Chapter 2

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Well loyal readers, here for what it’s worth, is my continuing saga.   I’m still plugging away at it, although I think it’s changed direction approximately 28 times.  But I’m having fun.  So that’s that.  Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

I am so excited to actually be starting a chapter two, that I am going to keep right on going, even though it’s ridiculously late and I am yawning from the strain of the day.

I’m in bed with a flashlight, and this week is my turn for the top bunk. We rotate between the three of us, Sam, Becca and I. Sam is on the bottom bunk and Becca has the twin bed in the corner which we call ‘the sleepy hollow’ because of the large divot in the middle of the saggy mattress. Britt sleeps in the ‘postage stamp’. That’s what we call her room because it is roughly the size of one.
After reading all this, I realize that we name a lot of things around our house. I think it must be to try to endear them to us. Like dad’s crappy car, or the uncomfortable bed, they don’t seem so bad if we have pet names for them. And the ‘postage stamp’ really is insanely small. But Britt prefers a tiny room to sharing with us. Come to think of it, we have never named our room.
There isn’t much that is nameworthy about it except that when we leave the window open, the most delicious smell of pine and salty sea air comes wafting in. And you can hear the waves best from this corner of the house. If I were Anne of Green Gables, no doubt I would have thought of a romantic name long ago.
As it is, our three-man room is not very large either- just a converted attic space where the ceiling slopes down and hardly leaves room for a bunk bed at all, let alone a pillow and my head. I’ve been looking at the plaster ceiling for a while, trying to think what I should write but really focusing on the imprint of a squashed mosquito that has been there for many years now. No one has ever bothered to wipe off the tiny corpse- there seems to be an unspoken agreement about this, and we all secretly wonder just how long it will last. If mom knew about it’s existence, she would go for a damp rag immediately. But as far as we know she has never entered the quiet refuge of the top bunk. And I’m glad of it. There’s a strange kind of comfort in knowing that no matter what changes life brings, that darn mosquito will still be there. But enough about dead insects. I was going to write about our evening.
Dinner did not end well after the ‘janitor announcement.’ We could all tell that dad felt really bad about mentioning such a plan, but I don’t see why. It’s a legitimate idea, even if unpleasant. But I could see Britt in the corner, again with that desperate look on her face. Sam tried to keep things light by asking a question or two about the job requirements. Becca just looked blank and slid out of the nook. Predictably, we heard the piano start up again. This time it was Beethoven- one of his stormiest.
Mom was already up and had the table cleared and the dishes half washed before any of us thought to help her. And though dishes are probably my least favorite thing to do, I got up too. We sighed off and on as we scrubbed. The table fell silent and dad went into the living room to turned on the t.v. The sounds of a basketball game soon mingled with the banging piano. Britt quietly vanished, and I watched Sam fish a book off of the windowsill and disappear behind it.

Once the dishes were done, I wandered out to the couch to sit with dad. I’m not much of a basketball fan, but I figured I could suffer through it for once, just so he wasn’t alone. Britt was usually the one to watch sports with him, but she was nowhere to be seen. Becca, having apparently worked through her feelings and shelved them with a resounding c minor chord, came and joined us.  I’m not sure how long we sat there- a few quarters or halves or innings- however basketball works, when we were all surprised by the sound of the front door opening.
We all turned to see who it was and there was Britt wearing a frustrated expression and holding something behind her back. Evidently she had hoped to sneak into the house as unnoticed as she had left it. Mom poked her head out of the kitchen, drying her hands on a dishtowel and Sam looked up from her book.
Britt looked so guilty, cornered by the front door like that with all of us staring at her, that I was afraid she had committed some crime. “Honey?” mom said, in that gentle voice that asks all questions at once. Britt swallowed a few times and then, realizing it was hopeless, let it out.
“I got a job,” she stated bluntly, and she held out what she had been hiding behind her back- a black apron with the name of the fast food restaurant that had just opened down the street stitched across the top in red and white thread. We just sat there, stunned, leaving the obvious question for Sam to ask.
“Why?”
“Why do you think?” Britt burst out in reply, and her vehemence surprised us all. “I’m seventeen now- maybe it’s time I started to look out for myself. And maybe this way, I won’t feel so guilty wanting new things and maybe we can afford to go back to school without…. Her voice faltered and she looked close to tears. I’m pretty sure she realized, like we all did, that she would have to flip an awful lot of burgers to cover our tuition.
Dad looked hurt, confused and defeated. He got off the couch and quietly headed to his room. Mom’s eyes followed him through the door, and then they turned back to Britt, who looked horrified. She then said, “Honey,” again in that voice that expresses all the understanding and sympathy in the world. Mom packs a lot of punch into the word ‘honey’, because Britt finally burst into tears and fled the scene.
We could see which direction she was going because the upstairs landing is just visible from the living room. When she got to the top, she turned right instead of left, which meant she wasn’t seeking solitude in the ‘postage stamp’. She had chosen our room, which was usually a cue for some sort of sister meeting. Becca, always the more sympathetic one, jumped up immediately and followed her.
I know it is callous of me, but I prefer to let the crying episodes pass before getting down to the business of sorting out problems. So I sat with mom for a bit. After all, she needed some support too. I wish I could say that even though I am rotten at offering comforting hugs, I am good at dishing out consoling words, but the truth is, I stink at both. I think mom understands though. At any rate, she didn’t have much to say either, so after five minutes of silence, and after realizing that Sam had put down her book and was giving me the eye, we headed upstairs together.
When we got to the door, I pulled on the doorknob and the short end came out in my hand. I heard the end with the stick fall through onto the floor inside the bedroom. No doubt, in the drama of the moment, Britt had been a little too forceful with it and loosened the rusty old screws again. This was a weekly occurrence. I knocked quietly and waited for an answer.
None came except the sound of footsteps and someone rummaging around for something. In a moment, we saw the tiny shape of a Barbie doll’s foot emerge through the knob hole and turn to the right. The door opened with a pop. It was Becca. We came quietly in and Sam headed straight for the bottom bunk, but still holding one side of the knob, I bent down to grab the other piece. But it was really broken this time- the stick had fallen out of both sides. I threw the pieces into the box by the door, which contained various items that could replace the handle in case of emergency- an old toothbrush, a bent butter knife and other odds and ends. I left the broken Barbie leg in the door hole. With it’s rubbery grip, it was by far the best substitute.
I then swung myself up into the top bunk and surveyed the scene. I could see Britt over in the corner, leaning against the crooked closet doors. It looked like the tears were over. Becca was making a nest for herself in the ‘sleepy hollow’, surrounding herself with her numerous ratty stuffed animals, like a barricade against the realities of growing up.
We sat for a long time in silence, and as the second oldest, I was feeling it my duty to say something, but before I could, I found my head suddenly bashed against the low ceiling above me.
“Sam!” Becca said reprovingly, having a go at the motherly tone that usually belonged to Sam herself. I rubbed my head and swung it over the edge of the bed to glare at her. She was grinning apologetically while lowering her legs and said,

“Sorry- old habit.”

When we were younger, we had often played this trick on each other. We would wait until just before we thought the top story occupant was asleep, and then with feet well planted, push up on the piece of plywood which was all that held the upper mattress in place. Mom had forbidden us to do so years ago, after one particularly exuberant push had succeeded in flipping board, mattress and sleeper onto the bed below, damaging all parties concerned. But in times of anxiety, the old impulse had a tendency to resurface, like a nervous twitch. So I forgave her, but grudgingly. And at least it had broken the silence, because Becca piped up.
“So how long are we going to avoid talking about this? I’d like to get rid of the extra elephant in the room. Lumpy doesn’t like competition.”  And she patted a particularly decrepit stuffed pachyderm whose threadbare trunk was drooping over her shoulder as if hoping for peanuts.

“I’ll start with an apology,” Britt replied much subdued. “I’m sorry I made dad feel bad, but I had to do something! I mean, are any of you actually willing to be a janitor at your own high school?”

“Well,” I replied, hesitating, “It’s not the greatest solution, but I would be willing to do just about anything to stay in school this year. And it’s not like anyone would have to know. We would be working after school hours, right?”

“You really think we could keep this hidden?” she scoffed back at me, and then continued. “I was elected to be student body president this year. How can I lead the school, and then be expected to empty trash and scrub floors? And wearing all my old stuff from last year? Look at my shoes!” and she brandished a worn out sneaker at us, causing the frayed laces to flap violently. I don’t think I could stand it.”
“Oh come on, who cares how you are dressed?” Sam spat back, legs extending upward to the plywood platform again. I gave her a warning look and she lowered them. “What does it really matter? Everyone knows we don’t have a lot of money, and if they are going to be petty about it, then that’s their problem.”

“That sounds great Sam, but you’ve only been there for one year,” Britt replied. “You don’t know what it’s been like, struggling for three years to fit in when you are the only poor person in a class full of rich kids. And just when you are finally getting somewhere, you get landed with the janitor job?  Do you guys remember how much fun everyone used to make of the last lady who cleaned the school?”

“Oh brother”, Sam snorted.  “No one made fun of her because she was the janitor. It was just because she was so grumpy and mean and always yelling at us.”

“Well either way, the idea stinks. After a year of cleaning up after a bunch of snotty high schoolers, we’ll probably end up grumpy and mean too. Try to put yourself in my place, Sam! I know you have never cared what other people think of you, but I’m not happy ignoring the rest of the world and sticking my nose in a book.”

Now if there’s one thing I try to avoid at all costs, it’s a conflict. So before Sam could splutter an angry response I jumped in.

“What if we just gave it a try for a while? It’s only until dad can find a new job, right? I mean, what other options do we have? It’s either that or starting over in a new school”
“Or homeschool,” Sam interjected. We ignored her.
“And that way,” I continued, looking at Britt, “You could just use the money from your new job to get yourself some clothes and stuff. We could do the janitor work on afternoons and Saturdays, and no one would need to know.  Sam wouldn’t tell anybody, right?”  We all knew that she wouldn’t be above proclaiming the fact to the world, just to prove that she didn’t care.  She shrugged noncommittally in response, but I knew she wouldn’t tell if it was something that involved all of us.

“And even if someone did find out, it’s honest work and nothing to be ashamed of,” I concluded, trying hard to convince myself of something I didn’t really believe myself.

It was Britt’s .   But there wasn’t much to be argued against this. It was pretty sound advice, if I do say so myself, and I could see that she was caving. But before the subject closed, Becca voiced the last objection that was probably hovering in the back of all our minds.
“I guess we there’s not much else we can do, and I’m game if you are,” she sighed, looking worriedly at her delicate little hands as if imagining them already wearing a pair of smelly rubber gloves. I was proud of her, since I knew how hard it must be for her to contemplate starting her high school career as a custodian.

“But you guys,” she continued with a little smirk, “How on earth are we going to pull this off? You know we all suck at cleaning.”
There’s nothing quite so nice as a hearty laugh after a long day of trouble. I’m pretty sure King Solomon says something about it somewhere. Mom, hearing the laughter, must have felt that the all clear had been given because she suddenly appeared at the door to assure us that dad was all right, give us all another hug and tell us everything was going to be fine. And as mature as I would like to think that I now am, I still love that she kissed me and tucked me into bed (even though she must have known I had no intention of falling asleep yet). I wonder if she will ever get over the habit.

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I just can’t help myself

Just one more plug for my shop before Valentine’s day.  I know, I keep trying to go in new directions, but I just keep ending up going back to the dolls.  I’ve sold a couple of my new ballerina dolls, so I thought I would make a Valentine-y one just for kicks and see if I could get one sold.  This time she’s a brunette- in pink.  I think she should be called Rose.

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I’m rather pleased with how the hair turned out on this one.  A kind lady I know gave me a large bag of yarn she was never going to use, and this one has a nice ruddy tint to it.  It is also kinda curly, which I love.

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I felt that Rose needed a few roses in her wavy locks.

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Dainty ballerina feet and fluffy tulle- just because.

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I was dissatisfied with this first little tutu I made, so I decided to add another tutu as an overlay.  It ties on with a satin ribbon and can be removed if desired.

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You’ll notice that I put a few little red rose “petals” in the layers of the tulle because, well, “Rose” and also because, well, Valentine’s day.

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Oh, and don’t forget she has a wire framed body, which would help her pose in a display case if perhaps you are an adult and want an excuse to buy a doll for yourself.  (pssst, you wouldn’t be the first)

See, she is looking pensive now, wondering if she will ever find a new home.  (My daughter has taken a fancy to her and has already tried to eat her several times) So she wouldn’t mind being adopted…..

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Variations on a theme

For a long time now, I have been looking for something to put on my shop that would be a little more, how shall I say, affordable? I also would like something to make that is a little less time consuming for me, and something that I could vary according to the season  I am having little success in this respect with my dolls, since each one seems to be more elaborate than the last, and they almost only sell at Christmas time.

But when I was at my folks house last fall, I found lots of reminders of simpler projects that I had made for various family members at one time or another, in particular, embroidered napkins.  For Christmas one year, I embroidered a dozen monogrammed napkins for each of my family members.  I enjoyed it so much that I went on to do the same thing for quite a while as a gift for newlyweds that I knew.  But I grew tired of it after a while, and stopped.  The idea popped into my head the other day as I was flipping through pinterest, looking for Valentine’s day ideas.

So I decided to combine a few new methods I have learned from Alabama Chanin along with my own designs, on a cotton jersey napkin.  I decided not to use upcycled jersey for this project, mostly since I wouldn’t have been able to find enough to make several matching items.  And I was super excited to find a new website that sells high quality, organic cotton jersey at an affordable price, especially since my local fabric store decided to stop selling their best jersey.

This is just a first attempt, and I decided to make them Valentine-y, since we are just a few weeks away.

I call it  X’s and O’s- Variations on a Theme.

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You will see that these are deliberately a little rustic looking with unfinished edges and slightly crooked lines.  But when you are working with jersey, that is kind of the way it is.  It took me a long time to adjust to the idea of not hemming edges, but once I got over it, my life has been so much easier!  🙂

Here are some up close looks.  These napkins are 16 by 12 inches when unfolded.

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You will also notice that I used some mixed media here- there is inking as well as hand embroidery.

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Here they are unfolded, The X’s and O’s by themselves-

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And then combined with a few hearts-

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Once again, I appreciate feed back!  And if you are interested, there isn’t much time left before Valentine’s day, so let me know.  ( I can of course sell them in larger numbers.)

P.S. I hope to experiment with monograms next.

Chapter 1

 

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All right folks, tonight I feel brave enough to post my first, (very much rough) chapter of my possible, someday (maybe not) book.  I have debated back and forth over how I want to do this, but I figure if I don’t start putting stuff out there, it will never happen.

One evening, not so long ago, when tempted to despair over the general crappiness of my writing and my complete ignorance of how to actually put something like this together, I came across an article that helped me a lot.  In short it gave two pieces of advice, first-  “Just get your basic story down on paper.  Don’t worry about perfecting it yet- just get it down and fix the details later. Everyone’s first draft is going to suck.  I don’t care who you are- it will.  So get the first draft down.  It will be terrible, but it will be editable.  ” (this was enormously encouraging to me)  And second-  “Get yourself a group of people who will be willing to read and critique your work, and then be willing to listen to them!”  This second one is incredibly hard for me, first because I don’t like being criticized and second, even if I could find such a group, it’s hard for me to get away from home very often.  So I am turning to you, internet.  Be kind, won’t you?

A few more disclaimers.  This story is definitely based on my life with my sisters, but it is also definitely fictional.  It might be hard for you folks who are acquainted with  us to distance yourself from the girls that you know.  It’s been hard for me too!  But for reasons of plot (and several other reasons) I have cut the number of girls in the story down to four, (no offense dear sisters!) and my aim is to create four new characters based on a mix of traits and characteristics found in myself, my sisters and even some friends, real and imaginary.  So try not to wonder who did what in real life.  A lot of this is completely made up anyway.   But enough.  Here goes nothing.

Chapter 1

I’m writing this sitting in the corner of the breakfast nook in our tiny kitchen. It’s not the most comfortable place for writing in the house, but I like to keep my literary attempts casual and above board. I have found that when I try to hide myself away and write stealthily, one of my sisters is bound to come poking their head over my shoulder to sneak a peak or else whisk the notebook right out of my lap. They know this annoys me to no end, which I finally came to realize is why they do it. So now I feign indifference and they leave me alone for the most part.
On days when I am particularly full of myself, I like to pretend I am Jane Austen, who apparently always wrote in plain sight and then discretely covered her paper with some mundane letter whenever anyone entered the room. My current ‘mundane letter’ is a grocery list, which mom asked me to compile. So far, it reads- Milk.
Even with all my precautions, I still dread anyone reading a story of mine that is half-finished. Of course, I don’t know if I would ever let anyone read a story of mine that is fully finished, because I have yet to finish one. I sometimes think my writing career will be one endless first chapter after another, always waiting for the second.
My friend Em told me that maybe I am trying too hard, and that I should just describe what life throws at me, without worrying about inventing plots and characters and such. It seemed like good advice. She was also of the opinion that it wouldn’t exactly be cheating to take inspiration from a book I knew well- as a kind of jumping off place, and to help me find my own voice.
So I thought about the literature I love most. Pride and Prejudice of course topped the list, followed closely by anything else Jane Austen. Little Women has had a strong influence, as well as Anne of Green Gables. Then of course, there is the inimitable Jane Eyre. Can you tell I’m a girl yet?
Dreaming big, my first attempt was in Elizabeth Bennet style. I quickly despaired of that. I mean, who do I think I am? From there I moved on to Jo March who seemed a little more accessible. But no. Every sentence felt forced and stiff and corny. I find I don’t do sentimental very well. So after those two feeble attempts, I grew despondent. I had hoped I could I identify with at least one of those two characters. After all, they are both, like me, the second sister in a family full of girls. Lizzie, Jo and I also share the happy privilege of playing second fiddle to a strikingly beautiful older sister. Even so, I still wasn’t feeling a connection. Inspiration ebbed low.
I gave up for a while, until the other day, when I was rearranging my books and found a battered paperback wedged behind the second shelf. It was a copy of one of my favorites, a book I hadn’t thought about for years (it has been a long time since I cleaned out my bookshelves)- Dodie Smith’s “I Capture the Castle”. Lo and behold, here was another story about sisters, written from the perspective of a second, less attractive daughter. Apparently this is a popular plot device that seems to work well.
“So,” I thought to myself, “Why not join the club?” And even if I can never hope to match Smith’s poignant wit and unparalleled descriptive powers, and though we don’t live anywhere half so romantic as a castle, I thought I might be able to tackle a book from a journalistic perspective. So pardon me as I shamelessly borrow her style. After all, every artist needs inspiration.
As for getting past the first chapter, I’m feeling more optimistic than usual because, as Em said, life is about to throw something at us. That something, if it happens, is sure to be disastrous. And if it’s true that every artist needs inspiration, than it is equally true that every good story needs a disaster or two.
I suppose I could set the scene properly. I am sitting in the corner of the breakfast nook as I already said and outside, I can see the sun shining over a particularly gorgeous landscape of pine and madrona trees and glimpses of sparkling blue water. I love where I live, and normally such a breezy August evening would have me out enjoying the end of summer sunshine. Instead I am in here, watching my older sister Brittany picking disconsolately at a chip in the old formica tabletop. If life is about to throw something at us, we are waiting here patiently to catch it.
By we, I mean my three sisters and I. Britt, destroyer of formica tabletops, is seventeen, and the oldest. She has a beautifully sweet face, with round cheeks and an enviable dimple, but underneath all of that there is such a strength in her appearance that people always think twice before opposing her; including her sisters. Sometimes I’m amazed at how much she looks like my mother, with her long dark hair and eyes to match.
Perhaps my amazement is the greater because I look nothing like my mother, or my father for that matter, who is also dark. I have blond, stringy hair, a crooked-ish nose and a pointed chin. The only feature I have working for me is a pair of rather interesting eyes that are sometimes blue, sometimes green, and sometimes seem to have no color at all. However, having unique eyes can be a nuisance, since they always seem to draw attention and that attention has not been consistently positive. Unasked-for commentary runs the gamut from ‘stunning’ and ‘gorgeous’ to ‘ghostly’ and ‘dead looking’. Or this observation- a personal favorite which was given to me by a girl at my old school- “Girl! You got witches eyes!”
I might have forgotten that long ago comment if said classmate had liked me a little better. But seeing as she rather disliked me, she made up a little chant to go with her friendly description, adding to it another word that rhymes nicely with ‘witches’. It was, apparently, pretty amusing, and it caught on. Let’s just say it became my theme song for that very unpleasant year. But I don’t let the past bother me, obviously. And now I am way off track. Back to my sisters if you please.
Although I am nowhere near as strong as Britt, I am taller than her by a few inches. I missed being Irish twins with her by a mere seven days, which means, or course, that I am sixteen. I might as well get our ages overwith, since we run straight down the ladder.
Samantha, or Sam, as she prefers to be called, is fifteen, and Becca fourteen. We sometimes wonder why my mother had a baby every year for four years and then broke the habit cold turkey, but we have never asked. Maybe she was tired of girls.
Sam has a different look as well- with a head of copious, curly black hair that makes me jealous most of the time, unless it is first thing in the morning. She managed to inherit a pair of blue eyes as well, (we think they come from Grandpa Price) but they aren’t half so interesting (or terrifying, whichever you prefer) as mine. Sam loves to read like I love to write and right now I can tell she would rather be lost in her latest series than sitting across from me on this worn vinyl bench.
Becca is my father, in miniature. And I do mean miniature. Despite her fourteen years, she is a tiny little creature, with dark hair and pale brown eyes- the picture of delicacy and gentleness. You would never guess from her meek outer shell that inside there dwells a not-so-subtle wit and the temper of a volcano.
I would go on, but no doubt their characters (and mine) will become clearer in time if I can keep this thing going. All this time that I have been distracting myself by describing my sisters, they have been discussing the problem at hand.
Britt has been wishing that mom would come home so we could go shopping, instead of sitting around waiting for the end of the world to come. I silently agreed with her as I scribbled, since waiting for the end of the world is a seriously depressing business.
But Sam responded reasonably, if not cheerfully, that even if we went shopping, we would probably have to take it all back. She then added, in a tone that was bound to get under Britt’s skin, (who is fond of looking presentable) that she didn’t care a bit whether we got new clothes for school this year or not, just so long as we didn’t have to move.
This pronouncement upset Becca, whose skinny legs began swinging in an agitated manner from the edge of the countertop where she was perched. The thought of moving had never occurred to her. She naturally wanted to know how we could lose a house that was already bought and paid for.

It’s a good question. We have been living in the house ever since Grandpa and Grandma Price died and left it to us. I was only five at the time, so it is really the only house I remember. They had built the house some forty years earlier, and had chosen, as it’s location, a deserted stretch of clifftop that overlooked the waters of the Puget Sound and had a panoramic view of the surrounding mountains, with <em>The Mountain</em> framed almost dead center in the living room window.
Property with such a view had cost them a pretty penny, so they had contented themselves with building a modest home- just big enough for the four of them- grandma and grandpa, my father, and my father’s younger sister Aunt Lucy. This meant, of course, that it was a good deal too small for the six of us when we inherited it. But it is cute and charming and full of sweet memories. We’ve never considered selling it, even for a moment.
Through the years, the spectacular scenery has drawn more and more people to the area until the deserted clifftop has become a thriving, though smallish city. And every year the property taxes have increased to such an extent that dad’s paycheck barely covers them.  So a few years ago, mom had to go back to work part time to pay for groceries and such. Sometimes dad jokes that he wishes the glorious, volcanic mountain would finally just blow its top so we could all save a few bucks.
Charming as the house is, it is also in desperate need of repair. And compared with all the big, beautiful, new homes that have sprung up around it, it’s a wonder the snooty new neighborhood association hasn’t kicked us out long ago. We have been trying to set aside money for repairs for years now, starting with a new roof, but there always seems to be something else to pay for. It doesn’t help that dad and mom have dedicated themselves to keeping us in the excellent private school that our church started a few years back. That costs us as much as a mortgage and then some.
My parents have always been open with us about money matters, and we have always been glad to sacrifice in what little ways we can, since dad’s job has never been what could be called lucrative. But yesterday we were informed that dad was at the top of the list of cutbacks at his restaurant.
Despite his managing there for 15 years, the powers that be are looking for someone younger and more energetic. I can never understand why the movers and shakers of this world never seem to remember that being younger with more energy also means being immature with zero experience. At any rate, it will be their loss if they really let him go. But I keep telling myself I don’t believe they really will, and I’m just going to keep writing until we know the worst.

I find that writing in the present helps me to feel one step removed from what’s going on in front of me. The last five minutes have been spent by Sam and Britt arguing back and forth about the likelihood of losing the house, with Becca looking on like a spectator at a tennis match. But I always feel like I need to protect her from the dark side of life, so I put down my pen and interrupted with a comforting word or two.
“Becca, I’m pretty sure we won’t lose the house,” I said, “ You know mom and dad have always managed before.” This seemed to cheer her up considerably. Then, feeling I should be honest, I added,
“But I’m betting we will have to say goodbye to private school this year.” Becca’s hopeful face dimmed a bit as I said this, but Britt positively bristled. Apparently that thought hadn’t crossed her mind, for she burst out in protest.
“What are you talking about?” she almost yelled. “School starts again in just a couple of weeks! We have to go back! Remember, I was voted student body president at the end of last year? I can’t just walk out on that. And where would we go? Public School?” Her voice dropped to a whisper at these last two words, as if saying them would make going back to the school where the girls who loved to chant, a reality. I shuddered.
“Mom and Dad will think of something,” Becca said loyally, calming her big sister down in her turn. I could see in her eyes how desperately she hoped this was true. She had been looking forward to attending the school since her oldest sister had started there four years earlier, and particularly coveted the real musical education it offered. (She and I both play the piano, and although I have achieved a certain level of proficiency by dint of ceaseless struggle, she is one of those annoying people with innate abilities)
Anyway, I should have gone and hugged somebody at this juncture, since we were obviously all on edge and needing support, but I’ve never been very good at expressing myself that way. I’ll make you a batch of cookies any day, and even throw in some extra chocolate chips if you’re feeling really down, but don’t ask me for a comforting cuddle. Instead, I watched Becca hop off the counter and wedge herself into the breakfast nook with us. She laid her head on Britt’s shoulder and sighed. Sam merely nibbled one of her abundant curls and said nothing. A silence descended gradually, like the sun outside the white shuttered windows.

———

It’s dark now, but no one has made a move to make any dinner. I’m hungry enough to get up and start something, but it seems callous of me under the circumstances. We are sitting here still, waiting for a familiar sound that we have never dreaded before- the sound of dad returning from work. We almost always know when he is coming, even from several blocks away, by the tell tale rattle of the muffler on his car. Years ago, we christened his decrepit vehicle the <em>Toyota Corroda,</em> and have been expecting it to die ever since. But it refuses. Well, maybe today it has decided to give up the ghost.  It would be fitting.

No, wait, someone’s at the front door. Oh dear, it’s not dad, it’’s mom. Now why is she coming home early and wherefore the fake smile that fools no one?
———-

I’m finishing this chapter sitting in the living room window seat. I have nothing to cover my writing with if anyone should prove too nosy- no decoy shopping lists or letters to Grandma Clark. Everyone is too glum to care what I am doing. I figured I might as well finish the chapter, even though the ending is unhappy, as you might have guessed. No last minute reprieve was given us. Dad lost his job. What a stupid phrase that is- losing a job. It sounds like he got out of bed this morning and just couldn’t find it.
At any rate, mom left work early after she got his phone call. She said she wanted to be here to greet him when he got home, but I am sure she also wanted to give us a few minutes to adjust to the idea, and teach us how to put on a good, reassuring smile.
When she first entered the kitchen, it looked as if she was thinking about how to let us down gently, but Sam hates beating around the bush, so she up and asked her point blank what had happened. There was a moment of silent devastation, but once the worst was known, mom squared her shoulders and got to work. That’s always mom’s way of dealing with difficult things, and I must say I haven’t found a better one. But perhaps writing will do just as well if I get any good at it.
Getting to work meant briskly asking if anyone had thought of something to do with the chicken. We all stared a little guiltily at the defrosted poultry sitting neglected in the sink. Britt mumbled something about not being hungry, but this was the cue I was waiting for. I have yet to find the catastrophe that will make me lose my appetite, and I was pretty ravenous by this point. I hopped up and suggested we make dad’s favorite chicken dish. Without waiting for an answer, I filled a pot with water and turned on the stove.
Soon I was sliding diced chicken into a skillet of browning butter. Oh, there is just something about the rich, savory smell of browned butter that speaks to me. I took a deep sniff. My sisters think I’m weird, the way food comforts me, but I just tell them that I come by it naturally. Having a dad in the restaurant business will do that to you.
“Better go easy on the butter,” Becca said morosely, suddenly appearing at my elbow to stir a pot of boiling pasta. She always stirs things when it’s time to do dinner chores, whether things need stirring or not. I think she thinks it makes her look busy. “Who knows when we will be able to afford it again? Looks like it’s back to margarine.”
“Rebecca,” Sam replied with a touch of motherly scolding in her voice. She set down the stack of plates she had been carrying to the table and turned around, wearing the expression on her face that we all knew meant she was about to get a little preachy. She is apt to do so when things get difficult.
But Becca headed her off with a pious folding of the hands and an impish gleam in her eye. “For I tell you,” she quoted glibly, “do not worry about tomorrow, what you will eat or drink, or how much butter you will have. For tomorrow’s butter supply will worry about itself.”
We all laughed, even Sam. All in all, the evening was an interesting study in coping mechanisms. As we waited for dad, trying not to picture him cleaning out his desk and saying goodbye to beloved co-workers, we each turned to the thing that helped us most. Mom was busy straightening the living room, compulsively dusting and scolding us for leaving all of our junk around again. Becca took refuge in her humor, Sam in her books, I in my cooking and Britt- well Britt was sitting silent on the couch, looking as if making up her mind to do something desperate.
Before long, we could hear the Corroda in the distance. “There’s dad,” Becca declared unnecessarily, sitting up straighter on the piano bench where she had been plunking out a melancholy little tune. “Is it just me, or does his car sound sadder than usual?”
“Come on girls, let’s do our best to be cheerful,” mom replied, ignoring this last question.
None of us quite knew what to do as we heard the car door slam and his footsteps approach. When he entered, we were all standing there in a pitiful attempt at nonchalance, as if formally lining up to greet him at the end of the day were a normal occurrence.
His eyes took in the scene- the unusual silence, the sympathetic looks on all our faces- but before he could say a word, there suddenly burst forth from the piano the woeful sounds of Frederic Chopin’s most lugubrious funeral march. Becca had decided to break the awkward tension of the room in her usual way. And as usual, mom gasped and protested, while the rest of us silently asked ourselves where she got her nerve and wondered if she had gone too far. Dad hesitated a moment between disapproval and amusement, and then, to our infinite relief, tipped back his head and roared with laughter.
Unorthodox as her ice-breaking methods often are, they are usually effective. So instead of hedging the subject and pretending all was fine, we all laughingly headed to the kitchen, squeezed around the too-small table, ate our brown-buttery chicken and discussed our precarious future openly.

“What I want to know is, what are we going to do about school?” Britt asked after we had discussed possible job options for dad. “It’s my senior year and I don’t think I can stand the thought of changing schools now.”
“I wouldn’t mind leaving school so much if I could just homeschool,” suggested Sam with brightening eyes at the prospect of how much more time she could devote to reading.
“Someone would have to oversee your schooling if we did that,” mom reminded her, “and I am sure I wouldn’t have the time. I am going to need to ask Dr. Johnson if I can increase my hours at the office.”
“Mom,” Sam retorted, the familiar stubborn expression descending, “I think you could trust me to stay at home and be responsible for my own work.”
“But, wait,” Becca protested before her mother could reply, “Is there really no way for us to go to school this year? I thought maybe…” But her voice caught in her throat and we could all see the swelling tears wobbling in the corners of her big brown eyes.

“Well, there is one thing we can do,” dad said hurriedly, almost knocking over his glass in his eagerness to wipe the disappointed look off of her face. He never can stand seeing any of us sad, particularly Becca. “But it wouldn’t be an easy fix. I talked to Dave today.”

Sidenote- Dave is one of dad’s oldest friends, but we girls know him as the principal of our school, Mr. Templin. We have been close with the Templins as long as I can remember, and his daughter Em, whom I have mentioned already, is my best friend. End sidenote.
“I called him because (deep sigh) I had to stop him from cashing that first month’s tuition check we just sent in. But he was so unwilling to see you girls go that he made me a deal- (dramatic pause) If you are willing to take it. I’ll have to leave the decision up to you, since I am not sure what kind of schedule I am going to have and don’t know how much help I can be. And keep in mind, it would probably only be temporary until I can get my feet under me again”

We all turned to him, including mom, waiting to see what kind of deal our principal possibly could have offered. But dad was reticent to continue. He took a hasty bite of chicken and chewed it as long as was feasible.

“What is it dad?” Sam finally asked. “It can’t be that bad if Mr. Templin is asking us to do it.”

He swallowed, took a deep breath and went on.

“Well girls, he told me that the school is in need of a new janitor. Or four new janitors as the case may be.”

Prototype

It’s been a while since I put anything new on my shop, and I’ve been meaning to for a while, but the holidays are a bad time to start prototyping anything, and so this doll has been about two months in the making.  You will see right off that she is primarily a ballerina doll, although with different clothing, she wouldn’t necessarily have to be.

Although this doll may not look very different, (just looking at her face) she really differs in several significant ways. For one, she is the first pattern I drafted myself (almost from scratch)  She is taller and thinner, has pointed, rather than flat feet and is made entirely from one piece ie, I didn’t have to sew arms and legs on seperately.  I was looking for a doll with a more defined waist since my other dolls are so square in shape and sometimes their clothing doesn’t stay on very well.  So I gave her a waist, and I also gave her a wire frame- something that gave me quite a lot of trouble, and needed a lot of tweaking.   This is also the first time I have attempted yarn for hair.  Since she is more delicate looking, I thought she needed something finer than the jersey strips I usually use.  And though I like how it looks, I miss the stretch that the jersey gives me since stretchy hair is much easier to style.

At any rate, here she is.  She may or may not be a limited edition, depending on interest and what I can charge for her. (she took me quite a bit longer to make than my other girls)DSCF3034 (2)

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I had lots of fun with the clothing, both in sewing the beads and flowers, and in adding as many layers of tulle as possible.

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Here she is, crossing her ankles like a lady.

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Now she will demonstrate various poses to display her flexible wire frame.

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Her bendable knees also allow her to sit quite nicely when she is tired of dancing and decides to let her hair down.

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And speaking of hair- here are a few closeups, both up and down.

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So now we have arrived at the part where I ask for feedback and suggestions.  I have to laugh at myself because I keep hunting for something that might be a little less time consuming, and end up making something more complicated.  Oh well.  Let me know what you think!  Thanks!

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The rest of the story

Hi all,

I thought I would give some closure to my last post by providing a simple scone recipe.  After all, we need a good excuse to use our delightful new discovery- Cornish (clotted) cream.

Now I grew up eating scones quite often.  Living in western Washington state, I was a frequent visitor of the Puyallup Fair (only true Washingtonians can say that name).  This fair is one of the top ten largest fairs in the nation.  And this fair happens to be famous for it’s ‘Fair Scone,’ a triangular bit of pastry served hot with a dollop of jam which drips down your hands as you visit the impressive livestock or the prize-winning pumpkins and then try to decide which nausea-inducing rides are worth waiting in line for.  Almost everyone I know out west has a ‘fair scone’ recipe in their arsenal, and don’t get me wrong- they are tasty, and would work just fine as a vehicle for your cream.

But for the sake of consistency, today I am going to share a recipe for true, English cream scones.  I am pretty sure the only real difference between the two is that the cream scone is made with- you guessed it- cream instead of milk.  Because we don’t have enough cream in this scenario.  Here’s what you need-

3 cups all purpose flour

4 tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

1/4 cup sugar

1 stick butter

1 1/2 cups cream (c’mon- you know you want to)

First combine your dry ingredients in a medium bowl, and then plop the whole stick of butter on top.

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Then, with a pastry cutter or your fingers, crumble the butter into the flour until it looks good and crumbly.

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Now just pour in your cream.  I am using the leftover liquid from the clotted cream recipe here, plus a little regular whipping cream.

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Gently stir together until it forms a nice lumpy mass, and plop it straight onto your baking sheet because don’t you hate cleaning up sticky, floury counter tops?

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Using floured fingers, gently press your dough into an irregular shape and get out a smallish glass or biscuit cutter.  Or you can form it into two circles and cut it into wedges if you like.

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Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and put your scones in to bake for about 15-20 minutes.  They don’t get very golden on the top, so gently lift one up and see if the bottom is browned- that means they are done!

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Now slice one in half, and get ready.

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Traditionally, these scones are served with clotted cream and either lemon curd, marmalade or jam.  I thought about posting a recipe for lemon curd, but I was too lazy, and so I am putting a link here for the easiest lemon curd recipe I have found.  But there are a ton of other recipes out there or (gasp) you can buy it in specialty stores.  If you are not familiar with lemon curd (yet another food product that deserves a better name) it is a lemony, silky, buttery custard that is the best partner (in my humble opinion) for clotted cream.

If you are like my husband, you might prefer a nice marmalade.  Perhaps I am generalizing, but I think marmalade is an acquired taste for most Americans who aren’t used to slightly bitter flavors in their food.  It has certainly taken me a while to appreciate it, but I will never like it quite so much as my hubby.  In fact, for Christmas this year, the boys and I made him a whole collection of different marmalades to enjoy with the clotted cream gift.

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(pardon the photo quality- I took these at night)

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I just loved these cute little Weck canning jars. I’m thinking of starting a collection.

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Of course, any of your favorite jams are nice as well.

So now that you have picked your poison, let’s build our scone!

Start with a generous helping of the clotted cream, and I do mean generous.  You have to be able to sink your teeth into it, or you won’t enjoy the full experience.

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And then a dollop of the fruit product of choice (or one of each)

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Of course scones are supposed to go with afternoon tea, but I have found them to be quite as delightful with my morning coffee.  I hope you all enjoy!  Cheerio!

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Better than Butter

As you all know, the new year is a time for starting over, for instilling good habits and for watching your waistline.  Which is why I am posting a recipe that consists of nothing but condensed whipping cream.  Because who are we kidding- those resolutions aren’t going to stick, so we might as well skip all that painful self discipline and get on to the good stuff.

All joking aside, I am posting this recipe because it was a project I was working on as a Christmas gift for the hubby, and I didn’t want to post it during the Christmas season for two reasons-  One, I didn’t want him seeing what I was up to, and two, I wasn’t sure it would even work.  Here’s a longish back story or two for interest and clarification.

My father-in-law used to run a dairy farm on the southwestern tip of England, near Cornwall.  Because of this, he is a veritable mine of information concerning all things dairy.  You have to be careful asking him any question regarding cows because he is likely to turn quite encyclopedic on you, and you might not be able to get away for a couple of hours. It’s all very interesting stuff however, if you like dairy, which I do. I remember having a discussion with him once about the making of butter and cheeses and other things, and the term ‘clotted cream’ came up.  My blank look told him that I had never heard of such a thing, so he rectified the situation immediately.

He told me in lavish detail all about it, starting with it’s many names- clotted or clouted cream, Devonshire cream or Cornish cream, depending on who you ask.  Being an Englishman, he was even able to tell me the slight variations one could find depending on what region you were in and if your palate were discerning enough.  But I don’t remember all that. For all intents and purposes I found that it is a product that comes from cooking fresh, unpasteurized cream at a very low temperature for a very long time until the cream condenses on the top.  Then you chill the result and spread it on something like a scone.

My hubby was also listening in on the conversation, apparently unaware that he was drooling as he reminisced about the few times he had been able to enjoy this treat as a child when visiting family in England.  I took note of the longing look in his eye, and began my mission- to find clotted cream in America.

I thought I had achieved my goal, when one afternoon in a local tea shop, I discovered a tiny jar on a shelf marked with the words- Devonshire Cream.  It contained about 4 ounces of the stuff and cost over eight dollars, but I bought it anyway and brought it home to the hubby. He was pretty excited, so we immediately made some scones and spread it sparingly on top. (at two dollars an ounce, we wanted to make it last)

And although it was tasty, it wasn’t quite what the hubby had remembered.  After all, it had been made and processed in some way to keep it from going bad, and then shipped half way around the world where it had probably been sitting on that shelf a long time.  I didn’t buy it again.

A few years later, we found ourselves with a friend who had access to fresh, unpasteurized milk.  She wasn’t allowed to sell it to us legally, but she did let us buy some for our ‘Pets’. (ahem.)  I knew what the hubby was thinking as soon as he walked in the door with it.  He was going to try making clotted cream.  (You know what?  I just can’t stand the term ‘clotted’ when it comes to anything food related, so from now on, I’m calling it Cornish cream, even though the residents of Cornwall will doubtless protest.)

At any rate, he tried to make it just using the directions his father had given him all those years ago, letting it heat in a pan on the stove for a long time.  We had no idea if it was turning out right or not, but he decided to take it to a friend’s house where we just happened to be invited for a fancy tea.  He hadn’t skimmed the cream off the top, but just brought the pan- liquid and all- into the car.  He asked me to drive so he could hold it on his lap, but then realized he had forgotten something inside, and so set it on the dashboard.  He slammed the car door, and before I could stop it, the whole pan slid off the dash and landed on his seat, deluging everything in it’s path, including myself.

It really was a horrific mess, and it took so long to clean it up that we were very late to our tea party, sans Cornish cream.  We were never fully able to clean up everything that spilled in the car that day, and even now, on hot days, you can still get a whiff of it.  We didn’t try again.

Fast forward a few more years to when my father-in-law came from France for a Christmastime visit.  In honor of his arrival, the hubby and I hunted high and low online until we found a little site that sold Cornish Cream.  They charged a ruinous price for it, but we bought two jars anyway, and it arrived straight from Cornwall a few weeks later.  My father-in-law was pleased with it, as well as my hubby, as testified by the fact that they polished both jars off in an astonishingly short time.  But apparently it still wasn’t quite right- it lacked that fresh, creamy, straight from the cow taste.  And it was just too expensive to make a habit of buying.

I decided it was time to abandon my mission.  Apparently the stuff was not to be got unless you were able to make it yourself, and that was something I was sure I couldn’t do unless I bought a cow.  I never thought to look again until a few months ago, when I was hunting for a good orange marmalade recipe (which my hubby also loves) and I saw a link to a recipe for Cornish cream in the side bar.  To my amazement, it said that it was indeed possible it make it yourself- using just a crock pot and cream that had not been pasteurized at ultra high temperatures.  It seemed too good to be true, but I thought it was worth a shot.  I had to stop at three different grocery stores before I found the right kind of cream, and I bought two quarts just in case I messed up a batch.

I was really nervous when I poured all that cream into my crock pot and set it on low. I hovered nearby for several hours, checking it constantly. Even so, it began boiling and got overcooked.  I think my crock pot was just too hot.  Nearly in despair, I searched the internet again and found one last tip- try making it in the oven in a water bath.  I went ahead and did it, even though I had little faith left that it would work.

But folks, this time it worked beautifully.  I can’t describe to you how excited I was to scoop up that wonderful, creamy concoction and put in a jar for my hubby to open on Christmas morning.  And at long last, after one taste, he had nothing left to ask for except another bite.

Now, I am well aware that some of you might think we are totally crazy, being so obsessed by something as trivial as a jar of cream, but I suggest you try it and see.  You just might find yourself joining our little club. Here’s what you need.

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Yep.  That’s it.  But be very careful to make sure that it doesn’t read UHT (ultra high pasteurized) anywhere.  It should just say pasteurized, like this.  I found this at Whole Foods.

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Now get out two pans- one that fits inside the other.  The bigger the better, since you will get more surface area and hence, more cream.  I used an 11×15 and a 9×12.

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Just nestle the smaller one into the bigger one…

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and pour in the cream (I used three 8 oz. containers here)DSCF2958

Preheat your oven to the lowest possible temp- mine is 150.  It won’t take long to heat up.

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And place the cream in the oven.

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Now pour some water (it doesn’t have to be hot) into the outer pan until it reaches about half way up the sides of the inner pan. This is your water bath.

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And close the oven door. I put this in the oven around noon and pulled it out right before dinner- about six hours.  Half way through, I checked on it and it looked like this.

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I know, it looks weird, but that is how it should look- like the skin that forms on the top of a pudding.  Just don’t disturb it- you want that layer to get nice and thick.

After six hours, pull it out very carefully.  It still won’t look very thick and there will be a lot of liquid under the surface.  Just transfer it to your fridge and let it sit overnight.  It should firm up a lot and end up looking like this-

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I know, still strange.  But keep going.  Get a slotted spoon and sterilized jar ready to go.

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Now gently stick the spoon into the corner and start scooping, letting the liquid underneath drip off, and put the top layer into the jar.

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You will notice that it looks a lot like butter, but the taste is totally different, which is quite amazing really, seeing as they are made from the exact same ingredient. Keep scooping and filling the jar.

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In the end, you will have about a cup of leftovers in the pan.  It’s sort of like whey, but much creamier.  You can save it to use it in other cooking or in the scone recipe I am going to post later.

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But after the rest of it has all been spooned into the jar and stirred gently together, you should end up with about two cups of this marvelous, delightful, sinfully delicious stuff.

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Just stick it in the fridge and wait for my next installment in this series. I’m going to call it “Cornish Cream and Lemon curd- the quest for the perfect scone.”  Stay tuned.