Sunday, June 30, 2013

An Essential Mashup

My mother was a preschool teacher for many years, which has made me very aware of the importance of giving good teacher gifts. Not yet another smelly candle, not something made by the kid that sounds sweet and sentimental in theory but looks a little crafty-crazy in reality.

Something small, thoughtful, and above all useful.

So I thought, if I were a teacher, what would I need for the summer?

Sunglasses, a notebook and pen, iced coffee.

Come to think of it, even though I'm not a teacher those things are pretty much my essentials for summer too.

Or I'd like them to be: my summer could use a little more time with that notebook and pen, truth be told.


The fabric here is from Amy Butler's Alchemy collection. I realized later that I'd gone pretty wide of the mark of my girl's teacher's aesthetic: she is more neon chevrons than sketchbook flowers. Ah, well. Try, try again. 

The hybrid sunglasses case/pen holder is another zakka of my own design. It mostly came about because I wanted to include a couple pens to go with the notebook and needed a place to put them, and because I wanted to play a little more with the pen-holder techniques from the gift I made for my girl.

In retrospect, though, I feel like this mashup is something I've desperately needed in my life. What are the two things I am constantly digging for in the bottom of my bag? Yup, sunnies and a pen. (Seriously, I cleaned out a couple of purses the other day and I was like: Oh look, I have pens again.) And here is one thing that keeps them both handy.

Maybe you need this object in your life, too?  Is anyone interested in a tutorial for the  sunglasses/pen case, the Liberty pen holder, or both?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A little summer Liberty

As I alluded to earlier, my girl finished Kindergarten the Friday before last, and let me tell you the totally unbiased, unvarnished truth--she rocked it.

I wanted to make her a little something to mark the occasion, and this is what I came up with.

She has been really excited about participating in our local public library's summer reading program, so I made a zipper pouch to hold her library card (I totally teared up when we went to sign her up for one, because I'm ridiculous) and her summer reading program badge. I also included some ice cream money--I thought this was the part she'd be most excited about, but I don't think she realized it wasn't a $1 bill!

A little scrap of fabric and some stitching on the front of a moleskine = summer journal. And a felt-and fabric pen case, stocked with the most perfect pens you could ever give an almost-6-year-old. Seriously. Fine-tipped for grownup-feeling writing, washable for her inattentively messy side, erasable for her perfectionistic side, and erasable with friction--which means no bits of eraser all over the place--for her daddy's perfectionistic side.

We had a lot of conflict during the school year about her weekly writing homework--coming up with something to write about was an impossible task, all five ideas I suggested were terrible, she couldn't possibly think of any ideas of her own, and oh the woe!    

I thought that having some pretty writing tools, and a built-in subject to write about, might help motivate her to practice over the summer. Plus, how awesome would it be to be able to look back years later and read a diary you kept as a 5 year old? I mean, even being able to look back at the end of the summer at all the things you did would be pretty cool, right?

Well, you can probably see where this is going. Let's just say that my summer journal strategy is not working too well at all so far. And I'm trying valiantly not to push, so as not to make the title of this post too unintentionally ironic.

I will say that she is racing through her library books (current fave: Young Cam Jansen series), and when I step back just a tiny bit I know that if she doesn't do anything at all this summer other than develop a love of reading, it will be a summer very well spent.

And don't worry, there's plenty of time for playing, too. My man also went to the toy store and bought her some Playmobil as an end-of-Kindergarten gift, so it's not all high-minded humorlessness around here. (You know, thanks to him.)

Crafty details: The fabric is, per the post title, from last year's Liberty Bloomsbury Gardens collection. The pouch is made with this tried-and-true tutorial (though I have to admit, this one came out a little small, and I need to make another). The pen case is my own design.

I am sure there are lots of patterns and tutorials for pen/pencil cases out there, but lately I have been enjoying coming up with my own ways of making various little somethings--I suppose you could call them zakka. I like the spatial reasoning challenge of figuring out how to construct these items, but the projects are small enough to be manageable and not too frustrating. Perfect little brain exercise, like sewing sudoku.

Next I'll show you the little somethings that I made for her teachers!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Weekending at Midsummer

We had some friends over last weekend to celebrate Midsummer. When I proposed the idea to my man, he said, "Should we book a housecleaning service for before?" "Nope," I said. "Well, should we arrange yard service?" "Nope," I said.

I think sometimes the feeling that we should have our house in perfect shape--for him that means perfectly clean and for me it's more like perfectly arranged/decorated--stops us from inviting people over and socializing. I had this idea that I wanted to have a gathering and not stress out about it.

Not stressing out about it is easier said than done of course. But I cleaned the heck out of the bathroom and made a bunch of food and let go of a lot of other things and it felt good.

(A string of solar lanterns gives even an ugly fence some atmosphere. I didn't even notice the dead morning glory vine in the chain links until I uploaded these pictures, and I'm willing to bet no one else did either.)

I ran a couple of strings across our back patio overhead and thought the kids could use watercolors to paint coffee filters to look like flowers, in lieu of a maypole. My girl made an example and we clothespinned it to one of the strings and that was the only one that got made. Instead the kids ran around in a semi-feral manner, got scratched by blackberry brambles, dug a random hole in the backyard, and rolled around in the tent (at one point, literally rolled around the tent, at which point my man had the good sense to stake it down).

There was a lot of good food and a little too much aquavit and I didn't take any pictures and it was all just about exactly, imperfectly right. I think we'll do it again next year.

On another note, Midsummer seems like a good time to revisit a list of goals that has, I admit, fallen by the wayside. Here are some more specific aspirations for the time between summer solstice and fall equinox:

1. Pair of shorts for me
2. Finish poppy sundress, freaking finally
3. Birthday dress for my girl
4. Catch up on gift making (I have two babies and one sister to make things for)
5. Five new poems
6. Sketches for embroidery sampler
7. Figure out how to prep veg on the weekend so it is easier to cook during the week
8. New cushion covers for midcentury armchair
9. Barn quilt, I mean really, why the hell not?

It's a lot! But better to set a high bar and not reach it than not bother to make a plan at all, right? That's what I'm telling myself, anyway.

Monday, June 17, 2013


Belatedly, and mostly for my sister, who wanted to see graduation pics.

Class of 2025 RAWKS!

But I comfort myself by thinking: still a long way to go.


First day of summer breakfast...hmmm, a new tradition?

Great literature stays with you.

It's barely summer, but the smell of minced garlic just starting to melt into tomato sauce makes me nostalgic for fall. Why can I never be happy?

(I'm kidding, you know.)

Monday, June 10, 2013


Trying to get back in the habit, so without further ado:

Waiting at my girl's bus stop for the weekend to begin:

(I pass the time by contemplating how much I love my new shoes.)

Mint patch update:

(The twinberry is looking a little sad; it started listing severely so I had to replant it deeper in the soil, and it seems to be recovering very slowly from the experience.)

(But, on the plus side, the honeysuckle is getting long enough to start threading through the ugly fence.)

A cousin sleepover and fairy garden making:

Lush life:


When girls turn 6:

Hard-won progress:

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Chocolate Wacky Cake

Here is the sort of picture you are much more likely to see on Cake Wrecks than on Pinterest.

It's chocolate wacky cake alright, you can tell just by looking. But in fact, the title of the post refers to the name of the recipe: it's "wacky" because it contains vinegar, but no butter, milk, or eggs. (It's also sometimes called Depression Cake because the recipe was popular during the Great Depression, when those ingredients were hard to come by.)

You can find the recipe at the end of the post, and I think it's a great one to have in your baking arsenal. It's as quick and easy to make as cake from a boxed mix; the lack of dairy and eggs make it good for a group of little ones that might include food allergies (sorry, gluten-free folks); it's deliciously moist and chocolatey, pleasing kids and grownups alike; and it's very close to foolproof.

My girl and I collaborated on this cake for her birthday celebration at school last week. (Actually she won't turn 6 for another month and a half, but her teacher--a summer baby herself--assigned days to celebrate each of the kids with summer birthdays during the last few weeks of school. I won't lie, this has made for some very bad behavior some afternoons as she comes down from yet another sugar high I didn't even realize she was having, but I think it is a very sweet idea and worth it in the end.)

I asked her to draw what she wanted the cake to look like and this is what she came up with.

Then, after I baked and frosted it she took care of the decorating. (You know about using a toothpick to sketch out writing or other decorations in the frosting of a cake, right? And then if you mess up you can just smooth it out with a knife and start over. I didn't learn this trick until recently and let me tell you, it is sheer genius.)

Overall this was not a very frugal project (those little tubes of gel icing are expensive!), nor a particularly organic one (I also bought chocolate frosting in a plastic tub, because there is only so much I can handle making on a school night). But for me there was a lot of pleasure in being able to invite my girl to dream up what she wanted, and then help her make it come to fruition. Sort of the cake version of what I was talking about earlier with the dresses: Yeah, we can make that.

We also had apple juice, and I made a last-minute dash to the grocery store on the way to school for the party (couldn't find birthday candles the night before, and needed a lighter too since I forgot the matches on the kitchen counter). And as she was walking to the front of the room so her classmates could sing to her, she said, "Mom, I love you." I suppose that sounds really generic written down and out of context, so you'll just have to believe me that in the moment, I could tell that what she really meant was, "This turned out exactly like I wanted it to."

So I couldn't be prouder of that wacky, cake-wreck-y cake up there. Sometimes its good to let go of our own ideas of perfection and let someone else's shine.

Chocolate Wacky Cake

Adapted from Savory Sweet Life.
Makes one 13x9-inch sheet cake, or two 9-inch round cake layers.

3 C. all-purpose flour
2 C. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt (optional)
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 C. cocoa powder
3/4 C. vegetable oil
2 Tbsp. white vinegar
2 C. water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

In a large mixing bowl, mix the dry ingredients together with a whisk or wooden spoon.  Add the wet ingredients and stir until well combined. 

If you are making a sheet cake, grease the pan with oil or nonstick cooking spray. If you are making rounds (and want them to come out of the pans neatly), prepare the pans with oil and dust with cocoa.

Pour the batter into the pan(s) and bake for 35-40 minutes for the sheet cake, or 30 minutes for the rounds.