December in Baltimore (pt 1)


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As far as I mum and I can collectively count, going back over blog posts, this was our 11th documented visit to JHH in 3 years. We’re almost certain that there are at least two trips we didn’t blog about.

This trip was intended as a pre-op/checkup.  On Monday the 8th, we dropped Chad and Kristina at a friend’s house, and then headed to Baltimore. It’s a seat numbing drive, but with a loaded Kindle, it went quicker.

The Children’s House had some marked improvements. These pictures are from Monday night, because I always make a tour of the house first thing to see what’s changed.  We got t-shirts and a schedule of that weeks events, as a bundle that the Children’s House is giving to families.Baltimore December 015

I wasn’t crazy about the partially completed mural on our wall, but whatever. Life would be boring if it was perfect, right?Baltimore December 017

And someone had organised the free pantries, which used to be a jumble of food.

Baltimore December 027

Not pictured is the new counter in the dining room, which means that the chafing dish racks and takeout containers can be conveniently stored.

Also not pictured is the new magnetic wall in the playroom.

The Christmas decorations were up, and the house has never felt “homier”. Seriously, sentiment aside, Thanksgiving and Christmas is the best time to have someone in the hospital. You’re so well taken care of. There were meals volunteered for every night of the week, and sometimes multiple family activities in one evening.  I wish people would be so thoughtful the other ten months of the year. Baltimore December 022

Gingerbread houses:

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Katya spent her evening–what was left of it– rocking peacefully.

Baltimore December 019

The next morning we had an appointment with Neurosurgery and plastics, floor five this time. I love this view.

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You know, it’s a strange thing, but ever since the time we were left to sit in the cubicle for over an hour and became a bit hysterical– uncontrollable laughter, mainly– we’ve never been made to wait very long at all.  I suppose it must have been very trying to be in the next room, delivering somber news to an anxious family, whilst we were making merry like the audience of Saturday Night Live.  

I got busted while taking pictures, so I don’t have any. Its not that taking pictures isn’t allowed, but I was embarrassed to be caught, and so stopped.  But Katya cooperated beautifully with the exam, and was alert and curious.  The Drs. say, among other things that she’s going to need some un-absorbed hardware taken out; but nothing is going to happen until she’s gained some more weight.

To further this end, we’ve started putting avocado in her sandwiches and encouraging her to increase her portion sizes. I just love fattening her up! I makes me feel like one of those stereotypical Italian mama’s, who beg you to take some more cream, and to have another slice of lasagna, and to do justice to their Grandmother’s doughnut recipe.



Pattern Review: “Handmade Bags in Natural Fabrics” by Emiko Takahashi


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The nice people at Tuttle Publishing very kindly sent me another book to review.9784805313169__93968.1415901658.1280.1280


The book is “Handmade Bags in Natural Fabrics” by Emiko Takahashi, and promises “60 Easy-to-Make Purses, Totes and More”.

The “60 bags” bit needs a bit of clarification.  Now, there are certainly 60 different bags featured in this book.   However, the “60” is a record of the 60 bags Ms. Takahashi sewed from the 31 patterns in this book, which represent 25 different bag styles.

Note: I arrived at the number “31” by counting only the bags which were unique in size and/or shape, excluding bags which are dissimilar only in embellishment. 

See what I mean?


For example, the “Little Fancy Purse in Soft Fabric”, which I made, counts for 9 bags. Each of the nine bags photographed has unique fabric, ties, and embroidery. But those nine bags represent only one pattern.    So while Ms. Takahashi certainly made 60 bags– helpfully numbered throughout the book, there are only, according to Tuttle Publishing’s blurb,  “twenty-five basic bag styles”.

 To further confuse things, only 12 of those 31 bags are paper patterns, as some of the simpler bags are drafted.

To Recap:

60 bags made and advertised; 31 actual bags; 25 bag styles; 12 paper patterns. 

My Project:

Since I’m going into my third week of being ill–I will spare you the gory details– I didn’t want to make anything too difficult. I chose the “Little Fancy Purse in Soft Fabric”, which is numbers 30-38.019

Granted, it wasn’t the most complicated bag, and since it was on one of the two “lessons” pages I had photographs to work with, but I thought the directions were clear. It did say to cut through the seam allowance on only one layer of fabric, when both were necessary.


I also alternated the cuts on the curve so that the bag would lay smoother.

The technique was a little interesting, as the lining was sewn at the same time as the outer fabric. First the book instructed to match the right sides of the fabrics together– all ordinary. Then it said to stack the four layers of fabric with the outer fabric on top, and then to stitch through all the layers. Now, I had put my front fabric on the top of the stack, but when I turn the bag right side out, for some reason that made all the seam allowance be in between the front fabric and the lining, and it is kinda visible. Next time I’ll put the back on top, then the front, and then the linings. That should flip things so that the seam allowances end up in the back.



The book shows everything sewn by hand, but I used the machine. It’s faster, and besides, I hand stitched the casing down. I like that the lining turns into a contrasting casing. It makes for fewer pieces to sew.

Now, let me tell you about the fabric! Chad drew the picture himself!010


(I did the lettering from Chad’s dictation, and the seagrass and the touch of embroidery.)


The finished product:026

And cinched in–


Crazy, isn’t it?

Chad chose the fabrics himself from the stash. The lining is a butterfly print batik. The butterflies are not recognizable in the bit that shows at the top of the bag.



Layout: Book is a wee bit confusing, with the directions not in quite the same order as the bags were given. Numbers 1 through 12 are allright, but things begin getting funny, and not in a good way. The directions are given in this order, with the out-of order numbers in bold:

#1, #2, #3, #4, #5-10, #11, #12, #30-38, #15-16, #13-14, #21, #22, #23-25, #26-29, #39, #40, #41-42, #17-18, #43-44, #45-58, #59, #60.

I haven’t been able to discern a reason for this “order”. It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with difficulty.


Here is a sample of an instruction sheet.




I love the detail on how to shank a button.018


The pattern sheet is all in black, but not printed very full. The book helpfully says what side of the pattern sheet to find your pattern on. You’ll have to trace and add your own seam allowances, as is the case with a lot of Japanese pattern books, but it really isn’t difficult on such a small scale. I recommend a 1 cm seam allowance.

Equipment and How-To:

This book includes a section titled “Before You Start”, which is a feature that I like a lot.  I didn’t take a picture of it, but the first part is a numbered picture of everything you’ll need supply-wise; Pincushion, pins, sewing thread and embroidery floss, crochet hooks needle threaders, scissors, fabric chalk, ruler, cord threader, etc.   Except for the Automatic Needle Threader– which I’ve never before heard of– it’s all standard stuff that I guess most sewers would collect after year or two.  She didn’t mention a seam ripper, though.

The second part describes the various types of fusible interfacing and wadding/batting used.  There’s six kinds of interfacing, and two kinds of batting/wadding. I like that beneath each picture and description of the various materials, she has a tiny picture of a project it’s used in.

The third part is titled, “Handles and Straps Used in This Book”, and is great because it shows up close the handles and straps she used, if you were wanting to replicate the look.

The fourth part shows clasps and attachments used– frames, magnets, and a truly impressive lace-edged zipper.

The last part is an explanation of basic sewing terms and some simple directions for hand sewing. Tips for threading a needle, making a knot, matching right sides, thread length, hem stitch, seam finishes, that sort of thing.  The labels for “Bag Stitch” (actually a seam finish) and “French Seam” are reversed, though.

The projects have a good range from practical to decorative.  Mum is fond of these more decorative vase-shaped bags.




I didn’t draft anything from this book, so I can’t tell you about conversions, but both metric and U.S. standard are included.  All the drafted bags are basic rectangles, though, so what’s 3/4th of an inch?

Four of the drafted bags:021024


Overall, this is a cute book. It’s not my favorite sewing book, partly because it could have used a bit better copy editor, and partly because I’m just not that into sewing my own bags.  But it’s entirely sufficient, and has cute projects. I’m not usually needing a handmade bag, but I might make up another bag or two from this book sometime.


All opinions are my own, and I wasn’t paid to have them.

Katya’s First Eggs


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Katya has been doing a good job cracking eggs for awhile now, so this weekend Mum and I decided to graduate her from “Jr. Egg Cracker” to “Jr. Egg Fryer”. I decided that scrambled eggs were a good thing to start with, because they require constant attention (she won’t get bored) and they don’t involve a puddle of hot oil. Katya very carefully cracked the eggs into a bowl and whisked them, I seasoned them and added rice milk, and Katya did all the frying, even remembering to use a hot pad to hold the cast iron skillet.  Here she is with her eggs.  She was very pleased with herself.


Our little girl is growing up. And she didn’t even need to stand on a stool to reach the stove.

“Sew Sweet Handmade Clothes for Girls” by Yuki Araki Pattern Review (Pt. 2)


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In my last post, I reviewed pattern “b, f” from Yuki Araki’s “Sew Sweet Handmade Clothes for Girls”.  Here’s my review of the physical book– projects, layout, translation and whatnot.

First off, isn’t this a sweet cover?Sew Sweet Handmade Clothes for Girls - Tuttle Publishing

To be specific, it’s the little girl who’s sweet. Such calm happy eyes! If I understand correctly, all outfits in the book are modeled by Mrs. Araki’s two daughters.

The book opens with a nice introduction titled “What handmade means to me”, wherein the author explains a bit about her thought process– that “creating clothes is like drawing pictures”, that balance in the finished project is important, and that “fabric is like paint”.  An interesting concept, and one that seems to work. All her projects photograph beautifully.

Tuttle Publishing Review 001

The key word for this book is “Neat”. Projects are to “fit neatly”. Blouse “q” is titled”Neat Blouse”. The tucks on skirts “b” and “f” are neat. There isn’t a frou-frou project in the book.

Katya’s favourite project is this shirt dress– and it ranks pretty high for me, too:Tuttle Publishing Review 002

It’s just so soft and sweet. The super cute model doesn’t hurt, either.

Another favourite is the “Neat Blouse” and “Double Layer Skirt”.Tuttle Publishing Review 004

As you can see from the tactical sketch, the blouse is just detailed enough to make it special.  Since it uses nine buttons– four on the front for looks, and five on the back for function, it’s a great excuse to buy those super cute buttons at the fabric store.Tuttle Publishing Review 005

My least favourite project is “d”– the “Mother-daughter Matching Square-neck Smocks”. I don’t know why, but I just don’t like ‘em. Tuttle Publishing Review 006


There is an elongated version–seen in the index picture below as view “t” that I like a lot better.

I really like that she has an index of all the projects in the book.Book Review Tuttle 027

She has a whole page of very well done instructions for creating a strip placket, and another whole page on attaching a stand collar. There are four pages of notes and illustrations to help out the beginning sewer, explaining about cutting out, adding seam allowances, marking fabric, marking measurements on your sewing machine, sewing knit fabric, gathering, and getting around corners and curves neatly. There are actually some tips in there that I didn’t know– the bit about how to get a neat finish on sleeve hems.

The translation seems very good.

Of the the six pattern books from Tuttle Publishing that I own, this is my favourite. I had fun reviewing this, and can’t wait to make the other projects.

“Sew Sweet Handmade Clothes for Girls” by Yuki Araki Pattern Review (Pt.1)


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The nice people at Tuttle Publishing sent me another book to review!  This time “Sew Sweet Handmade Clothes for Girls” by Yuki Araki.Sew Sweet Handmade Clothes for Girls - Tuttle Publishing

I’ll write about my experiences with the pattern, first, and show you what I made. Then in my next post I’ll talk about the actual book–projects and readability and all that.

I needed (well, okay, “needed”) to sew Katya a fall skirt. Mum got some candy-corn fabric, which is totally different from the aesthetic in the book. I chose pattern “b,f”a basic A-line with the addition of twelve “tucks”– also called pleats.Book Review Tuttle 029

There is a size chart included (Yay!) But the Metric doesn’t always match to U.S. standard. Sometimes it does. But check both centimeters and inches when finding the size you need. E.G. For the largest size, it gives the waist measurement as 22″ (54cm). If you will pull out a measuring tape, you will see that 22″ is actually equal to 56cm.  That’s a 3/4″ or 2cm difference.  So if your child is pushing an inch measurement, the garment might come out too small.  The book specifies that cm are more accurate.

Katya was in inch or two too large for the largest size–we’re very happy about this, because when we adopted her she was emaciated to a shocking degree– but since this was a simple skirt, I was able to make it larger.  I added 2 cm to the side seams on all pattern pieces, for a finished allover enlargement of 1 1/2″. I could have just pulled the pattern away from the fold, but since Katya is a very narrow girl I thought that would make the distance between the tucks too large. They turned out in just the right place, right over her hip bones.

Pattern Sheet: There are only two colors of ink, red and black, so it’s a little confusing to find individual pieces, at least for my eyes.  But the markings on the pieces are clear, with grain line, folds, and pleats marked. The pleats esp. are well done, with an arrow and line of text indicating which direction they should be folded.Book Review Tuttle 007

Tracing wasn’t difficult. Tracing is always time consuming, but think of it as a careful detail, like lighting a candle. With tracing, you end up knowing your pattern well. You won’t so easily find yourself saying “That was marked?!” You also can add whatever seam allowance you feel comfortable with.  For this, I recommend a gridded quilting ruler. I used a 1 cm seam allowance, as recommended.Book Review Tuttle 005

The skirt went together nicely. I did have to resew the front pleats a bunch of times, but that was a problem with my marking, not hers. I couldn’t find my tailors chalk, so I marked them with scotch tape. It worked great for the back, what can I say? I did think for a bit that the yoke would turn out too short for the skirt, but after a little deliberation, going from the fact that she directed to “Match centers of yoke and skirt and sew”, I sewed from the center out–as if stay stitching– while gently stretching the yoke to size. It worked out exactly right.

The only trouble I had with was the waistband/casing. I’m pretty sure this is because of my measuring, not hers. I’m poor at measuring, it was late at night, and in addition to adding seam allowances you’ll remember that I had to increase the seam allowance by 2cm.  But I got it to work. The book calls for 1″ (2cm) elastic.  However1″ is equal to 2 1/2cm. The extra 1/2 cm. would take up any ease in the casing, and elastic just doesn’t work if there is no ease. It’s that ticklish metric/U.S conversion again.

The directions were clear, though the directions for attatching the waistband/casing were a little unusual. She directed to sew the casing into a tube (leaving a slit in the side seam), sew the casing to the yoke, and then insert elastic. This would eliminate the need for top stitching, but it does leave a raw edge at the top of the skirt.  Because I decided to add a lining, I sewed the casing edge to the yoke, ironed the raw casing edge under and top stitched the casing shut. This neatly covered the raw edges and held the lining down so that it wouldn’t ride up.Book Review Tuttle 013

In summary, so far the book’s only hangup is it’s metric/U.S standard conversion, a problem I’ve had with other translated pattern books. Use inches for reference, but go with the metric. You’ll be less frustrated.

Here’s the finished project, modeled by Katya before going out the door to school this morning. (It looks here like the tulle is uneven. It isn’t in real life.)Book Review Tuttle 016

A close up of the pleats–Book Review Tuttle 019


The buttons I hastily sewed on her bolero late last night–Book Review Tuttle 026


And the one-minute hair bow I made out of scraps of lining fabric. You actually can see the selvages, but I think the fuzzy edge gives it a sort of goth vibe.


Book Review Tuttle 024


Katya really liked this skirt, and it was simple enough that I could easily make another. And it fits her really well– granted, she is a slender little girl who needs nearly all her store-bought skirts and pants taken in at the waist.  Time wise, it took me about a day, including tracing the pattern, typing this post up as I went, double-checking measurements, and adding a slippery lining with tulle.

Next post– Review part 2!

(I was not paid to give this review. Opinions are my own (they always are) and all I got out of this was a great book!)


In Other News


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Chad made a Perler bead frog, so Katya sat down with the diagram and made a Perler bead frog. She was so excited about it, and while I was waiting for the iron to warm up kept grinning at me and gently directing me to the iron.  And she even smiled when I asked her to!028

Chad found a large Praying Mantis– a male, as he kept telling me. I have no idea about it’s gender, but Chad got it to crawl on his head.017

See the photo bomber? 020

I had a violin recital. Even though mum forgot how to record it, I’m pleased with the results, because I managed to not be nervous.  I don’t get nervous as in “I’m going to mess up and be humiliated for the rest of my life” but I get an adrenaline rush and start to over think everything I’m doing.  This time whenever I would feel myself begin to over think I would think about what I was actually doing. Instead of “Did I play that flat?” I would think “I am in section A heading for ending B and I am going to nail this.”  And though I’ve never minded performing, this time it was actually fun. 024

I made Aunt Justina’s White Cookies for the reception following the recital. I ran out of coconut, so I used pecans. Daddy’s side of the family loves white frosting with pecans, so it felt very traditional somehow. Pecans also are easy to brush off if you don’t like that sort of thing. People wondered how I got the filling inside. :-)023

I looked out the window the other day and saw this. This summer Chad and Katya have really begun to like books. 021

Just a few days ago I found Katya and Kristina like this. Katya was solemnly perusing an adult book with fine print and no pictures. Every once and a while she’d turn a page.


And so our fall moves into winter.

Modernized Skirt


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So Mum had found me a khaki skirt at the thrift store. You know the kind– think 90’s. Not necessarily bad…. just…. plain. So plain you could weep. Basic to the extreme. So boring that I couldn’t think of anything to wear it with.


It had good bones; A wide waistband, pleats, inseam pockets. The right sort of fabric.  But these features weren’t enough to redeem it from the “someday I’ll fix this” pile.

Until I found some green buttons. Why green? Because I had two green shirts and nothing to wear them with. Sometimes denim just feels cliche, you know. There weren’t enough buttons on the card I had, so I had to haul both shirts in to JoAnns to match buttons. There was a serious dearth of green buttons, let me tell you.

I’m sorry I don’t have a “before” picture. I just couldn’t bear to wear it. But here’s a “during”, which shows one of the too-plain buttons. 014


And here’s the “after”:Green Button Skirt 001


I think it’s cute!  Mum helped me take this hasty picture as I was going out the door to violin. The extreme haste is why we didn’t catch that my shirt is pulled funny. Oh well.

Do you notice that the buttons are arranged in an ombre pattern!? Two of each color, and three at the top under my shirt. They come in packs of five colors. I used four.  This was actually really easy to do– a seam ripper to take the old buttons off, and needle and thread to sew the new ones on.  And it freshened up the skirt so much, adding just the right amount of interest without screaming “I was altered!”

Aunt Justina’s White Cookies


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My Aunt Justina would serve these cookies, still cold from the freezer, to us as part of our breakfast when we would visit her. I thought it was like magic, how she could get chocolate frosting *inside* the cookie!  I’m sorry there aren’t better pictures, but taking them was kind of a last minute thing.  I made these up, you see, while I was babysitting one evening, and frosted them in between watching Pippi Longstockings. I only thought about it the next day, after I was eating one of the last ones.002


Now, there are two recipes. This is the one my Aunt Justina used, which is *almost* the same as the one I used. I needed one that didn’t require sour cream, being as I had to make mine dairy-free, and it’s difficult to find a good sour cream substitute. I found my recipe off of Mennonite Girls Can Cook, but I promise you, Aunt Justina’s are just as good.009

Aunt Justina’s Cookies (With Chocolate Filling) ~From “Farm House Cooking”


1 C. Sugar

1 C. Margarine

1 C. Sour Cream

1/2 C. Milk

2 Eggs

2 tsp. Vanilla

3 1/2 — 5 Cups Flour

6 tsp. Baking Powder

1 tsp. Baking Soda


3/4 C. Sugar

1/2 C. Each Milk, Flour, Cocoa, and Margarine

1/2 tsp. Vanilla


Mix Filling and let stand until thick. Cream margarine and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla. Sift dry ingredients and add alternately with milk and sour cream. Dough should be soft. Add extra flour if necessary. Chill (I pop mine in the freezer) and roll out. Cut w/ cookie cutter.  Note: I used a wide-mouth canning ring. It worked fine. Put a tsp. of filling on cookie and top w. another cookie.003 Bake at 350 ’till done. They should be ever so lightly brown at the edges, and shouldn’t look shiny. Remove from pans. If you break one open when they’re hot the filling will run out, so be careful.  When cool,  frost with white frosting and dip in coconut.


Seriously, folks, these cookies didn’t last long.  And the plain dough is great for cutout cookies.007


Happy baking!

Clutter in the Morning Light


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I’ve noticed that morning light does for clutter what candelight does for people– it makes homely look good. It’s a side benefit of getting Katya off to school that I get to see the stuff that’s been cleared off the freshly painted porch in a different light.004



Those pictures reminded me of these I had taken a few years ago. The light refracting through the smoke from the frying onions is quite pretty. Frying onions are one of my least favorite things about Sunday, right after getting up. I don’t understand it– I like the smell of frying onions well enough any other day of the week. 1-18 to 1-20 071 1-18 to 1-20 063

Maybe it’s the fact that there’s actual *smoke*. But even that looks pretty in the morning light. Luminescent goldfish don’t hurt, either.


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