Ballerina dreaming

When I was a little girl, I shared a dream with many other little girls. I wanted to be a ballerina.
It was for all the usual reasons- the lovely, floaty dancing- the shiny, pointy, pink slippers- and of course the tutus. If there were tutus involved, I was in.
But I was one of six girls. My mom worked part time and we were in school full time. Ballet lessons just weren’t on the agenda. But did I let that stop me? No siree. If I couldn’t have real lessons, I would teach myself.
Those were the days before Youtube, of course, and there were no handy online tutorials I could google. But we did have a well worn VHS recording of the Nutcracker, performed by the Pacific Northwest Ballet that I watched ad nauseum. I imitated the dancing as best I could, hunted around the house for ballet -type attire (one of my mom’s fluffy old slips was a pretty good tutu substitute) and thus attired, I pranced around the house to my heart’s content.
One year, I was given a pair of silky, pink, ballet-esque slippers for my birthday. With those on my feet to spur my imagination, I felt capable of starring in a ballet of my own. And one of the beauties of having five sisters was that I could make such a thing a reality. I coaxed them into joining my venture, and we started production immediately.
First, we had to decide on the music. That was easy enough. Dad had just purchased one of the first compact disc players on the market, and we were the proud owners of two cds- Handel’s Messiah and Rachmaninoff’s 3rd piano concerto. Handel didn’t seem very suitable for ballet, so that left Rachmaninoff.
Then it was decided that we were all to be flowers, as pink and fluffy as our dress-up box would allow. There we would huddle in the living room while the opening bars of the concerto began. I was in the center of the flower huddle- the self-appointed prima donna- because, if you remember, I owned the pink slippers.
Then, as the music quickened, out ran my baby sister, trailing a bright orange blanket. She was the sun, of course. She circled the flower huddle once or twice, and as she toddled away, we flowers would slowly awaken. Then I had to do my own little bit of solo dancing (the pink slippers demanded it) and after that, it was pretty much every dancer for herself. (Just imagine a whole lot of twirling)
The grand finale always included the same dramatic scene- the six of us lined up according to size on the living room stairs, and with arms gracefully extended, we would leap more or less simultaneously onto the worn brown carpet below. Despite our best efforts to land lightly, we always came thudding down like a ton of bricks, causing the cd in the player to skip around violently and bring our performance to a sudden end. It was not, perhaps, the best ballet in the world, but it has left plenty of good memories. Sometimes I still think about being a ballerina, even though that ship has long since sailed. And I will always enjoy watching ballet.

But all of this is to say, that when a friend suggested a few weeks back that I should try and make a ballerina doll, I had to mentally smack myself in the forehead. Of course! I love ballet, I love dolls, and I love tutus!

So without further ado, let me introduce my first ballerina doll.

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Generally, when I think of ballerinas, I think pink, but I only had a little bit of red and white tulle, so I thought I would see what I could make out of the materials I had on hand before stocking up on new supplies.

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A view from the rear.

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And a view of her slippers. I thought about altering the doll pattern so that her toes would be pointed down, but again, figured I would see how things looked before I made any major alterations. What do you think? Should I change the feet?

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Here is her little leotard, with the tutu removed.

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And when I put her tutu back on, I accidentally had it turned around. But I kind of like it reversed as well. Two tutus for the price of one, eh?

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So there she is. (By the way, I have already sold this doll, but I plan on making more if there is interest.). And I’ve also been contemplating some design ideas for Nutcracker dolls, what with Christmas coming and all. Or maybe just some custom ballet dresses.

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So I ask again~Feedback? Suggestions? Good places to buy lots of tulle?
Thanks!

Working on a wardrobe

So fashion has never really been my thing. I’m really bad at keeping up with the latest trends, and even worse at actually going shopping to buy them. If you have followed this blog at all, you know that I prefer to make my own clothes, both because I enjoy it and because it is harder and harder for me to find things that will work with my constantly evolving body shape. And when I find a pattern I like, or that works, I usually make it and wear it, whether it’s in style or not.
All that to say, even though I’m not particularly good at dressing myself, I have been looking forward for a long time to dressing my baby girl. But having been inundated with baby clothes before she was even born, I haven’t really needed to get or make her anything yet.

However, I was cleaning out her 0-3 month clothes the other day (sniff) and I realized she has next to nothing for this winter. Her closet is full of little white and pink cotton summer dresses that she is quickly outgrowing, but there is hardly a long sleeve to be seen. So I thought it would be fun make her a little fall/winter wardrobe.

I started a pinterest page for baby girl clothing as soon as I found out I was having a girl, and have been slowly adding to it since. One of the things I love about pinterest is that, even if you can’t easily say what styles you like off the top of your head, it’s easy to tell by a quick glance at your pins.
Scrolling down through her page, it was quickly evident what styles appeal to me. Apparently I’m not a big fan of ruffles and frills, but tend to prefer simple straight lines and pleats- and more vintage styles. I like either subdued grays and neutrals, or jewel tones. I like buttons and peter pan collars. And I like wools, velvets and plaids.

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Oh. Also boots.

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And hats. I really like hats.

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Seeing as 3-6 month clothing doesn’t take much in the way of fabric, I figured it was time I upcycle some of my old things, and thus avoid too many trips to the fabric store. I can’t trust myself near fabric stores.
So I pulled out some of my favorite old wool skirts from college days. There is little hope that I will ever fit into them again, but I hate to throw them away. I mean, I was wearing that blue and green plaid when I visited the Louvre for the first time! There are memories in it!

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I also have a lot of other clothes and fabric stockpiled for my shop that I might have some fun with- lots of autumn-hued velvets and wools.

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And I don’t have a lot of little girl patterns, but I usually just fall back on these vintage ones as a guide, and make alterations as I go.

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So now that I feel inspired, all I need to do is find some time! If I actually succeed with any of these ideas, I’ll let you know. What are your little girls wearing this fall?

They say it’s your birthday.

Birthdays in our family are divided into two groups- the spring birthdays and the September ones. Today is my hubby’s birthday- next week is my third boy’s. The rest of us celebrate in the April/May/June sector. I love my hubby’s birthday because it always seems to fall just when summer is turning down the heat and autumn is peeping her head around the corner. It’s still warm, but not too warm, and there is just enough summer left to have an excuse to make ice cream.
I want to share our favorite ice cream recipe with you all today. I have written about it before, on my first blog, but I thought I would post it with pictures this time, since it can be a little tricky.

It’s a recipe my dad taught me to make many years ago, out of a fancy dessert book he had. He always called it “chocolate, chocolate malt with Bailey’s.” I’m not sure why he called it “chocolate, chocolate” since there is only one kind of chocolate in it. He was always one for hyping things up. But there is malt in it, and Bailey’s Irish Cream liqueur. (We use a knock off brand)

This is a rich ice cream, in more ways then one. It calls for a lot of eggs, a lot of chocolate and a lot of cream. (And Bailey’s. Did I mention the Bailey’s?).
So it’s a once a year kind of ice cream- a birthday treat kind of ice cream. But if you want to try the smoothest, silkiest dessert you’ve ever had, this is it.

Here is what you need.

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Get your supplies lined up first, so things will go smoothly. You will need two medium size bowls, two saucepans and a fine mesh strainer. If you don’t have a fine mesh strainer, cheesecloth will work. Straining it is important to get that silky smooth texture.

In one of the saucepans, get about an inch of water simmering.

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In the other saucepan, on medium heat, put

2 cups of heavy cream
2 cups of milk
1/4 cup malt powder (found next to the hot chocolate in most grocery stores)

Over the pan of simmering water, place one of the bowls filled with

-10 ounces of good quality chocolate- milk or dark, chopped.

We like dark around here.

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Stir both pans occasionally. You want the chocolate melted and the malt dissolved.

While that is going on, separate your eggs. You need eight egg yolks here.

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Put the yolks in your second bowl, and save the whites for omelets or something.

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Now beat the eggs yolks until they are light and frothy.

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Set them aside and return to the stove. Your chocolate should be melted by now and your malted milk steaming.

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Remove the chocolate from the heat. It’s time to make the custard.

Start by slowly whisking about a cup of the hot milk into the egg yolks. This is called tempering and will help avoid scrambled eggs. Or if you can’t pour, whisk and take a picture at the same time, get your son to help you.

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Once the egg yolks are warmed up, you can slowly add the mixture back to the hot milk, which should be turned to medium low.

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Place your fine mesh strainer over the bowl your yolks were in, so it will be ready.

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Now stir the custard until it thickens. With that many yolks, it shouldn’t take long- just a few minutes, so watch it carefully. You can tell when it is thick enough if you can run your finger through it on the back of a spoon and it stays put- like so.

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As soon as it thickens, pour it immediately through the strainer into the bowl. It can scramble very quickly at this point.

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But don’t worry. Even if it scrambles a bit, the strainer will catch it.

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And that’s your custard! Now grab your melted chocolate.

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And you guessed it- stir them together.

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While you’re doing that, call the birthday boy in to add the final ingredient.

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How much Bailey’s Irish cream you add is entirely up to you. I’m pretty sure the original recipe called for 2-3 Tablespoons, but I am also pretty sure we have never stopped at that amount. Just keep pouring until it tastes good to you.

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And now it’s ready for your ice cream maker.

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I had every intention of taking pictures of the rest of the process, including the eating of it. It was the grand finale to the picnic we had yesterday afternoon at one of our favorite spots. I got plenty of pictures when we were at the pool-

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And of course lots of the birthday boy with my girl-baby in her first swimsuit-

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But I totally forgot to take pictures of the food, and the only evidence I have that the ice cream was a success is the bowl I found on the table this morning. The hubby must have finished the picnic leftovers off after I went to bed.

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Oh well.
Happy Birthday Dear!

It’s not your business to succeed

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When I was in high school, I was required to write a lot of essays. We were given a topic to address, and then had to come up with some sort of thesis, supported by well reasoned arguments and then sum it all up neatly in a sentence or two. I was never very good at it. I have always loved to write, but my writing has always tended towards the long and meandering story, not the succinct and informative essay. So I struggled along for a while, getting C’s and B’s, until I stumbled upon a book on my dad’s book shelf entitled ‘The Quotable Lewis’.
It was simply an index of memorable quotes of C.S. Lewis, arranged by topic alphabetically. If you wanted to know what Lewis thought about something, you just looked it up. More often than not, there would be a clear, concise statement on the topic, written in his inimitable style. I started using quotes by Lewis to help jumpstart my essays, and they helped me focus my thoughts. At first I was worried that it might be a kind of cheating, but my teacher didn’t seem to mind, and my grades started to go up. I kept at it.

I stole the book from dad when I went to college and used it there occasionally as well. I did finally return the book, once I discovered that Google could do the same thing for me, but I still often find myself asking, “What would Lewis think?” when perplexed by certain issues.

For instance, I’ve been thinking a lot about success lately. What it looks like for a Christian, what a Christian should be succeeding at, and how it is measured. I go through occasional periods of discontent with my house-wifely lot and even sometimes feel wildly ambitious. Sometimes I dream of writing a best selling book (or creating an award winning blog : ). At others, I want to get back to my music and to the concert stage, make recordings and devote myself to singing. And sometimes, my sights are set a little lower- making my little business a success. All of these ambitions have, at their core, a desire to glorify God with my gifts, and of course, make a little money.

But most days, I see my life as it really is. I’m a stay at home mom of five, struggling to keep up with housework and homeschool, trying to be a help to the hard working husband who fights to put bread on our table. Shouldn’t I be trying to succeed in this arena, above all others? And what does that even look like? My children aren’t geniuses, my house is a mess, and we certainly aren’t wealthy. I so often feel I am failing, and find myself calling out to God- “Prosper the work of our hands, Lord!” I often ask him what I am doing wrong that is getting in the way of my success.

In wrestling with these questions, I remembered my old habit, and decided to google ‘C.S. Lewis on success’. I was unprepared for the first link I found. It was a quote from one of his letters and it simply read,

“It is not your business to succeed, but to do right. When you have done so, the rest lies with God.”

This was astounding to me, and raised more questions than it answered. It’s not my business to succeed? After thinking a while, I took it to mean, not that success was bad, but that it is not a goal in itself. After all, C.S. Lewis was very successful in his lifetime. It was a liberating thought, and a terrifying one. I can leave all in God’s hands, (blessed thought) but at the same time, I must relinquish all perceived control over my future, and that of my children. ( a seemingly impossible thought)
And then to cap it all, he says instead of worrying about succeeding, I must simply do right.
But what did he mean by right?
I’m a good enough Presbyterian to know that nothing I can do is right, but I also know the Bible also requires me to do right.
And what does it mean to do ‘right’ when the baby won’t stop crying, or when the sky won’t stop raining? When the dentist finds four cavities and the car won’t start in the morning? Or when you have a choice between two good things, and either one might be life altering? I was going round and round in circles over these and other questions until my hubby gently suggested that I was overthinking the whole thing. I took a deep breath and decided to search a little more. Then I found this, also from his letters.-

“Remember, He is the artist and you are only the picture. You can’t see the picture, so quietly submit to being painted.
This means keep fulfilling all the obvious duties of your station, (You really know quite well what they are!) asking forgiveness for each failure and then leaving it alone.
You are in the right way. Walk in it- don’t keep looking at it.”

So then, Lord.
Let me submit quietly, and patiently to being painted. Let me not be always trying to look over your shoulder to see what is coming next, or how well I will ‘succeed’. And let me not say, like my three year old being told to have patience,
“Okay. I will wait. But I’m still gonna hafta cry about it.”

Why I homeschool my kids

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I’ve been wanting to blog lately, but have been coming up dry for a topic. I’m still cooking and sewing and telling childhood tales, but most of my energy lately has been focused on homeschooling. And since I haven’t ever addressed that topic on this blog, I figured why not?
Last year, when my shop was going great guns, homeschool took a back seat. I was still doing it, but I had stopped making it my primary object. We took a break when the new baby came, but started up again in July, part time. In August, when the hubby took my oldest boy to France for a month, I took the time to reassess what exactly I wanted homeschool to look like.
I found I didn’t really have a clear answer. I’m writing this to try and clear the cobwebs out of my own mind, but feel free to keep reading and tell me what you think.
To be honest, I never really wanted to homeschool. I have no great theories as to why homeschool is the best, or why going to school is bad. The main reason I started was pragmatic. It was a financial issue. The hubby had just lost his job, so we took my oldest out of first grade at a local private school. Public school is not an option for us. We are zoned for some of the worst schools in the city, and my own small experience in public schools has left me a little scarred. So we brought him home.
He was and is such a smart boy- a strong reader and writer by the end of Kindergarten, and eager to please. All I needed to do was give him a stack of books, and a bit of guidance. He did the rest. Easy-peasy.
But things are different now. I am now teaching three. And two of them haven’t already learned to read and write from a competent teacher. And I’ll let you in on a little secret. I am not a good teacher. In fact, I will go so far as to say I really don’t care much for teaching at all. I have never been taught how to teach others and it doesn’t come naturally.
So now, instead of a quiet, studious six year old independently reading high school level books on my couch while his little brothers play blocks in the bedroom, I find myself in a totally different scenario.

Days begin with a nursing baby, a really grumpy three year old who never wakes up on the right side of the bed, and three big hungry boys who hardly let me get a shower before banging on the door, asking what there is to eat. Coffee is slurped while eggs fry, and then we multitask lessons. Daddy speaks french while they eat breakfast, while mommy drills them on Bible verses after they have put down their forks. Chores are completed.
Then the juggling of three separate classes- different levels of piano instruction, handwriting practice, grammar, phonics, reading, math- workbooks, pencils, crayons and notebooks scattered pell mell over our tiny house.

And then-
My nine year old is starting to push boundaries, to question why Mom is making him do all this.
My seven year old is often found crying in a corner because reading is still so hard for him and his little brother is passing him up.
My five year old is just five and can’t sit still for more than three seconds at a time.
My three year old- well, my three year old is a hilariously naughty piece of work. I’ll leave it at that.
And my baby. My sweet, lovely baby is wonderful and adorable and needs to be everlasting fed and changed and burped and bounced.
But every day I force myself to push on. My goal is to finish school with a group history or science lesson at lunch. And then we are done. More often than not, we succeed in getting most of it done.

I hope those who may be contemplating homeschool are not scared off by this picture. I know that homeschool is not for everyone. There have been many, many days when I wonder is it is right for us. I’ve read the pros and cons until I am blue in the face. I live in constant fear of failing my kids, of failing to teach them what they need to know. But for us, it still comes down to being the only viable option right now. Our house is too small, our resources are limited, my patience wears thin, but this is where we are. So I must look to the bright side. And there are more than one.

My oldest boy and I have discovered a shared love of writing stories. He is writing a thrilling chapter book, and every day I look forward to see what he has written next. We discuss plots and characters and he eagerly reads me each completed page.
And getting to assign him all my favorite books to read so we can discuss them together? Priceless.

My second boy is slow in picking up new things, but homeschool has allowed me to see a different side of him. Instead of being at the bottom of his class in a schoolroom, I have been able to see his slowness as a strength. A mind full of curiosity that has the patience to sit and figure out how a thing works- a passion for observing nature, and a willingness to keep at a task until he gets it right, no matter the time it takes.

And my sweet and goofy third child- his incessantly moving limbs would have him in constant trouble in a classroom. He seems to learn best swinging by his feet from the top bunk, and that is something I can let him do. The other day, he read an entire book while standing on his head. A little unorthodox, but it does the trick. He’ll learn to sit still someday.

And my three year old. He is hilarious and naughty and very bright. He is absorbing all that is going on around him, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he taught himself to read by the end of the year. That would be a bonus.

And with all of them, when tears and temper and frustration inevitably erupt, I can put a pause on everything until it is resolved. I can deal with their hearts as well as their heads. I am seeing more and more how terribly important that is.

And with all the crazy of my mornings, I find the craziness is just about compensated for the freedom of the afternoon. No homework, no racing around town, no extra curricular mayhem. Just time to play- to take a walk, have a leisurely lunch or a picnic. And of course, take a nap!

So I suppose it’s not really a question of which is better. It’s more a matter of putting the best face on what is before me and being thankful for the ability to do it. And I trust, if we ever did put the kids in school, it would be the same.