Category Archives: Housewifery

The Handcrafted Wardrobe: Decluttering Craft Areas

A little update on the 2017 decluttering challenge: I’ve been at it for just about four weeks now and so far I’ve rid our home of 741 items.  I am serious about this.  Conversely in that same time I did come home with a couple of new things.  Circumstances considered, I was very well behaved.  The first series of temptations came during an outing to a rare and used bookstore where everything was being sold for next to nothing.  The second was a craft swap where everything was available for literally nothing.  Books and craft supplies.   My kryptonite.

A hundred and six year old first edition copy of a book that I thought might make a pleasant family read aloud, two children’s magazines from 1937 and 1944 respectively, that have the sweetest illustrations and which I intend to tuck into Mairi’s Easter basket and two old knitting magazines.  Including the six or so books that Mairi, Galen, and Seraphina picked out, we spent $12.

I came home with a few things from the sewing and knitting exchange as well.  There was an entire room full of free sewing and knitting supplies people!  I’m only human.  Still, I dropped off three boxes worth of donations and everything I came home with fit in my handbag.  Not such a bad exchange.

The two designs above are from Bear Brand Campus Knits Vol. 335, cira 1947.  The patterns have rather humorous names such as “Beau Catcher” (Steve checked it out and found the bait inferior).  These two above are “Art Appreciation” and “Collegiate” and I can’t decide which I’d rather grace my needles.

I started sifting through craft supplies before I was truly ready because of the swap.  It’s really an emotional process, much like sorting through sentimental items.  I’m afraid this is one area where I’m guilty of keeping every last thing, just in case.  It’s comforting to me to feel that in lean times I could make whatever might be needed.  But I want to live with more freedom now, not stockpiling for a future which may or may not come.  I’ve started looking at certain fabrics and telling myself that I’ve made my dress or blouse or whatever from it and now I can let what’s left move on to someone else.  It has already served it’s purpose for me.  I don’t have to use up every last scrap.  I’m trying to think less in terms of what I could use, as just about everything falls into that category, and more what I genuinely think I will use.  And perhaps more importantly, what I want to use.

What about you?  Do you have experience with decluttering craft supplies or trying to keep a more minimalist craft set up?

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Back to (home) School Pictures and Sewing

Usually I take their back to school pictures over the course of about half an hour after lunch on our first day back.  This year it took me three solid weeks just to get everyone photographed and another two to edit the photos.

Mairi’s new dress is an Oliver and S. Playtime Dress.  The bodice is linen.  The skirt and sleeves were made from an older fabric that came from my mother-in-law, the style of which somehow reminds me of hand-me-downs from my own childhood.

Elijah as been at it again and made himself a new shirt for the new school year, complete with a double piped and hand-embroidered yoke.

See how they’ve grown….

2015

2014

2013

2012

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The Handcrafted Wardrobe: History

My father recently acquired some old family photographs.  I want copies of every single one of them, but so far I’ve only managed to scan a couple.

The baby in that top one is my grandmother.  Would you just look at my great-grandmother?  Pearls at the beach!  Ack!  I love it.  The second one is my grandmother again, but a bit older this time.  All of those ruffles slay me.  The last one is of my grandparents together.  I’ve had this one for a while now and that dress has really got to be one of my absolute favorite dresses of all time.  I have no idea what color it actually was, but I always pictured the bodice in a dark green velvet, with the skirt being a warm ivory.

And this one….

Is really completely off topic, but the boy on the left there is my father and I just really think that teenage Elijah looks a lot like teenage dad.  And I also kind of think Elijah would dig that jacket.

Over the years I’ve discovered that I adore fashion and clothing, and yet I have absolutely no interest in current trends.  A huge part of the appeal for me is the story behind the garment.  And it just seems like the only story behind most modern styles is that so-and-so famous person wore it and it caught on.  That means nothing to me.  Which is not to say that I’m not influenced by current fashion.  We none of us live in a vacuum!  Everyone’s views and tastes are shaped by the time and environment that they live in.  I’m just not passionate about it. 

What really fascinates me is where clothing and history meet.  Those times in the past where situations arose that shaped a style.  Events that may not even seem to have any relation to fashion at all, but which in retrospect, have had a huge impact.  Think of the invention of the bicycle and how it was really the start of the downfall of the strictly bound corset.  Women suddenly had this new found freedom in a mode of transportation that was relatively inexpensive and socially acceptable for them to utilize on their own.  The only catch?  Dressed as they were, they couldn’t bloody well breathe to make it up those hills!

In particular I’m truly intrigued by those periods of times where clothing yourself and family was a struggle, say during wartime or a depression.  What really inspires me are those times when women, and men too I’m sure, but mostly it was women, looked at a situation and said, “okay, we’re going to make this work, but we’re going to make it beautiful too”.  Times when creativity and ingenuity were paramount.  Think flour sack dresses or blouses cut just so, to use a minimal amount of fabric while still remaining feminine and flattering.  Think of women going in droves into factories and farm work and needing to keep their hair out of the way for safety’s sake.  That could have been a strictly utilitarian endeavor, but women went and cultivated styles that were glamorous instead.  Have you seen some of the dresses and other articles of clothing from after WWII made of silk maps?  With cloth rationing still on the escape maps printed on silk being brought back by soldiers must have seemed as good a source of fabric as any.  Look at knitting in times of lack, when stripes become en vogue and intricate fair-isles made from odds and ends, along with whatever you could harvest from a worn out old sweater, start cropping up. Even the rebound effect of luxuriating in fabulously full skirts and the completely frivolous use of fabric after rationing was lifted is an intriguing glimpse into a particular period in time.

As I said, it’s the story that captivates me, whether it be a hand-woven fabric made in some ancient tradition, the alchemy of yarn dyed with local flora, or a little snippet of embroidery that’s the mark of a doting mother’s hand.  Perhaps that’s why I’m so drawn to making clothing.  Hand made garments have their own unique tales to tell.

For a lavishly illustrated look at some of the fashions of years gone by, taking you all the way back as far as we can gather, check out Fashion: The Definitive History of Costume and Style.  It does not disappoint.

What about you?  Are there any eras you are particularly drawn to?  What is the appeal?

Last week I forgot to announce the next challenge!  It’s August 15: Just for Fun.

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Closet Anatomy

Why yes, I do hang my Edwardian nightie up in my closet.  I want to get a hook to hang that empty bag on as well.  I rearranged things so that the line of clothing slants upward to the right, as per Konmarie, which felt really backwards and wrong at first, but now I think I like it.  There is a shelf running across the top, way up out of my reach, holding a small office-sized box of clothes and 4 pairs of shoes I can’t currently wear, but am not ready to part with.  I laid out my favorite necklace to remind myself to wear it more often.

I sorted through all my clothing, from all over the house and threw away a kitchen trash bag worth of items that weren’t fit to give to people with no clothes.  Eye opening.  And I don’t just mean a little stained.  I mean I would be at risk of being arrested for indecency, were I to wear them in public.  At home I would try to layer them so that the holes wouldn’t line up.  I donated a paper bag worth of clothing that never fit or was from another lifetime- one that has nothing to do with my current reality- to charity.  I did not only keep items that I love, as much as I relish the idea of an entire wardrobe composed of outfits I adore.  I’m too pragmatic for that.  But from here on out I hope to replace pieces with great care and that goal in mind.

As it is, I could fit all of my current clothing, all types, for all seasons, in one dresser drawer with ease.  The box on the top shelf is clothing that I wish to keep, but can’t currently wear.  Dresses that I can’t nurse in, outfits that aren’t right for my figure at the moment, but may be again in the future. I know everyone says not to keep clothes that don’t fit, but I think the situation is different for mothers of many.  There are so many phases we go through and from experience I’ve found that my body makes a profound shift around the time my babies turn 2 1/2- 3.  I’m not attached to the idea of reaching a certain goal in wearing them again.  They are just there if I need them.  And if not, it’s one small box that’s out of my way, no big deal.

I would, however, like to cover the box or find a nicer one.  The plain cardboard isn’t aesthetically pleasing and since we haven’t built doors for our closets yet, I see it many times a day.

In that same box are some dresses that I seriously doubt I’ll ever wear again, but they have sentimental value.  I thought the girls might have fun with them when they are older.  I know that as a teenager I used to enjoy mixing my mom’s old clothes into my wardrobe.  It was a fun and funky way to be different and also connected to her and the young woman she was.

And now, where to go from here?  I’ve started gathering ideas for both an Autumn/Winter Capsule Wardrobe and a Spring/Summer Capsule Wardrobe.  There will be some cross over of course.  I’m thinking 10 pieces?  Maybe? I think I’ll have to live with it and see what works.  Someday I will have an entirely home-made dream wardrobe, but my sewing time is very limited at the moment.  I’m going to try to add a custom piece or two each season.  Does anyone have suggestions on where to find good quality clothing that doesn’t cost a fortune?

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glimpse

What is it really like to have a large active family with a multitude of food allergies?  With in this house there is at least one person who can’t handle each of the following: eggs, dairy, gluten, corn, grains of any sort, legumes (all beans and peanuts), chocolate, mold in food (including fungi- in other words, mushrooms), almonds and potatoes.

Special feeding circumstances I have to contend with this week include; backpack food for children on a day long hike, back to back dance recitals, a potluck, group family day on the beach-including picnic lunch, and planning for a week long camping trip.

It’s currently 11:45 pm.  I’m sitting here with 24 lbs worth of sleeping baby on my back.  The older boys were kind enough to make some dairy free ice cream before going to bed.  It’s chilling for a special event tomorrow.  They do, however, seem to have neglected the cleaning up part.  I have strips of beef marinating in the fridge, mango slices (they were having a big blow out sale) and strawberry fruit leather drying in the dehydrator, I just took a crustless pumpkin pie out to cool and put some plantain based sesame bread sticks in to bake.  I still have to figure out what to pack for two little ones who will be away from home tomorrow.  They are supposed to bring “light, non-messy, nut free snacks”.  Graham crackers, pretzels or cheese sticks were suggested.  Uh-huh.

My advice to you?  Make babies that tolerate a wide range of foods.

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from abundance

I think I’m ready to be done with winter.  Usually I’m not fussy about these things and my spirits don’t give out quite so easily, certainly not so early!  I don’t know why I’m struggling this year.  I miss the earth.  I crave green growing things.  But winter does not seem to be nearly done with us.

As I mentioned before, we’re trying to cut spending in our household.  The prevailing view seems to be that this will be a painful, miserable process, during which we should all “suck it up” and white knuckle through.  I choose not to see it that way.  The fact that I can make that choice is evidence enough to prove I am truly blessed.  I am not scared for our lives, far from it.  And I have many, many, many things to be grateful for.  Up to and including the chance to act responsibly now for my family’s future well being.  I’ve set myself something of a personal challenge and I’m encouraging my family to join in.  Rather then focus on lack; all the can’t and shouldn’ts, my goal is to live the very best life we can live, while lowering our expenses.  As I go through this process I’m going to share some ideas here, some of the joys, some of the failures (because there will be setbacks) and just generally keeping tabs on how things are going.  I invite you to do the same!  Feel free to leave comments or links to your own thoughts.

I don’t feel like we are taking full advantage of our belongings.  There are so many things that could be fixed up, altered, put to a new use, taken advantage of, rearranged, even just tidied (!), in such a way that would serve us better.  Something to meditate on this week: if I’m not able to realize the full potential of my possessions, if I don’t have the time, energy or creativity to truly care for the objects I already own, then what on earth do I need additional things for?!?  I have so much that I can’t even properly care for it all.*  I find this thought very humbling.  I vow to shop at home and work with what I have, before even considering making a purchase.  There is so much untapped potential around our home.  Yes, there are limits to this.  Having an extra vegetable peeler does me not a whit of good when what I really need is a decent pair of pants that fit or new tires on the car.  But certainly there is enough to be getting on with.  Rather then feel confined by this I’m choosing to feel inspired.  I’m willing to consider the possibility that something amazing can be born out of limits.

*If you think you are different, let me ask you this…do you have any shirts that need buttons sewn on?  Closets that are cluttered without everything put away properly?  Socks with holes that need mending?  Are you behind on your laundry or dishes?  When’s the last time you backed up your photos or changed the filter in your furnace?  Any furniture in need of repairs or a fresh coat of paint?  I could go on, but I think you see my point and I’m really quite certain that I’m not alone in this.

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downtime

We’ve always made it a point not to over-schedule our family.  And yet, somehow at this moment in time, our schedule feels very, very full.  It’s one of those situations where a number of opportunities for too-good-to-pass-up things came into our lives one right on top of the other.  It won’t last forever and the best option seems to be to suck it up for the time being.  But by this past weekend, the Papa Bear and I were fried.  Fried, I tell you.  We both needed to regroup.

I remember (just barely) a time in the distant past where “downtime” meant laying in bed in an air conditioned room, watching movies and eating pizza delivered to our very door.  This weekend’s version of downtime involved hours and hours of lawn mowing, building up a new compost pile and gardening.  We spent a full afternoon working on two big homeschooling projects with the little kids and roasted apples and hotdogs over a fire.  We did ignore most of the housework.  Which I waver between being really glad of, because I desperately needed to step away for a bit, and deeply regretting, because once I stepped back it turns out that what I need now is to have kept up with it then!

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simple cookery: roasted red pepper soup

We sometimes stop in at this discount grocery store.  Mostly it’s full of processed food that we wouldn’t eat anyway.  And sometimes you come across completely disgusting food, well beyond what can actually be rightfully deemed “food”.  But usually there is a thing or two worth having at a decently low price.  And every once in a while an amazing find that makes it totally worth while to stop by whenever we’re in town.  Like our most recent trip where we came home with a 40 lb. box of organic bananas for $6 and an entire case of organic red peppers for $7 all in near perfect condition.  Amazing, right?  It takes a little work and hustle to get it all preserved before it has a chance to go bad, but it’s totally worth the effort.

We sliced and dried some of the bananas in the oven and froze the rest in chunks to be used in smoothies and things in the future.  Most of the peppers were frozen raw-some in chunks (to be used primarily for kabobs) and some sliced (for stir-fries and the like).  They keep quite well that way.

But first thing first, I made some soup!  A big pot of soup- some to eat and some to freeze for later.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup

2 onions

1 extra large zucchini (or 2 medium, or 3 small)

3 cloves garlic

balsamic vinegar

broth

salt

oil

15 red peppers

1 tsp red pepper flakes

bunch of fresh basil

bunch of fresh parsley

Slice the onions.  Saute them in oil until translucent. Add in the garlic, cook for a minute or so stirring frequently.  Add a good glug of balsamic vinegar- use care, it’s going to sizzle quite a bit!  Allow the sauce of vinegar and onion juices to thicken.  Add the zucchini* and red pepper flakes.  Add enough broth to just cover everything.  Simmer until the zucchini is soft.  While this cooks, roast your peppers.  Slice them in half.  Remove the stem. Scoop out the seeds.  Broil them on a cookie sheet until the skin bubbles and they get a bit browned.  Flip and cook the other side.  Strip the leaves of the herbs and add them along with the peppers to the broth.  Puree the whole thing, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

*I used a Vitamix to blend my soup.  If you aren’t using some sort of high powered blending device, you might want to consider peeling both the zucchini and the peppers.  You may also need to cook the peppers in the broth for a while to soften them.

We’re in the final week of summer vacation and I’m both trying to prepare and trying to say “yes” as much as possible…getting my lessons plans in order, trying to get the house set up to accommodate everything, switching out baby clothes for the next size up (yet again), wondering where everyone else’s cold weather clothing got to, trying to keep up with the garden and the harvesting and the processing of food.  I’ve been spending a lot of time working to get my homeschooling binder in order, updating our calendar and trying to wrap my brain around new schedules; work two days a week for the big boys, multiple dance classes, multiple riding lessons, other possible classes- all of the related shows and special events and the things that come and go; in the last month between us we’ve had 8 doctors appointments, most of them 45 minutes to an hour away.  That’s not counting the all day affair that is traveling to our geneticist, which took place in the last days of July.  I’m having trouble trying to figure out where to fit in all of the dentist and eye doctor appointments that need to be scheduled, amongst all of the appointments with the other doctors and specialists and how are we to still have time for anything else?  It’s all rather stressful.  So far there are only 3 appointments scheduled for September.  But that’s mostly because we’re supposed to be going away for a while, so they can’t be scheduled for a bit.  Did I mention that I’m trying to plan a trip?  Right.  There is a lot of planning for that.  And then there are the yes things…meeting friends at the pond for yet another “last swim”? Yes.  Make ice cream for the third day in a row? sure, why not.  Work on that ridiculously messy big project? go for it.  Sometimes the yeses are stressful too (for me anyway), but worth it.

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Feeding Our Families ~ Economics

We recently embarked on a whole family homeschooling project.  It was a little bit practical math, a little home ec. and a lot of honing of critical thinking skills.  The premise was really very simple, it’s easy to figure out how much we spend on groceries in a given week or month, our goal here was to figure out where exactly that money goes.

For two weeks, we calculated the cost of each and every meal we ate.  We kept all of the receipts in an envelope, on a clipboard, along with our lists.  When we sat down to a meal or snack someone would grab the clip board and a calculator and off we would go.  We included every ingredient that it was reasonably possible to figure out a monetary sum for.  Where we would normally “drizzle” something or add a “splash”, we started measuring that drizzle or splash and then figuring out exactly how much said drizzle of olive oil cost.  We added in the cost of a teaspoon of vanilla and a tablespoon of lemon juice.

There were a few things that were really beyond our ability to figure out, at least without driving ourselves crazy.  I drew the line at trying to calculate the cost of salt per meal, as monitoring and measuring each individual’s salt usage seemed a bit much.  I also have no way of knowing how much it cost to make a jar of peach jam last year.  Nor do I have much of a chance at figuring out the cost of bananas, bought by the case months ago and frozen.  Without knowing exactly how many bananas were in the case, it’s hard to say what the three we added into our smoothie amounted to.  But we were able to figure out mostly everything else.  We came up with a grand total for each meal and then divided it by the number of people eating to get a price per person.  At the end of the day we did a full day total.  If a by product of the food got used again, we went back and marked the original entry with an X, allowing us to really see what gave us the most bang for our buck, if you will.  So the roast chicken from Monday gets an X when I make hash on Tuesday and another when I make stock on Wednesday and so forth.   The results were surprising!

I’ve always felt guilty about making my cashew yogurt.  Cashews are expensive after-all.  But it turns out that a container of cashews being the basis for an entire meal made for one of our lowest cost per-person meals.  One of our highest?  Brussels sprouts!  This never would have occurred to me, as I always think of eating more vegetables as being cost effective.  Granted on this occasion we did add in bacon, which didn’t help the cost.  Because they are priced by the pound, we had been just scooping them into a bag, until we had a meals worth, without realizing we had packed away like $16 worth of sprouts!  All of which disappeared in a single sitting easily, without so much as a leftover to redeem itself by.  Now Brussels are out of season in our area at the moment and we normally wouldn’t be buying them at all at this time of year, but there was a special request and we obliged.  It’s like when a house guest came to me concerned because a 1/2 lb of spinach had been left out on the table and the kids kept coming by and taking huge fistfuls.  Seriously, what am I going to do, stop my kids from eating spinach?  I think not.  Like wise, they ask for Brussels sprouts as a special treat (really, I’m not making this up) and I wouldn’t think twice about putting them on the list, at least that is, until now.

It turns out that we don’t save nearly as much as I had hoped growing all of our greens for six months of the year.  Not that I have any intention of stopping, but that was a disheartening discovery.

What to do with all of this information?  Well it’s helping us to better define what we should enjoy occasionally as a treat and what we should focus on as everyday foods.  It seems that a couple of our regular meals were huge money drains.  It has also helped to shape our garden plans.  Hint: we’re growing a lot of Brussels sprouts.  I think that knowing exactly how much a teaspoon of vanilla extract costs is just the kick in the pants I needed to finally, finally start making my own, after years of just talking about it.  The whole thing was a really empowering and educational experience and I strongly recommend it to others.          

Just because I feel like I should have some actual food represented in my Feeding Our Families post, here we have a Blackened Salmon Bowl (served on a plate!).  In theory this should be an expensive meal.  However, by cutting out some of the more expensive ingredients, i.e. no truffle oil, using salmon that was purchased in season during a sale, playing up the veggies and serving it alongside asparagus from our garden, it was actually quite reasonable and very enjoyable.

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Feeding Our Families: Planning, Planning, Planning

Swiss chard and leeks

Thumbprint Cookies- we used this recipe.  The recipe is only so-so, but it’s fun for each of the kids to be able to mix up their own batch.  We topped them with some of our mixed berry jam before baking and served them with home-made cashew milk.

This month I’m mostly trying to get back on track here; in the kitchen and in life, stepping out of that newborn haze and back into real hands-on, nitty-gritty Life.  I seem to have convinced myself that if I plan everything out just so and am meticulously organized, then everything will go smoothly at all times.  Ha!  As if meeting the physical, emotional, educational, nutritional, social, spiritual needs of 7 people on a daily basis, year in and year out, could possibly be effortless!  But there you have it.  This is the way my brain works sometimes.  The fact remains that it certainly can’t hurt to be a little more organized.  With that goal in mind, over the last couple of weeks I’ve been slowly (very slowly, I do everything slowly these days, hence my usual Monday post appearing mid-day on Thursday…) working on creating a master grocery list.  This is a document that I’m typing up of any and all items that we might buy on a semi-regular basis at various food stores.  The idea being that every week I can print a new one out, post it on the fridge and check off things as we run out.  Also having everything right in front of me will hopefully help with my constantly forgetting little odds and ends, resulting in extra shopping trips.  I will see all the possibilities right in front of me, and therefore (hopefully! fingers crossed!) be reminded.  And as a side benefit, poor Steve won’t have to try to interpret my hand writing, which isn’t the best to begin with and these days is mostly done on a book, balanced on my knee, while trying to contort around a nursing babe….a situation that is not likely to improve it’s quality.

My other project is to get back to meal planning.  Somehow I fell out of this habit and we were really so much better off when I was keeping up with a seasonal meal plan.  You can read more about my meal planning process here.  I’m also looking to update our breakfast menu for the season, but feeling rather uninspired on that front, so suggestions are welcome!  Thus far we’ve switched out our hot cereal for a lighter and cooler grain-free granola.

Also on my mind this month is getting the garden off to a good start.  The couple of photos above are from syrup making this year, because really that’s our very first harvest of the growing season.  It wasn’t the best year, between the strange weather and the timing.  We sugared off once at the very end of my pregnancy.  Seraphina’s first trip outside was to sit fireside during the day long process of evaporation.  Followed by one more somewhat disastrous attempt right before Easter.

The garden is coming along.  Largely thanks to the efforts of the older children.  Though something ate many of our starts, while they were still inside (!).  That was a completely new one for me.  I still have no idea what got to them.

Expect posts this week by:

 

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