A labor of love

Naming a baby is one of the fun parts of having a child, at least most of the time. The naming of our boys was fun, yes, but also a bit arduous. Thanks to a family tradition of giving children two middle names, and preferring that each name sounded good in English as well as French, it was a struggle. (For instance, I always liked Henry, but wasn’t so much a fan of Ahn-ree)
And then getting all three names to have a nice rhythm when added to the last name always felt like a complicated puzzle. After coming up with twelve boy names, and having used up most of our male family names, we were scraping the bottom of the barrel if this baby had been a boy.
But a girl name! Wow, did we have a lot of girl names stored up! The problem now was whittling them down. But the name we kept coming back to was Caroline. Not only is it elegant and classic, but we thought it was a lovely way to honor my mother, Carol- a jewel among mothers and grandmothers.
I like to consider the meaning of a name as well, but I was looking up meanings for Caroline, there were two that kept cropping up- the Italian meaning “feminine form of Charles“, and the German meaning “manly one.” That put me off a bit. The meaning of a name isn’t necessarily a deal breaker for me, but Manly One?!!
But then I found the French meaning-   Song of Joy.”    Why the same name can have so many meanings, I do not know. But we are sticking with the French on this one, because it’s perfect.
Then came the middle name. We decided on breaking with tradition for our daughter and going with just one.  I had always planned on using Marie. It’s my mom’s middle name as well as my own. But last year my sister decided to use that name for her daughter, and then a cousin used it for their daughter, and I started to feel like there were other names in the world that I wouldn’t mind using.  I liked the flow of Caroline Marie, so I tried to think of similar names.  I finally narrowed it down to Margaret, another classic and elegant name, but the hubby voted on French again.

Marguerite- “little daisy“.

So now we can’t wait to meet Caroline Marguerite.   The hubby would like everyone to call her Cah-roh-leen, with a nice throaty rolled R.  I am aware, however, that we live in the Southern United States, and will be content if she goes by Caro’lyn’.  (I may be calling her ‘Lina’ for short.)

So now that that secret is out, I want to show you what I have been making for ‘little Lina.’   With all this name business going on, I couldn’t help imagining a christening gown as well.  I made one when my oldest was born, but it was very simple. It was as un-girly as I could make a long white dress, and have used it for all four boys.  But it was time for a new and more feminine looking one, and I wanted to try something a la Alabama Chanin.

I started with a supersoft white jersey, but when I saw the same fabric in a lovely pale rose, I decided to line the white dress with it.

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I used a very basic, sleeveless, a -line pattern, and did a little hand stitching around the neck and arms.

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Next, I wanted to stencil it, but couldn’t decide what motif to use, until we chose her middle name.  Then it was decided- I designed and cut out a

‘little daisy’ stencil.

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I traced it with disappearing ink all around the bottom edge of the dress.

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Then it was lots of outline stitching for a while.

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I decided to pull out all the stops on this one, and added little pink buttons and lots of beaded accents, so it has a nice weight to the bottom.

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When it is held up to the light, it looks much more pink.

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At the end, I thought it needed a little something else, so I added a simple satin sash.

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And a little, pale pink sweater, just in case.

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So there it is.  It was so fun, it makes me want to start dress making on my shop again.  I have made a lot of little girl clothes over the years, but never one that has brought me so much joy.  A true labor of love!

 

Bread for the down days

I know that bread is a loaded word these days.  My family does not seem to have a hard time with gluten, but I often avoid even mentioning the word gluten in public, for fear of what I might stir up.  It’s a tricky and sometimes exhausting topic.  I have read many books and articles, trying to figure out what is evil and what is not, in the carb world. I have tried my hand at new kinds of bread- sprouted grain, soaked oat breads, home made sourdoughs- all in an effort to eat less white flour and avoid chemicals.  I grind most of my own flour.  We’ve tried going without bread entirely, but I am a carb kind of girl- especially when I am pregnant.  And when I want comfort food- keep your chocolate and your ice cream- I am looking for a thick slice of warm bread with lots of butter on it.

Today was definitely a comfort food kind of day.  My house, undergoing a huge surge of nesting instinct, is currently all topsy turvy.  Closets are emptied out- bags of give away clothes and trash keep multiplying.  Every time I pull something out of the back of a cupboard, the boys seem to be full of fond memories for it and fight me tooth and nail either to play with it or keep me from tossing it.  I am shifting all the winter clothes out to make room for summer, but winter keeps coming back!  There are snow flakes and white cherry blossoms dancing all over my yard as I speak, and I can’t straighten my house out until the seasons straighten themselves out.

So whenever I feel my life is going to pieces, I head to the kitchen.  Baking is my stress relief, and recipes that can be trusted are a link to sanity.   No hunting the internet for something new and exciting-  it’s time for my worn out, trusty old cookbooks.  Books like my old church cookbook-

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And recipes like this- an old classic from my Auntie Frances that I hadn’t made for many years, but had fond memories of.  As far as bread recipes go- it’s a very easy one- no kneading required.

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You will notice that not only does this recipe contain plenty of white flour and sugar- it also contains two sticks of butter.  So if you need to jump ship here, go ahead.  I am going recklessly on.

 

I was struck with the monochromatic ingredients of this recipe, combined with the white countertop, but it seemed to fit my mood, so I left my rainbow colored spoons out of the picture and went with white on white.

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I have altered the ingredients and the process of making this bread slightly, so I will walk you through it.

Start proofing 1 package (2 1/4 tsp)  of dry yeast in 1/4 cup of warm water.  It needs to get nice and foamy.

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Melt one stick of butter in a large bowl.

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Add 1 cup of milk and two eggs.

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and 1/4 cup of sugar.  (I cut the sugar content in half- that counts for something, right?)

Stir all that together.

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Now add three cups of all purpose flour and 1 tsp. of salt.

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Your yeast should be foamy by now, so go ahead and add that too.

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Stir it all together until you have a very wet, sticky mass.

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That’s it!  Now cover it up and let it rise in a warm place, about an hour.  You can also put this in the fridge and it will keep for several days until you are ready to use it.

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After an hour, it will look nice and puffy.  Just stir it all down again and turn on your oven to 350.

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Now comes the fabulous part.  I hope you haven’t forgotten about that second stick of butter, because it needs to go in a 9×13 pan.  Stick it in your preheating oven until it is all melted.

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Once it’s melted, take your very sticky dough and plop it in big spoonfuls, as evenly as you can, over the butter.

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Then it needs to rise again- only about twenty minutes, till it starts to get puffy again.

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Then into the oven for about 30 minutes.  It should be nice and golden on the top when you pull it out.

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As a side note, the first time I made this for my hubby, he was elated because he thought I had finally figured out how to make brioche the way he remembers eating it as a child in France.  This isn’t really like other brioche recipes that I have tried (except for the butter content) but apparently it’s a pretty close match to the real thing.  So next time the hubby asks me to recreate a childhood recipe, I guess I’ll just keep adding butter until I get it right.

 

Either way I can’t describe to you the amazing buttery, yeasty smell that will permeate your house when you make this, and it will lift your mood instantly.

I was so cheered up, I used a bright blue plate to serve it!

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No need to serve it with butter, but jam isn’t half bad.

And now I can tackle the pile of shoes in my bedroom with renewed vigor!

The Great, Small House Challenge

I don’t generally consider myself a whiner, but if there is one thing that makes me sigh and wish for better things, it is the size of my house.  At 1000 square feet, two bedrooms and one bath for six people, it is just too small.  I know I am not alone in feeling this.  Pinterest knows I am not alone in this.  Ikea knows I am not alone in this.  I hardly know anyone who sighs and wishes their house was a little smaller.

On good days, I know there are advantages to the smallness.  Less to clean, less to maintain, less to keep warm in the winter and cool in the summer.  “Remember the pioneers!” I say.  “Remember the sod houses and the one-room log cabins and the shanties on the prairie.  Remember it could be worse.”

Still, I can’t help those days when I want to scream if I bump into one more crowded corner or have one more box from an over-full closet fall on my head.  I get very tired of waking up from those dreams where I open a door I never noticed before and find a whole new wing to my house- empty, clean, uncluttered.   I try not to think about the other big, empty house we still own, waiting to be finished…. some day.

And now I have another baby on the way.  And she’s a girl.  And it may be frivolous, but I have this longing to create a sweet and pretty little space for her- a place I can call “the girl’s room”.  There would be flowers and ruffles involved.

I go through this cycle fairly frequently- wish, sigh, pity myself, then get sick of all that and do something about it.  I think I am done moaning now, so on to the challenge! I thought I would blog about it, just to help with motivation and keep myself on track and out of the slough of despond.  I have some time to complete this project since the baby will be in my room for a little while, but I am going to take advantage of that wonderful nesting instinct that tends to kick in about now and get started.

Here is what I am dealing with.  I am showing you the four corners of boys room in all it’s daily glory- unmade beds, unfolded laundry, a floor that needs vacuuming and general clutteriness.

Corner #1

The closet.  I can’t tell you how many times I have tried to reorganize this space.  I have been thinking of trying to fit a crib etc. in this space, but I have no idea where I would put everything else.

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Corner #2- The homeschool corner

Yes, my boys have a piano in their room.  We used to have it in the living room, but it made everything so awkward and crowded that I moved it here, where it fits much better.  I think it is going to have to stay.  The top could use some rearranging, to say the least, and I am debating over the little white table and chairs.  The boys do most of their school in the kitchen anyways.

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Corner #3

The bunk bed.  Thankfully all the boys still fit on this bed, and love sleeping together.  There is literally no other space I can fit it, so it will be staying where it is, but hopefully straightened up a bit.   Hah.

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And last but not least, corner #4.

Currently we have a camping cot in this corner for extra sleeping space.  My sister left it here when she moved and the boys love sleeping on it, but it isn’t absolutely necessary (besides which, it is just plain ugly.)  We also have, as you can see, a deep freezer.  Again, there really isn’t anywhere else this could go, and I really need the extra freezer space.  The boys room does tend to become my all purpose room as well- the basket on the floor is some of my extra sewing stuff.

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So there you have it.  Is it possible to find a space for my little girl, and a girly space at that?  Am I asking the impossible?  Perhaps.  But a girl’s gotta try.  Suggestions would be welcome!

Picnic Pasta!

Just a real quick post for a Friday night.  I meant to post this a few weeks back, when the weather was balmy and I was sure that spring (and picnic weather) had arrived for good.  Joke’s on me I guess, seeing as we went from 80 to 30 degrees in a 24 hour period.  But that’s what spring is, I suppose- as uncertain and changeable as the appetite of my three-year -old.

But I digress.  Enough about the weather. Bring on the food!

I call this my Picnic Pasta, because it is an all in one sort of meal that is quick to throw in a basket with some paper plates and plastic forks, and I find it a little more exciting than sandwiches.  But we eat it at many other events as well, particularly potlucks.  And like all pasta salads, it can be made with an infinite variety of ingredients.  This is just how I (and my kiddos) like it best.

Lots of peppers, tomatoes, meat and cheese!

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Start by boiling a big pot of water.  When it’s roiling along, add 1 lb. of pasta- your choice.  I like to use penne rigate because it is easy to spear with a fork, or for little fingers just to grab.  It’s a picnic food, after all.

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While that is boiling (about ten minutes) chop up your veggies, meat (usually some form of salami) and cheese. (I had cheddar in my fridge, but blue cheese is nothing to sneeze at)  Don’t you love the colors?  And if I had my way, there would be some red onion added to the spectrum, but I am usually out voted.

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When the pasta is done, drain it and run it under cold water so it doesn’t get all sticky and mushy.

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Then just throw it all in a bowl and toss.  So easy!  And if you are really going for easy, pack a bottle of ranch dressing along side it.

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But for those of you who want a little something extra special, toss the salad with this french vinaigrette I posted a while back.  Just be sure to double it.  A little avocado wouldn’t go amiss here either, but make sure you add it at the last minute, since it turns brown very quickly.  It is such a yummy combo!

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Either way- enjoy at a picnic, a potluck, or on your own private patio.  (I like alliteration. Sorry.)

Following the trend

Business is slow folks.  Turns out Christmas is a busy time of year for shoppers!  Who knew?  And apparently the rest of the year is not so much. Hah!  Sarcasm aside, I was well aware that business would be much better around Christmas, and I am not entirely sorry to have a break from the rush. (I do miss the money though).

I have been enjoying myself, taking time to look at other options for my shop, and even to start sewing a bit for my daughter.  My Daughter! Have you figured out I am excited about that prospect yet?  I hope to show you my first project for her soon, but I have also been spending a lot of time on Pinterest, searching for inspiration. Animals, birds, dolls, you name it.  But one thing has come up consistently in all of my searches.

Owls.

I know owls have been trending over the past few years, thanks to Harry Potter and other owl inspired films, but I haven’t really gotten into them much myself.  Truth be told, owls have always kind of creeped me out a bit with their big, unblinking eyes, and their often angry stares.  My first introduction to owls was in fourth grade, when we studied their habits and then had to dissect an owl pellet. You know, those furry balls of undigested rodent bones that they regurgitate onto the forest floor?  We got to tear one apart and try to reassemble various skeletons found therein.  I remember the boys in the class having a blast.  Me, not so much.

The only time I have ever encountered an owl out in nature was at a summer family reunion.  We were staying at a lodge, high up in the mountains of Washington state. I was out on a walk by myself one moonless night, getting a good look at the incredible stars.  And as I was staring straight above me, a huge owl- wings outspread, bright white against the night sky- silently glided over me.  I looked into it’s big round eyes, and I was glad I wasn’t an unsuspecting rodent.  It really was beautiful- even awe-inspiring, but it spooked me out too.  I ran back inside.

All that to say- owls haven’t been high on my list of cutesy stuffed animals to make, but I finally figured I might as well make what people are buying.  I altered a pattern that seemed realistic in shape, but fanciful in design.  A whimsical owl, if you will.

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I made the body from nice, soft brown and white velvet, and then decided that I would forego feathers and stencil a fun design on the wings instead.  I mean, why not?

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I tried to make the eyes a little more friendly as well.

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Here is a closeup of its little wire feet.  I wrapped them in cotton, so they would be a little softer.

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And here is a view of the ‘tail feathers’.

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I really did have fun with this prototype, and I even think it’s a little cute! There are an infinite variety of things I could do with this basic pattern, and I might try one with feathers next if there is any interest.

I may have joined the trend a little late, but it never hurts to try!

Language Barriers

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Hmmm. What to post? There’s not a lot of new things going on with my shop right now, and I haven’t been cooking much of interest lately.  I thought I could tell a story, since it has been a while, but I always have a hard time deciding what I want to tell about.  Something about my childhood?  About my time in France, or my married life or my crazy boys?

How about France.

Whenever I think about my time in France, the story of Boris always pops into my mind first.  If you have known me for any length of time, you know the ridiculous tale of Boris, but I feel like it needs to be written down for posterity.  I haven’t asked my roommates from France if I can tell this, so I will try to tell it from my own perspective.  They can correct me if I err.

So the last time I wrote about France, we were just settling in for our year abroad.  We had moved into the seminary dormitories and had explored, to some extent, the charming city of Aix-en-Provence.   We were registered at the nearby language institute for foreign students, and I for one, was eager to begin my studies.

One of my chief worries was the language barrier-  that it would be very difficult to communicate with anyone, either at the seminary or the school.  But I needn’t have worried.  In fact, the opposite problem presented itself.  Instead of a language barrier forcing us to communicate in a new language, we soon found that almost everyone we encountered spoke English to some degree, and were eager to practice their English with us.

The language school we attended introduced us to a huge variety of nationalities.  People from Italy, Sweden, Uganda, Ukraine, Russia, Israel, Japan and Korea, just to name a few.  And they all spoke English.

Even at the dorms there was a good mix of nations.  There was the seemingly strict and intimidating British man who was the seminary administrator (and little did I know then, my future father-in-law), a very handsome Canadian fella we called “Gorgeous Gabriel”, a cute little Brazilian lady who could whip up an amazing meringue by hand, and then there was Boris.

Don’t let his name mislead you.  He was not from Russia, but from Germany.  He stood about 6 foot 5, had close cropped blond hair and blue eyes, and was a friendly enough guy.  He also spoke English very well, but with a predictable German accent.  That was the only predictable thing about him.

Part of seminary life included a communal kitchen where everyone did their best to share the shelf space in a few old refrigerators, and cook together over the tiniest little gas stove imaginable.  I did a lot of the cooking for the three of us, and was usually the one who used up the small propane tank hooked to the back of the stove.  Then it was my duty to go and inform the administrator (of whom I was slightly afraid) that I needed another tank.

The first time I met Boris was in the kitchen where I had run out of propane halfway through baking a batch of muffins for breakfast.  He made a quick friend of me by offering to go get the refill tank himself.  He returned with it and I finished my muffins while he started in making his own breakfast.

I wasn’t paying attention to what he was cooking until he sat down to eat.  The other girls had come down by that point, and we, and everyone else in the kitchen, were simply staring at him with mouths agape.  In front of him was a bowl full of yogurt with granola on top.   Next to that was a plate with several fried sausages and some cheese.  Lined up in a neat row above his bowl were half a dozen hard boiled eggs, with a baguette roughly torn in half and generously buttered next to them.  And believe this or not, there was a pot of pasta and some sauce boiling on the stove for whenever he might have finished his first several courses.  He easily downed all of this remarkable feast while we nibbled our little muffins.  We soon found that he ate like this- three times a day!

He was a very loud talker, and walked into any room very abruptly, slamming doors behind him.  He always gesticulated wildly when he talked, and I distinctly remember one evening, his marching into the common room, waving a pair of socks in the air, and declaring angrily that his new socks “Ver alvays leafing fuzzles in between his toes!”

His German accent was a source of amusement to us, and I admit we often entertained ourselves by trying to get him to say the word ‘weather vane.’  Without fail, he always pronounced it ‘feather wane’, and then he would storm off when we got the giggles.  But one of my favorite memories of learning about different nationalities was the in-depth discussion a group of us had one night about cartoons we had all watched as children.  I grew up watching the Smurfs, and I knew that the Smurfs were European in origin, so I mentioned the cartoon, thinking we might have something in common.  All of the French people in the room started snickering at the word, and tried to pronounce it themselves.

“Quoi? What are Zee Smoooorffs?”

“You know, those little blue men?”

“Ahh! Oui Oui!  You mean “Les Schtroumpfs!”

Then it was our turn to laugh at the ridiculous word.

Just at that moment, Boris charged into the room, wanting to know what the laughter was about.  We tried to explain the conversation, and he had the most puzzled expression on his face until it suddenly dawned on him what we were talking about and he hollered out-

“Ach Ja!  Die Schlümpfe !”

The laughter lasted a long time after that one.

But the best story about Boris happened late one evening, after we had all finished eating dinner.  We were drying the dishes, when Boris, who was the only other person in the room, suddenly announced that he wanted to speak to all three of us.  We were a bit startled at the commanding way in which he said it, and even slightly alarmed when he walked over to the kitchen door and locked it!

But we quietly sat down and waited for him to speak.  He paced the room energetically for a few minutes, making us even more uneasy, and then suddenly burst out with –

“I like you.” (pointing energetically to me on the left)  “And I like you.” (pointing to ‘E’ on the right.)  My friend ‘N’ in the middle he completely ignored.  The stunned silence that greeted this statement was, I hope, understandable.

He elaborated.

“I vould like to date you both, but I can’t decide vich.  It is like a clock in my head going- tick, tock, tick, tock.”  From the direction in which his head was tilting back and forth, it appeared that I was tick and ‘E’ was tock.

“Efery morning,” he continued, “I come down to the kitchen and I see you (pointing at me) cooking breakvast and I think, ‘Ja, I will marry her and haf hot meals every day and maybe someday haf nine children.’ ”

More stunned silence.

“But then, I see you come down (pointing to ‘E’) and I think to myself, ‘Ach, she is so beautiful!’ And so, you see, I can’t decide”

At this point, my poor friend ‘N’ tried to excuse herself from the proceedings, seeing as she was not needed, but he told her to sit.  Apparently the ball was in our court now, and we simply stared at each other in disbelief, trying to figure out how to extricate ourselves.

The rest of the meeting didn’t go well, seeing as, believe it or not, both of us turned him down.  In the end he got angry and I don’t know how it might have ended if he hadn’t seen one of our good friends walking by the window and quickly stormed out of the kitchen.  When our friend entered, out burst our strange tale, a bit hysterically if I remember correctly.  He assured us that he would keep an eye on Boris, and that maybe we should keep out of his way for a while.

But Boris did a good job of keeping out of our way, until he found a different living situation that would suit him, and us, better.  I wasn’t sorry to say goodbye, but I have always kind of wondered. Whatever happened to Boris, the man who couldn’t decide between tick and tock?