January 30, 2013

just the girls

Once a week, Briton goes straight to basketball practice after school and Evie comes home for a just-us-girls kind of afternoon. It's funny how the tempo changes when there is just one. Homework, cups of tea, games of gin rummy, projects and dinner to start. It's slow and quiet and lovely. Just us girls.

January 29, 2013

painting and planning

It's snowy and soft this morning. My favorite kind of winter day. Not the oh-so-very-cold temperatures of last week, but still cold enough that the icicles aren't melting and the fresh snow from last night, which at the time was not so much fun to drive in but is now looking very pretty indeed, will stay nice and fluffy and soft all day long.

We had a quiet weekend following a minor bathtub related concussion on Friday night. Lots of couch time and movies for the patient, doctor's orders. And her brother was happy to keep her company. She's all better now, crossing her fingers that I will consent to some zip-line time when she gets home (I'm not sure about that, we'll see). But two days of kids on couches lazing the hours away gave Will and I time to make lots of decisions about the house that we've been dithering on. This planning craze I'm in, well, it's extended inside I'm afraid. And so there are more plans afoot. As long as it's too snowy for beehive building, it's just right for painting and tiling and painting some more. There are lots of things in our house that need replacing. They function, but only just (like our kitchen drawers which really need replacing before they start refusing to go back permanently. At the moment we can talk them into it with much cursing, some screw tightening and a little WD-40, but alas, that won't last I fear) Lots of places that, after years of renters, need paint. And of course, LOTS of flooring.

This weekend we wiled away the afternoons painting the kitchen, which is the darkest room in the house. Too much dark paint and dark wood on floors and cabinets AND counter tops. We're trying to find a better balance of wood and paint to lighten things up. It's still in limbo at the moment, but improving, with more to be done next weekend. We'll call it Phase One of a multi-phase, year long plan to overhaul it. After lots of contemplation, hours spent on Pinterest and many, many color strips brought home from the hardware store, the colors are not so very different than what we had in our old (much loved) kitchen. Darker in some cases. Warmer in others. A little more white and wood and color instead of white and metal and color. But still, similar. What can I say, I'm a sucker for dark grey-blue. The main thing is that we have a plan at last. And paint.

And one room's paint color inevitably leads to the other. So we have more paint strips sitting on the table, mixed in with the ever present playing cards and the cribbage board, which was dug out this weekend when movies became boring (imagine that!). And that paint color, still not quite chosen, has me thinking about what the room after that will be. And on it goes.

January 25, 2013


Sometimes I miss having little ones. I mean, obviously my kids are still little-ish, but not so much anymore. I catch myself at times referring to them as "little" and then I realize they are more medium. And occasionally I miss the truly little. The tiny socks and learning to eat finger foods and peek-a-boo.

But then I remember how nice it is to have kids old enough to play a killer hand of gin rummy, and to help (in a real sense of the word) make cookies - weighing flour and butter and rolling balls of dough to the right size, and old enough to know that sleeping kitties should be left to sleep.

Just for the record, Evelyn beat me on that hand with no help what-so-ever.

January 24, 2013

to plan, to dream

It's so very very cold here this week. We are on day three of what looks to be almost a week where the temperature never climb above zero. Cold. We have both our woodstove and our propane heater running to keep the house toasty warm. Because it is that cold.

To be honest, I don't mind it. As long as our house is warm, I love it, even when it's this cold. I love it when the river is frozen in glassy green ripples and the branches are white with ice. It looks, as Briton pointed out the other morning driving through a tunnel of snow dusted pines, like Narnia. He's right. I wouldn't be surprised at all if Mr. Tumnus strolled by our front door with his umbrella and his arms full of packages.

And yesterday, amidst the cold and the ice and the snow, the first seed catalogs came in my email. Which was perfect timing, because all week I've been dreaming of gardens and bees and spring. Not because I am ready for it but because it's the perfect thing to do on a very cold afternoon.

We have lots of plans for spring. Probably too many plans. Maple syrup and honeybees and gardens and chickens, both for eggs and for meat. And secretly I'm wondering if we could slip a runner duck in there. Because I love runner ducks. How can you not? There has been lots of reading, old favorites and new resources. Thumbing through beekeeping catalogs, weighing the options - pre-built, flat packed or DIY. And weighing that against the need to also build a coop and several raised beds and, oh yes, an evaporator for the syrup. So many plans.

It may be too much for the first year, but we will try. For now, while it's too cold (too, too cold) to do much yet beyond lists and plans and ideas, so we make lists and plans and come up with ideas. So many ideas. So many plans. 

January 23, 2013

socks for him

After lots of worsted weight and bulk knitting leading up to Christmas, I'm on a sock yarn binge at the moment. My Beekeepers quilt is bumping along, thanks, in part to the lovely ladies of my knitting group, who keep bringing me teeny little balls of leftover sock yarn, just right for making a hexi-puff or two. I have gorgeous yarn from Wisdom Poems to make a pair of fingerless gloves from this pattern. I've lost my favorite pair and am missing the added layer of warmth under my gloves these days (-10 this morning! Yikes!). And I've been drooling over that pattern for a while. Not quite sure how it will go together, but we'll see.

And for Will, instead of a sweater, which is just, well, not in the cards at the moment, a pair of socks are on the way. This pattern, in fact. Although the faux cable didn't look right with the yarn, so I've substituted a real cable instead. The yarn is Malabrego Sock, so nice and smooshy and soft.

It's little knitting, which is nice. Knitting that doesn't take up my bag or my basket or my lap. Knitting that is easily hauled, which isn't really necessary right now, it's too cold to go much of anywhere. Much better to stay inside by the fire and knit and read and play cards. But it's nice, none the less.

Anything fun in your workbasket at the moment?

January 22, 2013

what to do, what to do

On a snowy winter weekend when the wiggles strike?
Driveway skiing, of course. With a little help from tow lift Dad to help you get back to the top and hot chocolate maker mom to warm you up between "runs".

January 21, 2013


This year I made half of our traditional Christmas Eve pjs. The smaller half, to be precise. Will and I still unwrapped bought jams, but Evie's nightgown and Briton's pajama pants were mom (and in the case of Briton's, where Evie helped me, sister) made. The pants were such a snap I kind of wondered why I've been buying them all these years, and next year I'm hoping to make Will's as well. The girlie usually gets pajama pants and top but this year I thought she needed a real, honest to goodness flannel night gown (which are kind of hard to find if you want o buy on anyway). I actually cut out two versions of the pattern at the same time and after Christmas made up the second. This, though, is the first. It's a little roomy, which bodes well for it's longevity (I made it extra long too, so she can tuck her toes into it and so she can wear it for a while) but I did narrow it up a bit for the second. The pattern, if you're interested, is McCalls 4646, and was very simple. The second one took less than 30 minutes to put together. My favorite kind of pattern.

Last week, when Eliza made her roaring comeback from the closet, I realized that I had just enough left over from both fabrics to make matching nightgowns for her. Because why not. A little girl and her best doll should have matching nightgowns, right?

So far I only have the kitty one done. It would have been a quick job to do it on the machine and I probably could have done both in a few minutes, but hand sewing it was a nice, sit by the fire kind of task for the weekend. So that's what it was.

Today, of course, the kids are off school and still in jammies and the fire is hissing along, so I might just cut out and sew the second night gown. A doll can never have too many, after all. Just like a girl. I'm kinda thinking about some felt boots too. Because why not? Right?

I missed Eliza. It's so nice to have her out of the closet again. Although her hair is, yeah, wow, we need to do something about that.

January 17, 2013

fresh snow

After almost a week of above freezing temperatures, most of the snow that had piled up over Christmas had melted away, leaving instead dirty greying piles of ice along side the roads and mud so deep that you could high center your car in places if you weren't careful. But yesterday it snowed lightly but steadily all day and night, and this morning we woke up to a newly whitened world. Beautiful.

Back go the tennis shoes and rain boots into the closet, and out come the snowboots once again. Tonight it will drop back below freezing and the woodstove will be roaring all the time, instead of just at the beginnings and endings of the days. I wasn't ready for winter to be over. I'm glad it's back.

January 15, 2013

guitar (hero)

When I was in fourth or fifth grade I started taking viola lessons. I'll be totally honest with you. The only reason I chose the viola was that I was in a phase where I avoided doing anything anyone else did. All the girls were reading The Babysitter Club, so I read Trixie Belden. All the girls were making beaded safety pins so I made friendship bracelets. Everyone else chose violin, so I chose viola. Given a broader choice of instruments I would have gone with an oboe or a bassoon because I knew from an old Sesame Street Visits the Orchestra record that not very many people played those. But my choices were violin, viola and bass, and no one chose viola, so that was for me. 

I was pretty terrible at the viola. I didn't like to practice and reading music was a struggle for me. But the one good thing about being the only viola in an orchestra is that you are always first chair, because there's no one else to do it. So I plugged away at it. My dad, who was a columnist in our town newspaper at the time, wrote a column dedicated to just how terrible I was (in a kind, fatherly, oh god it's so noisy and horrible kind of way of course). This meant that everyone in town knew how bad I was. But I was kind of used to that, so it didn't horrify me too much.

This year Briton is taking guitar lessons after school and he, like his mama, hates to practice and struggles with reading music, but I hope he pushes on with it. Guitar is a much handier kind of instrument to be able to play. You can't really pull out a viola at a college party and fiddle away on the couch after all. So hopefully...I've been secretly practicing the same lessons that he is learning once a week while he's at school. Partly because I want to be able to know what he's doing so I can help him and partly because I regret not carrying on with an instrument.

It's nice to have music in the house. Even slightly terrible, halting, renditions of "When the Saints Come Marching In." It's nice. Play on, boy-o.

January 14, 2013


I have a terrible case of the Mondays today. Made worse, I imagine, by an oncoming cold. The kind that makes your eyes feel swollen and gooey. Yuck. I'm tempted to crawl back into bed with a book and a big pile of knitting, but alas, there is too much work to do.

The boys were kept busy most of the weekend by a basketball tournament so Evie and I tucked in and played at home while they were gone, staying inside away from the thaw, listening to the tharumps as huge sheets of snow slide off the roof. There was knitting and spinning and reading and music and games. I started watching the series Good Neighbors from the beginning again, which always leads to wild ideas on my part (the self sufficiency books are back on my nightstand). And Eliza, who has been relegated to the closet for the last few months, reemerged and hasn't left her side since. It's nice to see Eliza again. I think some doll clothes may be on the list of to-do's this week. Maybe my little sewer can embroider some of it. Or hey, make some herself!

So there was not much going on, in a lovely, blissful way. Although I did hatch a plan for re-doing the stairs, at least until we can replace the treads with nicer ones. Stay tuned for that.

What was your weekend like? Anything exciting?

January 10, 2013

tofu, otherwise known as whale snot

A couple of months ago I mentioned that our family is meandering toward vegetarianism. Or not really vegetarianism, since we do eat meat, albeit rarely. Maybe it would be better to say "a more plant based diet".  Except with bacon. And by our family I mean Will and I because Evie doesn't eat meat really (except bacon) but she doesn't really eat plants either. And Briton IS NOT A VEGETARIAN, MOM. So, yeah. It's really just Will and I. Whatever.

It's going well, believe it or not. I don't really find myself missing meat. And when we do, we cook meat. And Briton has his ham and cheese sandwiches to fill his meat lover moments.  But we are eating less and less and are pretty happy with it. It's expanding all our horizons, and that's a good thing. The other day I made quiche with rainbow chard and Evie asked what "that stuff" was and I told her rainbow food. She only picked out the really obviously green pieces, so I count that as a win.

I also mentioned that I have been a vegetarian once before, and that I was, I freely admit, a terrible vegetarian. I didn't really know how to cook much at all and cooking vegetarian food mostly meant replacing all meat in recipes with TVP and eating a lot of pasta. Which wasn't hugely successful, but I tried. I was young and dumb and poor and the three cookbooks I owned weren't much help. Especially the one all about meals colonial Americans would have eaten which, as a history major, I found fascinating, but I've never cooked a single thing from it. This time around I've been experimenting with all sorts of things. Faro and barley and crazy cheeses and meals that wouldn't need meat anyway instead of meals where the meat is just missing. But I've been resolutely avoiding one thing, one very "vegetarian food" thing. Tofu.

The thing is, tofu and I have a long, sordid history. When I was a kid, probably around Evie's age, we learned about tofu at a health food demonstration at school, came home and asked my dad what it was.

He told me that the word tofu was Japanese for "whale snot."

So, yeah. Being one of those kids who believed pretty much everything her parents said. I didn't try the tofu the next time it came around.

In fifth grade we had another tofu demonstration (and now that I think about it, it's weird that in Northern Idaho we were discussing tofu in the 1980's, because I honestly don't remember having tortillas back then, and tortillas seem way more accessible that tofu) this time we made tofu lasagna and I came away with the impression that tofu (which I still semi-believed was actually whale snot) was good in lasagna because it just tasted like lasagna. And who doesn't like lasagna?

So most of my life, that's been tofu. Just whale snot that you add to things when you wont notice there is tofu in them. If you have to. Otherwise. Yuck.

Fast forward to this week. Will, wonderful guy that he is, bought me one of Heidi Swanson's cookbooks for Christmas because I mentioned at some point that I liked the recipes on her blog, and, after thumbing through, I decided to try a soba noodle dish with, gasp, tofu.

Naturally I didn't tell my family. Even after it was made and waiting in the fridge, I just told them dinner was in the fridge and left for a PTO meeting. I only told Will later that "that stuff in the noodles" was tofu. Because surprisingly, it was really good. Really good. Snack on it the next day good.

Amazingly, I've figured out how to make tofu not taste like whale snot.

This was not, clearly, my own discovery. I read through the recipe, which called for dry frying the tofu and then went in search of more info on dry frying and came across some ideas for dry frying and then marinataing thinly sliced tofu and man, seriously? Where has that been all my life. Not a hint of whale snot! Will loved it, Briton liked it and Evie ate more than two bites. Holy cow. I feel like a whole new world of food has opened up.

So now that I'm not steering clear of the whale snot, I'm curious, does anyone out there cook it in an interesting way that I should try?

January 9, 2013

bright and cold

There is a level of cold here, I'm sure I've experienced it before but I don't remember it very clearly, where the moment you step outside and inhale, the hairs in your nose freeze and your face starts to tingle. I think, at least for me, this happens when the thermometer drops below 9 degrees. At 10, it doesn't happen, at 8 it does. When it's that cold, too cold to snow, the sun is usually out, turning everything white and sparkly and so beautiful that I am in awe, just driving the kids to school.

"Look at the mountain!"
"Look at the trees!"
"Look at the roofs!"

It often looks like a postcard, impossibly pretty. I don't mind overcast days. I am, after all, a Portland girl at heart (and by the way, have you seen this? Hilarious, and, really, pretty true. "But the sun is out!" was a semi legitimate excuse for skipping class at U of O, even for the professors). But I do love these clear, bright, cold days when everything is frozen.