Life's Little Details: Knitting, Sewing, Green Living, Frugal Living and Cooking In A Little Corner of Southern French Countryside.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

So Hard to Say Good-bye

I've been here at this blog for quite a while now. Given the fact that I'm in Europe and not in the same time zone as most Blogger users, I've never really experienced any of the huge problems others run into. Blogger has mostly been good to me. Having said that, it kind of bugs me to advertise for blogger in my site address. So, I decided I'd attach my blog to my husband's wine site instead. I'd much rather advertise for him. It took me a while to get the site the way I like it (and, it'll surely need some adjustments here and there). It's now up and running, though, and I'll stop posting here. This site will remain up for access to old posts and things, but I will post everything new over there. So, update your subscriptions or your bookmarks or whatever. I'd love to see you over at the new site.

I'm moving to...

Come on over and say hello.

Monday, June 25, 2007


I tend to look pretty much everything up on the internet. I can't even tell you how many things I look up per week just out of curiosity. Last night, I was researching something or other and stumbled across an interesting idea for any parent to keep in mind. The article I was reading mentioned that people tend to recall events that are unique and/or infrequent occurrences in their lives (I believe the context was that because of this fact, it's not the expense that matters but the uniqueness when planning special outings).

I frequently wonder what memories my children will look back upon with special fondness. After reading that article last night, I think I might have a better clue. Thinking back on my own life, I do realize that nostalgia is a very funny thing. I may not have tons of vivid memories from early childhood, but those that I do have are in fact quite unique. One of my favorites involves my mom ironing while watching Hawaii 5-0 (which, I feel like she did often, but maybe it was actually a one time thing). While she ironed away, I sat in an inflatable yellow plastic raft (that we had apparently just bought and had blown up to test) eating a bowl of vanilla ice cream with chocolate sprinkled over the top. Given the fact that this all took place in our livingroom, it doesn't get much more unusual that that.

As a parent, I want memories like that one for my own kids. Of course, I can't select what they will recall later on in life, but as a stay-at-home mom, I can do my best to fill their young lives with potentially great memories. This is actually the number one reason I chose not to work especially while they're little. And, armed with this new information, maybe I can do a little better at choosing fun/unique activities that they will remember for years to come.

Activities like the pizza making from a few nights ago. Daddy was out of town, and if I know how to do anything, it's bread baking. I don't often make pizza, though they do love it. The other night, I had the appropriate ingredients and offered to let them make their own. They jumped at the chance to dig into the dough. They made the entire pizza dough from scratch themselves. The only thing I did was measure the ingredients and show them the proper way to knead. They had a ball (of dough! hee hee!) and were so proud to learn how delicious their very own homemade pizzas could turn out (and, they were perfect). Just take a look at how yummy they were...

Oh, and in case anyone would like to know...

The recipe for their mini-pizzas was pretty simple. I gave them each a cup of flour, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp yeast. They mixed that with a fork and then we started adding warm water. Once the mixture was a little moist, we added about 1 tbsp of olive oil. Then, we continued adding water till the dough was workable but not too wet. When it was a tiny bit sticky we just added a bit more flour to help get the kneading going. They kneaded for quite a while (adding more flour when necessary). This kept them both busy while I breastfed/got the baby down for a nap. When they were done, we let it rise for a while and then rolled it out and added the toppings.

You might notice there is no tomato sauce on this pizza. It was really good that way. It does have tomatoes, but I didn't just chop them up and toss them on there. I used to do that but found that the dough gets soggy in places when the tomato juices are released in cooking. This time, I chopped the tomatoes into chucks (slices would work too) and sprinkled salt over them. I let them sit for about 1/2 an hour in a collander placed over the sink (or a bowl to collect the juice if you want to use it for something else). This got just the right consistency for the pizza. So tasty, and they weren't sautéed in oil, so they'd definitely be lower fat (and, did I mention this was really easy?).

Still in keeping with the feel of nostalgia we've got going here... I made an apron. It took me forever to get it done. I used a man's button-down I got at the thrift shop for a euro in January. It was this shirt originally. I chopped it up to make it into this halter top apron. I can't get away with halter dresses, which are kind of sexy (but picture your grandma without a bra and that's what it'd be like on me), but I can do a halter apron. I love the look of this apron. It feels so very retro and kitcheny to me. I'm going to love it.

And, one last thought on nostalgia before I go. You might have noticed that I tend to take lots of pictures of my kids. You actually only see a small portion of those that I take. I try to select the best so that my family overseas can share the happy bits of our lives here. I took one photography course at the age of 19 (we won't get into how very long ago that was), and I didn't learn as much as I should have. I've got some of the basics down, but I recently stumbled across the text book I had for that class (which I'm almost certain I never actually read). I pulled it out and have begun to study it. I live in one of the most beautiful places on earth (I'm fully aware this is relative) surrounded by four of the most beautiful people on earth (Nope, this is not relative - it's just a fact). They are the ideal inspiration and subject matter for picture taking and have inspired me to improve my photography skills.

What I would really love is to be able to actually take pictures for a living. To get paid for doing something I find that fun would be amazing. For now, I just have a tourist digital camera. It is at least capable of being set on "manual" so that I can control all of its different functions, but I can't change it's lenses or anything fancy like that. I can't afford to go out and buy my dream camera, though, so I've decided to work on my framing and composition until the time that I will be able to afford a new one. Today, Lambchop #3 and I played around with some soft back lighting by putting a sheet over our heads. She found this to be great fun, but it might have been a little hard to snap the shot before she pulled the sheet off (I may or may not have erased more shots than I kept, which is the real beauty of digital cameras). I don't think our efforts were in vain, though (Mom and Aunt Dis and Uncle B, let me know if you'd like these sent via email so they're more printable)...

She's a keeper. That much is for sure.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Punk Rock Preschooler

Apparently, we're back to the stage of needing to make sure we're noticed. We've started decorating things we shouldn't with permanent markers again. **SIGH** Thank goodness he's cute...

This is his Marilyn Manson imitation.
As long as he doesn't start putting on fake boobs and red contact lenses (clicking here is not for the faint of heart), I'm okay with this.

This is what I see when I look up from my bed. It's the ceiling over the loft area we sleep in, which stretches over above the kitchen as well. I find it pretty. It's especially cool lit up only by moonlight or the blue light that my computer speakers emit when they're on.

It also makes a pretty cool background for portrait taking, I think...

And, one last little thing that isn't at all related to children or my house...

I died (yep, killed it dead - woops, I meant dyed) some wool the other day. I wanted to try out dyeing fabric with natural dyes. This was done with hibiscus flowers, which, according to the book I used, should have given the yarn a light mauve or pink color. Hmmm. Okay. Perhaps we should try again some other time. I'm sure that part of the problem is the fact that I needed 100g of petals for every 100g of yarn. I only had 75g of flowers, but decided to try it out and see what happened. This is also just some very cheap Knit Picks dye-your-own laceweight merino, which doesn't absorb colors as well as better quality yarns (as far as I've heard).

It started out looking like the yarn I'm using for this long lost baby shawl - just natural. Then, I threw it in the dye pot, which looked like this...

which led me to believe it would turn out a lot more pink than this...

I even let the mix sit for several days, hoping it would absorb a lot more color. I don't know why it didn't. Obviously, I'm no expert on the matter, but there was a lot of color left in the liquid when I strained it a couple of days later. I'm not sure how much is supposed to be left. I imagine the liquid wouldn't be clear in the end, but I was hoping for a bit of pink on the yarn. It's current color reminds me of Knit Picks' fawn colorway, even if it's possibly a bit lighter. It definitely took some color - just not the one I was expecting. Either way, I do kind of like the color it has. It's very antique looking, and it would make a lovely shawl, I would think. That or a lacey sweater, maybe. I'll have to think about that for a while.

Before I start in on that, I guess that baby shawl does deserve a little attention. But, before I do that, I'd like to sneak downstairs and attempt to finally finish the apron I've been working on in bits and pieces for the last week. It's taken entirely too long, because of other obligations and little set-backs like children needing my attention or lengthy hours of kitchen duty after making pizzas (from scratch) with the kids - more on that tomorrow, perhaps (because, like a good daughter to a grandmother far from her grandkids, I took pictures).

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Friday, June 22, 2007

I Wish I Had One

They say you always give people gifts you wish you owned. I kind of pride myself on trying to give thoughtful gifts that are something the recipient would love to have. This time, though, I'd kind of like to keep it for myself...

Yesterday my husband mentioned that tomorrow is my mother-in-law's birthday. Normally, they don't make a big fuss about that kind of thing in his family. This time, though, since both my husband and his mother are leaving early tomorrow morning for a short business trip (he happened to be able to hitch a ride with her), she's staying the night at our place. I feel a bit funny about seeing someone on their birthday and practically ignoring it. So, I threw an easy apricot pie in the oven while our bread was baking. Then, it occurred to me that I could pretty easily make something I know she has been wanting out of some fabric I'm certain she would like.

I know all this, because the fabric is some beautiful batik (cotton or maybe linen) that she bought back in the 70's when my husband's family was living in Africa (he has fond memories of jumping from one dried elephant patty to the next). The last time I saw her, she gave it to me, happy to know it would finally be put to good use. She had seen how much I have been sewing lately and decided that I should have it. It was a spur-of-the-moment kindness, and I really wanted to make her something out of it, since she had said she had originally wanted to make something with it but never ended up doing so (she doesn't really sew much).

She may not be a seamstress, but she's an excellent knitter who always has something on her needles. She tends to stick to kids' sweaters for all her many grandchildren, but she still has amassed an amazing collection of various needles (big and small). She tends to jam them all into a glass jar (which we've probably all heard isn't great for their tips). What she really needed was a handy cloth needle case. So, I sat down and made one for her today. It got in the way of me finishing an apron I'm making for myself, but it's a sacrifice I was willing to make. Oh, woe is me, I was forced to use that nice, old sewing machine of mine (whose brand is Luxor, by the way - it's French made and dates from at least the early 50's, I'd say by the date on the needles that were in the box). Not to mention this batik fabric. So pretty, and I happened to have a pink corduroy that matched it perfectly (My husband seems to think that given the size of my fabric stash, this really isn't much of a coincidence, but he knows nothing when it comes to real fabric stashes - mine is meager, I assure you.).

The lining is the batik (from Kenya, since I forgot to mention it earlier) and the outside is the corduroy I had leftover from some pants for Lambchop #1 that didn't turn out all that well. I also had the idea that it would be pretty to add a patch of the batik (because I love it so much) to the outside as well as making the ties with it. The only problem with that is that in order for it to show nicely, it had to be placed where I needed to also sew lines for the needles to have little pockets. So, that part is not quite as nice as I had hoped, but she really liked it and was happy to receive such a practical gift (now I see where her son gets it). She isn't one for keeping many objects around, which explains why buying birthday gifts isn't a big thing in this family. But if the object in question has a really good purpose, she's happy to receive it, so I chose well.

Now that I take another look at the pictures of that patch of batik on the outside of it, I don't think it's that bad. You would never have it laying open like that, and it looks very nice rolled up with its patch. You don't see the lines I had to sew all that much.

And, now, just because my mom is having yet another of those days at the office, I'll give you a couple of baby pictures. This little one is a live wire, let me tell you. The other two walked at a pretty early age, so it doesn't surprise me to see her wanting to get around now. She's 9-and-a-half months, and for the past few weeks she's been able to make her way around the rooms of our house a little too well. She loves to pull herself up into a standing position now. Even though she can't walk yet, that doesn't seem to phase her. She's perfectly comfortable climbing things anyway. Yeah, you read right. Climbing things. Like stairs or my sewing box. You know, just whatever might help her get higher. Have to keep an eye on this girl.

Like a caged animal. "Somebody please let me out of here!"

"Better yet, my feet are little. Maybe I could learn to climb this thing."

It is hard work, though. She's just beside herself with... fatigue?

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

A Thing of Beauty

I think it was about five years ago that I got a sewing machine for my birthday. At the time, I really wanted to make curtains for the temporary house we were living in. The machine is a white plastic no-name brand with a variety of stitches available. I have enjoyed using it for years, even if, aside from the one that covered the open area under the kitchen sink, the curtains never got made.

Five years have passed, and here we are in our new house, finally (that temporary home turned into the most permanent home I've ever known), and I find myself sewing curtains again. I've still got that same sewing machine. It runs well, but it could probably use a little TLC that I don't fully know how to give. Not long after I bought it, the instruction manual disappeared somewhere in the house. I figure I'll find it in a box some day. Until then, I'm always a little nervous my machine needs some oiling in places I'm not familiar with.

Luckily for me, I have a back-up machine. It's a complete fluke that I even have it. The year I got a machine for my birthday, my sister-in-law also bought me one for Christmas (a lack of communication, I suppose). There are many people in my husband's family, so we tend to draw names for the adults. One person to shop for usually means one very nice gift. That year, my sister-in-law really outdid herself. She bought one of the most lovely sewing machines I have ever laid eyes on. Thing is, though, I have never actually used it. It's only able to straight sew, and I kind of like my bells and whistles. Plus, the weight of all that metal made it a chore to lug it out of its hiding place.

I'm not sure what prompted it, but I decided to give the old girl (or is it a guy?) a go today. I spent some time fiddling with it and its manual in order to familiarize myself with it. Imagine my surprise when I found a funny little extra foot in the box. I had no clue of its use, so I whipped out my trusty sewing handbook. As it turns out, I am the proud owner of a narrow hemming foot or rolled hemmer, which is a handy-dandy thing to own. It folds and sews narrow hems all in one step without too much effort from me (If you look at the picture below, you'll notice it even works on some pretty badly frayed edges - I had done some zigzagging close to the edge a while back, but didn't even trim, and it made a much nicer edge after the hemming. I'm not being too particular with this hem, because it's just curtains for under the bathroom sink.). No more burning my hands on the iron trying to press out those narrow seams. This is a happy day, indeed.

The machine itself is so beautiful, I decided to take several pictures to show it off. Somehow in all the visits my mom has made to my house, I never managed to pull this beauty out to show it to her. Now, she'll finally see it over the net. I can't even tell you what brand it is. There's no brand on the manual and the only brand on the entire machine is on the motor, which isn't necessarily the same brand as the machine itself. Doesn't matter. I've fallen in love. It hums pleasantly while it sews. And, it sews quickly and smoothly. Despite its age, I suspect that it will outlast my other, more modern machine by far.

Look at that green! Isn't that a wonderful color? They just don't make things like they used to. I feel like I'm traveling back in time (though I still get to use my computer to tell you about it) every time I sit down in front of this machine. It's just a thing of beauty.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Here's To Brighter Days

In France, kids don't go to school on Wednesdays. They are often forced to go on Saturday morning to make up for it, but they get a free day in the middle of the week. It's a remnant of the days when schools became secular and the Catholic church apparently negotiated Wednesdays for learning about God and the church (do they capitalize "The Church"?). Anyway, France isn't really much of a religious country these days, and I guess anyone so inclined could just send their kids to parochial school. So, most kids do sports or other extra curricular activities on Wednesdays. Lambchop #1 will probably start dance next year or something. Until then, though, I have to figure out what to do with the kids every Wednesday so they don't destroy the house.

Since the weather got nice, I've been driving them over to the beach every Wednesday (okay, since last week, but I plan to keep doing it) and Saturday. I've decided it's a really good way to kill several hours, since it's only a 20-25 minute drive from here (nothing is less than 10 minutes, so that's pretty close). I'm considering spending most of our summer mornings there, too. That way they won't be too bored. They seem to wreck the house when they get too imaginative. I don't want to stifle their creativity, but when they build "a house" - watch out. Today the water was particularly wonderful. We just waded in a little, since I've got all three of them to watch, but it sure felt great, and the kids love playing in the sand and water.

Knowing I'm not at a size I plan to stay at, I haven't bought myself a bathing suit in years. I'm kind of figuring I could just make myself one when I get to the size I want to be at. Until then, I have an ugly suit I bought in between Lambchop #1 and Lambchop #2. It was the only thing in the entire store that fit my chest size (always a problem here in France). I have another one, too, but it was a maternity horror show (again, the only thing in the store that fit my chest - though it was in the US). It's blue and white gingham, which I could live with, but the top was like a skirt/dress thing. Not a pretty sight unless your under 4 years old, and in a place where women frequently go topless, it looks a bit absurd. Seemed like a waste to just throw it away, though, because even if I took it to the charity shop, no one would want it. So, I modified it to fit me now. It worked pretty well, and is very comfy since it has a bit of a boob shelf (unlike the one I bought here), which I really do need. I'll try to get a picture of it sometime to show you what I did.

Until then, I'll have to just show off our sleeping beauty. I decided to take a few shots in Sepia mode today. I guess I was feeling a little whimsical or something. The real reason I took this picture, though, is that my mom sounded like she was having a rough time at work these days, so I figured she could use a little pick-me-up (you know, since coming into work drunk off margaritas is probably frowned upon). Hope this brightens your day, Mom.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Another Sewing Frenzy

I seem to do things in spurts. One day, I'll wake up in the mood to have a clean house, so I'll clean like mad for a while. Another day, I'll really want to sew, so I'll do that for several days. It's been a while since I've really knit. Maybe it's the warm weather. Or, maybe it's the fact that my favorite recipient (me) is at an awkward size and doesn't intend to stay there. It's also at least partially due to the fact that all of my current knitting projects are at stages where any progress on them would involve actual thinking on my part. Apparently, I'm just not in the mood for that. So, I've been sewing instead. I've got a nice pile of projects that need my attention, so the sewing machine will keep me busy for a little while. None of these projects really entails much thinking, either, so I'm free to let my mind wander a bit while I work on them... wander toward possible knitting projects, perhaps... a knitting project involving some naturally dyed lace weight merino, perhaps (more on that soon).

For now, let's concentrate on the sewing. I did a little mending on the split crotch of some pants. Is my husband really that well-endowed? Impressive. Either that, or he needs to stop lifting his leg on stuff (oh, wait, that would be the dog I left behind with my parents when I moved to France - he now wears a diaper around the house... anyway, back to the sewing).

I also converted a homemade tank top into a dress (before shot is at the right, after is modeled by our sweetie). The fabric was a very small amount of those leftover cuts they often sell at the fabric store. So, it was really cheap, though I don't recall how much I paid for it. I really liked the stripes, so I made a little Burda pattern tank out of it (can't remember the pattern number) for Lambchop #1 a while back. It never did get much use, though, because if it's not pink or purple... I wasn't sure what I should do with it, but I've apparently gotten my husband into the habit of thinking about refashioning clothes, because he suggested a dress for Lambchop #3. Perfect idea. The color suits her well, and she's not going to complain that it's not pink.

I just did a little shirring around the collar to make it more her size and then did some around the chest, as well. After that, I added some rickrack around the bottom hem (something I'm still not so great at). It took me about 30 minutes in all, and I think it turned out well, though I'm considering adding a little more shirring on the back. It's a bit puffy back there, and I haven't decided if I like that yet. It's 100% cotton, and not particularly thick fabric, so it'll be a great summer dress for her.

The other sewing project I finished since my bag yesterday was the coin purse to match it. I whipped that one out pretty quickly before dinner. I decided I definitely didn't feel like waiting around till I had the time to go buy a zipper. I made a drawstring bag, instead. I really like it, and the construction of it was extremely simple.

I used the same fabrics for the lining and the outside as I had used for the purse itself, so everything matches. That's a first for me. It's kind of fun. The little coin purse fits nicely into the purse, and it's large enough for a few bills as well as some coins.

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