Monday, December 10, 2012

Time flies!

 Wren in kitchen

Wow, here it is, December already. The year has just flown by. I have done a lot this year, though. I've worked quite a bit on my house, I've started to get certified to teach yoga, I helped throw a surprise party for my sister...just so many things. Anyway, I better get dinner started. Jay will be home soon. 


Monday, June 18, 2012

What to do on a hot day?

Florette'ette on a hot day

It was almost 100 degrees here today. Too hot to play outside...and tomorrow will be the same. Hmm. I guess these are good days for staying inside, daydreaming and eating strawberries.


Saturday, June 16, 2012

A friend comes to visit

Strawberries in the garden

Rosemary came over to visit us from London this past week. Here we are having strawberry shortcake out in the garden.

Ivy and Paz

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The best strawberry shortcake recipe

Florette with strawberries

Making a fabulous strawberry shortcake is not hard. You just have to think fresh, wholesome ingredients.

Start with the freshest berries you can get your hands on. (I just picked these from our large patch out in the garden.) Clean them and let them sit in a bowl with a bit of sugar sprinkled on top. After they've gotten nice and juicy, mash them up.

While the berries are sitting, make the shortbread. Select a good, basic recipe. I like this classic one from Betty Crocker:

Sift together:
2 Cups flour
2 T sugar
3 t baking powder
1 t salt

Cut in 6 T unsalted butter

Stir in 2/3 to 3/4 whole milk

Bake for 12-15 minutes at 450 degrees.

While the shortbread is cooling a bit, make the whipped cream. Beat heavy whipping cream until it's a nice whipped consistency, add a bit of sugar and whip it just a few seconds more. (Be sure not to overbeat, as it will turn into butter!) I know many people are tempted to head straight for the Cool Whip, but it's loaded with hydrogenated vegetable oil and high fructose corn syrup. (These are manufactured substances that our bodies are just not made to process, substances implicated in heart disease, diabetes, allergies, wrinkles, joint problems... Ugh!) Besides, real whipped cream isn't hard at all to make and it's absolutely heavenly.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Fall fashion preview

Autruchette 3

Fall may seem ages away but designers are already putting finishing touches on their lines. Here at Smalltropolis, we were lucky enough to catch up with Madame Dandelion (possibly our favorite designer!)  and she let us have a small glimpse at what's coming this fall. Here we see the beautiful Autruchette Lemarchal in a stunning floral linen jacket. So sixties! A trim wool skirt, classic patent leather bag and satin flats with ties complete the look. Photos shot at the amazing Jardin de PoupĂ©e.

Autruchette 4

Autruchette 5

Monday, April 30, 2012

Effects of global warming include...snapdragons?


We all know the dark side of global warming: drowning polar bears and island countries swallowed by rising seas. But what about closer to home?


This picture is not from last year. The plant is. And yes, it's April. Hello? This is zone 5, people! This thing should be brown twigs with some seed heads on top. And the seeds in those seed heads should be sending up tiny little sprouts in, I don't know, in a couple of weeks?

And my friend's rosemary plant that stayed outside all winter? Doin' just fine, thank you.

Don't get me wrong. I love snapdragons. One of my favorite things is watching a big ol' bumblebee try to climb inside one of them. But there's something really wrong with this. Our climate is definitely changing...and we're at least partly to blame, no matter what some people think...

Check out this picture I found on
global-warming-irony Good one, huh? It's also good that when it comes to helping our planet, there's a lot we can all do. But right now, I'm starting by finding juuuuust the right vase.

Friday, April 20, 2012

How to write Haiku—simply!

We have so many little birds in our garden. Here's one of them in the lilac tree.

I like listening to them and watching them, and even sometimes writing poems about them.

I especially like haiku because it's so quick and simple. For example:

head cocked, intent...
OK! listening time is over
ee-ep ee-ep chek chek chek chek chek chek chek chek chek

I know a lot of people wouldn't consider that proper haiku because it doesn't follow a lot of complicated and arcane rules. I don't really care.

I have The Haiku Handbook by William J. Higginson and it certainly goes over traditional forms and the background of haiku. I never even read that part of the book. I skipped straight to the simplified lesson plan. In that part, here's what it tells you to ask yourself about your haiku:

Is it brief?
Does it present one or two clear images, with no metaphors or similes?
Does the image, or do the images together, create an emotion in the reader without telling the reader what emotion to feel?

Other things the book says that I like are:

The better haiku use multiple sense imagery.
The image itself is the what. The where and the when are implied.

Some examples from the book:

walking the snow-crust
not sinking

Anita Virgil

keep out sign
but the violets keep on

John Wills

After all these lighthouses
still drawing them crooked

L.A. Davidson

Sunset dying
on the end of a rusty
beer can....

Gary Hotham

dead cat.....
open mouthed
to the pouring rain

Michael McClintock

Missing a kick
at the icebox door
It closed anyway.

Jack Kerouac

I love all of these because they are so simple and they do really evoke such a clear image and emotion.

But hey, how about you, readers? Wanna try writing a simple haiku? I'd love to see them!


Friday, April 13, 2012

Knapsack Tutorial


Two pieces of fabric, each about 15 1/2" x 24 1/2"
Pocket, approximately 8" x 8"
Cording, 2 pieces, each 72" long (About 1/4" wide — purchased or sewn from 1" fabric strips)
Two 1" Grommets

Make and attach the Pocket:
I upcycled a pocket off an old pair of shorts. You can also make a pocket. Stitch it to the front of the knapsack, centered about six inches from the bottom.

Sew the bottom and side seams:
With right sides together, stitch the bottom edge of the knapsack with a 1/2" seam allowance.

Then, on both the front and back pieces, mark the side edges 3 1/4" from the top. Fold the edge over 3/16", stopping at your mark. Press. Fold over 3/16" again. Press.
Fold down top side edges

Stitch these folds down and then, with a 1/2" seam allowance, stitch the sides of the bag, stopping about where the folds start.
Stitch sides

Make bottom pleat in bag:
Turn bag right side out. Bring the bottom of the bag in 2 1/2" to create a pleat in the bag. Pin in place.
Create pleat in bottom of bag

Add grommets:
In the bottom corners of the bag, mark the spots for the grommets by firmly pressing the front section of grommet into the fabric. (It will create a faint impression.) Use small, sharp scissors to carefully cut holes through all layers of fabric. Be careful not to let the fabric layers shift or to cut the holes too large.
Cut holes for grommet

Set the grommets in using the manufacturers instructions. (Make sure you put the front grommet in the front of the bag!) The grommets will hold the fold in place.
Grommets hold bottom fold

Make the channel for the draw cords:
Fold down the raw edge on the top of the bag 1/4". Press. Fold down again 1 1/4". Press. Stitch along the bottom fold.
Create channel at top

Put in the draw cords.
Thread the end of one cord through the channels (Using a safety pin helps guide the end through). Go all the way around the back—both back and front—and come out the same side you started. With the second cord, start on the opposite side of the bag. This creates opposing cords that draw the bag together easily when you pull on them.
Thread cording through

Tie the cords to the grommets:
Thread the loose ends of the cord through the grommets and tie.
Tie cords to grommet

A new knapsack!
Your knapsack is done. Fill it with stuff and enjoy!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Good times


When my dad died, my mom asked me if there was anything I wanted of his. I wandered around their apartment, looking at things. Yes, it would be nice to have some little memento, but what? Everything just seemed like empty objects, like I would get it home and it would simply add to the clutter.

But this weekend, as I slid a pan of banana bread batter into the over, I realized I already have something to remember him by: this 1950's darkroom timer.

My dad and I started developing photos together when I was in high school. He and my mom had done it quite a bit, years earlier. So, he had all the equipment and he taught me how to do it.

Our photography, and therefore our printmaking, covered a range of subjects. For example, we had quite a few pets, who were always up for having their pictures taken. Or I sometimes went around town and staged wacky photo shoots with my friends. And there was always the option of choosing from the boxes and boxes of negatives taken before I was born. Some of these had never been printed, none of them seemed to be organized, so just rooting through the collection was good fun. Printing them was an added bonus.

These are good memories—my dad and I puttering around together, making pictures down in the basement.

But when my parents moved several years ago, we sold or gave away the darkroom equipment. It had been ages since we'd used it and no one seemed interested in developing photos anymore.

I kept the timer though. I'd always liked how much character it had. Besides, it was red, just the right color for my cute vintage kitchen.

Now it helps me with a new hobby. My dad laughed the first time he saw it in my kitchen. I suppose it seemed out of place to him. But I think it's right at home, marking time as I make cookies and cakes. No, it's not the same but it reminds me of having fun with my dad. I guess it's just a different kind of sweet.

Wren with timer

Friday, March 23, 2012

Saying goodbye

Melting daffodil
It's been pouring all day. This after a week of temperatures nearly in the 90s. (Average temps here in March are usually in the 40s.)

With all that heat, and now the water, my daffodils are shot. I have an insane number of them in my yard, because for several years running, I simply could not resist either the cheap bags of bulbs at the hardware store or the huge, mail-order "money-saving" bulb samplers. Now I literally have hundreds and hundreds of daffodils. It's an amazing sight when they're all in bloom.

But when I left a week and a half ago, the buds were barely swelling. It was cold out. I packed long-sleeved shirts. A black sweater. Lots of underwear. I really didn't know how long I'd be gone.

My dad was sick. Well, no, he was dying. That much I knew. I also knew I wanted to see him and talk to him one last time.

And he waited for me. He waited for my mom, and Robin and her family to gather around him. And then, as all of us will one day, he went somewhere else.

I'm far more scientific than religious, and so was he. But I do wonder. What has become of him? Where is he? Is he just somewhere else out in the multiverse?

The funeral was sad, but it was also nice in a way. There was crying, but also laughing. And then—when Jay played the funny little Irish funeral song he'd written for my dad—there was even applause!

It took us a couple of days to realize it but there was not one single mention of work at the funeral. This is odd because my dad had been a workaholic at times.

It wasn't intentional. We truly had forgotten to talk about the company my dad had built and often obsessed over. There just were so many other more important things to say and remember. It was as though all those worries, which had loomed so large in day to day life meant nothing in the end. What mattered was the happiness we had shared with him.

When I got back, the whole garden looked like the surface of the sun, glimmering and yellow, completely ablaze in daffodils. It was a wonderful welcome home.

But now, I've got a great sadness in my heart, and the mystery of death to ponder. Even the lovely field of daffodils has melted into a soggy mess that will take me most of the summer to deadhead.

But it's all OK. I know that. I know what we're ultimately left with and it's not the hardness of life. It's the joy.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

7 Habits Planner Wallet

Planner wallet

I've started reading the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and it's really got some great ideas!

One of the suggestions is a specific way of planning out your time. I looked online for a planner with this layout but couldn't find one, so I've created my own.

I wanted something that would hold these 8 1/2 x 11 planning sheets but could fold up smaller, to fit in my purse.

I'm not going to make this a tutorial, (there are several things I'd change if I did this again) but I'll give you a few ideas so you can design your own!

Interior of wallet

On the inside of the wallet, the planner sheet is held down with a piece of elastic. I thought about tying it with ribbon but decided that would add too much bulk when the wallet was folded up.

Pencil pocket
There's also a small pocket and pencil holder.

Clear pocket inside
This clear vinyl pocket has its edges sewn down with rickrack. This is for my personal mission statement. The book suggests you write one for yourself and then keep it somewhere you can easily refer to it. (I love this idea! I haven't finished mine yet but I'm working on it.)

Exterior of wallet

Here's the outside of the wallet. As you can see, I've been inspired by a quilting class I'm taking. With four pieces of cardboard sewn into it, it's stiff enough to write on and yet can be folded up!

Monday, February 20, 2012

How to make bias tape

DIY bias tape
Have you ever thought about making your own bias tape? It's not that hard and it means you can have bias tape (or piping) in any color or pattern!

(Before we start, I recommend reading the instructions all the way through once before you start. And in case you didn't know, you can click on a picture to see it larger—and zoom in!—in Flickr.)

To check if your fabric will look good as bias tape, fold the fabric on the bias (from corner to corner and, using a piece of paper or other neutral object, cover all but the very edge of your fabric.
Testing for bias tapeI've found that stripes and small polka dots almost always work. Larger dots and really large prints can be iffy and, as you see in this photo, medium-size prints make for very abstract bias tape, which sometimes works and sometimes not.

After you've decided on fabric, make a perfect square by cutting or ripping on the grain. (Perfect? Well, as close as you can. The more accurate you are throughout the whole process the closer you get to the true bias, which makes the tape stretchier and more useful but even if you're just reasonably accurate, you'll get bias-y enough to have useful tape. So don't be afraid of this project!)

And by the way, start with a piece of fabric that's a decent size. One yard is great but you can go smaller. Here I started with a square that measured 21" x 21". Smaller squares are easier to work with but they mean you'll have more seams in your tape.

OK, so you have a square that's on grain. Now we're going to make a square on the bias.
Draw a line from one corner to the opposite corner.
Mark off the corners.
Then, using a triangle or a square quilting triangle, draw a line perpendicular to this line. This second line should not be centered and it should be far enough from the corner that it's not too short a line. My line here is about 14" long. Draw a third line (parallel to the second and perpendicular to the first) in the opposite corner. It should be about the same length as the second line. (Meaning it's about as far from the corner as the second line.)

Draw lines.
On your two perpendicular lines, make hash marks the width you want your bias strips. (Remember most bias tape is double fold, so you have to quadruple your desired finished width. My lines are 1" apart here so my finished sewn-on bias tape will be 1/4" wide.) Using these hash marks and a yard stick or long ruler, draw lines across the fabric.

Cut off the corners

Once you get to the ends of your perpendicular lines, you'll run out of hash marks. Cut off the remaining corners.
Lines drawn.

Then cut off the other two corners above and below the perpendicular lines. You now have a square of fabric on the bias with parallel lines drawn on it, also on the bias!

Ready to sew
Fold the fabric in half, right sides together. Offset the lines by one so you get this kind of wonky tube. Make sure everything lines up and pin.

Sew and press the seam open.
Tube sewn

Cutting the tube.
Cut along the lines. Keep going around and around until....

Yeah! Bias tape.
you have one big long bias strip!

At this point, you can press it into bias tape or sew it around cord for piping!

DIY bias tape
Or just roll it up for later!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Drawstring fabric gift bag

striped bag
As long as I'm on the subject of making gifts look nice, why not sew up some quick and easy gift bags?

For this striped bag, I used:
Two pieces of fabric 7" x 14". (2.5" of this will be folded over for the cuff.)
Two pieces (each about 24") of seam binding, ribbon, or sewn-together bias tape
Small scraps of cloth or fabric flowers

To start, sew on small pieces of scrap fabric for decoration. Use a zig zag stitch or even leave some of the raw edges to create a "fringe." (See the orange bag below.)
decoration detail
On the wrong side of the fabric, on one side edge, place a mark 4.5"" from the top of the bag. Place another mark 3.75" from the top of the bag. Mark the other side edge in the same places.
bag sketch

Using 1/4" seam allowance, sew the two pieces of fabric together along the sides and bottom edges, leaving the spaces between the marks open.

Press the seams open at least as far down as the holes.
press open seams

Fold the top edge down 1/4' and press. Fold the top down again another 2.25". fold cuff over
Stitch along the bottom of the cuff, close to the pressed edge.
Create the channel for your drawstrings by stitching again 1" away from the first stitching line. To keep your stitching line straight, you can first mark it with a disappearing pen. (Or you can just eyeball it!)

Turn the bag right side out.

Pin a safety pin to one end of one piece of the seam binding or ribbon. Work the seam binding into the channel, entering the hole on one side of the bag, going all the way around the bag, and coming out the same hole. Take the pin off, even up the ends of the binding and tie a knot.
With the other piece of binding, start in the opposite hole and do the same thing. (This creates two opposing cords, which making cinching the bag, well, a cinch!)

It's fun to alter the dimensions of the bag, or how big the cuff is, or even how long the drawstrings are.

Here are some more I did in different sizes:
polka dotted bag
This one started with fabric 10.5" x 6" and the cuff was folded over 3". (The marks are at 5.5" and 4.75")

orange bag
This one started with fabric 8.5" x 16" and the cuff was folded over 5". (The marks are at 9.5" and 8.75")

dark bag
I used an old dress shirt of Jay's for this one! Its measurements are the same as the polka dotted one.

So that's it. Easy, huh?

By they way, are you a follower of Smalltropolis yet?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


packaged hearts
I've finished making a whole pile of frayed ruffle hearts. They're cute the way they are, but to make them extra special, I'm putting them in pretty cellophane bags, with curly ribbons and hand-made tags. Sometimes I get lazy and don't spend the extra effort on great gift wrap, but it's so worth it, isn't it?

The other exciting part of this is I'm not just sending these hearts to family and friends. I've got 3 set aside for Aunt Peaches Valentine Swap! Yea!!!