Monday, May 31, 2010

Cake

Those of you that have been reading my blog for a long time may remember that I used to dabble in wedding cake decorating.

You may also remember that I swore I would never be doing weddings again.

I lied.

About a month ago, a friend contacted me about doing her niece's cake, and after a little thought, I decided I would give it a go. It was an opportunity to earn a little income, and in this tight economy, I just didn't feel right turning it down. I was able to give the bride a much better price than she could find elsewhere (for a downright delicious cake, I might add), and I was able to bring home some income for my little family.

Surprisingly, I *almost* enjoyed the process this time. I had forgotten what it was like to bake, assemble, and decorate a cake without a baby in the house. My kids are old enough now that I can send them up to their room to play, or turn on Sesame Street, and they are content to let me focus on my task without too many interruptions.

Don't quote me on this, but I just might hang onto those wedding cake supplies just a little while longer...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Scary Day

Yesterday, I thought that my computer was going to crash. I can't tell you just how fast I worked to make sure all important files were backed up to my external hard drive! All while dealing with strange seemingly systemic errors and stalls and frozen screens.

I don't like it when my computer is being weird.

I was feeling distraught...

and preparing myself for the worst case scenario...

until my Hero, my Knight in Shining Armor, came home and used all of his Super-User abilities to Save the Day...

Discovering, after many Smoke Monster, Shark-Attack, Brink-of-Insanity moments, that it was...

Drumroll, please...





A FAULTY MOUSE.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Sweet

Forget-Me-Nots seem to be springing up in all sorts of "Hey-I-didn't-plant-you-there" places this year. Perhaps that is how they earned their name?

Jack calls them "Forgive-Me Flowers", a mis-interpretation that I just might keep.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Outbid.

I was SO close to buying this oh-so-sweet sampler on ebay yesterday. I really wanted to reproduce it for you.

But I have set an absolute pay limit, and it went over. This time, I wish I had broken my own rule. I try to live with no regrets, but this morning, I am regretting.

The good news is that soon I will be able to offer a reproduction chart of this sampler, which I successfully purchased several months ago...

The chart pack should be ready for a late Summer or early Fall release. This will be my very first true reproduction, and I have 2 more waiting in the wings (or should I say, waiting on my walls?).

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Simple Pleasures

What is it about flames? Nothing seems to comfort and warm quite like a flickering (or blazing!) fire.

I look forward to woodstove season all Summer long, and look forward to campfire season all Winter long. The time in-between can sometimes drag on for what feels like forever. Too warm outside to overheat the house with a woodstove, but too cold in the evenings to start a campfire.

With warm days and cool-not-cold evenings this past weekend, we celebrated with the first outdoor fire of the season. Good friends, warm fire... ah, now that's more like it!

By the end of the evening, we were burning on one half while the other half froze, so the art of frequent body turning was being practiced, but no matter. We were in the Great Outdoors, gazing into a pit of flame and coals- I can't think of a more relaxing way to spend an evening.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

On a Recent Outing

On a recent sunny day, (it was Mother's Day, to be exact) we went on a little adventure together, just the four of us. It was the perfect weather for a drive in the Columbia River Gorge, so we headed out to the Bonneville Fish Hatchery, on the Oregon side of the Bonneville Dam.

This time of year, there isn't a whole lot going on there, since their Spring fish babies have already been released to the wild, but that is okay, because our favorite feature is the sturgeon pond, which is open all year round.

This bottom portion of a Douglas Fir tree has been placed in the pond for habitat purposes, and the old roots have sprouted a new little tree.
The sturgeon pond has a built-in viewing house, where visitors can see what life looks like under the surface.
It was perhaps the best fish-viewing day that I have ever experienced there, with sunlight streaming down through the water, casting light-shadows that played on the floor of the pond and on the backs of the swimming fish (the big one is a White Sturgeon).
I could have stood there for hours, just watching.Oh, and snapping a ridiculous amount of photos, too.But then I was almost eaten by a giant Rainbow Trout.I think Little Miss was more excited about the directional "FIS-IES!" painted on the walkways, than she was about the real ones in the pond.See how much has changed since our last visit.

After getting our fill at the hatchery, we drove a little further East along the Columbia River...to Cascade Locks and a little ice cream joint with a big reputation.This is their "medium" soft-serve cone. My stomach just about blew up after eating the "small".Big Brother thought that the "baby" size was just right. And I thought that our half-day adventure in celebration of Mother's Day was just right.

It was a gorgeous day, my sweet babies had a fun adventure, and I enjoyed watching them run ahead on the walking paths while I blissfully walked along behind, holding my sweetheart's hand.

Monday, May 17, 2010

2 Things I'm Really Excited About Today

1. My new cast iron bread pans, which have been my faithful companions over the last two weeks or so as I experimented and finally found the perfect recipe for 100% whole wheat sandwich bread (see previous post for the recipe). I became a cast-iron convert several years ago, and these bread pans are a wonder! I don't even have to wash them after baking sandwich bread, because nothing sticks to them. And that is what I call perfection.

2. My new American Lawn Mower Company reel mower. Yes, I said that I'm EXCITED about a lawn mower that is powered by nothing but ME!

When I was a teenager, I was often on lawn duty at home, and always found it to be a bit cathartic. When I married and moved out here to the country, where we have LOTS of lawn to be maintained, I again, was most often the mower, but this time on a riding unit, which was much less enjoyable to me, but I still liked mowing (yet I hate doing laundry... go figure).

When Jack was born, my lawnmowing duties came to a screeching halt. There is just no way to be on a noisy, gas-guzzling lawn mower while watching little ones.

This Spring, with the wonderful coming of a season in life with children who are old enough to play happily together for long periods of time, with only distant supervision needed, I had an idea... maybe, just maybe, I could regain my mowing abilities with a reel mower. I could get some much-needed excercise, keep an eye on the kids, all while improving the quality of my lawn and helping the quality of the air that we breathe as well.

And, after the first test run last evening, I am even more in love with my new mower. Granted, what used to take 5 minutes, now takes closer to 40, but it is good, solid, hands-on hard work in the fresh air and sunshine.

And this good, solid, hands-on kind of girl couldn't be happier.

100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread Recipe

After 4 failed attempts at making a sandwich bread that was both 100% whole wheat, but also light enough that it doesn't stick in my gullet, I finally have the right combination of ingredients.

Based on this recipe, but with adaptations from the past week and a half of experimenting, here is my very own highly-recommended recipe (if I do say so myself!) for anyone who is wanting to give up their dependency on store-bought whole wheat bread (which all-too-often is full of unneccesary preservatives and not-so-wholesome ingredients).

2 teaspoons active dry yeast (I recommend Bob's Red Mill brand)
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 1/2 Tablespoons molasses
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 cups 100% whole wheat flour, plus more for kneading

Measure yeast into a large mixing bowl. Add the warm water first, then the molasses (you could also use honey), oil, and salt. Gently combine, then stir in the flour until just combined.

Let this loose, shaggy dough rest, covered for 20 minutes.

Adding a sprinkling of whole wheat flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to fingers and countertop, knead for about 10 minutes, until it is fairly smooth and elastic.

Lightly oil the inside of your mixing bowl (I don't even bother to clean out the dough scraps, unless there is quite a lot left in there), form the kneaded dough into a ball, and let it rise, covered, for 1 to 2 hours, or until it is puffy and doubled in size.

Gently deflate the dough, shape it into a log, and place it in a lightly greased 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 inch bread pan (I can't recommend cast iron enough). Cover with a damp, lightweight towel or lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow it to rise for about 1 hour, or until it has crowned about an inch over the rim of the pan.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes.

Friday, May 14, 2010

$25 Dining Room Facelift

I like my little dining room. It is full of light, with mustard yellow on the walls, and has bay windows that look out on the barn and orchard. It is small, and has a silly Tiffany pendant light shade covered in fruit that I picked out when I was dating the house-building Matt (my first contribution to the decor of the house, and we had yet to acknowledge that we were meant to be together for life). My dining room is the place where the four of us gather the most often, and where I attempt to nourish their bodies with my home-cooked foods (the younger two are still often reluctant, but they WILL learn!)

But for all of these years, there is one thing about that room that has continued to haunt my dreams. I have clenched my teeth almost every time I cleaned in the dining room, because no matter what I did, or how hard I scrubbed, those horrid, ugly, outdated chair pads would never, ever look good. The dining set itself has great bones- nice, solid, classic and simple design, with the perfect medium wood tone. And I have known for years that it would be an easy fix to make the last remnant of ugliness in that room disappear. But with no quick, easy access to a decent fabric store, and two young children to care for, somehow the project has been put off, and put off, and put off, for way too long.

But... NO MORE! Yesterday, in the company of a good friend who volunteered not only to feed us a yummy breakfast, but to also play with the kids while I shopped, we made the excursion to Fabric Depot, a place well-worthy of an excursion (click the link, you won't be sorry).

While browsing the decorator fabric section, I instantly fell in love with this:

Way more modern than my usual taste, but somehow reminiscent of flowers on an old Fraktur certificate, with just the right amount of whimsy to make me happy, and the most perfect balance of colors to suit the dining room. But at $25 a yard, I was a little hesitant, knowing that I would need at least 1 1/2 yards to cover all four chairs. As I was tugging on the fabric roll to pull more out and more accurately measure what I might need, a large remnant piece fell off of the roll... a remnant? Oh glory be! I raced it over to the cutting table, and sure enough, it was 2 yards, and they would let me have it for 50% off! Thank you, Jesus, for that nice little surprise.

And now that you have stuck with me for an unneccesarily long story, here are the before and after shots:

The only before picture I could find of the dining room, with very purposely inconspicuous chair cushions, and a baby Katie cleaning the floor with her belly.

Not a super dramatic transformation, since most of the room has remained the same, but facelifts are supposed to be subtle, right?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Uh-Oh

Look who has been spending time around here lately...

Four male Blacktail Deer hanging together... so peaceful and serene...

See that dirt in the foreground? That's my vegetable garden.

Time to hook up the Mattinator 8000!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A New Baby in the Family

On May 7th, we were very happy to add a new cousin to the growing collection.

Born to Matt's sister, she is a "surprise" baby, and has been much anticipated. She kept us in suspense, too, waiting two whole weeks past her due date (fashionably late?) before finally putting in an appearance.

The kids were very happy to meet her...


And her big sister is positively smitten.

Monday, May 10, 2010

New Pattern Release... Great Grandma Ida's Birth Sampler


Read more about Ida's life.

Because this is an alphabet sampler, you will be able to easily customize it to honor the life or death of someone you love. If you wish to represent any country of the world, other than the already included American flag, I will chart it for you and add to your sampler pack by request.

There is also an instruction sheet telling you my method of inserting a photograph into the finished sampler.

Stitch Count: 110 x 170
Model stitched on Weeks Dye Works 35ct. Linen-colored linen
Using flosses from The Gentle Art: Dried Thyme, Pomegranate, Blackboard, Endive
And flosses from Weeks Dye Works: Havana, Red Pear, Sand, Teal Frost
Conversion to DMC provided inside.

You may purchase the pattern through my etsy shop, but if you aren't an etsy user, you can contact me directly via email: beth@heartstringsamplery.com

You can also wait and buy from your local needlework shop. My distributors will receive their shipment early next week. If your LNS doesn't carry my designs, ask! I am still so new to the market that there are many out there who don't know about my work, and I am counting on you to help spread the word.

Friday, May 07, 2010

My Great Grandma Ida

Ida Mary Walz was born in 1882 in Chicago, the only child of a short and somewhat mysterious marriage. There are few records from her early life, and she never wanted to speak of it. It is known that she attended school until about the 8th grade, and in 1894 she moved to Washington state with her Grandparents, who apparently were raising her. It isn’t known what happened to her Mother, other than records of a later marriage and children followed by an early death at 53 years of age.

In 1903, at the age of 21, Ida married George Whittaker, an English immigrant. They helped work the farms of two of George’s uncles until 1909, when they were able to buy the 150 acre family homestead (for $6000!).

They had 10 children, the first born in 1904, the last born in 1928; 9 of them survived into adulthood, but one, a little boy named Floyd Jeffry, died when he was just a year and a half old (the following photo is not of Floyd, but of George, her firstborn).

According to the memoir of one of her daughters, “Mother sang beautifully. We would always beg her to sing to us when we were sick or feeling badly. She helped us with our harmony and we’d often sing together around the piano.” And, “If we had a problem we would sit on the woodbox and talk to Mother while she was cooking. Somehow this seemed a good place to bare one’s soul. Many a heartache was soothed in that old kitchen.”

The boy in the middle of the above photo is my Grandpa.

As was the case with most farming families of the time, they were very self-sufficient, raising almost all of their food, even the wheat for flour. There were always large stores of canned, dried, and cured food put away for the Winter, as well as piles of wood for heating the house, and lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs and milk in the Summer months.

Ida died in 1975 at 92 years of age. She was survived by 6 daughters, 3 sons, 20 grandchildren, & 22 great-grandchildren (one of the 22 is me, but sadly, I was too young when she died to remember her, the only one of my Great-Grandmas whose life overlapped mine... and no, that isn't baby-me in the photo, it is my older sister).

My Great Grandma Dagmar

Marie Dagmar Nielsen was born in 1875 in Denmark. Her mother died when she was 11 years old. When she finished her required 7 years of school at the age of 14, she was apprenticed in the delicatessen trade, learning to make sausage and cheese. She later had several housekeeping jobs and helped care for people who were sick.

In 1907, at the age of 32, she met Niels Gregers Nielsen. An excerpt from a letter written to my Grandmother by a cousin tells the story of how they came to meet. “Your father were home in Denmark for christmas 1907. He stayd by his father, and a couple of days he go to visit my parents. And there he said: “I must find a girl, I can take with me to USA” My mother said: “Your uncle have a housekeeper. Her name is Dagmar and she is a handsom girl.” Then your father said: “Well let’s go to take a look at Dagmar” !!! —and shortly they were married!”

A family legend tells the story of their engagement: “During their courtship, Niels & Dagmar walked to visit friends. They crossed an icy lake that was partially thawing. They slipped and Dagmar fell on top of Niels. “Dagmar wouldn’t let me up until I agreed to get married” he never stopped teasing her about that.”

One week after their marriage in February 1908, Niels and Dagmar departed for the USA, where Niels had previously worked for several years. They first lived in Wyoming where there was work for a blacksmith in the coal mines, and Dagmar took in boarders. Three little boys were born to them there, but the first two died in infancy.

In 1913, they moved to Washington State and tried their hand at farming, but Niels much preferred the work of a blacksmith, so Dagmar, who had some experience with animals, would milk 30 cows each day. She said that her arms would ache badly from the chore. As a gesture of appreciation, after delivering the milk to town one day, Niels brought home 6 flats of peaches, which she then had to can.

Their fourth child, my Grandmother Clara, was born in 1915.

They were somewhat successful on their farm, selling milk for high prices during WWI, and being able to pay off their mortgage. Then, during the Depression, when milk had little value, they sold eggs and chickens as their main source of income.


Dagmar enjoyed photography, knitting, and liked to play cards. She was known for her cooking skills and was a very good seamstress. She was a quiet person with a fun-loving personality, and always enjoyed a good joke.

She died in 1945 at 70 years of age.