Sunday, December 19, 2010

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

DD finally made it home from college, and we all had a great time today trimming the tree and putting up decorations all over the house. I love our mantle. I piled all the extra lights that still worked even halfway in a big jumble and then added the stockings and other miscellaneous decorations and voila! there you go.

DD is going to help me fit the back of that jacket and then I can do as you suggested, Angela, and finish the thing and get on with my life. My daughter and I have big plans for this vacation to revisit some other projects. There are any number of them waiting for us, so we'll see what comes out of this midwinter blitz.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Polyester? Nein, Danke!

Some time back, I bought some chunky variegated teal yarn on sale from In a Yarn Basket in Bloomington. (You can read about it somewhere in the blog archives, if you really want to know the details!) Teal is one of my favorite colors, and I thought I would try designing my own sweater. I started out knitting from the bottom up in one piece. The first time it came out way too big, so I unraveled my work and started again. About a year ago I got the sweater to the point where it became obvious that there was not enough yarn to make sleeves. I decided to sew something long-sleeved to go under it, and my mom and I went to a nearby Jo-Ann Fabrics to see what we could find.

I ended up buying the embroidered polyester suede-like fabric you see in the picture above, not because I liked the fabric (I really hate polyester), but because the colors were perfect to go with the sweater. I also had to settle for polyester lining, because I was shopping at Jo-Ann's and not someplace upscale like G Street Fabrics in Maryland where I used to live. Normally I only line in rayon. My mom thinks I'm a snob about these things; you may, too, but hear me out.

We didn't have time to choose a pattern at Jo-Ann's, so I bought enough fabric (I thought) for a long-sleeved top and skirt, and then went on line and got the pattern, Vogue 8627, from I've never been crazy about raglan sleeves, but I didn't want to put too many seams in that embroidery. The jacket had a little waist definition and a deep V neck, both flattering for my Mrs. Santa figure, I reasoned. I cut the jacket out sometime last spring and then let it sit until a couple of weeks ago.

Note on sewing polyester in winter: Don't! The static is awful! One of my fingers is numb from a static shock I got while ironing the lining. Both fabrics stick to everything and make my hair stand on end. The synthetic suede won't hold a press, either. I just tried on the jacket shell and it definitely needs something. I hate to put in shoulder pads (too '80's), but this thing has no shape at all. What do you think? Is there any way to make this project work?

Speaking of the '80's, the title of this post is a reference to a bumper sticker I used to see all the time in Germany in the early 1980's. The sticker said "Atomkraft? Nein, Danke!" which means, "Nuclear power? No, thank you!" Over the years DH and I have used "Nein, Danke!" to express our disdain for any number of bad concepts.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Recipe Report - Spicy Pasta With Sweet Potatoes

This recipe appears on page 188 of the November 2010 issue of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. I'm not sure what happened to October; like the month itself, the BHG issue just disappeared. Anyway, I chose this recipe because it involved some of my favorite ingredients, including sweet potatoes, peanut butter, cream cheese and Sriracha hot chili sauce, all mixed together with rigatoni. It was fairly quick to make (about half an hour). The sweet potatoes and green onions had to be chopped (DH did the chopping for me, which made the prep even faster!), but otherwise there was very little prepping to do.

The verdict? Very tasty. Spicy, rich, and filling. I was in the middle of savoring the fruits of our labor (with a glass of Creekbend white wine from Oliver, a local winery), when my cell phone rang. Thirty Cub Scouts were waiting at the door to the museum; I had agreed to do an after-hours tour and forgot! Oops! Off I ran--when I got back an hour and a half later, a quick warm-up and the casserole was still delicious, even though my boys had deserted the kitchen for their electronic toys.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I wish I'd made this crocheted stingray...

...but I didn't; it's the work of one of the many volunteer crocheters who made a whole coral reef to teach kids about the need to protect our environment (there's even a section of the crocheted reef that's dead, with trash tangled up in it). I happened onto the Indiana Reef in September during a visit to the Indiana State Museum to see the Titanic exhibit (fabulous, by the way--two thumbs way, way up!). Here's a link where you can find out more about the Indiana Reef:

Crochet was the first needlework I learned how to do and it still has a special place in my heart, although I have to agree with the site that crochet can be really tacky in the wrong hands. My mom and dad are moving and unearthing treasures from the distant past every day, so I'm hoping for the rediscovery of several crocheted outfits I made in high school, particularly a purple pantsuit made of worsted weight acrylic. Stay tuned for that one.

In other news, I survived another October at the museum, and with huge effort and massive expenditure of time we managed to raise about $2000 from our two fundraisers, just about what it cost us to pay for the routine annual maintenance on our heating system. Sigh.

This morning DH and I celebrated my relative freedom from fundraising responsibilities, and some gloriously warm and sunny fall weather, to do some outside work on our little property in the country. I ripped out or mowed down thousands of weeds taller than myself before declaring just before noon that I was finished for the day. He's full of energy (of course) and making noises about going back tomorrow. We may both require Ben-Gay and ibuprofen just to make it out of bed in the morning, but oh, well, it's exercise.

A very cute little yellow kitten attached itself to me while I was working outside. Unfortunately I hadn't brought any snacks (well, fortunately for me and unfortunately for the kitten). I'm thinking tomorrow I should raid Mr. Fuzz's and Vickster's private stash; I'm sure they would agree to sharing with those less fortunate than themselves.

I resisted naming the little guy, but one more morning of pulling it out of harm's way every five seconds and I might succumb. This kitten has zero survival skills and likes to sleep on the big truck tires and play with the weed whacker. Really, kitty, didn't your mother teach you anything?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Talbots "Final Sale" in More Ways than One

During the 20 years I was in the Foreign Service, I spent thousands and thousands of dollars on clothes from Talbots. There were lots of reasons why I loved my Talbots clothes (nice quality, beautiful fabrics and colors), but the most important was that they always fit. I am short and overweight and those WP sizes really worked for me. I have always liked to sew my own clothes, but with two kids, a 24/7 job, and a need to occasionally sleep, it was great to be able to rely on Talbots to provide my professional wardrobe. The clothes weren't cheap, but I tried to take advantage of the sales, and the sight of a red and white box in the mail always made me happy.

I knew something had changed a couple of years ago when I ordered a pair of jeans on sale that was way, way too tight, made for a different species of creature altogether. We're talking tight from the knees up, and wouldn't button at the waist. I never got around to sending those jeans back, nor did I magically shrink to fit them, so after they had hung several months in the closet I dispatched them to a thrift store where some short person with skinny everything hopefully found them useful. Still, I didn't lose faith in Talbots, which had outfitted me so well for so long, and I picked up a pair of black embroidered capris last year that were cute and comfortable. I have already worn and washed them to death.

I reasonably assumed that whatever the fit issue was with the jeans, it had been solved, and a couple of weeks ago I ordered three t-shirts and another pair of black capris, these denim and spandex, on sale. The total, with shipping, was $125.15, which wasn't especially cheap, but hey, Talbots has my size and the mall, forty minutes away in Bloomington, doesn't.

Well, as you have probably guessed, the black capris, like the jeans a couple of years ago, were designed for no woman alive. The crotch length suggested hip-huggers, but the waist was cinched in at least two sizes too tight and scooped down in the front. The waistband wasn't contoured in the back and stuck out awkwardly. The lower hips fit well, but that waistband cinched me in at an awkward place and created a double muffin top that no t-shirt could hide.

One of the t-shirts was a little loose, one too small and one just right. I decided to send back the capris and the too-small t-shirt. When I looked at the receipt, however, I noticed that the capris were not listed on the return form because, according to the order summary, they were "Final Sale". I had never seen such a thing in over 20 years of shopping from the Talbots catalog, so I called the 800 number on the back of the order summary and asked what Talbots could possibly be thinking, sending out pants that fit no one and marking them "Final Sale".

The very nice fellow who answered the phone explained that Talbots had just instituted the final sale policy recently, because of the large number of returns.
Evidently it occured to no one at Talbots that after a customer has been tricked once into purchasing a poorly-designed, ill-fitting item that can't be worn or returned, she is not likely to purchase anything else in the future. That could solve the problem of the large number of returns, but perhaps not in the way that Talbots management was hoping.

I managed to halfway fix that waistband by inserting a triangle of fabric on both sides to make more room. It wasn't a professional fix by any means, but it does mean that I can wear them with a long shirt and breathe, too. Still, my faith in Talbots is deeply shaken. Next time I'll just go to the mall.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Recipe Report - Indian Chicken Stew

For dinner tonight I made the "Slow Cooker Indian Chicken Stew" on page 215 of the September 2010 issue of Better Homes and Gardens magazine. I changed the recipe slightly, adding a whole box of chicken broth instead of a cup, which was a mistake, because it turned out a little watery, and cooking it for a half an hour in a pressure cooker instead of five to ten hours in a slow cooker, because I don't own a slow cooker, and because I was expecting a ravenous DS home from cross country practice within the hour. As it turned out, I didn't have any curry powder and while I was out in a long line at the local grocery buying a jar, DS showed up and ate a bowl of cereal.

None of that changes the essential result, however, which was really very tasty and nourishing. We ate it with saffron rice, generously prepared by my darling husband. It made a lovely dinner without anything else but iced tea. Mildly spicy, thanks to the curry and ginger, colorful thanks to the red and green of tomatoes and spinach, comfort food with an exotic aroma. Even DS, who was no longer ravenous thanks to the bowl of Frosted Mini-Wheats, ate a whole plateful.

And we got a bonus: This recipe came on one of those pull-out pages to be added to our red gingham-checked BHG cookbook for future reference. How great is that? Another success like this one and I will completely forget about the peach and blackberry slaw fiasco.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Free Pattern - Knit Cotton Cardigan for 18" Doll

Like Andy in the Toy Story series, my daughter is now a college student and has outgrown Victoria, her American Girl doll, but I still have fun dressing Victoria every now and then. I've been wanting to work on my knitwear design skills without the pressure of a full-size project, so I designed this classic cardigan for Victoria that goes very nicely with the Daisy Kingdom outfit I sewed up for her last winter. I'm giving you the pattern below, just in case you'd like to make one for one of your own favorite dolls.

Cotton Sweater for 18” Doll

Materials: One ball of Coats “Blau Tulpe” thread or any similar cotton thread
2.5 mm or U.S. size 1 knitting needles
Three 3/8” buttons


Cast on 74.
Rows 1-4: k 1, p 1 to end.
Row 5: k all stitches.
Row 6: p all stitches.
Rows 7-20: repeat rows 5 and 6.

Right front shaping:

Row 21: k 10, leaving remaining stitches unworked.
Row 22: p 10.
Rows 23-32: Repeat rows 21 and 22 five times.

Neck shaping, right side:

Row 33: k 1, sl 1, k 1, psso, k to end of row.
Row 34: p entire row.
Row 35: k entire row.
Row 36: p entire row.
Rows 37-44: Repeat rows 33-36 twice.
Row 45: Bind off all stitches, cut thread and tie off.

Right armhole and back shaping:

Row 21: Reattach thread at beginning of remaining stitches on row 21, bind off 14, k 26, leaving remaining stitches unworked.
Row 22: p 26.
Rows 23-42: k odd rows, p even rows on 26 stitches.

Right shoulder shaping:

Row 43: k 7, leaving remaining stitches unworked.
Row 44: p 7.
Row 45: Bind off 7 stitches from row 44, cut thread, tie off.

Neck and left shoulder shaping:

Row 43: Reattach yarn at stitch #8 on row 43, bind off 12, k 7, leaving remaining stitches unworked.
Row 44: p 7.
Row 45: Bind off 7 stitches, cut thread, tie off.

Left armhole and left front:

Row 21: Reattach thread at beginning of remaining stitches on row 21, bind off 14, k to end of row (10 st).
Row 22: p 10.
Rows 23-32: K odd rows, p even rows on 10 stitches.
Row 33: k 7, k 2 tog, k 1.
Row 34: p all stitches.
Row 35: k all stitches.
Row 36: p all stitches.
Row 37: k 6, k 2 tog, k1.
Rows 38-40: repeat rows 34-36.
Row 41: k 5, k2 tog, k1.
Rows 42-44: repeat rows 34-36.
Row 45: Bind off remaining stitches, cut thread, tie off.

Block, then sew shoulder seams.

Neck band and collar:

Attach thread to the right front corner. Pull up 30 loops to the shoulder seam, 18 across the back neck, and 30 on the left front.

Row 1: k1, p1 across all stitches.
Row 2: k1, p1, yo, k2 tog, (k1, p1) twice, yo, k2 tog, (k1, p1) twice, yo, k2 tog, work remainder of row in k1, p1 rib. (This makes three buttonholes.)
Row 3: k1, p1 across all stitches.
Row 4: Bind off 25 stitches on right front, work 28 st in k1, p1 rib, leaving remaining stitches unworked.
Row 5: p1, k1 rib on 28 stitches.
Rows 6-10: continue to work 1/1 rib across 28 stitches.
Row 11: Bind off remaining stitches.

Attach thread at beginning of remaining stitches from row 4 and bind off to end, cut thread, tie off.


Loosely cast on 30 st.
Rows 1-4: k1, p1 to end.
Row 5: k 1, k in back and front of next st (inc 1), k3, inc 1, k18, inc 1, k3, inc 1, k1.
Row 6: p all stitches.
Row 7: k1, inc 1, k to 2nd from last st, inc 1, k 1.
Row 8: p all stitches.
Rows 9-18: Repeat rows 7 and 8 five more times.
Rows 19-22: k odd rows and p even rows.

Sleeve cap shaping:

Row 23: Bind off 5 st, k to end.
Row 24: Bind off 5 st, p to end.
Row 25: k 1, sl 1, k 1, psso, knit to within 3 st of end, k 2 tog, k 1.
Row 26: p entire row.
Rows 27-39: Repeat rows 25 and 26 seven times.
Row 40: p entire row.
Row 41: Bind off, cut thread, tie off.

Sew underarm seam on sleeves.
Sew sleeve into armholes.
Sew on buttons.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Recipe Report - Peach and Blackberry Slaw

I like magazines; I subscribe to several and my mom gave me a gift subscription to Better Homes and Gardens, which is fun to peruse with all its home decorating ideas and recipes. I decided to try at least one idea from every issue, beginning with August 2010. I found a recipe on page 176 for something called "Peach and Blackberry Slaw" that sounded delicious--peaches, blackberries, cabbage and blue cheese--how could it not be delicious?

Well, I'm sorry to report that this recipe is a waste of perfectly good ingredients. DH wouldn't even spoon a bite of it onto his plate. Our son gamely let me dish out a large portion, and after a couple of bites declared, "This tastes like crap," and pushed his plate away. Folks, I slathered mine with blue cheese dressing and finished the entire plateful, but I've had years of experience being a professional food garbage disposal so that's not saying anything.

In trying to dissect what exactly was the matter with this recipe, DS and I concluded that the flavor of the cabbage overwhelmed everything else, there wasn't enough dressing and the dressing, having equal parts of wine vinegar and olive oil, was too acidic. The Wal-Mart peaches were mealy and the blackberries were sour, which, to be fair, is not the fault of Better Homes and Gardens. Also, coached by my darling husband, I shredded the cabbage until it would stick to the wall instead of making nice big photogenic chunks (see my picture above, and if you're still interested, compare it to the photo on page 136 of the magazine).

Am I discouraged? NO! I can't wait to see what's in the September issue!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Check out my Bobbin Lace!

I've been working diligently for the last few days on this bobbin lace yoke that I started a couple of years ago, and just finished it a few minutes ago, so I wanted to share it with you, along with this picture of what it looked like on the bolster. This is one of those projects that I just picked up every now and then, abandoning it for months at a time, but it's my summer to finish projects, and I'm on a roll. Reading "The Happiness Project" by Gretchen Rubin reinforced my desire to finish my current projects and release my imagination for new ones.

The next step is to buy some fabric to make a blouse for this lace to decorate. I love this color blue. The thread, by the way, is Aunt Lydia's. It was part of my friend Stephen Bowman's stash that he let me have when I was enrolled in his bobbin lace class. I ran out of the dark turquoise at one point and he was nice enough to lend me a ball of each color. Thanks, Stephen!

DH is also working hard to finish something--the last bedroom on the second floor of the sheriff's house, along with a tiny, but complete, bathroom and closet. I'll show you pictures when there's something to see. This is the room that used to be my sewing room, so I'm thinking hard about how to make a sewing space that won't look cluttered.

Summer is winding down for our son, and I still haven't figured out what shots he needs to get before school starts. The school system came up with some new requirements, and since our kids got their shots all over the place, it's hard to sort out what they had and didn't have. We're looking forward to getting our daughter back from Texas next week, along with her sweetheart, for some quality family time as the long days of summer come to an end. I hope you are all making the most of the bounty of this wonderful season.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Postage Stamp Quilt--Signed, Sealed and Delivered

And here it is--the quilt that I started in Tbilisi, Georgia, sitting in my first floor sewing room on a busy street, listening to passersby exclaim, "Ra, Bicho!" and the like. Sometimes our kids would be down there, too, helping to cut the little squares and laying out the blocks. I am so proud. The binding and quilting was done by Lisa Mowery, and it came out just beautifully. What a lot of blessings I am enjoying this week! Old floors and a finished quilt!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

More Floors

DH and I spent the weekend removing the paint-stained plywood that had served as the floor for the second-story hall and the sewing room since we moved here three years ago. We thought that, after taking out the plywood, we would cover the sub-floor with the hardwood we reclaimed a few weeks ago from the house that was being torn down next door (see June 9). Very early on, though, we discovered that what we thought was a sub-floor was actually a really great old floor. Even through several layers of peeling paint, we could tell it was a keeper. I was so excited to find a hundred-year-old floor already intact and just waiting to be sanded and refinished (okay, and patched in a couple of places) to become the floor of my dreams. In my mind's eye I could see the workers who built this house pounding the nails into that floor. I'm not sure why I'm not as enthusiastic about the workers in the 1970's who pounded the nails to lay the plywood, but somehow they don't inspire me the same way.

Now I feel really silly that we didn't take that plywood off when we first got here. Three years of trying to cover up ugliness that I saw every time I took the stairs anywhere. It wasn't that easy, though; I'm pretty sore from pulling out nails. And of course we chose two blistering hot days to do this work, so we were both sweating buckets, but every time I look at those six-inch planks I know it was worth it.

The pictures above are the "before" and the "during." Stay tuned for the "after."

Monday, July 5, 2010

My Fury, Final Chapter

You may remember a previous post in which I detailed the history of my very first car, a Plymouth Fury, sold to me when I was a college sophomore by my friend Jon Wesick, who was graduating and moving to Maryland. Jon is now a well-respected poet in California, but I digress. When I went overseas the first time I lent the car to a family member who abandoned it on the family farm, where it has sat since 1979. Buried to its axles in mud, DH and I tried twice this spring to remove it, but heavy rains, bad tires, a broken spring in the trunk, and a steep narrow incline up which it had to be towed kept the car right where it was, lodged in the woods behind an old Corvair and a Chevy truck.

I documented our first couple of visits in this blog on February 6. A few weeks later, our son came along and the two he-men wrestled off the four doors, the hood and the trunk lid, which brought about $40 at the recycling place. We had to leave the rest of the car. DH inflated three of the four tires but one was too far gone to hold air. On that visit we almost mired our own truck in a muddy patch just before the incline.

Today we returned with a replacement tire, and the third time's a charm, as the cliche goes. DH re-inflated all four tires and hooked the car up to a cable behind our red Dodge truck.

"I need you to steer the Fury," he said.

I looked doubtfully at the driver's seat of the old car. It was covered with dirt, leaves, pieces of rubber foam and who knows what else. I imagined mice, or worse, snakes, living under the floor. "I'll stand outside and steer it from there," I said.

"We have to go fast to get up that hill."

Glad to have a baseball cap to protect my scalp from whatever was hanging from the ceiling, I brushed off the seat and got in the car. I could feel a couple of inches of skin exposed on my back and prayed the snakes wouldn't notice and bite me there. It took all my strength to move the steering wheel. The car jerked into motion. I strained to keep it going in the same direction as the truck in front of me. We slid around in the muddy patch, but didn't get stuck, and started up the hill. I kept my eyes on the Dodge's red taillights and wrenched the steering wheel from left to right to avoid hitting any of the other junked cars in our family's scrap metal graveyard as we raced up the incline. Intent on keeping the car on track, I didn't notice until too late that we had made it up the hill and were headed back down. DH parked his truck and, without brakes, the Plymouth rolled right into it.

Fortunately there was no damage to the truck and we hugged happily and changed places to tow the car the rest of the way off the farm. We put it on a tow dolly at the end of the driveway and took it straight to the scrap metal place, where I proudly explained to the young guy on duty that it was my very first car. He looked me over and I imagined him thinking I didn't look to be in much better shape than my old car. After dropping the Fury near the scrap pile, we got back on the scales and discovered that the old car weighed 3,480 pounds even without all the pieces we had already removed.

As I looked at my old car one last time, I said, "I don't know what I was thinking when I bought this big heavy car." Then I saw the crunched-up left rear corner and remembered.

In the summer of 1978, five of us IU students took turns driving my car out to Fort Riley, Kansas for Army ROTC summer camp. One of us turned out to be a pretty terrible driver; while the rest of us slept, he pulled the car in front of a tractor-trailer. It could have been a deadly accident--both vehicles were going about 60 miles an hour. The metal over my left taillight folded like cake frosting, but the taillight still worked and no one was hurt. The tractor-trailer sustained considerable damage and had to be towed away. Maybe I didn't know what I was doing when I bought that big, heavy car, but my guardian angel was hard at work as usual.

I stayed in the truck while DH went inside to collect our money--a whopping $261. When he came back he said, "They asked if you were crying."

I laughed.

"I told them you were glad to see it go."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

UFO Finished At Last--But Do I Wear It?

Two summers ago I was living alone in our former house in College Park, Maryland, working every day for our government and preparing for a two-month assignment in Africa. I started a little turquoise dress with yellow piping from some cotton I had picked up for a song at G Street Fabrics (a great store, if there ever was one). The pattern I chose was McCall's M4768, which from the picture looked like a classic princess-line sheath, but there was something very strange about the seaming around the bustline, and I could never get it to lie smooth. I bought a little yellow nylon lace sweater to wear over it, thinking to cover up the poorly-fitting bodice, but I was dissatisfied with the entire enterprise and never finished it.

I pulled the dress back out the other day and finished it, very thankful that it still fit. I clipped the princess seaming and the facing to get it all to lie a little flatter, but it's still not perfect. I also dug out the little yellow sweater, which reminds me more of Grandma's bed jacket than proper clothes, and which got a polite thumbs-down from DH. I put it all on this morning and asked DS to snap a few photos. I will only wear the sweater in desperation, but here's what the dress looks like. I need some brutal honesty now because I'm becoming fond of how comfy and cool it is: Do I look ridiculous? Or shall I keep this one?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Saving the world, one board at a time

Yesterday DH and I removed flooring from an old circa 1900 house that is being demolished next door. I had been looking for hardwood floors to reclaim for a long time--for some reason our second floor stairwell has no flooring and we have been living with paint-splattered plywood for three years already. The doomed house used to be the thrift store for St. Vincent's Catholic Church next door, until this year when the church constructed a tin building to replace it. I won't editorialize here about the prevalence of tin sheds in downtown Bedford historic districts, much as I would like to. Anyway, the old house next door was coming down, and we needed floors, so Fortune smiled on us.

DH and I started early--the floors were on the second level of the house, under the eaves, so we knew it would be hot work. Fortunately yesterday was a beautiful day. Temperatures were in the 70's and we stayed pretty comfortable. My job was to hammer a pry bar under each of the nails so that DH could come through with his saw and stick the blade in the space I created and cut the nails. We kept most of the boards in the room to stand on, then at the end threw them all out of the window to be loaded onto DH's dump truck.

I had no idea how many people visited that thrift store until I watched them come and go all day. Parking is pretty tight, so inevitably every time I wanted to throw a board out, I had to stick my whole body out of the window to make sure I didn't endanger anyone with falling wood. Then of course I would hit my head coming back in. At one point DH said, "It would have been a lot easier to just buy hardwood, but no, somebody always wants to save the world."

Everything went great until about 2:00 in the afternoon when my hammer hand started to go numb. At this point we were almost done getting all the boards loosened and nails cut, so I stayed to finish that part and left DH to load the truck. After a shower and a nap I felt a lot better and this morning I'm sore but completely functional. Added to the wood DS and DH reclaimed last week from the first floor of the same house, we now have enough for our whole second floor stairwell and my sewing room, too, I think, so life is good, as long as I don't think about how much work there still is to do to remove all those cut-off nails and then actually install the floors. Saving the world is a messy business.

I also got one of DD's charcoal drawings framed this week at Acorn Valley Frames. Gene Abel does such a good job. Here's the drawing--it's of a jacket she bought in France that she wears all the time. DH thinks it looks like a crazy bunny and is too creepy for our old haunted house. I like it, but if she wants to take it this fall for her new apartment that's okay with me. What do you think?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Lovin' the Fiskars Weed Remover

I have never been much of a gardener, and lawn care has always been DH's thing, not mine. As a matter of fact, he has the lawn mower so personalized that I couldn't fire it up if I wanted to. I normally try not to obsess about our yard, but this year I just couldn't ignore the dandelion infestation. Ten minutes after mowing (okay, maybe two hours), a forest of ugly dandelion stalks towers over the grass.

Not wanting to endanger the health of future generations with toxic chemicals, I searched for manual solutions on line. Some people suggested pouring boiling water on the pesky devils, but that would have required 100,000 trips in and out of the house carrying a steaming teakettle, so there was no way I was going for that option. Other people swore by the vinegar cure, but that sounded smelly and would require gallons of vinegar hauled from the grocery store to the car to the yard, and then the disposal of all those plastic vinegar bottles (more toxic chemicals).

I was convinced by the folks in the "rip 'em out by the roots" school of thought, and learned that there was such a thing as a dandelion puller (who knew?). Sunday evening DH and I went over to Lowe's and after considering all the options, I chose a Fiskars Weed Remover. There's a picture of the thing ripping a dandelion out by its roots right on the cardboard wrapper, plus I own several pairs of quality Fiskars sewing shears, so it was an easy choice. DH approved of the heavy-duty blades, but complained a bit about the price (around $30), but I was determined.

This morning I finally had a chance to take the new weed remover for a run, and I love it. I worked for about an hour, completely addicted. Only two caveats: if you don't center the blades over the plant properly the first time, you might have to go back a second or third time to get the roots out. Also, don't believe the picture on the back--the blades should be open when you push it into the ground, not closed. Once you get the hang of it, it is ridiculously easy to use and involves no bending or stooping. You will have to sacrifice some of your topsoil, though. The ground was a little wet this morning, so I think I'll try again when it's a little drier and see if more of the soil stays in the ground.

The pictures above are out of order; on the bottom you see the "before" and truthfully, I didn't take the "before" until I had already pulled a few, so the problem was even worse than it looks. Mr. Fuzz is modeling the "after" (and yes, I know the grass needs to be mowed, but that's beyond my control--I'm the dandelion removal specialist, not a lawn mower mechanic). What a difference! I'm a sweaty, but happy, camper.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Mr. Fuzz and the Patio Furniture

My return flight from Tbilisi in 2007 was complicated by our three adopted Georgian cats, Mr. Fuzz, Vicksters and Snow Puff (all named by our children). Poor Snow Puff was killed by a speeding car a few months later, but Vicksters and Mr. Fuzz have proven remarkably adaptable to the mean streets of Bedford. Vicksters is sociable and has made friends in the neighborhood, but Mr. Fuzz is loyal and spends most of his time on the front porch.

I love having a cup of tea or dinner on the porch, watching the neighborhood go about its business, and my generous sister-in-law donated a set of patio furniture to the cause. Unfortunately, Mr. Fuzz likes the furniture as much as I do, and has a lot more time to spend rubbing his furry self all over the cushions. I have tried a number of strategies to ensure the human beings who want to sit on the porch don't have to sit in a nest of white cat hair, but none of them have been successful. My most recent attempt was to drape the chair cushions in sheets and tablecloths, but these mismatched covers looked like laundry drying in the breeze from the street, reinforcing the "Beverly Hillbillies" look I have been trying studiously to avoid.

This morning I had a new inspiration, and draped the seats only in pillowcases that are less likely to fly around. I have some great fabric I bought in Africa two summers ago, so if this works, maybe I can recover the cushions and achieve that put-together, non-Granny Clampitt look I so covet.

Here is Mr. Fuzz, dirty as can be (he's really white!) enjoying a fresh new cover.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

History Festival 2010

I spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Lawrence County History Festival, which is always a great event involving reenactments, arts and crafts demonstrations, and other fun history-related activities. This year was the best ever, as it included the first-ever Native American Pow-Wow in Indiana. The colorful costumes of the Indians, the dancing and singing and the steady, solemn drum beat were very moving to watch and reminded me of the many courageous Native Americans with whom I served long ago in the Army.

Only a few feet away from the Pow-Wow, but miles away in history, my friend Stephen and I demonstrated bobbin lace for the third year in a row, both of us in historic costume. It had been a while since I had worked on my turquoise lace, but fortunately the bobbins hadn't become too tangled (it stayed far away from my visiting nieces and nephews this year!). Stephen was making four-inch-wide burgundy and cream lace trim for a queen-sized sheet, which was beautiful and made me want to finish my own project so I could start his pattern.

I always love the first day of the festival, which is when we get to show hundreds of fifth graders how to make lace, and watch them try. The general reaction is "Cool!" and there are always a few who come back to make another stitch or two.

This year I was also keeping track of our museum booth, where we had set up a kind of a quiz machine with questions about local and Indiana history. The kids liked it all right (mostly making the red and green lights flash), but it was a bigger hit with their parents and grandparents, who lived through much of the history in question. I spent more time giving hints to quiz-takers and handing out pencils at the museum booth than I did making bobbin lace on Saturday and Sunday, so unfortunately my turquoise lace didn't grow very much this weekend.

I'm happy to be home now and back in regular clothes. Someone told me, as I hopped out of DH's big red pick-up truck in my mobcap and colonial garb, that I looked like Granny Clampitt. I think it's time to retire that dreary colonial outfit that I made for DD's third-grade class trip fifteen years ago, and make a pretty Civil War dress with a low-cut bodice and a big hoop skirt. Maybe I'll finish the turquoise lace to trim the neck.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

1970's UFO - Finished at Last!

I was blessed by visits from four of my five sisters this past week. We had lots of fun together and I think I managed not to traumatize the one brother-in-law brave enough to make the trip. My sister Dee found an unfinished dress in my mom's sewing room that she thinks either she or I started in the 1970's, when we were both teenagers. Of course, I smugly thought that I always finish all my projects, so it must be hers! (This would not be the time to remind me about my quilt top or that teal bulky sweater, thank you very much.) The dress fabric is a cotton blend, reminiscent of the one-to-two yard pieces we used to buy at George's Gateway for a pittance back in the good old days, and the print is so cute and retro--bright orange-red with hearts and flowers, like the embroidery on a Pennsylvania Dutch apron.

Dee sewed all the seams together on this little dress before heading back to New York. Since it fits my daughter very nicely, I finished the seams and hemmed it this morning. It looks a lot cuter on a live model, but even on the hanger you can see that it has a flippy little skirt and a wrap bodice. Cute, huh?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Here's the link to the "Profiles" Show!

Friday, March 5, 2010

"Profiles" Show Air Times

For those of you who have access to Star Channel 14 in Bedford, Indiana, the program "Profiles" featuring our old jail and sheriff's residence will air from this Sunday, March 7, through Wednesday, March 10. Air times are 3:00 and 7:00 a.m. and 3:00, 7:00, 9:00 and 11:00 p.m. I haven't seen it yet, so I'm not sure whether I should be recommending it or not.

On Wednesday I rode to Richmond, Indiana, with one of our museum volunteers to pick up twelve mannequins we were borrowing from the Wayne County Historical Museum for our clothing exhibit. What a wonderful museum! It was made up of several different buildings and had a small "village" set up in the basement as well as a striking collection of antique automobiles, an old plane, bikes, and an Egyptian mummy, among thousands of other interesting things. We took the advantage while we were in Richmond to have lunch at Little Sheba's Restaurant, also wonderful in every respect. I had a portobello mushroom sandwich that was delicious, along with yummy raspberry iced tea. I can't wait to go back to return the mannequins and do it all again.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Our Old Jail will be on TV!

On Monday our local access channel, "Star" Channel 14, taped an episode of their lifestyle program "Profiles" at our house. We walked around the first floor of the sheriff's house (now our house), the art center, and the top level of the cell block. Of course, some of the footage might be edited out (we taped for at least an hour). There's no word yet when this show will air, but it sure was a lot of fun to make. For those of you who live out of the area or who can't get local access TV, the program may eventually be put up on I'll let you know when and if.

On Tuesday my mom and I had a girls' day out. We spent some time at Z Spa here in Bedford, then after we looked as fabulous as possible, we drove to Bloomington and had lunch at my favorite restaurant ever, FARM on Kirkwood. Lunch was excellent as usual--I had the best BLT imaginable, with avocado and chevre cheese on whole grain toast, and wonderful potato salad made without mayonnaise so you could actually taste the potatoes.

After lunch we paid our first visit to the new Second Street Antique Mall, and picked up a number of important things, including another piece of blue and white ironstone (I know I said I wasn't collecting anymore, but at Thanksgiving the single gravy boat just didn't go far enough, so my mom bought me a Samuel Ford & Co. "semi-porcelain" gravy boat with a matching plate to catch the drips, and I think we were entirely justified). The blue is a little greener than most of my collection, so it adds depth, too (as if I needed any more excuses). The picture might not do it justice, so you'll have to trust me when I say it's lovely. Do I have a great mom or what?

Our next stop was Jo-Ann Fabrics where I bought buttons for that teal bulky sweater, and some fabric to make a dress to wear with it. I spent at least forty minutes flipping through pattern catalogs without finding a design, so who knows what this outfit will finally look like. At 5'2" and not slender, it gets harder and harder to dress myself to any exacting standard.

Friday, February 19, 2010

That Postage Stamp Quilt

You might remember last year about this time I blogged about a postage stamp quilt top I had completed, or at least, I thought I had completed. When I compared the dimensions of my quilt top with the dimensions of a queen-sized piece of quilt batting, I realized that my quilt actually needed to be a foot larger both length- and width-wise, which translated into twelve large blocks of four smaller blocks apiece, each containing 16 two-inch squares. You do the math. I would have gotten back to it sooner, but DH moved stuff around and I lost track of all the pieces for a while. Thanks to some heavy snow that kept us housebound for a few days, I have found everything and am back at work. So far I finished one large block and three-quarters of a second. And here's the result.

At Ash Wednesday service I was impressed by our minister's saying that Lenten fasting didn't just have to be about food, it could be about anything you enjoy. In response, I have given up Spider Solitaire for the month of Lent. This may not sound like much of a sacrifice to you, but I love Spider Solitaire--there's something addictive and satisfying about lining all those cards up and making them go away, and as soon as DH and DS leave in the morning, I like to win a game before I do anything else. Some mornings it takes forty-five minutes to an hour before I win a game, so I should have a lot more free time for quilting, knitting, and other worthwhile pursuits now.

How about you? What are you working on?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Remembering Daisy Kingdom

When DD was eight, she got Victoria, an American Girl doll, not one of the historic ones, although she admired them greatly and read the books about them, but one with olive skin and long dark hair made especially to look like her. My mother gave her several wonderful fabric panels with American Girl-sized doll dresses printed on them from a company called Daisy Kingdom. They were rich in detail, those Daisy Kingdom panels; the outfits had pleats, tucks, contrasting trim, and accessories to match.

DD loved those doll panels and sewed them up like crazy. As a matter of fact, Victoria had a much nicer wardrobe than my daughter, who preferred to wear leggings, t-shirts and the same fleece pullover to school every day. DD became such a good seamstress that she started designing her own doll clothes, and made over $100 selling them at her school's Christmas sale the year she was in fifth grade. Even after she and her friends didn't play with the dolls anymore, we both still loved to discover a new Daisy Kingdom doll panel, and I bought a couple on eBay when my mother's favorite source, Wal-mart, stopped carrying them. Eventually, though, they became impossible to find even on eBay. Evidently the Daisy Kingdom company doesn't exist any more, which is a real loss to budding seamstresses and their American Girl dolls, if you ask me.

I thought all of our doll panels were gone until a few weeks ago. Digging through my fabric boxes looking for inspiration, I found this one and sewed it up right away, then was frustrated in my search for Victoria. Because of the constant construction in this house, boxes get moved from one place to another frequently, and I finally gave up on locating the one that held the doll. Until today, when she showed up under a bunch of old quilt blocks. This outfit includes a hair scrunchie and a little purse. What do you think--isn't she cute?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

My Fury

A long time ago, when I was in my second year at IU, I bought my first car, a gray 1972 Plymouth Fury, a big heavy tank of an automobile. I didn't choose it very scientifically; one of my good friends was graduating from IU that year and his parents were buying him a new one, so he sold me his old car for $1000. Had I been thinking I might have chosen something a little more economical to drive and with less room for passengers. I drove the Fury until I shipped out to Germany shortly after graduation. My clueless younger self couldn't be bothered to sell it, so I gave it to my sister, tags and insurance intact, and left.

When I returned to the family farm on leave a couple of years later, I was unhappy to find my old car had been stripped of its relatively new tires and was parked at the edge of the woods on concrete blocks. The sister to whom I had given the car had moved on to Virginia and left it behind. I demanded that the relative who took the tires put them back; still, I was only home for a few days. I canceled the registration and insurance and left again. Like Sleeping Beauty, my car waited in the woods for thirty years.

Now that I'm older, back in Indiana, and spending a lot of time with other people's heirlooms at the museum, it really bothers me that my old car is rusting away in the woods, even if I'm not the person who put it there. I have enlisted DH to help me retrieve it for recycling, but it isn't easy. On our first trip to the farm we discovered that it had been moved from its original spot to a much less accessible one, blocked by other abandoned vehicles, thick thorn bushes and a stand of new trees. Funny--the Fort Riley sticker from ROTC summer camp in the summer of 1978 is still intact and still bright orange, but the seats are completely destroyed. All four tires were buried up to the rims in frozen mud. My ever-practical DH lost enthusiasm for the project, citing the number of hours and resources it would take to extricate the Plymouth, but I was Ahab and the car had become my white whale.

This week we returned, better equipped with a small chainsaw and a large jack. It was a clear steel-blue day and the air was fresh and biting, but we worked in the cold for about three hours this time. We cut the new trees and the thorn bushes away and put boards under the flat tires. We even managed to drag the car forward five feet, but discovered the wheels wouldn't turn. This, DH declared, was a major obstacle to towing. And so we left my Fury again, but not before taking this picture.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Scarf finished!

I ran completely out of purple yarn, so the reverse knitted scarf was a little shorter than it was supposed to be. I compensated by single-crocheting an inch on each end with the rest of the green yarn and a strand of something called "Squiggle" by Crystal Palace Yarns in the same lime green. DH thinks I ruined it, but sight unseen DD pronounced the idea "awesome" so I think I have a winner. What do you think?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Reverse Knitting

I think I told you before that DD and I were learning to reverse knit. Now that she's gone back to school, I sit up evenings and diligently work to finish this scarf we started (the pattern is in Debbie Stoller's book "Son of Stitch 'n B****"). The directions in the book are very clear and I love the way the two colors alternate on each side of the knitting. The two layers of knitting also make a very warm scarf; DH has admired it several times, so if I ever finish this one I might have to make another one in more subdued colors for him. The pattern calls for 23 repeats of a 14-row design; I have finished seven so far, so we'll see if DD gets to wear it this winter or not. In the meantime my bulky sweater project sits in the corner mocking me, so I have my hands full of knitting.

I've also become quite a fan of a blog called "Gertie's New Blog for Better Sewing" ( Gertie is working her way through the Vogue Sewing Book and the results are gorgeous, plus she refers to other sewing blogs she likes, which led me this morning to "The Two Windmills" (, which made me really want to sew a new skirt! Perhaps by now you are thinking that I should stop blog reading and start actually making a skirt, or finishing my sweater, or doing something concrete and practical, and you are right, except for one thing.

Our museum ( On Friday we learned how to carefully clean and wrap antique textiles to preserve them for posterity. We have a huge collection of clothing and other textiles, many of them donated years ago (the first box was wrapped in newspaper dated September 1957, just as an example) that we are trying to get identified, documented, and properly stored in anticipation of a really stunning exhibit this spring. Unwrapping those newspaper parcels is like Christmas. Such wonderful things. Two 1850's dresses, so tiny that we'll have to make special mannequins to display them on. A brown velvet capelet, trimmed in lace and tied with ribbons, right out of an illustration for "Little Women". An old fox fur with the head still on (this one made us a little queasy). I go to sleep dreaming about these clothes. And it's not just clothing--I unwrapped a parcel labeled "quilt blocks" and found this sampler embroidered by a 13-year-old girl named Zilpha Colby in 1834. Small wonder I can't concentrate on my needlework, not to mention sweep my kitchen floor.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

An overnight in Indy

DD and I are just back from Indianapolis--we went up last night and stayed at my friend Renata's B&B ( Renata is so much fun--this was my fourth stay, since I get to Indianapolis on various kinds of business fairly frequently and I never stay anywhere else. Here she is with DD. Her house is a real Sears Roebuck house that she and her husband have renovated top to bottom. It's just gorgeous. We were lucky that she still had her Christmas decorations up (another believer in waiting until Three Kings Day!). DD tried to take a good picture but my iPhone isn't that good in low light. There's probably an app for that. Anyway, here's a picture of Renata's living room and her pretty tree.

This afternoon we went over to the Indianapolis Museum of Art ( to see "Fashion in Bloom", a wonderful exhibition of clothing from the mid-eighteenth century to the present. All of the fashions used flower motifs in some form or other. We two fashionistas couldn't resist all those beautiful clothes! Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take any pictures of the exhibit, so you will have to just go see for yourselves. Don't be surprised if the person on duty at the exhibit is a real sourpuss; evidently the IMA doesn't train its employees to be friendly. We still had fun and to prove it, here's DD cutting up outside the museum.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Happy New Decade

DH insisted on a live tree again this year (it's so cute that he hates to cut down a tree just for Christmas). This one looked kind of silly even in the field, but we were a couple of weeks late going out to choose a tree and it was the last one. It is a Norway spruce, fat around the bottom and sparse higher up. I wired a crocheted Christmas angel that my mom made to the top; it stood up straight for a while and then started to sag to one side, as if the angel had just given up all hope (fortunately, real angels don't do that!). Almost immediately after we got the tree set up in the house, the needles started to fall off in clumps. We watered it religiously, but it was determined not to be pretty. As the branches sagged, the ornaments slid off, stripping every needle and crashing to the floor.

I normally keep the tree up until after Three Kings' Day, but if we wait that long it will be nothing but sticks, so I'm contemplating a break with tradition this year. I really hate to take it down so soon, because the house looks bare without it.

It was a fun holiday. DD was home from college, without the love of her life who went back to Lithuania to visit his own family, so we had lots of mother-daughter quality time. We learned together how to double-knit and are making an argyle scarf together. I've helped her design a special gift for her sweetheart (I can't tell you what it is, just in case he sees this, but when it's done I'll put up a picture). Two of my sisters were with us for a few days before Christmas and we took in the Barbie exhibit at the Indianapolis Children's Museum--what a great time!

I am pretty pleased with the festive touch we gave to the dining room chandelier--a roll of ribbon and a box of ornaments from Lowe's can work wonders! And I still love the hand-carved wood nativity scene from Georgia that DH and the kids gave me some years ago--I think it looks great in front of this photograph by my friend Gia Chkhartarashvili (for more see of the village of Ushguli in the high Caucasus mountains.

Here's wishing you and yours the happiest of new decades, filled with love and creativity!