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

Saturday, March 31, 2007

My Favorite Furniture

Here is my favorite piece of furniture. Can you guess why? Yeah, it's not so much the furniture itself as what is inside it. This is the home of my entire yarn stash and most of my sewing goodies. I actually have some more fabric floating around here and in the old house still, but it'll be coming over shortly.

I was finally lucky enough to have this cabinet moved over here yesterday from the old house. It's huge, cumbersome and very heavy, so I think it took a lot of mental preparation to work up the nerve to move it. The left side has always been somewhat well-organized, but the right side was a mess. I spent all evening yesterday and most of today organizing it all and winding up all the odd balls of yarn that had gotten tangled up together (well, I'll admit there are a couple I still haven't worked up the courage to attack).

A little tour:

On the left side of the armoire in the sock hanger thing there are tons of balls of yarn. I highly recommend this kind of storage. I love keeping them this way. Most of the yarn in here is Anny Blatt/Bouton d'Or stuff I got last time I went to one of their sales (a couple of years ago). There's also some Knit Picks and that skein of lovely sock yarn I received the other day from Jo. Below that is some fiber to spin someday. Behind it is my sewing pattern tracing paper and my swift. To the left of it, in the plastic drawer tower is the bulk of my yarn. In the bottom drawer is almost all my cotton and linen. The rest of the drawers contain all the animal fibers. Sitting on top of that is a plastic bin tower that holds an assortment of works in progress that have either been abandoned or put on hold for various reasons. There are also some odd balls of yarn that don't fit in the drawers.

On the right side of the armoire, you'll find all of my pattern books (second shelf), sewing books and reference books for all the crafty endeavors I might feel like partaking in at any given time. Above that, on the top shelf, is a combination of things. Mostly, there are odd balls of yarns I was either given or have accumulated that don't fit in the drawers on the left. There is also a ton of cotton hiding in there. My mother-in-law tends to toss yarn in drawers, where all the assorted balls and skeins mingle and hang out until they have become one. At that point, she's not all that interested in dealing with them. I was told once that anything I could untangle was mine. There must be more than a pound of cotton washcloth yarn in there. I imagine I'll give some of it back to her now that I've wound it all into nice, little center-pull balls (love that ball-winder!). There is also a bag that holds the yarn intended for the Deep-V Argyle Vest (I'm itching to start that, but I haven't gotten the time yet. There are some things I'd like to get off the needles first, too.). On that same shelf, there are also lots of various yarn samples. Oh, and a bunch of sewing patterns are crammed into a folder in there, too.

On the third shelf down, I have a rather large tackle box thing that I'm considering giving to my son to play with. It seems to take up way to much room in my cabinet, and it's so impractical to pull it out and put it back in that I rarely keep anything I use much in there. I think the space would be much better used for fabric and my sewing notions (which aren't currently in the cabinet. You also see my handy-dandy ball winder (Did I mention that I love that thing?), a couple of boxes of moth repellent (definite must around here), a brown bag full of Kool-Aid (yep, only a knitter would keep drink mix in a cabinet in the livingroom), and two cases of interchangeable needles.

The bottom shelf on the right has what portion of my fabric stash I have rounded up so far and a box with some organic cotton to spin up. On the right on that same shelf is a sweater currently being unwound to be reknit, various shirts to chop up for the rug I'm making, the rug itself and a couple of balls of the shirt "yarn" all wound up and ready to be knit.

Below that bottom shelf is a little drawer. Inside it is a mixture of gauge swatches, some felted, some not. There is also an assortment of tiny leftover balls and all the ball bands I've ever remembered to keep.

So, there you have it. It's probably not the most modest yarn stash out there, but by no means is it the largest. I'm happy to say that I could most likely knit all of that yarn in my lifetime, so that's a plus. My goal is to keep it at that manageable size and allow the cabinet to be the limit. As long as it fits, I figure it's okay to have it. The best thing about keeping all of these things in this one cabinet is that it has a lock and a key that work. No little fingers can go roaming through my stash, and my husband just isn't interested. This means that when I organize it, it stays organized. The only reason the right side of the cabinet was a mess is because it had never been organized in the first place. It also makes a wonderful place to hide Christmas and birthday presents (like the two puzzle hiding out in the back on the top shelf). Love being a sneaky momma, and you just never know when you'll need a puzzle for a kids' party. Now, if only I could fit a little bed in there and cozy up to all the fuzzy fibers and make that my new ultra-organized home, because the rest of the house is still a mess.

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Friday, March 30, 2007

From A Distance

Sometimes, it can be good to take a close look at the things in your life that make it worthwhile. Other times, it is best to stand back and see things from a distance. We should do a little of each everyday.

Kids are a great example. There are moments, like when they are playing some fascinating game whose rules are only clear to them. There are few things in life a parent can truly enjoy more than sitting out of sight to watch the imagination of their child at work. Then, there are the other moments - the moments where it's better to get right up there with them to be sure you don't miss a single detail. This first shot is a prime example of that. I found this hat while organizing baby clothes. It's been very windy lately, so I pulled it out. It's great for covering sensitive baby ears. Unfortunately, it's too small, but she doesn't seem to mind. As long as she can reach those strings, she's alright with it.

Then, of course, there are the landscapes of life. No chance of looking at those close up. That's the whole point about a landscape. You take the beauty of its entirety in all at once. I am lucky enough that the piece of property my father-in-law purchased in the 1970s (and that we now live on) for his vineyards is full of stunning landscapes. I am even luckier that my sister-in-law's boyfriend is an architect who likes to bring the outdoors in with large windows (and lots of them). So, the house he designed for us has some of the most breathtaking views imaginable.

This one is the view I get every night as I walk up the stairs and cross the upstairs hallway on my way to bed. Windows cover the upper half of two walls along that side of the house, so I get the whole panoramic view as I head to bed. It's just a shame that my camera is incapable of capturing the picture exactly as I see it, because it if far better.

Here is the same view in the morning. If I am coaxed out of bed at sunrise, this is what I often see. Almost makes it worth getting up early. This is actually a horrible picture of it. My camera isn't able to get the beautiful reds and pinks at all without me underexposing it (this morning, the sun was a red, firey ball). Of course, when I do that, you don't see the trees and bushes as I see them. These are the moments I really wish I had a better camera (any suggestions as to which brand would do our sunrise justice?).

And, then, there are the animals. If you're not quick enough, you could miss them entirely...

How sheep got the reputation for being dumb, I'll never know. Almost every single day, the girls sneak out of their park. They're aided by the wild boar, who sneak in at night and leave a gaping whole under the fence. I'm pretty sure they're just trying to be helpful by showing my husband the flaws in his security system. Or, perhaps, they want to get a closer look at these two-legged beings who shut them back in each night. The other day, they came right up in front of the house, so I decided to get a closer look at them, too.

Taking a closer look at things can be tricky business, though. Either, as with people seen across a crowded bar, you find out the object wasn't all that pretty up close, or as with other people seen across a crowded bar, it just flees even when approached with caution.

Ahhhhh, and then, there's yarn. Yarn, of course, should always be looked at close-up (unless you're lucky enough to be standing in front of one of those Walls of Koigu you sometimes see in yarn shops - you can treat that like a landscape). Take this yarn, for example. I won a little contest (just by commenting) over at Wild Peculiar Joy. And, Jo sent me some yarn. It's a beautiful Colinette sock yarn. I'm so tempted to cast on for some new socks, but I know better, since I've still got 2 others socks still waiting for their mates.

The sock yarn is called Jitter Bug, which is kind of cute, and oddly appropriate, since I get in a jittery mood to knit with it each time I look at it. The colorway (or colourway, as Colinette calls is) is Jay. Beautiful blues with flecks of green here and there. Thanks Jo. I love it!

And, I took a little trip over to the thrift shop again. It sure is nice to do some guilt-free spontaneous shopping. It's great to know that I can't really do much damage, even if I let the shopaholic deep inside roam free for a few minutes.

Actually, this was a planned visit, because the girls need some warm-weather clothes, since the summer heat is stealthily sneaking up on us. It's not time yet, but I'd hate to be caught with my pants down (or with them wearing corduroy overalls, at least). So, I had a little look. Funny thing is, I came out with several nice shirts for myself. Hmmm. Interesting how that can happen when I have the best of intentions. Pink seems to have been the color of the day. Good thing, too, because I could use a bit of color in my life. Years ago, I seem to have happened into a drab color phase and stayed there way too long. As of yesterday, I'm officially out of it. I did actually get some things for the girls, too. Problem is, I am apparently raising weeds, not children. Of the 7 or 8 pieces of clothing I bought her, only a couple fit properly, and probably only one will still fit by the time warm weather comes around. I figured I was safe buying size 6 clothing for a 5-and-half-year-old, but apparently not. Next week, she's on spring break, so I'll be smart about it next time and take her along with me. It's best to let Her Pickiness choose her own clothes, anyway. I'm just lucky there are other girls in the family who will be able to wear the things I bought yesterday.
And, don't forget to take the time to smell (well, at least look at closely) all the flowers that are in bloom.

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

An Ode to Daylight Savings Time

I lost an hour today.
It went right out the door.

I lost an hour today.
It won't come back no more.

I lost an hour today.
I don't know what to do.

I lost an hour today.
My mind went with it, too.

I lost an hour today.
I think I'm going to weep.

I lost an hour today.
I think I need some sleep.

I lost an hour today.
It's got me in a rut.

I lost an hour today.
This time change's kickin' my butt.

Yes, with a master's degree in theoretical linguistics and a serious lack of sleep, you, too, can learn to rhyme such complicated words as "do" and "too". Unlike in the US, we switched hours only this weekend. The whole family has been out of whack since. I was up till who-knows-what-hour last night staring at the bedroom ceiling. Then, when my husband called me from downstairs to help dress the kids, I was deep in dreamland. I remember the dream, which was very odd.

I was shopping in a thrift shop I had come across, when I wandered into a room full of enormous washers and dryers. They were very 1950's futuristic, made of metal and very dome-like. They included not only the machine itself, but also a very large metal walk-in closet on each side. The idea may strike you as odd, but I'd welcome a closet just next to the folding table in our laundry room. It would certainly save me some trips up and down the stairs.

Standing there looking at their hugeness, I joined a conversation with a lady thinking of purchasing one of these monsters and the lady potentially selling it to her. The saleswoman was talking on and on about lint screens and fabric softeners. This is when I set them both straight on the ill-effects of those little dryer sheets. "Not only are they bad for the environment, because they do not biodegrade and contain all sorts of chemicals," I stated. "But they also cause problems with the machine itself," I added. I went on explain how constant use of fabric softeners (especially the sheets) causes chemical build-up on the lint screen. This, in turn, causes the dryer to heat less efficiently and can eventually lead to a malfunction of the heating element (not to mention increases in your electric bill). They were skeptical, but since the machines were used, I was able to illustrate my point. I ran water over the lint screen, showing them how the water had trouble penetrating the chemical-coated screen. Then, I washed it with dish soap and a toothbrush (yeah, don't ask me where I got them - it was a dream, okay.) to show them how easily the water should be able run through the screen. Then, we talked about other options like vinegar in the rinse cycle or dryer balls (which I was given by my mother and actually work pretty well for when we don't line dry).

In the end, though, I prefer hanging the clothes on the line outside when I can. I feel a little like I'm sneaking outside when I should be doing chores, only I am doing the chores. Plus, I've got a beautiful view while I'm doing it and besides, there are few things cuter than baby clothes flapping in the wind.

You think I'm making all of this up? Nope. I swear I didn't just come up with all of this as a way to tell you about more ecological dryer use. Maybe my mind just wants me to start thinking about the next post for my ecoblog.


Monday, March 26, 2007

A Little Pick-Me-Up

It has been pointed out to me that I appeared a little down in that last post. I guess I was, actually, but it has since passed. It's a hazard of the job. Being a stay-at-home mommy can get me down sometimes. I'm pretty much a people-person, at heart, and I need conversation (particularly with adults) from time to time to be my happiest. Last week was a bit difficult in that regard, because Lambchop #2 was sick, and we stayed in most of the week. I was going a little stir-crazy by Friday, when that post was written. I've since gotten out to see the world and the people who inhabit it, and all is good now.

Plus, last night I baked, and how could things not improve with fresh brownies and scones in the house? The recipes both come from a couple of those culinary mystery novels (never heard of that? - it does exist). For me, they actually came from a newspaper clipping my aunt gave me several years ago. It's the first time I've tried either recipe, and they're both good. Why I never made them before is beyond me. The scones have lavender in them. Yum. Very exotic and very Southern. Well, the South of France, anyway. They made a tasty breakfast with my morning green tea. And, the brownies are chewy and moist, and just looking at that picture makes me want to dive in and devour the entire 9"X13" dish of them - with a glass of milk.

I also made fresh yogurt last night. Before this week, I had made my own yogurt only twice in the past. It never set as well as I had wanted, so it didn't become a habit. This week, I made yogurt twice. It was that good. In fact, it was so good that I made two batches the second time around. Lambchop #1 could eat her weight in this stuff and begs for more and more and more. Oh, and did I mention that is without adding any sugar or flavoring to it? A five-year-old begging for more plain yogurt. Now, that's good yogurt. My mother called while I was preparing it, and she sounded very intrigued, or perhaps confused. It made me realize that many people don't know what it would mean to make your own yogurt. It's actually quite simple and not extremely time-consuming. You can mix up a batch before bed and slip it in the fridge upon waking. Aside from washing the yogurt containers, it's pretty hassle free.

Here are some instructions for you to follow, in case you might want to try it on your own:

-1 store-bought plain yogurt (make it something good with active cultures: an all-organic Stonyfield Farms or Brown Cow or something - the better the store-bought yogurt, the better the homemade one)
-1 liter milk - about 4 cups (I have tried non-fat, whole and lowfat - whole sets up the best, tastes the best and is creamier, and organic sure is nice)
-enough jelly jars (or other glass recipient with lid) to hold yogurt, sterilized
-a couple of larger jars to hold hot water
-2 towels
-1 camping cooler

Start by boiling the milk in a pot large enough to allow it to boil without foaming all over the kitchen (if you're using non-fat milk, you'll want to add some powdered milk so the yogurt will thick, not runny - this is why I prefer whole milk). Bring it to a boil and allow it to foam and boil a couple of minutes. While it's boiling, wash the little jars and pour boiling water over them and their lids. You can let them cool in the sink while you boil the milk (I don't boil my jars and lids to sterilize them, because they just end up white with our hard water - this method appears to do the trick well enough).

After the jars are washed and milk is boiled, go type a blog post or something while they cool. Allow the milk to cool down till it's at about 80F. Our cheese thermometer is still in the old house, so I just tested the temperature on my skin. You can do like you would with a baby bottle and drip some on the sensitive skin of the inside of your wrist (keeping in mind that body temperature is 98.6F). [edited to add: I just took a look at Liz's tutorial and saw that she likes it at 116F when she adds the starter - surely she has a good reason for this. I wasn't using any sort of recipe when I did this, which is probably where she got her temp from, but it did work at some temp slightly cooler than 98.6F.] When it's cooled enough, add the store-bought yogurt (Liz also put in 2 tbsps - I'm sort of an inexact cook, in general, so...). I just used the whole cup of it (not a measuring cup - but the cup it comes in, which was 125 g or 4.4 ounces), but with some American sizes for yogurt cups, you could probably go with half or less. Stir the yogurt into your milk with a wire whisk. Then, pour the milk into each little jar you have prepared. Seal them with their lids, and place them in a cooler you have put a towel in (just folded in the bottom of the cooler is fine).

Then, pour some boiling water into the larger jars and seal them. Place them in the cooler with the yogurt jars, lay a second towel over the top and close the lid. Slide your cooler out of the way, so no one trips on it. Go to bed, get your 7-8 hours of beauty sleep, and wake up bright and early to slip them in the fridge. It takes them about 7 hours to set up nicely, so sleeping is a wonderful activity for the waiting period. It keeps you from getting curious and opening the lid to check them. This causes the cooler to lose heat, which isn't so great, since it's needed to make them set up.

Next time you make your own yogurt, you can use some of your last batch as the starter. When you notice your yogurts getting a funky taste (maybe a little more sour than usual), you'll want to buy a store-bought one to start your next batch.

Note: I have to thank Liz for her idea of putting the towels in with the jars full of boiling water. The other method I had previously used (and read online somewhere) was to submerge them in hot water that you've poured into the cooler. This did not maintain heat nearly as well and was messier (I had to open the cooler from time to time to add more warm water). Liz's method was very hassle free, and with my electric kettle, it's all very quick.

Now that you've seen how it's done, you're probably wondering why on earth one would go through the trouble. Well, for starters, this yogurt is delicious. Plus, you know exactly what you put in it. Can you say that about every store-bought brand? You can also vary the flavors to your liking. Put a little of your favorite sugar-free jelly in the bottom, if you want. That way, you can get the sugar-free yogurt you want without the bizarre chemical sugar substitutes you don't want. I'm planning on cooking some banana to mix in on the next batch (I've only ever tasted banana yogurt with YoBaby, and it's delicious but a little too sugary for my taste). For that, I'll start by trying it with one cooked and puréed banana per liter of milk and mix it in with the store-bought yogurt. We'll see how that goes and adjust the amount from there, but we usually just drop a teaspoon of jelly or honey on top and stir.

Now, let's talk money. I've thought this through, and it's quite a money saver to make your own yogurt if you eat it frequently. We do. The kids love it, and we're always running out. We've always got milk on hand, though, because they sell it in that long-life packaging that doesn't need refrigerating here. So, in a way, it's even more convenient. But, what about price? Is it really worth the time it takes to make it?

Here, it costs about 2.00 euros (or even higher) to buy four cups of organic yogurt. Eight of them equals a liter (it's hard to get it in large containers - they mostly sell the single serving cups). To buy a liter of organic milk, it costs about 1 euro or so (but can be as high as 1.20 euros). After that first batch, when you're using your own yogurt to make new batches, you're only counting the price of the milk (it'll be a little more for your first batch). So, purchasing a liter's worth of organic yogurt is about 4.00 euros, whereas a liter of organic milk is about a quarter of the price. Per liter, you're saving about 3 euros. It takes maybe 20 minutes in terms of working time to make a batch of homemade yogurt. So, if you made three batches on three different days, you'd have worked an hour, but you would have saved 9 euros.

If you eat a lot of yogurt, like we do, it's in your best interest to make 2 batches at a time. It probably adds 5-10 extra minutes onto your total prep time to do so. So, making it twice, you've spent a maximum of 1 hour to make 4 liters (about a gallon) of yogurt. So, you spent about 4 euros for the milk instead of the 16 euros you would have shelled out to buy those four liters of yogurt. So, there you're saving 12 euros an hour or more. I've worked many a job where I made less money per hour doing something less interesting with my time. So, for me, it's well-worth the effort for such a tasty end result.

I can't find any pricing information on non-organic yogurts, but experience tells me that you could easily make the organic yogurt yourself for the price of plain, non-organic yogurt at the store - probably even a little cheaper. So, you're upping the quality and lowering the price or at least keeping it the same. Seems like a good deal to me.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Too Much Of A Good Thing

When I was little and my parents sent me off to a friend's house, they used to always say, "Now, don't have too much fun." That's just the kind of parents they were... always worrying about my welfare. Wouldn't want an accidental overdose, you know.

At the time, it made me ponder the idea of getting too much of a good thing. "Not possible," I thought. Now that I'm older and hopefully wiser, I know better. It is possible to have too much of a good thing. Too much chocolate cake shows on the hips. Too much wine causes headaches and other possible side effects like unexpected pregnancies and humiliating yourself in front of coworkers. Take all things in moderation, they say. So, how does that work when these good things are a mandatory part of your everyday life? You live with them, you know, so is moderation possible? Take kids for instance. Love 'em. Really, I do, but can you get a little too much of that kind of good thing? As a stay-at-home mom, I can tell you that you certainly can.

As I told my husband earlier today, it seems like kids are definitely the sponges they are often described as. It's just that people usually mean that they soak up knowledge or language skills so easily. What nobody ever mentions is how they also soak up things like love, affection and pretty much any other thing a parent has to give. Unlike sponges, though, it would be frowned upon to wring them out to see if you could get all that you put in to come back out for you. You just can't do that kind of thing, and I'd have to say, it just wouldn't work. Instead, you continue to feed the sponge more and more affection, quality-time, etc. Some of these things do come back to you but in much smaller quantities than you originally put in. The sponge is just so busy growing and learning that it needs more and more of all this love and general giving and doesn't have the time to stop and think of what the giver might need. It can be quite exhausting work, and while the rewards are there, at times, they're difficult to see. You just feel lonely. You need something more than the constant giving.

Then, there is the beauty and tranquility of the place we live (the picture up top is the view of my husband's vineyard and the property we live on, as seen from our upstairs window). Hearing the birds chirping and the rustle of leaves in the wind is far better than hearing the sounds of the city. I certainly don't miss the sirens and motorcycles passing by. At times, the vastness can feel a bit too vast, though, and I crave the sound of other people's voices. I've been stuck inside all week with a sick child, though, and even the give and take of adult conversation has been hard to come by.

They're worth it, though. Just look at them. Maybe it's the hormones talking again, but I get teary just looking at them. So, I know they're worth all of it. I just might not feel all that motivated about doing the housework taking care of them requires.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Somebody Please Stop Me

I can't help myself. I just keep going back to pick up the camera again. I think I've taken a good twenty pictures of Lambchop #3 this evening. She may be getting a little fed up with me. Good thing she can't talk yet. I played with the fun underexposure thing again. I love the look of these kinds of shots.

I also love the shape of her little head. I've been wanting to get a shot that fully captured the cuteness of it for quite some time now. A silhouette is definitely the way to go. Look at that little question mark that the back of her head makes. To tweet.

Oh, and in case anybody was wondering, all of the silhouette photos were taken from our upstairs window. It overlooks the mount on our property. The sun slowly sneaks behind that mount as it sets in the evening. Perfect photo op.

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Getting To Know You...

Getting to know all about you. Remember that song? Along with "You Are My Sunshine," I think my mother used to sing it to me when I was little - that and a bedtime version of Simon & Garfunkel's "50 Ways To Leave Your Lover". Don't worry. It was all very G-rated the way she sang it... "Get in bed Fred," etc.

All of that is totally off subject, though. It's just the first song reference that has anything to do with what I want to talk about. As I mentioned in my last post, I am getting to know my camera better. And, you know, it's got quite a few capabilities I wasn't aware of. If you've got a digital camera with all sorts of little pictograms and menus everywhere, but you don't know what they mean, I suggest you read the manual. I know, sounds like drastic measures, but, you know, they say that the Japanese have a much higher success rate with condoms because they read the instructions. I'll bet the same could be said for cameras. Don't tell me you don't have time to read it, either. Read it instead of the morning paper one day. Or instead of a few blogs. It'll be worth it. In fact, it's sure to make your blog look better. You may just find a new interest in photography. Watch out, though, because it can also give you a deep need desire for a much fancier camera that just might hamper your ability to purchase other necessities like... yarn and needles and, I don't know... food, maybe.

Seriously, it could become an obsession. I mean, I was so eager to try out my new-found knowledge in daylight that I took these pictures at breakfast. Couldn't wait. Just to vary the poses, I've got them growling like animals here. They seemed to be having fun. Incidentally, Lambchop #2 would make an excellent model No, that's not a proud mommy tooting her own horn. I just mean that when you tell him to do something or pose some special way, he'll do exactly that and actually stay there. Lambchop #1 is a little more antsy, and Lambchop #3 just likes to grab for the camera.

I've even taken quite a few shots of my current knitting just to see how best to shoot it to get a nice image with good color and all. I may or may not have taken more pictures of this ball of yarn and Co. than I took of the kids this morning. In my defense, though, they move a lot more, and I had to get them dressed for school, too. The knitting is patient and waits till after they're gone and the house is quiet.

This will eventually become a little summer t-shirt I'm designing for Lambchop #3. She looks pretty cute in purple, and I've had this yarn for years (Patons Grace, which is 100% mercerized cotton). I originally bought it to make a little something for Lambchop #1. Inspiration never came, though, and now it wouldn't be enough yarn to make anything for her. It should work out fine for the baby, though. The t-shirt I'm making will hopefully be entirely or almost entirely seamless, depending out whether I knit the sleeves in the round like the body. We'll see when I get there. And, if it turns out like I'm hoping, I may just share the pattern with you.

I think we can safely say that with better knowledge of my camera's functions and my new computer, with its faster picture uploads, you will see more and more photos on the blog - something my family will surely enjoy, since my children are often the subjects. And, with any luck, they'll be nicer to look at, too.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Know Your Equipment

I've had the same camera for years now, and it just occurred to me to read the manual today. What a difference a little knowledge makes!
My mother keeps asking me if Lambchop #3's hair is red. No, no. It's just that her mother never realized that she could change the camera settings for different lighting. This is the tungsten setting, so you get a much better idea of her true coloring (even without a flash, she is really well-lit). Mom, you can thank me later...

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007


A commenter recently asked for the pattern for the Superman cap I made a while back. I always neglect to mention where I get patterns when I show off the finished object. I probably forgot with that one, too. It was something I came up with on my own, because in searching the internet, I didn't find a chart I liked for a good Superman logo. Lambchop #2 has a Superman coloring book around here somewhere that had a great example of the more modern logo they came out with for the new Superman. So, I sketched it onto some knitter's graph paper and forced it to fit into the squares until I was satisfied it actually resembled an S.

Having done it by hand meant that I would later have to convert it into an Excel graph or something in order to share it. I think you're starting to see why it hasn't happened until now. I spent my entire morning on it today, though. It probably shouldn't have taken that long, but I started out using the Test Drive Excel that came with my new computer (too lazy to install the real deal). As it turned out, they've disabled the print options necessary to save the file as a pdf. So, I had to take the time to install the new software, which needed to be done anyway. I later learned that all of my work in Excel had led me to discover that the copyright information I wanted to put in the footer was too large for the Excel footer options. Anyway, long story shortened, I got it all put together after retyping way more things than necessary. I guess knitting and sewing aren't the only activities around here that involve lots of trial and error (come to think of it, are there any that don't?).

So, click on over to my pattern page if you're interested in the Superman logo chart. I did not include an actual hat pattern, because I forgot to write mine down as I was doing it, and there are plenty of hat patterns out there to work with that are surely better than mine was.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Nifty Thrifty

A few sewing projects to show off... I've been in a little bit of a sewing mood since I started the thrift shopping and found lots of things to convert. In order to do so, I had to take a little trip to the fabric store for notions and a bit of fabric. While browsing, I came across the bias tape. I always look at it, but I've never used it. It's always been a little bit mysterious, so I never buy any. This time, I was attracted to a couple of them in particular. They seemed too cute to pass up, so I racked my brain for something to do with them. This isn't easy (don't be rude, I don't mean because I have trouble forcing my brain to think), because, since I've never used it, I don't really know what to use it for (I do, sort of, but I couldn't think of anything I needed it for). Then, the idea of a couple of baby bibs came to mind. I have lots of towels that are getting a little shabby on the edges, but the centers are great, so I decided to convert them. Pink is perfect for my girl, and this particular towel was quite frayed on its outside edges. I got two bibs out of one hand towel, and I'll still be able to use a few extra leftover bits as rags.

This is an extremely simple project to do. The bias tape, being already pressed for you, makes it even easier. All I did was trace a store-bought bib onto my pattern paper and set to work. I did all the cutting and pinning while watching a movie the other night, and sewed them up last night in a jiffy (haven't used that word in a while). And, look at those little pink animals on the bias tape. Or, how about the one with butterflies? Too cute to pass up, right? I'm thinking something like this would make a great baby shower gift. Stripes or some other patterned towels could be fun. You can easily find old towels in great condition at garage sales for nothing (or in your own linen closet). The two of them together cost me a total of 3 euros just for the bias tape (about 1.5 meters of it for each bib). I could have used a little more tape for a slightly longer tie string, but it'll work.

I remember mentioning the other day that I had plans to make a dress for Lambchop #1 out of a ladies tank I got for free at the local thrift shop (no, not the "five finger discount" - they gave it to me). I finally got around to it yesterday morning. And, you know, I love the feel of yarn sliding through my fingers as I knit, but there's something to be said for the instant gratification of sewing. It wasn't instantaneous enough for our Lambchop, though. She hung out looking over my shoulder all morning asking if it was done yet. She put it on the moment it was finished and loved it so much she got a chocolate stain on it.

An explanation:
The striped part is the tank top. I just shortened the shoulder straps a bit and took it in a little in the chest (girls may be going through puberty earlier and earlier these days, but she is only 5). The bottom section is exactly how I envisioned it. She, apparently, had other ideas, but since she didn't express them, this is what she got. She told me, "It's not what I wanted, but I like it," so I can't complain. I appear to have better luck sewing for her than knitting. I may have to stick with that, since it is far less time-consuming, so even if she rejects a sewn garment, I'm not devastated.

For the ruffles, I basically just cut a length of fabric double the circumference of the bottom of the shirt and gathered them (after basting) and sewed them to the shirt. Pretty simple. I'm happy with the end result, but I'll have to fix the chest a little more. I need to take it in up top, where it hangs open a bit when she leans over. I actually had a lot of fun sewing this, because, for the first time, I read my sewing Bible about how best to sew stretchy fabrics. It's amazing what a little know-how can do for you. It's not perfect, but it's a huge improvement over previous projects done with stretchy fabric, and I didn't feel like corrupting my children with wild cursing throughout the entire project.

I also finished my kimono shirt, but with me as my own photographer, you don't get a great shot of it. I'll have to catch my husband later today for a photo session. Should comb my hair and doll myself up a bit for you or just have him chop my head off? Here's a teaser for you in the meantime...

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

A Slumber Party... And A Massacre

You know, as opposed to a Slumber Party Massacre, like in the old horror film.

The Slumber Party:

Last night, for the first time ever, Lambchop #1 had a friend stay the night. Her best little friend, whom she met at the age of three, came home with us from school yesterday. She's been here all night and all this morning. And, I have to say, this is not what I expected. Even my husband noticed it. The calm, I mean. This little girl is an only child, and she appears to have a calming effect on our wild ones. She lives in a little house in town with not much of a yard. I'm thinking having no siblings in a home like that makes a child less likely to be rambunctious. That's what I will keep telling myself, too, no matter what you say. Either way, all I know is we've got to have her over more often.

The only trouble is the expected side effect this kind of visit has on Lambchop #2. He just doesn't understand why they don't want him around. I feel bad for him. I was lucky that way. Even though I was the second sibling, I never got the sense my brother didn't want me hanging around with his friends. For many years, we lived in a small neighborhood that only had boys in it. So, I tagged along with my brother and his buddies. Either I've blocked it all out, or he didn't care if hung out with them. Is it just a girl thing to shove the younger kids out of the way? You know, to share secrets and all? I don't know, but I sent him off to play with his grandfather, who never complains about presence.

The Massacre:

In doing research for my ecoblog, I have been looking into composting. We compost... sort of. We have a compost bin, and we throw kitchen scraps in it, but I could hardly tell you the proper way to manage a compost bin. So, I've been reading up on it. And, not that it's complicated, but I realized our bin was just not "healthy". For quite some time, I'd seen earwigs (pincher bugs) swarming around the lid, which I was pretty sure wasn't supposed to happen, but what do I know? So, I looked it up online. And, sure enough, it's a sign that my compost bin is on the slow track to decomposition, which isn't exactly what I was after. As it turns out, there are two kinds of composting: aerobic (in which lots of oxygen is involved) and anaerobic (which is the opposite). Without all that oxygen, the stuff will still decompose naturally, but it will take a few years, while the aerobic composting will only take maybe six months.

In checking on the compost, I peeked in the little trap door at the bottom of the bin where we can eventually pull out fully composted goodies while still leaving the recently added scraps up top. In doing so, I saw *gasp* a plastic bag. Now, I know I don't put them in there. I may not be a great composter, but I know enough to know plastic doesn't cut it. So, I made the decision to move the compost bin off the pile that was in it, sort the compost and put the good stuff back in. I know that sounds gross, but with the aid of a long-handled shovel and a rake, it wasn't that bad. Not as fun as baking a cake and later eating it, but not that bad.

I asked my big, strong, manly husband to do the heavy lifting, and once the bin was moved, here's what I found: a huge compacted square of dried leaves. No wonder the bin seemed to have miraculously filled up very quickly in the past month or so. Where did all these leaves come from? Well, my mother-in-law has a very large tree in her courtyard in the city. When she ended up with bags and bags of leaves, we thought it silly to leave them to rot slowly in bags in a trash dump. So, we brought them home to compost. It just never occurred to me that my husband would put them in all at once.

I set to work pulling apart my cube, which looked remarkably like those square watermelons and things that are all the rage in Japan. These leaves were so well-compacted that I actually had some trouble breaking up the larger clumps. When I did, I was shocked by what I discovered.

First, there were tons of worms, which is a good sign - except when they're all dead, which was the case here. Devastated by the loss, I wiped my eyes and stumbled into my husband's office to ask just how many bags of leaves he'd put in there. "Three, maybe four," he said and added, "I had to step on them to get them all to fit." At this point, my mouth may have dropped open. The compost bin is not a trash can. By shoving too many leaves in, he limited the oxygen inside the bin. Basically, he suffocated all those innocent worms who were working so hard for us. A literal massacre - lubricide, if you will. I married a murderer, and I have to sleep with him each night. It's just something I'll have to live with.

Through teary eyes and with a heavy heart, I dug deeper, determined to sort things out and allow other worms a chance to flourish. Besides, what else would I find? In fact, over the course of the next hour, I would discover that my husband was not the only one to misunderstand the function of a compost bin. In the words of our wise ancestors, the apple falleth not far from the tree, you know (or something like that). His father, too, had contributed to the mess. After all was said and done, I found four plastic bags, two mesh veggie bags (the kind cherry tomatoes can come in), and a yogurt cup (and, of course, way more leaves than necessary). In telling my father-in-law he could use the bin, I never dreamed he would put his kitchen scraps in plastic before adding it all to the bin. So, now there's a new rule around here, I guess. Composting is women's work. After sorting through a full container and coming up with only enough good stuff to fill it about a quarter full, that was the only conclusion I could come to. So, I've loving stirred it the past couple of days, hoping for the best.

Ooh, and in all my wanderings online, I found a little experiment to try: vermicomposting. I'm so excited. I've already bought some worms. I'm thinking if this goes well, it could eventually become a small business for me. I could have my very own worm farm. They're more expensive by the pound than that lamb my husband's raising. I tried to take a little picture of my new pets, but the battery died in mid-shot. I know you're disappointed not to see the squirmy little fellas, so I promise I'll do it soon.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Don't Worry, I Won't Neglect You

Now that I've got my new site, you're probably thinking I will start to neglect you. Not to worry, I'd much rather just neglect the housework, instead. Actually, no, that's the funny thing about the content on my new blog. Since it includes product reviews for ecologically friendly cleaning products and the like, it just might help me keep on top of the household chores. Yesterday, for the first time ever, I actually had fun scouring the bathroom sink, cleaning the oven and getting some burnt-on crud off of a pot. Who knew taking pictures of the process and mentally formulating a blog entry was the key to effective housekeeping? Interesting to note.

So, go check out my first product review. I was actually very surprised by the results, and there's a great frugal tip involved.

Enough about that. I promise I'll try not to talk (too much) about my other blog here. That wouldn't really be fun for people who come for the craft and family talk, would it? Given I've spent way too much time in the past few days playing with the other blog (oops, I'm talking about it again) to get it set up, I haven't done much crafting. I still have to get to the fabric store for the notions needed to finish my current projects, but Muttonchop has been using our sole car for wine deliveries, so I haven't been able to go. Hopefully, I'll have the chance to do it tomorrow while the kids are at school.

I do have some great ideas for bags to sew, though. When we moved, I saved the blue and clear striped plastic shower curtain from the old house. I washed it up nicely and want to make a fun beach bag out of it. I also have the idea in mind that I could put that Provençal button-down shirt to good use. I was pretty sad when I learned that it had a little hole in it right near the pocket. It shows my bra quite nicely, which is, perhaps, not the point in wearing a shirt. Now we see why it was at the thrift shop. At first, I was a bit disappointed, because I had thought it would be a nice change from my usual wardrobe choices. I'm feeling better about it now, though, because it occurred to me that I could make it into a lovely lining for a linen bag. Maybe there would even be enough for a grocery bag. That could be pretty cool - shopping for carrots in style.

And for those of you who sit patiently through all of my craft blabber to see baby pictures, these shots of Lambchop #3 are for you. There are few things in this world cuter than the look of utter concentration on a baby's face when they play with an object. They are so intent on discovery that you can literally see it in their eyes. I love that look, and I wanted to capture it to remember in years to come. Unfortunately, once the camera's red-eye elimination light comes on, we're screwed. She's like a deer in the headlights all of a sudden. All things not related to that little red light cease to exist... until you say her name and smile at her. Then, the spell is momentarily broken as a smile crosses her face. Ahhhh, that's better. I still never got the shot of her concentrating on that stuffed catepillar, though.

Edited to Add: And, for those of you following our sheep sagas around here, I, apparently, am not the only one to be adept at losing the furry, little creatures. They've apparently found a breach in our security system (read: a hole or jumpable area in the fence). I was driving home the other morning and happened upon them running down our dirt road. They seemed to be in a hurry to get to whatever grassy knoll they were intent on reaching. Even the Land Rover didn't scare them. I stopped in front of them, and they seemed content to sneak around the sides. Apparently, if the object does not seem animal, no matter what its size, they're not worried. Though I may not have gotten rid of my baby fat yet, I am no match for a 4x4, but they found me more intimidating. Surely, it wasn't merely because of the tone of voice I used when asking, "Where do you think you're going?" I shewed them back uphill and called in reinforcements (in the form of my retired-shepherd of a father-in-law). That was several days ago, and since then, they have developed a habit of perusing the fence for weak spots they might sneak through. Muttonchop is out there fixing the fence as I type. See how the belief that sheep a stupid is way off base?

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

I've Been Playing Again

My husband comes home from his business trip this afternoon, and I really wanted to get the house clean before he got home. This, of course, means that I have an unquenchable thirst for internet surfing. He suffers, but you'll benefit. See over in the sidebar over there where I've added a new site? It's my little green-living blog: Ecowho? Ecoyou. I'll probably still post green living-type posts here, too, or at least mention them when I post over there, because a whole two of you showed interest in my sharing my thoughts on that topic.

I'll certainly post any craft-related recycling I do here, but I thought it might be nice to have a little resource page of sorts. I know there are plenty of places out on the net where you can find information on living a more environmentally friendly existence, but I thought it would be fun to have a place to record the products I've tried or we've tried (hey, if you would like to join me and make it a community blog, let me know - that could be more fun) or would like to try and links to where to find them. It's not always easy to find recycled/recyclable/biodegradable/compostable/earth-friendly whatchamadookickies, so I thought I'd make myself an online source list and general place to chat about such things and share it all with you.

So, take a look-see. I've already got one whole post up there and quite a few links to fun products to try (in the US and France!).

Spurning the Knitting Gods

Last night I stayed up pretty late, indulging myself in the silence left after the kids are asleep. I sewed into the wee hours and finished all I could on my dress-turned-kimono shirt. I tried it on around midnight, and there were a few minor touch-ups needing to be made. I sat back down at my sewing machine and heard a tiny voice from nowhere say, "I'm thirsty." I nearly jumped out of my skin. Probably freaked little Lambchop #2 out quite a bit, too, with my reaction. I just wasn't expecting it, and the fact that he was hidden by the wall in front of the stairs didn't help. I recovered a normal heartbeat and took him a cup of water. Not too long afterwards, I followed him and went to bed myself. There wasn't any more I could do to my shirt without the notions I need from the fabric store, anyway.

I tried to go buy those notions yesterday morning, but fate was very much against the idea. Before heading off to take the kids to school, I searched high and low for the debit/credit card I use for shopping. It was nowhere to be found. I scrounged up 40 euros, hoping that would be enough for the necessities and headed out. After taking the kids to school, I drove the 40-45 minutes necessary to get to the fabric store only to find it was closed until 2pm. Apparently, they open late on Mondays. No problem. I'd just head to the other one nearby. No, actually, I wouldn't. It's closed all day on Mondays. So, I didn't get my ribbons and other little doohickies needed to finish my current sewing projects. Oh well. It'll have to wait. In fact, it'll have to wait until at least tomorrow, because I later found out exactly where my credit card was - Paris. "Paris?," you ask. Yes, Paris, in the coat pocket of a certain husband who left town on Saturday for a wine show. Arg. So, I stole half of the 40 bucks I scrounged from his office. That'll show him. Okay, he wouldn't have cared, but still. It makes me feel better. It would appear that the knitting gods are angry with me for cheating on them by doing so much sewing, so they put up a few obstacles. Despite the fact that I know they don't like to be spurned, I sewed anyway just to spite them. Don't they know a girl needs some instant gratification from time to time?

And, for those of you wondering what the dress looked like to begin with, I'll show you. It's not a full shot of the thing (it was about calf-length), but I think you get the gist. I used to love this dress. The little neck details made me feel girly (as you can see, I kept them in the remade version), and back when I had nice curves, instead of my current post-baby ones, I thought I looked pretty good in this dress (don't spoil it for me if you've seen me in this dress and disagree).

The main trouble with this dress is that it's a knit acrylic fabric, that although soft and cozy is very sticky. First, there's the fact that it gets a horrible case of static cling. Then, there's the fact that it's knit. We knitters know what happens to the butt of a knit dress or skirt. Not pretty. I do love the feel of the fabric, though. So, I figured it was the ideal dress for a remodel. And, luckily for me, since, as I said, I loved this dress, I have a second one in gray to play with later. I don't know if I'll go for the same style. I like the way this one turned out, but I may attempt something new.


Monday, March 12, 2007

Spittin' Image

First of all, let me just say that I love that expression: Spittin' Image. Did you know that it's very similar in French? That's the kind of expression you'd imagine wouldn't make it across languages well, but lo-and-behold, there it is. I wonder if other languages use a similar expression to say that someone looks a lot like someone else. Anyway, in French, it's "portrait craché", craché being "spit" in the past tense (in case you were wondering).

Now that we got the language lesson out of the way, let's talk genetics a bit. In the comments of a post the other day, a friend of mine, who has actually seen and held two of my children (the two oldest) mentioned that Lambchop #3 looks a lot like Lambchop #2. Looking at the same image my friend had seen, my mother asked the all important question: "What does the postman look like, because this last kid doesn't look a thing like the others?" Yes, the sense of humor appears to run in the family. Apparently, though, my friend and my mother would disagree about the family resemblance, or whether there is any at all.

I also recently had a lady I know (whom I wouldn't exactly refer to as a friend, but we see each other frequently at playgroup) tell me that Lambchop #3 looks a lot more like me than the other two do. I've seen pictures of my husband as a baby, though, and she looks like a very feminine version of him. So, who's right in all this? Certainly not my mom, because if the mail carrier, male or female, can't find it in their heart to make their way down our 2km-long dirt road to deliver packages... well, I ain't puttin' out. And, I can't show you any baby pictures of me or my husband, because I don't have any here to scan (Mom, you could help us out a little on this one), but I can put up a few of the three kids all around the same age to see how much they resemble each other (or don't, as the case may be). So, that is what I decided to do.

They are all between the ages of about 6 and 9 months in these pictures, I believe. I can't be certain, though. The only thing I know for sure is that I took the picture of Lambchop #3 (in the green sweater) just the other day, and she is now six months old. I can also tell you that the picture of Lambchop #1 (on my back) is scanned from a photo taken by the same friend who left the comment I mentioned above. Problem is, I can't remember exactly when she visited us and took that shot. May of 2002, perhaps. That would have made Lambchop #1 about 9 or 10 months old at the time. I can't really be too sure, though, because that sweater she has on is a 6 month size (and she was never a tiny baby). I can be pretty sure that the first picture, which is of Lambchop #2, was taken when he was about 8 months old. Or, at least, that's what the date stamp on the computer file would lead me to believe. Given the number of teeth I see, I'd say that can't be too far off. And, the last one is of Lambchops #1 and #2 in the bath. I think he's a bit closer to Lambchop #3's current age there, but it's so fuzzy, I didn't think it'd help much.

So, what do you think? There's definitely a family resemblance, right? I think so. They all have their own look, because they are all their own little person, but there's a similarity there, I think. I believe they all have my husband's charming smile (yes, even the kid belonging to the postman). One thing I can be sure of is that there are some similar personality traits. I was just told today by Lambchop #2's teacher that he's a great little kid. He just has this one little thing he does... he's a perfectionist. He gets so upset when he can't get something right. He has to do it himself, too. Who does that remind me of? His older sister. And, what's weird is that we try really hard not to reinforce that. I'm always telling Lambchop #1 that it's okay not to have things turn out just right as long as you enjoy the process or you really tried hard. She doesn't seem to believe me yet, though. So, is perfectionism hereditary just as much as that smile is?


Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Silver Lining

It would appear that I have a lot to say these days. I seem to be blogging much more than usual. Maybe not having my computer in the house for so long made me grow fonder of the whole blog world. Or maybe it's just because I have so many projects going at the moment. Sure, the house is a tiny bit messy, but haven't we come to expect that from me? I have to enjoy my life, too, right? So, I craft. Given the last several posts' content, though, you'd think I have given up knitting altogether. Not true. In fact, I have a couple of projects actively on the needles these days. I'll admit they're mindless ones, but a project's a project's a project.

I still pull out my little alpaca vest I've been working on when the mood strikes me. I may get it ready before it gets too hot to wear it. Then again, I may not. Then, there's the knitted rug. Remember that one? Every knitter and their cat are resurrecting old projects to either finish or rip out and get rid of. I haven't joined along, officially, but maybe I've been inspired. Or, perhaps inspiration came in the form of tiny slits in all my shirts (caused by the kitchen cabinet, remember?). There's nothing like new "yarn" to get a knitter going. I've got plenty of new colors now, so I've set to work chopping the shirts up, knitting the resulting "yarn".

The long strip of dark gray as well as the long blue one just before it are the new additions. The rest of it has been there for months, waiting to be added to. The previous parts came from button-down shirts, which are a real pain to cut up. That was all I had to work with, though, so I went with it. The last two sections I recently added come from two long-sleeved t-shirts I had. I'm planning to massacre a red one pretty soon, so that should add some life to the thing. I have no idea if I'm actually going to like this rug when it's done, but I'm going with the flow of it for now. No plan of action for the arrangement of colors, either. Just letting the next available shirt decide. I'm pretty excited that I have a green one coming up. That should really spice things up (see what passes for excitement around here?).

On the sewing front, I still haven't found the time to put my kimono shirt together. I've already got a quick new project planned, though. As I was leaving the thrift shop the last time I went, I fondled a black and white striped tank top. Doing so caused it to fall off its hanger. This, in turn, made the shopkeepers think I wanted it, but I had already paid. They, literally, receive tons of clothes. They don't know what to do with them all. So, they gave the fallen shirt to me. It's not even my size, and I'm even sure that after significant weight loss its intentionally tight design would ever look good on me. The upside is that with a slight modification to the straps (which will be easy, given the way they are attached), it'll fit Lambchop #1 nicely (like a slightly loose-fitting long shirt for now). I've ransacked my smallish fabric stash to find something to make ruffles to attach to the bottom of the tank to get a nice summer dress. There wasn't really anything that would work, though. I'm planning a trip to the fabric store this week to find some (among other things). My preference would be some bright pink and some lime green. I think that using those two colors for skirt ruffles would make an adorable, very modern-looking dress for her.

Well, Lambchop #3 would like to do some typing for you. I'll let her say a few words, then we've got lunch to prepare...
b b0- b i ok,nbbbbbbbbbbb

I think we all know what she means. But in case, you weren't sure, let's let her reiterate:
uyv kvb7 vb c m 4 8k0k0

Yep, that's what I understood the first time.

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Happy Disasters

As was expected, Carnaval day was somewhat disastrous, but in a good way, apparently. Or, at least, they seem to have had fun marching down the streets of the town in their costumes. Lambchop #2, it being his first time, came home exhausted but really excited about his day. Lambchop #1 came home in her street clothes, with her princess dress in a shopping bag. Don't worry, it wasn't out of shame. The teachers averted emotional disaster in the morning by changing her out of her dress. Then, she put on her princess get-up later with all the other kids. Whew! She shouldn't be emotionally scarred after all. The dress came home in a bag, because a little boy in her class pushed her down in the mud. It was literally covered in mud and straw and other nastiness. It looked like she had decided she was a pig instead of a princess and rolled in a mud puddle for several minutes (easy mistake to make, what with the pink fabric and all). I actually should have taken a picture of that mess. It was way more impressive than the dress itself. I got it soaked while the mud was still wet, and it all came out, though, so everyone is happy.

Batman didn't survive even that well. Actually, I'm not sure this happened at school, but I just thought to take a picture of the cape and saw a hole in it. Synthetic felt is great for the fact that there's no need to sew the hems, but it's also great for holes. Just not a sturdy fabric. It's a great prototype, though, and I'll look for some other black fabric for a better costume soon. At least now I have a quick and simple pattern made out. It should be a quick job the next time. No point in making the hat with the felt, though. Surely, it wouldn't last long. I will still try to take a picture of the cape, but when I got to him with the camera, he had already taken it off.

Instead, I'll show you a little shot I took of the happiest baby in the world. People are always surprised by how smiley she is. She loves to smile at people she doesn't know well, so they always get the impression she never cries. I guess I'll let them continue to live in their little fantasy world, but we all know the truth. She is a smiley kid, though. Here's the proof. And, take a look at that fancy sweater with the cute froggie buttons. She's adorable in it. It's almost like her Aunt Disentangled knew she was going to be a blond that'd look great in these colors. And, the cotton yarn was a perfect pick for that size sweater. Just in time for the Spring season. Thanks, Aunt Dis.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some much neglected household chores to get to. Ooh, and that little kimono-style sweatshirt I'm making for myself out of an old acrylic dress. Pictures of that project coming soon (and maybe a little tutorial for how to do it yourself, too). It's all cut out and pinned. I just have to find some sewing time soon.


Friday, March 09, 2007

Pouting Princess

Our little princess has some trouble with life's uncertainties. They make her very anxious. I think she might get that from her mommy. She woke up at the crack of dawn this morning asking if Carnaval was today. That's how excited she was. According to her daddy, breakfast was like any other - maybe it even went a little more smoothly than most. Then it came time for her to dress. Big emotional scenes ensued.

I never did fully figure out the reason, but through her sobbing, I somehow got the gist. I think. I'm pretty sure she was uncertain of whether she was supposed to wear her costume to school or bring it to put on this afternoon. I, figuring that no teacher in her right mind would want to dress a sea of five-year-olds, put her dress on her this morning. She, however, was unconvinced. As a compromise, I put a change of clothes in her backpack. She still wasn't particularly happy about the entire thing, but after staying up till 1 am to sew her little spandex faux-gloves (by hand, no less - because the machine was getting quirky, and I have trouble correctly sewing spandex on a machine), I wasn't taking no for an answer.

The chaos caused us to run late for school, but I still snapped a few shots. The teachers can wait. I've got a blog to maintain here. All the emotions don't exactly make for the best of pictures, though. That didn't stop me, either. I was a woman on a mission. I will show you this dress, on its princess, no matter what the cost. So, please, appreciate them. Oh, and do you see that teeny-tiny smile she's got in the first picture? That was caused by me uttering one simple word: poo-poo. Works every time.

The second picture shows you just how modern a princess she is. If only we had some combat boots or Doc Martens. Oh well, these will have to do (she got those boots just after Christmas, and you almost have to pry them off her feet with a shoe horn - that's how much she loves them. She almost panicked the other day when Daddy mentioned it would soon be too warm for them.).

The third picture is a little too dim, but I wanted to show off the bustle section in the back. I really love the look of it. She wanted that straight skirt, which is what she sees in the back, but I wanted the poof, which is what I see when she turns away from me to pout. Perfect for all concerned! Anyway, it reminds me of some Victorian Era dress. Plus, as I mentioned yesterday, it'll give her room to play without tripping herself.

Batman was much easier, not only in terms of sewing, but he was also much easier to please. I started his costume pretty late last night, so I didn't have time to make the head piece, but the cape was pretty simple and turned out well. Because he was so easy to deal with this morning, he flew in under the radar at picture time (as Batman is known to do), so I can't show you. I'll get some pictures later, if the costume survives a day at preschool. I basically just made a simple cape with ties at the neck and wrists out of synthetic black felt I had around. I sewed the tie straps on by hand while watching Mr. and Mrs. Smith last night.

Oh, but what I can show you is the fun I had yesterday afternoon. Lambchop #3 and her daddy were both asleep, so I needed a quiet activity. My husband, practical man that he is, pointed out that I could have folded some laundry. Uh, yeah. He must have mistaken me for someone's else good housewife. I made bracelets, instead. Lots more fun. Trust me.

This first one is made with silver wire and little colored beads. I really don't know if they are glass or plastic beads. I no longer have their packaging to check. I started by randomly threading beads onto three coils worth of memory wire that I had curled one end with (so the beads wouldn't fall off). When it looked about right, I used the bendy pliers (pretty sure that's the official name for them) to make zigzags. I love asymmetry, so it didn't exactly matter if they didn't match up right from one coil to the next. I actually really like the way it turned out. I don't wear jewelry much, but I think this one is fun, and it's very light-weight and doesn't get in my way. I can almost forget that I'm wearing it (well, I could if it weren't for the fact that I have to stop to stare and think, "ooh shiny," from time to time). The beads are a free-floating, even through the zigzags. I think this gives it a bit of an abacus look.

This second one is actually the first of the two that I made. I made little zigzags that go out from the arm (instead of parallel to it) on this one. The zigzags keep the beads from moving around, which, in the end, I think makes a more comfortable bracelet. It makes a more cumbersome bracelet, but I think it's a fun look, too. A bit like some far off solar system we still haven't discovered. It seems a little less wearable than the other, but I still like it. This is probably mostly because I love wooden beads. I love the idea of wearing a piece of nature. Don't get on me about chopping down exotic trees to make me pretty. It surely can't be worse than giving tons of Chinese jewelry shop workers all sorts of lung diseases in pursuit of a cutesy piece of costume jewelry

Oh, and a little warning to all the knitters out there. Be very careful where you pose your buns. I accidentally sat on my knitting this morning while dressing Lambchop #1. The needle was a small gauge and actually punctured my behind (through a pair of jeans, no less). Stopping laughing. This is serious. If it had been rusty, I'd need a tetanus shot. It was a little like getting a tetanus shot, come to think of it, but with a 2.5 mm needle. Surely, the needles they use at the doctor's office are smaller than that. Needless to say, it was a wee bit painful. I highly unrecommend it. Definitely one of those "don't try this at home" things.

Oh, and my husband just came back from dropping the kids off a little bit ago. He said no other kids in her class were in their costumes. Hmmm. That could be humiliating. I'm glad that wasn't me. No, really, all kidding aside, I feel bad. Glad I packed that change of clothes. Hopefully, she'll think to tell the teachers. It's even making me doubt the Carnaval date, though I know it was today (yes, I just double-checked). Nowhere on the note they sent home did it mention when to put the costume on. I think I'm going to have to fire the kids' driver. He seems to be shirking his duties. Included in the task of dropping off and picking up kids is actually holding an occasional conversation with the teachers. After all the crying that went on here this morning, I know I'll never hear the end of having sent her, overdressed, into a room full of her peers. Motherhood is not easy, no matter what people might tell you.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Devil's In the Details

This morning, a female vintner friend of my husband's came over to taste some wine (she was once his summer intern - don't laugh! (he doesn't smoke cigars) - and has since become a family friend). She and I get along well, so when she popped her head in the door to find my dear Muttonchop, she sat and had a little chat with me first. I was looking disheveled, with my head buried in layers of shiny pink fabric. She didn't seem to mind, but I explained what I was up to. I was pleased to see that she seemed impressed by my ambition. She even mentioned how "detailed" my little dress was. It is, but I have to say, that mean ole devil sure is in the details.

Because of those details, I have spent the majority of my waking hours for the last day-and-a-half forgoing dishes, laundry and even personal hygiene. All in the pursuit of a sweet princess dress for my first-born child to proudly show off at school tomorrow (and promptly dip in the mud or rip under her shoe). Honestly, though, it's been fun. It sure beats the alternative, and hey, when I can seriously look my husband in the face and tell him I just can't do the dishes right now, because I absolutely must get this sewing done... well, that's a happy day.

This morning, once the kids headed off to school, I immediately got back to sewing (well, if you call "I did it after eating some breakfast while browsing knitblogland for a half hour" immediate). And, I am happy to say that after 4-6 just-one-more-half-hour-to-gos the dress is done. And, I'm so happy, I'm going to force some pictures on you even before the model comes home.

So, please feast your eyes on my handywork. Just don't look too closely, or you'll see how poor of a seamstress I really am. I really need to take a course, I think. Learning on my own is all well and good, but I have some obvious tension issues (not at all helped by the fact that Lambchop #2 once fiddled with my bobbin tension dial).

You may have noticed that it looks very little like the cute picture I drew of the design I had in mind (the one in my last post). That's because Lambchop #1 is extremely picky and has definite ideas about which fashions she likes and which she doesn't (oh, yes, did I mention she's five??). She saw that poofy skirt and immediately vetoed its use. She insisted on a straight skirt. So, a straight skirt she got, but I pulled a little fast one on her (or pulled the wool over her eyes, if you knitters prefer). I did a little bunching thingy in the back. She'll never see the poof and it'll serve to keep her from falling flat on her face when she tries to run. I think she'd thank me if she truly understood that motivation. Anyway, I'm happy to say that she tried it on (without the zipper and sleeves) last night and exclaimed the skirt was exactly what she wanted.

It's certainly not perfect, but I did learn a little more (as I do each time I sew anything), so the time spent was well worth it. I even thought of a fun way to avoid doing a traditional hem, which I'm not so great at. See that first picture up there? It's the hem. I just used a wide zigzag stitch in a contrasting color thread, and Voilà! Decoration. I love contrasting colors in the stitching anyway, so the zigzag makes me giddy when I look at it. Notice the contrasting color on the zipper, as well. The original request was put in a week ago for a blue dress, but I didn't want to go to the store for any fabric or notions. She was more than happy once I pulled out the pink fabric, but some scrounging had to be done for other parts of the dress. The zipper is hot pink. I had it on hand for another project. It's not an invisible zipper, as it probably should have been, but since it matches the contrasting thread, I think it looks great. Actually, I think it looks really fun. It keeps the dress from being too serious. It is a kid's costume, after all. And, the lining inside the bodice as well as the petticoat skirt thingy that holds the black tulle are t-shirts. The bodice lining comes from a lavender cottony t-shirt I got for 1 euro a year or so ago at a local store. I had two, so I sacrificed one. The petticoat thing comes from one of the shirts I bought at the local thrift shop last week. It sort of fit me in the body, but the arms literally cut off my circulation. For the euro I paid for it, I figure I put it to good use.

I have one or two final touches to put on her costume, and she'll be ready to go. She originally asked for sleeves, which given the cool weather of Springtime, is pretty reasonable, but I didn't have enough fabric for that. She suggested gloves. Also a reasonable request, but is she insane? I'm not making gloves, and I have no idea where I'd locate matching gloves at this point. So, I'm going to use some pink spandex fabric I've got lying around to make some of those faux-gloves that have an elastic that wraps around the middle finger. I also have an idea for a bracelet purse, but I don't know if I'll actually go through the trouble. I did promise somebody a Batman cape, and even if it doesn't have to be done for tomorrow like the dress does, I still want to get to it before I lose my motivation.

Oh, and ladies, please calm yourselves. Nobody's middle-aged around here. Go take a post-menopause hormone pill and have some chamomile tea or something. I was only joking about my early-graying head at the end of that last post. Boy, you girls sure are sensitive. Am I going to have to start to watch my mouth around here? You'd think I said something political the way you people jumped to correct me on that.


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

All Dressed Up With Someplace to Go

It's Carnaval time in France again. It's a little like Halloween for them, except for the fact that they don't knock on anyone's doors begging for candy. Instead, there is a parade and people throw it at them. Here in France, Halloween is taken as a time strictly for dressing up as ghosts, goblins, witches and other ghoulish characters. So, it's a happy day when we get to work on making other, more colorful costumes. I'm a little stuck in Princessland, though. When asked what she wanted to be this year, Lambchop #1 naturally said, "Princess." I'd love for her to select some other costume someday, but what can we do? She's a girl. And, she's five. 'Nuff said, I believe.

Today, she came home from school and reminded me that Carnaval celebrations at her school are Friday. This Friday. I really don't want to go to the store for more fabric, so I dove into my small but respectable fabric stash. It would appear that I have enough leftover pink fabric from the last princess dress I made (two-and-a-half years ago), if I'm careful about how I use it. That, combined with some fun black tulle to make a tutu like thing for underneath should make a cool, original princess dress. She seemed pretty pleased with the design, which you can see in the above photo. The bottom layer of the skirt is the black tulle. The second and largest layer is light pink satin. The top layer that looks a bit like upside-down petals is this pinkish-gray, shimmery see-through stuff (sorry I can't recall the correct name for this type of fabric). It was used for sleeve flounces on her last princess dress. Then, hopefully I'll have just enough for a bodice in that same light pink satin with little see-through sleeves.

I've never really designed something so complicated before, so I'm a little nervous about it. I was thinking I could use the pattern for the last princess dress as a guideline, but no can do. It turned out to no longer be her size. It only goes up to size 5, and despite being her age, that is far from being her size. That would be why I started in with the jewelry first. I figured that was easy enough. To be honest, I actually hadn't thought to make jewelry, but while digging through my sewing notions box, I came across my jewelry making supplies. It's far from exhaustive, and I don't even know for sure what much of it is used for. I decided I'd give it a shot anyway. First, I took out some of the memory wire bracelet coils. I just went to work slipping tiny purple beads on it (Actually, Lambchop #1 went to work on that, but that didn't last long - again, she's five. What are you gonna do?). I used up all the beads that didn't end up hidden somewhere on the kitchen floor and decided to call it quits. That's when I was left wondering if I could actually cut the memory wire with the wire cutters I already have instead of the "memory wire cutters" suggested on the packaging. I threw caution to the wind and figured it was all a ploy to get people to buy their brand of wire cutters. I was right. Lesson learned. Never (or at least, rarely) believe what they try to tell you on those things. All in all, it made a very simple bracelet, and Lambchop #1 is very pleased with it.

Now onto the headgear (no not those creepy braces things people strap themselves into for a good night's sleep - a crown). Of course, any self-respecting princess wouldn't be caught dead without a crown. I mean, people, please. A princess needs her jewelry. Or, at least that's what Lambchop #1 led me to believe. She quickly suggested the cheapo paper crowns that come with King's cakes here. I got all ambitious after she went to bed though, and came up with this beauty. I'll be the first to admit it's not perfect. Not even close, actually. I don't work all that well with wire yet, but I am quite happy with the end result, and I know she's going to love it. It'll certainly last longer than the paper version, so I'd say it was well worth the hour or so it took to make it.

Ummmm, and let's all try to pretend it's perched atop the head of a five-year-old instead of the graying hair of a thirty-ummm-something-year-old. You can do that, can't you? We're in Princessland, after all, right? A little pretending won't hurt anyone. Yeah, now that I look at this picture again, I'm reconsidering the original thought I had of photographing the crown on a black background. I'll do that if and when I get around to it some time. For now, you get to watch the middle-aged mother of three play dress-up.