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

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Happy Mother's Day (in France)!

I'm actually cheating a bit on this post. I'm writing it on Saturday and setting it to post on Sunday. Bad blogger. I just figured with that last picture and word heavy post, it was best to save this one for another day. Who knows if I'll have the time to do it, though, so I'm cheating? Anybody got a problem with that? I certainly don't. And, who cares what you think, anyway, right? Okay, obviously, I do actually care what you think (I'm what my mom always called a "people pleaser"), or I wouldn't be explaining all this in the first place.

Anyway, so I'm cheating. Get over it, and let's move on, shall we? By now I will surely have opened the much anticipated gift from Lambchop #1. She made it at school and hid it from me on Tuesday. Occasionally, she will excitedly ask if it's Sunday yet. I'm excited about it, too. It's the first year any of my kids are old enough to be aware that it's Mother's Day. Even with all that excitement, though, I swear I haven't peaked (my parents will find this hard to believe since I'm the same person who carefully opened and rewrapped gifts at Christmastime when I was a kid, but I swear it's true).

In keeping with the Mother's Day theme, I thought I'd finally show you the progress I've made on the lacy baby shawl I'm knitting (I am trying to be a good mommy, afterall). I knit on it a little almost every day, and in the next couple of weeks, the center square (at least it should be a square if my calculations and gauge are alright) should be done. I didn't want you to think I'd been slacking off on it, though, so here's a progress shot. Please, excuse the lighting. With the heat outside, we've kept most of the shutters closed in an effort to keep the sun out as much as possible. And, I just couldn't stand to go outside for a better photo shoot.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

No More Venting (This Week)

I thank you all for your sympathy about my mood yesterday. I apologize for the negativity, but sometimes, you just have to get things off your chest. All of our problems these days are little ones, really, but added up they cause stress. I cried my way to playgroup yesterday afternoon after writing that post. It felt good, and I got myself under control a bit before arriving there. Then, the second someone asked me how I was, I burst into tears again. How transparent am I? Good thing is, the companionship of all the other mommies perked me up, and I'm fine today with a whole new perspective.

So, instead of dwelling on all that today, I'm going to share a little bit of the hope we have despite the fact that we are still not living in the new house yet. All I have to do is go over and look out a window or two and all hope is renewed. I hadn't been over there in a while, actually, since I've been pretty busy lately (not to mention tired due to rough nights with Lambchop #2). Yesterday, though, I read a fun post by Liz over at Pocket Farm. She showed the many views from her kitchen windows. I spend a lot of time in my kitchen, as you may have already assumed by the constant food chatter around here. Unfortunately, the views out of the windows aren't anything to brag about either in the new house or the current one. Her post did inspire me to share some shots from the upstairs windows of the new house.

The first picture of the bunch is taken from the upstairs window in the loft area over the livingroom. This will likely end up being our bedroom at some point, since there are only two small bedrooms on the other end of the house. The second phase of the house has plans for plenty of bedroom space, but given the rate at which we get homes built around here, I'm assuming we'll be taking over that loft pretty soon. Works for me. I can certainly stand waking up to a view like that. How about you?
What you're seeing here is the vineyard my husband takes care of like his own children. The metal tunnel is where the tractors live.

Next up is a second view from one of the other windows in that loft area. One thing this house has lots of is windows. The architect really loves to work with the beauty of the site, and entire walls of windows really showcase the views quite well. This window is a little funny, in that it's long and a bit low on the wall. It'll allow us to see the beauty of the property we live on even when sitting in a chair or lying in bed. Can't beat that!

This last shot I took inside the house is from a little hallway of sorts that adjoins what will be the kids' bedrooms. It overlooks the neighbors property. You can see some of his vines and a building of his off in the distance. I have no idea what those shadows are across the landscape. There wasn't a single cloud in the sky when I took this picture, and those hills really don't look large enough to me to cause such shadows.

So, now you can see a bit of the reason I am so anxious to get into the new house. It's roomy. It has wonderful, wide open spaces with high ceilings and a very open floor plan. AND, it has these windows. Another thing I noticed when I walked in the door over there was the huge difference in temperature between that house (even with it's huge windows) and the box we're currently living in. My husband likes to say that when it's hot, being in this house is like living in a cardboard box in full sun. I think he's onto something, but he may have forgotten to mention that it'd be a cardboard box spray painted black. The place has no insulation whatsoever, and it's oriented in such a way that very little wind can pass through the house.

If you'll notice the current temperature over there with our little weather girl on the sidebar, you'll see that it's HOT. It's only the end of May, and we're already hitting up close to the 90s. Actually, it's already 7pm with that temp, so surely we were in the low 90s earlier. And, since I can't leave well enough alone, I had a craving for coconut macaroons that I had to turn the oven on for. At its peak temperature, the kitchen was measuring a stifling 95F. The bad thing is that I knew it would happen even before I turned the thing on. I was helpless, though. My craving was stronger than any logic you could throw at me, and I did it anyway. But, look at how cute they are. Wouldn't you have done the same (I'm thinking of dipping some in chocolate tomorrow)? Oh, and since the oven was already on, I threw a little custard in to bake (can't stand to waste those egg yolks), so we'll have that for tomorrow, too. So, obviously, it was a good idea and fully justifiable, right? Well, it does confirm for me that we need to get an outdoor stove/oven fixed up for summer baking and canning.

Friday, May 26, 2006

A Few Of My Least Favorite Things

I do not usually tend to be very negative here on my blog. I guess it is because I am actually not an extremely negative person by nature, but sometimes you just have to vent.

So, a-venting we will go...

Here are a few things I hate about our current situation (these include house and car):

*The plumbing does not work right (toilet does not flush well and sinks frequently plug).
*The outlet for dirty water from the washing machine goes into the bathroom sink, so it is never clean (a combo of this problem with the previous one soaked the bathroom floor this afternoon).
*When the driver's seat is properly adjusted for me to reach the clutch on our borrowed car, the unadjustable seatbelt rubs my neck in a very irritating way.
*Something bad happens to the rural phone lines running from the village to our house several times each year, causing us to not have phone service for several days in a row (at least this time, we have internet still, which is odd, but never look a gift horse in the mouth, right?).

I could probably find other things to complain about, but these are the things that have irked me a lot lately and that I am losing my patience with. I guess I should be happy we actually have indoor plumbing, a car, and phone service to even irritate me, but somehow that thought does not help right now.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Baby Kimono, At Last

Baby Kimono
Originally uploaded by The Stitchin Sheep.
You've occasionally seen some actual knitting around here from time to time. I don't talk much about it these days, but I actually get a little knitting done everyday these days. The baby shawl I'm working on, for example, is coming along nicely. I've done a bit more than a third of the center square and expect to have that part done in the next three weeks or so (given my current rate of one pattern repeat per evening while watching a movie).

As you know, I had sat the baby kimono aside to start that baby shawl, and hadn't looked back since. Well, not until yesterday, at least. That's because it was kind of a boring knit (no matter how cute it is finished), and I made it even slower by knitting it in very unflexible cotton. Yesterday, though, we visited some friends who live almost two hours from here. The ride up was just enough time to finish the knitting that needed to be done, and I sewed the sucker up and did the edging last night and today. You may notice I modified the pattern slightly (aside from not using the recommended yarn - not even sure what that was). Instead of sewing on a little ribbon to tie, I decided to crochet a contrasting color around the edges and make a tie with that. I kind of prefer this effect over the plainness of the blue all by itself. It really spices up the whole kimono. And, something I really love about it is the bumpiness of the blue yarn. That particular yarn is a bit nubby, and, though it's occasionally a pain to knit with, it gives great texture to the finished garment.

And, for those who are curious the yarn details are:
Navy: Cotton Flamme by Crystal Palace Yarns (generously donated by my sister-in-law - thank you, thank you).
Limey Green: Some kind of Rowan Cotton (100%) that I seemed to have misplaced the tag for (I actually had it earlier this afternoon!!).
Both colors were just a color number. There was no name, which is a bit boring, but oh well - the colors are cute.

The next step here will be to make some little green booties with blue trim. I've got more green than blue yarn left, and I think that will look cute with the kimono.

Careful Or It'll Stay That Way

Making Faces
Originally uploaded by The Stitchin Sheep.
No, before you ask, I'll just tell you that there's nothing wrong with his eyes. Well, nothing except that if he doesn't stop making those silly faces, it's going to stay that way (right?). At least, that's what we're always told as kids. This isn't actually the worst picture of him doing this. I thought this one was pretty cute until I saw it nice and large on my computer screen. That's when I noticed the funky eye thing. He's still cute, though (a mother is never biased on that sort of thing, of course).

And, just notice how well we planned our outing at the school fair. Check out the bright orange shirt and hat. And, notice his sister is wearing red (that was just coincidentally a good choice on her part). Perfect attire for crowds of little children. We're actually lucky the school I did my graduate studies at has orange as their school color. My parents sent this hat for Christmas, and we're doubly lucky that he loves it and wears it everywhere. It's from UT Austin, in case you're wondering. And, Mom, the boy knows what's good for him, because he won't even touch the Aggies hat you thought was so cute. Ha! So, you're little joke didn't pan out, after all. His sister likes to wear it from time to time, though. But, then, that fits really well with the whole rival thing, doesn't it?

And, The Winner Is...

And, The Winner Is...
Originally uploaded by The Stitchin Sheep.
Lambchop #1 (she is number one, after all)! This was one of the little games they had set up at her school's fund-raising fair. The kids had a great time, and it pleased me to be able to contribute some baked goods for the cause. All of my 50-60 cookies seemed to have sold by the end of it. I don't know how much they were selling them for, but if it was the 3 for 1 euro price they had put on some similar sized Moroccan yummies, I turned a few bucks worth of ingredients into an okay little donation for the school. Nothing huge, but it's nice to be able to share the wealth we don't actually even have in that way. Bake sales are good for that.

Anyway, this picture shows how hard she is concentrating in keeping that bean bag on her head. It was really cute to see how slow she walked and rode the bike (there were two parts to the task). She wasn't actually competing with anyone else, but she really enjoyed doing it.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A Little Dirty Laundry

I know you're hoping for some juicy secrets or something kinky, but come on, I'm married - with two kids (and let's not forget that I'm over 6 months pregnant). So, obviously, and perhaps pathetically, I am going to actually talk about laundry... again.

Nonnahs asked for more specifics on the eco-friendly laundry stuff. So, here are some recommendations and recipes I've come across in the past couple of years of trying to find things.

Vinegar does so many good things, but here are a few I've tried and liked the results of:

* fabric softener (those goopy liquids and the dryer sheets are bad for the environment as well as your dryer - after you stop using them, clean your lint screen with a toothbrush (preferably not the one you're currently using) and warm, soapy water to get the residue off. The machine will work much more efficiently, saving time and money in energy costs): Add a couple of drops of essential oil (lavender or citrus is nice) to a liter bottle (or whatever size) of white distilled vinegar for a nice smell. Add this to your wash instead of fabric softener. It won't work for static cling, but I don't really mind that much, since most of our clothes are cotton. The reason this works is that vinegar is good for cutting calcium deposit in water. That calcium is what is in hard water that makes it hard. The vinegar keeps it from layering itself on the clothes and inside the machine.

* reduces the size of acne boils when applied with a cotton ball (stings, though)
* works to remove greasy grime from stovetop.
* removes hard water deposits from water pitchers and tea kettles
* a liter in the washing machine on its hottest cycle cleans out the machine's drum and pipes
* I'm also thinking of trying vinegar in the dishwasher instead of rinse liquid once I run out of the one I purchased last.

There are tons more things to do with vinegar that I haven't tried but will once I receive this book.

Then, there's baking soda, which whitens laundry and makes a great scouring powder when used with something acidic like vinegar or lemon juice. One great trick for whitening a dirty sink without using bleach is to rub a used half of a lemon (or however many used halves it takes) on the sink. Let sit. Add baking soda. Scrub with sponge. Works pretty well for something so cheap and so environmentally friendly (it's actually edible, though I wouldn't recommend licking it off the sink - rinsing would do fine). I'll also be learning more about the many uses for baking soda when this book, also by Vicki Lansky, arrives.

To replace your automatic dishwasher soap, use straight borax if you have soft water. If you have hard water, add some washing soda (not to be confused with baking soda) into the borax until you get the right mix. I haven't tried this one yet, since I still have a bit of my pricey, store-bought, eco-friendly stuff left, but I will when it runs out.

Then, really quickly, before I take the little Lambchops outside, here is a link to some recipes for your own powdered or liquid laundry detergent. Just a little warning: the bar soap they use is apparently pretty harsh on skin (but you can use milder soaps, if you want), so careful with that, and the borax and washing soda are caustic (can cause chemical burns), so I suggest using gloves and doing your mixing outdoors to avoid breathing in the powder (I even wore a little dust mask just in case). Then, when using the powdered detergent, I'd recommend a scoop with a handle so you come in contact with it as little as possible. Don't be freaked out, though, because at least these ingredients are fine for the environment, and if you look at the box of detergent you usually buy, you'll most likely find it's labeled as an irritant, too.

As a side note, there is a little work involved in mixing up the detergents (like grating a bar of soap), but to me, it's worth it for the economizing you're doing (notice you use less because it doesn't have a bunch of fillers like the store-bought kind often do) and the fact that it's not bad for the environment. Also notice you can add essential oils to the liquid soap, if desired.

If you're like me, you've never actually thought to purchase some of these ingredients before, but they are most likely in your local grocery store (if you're in the US) at a really cheap price. They say you can find the borax and the washing soda (Arm and Hammer brand, apparently) in the detergent aisle somewhere. The Fels Haptha soap, I'm not sure about, but it'll be with the regular bar soaps or with the detergents.

Have fun playing home-chemist, and happy Spring cleaning!

Such A Housewife

Well, it's official. I'm a true housewife. There's no beating around the bush about it now. I may not be good at what I do, but that's my life. And, because I always strive to improve where I fail, today I bought how-to books on cleaning. I know that doesn't sound very exciting, since most knitters are currently flipping through the pages of Mason-Dixon Knitting (something that's on the list, but I just couldn't justify now). I didn't even set out to do it, I swear.

What I got on the internet to do was look for a recipe for homemade laundry detergent (since I pay an arm and a leg for an ecofriendly one at the organic store, and I knew I could make my own for cheaper). I found one, and along beside it, I saw an add for a book by "The Queen of Clean". She's supposedly very famous on the day-time talkshow circuit, but I had never heard of her. What interests me is cheap, easier and less toxicways to get my house clean (I've recently learned of some of the wonders of vinegar, lemon juice and baking soda), so I decided to take a look at her numerous books on amazon. As it turns out, four of them interested me enough to purchase them. Then, I bought a couple of books about the uses of vinegar and the uses of baking soda. And, for good measure I threw in a parenting book about sibling rivalry. No matter how pathetic this selection may sound, it should pretty much cover most of the currently uncovered bases around here. I don't know if any of these books will truly make me a better housewife or mother, but I do know one thing: this most recent purchase certainly confirms that I am 100% a housewife now.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


I've been weeding the garden pretty religiously this year. I found a way to prop the spray nozzle on the ground against rocks or sandwiched in the dirt a bit, and it's allowed me to water in the evenings while I do my weeding. Last year, my husband installed a drip system, but the garden is larger this year, and he just hasn't had the time. It doesn't bother me too much, anyway, because last year I was lazy about the weeding, whereas this year I've been doing it while watering. The lack of a drip system may actually be beneficial for our garden, then.

I have to say, though, that those weeds are really something. Aside from the occasional nice surprise of a stray lettuce head or some tomatoes or coriander that sprouted from a seed from last year's plants, I'm not at all fond of the volunteers. Our garden is on a pretty fertile piece of land. Parts of it were where my father-in-law used to dump sheep dung back when he raised them. It's been a really long time since any sheep have lived on this property, so the manure is wonderful for growing my fruits and veggies.

Other parts of that land are very hard and rocky, though, so I've got a very unorthodox layout. My sister-in-law commented on it the last time she was here. Many of the beds I've got things planted in are sloped and some are down-right hillish, but working with just a hoe to smooth things out when you're past 4 months pregnant makes you figure it'll all work out, anyway. And, so far, it has. I'm pretty darn pleased with the results up till now. With the exception of a few batches of seeds (most of them ancient), things are growing well. One variety of winter squash has really taken off and is leaving the others shamefully behind. I'm shocked by the hugeness of the plants every time I go out there.

And, the other day, I actually had a real mini-harvest of radishes. There were enough of them for everyone in the family to have a few of their own (no need to share just one this time). Combined with some beet greens I yanked up to thin that row, we had a nice little fresh addition to our meal, which, of course, makes me anxious to have more yummies from our garden.

Incidentally, talking about the layout of our garden has made me think I should take a little picture. I'm sure some of you are a least a bit curious about what happens when you allow nature to decide where you plant things, instead of forcing your choice on it. It might look a little funny to those who are used to a bunch of pretty rows all lined up in the same direction. But, hey, experience tells me that it gets the job done, so I am willing to let nature wear the pants around here. I think I'd like to get a little more weeding done before any photos are shot, though (so you can actually see the plants were growing on purpose), so be patient with me, and I'll probably get something posted about that.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Happy Mother's Day!

Today is Mother's Day - at least where I'm from. Where I'm living, however, it's not. That could explain why I seem to have the doldrums today. Or, maybe it's because I desperately want the house to be clean, but I just don't have the motivation to clean it. Can we say Mother's Day present, children? Yeah, in my dreams. But, what's life without a dream or two?

It's been, what, at least a week and a half since the car was killed. The day after, my husband emptied it of our belongings. He filled an embarrassing number of grocery bags (the big handled kind - not those dinky recyclable plastic things) with toys and other junk. It seems every time we go out to the car, the kids bring at least one toy. What this means is that, over time, the car becomes as messy as any well-loved playroom. Then, there's the occasional sweater or jacket that gets left in there. And, that was all before I started sharing a car with my husband. He began to add tools and other objects I don't even know the purpose of (but nothing kinky, as far as I can tell). All of it, in the end, filled way too many bags to admit.

Originally, he sat those bags outside, in front of the door. My daughter, probably sensing rain, brought them all into our tiny kitchen/diningroom/home office. There, they have sat, staring at me - taunting me, really. As my belly has expanded, it has gotten increasingly difficult to bend over and pick things up. I've put away bits of each bag at a time, when the mood struck me, but there is still... ummm... more than one left. They've been sitting there, a lot like luggage after a trip, staying unpacked and teasing me about it a little everyday. In the beginning, I tried sweeping around them, but it's not really very effective, and I just need to get them out of here. Am I able to find the motivation, though? Absolutely not.

What have I done today? Let's see. I baked some lovely Italian bread that was called a success by my husband. And, I made fresh whole wheat lasagna noodles with which to bake a tasty lasagna with a bit of spinach thrown in (no husband needed to know that was good stuff - the pregnant belly was happy, and that's all I need to know). I performed the first few steps of the process for making some sourdough rye bread for tomorrow. I even cleaned all the dishes related to this cooking frenzy and threw in a load of laundry for good measure. But, can I drag myself into the kitchen for the task of emptying those bags? Nope. Instead, I wander aimless trying to find another task that suits my mood better. What next?

Time to take the kids out and water the garden. You didn't honestly think I'd clean out those bags, did you? Besides, I promised Lambchop #1 that I'd take her to see the horses on the neighbor's property. She loves horses, so I couldn't resist her suggesting it - which reminds me of a funny anecdote...

The dreams of a rural (almost) 5-year-old are quite different from those of a city dwelling kid. She came to me the other day with some pocket change. She told me she was saving up to buy a donkey. I was a bit confused about where this idea had come from, so I asked. She explained that she had told her French grandfather that she wanted a horse. He apparently told her that she was too little to mount it and would be better off with a donkey, instead. So, she's spent the past week talking about the donkey she'd like to get. And, little does she know, but when you show interest in anything rural and rustic around here, you're likely to get it. Her grandfather is most likely so excited that she didn't ask for a Barbie or some video game that he's actually been looking for donkeys for sale. So, if you know anybody with a pet donkey for sale, please let me know.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Drat! Foiled Again

Just when I thought we'd come to some sort of decision on the car choice, I called our mechanic to get his opinion. He's driven down our road and knows what kind of damage it has done to cars over the years. I asked him about the BMW wagon. He wasn't too much in favor of it. Nice car, maybe, but not ideal for our rocky road. So, again, I went back on the net to look for other options. That's when I realized that all of the talk about how evil SUVs are has affected me somewhat.

Everybody seems to own one these days, which is where the problem lies. The overabundance of these gas-guzzling monsters is what causes environmentalists to come out of their corner swinging. I've long thought that an SUV is really what is necessary to withstand the abuse our road can dish out, but my guilty conscience didn't allow me to consider the one I really had my eye on. But, and this isn't me rationalizing the purchase of my dream car (because I'd rather have the BMW, really), if anyone could justify having an SUV, it'd be us. We'd actually be taking it off-road every time we left the house. So, I cleared my conscience of that issue and took another look at our options.

As I had already suspected, there really weren't any options aside from one brand and model. The rest were either way too thirsty or way out of our price range (or both, actually). So, we've AGAIN decided on a car for our needs (after I had a good crying fit, of course). It doesn't have the lap/shoulder belt in the center backseat like I'd like, but otherwise it's got many modern safety features. Having a body made of aluminum and a diesel engine eliminates that natural guzzler reflex most SUVs have. And, it's actually considered to be a luxury car in many circles, so what more could we ask for (aside from that stupid 3-point seatbelt in the center backseat!)?

We've heard this brand can be somewhat unreliable, but apparently, the year and model we've chosen actually ranks higher than the BMW 5-series for reliability, so maybe we'll be alright. Best of all, though, it's said to be able to take some real abuse. We've got a few years before our third child will be in a booster seat in need of a shoulder belt. Until it's 3 or 4 years old, we've got safety seats that can be used with a lap belt only. So, we should be able to get by at least that long. And, by then, maybe there'll be a better, newer option out there that will fit our budget. All these things considered, we've now decided to spend our money on a 1998 Land Rover Discovery. Luckily for me, I have been eyeing them for a few years, anyway, so if it holds up and proves to be reasonably reliable, I'll be a happy girl.

The best news we've had in all this mess, though, isn't the fact that we may have actually come to a real decision (because you've heard me say that before - but, by the way, I finally was able to find the very elusive number for the BMW's ground clearance, and it's REALLY low - so that's definitely out now). It's that the insurance expert came by the see the old car at the shop. He turned in his opinion, and I received a call from the insurance company yesterday evening. To my great surprise, the expert was what I would call "quite generous" about the replacement value of our junker (like I said, it took a beating on our road). The insurance company offered us a decent amount of money to take the car off our hands, and by golly, when the official papers come in the mail, we're taking their offer. That money will put us about halfway or more toward the price of the Land Rovers we're looking at. Let's just hope the rest of this process runs smoothly and quickly, so we can have a new car by early-June some time. Still crossing your fingers for us?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

The Roots of Our Labor

Yay! Our very first veggie from this year's garden. It's a lonely little guy, since no one else even comes close to being ripe, yet. He's a cutie, though, isn't he? I guess it may not look like much to you, but to me, it's a sign of yummy things to come. It's a really good thing that we aren't depending on the garden for our food yet, though. Dinner would have been a really sad affair on that day. First, I took a bite to taste. Then, I passed it to my husband. He took a bite and started to pass it back to me, when the kids decided they needed to be a part of the fun. It's a pretty reasonably-sized radish, but it doesn't really go very far for a family of four.

Oh, and for anyone who is interested, I've started seeing carrots popping up. I'm really excited about that, because I wasn't really sure they'd come up at all, since the seeds were a bit old. And, a really nice surprise that I found while weeding in the root veggie area are tons of wild tomato plants. That's where we planted them last year, and they were prolific enough that we had too many to eat. This meant that some fell off and apparently left enough seeds to start a good crop for this year. They'll have to be transplanted elsewhere in the garden soon, but how great is that when the vegetables do your work for you?

And, for those of you peeing your pants in anticipation of what kind of car we've decided on - STOP (because that's gross, and you're too old for that kind of behavior). For those of you who have guessed - you're all wrong. I think I'll leave you in suspense a little longer... Alright, maybe not.

Now, it's not a sure thing that we'll get this car, because we haven't even heard back from the insurance company about the dead one yet (for all we know they could opt for that .1% chance of fixing it). The insurance expert was due to go by the garage to take a little look at it yesterday, but he was a no-show. The mechanic called them and found out he'll be coming by on Thursday, instead. That, of course, probably means that we won't find anything out from the insurance company till next week (though I'm still hoping for Friday).

Soooooo, without further ado (drumroll please), the car we have decided on and hope to be able to get is this kind. In case you're reading this after the expiration of that particular page (because, I don't know when that'll be), we're hoping to get a BMW 525 tds wagon. It obviously won't be the exact one in the picture, because it seems to have been sold, but it'll be something like that. So, many of you were right about the wagon part - just not the brand. After MUCH research online, the BMW is the safest, sturdiest, most fuel efficient, most reliable wagon in our price range. So, that's what we're going with (hopefully).

Now that we've come up with something we're happy with, let's all collectively cross our fingers that the insurance company does total our car for a decent amount of money to get us started, and that we find our ideal car at the right price. You may have to keep them crossed a little while, given the speed at which insurance adjusters move here in France. There is surely some kind of equation to calculate this speed. It's most likely a function of the desperate need of the accident victim combined with the amount of money paid in premiums, or some such nonsense. All of that is probably then multiplied by the laziness of the insurance company employees. Math was never my strong suit, though, so I can't for the life of me figure out the equation needed to predict how long this will take. Anybody else have any idea on this?

Sunday, May 07, 2006


Why have I not posted this time? There's always an excuse, right? Weeeeeell... I've been obsessed. Ever since my husband's accident, I've spent every waking moment feverishly scouring the net for cars. Our road really merits some sort of off-road vehicle, so I started there. We don't want to personally be responsible for using up the very last drop of oil on earth, though, so we then moved on to other options. Minivan? Too much gas (well, most of them) or not reliable.

Ooh, how about one of those new-fangled, off-road station wagons? I'll admit I've never been a station wagon fan, but with our third child on the way while the other two are still in child safety seats, space is a must (and, don't let anyone tell you that most 5-seaters actually seat five people - you ever noticed that mini-half-seat in the center back - who are they kidding?). So, we've thrown out the SUV idea, but our last car showed us what our rocky, dirt road can do to cheaply designed plastic interiors and inner workings of cars. What would be sturdy enough to weather that kind of abuse without costing us our third born in the price of the car or gasoline? Why, a tank, of course! And, who makes better tanks than the Germans and the Swedish?

So, after comparing a few different possible tankish station wagons, we think we've finally come up with a solution. One brand of tank was out of our price range (at least for the size we needed). Two others fit our budget and our size needs pretty well. I've chosen what is said to be the more reliable of the two car models, and now we just have to wait to see what kind of money the insurance company will give us to start with and look for a little car loan.

What a stressful roller-coaster ride, though. I can't tell you how many times I had one of those revelation moments where the clouds cleared and little birdies sang in my ears. I must have found our "perfect car" a dozen times only to have my hopes dashed by it's gas mileage, it's price used or a lack of reliability. I'm pretty happy with what we've settled on today (and I really think it's the last possible car model out there that fits most of our criteria). So, any guesses as to which tank I selected?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Homemade Bag (Inside)

Homemade Bag (Inside)
Originally uploaded by The Stitchin Sheep.
I really wish I had access to all the fun, vintage fabrics and other great things I see on other people's blogs. I find the local fabric stores near where I live to be somewhat limited in their selection - at least in terms of the coolness factor (I've never actually seen any of those cute alphabet fabrics or stuff with sushi on it up close). But, we work with what materials we can find, right?

The bag I bought from my friend had a pinkish corduroy fabric that is extremely close to the one I chose for this bag (the friend I gave the bag to liked that pink). My bag, however, had some cute flowery fabric inside. The friend I made this one for isn't exactly the dainty, flowery type, so I selected something a bit more her. This one had an Asian look to it, with some kind of Asian tree and some seal-looking things on it, as well. It went nicely with the outer fabric, so I went with it.

The part you don't see is that there is a little pocket on the other side of the bag. My friend was very pleased with this feature. Apparently, it's the little details that matter most.

Bag Lady

Homemade Bag
Originally uploaded by The Stitchin Sheep.
Here's is my friend. She's a bag lady but a chic one, don't you think? A while back, she had admired the look, design, size and construction of a bag I had bought from another, bag-making friend. I told her that I should be able to do a pretty decent job of duplicating the bag for her, even if I'm no expert seamstress.

This friend is not at all crafty (though I'm sure she'd be capable if she tried). Her hobby is keeping her house squeaky clean. I admire her clean home, and she admires my crafts. So, from time to time I make her a little something (when should I ask her to come over and clean my house??). She's always a very happy recipient, which makes the giving even more fun. You can't see her face, but she's quite pleased with her little bag. It was a nice quicky project, too, after having fought with ruffles and other fun things (like jean sewing) for the apron.

Up next will be a little post for the lining.

Homemade Apron

Homemade Apron
Originally uploaded by The Stitchin Sheep.
Finally, a picture! Please ignore the model's beer belly (or whatever that bulge is). You'd think they could get somebody with better curves for such a photo shoot, but apparently all the non-pregnant models in the area were busy at that time.

I love this thing. It makes me feel so June Cleaver-like. I know it's not gingham, but I feel frilly when I wear it. A few details on the materials to amuse the tightwads among us:

The jean material is an old, worn out skirt I've always loved but couldn't wear anymore due to a gaping hole in the back slit. The light green fabric is some cheapy-cheapy fabric they were selling at the local fabric store. The plaid stuff is something I think my great Aunt picked up at a garage sale for really cheap (somehow it got passed on to me - incidentally, I'm starting to picture the rest being used for curtains and bedding for Lambchop #1's bedroom.). There's also some lining for the plaid and the green fabrics, because they're pretty thin. The lining was made out of another well-loved garment (light-weight denim shirt) that I could no longer wear.

I'm very pleased with the results, and if we don't count the time I spent sewing fighting with my machine, it was very cheap.

Edited To Add:

Two things about this apron that I find funny. First, I am so happy with it, I'm almost afraid to wear it for fear I'll get it dirty (which, naturally, defeats the purpose of an apron). Second, I don't know what it is about aprons, but people keep asking me if I'm going to wear it naked for my husband (this may be way more information than you want to know, especially given the enormity of my pregnant belly, but we're all about full disclosure around here, right?). I think my husband mentioned it, jokingly. Then, my mother asked the same thing (yeah, Mom and I apparently have a special sort of relationship). Then, the friend I gave the bag to (see next post) said the same thing when I showed it to her.

Am I missing something here? Is there some secret apron fetish out there that I don't know about (I'm sure a little google search would find some photos of it if there are any)? These people don't even all come from the same culture, and they've got the same perverted thoughts. Maybe that says something about the type of person I tend to surround myself with. Hmmm. Something to ponder. We'll stay away from lingering thoughts about hanging around the house naked aside from a frilly apron, though...

I actually did that little google search. Didn't see anything that I'd label as porn in the first page or two of results, but did you know that there is such a thing as a "naked apron"? Kind of funny. They're novelty, "adult" aprons with pictures of a naked body on the apron, itself. Maybe that would be preferable to seeing me naked in my apron. Yeah, let's put somebody else's perfect body on me, instead.

Bean Specifics

A couple of people were interested in having some specifics on the method for oven baking beans. They really are delicious with a great texture, so I'll share the yumminess with you all. Just as a little note before we start: I had read that this baking method would also eliminate the flatulence problem. I won't get into specifics, but don't believe a word of that...

First, aside from the obvious part of needing an oven (though, I've seen many crockpot bean recipes online, and they may be great, too), you'll also need a dutch oven or some other oven-proof pot with a lid. Make it a pretty large one, because the recipe makes enough beans for about 10-12 servings.


2 lbs (about 1 kilo) beans (black beans, pinto beans, red kidney beans - whatever you want to experiment with, really - but black beans are my favorite if you can find them).
1 onion
1 clove garlic
ham hock or part of one (optional - I didn't have one the other day and it turned out delicious with a chicken bouillon cube instead. You could also try vegetarian style with nothing. It'll still be tasty).
1 tsp whole cumin seeds (or to taste)
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to low temp (mine is a gas oven that's very hard to control, so my temp was higher than the 175-200F that would normally be used - it still worked fine). Rinse beans. Now, start by chopping up and sauteeing the onion in oil or some other fat (a real Mexican dish would most likely use pork lard, while I often use canola). Allow to soften. Add garlic and cumin seeds. Sautee a minute more. Remove from heat. Add rinsed beans and ham hock, if using, as well as a bit of salt. Cover with water and place in oven. Go about your business checking it from time to time and stirring when the mood strikes you. Add more water if you see that it is getting dry on top. Allow to continue to cook till the beans are cooked and have a thick liquid around them. This could easily take up to 10 hours (but with my gas oven, it was more like 6 to 7).

Add more salt and pepper and serve with rice or in a large tortilla for bean burritos. It was a real hit with our kids served with broken up tortilla chips in it. My husband and I added freshly chopped green onions (scallions to some) and some tomatoes (since tomatoes aren't in season, we used a couple of stewed canned ones I chopped up - couldn't really tell the difference in the beans). I also like to serve them over some freshly baked cornbread. I think it might be good with some cheddar or maybe some Mexican cheese in it, too, but they don't sell those here, so I wouldn't know. Some fresh tomato salsa would be nice, too. We just didn't have any.

Other variations you might try are adding a can of chopped tomatoes (or some whole tomatoes fresh or canned chopped up by you - cheaper, most likely) to the cooking beans. You could also play around with the spices used. Replace the cumin with herbes de Provence or some thyme, or whatever sounds good. Here, they use large white beans (cannelini or whatever they're called - maybe great northern?) cooked in tomatoes that's very good. The herbes de Provence would go well in that. You could also replace the ham hock with chunks of chopped up ham. Adding sauteed leeks and ham to the tomato-baked white beans is very tasty in my experience.

Basically, this is a simple way of cooking beans, if you've got the time to be around for them. It turns out very well, and can be varied in so many ways to make a cheap, interesting dinner (even if it is a bit rugged or rustic sort of meal to me). This is pretty much comfort food to me. I don't even know why, because we ate very few beans when I was a kid. I hated them till I was pregnant with my first kid. There's just something about the texture and the way that they fill you that I find comforting, I guess. Good stuff.

Now Accepting Donations

I think I'm going to have to start a charity fund to support... well, me (and my family - and, the knitting habit, perhaps??). I don't think I mentioned it, but a month or two ago, my husband's car quit on him. It seemed like quite a blow at the time, but we've been doing alright since then with just the family minivan between the two of us. It required some organizational effort, but it was definitely doable - until yesterday.

Yesterday afternoon, while running an errand with the minivan (our only remaining car, in case you didn't catch that the first time), he was hit by another car. He's okay, and the other driver had only a few scrapes, apparently, but our car, given that it wasn't worth much in the first place, is probably going to be totalled. That'll give us a few thousand euros to start with for purchasing another, but it won't go far toward the kind of car we really need with a family this size.

Then, there's the fact that any money we have or would soon have was already tagged for finishing the new house. So, what's a family to do? Start a little "poor me" fund, of course. I'd play the lottery, but with our current luck, that's obviously not a good idea. So, we're now accepting donations.

I spent last night researching all the possible car choices. The type of car we need must have at least 6 seats, in my opinion. That way, we could carry an extra person if we ever needed to. The task of searching out a new (used) one, and seeing how limited we are going to be by our current funds overwhelmed me. It could be the pregnancy hormones or possibly the fact that we won't have a car to take our daughter to school in next week when Spring vacation is over, but whatever the reason, I had a good cry about it when I went to bed last night.

On the bright side, though, I watered the garden this morning (since yesterday's watering time was spent researching cars) and saw all the good plants that are growing. If all goes well, we'll have green beans, black beans, butternut squash, beets, canary melons, a French variety of melon, radishes, onions, a type of winter squash I don't know the name of in French, okra and some herbs. I also believe I see little mounds starting to form where I planted potatoes, so we're crossing our fingers for that, too. We planted other goodies, but those are the seeds that have started sprouting enough that I can see them well amidst the weeds that have also started popping up. Good thing we'll have all that bounty, too, because if we have to buy a new car, it may just be at the expense of getting groceries every week.

Oh, and just so you know, I'm only joking about the donations, please don't ask me where to send them. We'll figure something out, I'm sure. And, we've got both my husband's parents pretty nearby with cars they're willing to lend from time to time, so it'll all work out. After all, it could have been worse. It could have been his fault, and we'd be out of a car completely with no money to start looking for another (because we only have liability insurance). Or, worse yet, he could have actually been hurt, which I don't even want to think about for fear of the waterworks starting up again.

Stay tuned for the possibility of some photos soon I swear I plan to post some. I just got sidetracked by the whole completely-without-a-car thing.