homeschooling, homemaking, homesteading...home.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Three Aprons in a Tub

...and who do you think they could be?

THE BUTCHER


This is an actual butcher apron; both in style and purpose. It's pretty well stained like a good one should be, too...although most of the stains are from chocolate and tomatoes and not from blood. This was my first apron; purchased at a discount department store. (Ames? Wal-Mart? I can't remember.)

Correction: this was technically my second apron. My first was a gingham skirt apron with cross-stitch embroidery on it that some relative had started and gave to me to finish. And I was a teenager and easily distracted and never finished it and eventually lost it. Sigh.

Anyway. The Butcher saw many years of use early on but has fallen out of favor since my collection has grown. It has gloriously long straps and full coverage. It's practical and simple. Sometimes, that's all you need.

THE BAKER


This is where my nursery rhyme allusion starts to break down. This is another heavy-duty butcher apron, but with a slightly kitschy print of kitchen implements. It bears the logo for Calphalon. Yes, they are a cookware company. No, they do not produce bakeware. I'm sticking by the metaphor anyway.

This was a hand-me-down, I think from an aunt. It is, again, stained and beat-up but sturdy and useful. It still sees a good deal of regular rotation in cooler weather, but gets ignored during the summer because heavy denim is HOT!

THE CANDLESTICK MAKER


Okay, now I have to just bow out of the nursery rhyme altogether. This has nothing to do with candlestick making at all. It is, rather, a uniform apron. In case the logo isn't clear, this little lady once flew with a US Airways flight crew member. She's seen better days (the apron! I'm not making value judgments about the former owner!) and has a broken strap, but a firm knot fixed it. This apron saw a lot of action during the spring of 2004 but hasn't been used lately. I used to use this for cooking (as with most of my aprons), but the close-fitting design and numerous pockets are making me reconsider bringing her out of Second Retirement and putting her to work as a Cleaning Day garment.

And no, I did not tie these bad boys to the dining room chairs in some half-creative attempt at artistic display. They were an emergency cover after the puppy ate the cane backing out of the chairs. (See first photo: she is not at all remorseful.)

Not her most endearing moment.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Picture Perfect Summer Day

I know. It isn't summer yet. It isn't even Memorial Day yet. But it is Memorial Day weekend, it's hot, and the local pools are starting to open. No hotel pool for us like earlier in the week; we headed instead to Mineral Beach, a roadside park with a lot of appeal. It was our first trip there, and is definitely going on our warm weather list of Favorite Places.

The pool is huge, and yet 80% of it is a wading pool, with a long and gradual dropoff from 1 to 4 feet deep. This is disappointing if you are, well, a swimmer. This is heaven if you have small children who more than make up in enthusiam what they lack in swimming skills. The kids can "swim" in water well within their depth.


No need for Mom to try to keep within constant arms' reach of two frantically wiggling little people who are determined to sink like rocks. No need for flotation devices. No need, really, for Mom to be in the water at all if she so desires. (Oh, yes. I can already picture myself relaxing on a poolside bench with my knitting.) The kids are free to be kids (and to gain confidence), and I am free to not be a helicopter. Right there, it is a major win.

The pool is a "beach" style, which refers to the gradual slope entrance on all sides of the pool. There is no step, no dropoff, no ladders...you enter the water exactly as you would step into the surf.



Our day had a sweetly nostalgic quality to it. The pool itself and the main building were constructed in the 1920s and are charming in their simplicity.


The park is located along a relatively undeveloped section of Route 88. In a region where every roadway is lined with commercial businesses and every unplowed field is being snatched up for new housing construction, we had this view:

There is a local produce stand across the road, and fields flanking the pool area. The park includes a home-cooking restaurant and a large lot where a weekly car cruise is held. While we were still swimming, we watched countless classic cars (mostly American-manufactured muscle cars) arriving. Smoke and a delicious aroma arose from the barbecue pit, and golden oldies played over the loudspeakers. (And I mean real "oldies", not this travesty of our local oldies radio station playing hits of the 1980's, yeesh!)

We got plenty of sun and a probably unhealthy level of chlorine exposure. We ate ungodly salty corn chips with nacho cheese. And for a bit of visual fun, we even saw a girl juggling.

(Here she is using balls. I failed to get a photo but--I swear I am not making this up--she later pulled out a set of juggling clubs.)

All in all, the afternoon felt so perfect that it could have been staged for a movie set.

Food Friday: Greatest Hits

Okay, it was one of those weeks where culinary adventure just wasn't in the cards. (And Friday was one of those days when blogging wasn't happening. I know the date on this post is wrong. Shut up.) I still cooked plenty; I just didn't try anything new. But there were still high points.

Our black raspberry bushes are in production mode. The berries are green yet, but there are an overwhelming amount of them. It's going to be a good harvest this year. In anticipation, I thawed the last package of hoarded stored 2009 berries and made my world-famous (well, neighborhood-lauded, at least) pie.


BEFORE

AFTER

Yum.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Hot.

I started the day today...not wanting to start the day. I'd gone to bed too late, been awoken too early, and despite the enormous array of possibilities for things to do (both "want" and "need"), felt like doing nothing. Then I checked the weather forecast and saw the magic number: 87.

Eighty-seven?

Oh that's it; we're going swimming.

Easier said than done, actually. If you live in the Northeast and want to swim before Memorial Day, you'd better have your own pool. I called all over the place and the earliest any public pools will be open is several days from now. Not helping me today!

Then I recalled a conversation I'd had with a friend, about a local hotel which has already opened the pool. Turns out she has some, uh, pull (pun quite intended) and got us in on a day pass.



Ahhhhhhh. Our day got considerably better. :)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Apron Collection: Chocolate

These aprons are appearing in no premeditated order. I had considered saving this one for last...kind of a Grand Finale...but it just happened to be the most accessible when I realized that it was Apron Monday and I needed a picture. ;)


Note that I did not stage the clothesline photo.
That thing gets used...and that apron is clean!

This is one of the nicest aprons I own, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it was a custom gift from my best friend of 25 years. (Shut up, it already makes me feel old just admitting it.) That much alone is enough for it to be my favorite. But it also excels on its less emotional merits.

The workmanship on this garment is impeccable...and I'm not just saying this because I know that the creator will be reading this. She really does very precise work. I'm often hesitant to make gifts for her because my own skills seem so amateur by comparison. Ahem. Anyway, it is well-constructed, with crisp seams and even topstitching. It is fully lined, so it has great structure (often a full bib apron made from cotton can be limp and shapeless). And OMG the spill-anticipating coverage. Someone knows me very well.

On more aesthetic notes, this apron is not only practical but plenty feminine, with a flirty and bold bright pink flounce, a pretty "tulip" style patch pocket


and an embroidered patch on the bib that speaks volumes about its wearer.

I love it!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Life imitates Art

LIFE
6yo: "Mom, look! I'm hiding and you can't find me!!"


ART


LIFE
Me: "Where is Daddy?"
4yo: "Maybe he is at the far end of town, where the Grickle-grass grows!"

ART

Friday, May 21, 2010

Food Friday: DONUTS!!


Donuts. Mmmmmm. Sweet, sticky, fluffy, yummy donuts. Ten gazillion Krispy Kreme kustomers know what I'm talking about. And you know what? They aren't magical. They're just food. I can do food.

There are two basic kinds of donut: raised, and cake. (Yes, there are also filled donuts, but they are just a variation on raised so shut up.) The first thing I learned when researching the whole donut thing is that cake donuts, contrary to my lifelong assumption, are not baked. They are deep-friend, just like their fluffier counterparts. (Rats.) My intention and goal was to make raised donuts, but my poor time management skills found me starting the process at midnight last night and I was NOT going to go through the process of raise/rest/raise at that point, so I opted to make Sour Cream Cake Donuts from The Joy of Cooking. I mixed up the dough (which, I must note, is really more of a batter...think: "quick bread"), tucked it in for the night in the fridge, and went to bed.

This morning I wreaked havoc on my kitchen. If there is one truism to be learned from this experience, it is that making donuts is messy. First was the trick of rolling out the dough. This is best done immediately and quickly...the refrigeration helps the batter to behave more like dough, but it gets soft again quickly and if you move too slowly, you will end up with very droopy and misshapen donuts. Then came the cutting, which I had to kludge a bit as I seem to have misplaced the main piece to my donut cutter. So I experimented with two sizes of biscuit cutter.


I also made plenty of extra holes, because donut holes are just fun. The white powder is flour...by this point the batter was already getting soft and sticking to everything. Gah.

Then it was magic time. Into the hot oil!


These went from raw to golden faster than you could say "funnel cake". Which is what my husband assumed I was making, and then I felt all guilty and wondered if perhaps I should mix up some funnel cake batter as well. Because you cannot have too much deep-fried, sugar-coated dough first thing in the morning.

Next stop was the sugaring bags. What a wonderful trick for coating. Just lift them right from the oil to the bag, shake like a deranged maraca player, and voila! Yummy breakfast.

This is what my kitchen looked like when I was done.

And OMG look at the oil on the bag.

This can't be good for human consumption. What was I thinking? Oh, wait, um...yum.

And here is the obligatory finished-product photo.


As for taste? It depends who you ask. I found them adequate but by no means outstanding. The family, however, devoured them with plenty of yummy noises. I guess that qualifies as a success.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Our favorite playground

This one's kind of a haul for us, so we don't go there often. We do try to stop by when errands take us in that direction, which they did twice this week. So we rediscovered a forgotten treasure!


Pleasant Kingdom is, quite simply, one of the best playgrounds in our area. It's a unique (at least regionally) structure, composed of wood, recycled plastic planking, rubber and metal. By aesthetic alone it stands out among the cookie-cutter primary-color fiberglass playgrounds you see pretty much everywhere else, from McDonald's to the ball field to every other back yard in suburbia. It just looks more natural, and to me that's very comforting. (I'm not sure whether it matters to the kids!)

The next major mark in its favor is that it's well-shaded. I can't tell you how many hot sunny days have found us bypassing playgrounds because of hot equipment. Not to mention that rubber matting that seems to underly most playsets these days. Don't get me wrong, I do not long for the bad old days of my grade school, where the monkey bars and swings straddled blacktop pads (skinned knees, anyone? How about a concussion? I signed up for one of those!!), but despite my husband's environmentally-conscious grumblings about pesticides, I adore the fact that most of Pleasant Kingdom is carpeted with a thick layer of mulch. And dirt. Real live DIRT.

The structure itself is a delightful maze, with senseless turnbacks and half-levels that leave one feeling like they're navigating an Escher drawing. There is no wasted space: the lookouts have tunnels and cubbyholes nestled neatly beneath them.
There are several "telephone" tubes that criss-cross underneath the structure. It's covered with ladders

and slides and "fireman" poles and climbing nets. Empty space outside the castle itself features obstacle-course type agility equipment

(balance beams, monkey bars, tightropes) and there are some peripheral swings, a zipline, and a few climbing structures made from old tires.

The entire play area is circled by a walking path, so one of my dearest wishes has been granted!! And of course, every good play day needs two ingredients. The aforementioned dirt, and water.

(There's also a ground-mounted sprinkler, which is activated on hot days. Hurrah!)

One of the neatest features is the toddler area. This is not a claustrophobic corner with a few tiny slides. It has real equipment, sized lower and with closer handholds. 

The littlest kids aren't treated like babies. They can do the "big kid" stuff here.

What I really love and appreciate most about Pleasant Kingdom is that it encourages open, creative, imaginative play. I know that sounds like a bunch of armchair wishywashy-ness, but it's true. At many (sigh, most) playgrounds, you will often find adults all over the equipment because they are hovering over their fragile children. Here, you see adults climbing the playset completely on the opposite end from their kids. Maybe looking for them, maybe not. And smiling. Sometimes laughing. It's irresistible...something about the structure is deeply appealing and must be *explored*. 

We've made ourselves a promise that we'll be taking more trips out that way. Soon.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Sharing

 

Lunch at a restaurant is an event for the whole family. Including our most beloved "pets".

Monday, May 17, 2010

Apron Collection: 3-gore skirt

I love the cut/pattern of today's featured apron. If it weren't a mere waist apron, I'd wear it more often. As I've noted before, I tend to be a messy cook and need the torso coverage of a bib, pinafore, etc. for maximum protection.


So why do I love this so much? First, it has a generous cut. Many of the aprons in my collection are vintage, which in sewing terms seems to mean "designed for itty bitty petite women". As a woman of more, uh, ample proportions, I appreciate something a little larger than a napkin patched onto the front of my lap. This apron extends well around the sides of my hips, and retains enough fullness to still have a bit of feminine shape to the general A-line. It has a wider waistband (I detest the thin ones that fold themselves in half) and nice long ties. It's big, okay?

Oh and incidentally, I know it looks crazy to cut my head out of this picture, but trust me...we're all better off without it. It's hard to gauge when the camera's self-timer is going to go off, and the facial expression it caught? Not pretty.

So where where we? Ah. Apron.

It's also very well made. It's quite possible that this was a storebought garment, but I strongly suspect private manufacture. There are tiny imperfections which suggest this, but I hate to even describe it as such because the detailed work on this piece is really remarkably good. The (half-crescent, charming!) pockets are flawless, and I wish that my bias-tape finishing looked half this good.


Finally, I like the retro fabric. It's old-fashioned without being dramatically kitschy; something that fits easily into daily modern use but has a hint of history to it. Wearing it makes me feel like June Cleaver.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The things we do for them...

Sometimes part of the grace of being a parent involves sincere pretending. Pretending that you can see the imaginary friend. Pretending that you've never heard that joke before. (Pretending that you think it's funny.) Pretending to eat mud pies, and sip "tea", and to be surprised by the gifts under the Christmas tree. We do this pretending to honor and preserve the wonder and discovery experienced by our children.

When my first son was a toddler I found myself compelled to pretend to be afraid of creepy crawlies. With the exception of freakishly large spiders and any insect with pincers, I am not skeeved out by bugs or worms or snakes, etc. I'm not. I'm the kind of mom who flips over rotten logs and pokes at the centipedes and salamanders right along with them. But at some point my son latched on to the notion that Girls are afraid of these things, and that Mommy is a Girl. He spent several weeks trying to spook me with small dirt-covered creatures. After noticing his crestfallen.expressions at my lack of reaction, I learned to put on a theatrical "eeek", which seemed to give him exactly the satisfaction he was seeking. I felt a twinge of dishonesty, but figured it was all for the greater good. ;) Not too hard.

But second son. Oh jeez. This week he created a hideout beneath the sofa bed and wanted me to join him inside it.


Oh good Lord.

Mommy is a claustrophobe. That's not so easy to pretend away. Faking having a fear is one thing. Convincingly faking not having a fear is another story.

However, motivated by mother-love and a whole boatload of mother-guilt (compounded by memories of my own terrified mother sucking it up in a number of brave ways), I complied.

"No, Mommy! Not just your head! Come ALL the way in!!"

I gave myself a mental pep-talk. Controlled my breathing. Reminded myself of my love for him. And army-scooted all the way under.

And had a panic attack and backed out, with rapid-fire excuses and apologies.

Sorry, kid. :(

Friday, May 14, 2010

Food Friday: Ciabatta

Or, as I've started calling it: Lazy Person's bread.

I'm not sure how *real* ciabatta recipes/techniques compare. I'm not sure I'll ever bother finding out; since LifeHack's One Minute Bread is so gosh-darn easy and the results are so good. Seriously, look how pretty.


This was my third ciabatta, and I got creative and added some whole-wheat flour (and increased the yeast & water accordingly). We mixed up a quick olive-oil and spices dipping oil and watched the whole batch disappear faster than you could say Happy Mother's Day.

I love this. Even if you are "not" a cook, you can make this. And you should.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Textbook*

I have often mused that a parent who wishes their exhaustingly energetic and not-sleepy child (whether a colicky infant or a hyped-up 5-year-old) to calm down and perhaps actually sleep, most definitely goes through the classic stages of grieving.

DENIAL
Oh, he's just a little fussy; it will pass. He's just hungry/overstimulated/lonely. Through pure love and creative manipulation, I can easily fix this. Here, sweetheart, let's get you a glass of milk/peanut butter sandwich/warm bath/quiet story. Zen Mommy will ease us all into a peaceful slumber.

ANGER
Oh. My. God. [clench teeth, count to seven. You won't get to ten...you won't be able to before the next wave of attack.] Why won't he SHUT UP? Why does this little person hate me so fiercely? What did I do to deserve this? Child, if you smack me in the ass and run off giggling one more time, I'm going to absolutely lose it. STOP POKING THE DOG!! This is also usually the stage in which you realize that your Significant Other is already tucked in and obliviously snoring, and you get bonus anger directed at them for abandoning you to deal with this alone.

BARGAINING
Why won't he at least go scream/spin in circles/whine/bounce in another room for five minutes so I can clear my head and deal with him peacefully? This is the stage of desperate attempts at distraction, and of bribery. You will sing cheerful nursery songs, but you won't mean it. And he will know this. Okay honey, let's play the Quiet Game! Whoever can get into bed and under the covers the fastest gets an Extra Super Special treat!!

DEPRESSION
You're about to give up. You are a terrible parent...not only for failing to compel another being to sleep against their will, but also for all of your losing-my-cool attempts to force it.

ACCEPTANCE
Obviously his will is stronger than yours, as well as the natural biological need to rest/recover. You resign yourself to not getting quality sleep of your own. Again. You mentally prepare for how to fake a recovery so you can keep going. Caffeine? Check. Undereye concealer? Helpful. Speed? Don't laugh...at this point you will consider anything.

And then...

The little booger falls asleep. Right on top of some sharply angled toys, in the middle of intense play. You have No Idea how he managed this. You go through a few seconds of deliberation about whether to move him to a more comfortable sleeping place, lest you risk waking the Kraken. You brush a stray curl from his eyes and he sighs sweetly and you think, What an angel he looks like when he's asleep.

But you know better.




*with apologies and deep respect to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross,

A trip to the playground

(A story in pictures)



















Monday, May 10, 2010

Apron Collection: Smock

Smock. Doesn't that sound like a Don Martin word? Perhaps the sound of a suction cup breaking free of a smooth surface, or a foot breaking free from deep sticky mud? SMOCK!

Anyway.

This little lady looks like she might feel right at home behind a high school cafeteria serving line. Or perhaps an easel in a beginner's art class. She was not constructed for figure-flattering beauty, but for maximum spill protection. And she certainly does the job.


I favor this apron/coverup when I'm in a rush, as that's when I tend to make my most dramatic spills. I have been known, in fact, to wear it at the table...at which point the children (even the youngest) mock "Mommy's bib". (Heh. Mock my smock. Heh.) I like not only the full-torso protection, but the easy on-off with no ties. And it's one of the few aprons I own that I can wear with shorts without looking like I'm pants-free beneath.

The construction suggests mass production, although there is a small tuck that a previous owner did to repair a tear. And although the unknown seamstress did a good job, she did it *inside out*, which means that the ragged tear is on the front of the garment, with the nice neat seam inside. Ah well...I can't say I haven't made mistakes like that of my own.

As you can see, the dual pocket on the front is deep, and requires both stabilizing and ironing...neither of which I am willing to do, so it sags. Oh well. I'm not looking to win any beauty contests here. This is a workhorse.