Chocolate mint, sweet cicely, bee balm, thyme, False Solomon Seal berries.
3. Preserve something: Elderberry tincture. The blueberries that were dehydrating last time I wrote turned out to be 1 1/2 qts. dried. Froze 5 1/2 lbs. cauliflower, 3 lbs broccoli. Dried red clover. Canned 8-1/2 qts pears, 4 1/2-pints pear butter.
4. Waste not: Made 3 diaper covers from thrifted, holey wool sweaters. Made a dish scrubber from some mesh bags lemons came in (we eat only local produce...with the exception of lemons. I couldn't give them up in my tea! I'm trying to grow a potted lemon tree, but so far, it's produced nothing.) Made the pear butter from the cores and peels left over from canning pears.
5. Preparation and storage: Last week I forgot to mention that I went to a great tag sale where I got a $1 percolator to replace our broken drip coffee maker, a 16-volume children's encyclopedia, and a manual typewriter (for use with the kids in my program now; for homeschooling later). This week, I went to a wonderful sewing-supplies sale, and got some fabrics which will become clothes for Lucy. I also forgot to mention buying 3 rain barrels a few weeks back. This week, I added 3 boxes salt to storage. The shelves are slowly, slowly starting to fill in (see photo above), although we're still far behind where we should be at this time of year.
6. Build community food systems: As we canned this week, my friends kept asking whether the families in my program realize just how much time I put into food preservation for their kids. They don't, really. But thinking about it made me think about the impact of feeding our family plus 8 other kids a week. I love, for example, that when the kids polished off the bowl of blueberries I gave them for lunch this week and I said there were no more, they asked "Why? Did you save them for the winter?" Yeah, I did. And I love that at 4, they know that and think of it as normal. It is their normal.
7. Eat the food: We ate a lot of eggs this week: green eggs with the kids, a great frittata with veggies from our friend's garden. And we've been gorging on the peaches and pears we picked.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

She keeps growing, and growing...

...1 1/2 pounds in the last 2 weeks! Time for more diaper covers.

I made the two pale-pink pairs from one cashmere sweater. It was only a women's large to start with, and once it was felted, it was pretty tiny. So I got creative and combined the two diaper-cover patterns I've used so far. The sleeves were so long, I was able to cut two legs from each one. They look really strange hanging on the line (like upside-down sweaters), but as you can see in the top photo, they're pretty cute on. (You can also see Lucy's face is almost cleared up after Friday's incident.) The darker pair is my standard cut-off-the-sleeves-and-sew-them-together style, except that I'd already used the cuffs of the sleeves for this pair. I'm hoping the ends will be fine as is. If not, I'll add some trim to the bottoms.

We're finding that we much prefer the homemade covers to the store-bought ones. They sometimes look a bit goofy, and they definitely look homemade (not in a good way), but they're easier to put on, harder for her to take off, slimmer under clothing, much more affordable, and cute! Some of the covers we've bought cost $30 a piece. These two sweaters probably cost me $8, and I got four covers from them--that's $2 a piece. I can't imagine that I'll be buying any more. (Except maybe some more of the totally adorable custom-made crocheted ones I bought on Etsy. I love those!)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Home Sewer's Exchange

Ok, let's ignore the fact that we spent 6 hours in the ER last night and didn't get home until 2 in the morning with our poor, pitiful red and blotchy baby. (Allergic reaction? Virus? It's still unclear. But she's in good spirits, and we're in wait-and-observe mode.) We're going to move on to happier things, stopping every few seconds in the writing of it to watch her play and wonder in awe at her amazing disposition (she was still making friends with everyone in the ER at 1 in the morning...)

So, today, when Lucy seemed to have made it through the night ok and she and Andi were all set to spend the morning in bed, I left briefly to go to the annual "Home Sewer's Exchange" at a church around the corner. Why, oh why, have I never gone before? For some reason, I thought it would be cheesy sewing crafts for sale, or maybe for trade; I couldn't quite figure it out. But this time, they'd added a big new banner to the front of the church, shouting out "fabric! notions! patterns!" Oh, my gosh--2 full rooms; tables and tables; and church-rummage-sale prices! Look what I got:

I grabbed a bundle of sewing magazines, not sure what they were, but for 25 cents a bundle, how could I pass them up? (All the other sewing ones got snatched before I could get to the pile.) And I chose some bits of fabric, trying to be careful not to go wild grabbing everything. Do you see those prices? Some were a dime. Some were a quarter. One was a big "splurge" at $2.

I liked how these two looked together. Maybe a top and bloomers for Lucy? Or maybe two layers of a tiered skirt? 60 cents!

A pile of miscellaneous who-knows-what-for:

This one's heavy, and I envisioned it as pants for Lucy. Then later I thought maybe a jumper would be cute. Maybe I could squeeze out both?

And those embroidery patterns! Oh, what joy when I found those! The woman at that table said, apologetically, "I want a dollar for those; does that seem fair?" Fair? It feels like I'm ripping you off! I'm hoping I'll find some time to do some of these this winter.

I can hardly wait for next year's sale! In the meantime, I'm going to go rock my sick baby to sleep.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


While we were away, we missed my sister's birthday. bought me some time to make a gift, which I'd somehow failed to do earlier. Not much time, though. Think, think...what's quick, but still special? What would she like? She's in massive de-cluttering mode, so most things I think of to give her just seem like more "stuff" she won't want. I perused some of my craft books, and I found a great idea in here:

Shop Indie Bookstores

(Quilts by Denyse Schmidt). Quilted note cards. Perfect! She's great at writing letters and often uses note cards. And I've been wanting to experiment more with quilting, and I love how this technique uses the smallest scraps.

My sister wears a lot of turquoise, so I began with what I had along turquoise/greenish lines. (Including a lovely new bit I got in the mail...more on that later...)

As my little scrap pile by the sewing machine dwindled, I happened to glance down into the trash basket and spotted some scraps discarded as being "too small" after making the birdie scarf the other day. Not too small for this! Back out they came...(don't worry, it's just sewing stuff in there; not too nasty). That led me to my bag of orange scraps for some coordinating fabrics, and soon I ended up with these:

(I hold them vertically, but I can't get the pictures to post that way. Something else to figure out...)

I love them! I can see myself making lots more of these. I was particularly intrigued to notice how the fabric changed as I quilted it. In several cases, I didn't think I liked how the card had come out until I did the quilting stitches. So interesting.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Independence Days challenge, week 19

Time again for Sharon's Independence Day's Challenge. We just got back home late Friday night, so this is what we did on the long weekend. Yup, it was crazy!

1. Plant something: Nope.
2. Harvest something: Eggs. A few grape tomatoes. 11 lbs blueberries from Running Fox Farm, 3 pecks peaches and 3 pecks pears from Quonquont Farm, elderberries from neighbors and roadsides. Red clover.

3. Preserve something: Dried 1/2 pt. elderberries and ? blueberries (they're still in the dehydrator). Canned 19 qts. peaches. Made 3 pts. elderberry sryup. Froze 1 1/2 lbs blueberries. Canned 9 1/2 pts. "blubarb" jam (blueberry-rhubarb), following this recipe from Chez Beeper Bebe. Canned 5 1/2-pts. peach-blueberry jam. Got ? 1/2 pts. peach honey, 2 1/2-pts. elderberry-peach jam, and 5&1/2 pts. quince pectin from our friend who was canning with us (we share labor and our kitchen and supplies; this was our share of what he made).
4. Waste not: The peach honey was a good example of using all the scraps--it's made from the peels that would otherwise have gone to the chickens (they got them afterwards).
5. Preparation and storage: Working on getting our canning shelves re-organized.
6. Build community food systems: While chicken-sitting for us this past week, our friend decided he wants to get some chickens, too (yes, we recruit!). And we've been canning, as usual, with these friends, which makes it a community experience, and much more fun, too. One of them worked up the nerve to ask some (politically polar-opposite to us) neighbors for their elderberries, something we've been wanting to do for years. They said yes, in exchange for a jar of jam. The husband was very eager to try them, as previously "we just let the birds have them."
7. Eat the food: We ate a lot of take-out to accomplish all this in a weekend. But we did have a great dinner of roasted veggies and fruit cobbler.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Hi! We're back!

Just stopping in quickly to say hi; we're back from visiting family in Virginia. We're frantically trying to catch up on canning, but I'll be back to regular posting as soon as I can!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Independence Days challenge, week 18

I wasn't able to post this while we were on vacation, so here it is, Sharon's Independence Day's Challenge:

1. Plant something: No.
2. Harvest something: Eggs. A few grape tomatoes, and the usual herb-garden run-by kid snacks.
3. Preserve something: 3 1/2 qts canned peaches, but one quart jar broke as it touched the water (argh!).
4. Waste not: Nothing new.
5. Preparation and storage: Finally, I added some food to our much-depleted storage--just a bit, but a start! I got 25 lbs dried black beans at our co-op on sale; now I just have to get in the habit of actually thinking ahead and soaking them. Also added 3 cans of baking powder.
6. Build community food systems: Well, we're visiting family, demonstrating our "freakish" local-food eating habits when we buy food. I doubt it will change any minds, but it's at least one step toward normalizing what seems weird to others.
7. Eat the food: Nothing new.