Thursday, May 19, 2011

From Scratch

Our family does use "the blue box," but only because we believe in the moral value of re-purposing garbage. Because I feel there's something good for us in going through the process of washing and sorting our garbage. I don't believe it's a solution to the real problem.

To me, the only real solution is to stop consuming. Hopefully, if enough people stop buying plastic packaging, the industries will stop manufacturing it and creating this throwaway society. And this toxic buildup of plastic that's going to be real ugly for our future children.

As you can see, I've been giving it some thought. Last month our city celebrated Earth Day, which created a lot of  hype—and positive action—here. A wonderful sign. I started reading about "one small change" —another popular and practical, if small, movement. And there are hopeful signs everywhere of a growing, grassroots community committed to sustainable agricultural and environmentally-friendly industry. This is tremendously exciting.

My big beef is the grocery store. (Yeah, yeah, har, har.  Actually, I get my big beef from a farmer south of town). —The grocery store must be one of the worst offenders, with its continuous turnover of plastic packaging, and the ratio of packaging to product is enormous—just think how much plastic is required to cover a handful of crackers. Then the box that covers the plastic that covers the handful of crackers!

In view of that, I've been trying to implement a few small changes of my own, with surprising results.


It's a humble beginning, but mayo is one item I'll never have to buy again!

The males in my house adore mayonnaise. If you knew the turnover rate of plastic mayonnaise containers around here, you'd be worried about the environment too!

 It was making me sick every time I bought it—first, the ingredients. I would walk up to a jar of mayonnaise on the grocery shelf, determined not to read the label, but something would just make me. soybean oil, dehydrated egg, sugar, blech! I would quickly put it back. Then Will, with the desperation of an addict, would buy a jar later in the week. With worse ingredients. Secondly, all those ingredients are sitting in warm plastic, absorbing it. Nice.

So to soothe my ruffled conscience I began making my own; and to my surprise, everyone prefers it! And no wonder, with all its fresh, real-food ingredients. Here's the recipe, for you to try:

blend 1 minute in blender on highest speed: 
2 egg yolks
1 whole egg
1 Tblspn Dijon mustard
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

without turning off the blender, slowly drizzle:
2 cups of grapeseed or light olive oil

As you can see, it's very wholesome, though rich, so a little goes a long way. There are no sugars to lure you into spreading it too thick. The flavour is beautiful; I've started tossing in a garlic clove, just to get that garlicky goodness into my picky little eaters.

See those peaks? See how stiff and creamy? It's real mayo, man!

And that was the start of my pledge *not to buy any condiments from now on. (*except soysauce, oils, sriracha, lemon juice, and that gourmet something-or-other, if they come in a glass bottle. I don't mind tossing glass into the landfill to break down into sand. But I'm done with plastic.)

And this is only the start. I'm looking for ways to start making everything from scratch—moving beyond soup and bread to those little luxuries we thought we couldn't do without.

I'd love to hear what you all are doing! Just don't tell me that you gave up shampoo. (You did! I knew it! Damn. I've been reading the lovely Herbwife's ideas and tips—she makes it sound so easy.)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

For the Love of Etsy


I have a lot of news for the family and new, fascinating thoughts to share. But who reads blogs just for family news and fascinating thoughts? 

I can't blog without pictures, and I can't take pictures until it stops raining, as my fancy flash apparatus (the sun) is behind the clouds. 

So to my readers in Venezuela and Sweden, be assured that there will be lots of pictures in the near future, and not just of quilts.

In the meantime, here's a link to my Etsy Favourites. In case any of my rich relatives want to buy me presents. Just kidding. I don't have any rich relatives.

—This is pure admiration for good design, combined with a little wantiness. Today I felt like sharing the inspiration that comes my way every time I rummage around this fantastic website. (Angela, you have to get a pottery studio!) And when I become a rich relative, I will be sure to buy presents—lots of them—for all of you.

Gah! It's enough to drive a grown man batty, as Dad used to say. The amount of ART in this world, I tell you. 

Here, we continue to make, play, do, scritch-scratch in the garden, wash a lot of dishes, go on little bike excursions in the rain, and lie on the couch reading to my little squirrels, gestating this fourth little squirrel, and waiting for that wonderful second trimester energy to appear.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Little Kindnesses

I like to keep the pencils in the house sharpened and well-stocked—it's one of the little kindnesses I do for the family. No price can be put on a timely pencil. And no curse like a bad pencil, when you're trying to jot an urgent phone number. Another little kindness is to throw out the bad pencil—the kind with leads that break when you sharpen them—immediately. Likewise pens that don't work.

Another kindness is to throw out small toys that end up under the kitchen table, such as cars, marbles, and crayons, though this one might be construed as selfish. I generally do it while everyone is sleeping. I've also been known to donate books that I thought were superfluous, but I quickly learned that this was a mistake.

These days, everything I use daily on a daily basis, from kitchen tools to art supplies to fabric to household tools, is jumbled into ikea baskets. Will is constantly rummaging through them, saying, "Where the heck is the tape?" (bandaids/soap/garlic press/address book, etc) and ignoring my highly intuitive system of organization.

I don't know why. It's so easy—all you have to do is remember which basket you put it in!

But obviously I need to start thinking like a man. I need labels. And clear tupperware boxes. Screw the aesthetics, I need an organized home, where people can find what they're looking for.

Here's my humble start: the cloth diaper pail. If your nose didn't tell you first, the label on top warns the unsuspecting passerby that here there be soiled diapers. Don't try to use this pot for any other purpose.

What are some of your little kindnesses?

Friday, May 13, 2011

Friday stillness

That's Hugh, with his head missing. And if you'd seen his face, at the prospect of having his picture taken, you'd know why. But I couldn't let his awesome three-d art go un-archived. Hugh doesn't willingly draw with crayons, but he is a great constructor.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Some Tips

my downstairs on a project day—I know there are ways of cleaning up as you go, but that really interferes with progress, I find.

I've received some queries, mostly from friends living far away who haven't visited us since we had kids, about how "I manage to do it all." Ah, isn't that the question? How do we mothers manage to raise our children, run businesses, cook, clean, drive our kids around, homeschool, and churn out fantastic creative projects, all at the same time? I thought I'd post my answer here, in case you were wondering the same thing.

Here's how I manage to "do it all." By way of example, I'll talk about the weeks during which I sewed the log cabin quilt. During that time:

  • I did not clean my bathroom. Not even once. And if you know what kind of things go on in our bathroom, you'd be deeply, deeply shocked.
  • I burnt approximately 8 meals
  • The fridge developed a peculiar odour, which we called "essence de fridge"
  • The children refused to drink milk, because it tasted like essence de fridge
  • The baby learned to say "shit"
  • "homeschooling" devolved into listening to A.A. Milne and Narnia on CD, hour after hour
  • Willie learned to select youtube videos on my laptop
  • We ate popcorn for lunch.
  • Baby learned to open the un-openable pantry cupboards, and empty them.
  • I embraced a holistic approach to education, hoping that the virtues of perseverance, industriousness, thrift, and problem-solving, which they saw their mother practicing by the hour, would sink in. Inspire them. Make them forget about those irritating habits, such as cleanliness, organization, and prioritization, which so often interfere with a really worthwhile project.
You see? You could do it, too! It's so easy, once you know how.
That said, I don't want to push my luck. After putting up with my quilt and fabric all over the living room for 4 weeks, not to mention the above-mentioned neglect of housework, Will has requested a little bit of household peace. So this week I'm back to routine again. That is, I'm trying to confine my sewing to those little golden moments when everyone else is constructively occupied—or sleeping. And I'm trying to brush up on those irritating habits like organization and prioritization. I might even break out some bleach.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Making a Simple Chair Cover (revised, to make sense)

Here's a quick how-to. (Auntie  Marie, stop reading now!)

As you can see, I sew like a monkey—or at least, like australopithecus. Which is why I'm in a position to give hope to all novice sewers. 

I encourage you, reader, to make a chair cover or two just for the fun of it. It's so easy. So satisfying. So much better than a white chair with banana smeared all over it.

First, I started with a large quilt square, in the log cabin pattern, and four ties (I made the ties out of folded fabric). My quilt square was just a bit longer and wider than the seat of the chair. 


The fabric is a mixture of new and old; strips of courderoy pants, muslin scarves, linen shirts, cotton dresses, and wool skirts. I did not measure, as measuring is overrated anyway. But you see how forgiving the log cabin pattern is? 

Here's the back, so you can see how truly primitive it is.

To make the log cabin pattern, I started with the traditional red square (which, I'm told, is the "hearth" in the middle of the log cabin) then laid the strips round and round the square, sewing as I went.

I  ironed both the quilt and the quilt back, which was a piece of canvas hacked down to size....

 ...all around the edge, like this:

and placed wrong sides together:

Then I placed the ties in the corners

and pinned them in place.

Then I top-sewed around the whole edge, et voila

It looks all cute and mod, especially with a baby on it. And if any more dogs decide to recover from pup-birth on my chair, I can just toss it in the washing machine. 

Not everything we make is an heirloom, and some pieces are meant to accumulate patches, get worn and used, and washed, and covered in banana, and washed again.

On a completely unrelated note, we have a pet baby squirrel. It's black and very skinny. Unfortunately I have no pictures until it can be persuaded to come out of its little nest of leaves in the box. It's a rescue squirrel. It fell off our porch roof and we saved it from Foszka, which completely spoiled her Mother's Day.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

More Making

I made a little "log cabin" chair cover, to hide the dog after-birth...

...and banana and whatnot that found its way to the white chair. The "chair cover" is just a big square with ties at the four corners. 


I was so inspired by the sheer speed of the log cabin pattern, I decided, then and there, to make an enormous log cabin quilt:

Here it is at about the half-way point, when I discovered that I actually don't like it.

But Hugh does!

To be finished, this quilt requires about three more long BBC period dramas, and about six-hundred more mugs of coffee. Oh heavens! Did I write that? I mean herbal tea!

This is the perfect spring for making a quilt—we haven't seen the sunshine in almost two weeks. And it's cold. Will and I have stubbornly and superstitiously turned off the heat, so another quilt is definitely in order.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Waldorf Doll

For Easter (for Christmas, originally, but you know how it goes...) I made Matthias his own baby.

Baby has become a fixture in the house, not only for his usefulness as a projectile missile, but because Matthias is so attached to him. There is nothing sweeter in the world than a baby babying another baby.

And I must admit, it's true what they say: the softness, the featureless-ness, the plump, natural feel of the Waldorf doll, with all its warm sheep's wool, gives it a special "realness." It's kind of ironic. But then again, real babies are soft, plump, and featureless, too.

The sweater was my first Elizabeth Zimmerman seamless yoke sweater (as described in Knitting Without Tears). All you knitters will know what I'm talking about.——Non-knitters, skip to end.——It was basically three little tubes (body and two arms) joined in one big round and then decreased up to the neck. No fuss, no muss. Well, maybe a little swearing at the DPN's. For dimensions, I just winged it. The arms were 12 stitches around, I think. I'm just going to have to make big ones for everybody, now that I know how easy it is!

The little green 'fro is my favourite part. It's just french knots done with chunky yarn from the backs of highly uncooperative Icelandic sheep. (I can tell they were uncooperative by the feel of the yarn. It won't listen, I tell you.) But it's good and rugged and durable and gives a sweet, hobbit-y look to this otherwise feature-less baby.

Baby and his big brother, Bilbo, made by my talented mother

playing music for baby

my sweet, sweet boy in a nurturing mood

P.S. Baby just got a real name: Thomas. Thomas the Waldorf Doll. Doubling as a hockey puck, at the moment.