Monday, December 17, 2012

Soup for What Ails You

Last week was a week of sickness in my house.  A horrible stomach virus made the rounds, beginning with my husband, who ended up with a brief stint in the emergency room getting rehydrated.  All the kids that got it (four of them!) faired slightly better and got well at home, but while it lasted it was miserable.  The patients were left feeling weak for several days.

Only two of us, my just-turned-18-year-old son and I, escaped unscathed.  And we are still somewhat surprised because, despite all the Lysol and Clorox, there is no way we were not exposed.  I am just very thankful, I prayed that I would not get sick until everyone else was done (all moms understand that prayer!).  I have ended up with a cold, but that is very minor in comparison.

This put a little damper on Christmas festivities around here.  The tree and some indoor decorations are up, but no outside lights:(  No goodies have been baked so far, either.  Not much cooking went on last week at all.

However, even sick people with little appetite need nourishment, so soup it was.  First I made this soup.

I'm sorry, I don't know where I got the recipe.   It's been copied on a card for YEARS and I never actually made it til last week.  I have to say I really liked it, a great soup for when you are feeling under the weather.  It's easy to make and the lemon flavor is refreshing.  (Caveat:  if you don't like lemon, this is not the soup for you.)  Here's the recipe:

Avgolemeno (Greek Lemon Soup)

Bring 6 cups of chicken broth to a simmer.  Add 1/2 cup uncooked rice.  Cover and simmer just until rice is done (about 15 minutes white rice, 30-40 minutes brown rice).  Whisk 3 egg yolks with 3 Tablespoons lemon juice.  Whisk a ladle of hot soup into egg mixture, then add back to pot.  Garnish with fresh parsley and black pepper.  Great with warm pitas and hummus.  Makes 8 cups.

Then I made good old chicken noodle soup.  I used this recipe.  I know there are many ways to make this soup, but this is a quick and easy one when your energy resources are low.  The only thing I would do different next time is to saute some celery in with the onion.  DO NOT double this recipe.  I almost did and am so thankful I didn't.  This makes a huge pot of soup, so be warned:)

Hope you are staying well this holiday season, but if not, you might want to try one of these soups:)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Crochet Granny Blanket

After finally finishing my ripple blanket, my fingers got itchy for another long-term crochet project.  Many great options presented themselves, a bobble blanket maybe chief among them, but I had a lot of yarn left over from the ripple that I felt like needed to be used.  On the other hand, I didn't want to make something in exactly the same color way, so I ADDED to the yarn collection I was trying to use up (there is a twisted logic in there somewhere, I hope:) by purchasing all the rest of the solid colors in the I Love This Cotton yarn that is sold by Hobby Lobby.
Completed squares so far
Now some of these colors are not necessarily beautiful, and some of the colors are very similar to other colors, and Hobby Lobby doesn't sell some of the colors I wish they would (like raspberry, apricot, pumpkin, a silver gray, watermelon), so it is not readily apparent that all these colors are going to play nicely together.  (Since I began this project, they have added a color, "Apple Green," which I am happy about).  However, I felt sorry for the ugly colors.  Attributing hurt feelings to inanimate objects is a trait that I share with my oldest son.  Usually I root this feeling out with some strong common sense arguments, but not this time.  I did feel downright greedy buying ALL the colors, but the skeins are only $2.66 each when on sale, so that's not too bad, is it?

Anyway, my inspiration blanket is Kristen's summer cottage blanket.  If you love beautiful crochet and knitting -- among other things -- then you will love her blog, aptly named Cozy Things.  I don't really imagine that mine will end up looking quite as lovely as that, especially not with the colors I am using, but I am making it like hers, and will use her directions to join the squares when I get to that part.

For the granny square itself, I followed Jacquie's instructions here, on her blog Bunny Mummy, which is another very happy and helpful crochet site.  It's an 11-round granny square, changing colors each round. The colors are random, and once I use a color I don't reuse it until all the other colors have been used.  That forces me to pick the colors that are not on the 'favorites' list.  There is no master plan, I just start with a color and then the next is chosen, and then the next..... Each square is a 'surprise' when it is finished, which adds to the pleasure and anticipation for me.

Yes, it's a little psychedelic
When I have enough squares, I will use a single color to make a final round around each square, and that will hopefully unify the blanket.  My daughter is very doubtful about how this is going to turn out:  it looks too great-grandmother-y for her.  Maybe that is why I like it.  As I make this blanket, I feel a connection to the women (including my great-grandmother) who have made similar objects before me.  I understand what they were thinking as they looked in their yarn bag and thought, "I'll choose THIS color," or "I'll just shut my eyes and pull a color out."  No overanalyzing the color scheme here, just relaxing and letting the blanket design itself, in a way.

The only bad things are: 1) it is not super portable, since you have to drag around ALL those colors of yarn and 2) this:
Lots and lots of ends that will have to be woven in.  I try to save those for mindless TV watching, or for long phone conversations.  That way I can get something done without having to devote a lot of brain power to it.

It will be a good while before this is done, maybe not until next winter.  But I have a totally unreasonable fear of running out of things to do, and I certainly don't have to fear that as long as I have projects like this to keep me busy.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Meet George.....and Harry

These little monkeys were knitted by my daughter, using the directions in Itty-Bitty Toys by Susan B. Anderson.  The first monkey, who we'll call 'George', was commissioned by a friend of mine who is expecting her first grandchild, a little boy, to be born any day now.  She and her daughter had seen my daughter's other toys (you can see some of them here), and they wanted one, leaving the choice of animal up to my daughter.
George turned out so cute that my daughter made another one for her younger brother.  We'll call this monkey 'Harry.'
Both were made using sock yarn from KnitPicks.  We ordered it from there because the only sock yarn we can find locally is variegated, which wouldn't give the monkeys the striped effect.  Because George is for a baby, he is stuffed with plain stuffing.  Harry is partially stuffed with plastic pellets, which makes it easier to sit him up, but the pellets tend to settle, so he is not as fluffy as my daughter wanted.

There are plans for a third monkey, but knitting those skinny arms and legs in the round got tedious, so my daughter had to take a little break before further monkey business.

Don't you just love the little topknots?
"Ah, this is the life!"

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Vogue 1228 -- Shift Dress


This is the first woven dress I've made in a while; it is Vogue 1228.  I believe it's also the first Vogue pattern I've tried (although it's a designer -- Vena Cava -- it's still labeled 'easy').  I liked that it was a little artsy but wearable.  (The artsy part is not the fan blades emerging from my head.  A lack of willing and able photographers has reduced me to mirror self-portraits.  I think I need to get a tripod.)

The pattern I had only went up to a size 14.  I thought I had read that Vogues ran a little smaller than the other big pattern companies, so after cutting the 14 out (I didn't trace it since it was the largest size and all the other sizes were still preserved on the original pattern), I pinned the front to the back along the seam line, and "tried it on," so to speak. I just did not feel comfortable that it was going to reach around me all the way without being too tight.  So I added an inch to each side, front and back. I also added two inches to the length, just to be on the safe side.
You can see where I added along the side (top) and where I cut the pattern apart to add the length
I had also read the neckline was too wide and low, so I redrew the neckline in another centimeter or so on either side, and drew it a centimeter higher.  After making it, I think the low factor is more of a problem for women with a bigger bust.  Not sure that was a necessary fix for me;) I also left out the side zipper because it is easy to just pull on over the head.

The fabric I used was a blue paisley-ish polyester peachskin from Joann.  I used a microtex needle and had no problems with any of it except for the hem.  This is the second time I've tried to hem a peachskin dress (I never got the first dress right and it ended up in the giveaway pile).  I could not get this dress hemmed right either.  After ripping out the hem I did by hand -- which was lumpy and bumpy -- I finally just turned it under and sewed a narrow hem by machine.

As far as the sewing directions, there are a few unusual details that I had to think through, mostly the horizontal pleat that runs across the front and the back.  If you change the depth of the neckline that changes it a little bit.  Most of the seams are French seams, which I liked, but that makes it a little more difficult to fit as you go.
A close-up of the sleeve detail --the horizontal pleat is at the bottom of the neckline
I may make it again in the spring, with a silkier fabric that has a little more drape.  The peachskin worked fine but has more structure when sewn up than you might think.

And here's my forgot-to-turn-off-the-flash first photo:
Blogging is no simple activity.  In addition to working on my computer skills, I now need to work on my photography skills.  Maybe it will sharpen my brain:)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

New Look 6751 -- Tunic

(I neglected to get prior approval from my model, and she has requested I take the photo down. -- Let that be a lesson, Mom.  I will replace it when I get a better one.) [Ed. -- I FINALLY got some better pictures:)]

 This tunic is a dress pattern from New Look 6751,  just cut shorter.  This pattern is now out of print, but you can still find it on etsy or ebay.  I used a green jersey knit fabric chosen by my daughter.  While the fabric feels wonderful, this is the most difficult knit I have worked with so far.  It was extremely difficult to get that neckband on correctly.

The first time I tried it was impossible.  I like to keep the original patterns intact, especially since sometimes my daughter and I can use the same pattern just different sizes.  So I trace my pattern pieces onto a thin paper.  Tracing it also gives me a cleaner piece that I can alter and make notes on.  But you do need to be careful.  When I laid the traced neckband on top of the original pattern I realized I had been sloppy and it was off by around half an inch.  So.... I retraced the pattern piece, recut a neckband piece and tried again.  (This was AFTER I had sewn and unpicked the neckband, and unpicking the seams in knit fabrics is a PAIN).  LESSON:  Check your traced pieces against the originals BEFORE you cut your fabric out.

Two more issues here:  this pattern was not rated "easy" and it is a pattern suitable for wovens and some knits, but the directions are more suited for the wovens.  Also, because the bodice was not gathered into the neckband, it needed to fit exactly.  Easier said than done.  I never did get it exactly, but close enough. This was my first time using a solid knit, and I did find out that it is much harder to disguise mistakes on a solid than on a print.  Prints cover a multitude of sins, shall we say.

The neckband was really the only super difficult part, and I think it was exacerbated because for some reason I thought I had to use a straight stitch.  For the rest of the top I used a narrow zigzag (my normal setting for knits) and had no problems.  If I make it again, I will definitely use the zigzag on the neckband as well.

Also, if I make it again I will be sure to add a couple of inches to the sleeves.  My daughter is a little disappointed how short they came out.  I should know to do that automatically.  The first shirt I ever made -- in Home Ec class when I was a freshman in high school -- was a button-front woven shirt and the sleeves were way short on me.  Seldom does a RTW shirt have sleeves long enough for me, and my daughter's arms are even longer than mine.

However, keeping in mind MY goal (not necessarily my daughter's goal) for clothes-sewing success -- wearability, I deem this tunic wearable this winter -- sleeves can be pushed up;)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Shoes for Fun and Work

Last week I found these three pairs of shoes at the thrift store.  They were all cute as a button, in my size, and in great condition, so I snapped them up.  I didn't have to feel a bit guilty since all three pairs together cost me less than $13.  I wasn't particularly looking for shoes, I was looking for jackets (no luck), but when shopping at thrift stores you always have to keep an open mind -- and open eyes -- because you never know what you are going to find.

I love all three pairs but I have to say that I don't necessarily have anything to wear with them (although I have already worn the brown suede pair with the tiny bows).  I am far from a fashionista, and other than church I have a very minimal social life.  But I can afford to be less than practical at the thrift store, and take a little more style risk.

If I want to be totally practical, these are the kind of shoes I really need for my day-to-day life:

In my real life I mostly wear jeans and tops and I am mostly busy doing work around the house, grocery shopping, and running kids hither and yon.  I also spend a lot of time cleaning up messes.  When you live in a house with this many people and two horribly-shedding dogs, it's a job.  This past month has been particularly busy.  My mom had emergency heart surgery, so I flew east to stay with her a little over a week, and since I've been back it's been hard to catch up with everything. (I do have to give my kids credit:  they kept everything going while I was gone and actually did a great job:).

Also this time of year is fraught with birthdays at our house and holidays that have to be prepared for.  My kids requested we have Thanksgiving here this year (last year we went to a friend's house), so I will be doing all the cooking (you people with all the relatives nearby don't know how good you've got it during the holidays).  And I am just not great with the holidays because no matter how old I get, I am always slightly surprised they are already here.  While many of you are happily working on Christmas gifts, I'm still not finished with my summer projects.  Sigh....

 I have to remind myself not to compare, because the reality is I have to make sure there is something to eat and something clean to wear and somewhere semi-clean to be for seven people every day.  And try to keep everyone on an emotional even keel.  It is unrealistic of me (and others) to think that that is not going to take a lot of time.  And that is okay.

Anyway, despite being a perpetually-behind kind of person, and despite being envious of you people who are always prepared :), I have mostly kept up with exercise, I have still done some sewing, and still am plodding along.  I have a little more leisure this week, so I will try to catch up on blog posts and blog reading.  I look forward to seeing what you all have been up to.

I was going to say that my mom is now doing pretty well, but I just got a call that she is back in the hospital.  Prayers are appreciated.  Thanks.

***Update***  11/20/2012 -- My mom is now out of the hospital.  All her heart tests came back good and they think her pain was caused by abnormally tightened muscles in her back, probably due to her surgery and recovery period.  Thank you so much for your prayers. -- Angela

Thursday, October 18, 2012


"Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." -- Hebrews 13:2

Cheryl at Thinking About Home has been writing a series, 31 Days of Hospitality.  Today she is making it a linkup, which allows others to contribute to the subject, so I'm throwing in my two cents.  I have desired to write on hospitality for a long time, but couldn't quite get my thoughts together.  It is a central value of my life.  Perhaps that is why it has been so difficult for me to write about it.

A lot of my convictions about hospitality began with my maternal grandparents, who were strong influences on me from an early age (you can get a little flavor of this from my Easter post).  My grandmother had NOTHING fancy, she never drove, she hardly got to go to the grocery store herself (my grandfather would go), they were not perfect people at all, BUT throughout their long lives they sheltered, fed and comforted many, many people.  They were a stabilizing presence in their rural community.  This made a deep impression on me.

Then, when I was around 12 or 13, I read an interview with Mother Teresa that was published in McCall's magazine (this would have been late 1970s).  In that interview she told a story of a young nun who was washing some very repulsive wounds on a patient.  The young nun was doing a deed of mercy, but with an attitude of distaste.  Mother Teresa said no, no -- like this:  and then she lovingly and with grace washed those same wounds in a way that preserved the dignity and worth of the patient.  Her message was 'Do it like it was unto Jesus.'  That article has always stayed with me, and I have pulled it out of my memory to ponder over the years.

Then, early on in my marriage, I read a book by Karen Mains called Open Heart, Open Home that was a major influence in my thinking on home.  Other things I read by Edith Schaeffer (for example, Tapestry, The Hidden Art of Homemaking) and Elisabeth Elliot reinforced some of the ideas or fleshed them out.  Basically I believe that our homes are gifts from God for our personal shelter but are also to be used to minister to others.

My home has looked very different over the years.  I've lived in apartments, rental homes, owner homes, big cities, small towns.  I've lived in different parts of the country.  I've really never been flush with cash.  I don't have someone clean or decorate my home, and every part of my home is lived in.  I've had no children, lots of small children, and now lots of older children.  When they all leave the nest my husband and I will be back to no children.  The hospitality we are able to offer looks different, too.  Many, many people have been through my house for meals, hanging out, spending the night, and a few have even stayed for an extended period.  These people themselves have all been different:  friends, college students, people from other countries, family (although far rarer than I would like), troubled people.  Some people are repeat guests while others are one-time visitors.

If you mistakenly think I'm 'the hostess with the mostest', think again. I am not the kind of person who does anything formal.  I have friends who are great at planning elaborate brunches or dinners, and I thoroughly enjoy being invited to one, but that is not my forte.  My house/yard is never all the way clean or decorated.  In fact if you come over you may immediately feel better about your own housekeeping, or parenting, or cooking;)  However, I do think my particular gift is to make people feel welcome, to give them a safe spot in which to BE for a little while.  A friend of mine stopped by one day unannounced, and she said she had never done that before in her life but somehow she thought I was the kind of person that it would be okay (it was).  I was pleased that she said that because I do aspire to be that kind of person.

Through your home, no matter how humble, you can offer a refuge even if it is just a drink of water (Matthew 10:42).  This is part of our mission as Christians in this world.  If you are lonely or are new somewhere, don't wait for others to extend hospitality to you.  You go ahead and extend hospitality to others.  It can be very simple -- most people would be delighted just to be asked.  And remember the types of people Jesus asks to his wedding feast (Luke 14:15-24)  and do likewise.

Hospitality is not easy or convenient (as Cheryl says so eloquently in her series).  It is not designed to bring you glory or praise.  Hospitality is challenging.  It's a lot of work.  It requires you to spread your food further than you thought it would go.  It inflates your grocery budget.  It makes for a lot more dishes.  It infringes on your privacy.  It exposes your dirty laundry (both figuratively and literally).  It can sometimes make you feel taken advantage of, or at least resentful that YOU don't get invited anywhere.  Sometimes guests are awkward or are in very serious trouble and you feel in over your head.

But we are not required to have all the answers.  Hospitality just asks us to give a cup of cold water in Jesus' name, to share a meal together with someone in Jesus' name, to offer them a safe place just to sit or maybe even to sleep in Jesus' name.  Hospitality does not solve the problems of the world, but it does give rest to the weary soul and buoys up the downhearted.  We will never know in this lifetime what good it may do; we must trust God Himself to bless our efforts to be lights in a dark place.

The plaque at the top of my post was made and given to us by a young woman who once was a frequent guest at our house.  She now has her own house of hospitality.  I hang the plaque by my front entrance as a reminder.  Who knows but we too may have entertained an "angel unawares"?

To read some other thoughts on hospitality go here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Simplicity 2373 -- Sundress

This little dress, from Simplicity 2373, was made pre-blog (summer 2011), but since I'm on a sewing jag here I thought I'd throw it in.  It's a sundress, made out of a cotton print fabric from Hobby Lobby.  I don't remember where I purchased the turquoise grosgrain ribbon trim.

Again I made a size 10.  I was concerned about the front pleats being too 'poufy', especially with the stiffer cotton (and they were), so I sewed the pleats down probably another 6 inches, but far enough to keep the abdominal area flat.  I think that was the only place I deviated from the pattern instructions.

This pattern is classified as "easy," which I find to be a relative term.  A more accurate terminology would be "easier than some other patterns you could try but still takes effort (and concentration, and seam-ripping.)"  The trickiest part was topstitching all that ribbon down.  I used a gray thread to sew the dress together, but the ribbon top-stitching needed to be done in turquoise to match. 

I feel a little decadent about admitting this, but I used two sewing machines on this dress:  my Singer 401 for the main construction, and my Singer 301 for topstitching the ribbon.  This worked wonderfully because the way the dress is constructed, you can't save all the topstitching for the end.  It needs to be done as you go along, which would have necessitated changing the threads out several times, along with the stitch settings, etc.  Also, because the Singer 301 is a straight-stitch machine, the feed dogs are closer together, helping it to do a great job of stitching right on the edges of the ribbon.  So if you need justification for picking up a vintage straight stitch machine, this could be one of your excuses:)

Here's a back view:
There is an invisible zipper underneath the left arm.

Again, I am just happy to have made something my daughter does actually wear.  Prior to this dress I had made her a corduroy dress, and I had worked very carefully on it, but it was simply not wearable:  the style was just "yuck." I try not to let those kind of failures discourage me (remember Mrs. Frizzell:  "Go ahead! Get messy! Make mistakes!:), but instead just chalk it up to more experience and keep moving forward.  I advise you to do the same because it's very rewarding when things do turn out well.

Friday, October 12, 2012

New Look 6095 -- Shift Dress

This pattern, from New Look 6095, was chosen by my daughter.  It looked very easy, and she found the fabric she wanted, a missoni-style knit stripe, at Joann Fabrics.  She liked the dress featured on the front as well as the giant tote bag, which is still on our to-make list.  But after I got the pattern home and looked at it more carefully, I saw that it was for a woven fabric, and not for a knit like we had assumed.

That made me a little uncomfortable as to how it might turn out.  Sewing for your daughter is already fraught with danger.  It's very difficult to exactly match those exacting expectations, especially when you are just an average seamstress like me.  I didn't want the cards stacked against me before they were even dealt.  But there was no changing her mind about the fabric.  I did know that it was a bad idea to use woven fabric with a pattern drafted for a knit, but sometimes you can go the other way with acceptable results.

So.....I tissue-fit the pattern (pinned the pattern to her to see any corrections I might make at this point).  I used the size 10 but took 1/4 inch out of the front and back width.  I checked the darts to make sure they were in the right location (they were), and I checked the length (even though she wanted the dress to be short, my daughter is 5'10" so I added some to the length just to be on the safe side).

I lined up the stripes by lining up the BOTTOM of the skirt pieces before cutting them out.  This was because if I had lined up the TOP, the darts would have messed it up.  Lining it up from the bottom kept the unmatched portions up under the arms where they won't be as noticeable.
Since I was using a knit, I left off all facings and using my iron-on knit tape folded the edges under and stitched.  I left off the back zipper and stitched the center back seam up because it was easy to get on and off. (I did a better job matching the center back seam.)
Thankfully, the dress turned out cute as a button, although more credit goes to the lovely wearer than to my dressmaking skills. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Another McCalls 6559

This is the third time I've made McCalls 6559.  The other two are here and here.  I think this is the first time I've ever made three items from the same pattern, and I have to say if I find the right fabric I can think of at least two more ways I would like to make it again.  I have temporarily put the pattern away since cold weather is coming, but I think I will be getting it out again next spring.

This time I cut a 14 on the top and graded out to a 16 at the waist, which helped the top to fit more snugly along the neckline.  I still had to raise the armhole considerably.  The fabric is a stretch gray lacelike fabric with an attached under layer from Joann Fabrics.

Let me say up front these are not the most flattering pictures, I need to figure out what to do with my arms and obviously this isn't it, but the dress wore pretty well in real life.
Again it was super quick to make, just two pieces, and I simply turned the edges under and stitched to finish.  The back is a slight racerback, but not so much you can't wear a regular bra under it.
Yes, I have very broad shoulders
If I could find the right jacket, I might be able to extend this dress's wear into the fall.  

Monday, October 8, 2012

Simplicity 2369 -- Mock Wrap Dress

I have several summer sewing projects that I want to have on record, so I'll be playing catchup for a bit.  This dress is Simplicity 2369, which is a mock wrap dress or top with raglan sleeves.  The pattern also includes some pants, which I have not yet tried.  Many people on the internet have made this dress, and it generally looks very flattering on them, so I thought I would give it a try.

The fabric I used was some pink and black slinky, thin knit from Joann Fabrics.  I debated which sleeve version to use, but I decided on the kimono sleeves just as an experiment.  I cut a size 16, which fits about right on this pattern.
Frowning into the sun

I did use some new techniques.  Rather than turning the neckline under and stitching it down,  the pattern had you line the neckline with a facing, made out of the same fabric, that is stretched to fit as you sew.  I did not do the greatest job, but from the outside it looks fine.  Also, I found some good tips at The Slapdash Sewist on how to sew the ties so that no seams show.  In addition she had a great tip in there about sewing a few gathering stitches on the front (hidden underneath the wrap portion), which keeps some of the fullness in the front to mask your tummy.

Here's a back view:

From this angle I see that I've got it pulled too tight and ought to loosen the knot on the tie a little bit.  I don't think this dress is as attractive on me as the tank dresses were.  Since I've made this, I read somewhere on InsideOutStyleBlog that "H Shapes" (which is me, one big rectangle) should avoid wrap dresses.  Her other style advice seems to be right on as far as my shape is concerned, so this may not be a great pattern choice for me.  However, the dress is still WEARABLE (which is my main goal at the moment when sewing clothing), and if I find a fabric that I like I may try it one more time, only using the shorter sleeves.

Even though this was a slinky, rather cheap-feeling, knit, very slippery, I had no problems sewing it with my machine.  And I did learn some new techniques.  And it's something else FINISHED, which is always a plus;)

If you are thinking about sewing a particular pattern, look online to see who else might have made it and what their experience was.  Then, just try.  The worst thing that can happen is you won't like it, but even then you will have learned something and added more sewing experience to your repertoire.

Saturday, September 29, 2012


Very delicious, if I do say so myself 
Quite awhile ago, probably last winter, I had a request to share how I make cornbread.  Today is rainy, overcast and cool (fall is finally on the way!), which puts me in mind of soup weather, and cornbread is very good with soup.  So this seems like a good time to share.  

Now through the years I've eaten many varieties of cornbread, from golden brown little soft squares served in cafeterias, to the sweet cake-like cornbread of the Cayman Islands, to crunchy corncob-shaped pone.  And I grew up eating cornbread, mostly my grandmother's, which was the best.  However, mine is not exactly like hers because when I was grown and married, the recipe I happened to find and start using was from the 1977 edition of Tea Time at the Masters, a cookbook from the Junior League of Augusta, Georgia.  My recipe has a little bit of sweet to it, while my grandmother's did not (and my mom still prefers hers).  If I get ahold of her recipe, I'll pass it along.  In the meantime, my cornbread is still delicious and worth trying;)

To make good cornbread first assemble your ingredients.
You will need sugar, cornmeal (white or yellow, I've used both -- whatever you have), all-purpose flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, an egg (beaten), milk, oil, and plain yogurt (sour cream is what the actual recipe calls for, but yogurt works fine).

And don't forget THIS, which is the secret to a good crust on the cornbread:
Bacon Grease
If you are not the type of person who has bacon grease stored in your refrigerator (like I am:), you need to become one.  Go out and buy some bacon and fry it up, pouring the grease into a coffee mug.  Store it in the refrigerator -- it will keep indefinitely.  There will be more than enough to use for the cornbread.  (You can also rub it on the outsides of baking potatoes, sprinkle them with coarse salt, poke holes in them with a fork and bake at 400 degrees for one hour -- but that's another recipe.)

You also need a cast-iron skillet, about 8 inches in diameter.

Put a dollop of bacon grease into the skillet, just enough to coat the bottom of the skillet.
Blurry, but you can see about how much to add
Put the skillet into the oven, and turn the oven on to:

Leave the skillet in the oven until the grease has melted, then take it out of the oven and set it on the stovetop:

Meanwhile, mix up your ingredients (I just do it by hand, no need to get the mixer out).

Pour the batter (which is fairly thick) into the skillet.  It will look like this:

Put it into your preheated oven for approximately 25 minutes, or until the middle is cooked through.
Doesn't it look beautifully crusty?
Now comes the fun part.  Take your skillet and flip the cornbread over onto a plate.

Hopefully it comes out looking like this:

If your cornbread sticks in the skillet, it will be messy but still taste good.  Go ahead and eat it.  It just means your skillet needs to be seasoned a little.  You can read up on how to do that yourself, but it's easy.  Basically, just grease your skillet down and warm it in the oven for a little while.  Take it out and let it cool.  Then wipe down with a paper towel and put away until next time.

I slice my cornbread up into 8 pieces to keep everything fair here at my house.
Another blurry shot

I usually make two cornbreads because of my large family. And now that I have another 8-inch cast-iron skillet, I can make two at the same time.  You can butter it or not, and it goes well with vegetable type soups and bean soups, too.

If you have any left over, my very favorite way to eat cornbread is to crumble it up into a mug, pour milk on top and eat with a spoon.  Mmmmm!  That was something my paternal grandfather loved, and then me, and now my daughter:)
Great for breakfast the next morning
Here's the recipe in an easy-to-write-down form.

Sour Cream (or Yogurt) Corn Bread

3/4 cup corn meal (yellow or white)
1 cup plain flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt
1 cup sour cream (or plain yogurt)
1/4 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
2 Tbs. vegetable oil

Mix all ingredients just enough to blend well.  Pour in a greased 8-inch square (or round) pan.  Bake at 425 ºF for 20-25 minutes.  8 pieces.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Moving Forward into Fall

Happy Fall!

Well, I have spent the past month being stymied in my attempts to figure out the resizing and uploading from iphoto thing.  Something that should be straightforward is definitely not (at least it is not explained anywhere that I can find).  I did manage (finally!) to resize the above picture.  I did a batch of pictures, resized them and put them in a folder under the picture icon.  So far, so good.  But when I went to "choose" them, their little icons were about as big as the capital I that began the previous sentence.  Not very helpful.  I just accidentally happened to choose the right photo this time.  No way to actually browse a photo because I can barely even see it.  Sigh..........back to the drawing board.

Anyway, I have missed my online community and will be catching up with you all over the next little bit.

I made the above wreath from a thrifted grapevine wreath, some berries and grassy stuff from Hobby Lobby, and some "gifted" feathers that my visitors from earlier in the year left in my yard:)  This is my small attempt towards seasonal decorating that Cheryl recommended last October in her series "31 Days to Make a House a Home."  Very helpful stuff, and you can find the series here.

It is actually a little difficult to even conceive of fall right now.  Our temperatures are still in the nineties (yes, I said "nineties"), and it's been so long since it has rained I've almost forgotten what that is, too.  August and this year September as well are what I think are called the "dog days of summer."  In Texas it gets so hot and dry, every plant shrivels up and hunkers down, waiting for relief.  Thoughts of flowers are long gone.  My garden is all dried up, and I should be thinking of a fall garden, but it's too hot to even have the energy to plan it out right now.  On top of that, we have been in the midst of a West Nile virus outbreak this summer, so you can't even go outside in the evening without being slathered down in bug spray.

I did want to do a little recap of my garden.  Successes (meaning we got some produce to eat): lettuces, onions, zucchini, potatoes, corn, cucumbers, tomatoes (I'd give them a "C").  Failures:  sweet potatoes, peanuts, green beans, lima beans, peppers, melons, garlic.   We have now eaten all the potatoes, but I still have some onions left, and I have corn and zucchini in the freezer.

I really enjoyed working in the garden and putting up food these past few months.  I'm pretty confident I made enough jam to last us until next year:)  In fact, I am probably going to ask for a proper canner for Christmas.  My husband won't understand it, but maybe you will.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Blogger and iPhoto Woes

A while back Vee had a post where she talked about photo storage for her blog and how we should check ours and how she keeps from using up so much by resizing her pictures.  While I found the discussion interesting, it was all a bit above my head and I thought it didn't really apply to me since I uploaded my photos directly from iPhoto onto my blog.  So I went blithely on my way.

Well, ignorance is NOT bliss, and two weeks ago I got the notice that my Picasa Web Albums file was nearly full (and I have been blogging only a few months, not for years like Vee!).  So, if you too have been blogging "unawares"  here is what I have learned so far (don't laugh even though most of you already know all this).

Blogger keeps all of your uploaded photos on a Picasa Web Album, whether you knew it or not.  You get to it by having your gmail account opened and going to  There you will see your photos, and at the bottom of the screen it will tell you how much space you have left (you are allowed 1Mb of free space with your blog).  BTW, your photos are not really THERE, they are still wherever you left them, so if you delete them from your original file they will also be deleted from your blog!

I have been doing two things wrong.  First of all, I uploaded photos willy-nilly to the blog because I like to look at them on the preview before I decide what I will actually publish:  the idea being it is easier to take away photos I don't want than to go back and look for more photos to add.  This would have been fine IF I had gone into my Picasa Web Album and DELETED the ones I didn't use, but I never did this because I never even went to my Picasa Web Album at all.  So if you are committing this error, get into your Picasa Web Album and delete those unused photos -- they are wasting valuable space -- even though they are not really there (confused yet?).

The second error I made was uploading directly from iPhoto without resizing.  I click the photo icon when writing my post, go to "choose files" at the top, and then enter my iPhoto Library and choose the photos I wanted to upload. Easy.  BUT when I do this there is no option for resizing the photo, and my photos were uploading often around 4,000 x 3500 (resolution -- is that the right word?).  Apparently a good choice for blog/web photo size is around 800 (-- resolution?) and medium quality -- a big, big difference.

I am not opposed to purchasing extra space from picasa, but the price has gone up ($36/year for 25 GB), and I really don't NEED the extra space yet if my photos were a more realistic size.  Easy fix, right?  I simply need to resize my photos.  But HOW TO DO THIS?

I am hoping there are some straightforward answers, but the search for them has been anything but.  Pretty much any information prior to summer 2012 is obsolete.  Part of the problem is with iPhoto and part is with picasa/blogger.  As far as I can find out, you can only resize photos in iPhoto if you are exporting them.  That's not so bad, as I do want to export them to my Picasa Web Album, but I cannot find out how to do this.  There was a simple plug-in for this that you downloaded from Google, but Google has now done away with this.  Now they want you to download Picasa 3.9 for Mac, but I'm not sure I want to do that.  That seems unnecessarily complicated.

Picasa could make this whole problem a lot easier if they had a setting that you could choose that would automatically resize your photos.  They actually do have this setting -- it's just that they decide when to use it, not you.

So, I have a lot of questions.  Googling for information on this issue has not really gotten me anywhere.  I think I am going to have to break down and go take an iPhoto class from the apple store,  but that's kind of a pain because it's an hour or more away.  If you have any answers or corrections, please send them my way.  Right now I will be spending less time on blogging and more time on learning how to use my computer, which, even though I do it reluctantly, might not be such a bad thing;)  I didn't realize that this fall was going to be back to (computer) school for me!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Mountain Fun

Lower Falls at Graveyard Fields
We didn't just stay in town during our time in North Carolina.  The other great thing about Asheville is that it is near all the fun things to do in the mountains.  The above waterfall was at Graveyard Fields off the Blue Ridge Parkway.  The pool at the bottom was icy-cold but my youngest was bravest and jumped into the pool off the rock!

These next pictures are at Sliding Rock, near Brevard.  It's a natural waterside that dumps you out at the bottom in another icy-cold pool.  I had been here with my church youth group about 30 years ago (!!!!).  Remembering how fun it was, I really wanted my kids to do it.  They of course had a blast.
Number Five coming down
Lots of other people (of all ages, including grandparents) were there, too -- you can see a little bit of the line on the left -- but it was quick-moving, not much of a wait at all.  To me this was way more fun than an amusement park (and a LOT cheaper:  $1 per person for as much sliding as you can do).
Numbers Three and Four zipping down
Just a mile or so down the road from Sliding Rock was Looking Glass Falls.  You could do some swimming there too, at no cost:)  If you look in the distance there is a person getting close to the falls.
And that adventurous soul who had to touch the waterfall is my daughter!

On our way home from our water adventures, we passed this beautiful field of elephant ears and canna lilies.
These elephant ears were nearly as tall as my eleven-year-old!
I was sad my older two sons weren't with us, but they were manning the house and pets and jobs back in Texas.  They were not sad to miss the hours and hours cooped up in a car, and they enjoyed keeping their own schedule (playing music and dribbling basketball in the house until 2 am!).  When we got back to Texas, the house was reasonably tidy and everyone was doing fine.  Although I miss all the green, I always am glad to get back to my OWN house, and I was glad to have the family all back together after being scattered for a month.  Is this how you feel after a trip?