Saturday, 5 March 2011

This Time - Just Sewing, Baking and Cooking

The spring is still not here. Not that there's anything even remotely surprising about that. That, my dears, is what you get for living at the Arctic Circle. Yep, the sun is back. The snow is melting. But there's just soooo much of it! Damn and crap. But hey, bring on the optimism. Bring on the spring clothes. And I have the perfect excuse. I have dropped down almost three dress sizes since last summer so, bring on the new spring clothes. And just as a side note, this drop was not intentional and is still continuing for some weirdo reason, so I will need stuff that I can simply scale down if and when needed. And, I intend to make everything myself! Just don't kill me if I slip with a pair of jeans or a leather jacket or some such...though I promise to try and find the jacket at least second hand...

A few days ago I made a trip to a major fabric store, followed by a peek at what one major clothes chain had on offer for the spring. And the result was perplexing. And this time I'm not talking about the fit issue, though my top part still refuses to share a dress with by waist or my bottom half, but rather the simple fact of pricing. For the price of a whole dress in one of these chain stores, you could pretty much get half the fabric needed for it from the fabric store, never mind all the rest of the stuff needed to bring the piece together. And never mind the price of your own work. Why bother, then, you might ask. Well, I'll tell you. Because you get the fit. You get one of a kind styling and one of a kind quality. And you're not adding to the mindless consumerism by buying clothing that you wear twice and then throw away because you need the next trend already waiting in the wings. So...

It's been a long time that I've wanted a new wiggle skirt, one with a sort of mermaidy back, so  no better time than the present, eh. For the fabric I chose dark wash denim with some stretch, and having had no luck whatsoever with finding the perfect pattern I eventually ripped up an old skirt that hasn't fit me for more than five years now but that was exactly the shape I wanted. Drew a new pattern based on the pieces, cut the fabric and off to the sewing machine. The waist is lined with self-fabric band and I hand sewed the zipper on, simply because I absolutely loathe machine sewing zippers. The hem is also hand sewed, using slipstitching. This time simply because I am a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to hemming, and since the back part is curved, I just wanted to be able to control the easing in as I went. The waist is very high, the original skirt was not this high, but I just drafted a new waist line and added some darts at the front to get a perfect fit. As you can see it fits close, but because of the stretch in the fabric, yes indeed, breathing is still an option...

I have been waiting for a picture for eeeteernity
and still manage to be without 
so here's what it's pretty much like...
....except nix the buttons.

My second project was a Burda blouse from the  January 2011 issue that was pictured with a skirt that is actually also on my list, along with the 1940's style top also shown. I wanted a summery, feminine blouse, so chose a pale blue cotton sateen with miniature white polkadots. And, as the pattern was drawn for the B/C-cup, I again did the FBA ( full bust adjustment ) that I could probably do in my sleep by now, and added some length to the back piece as well. As I wanted to have the possibility of wearing the top, well, on top of whatever was going to be on the bottom, I changed the hemline from straight to curved at the sides. And yeah, did the same to the collar points which are now much rounder....

And I thought I ironed it...

The pattern uses regular buttons and buttonholes, but I again wanted something a bit more special, so decided to use self covered buttons and loop closure ( yeah, I know, setting myself up for some serious gray hairs there...). Both in the front and on the sleeves. Also, on fitting, the sleeves seemed a bit too wide at the end and also strangely flat in the front, so I ended up adding an inverted pleat on both sleeves at the front. I just looooove improvising...

Buttons and W.H.Auden...

Button and placket...

Because of the full bust adjustment, the waist darts on the front obviously needed re-placing and re-adjusting, because not only do I need one size on shoulders, an FBA on the bust, I also need to take in the waist a notch as well because the same size that fits me on shoulders otherwise does not fit me on the waist. Phewww. See, I wasn't kidding about the fitting issues... And since I know from experience that the back darts just never hit the right place on me anyway, I just put on the skeleton of the blouse on myself, inside out, and pinned the darts on place wherever I wanted them. Yes. On the back too. And no, I do not own a dress dummy. At least I get to put my years as a gymnast to some use by being able to pin my own back darts while wearing the half-finished piece. But seriously, I obviously basted them first before actually permanently stitching them in place. Still intending to stitch some tape to the inside of the neckline...

Next stop, blue jersey dress that was originally a mock wrap on top, but ended up becoming, well, something else altogether. Wraps do not work on me, no matter what they say about ladies-with-large-boobs and wraptops. They also say a lot of things about the same ladies and haltertops.... And I wonder if they've ever actually tried being one of those said ladies and wearing one of those halter thingies without practically decapitating themselves. But anyhow, a blue dress on the way.

And since I don't have a pic 
of the dress 
as its still in pieces on my bedroom floor
here's a little flower brooch I made
and wore last weekend
with a thrift store find sweater...

Righty 'o then, outside covered. But don't want to shrink so I can't wear my lovely new Me Made wardrobe so as per my Daughters wishes, yesterday we made a lovely, cheesy, tomatoey lasagna. And Sugar Donut Muffins. With raspberry jam. And sugar on top. See, no need to worry about me disappearing into the woodwork any time soon now, dears. 

As for the lasagna, I once heard somebody asking for tomato ketchup to put on top of their lasagna. Oooops. Well, if somebody thought they needed to put ketchup on Me Made Lasagna I would tell myself to seriously reconsider the way I was cooking. We Are Talking About A Tomato Based Dish Here. You should not need to add ketchup to it.  And you won't, not if you make it my way.

Tomatoey Cheesey Lasagna Thingey

olive oil
one onion
three gloves of garlic
can of chopped tomatoes
tomato puree
can of tuna chunks in oil
any meat of your choice
salt and sugar

and for the bechamel sauce...

about 50 grams of butter
couple of tablespoons of flour
1/2 to 3/4 of a litre of milk
one cup or 2.5 dl grated cheese
white pepper

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan, chop the onion and place in pan, not too hot in order not to burn. Peel the garlic, squash and chop and add. Cook until golden. Add chopped tomatoes and a couple of spoons of water. Lower the heat and let simmer. Add the tuna or pre-cooked meat. Add half a cup or 1.25dl of tomato puree. Simmer, again. Next, add salt and sugar, equal measure. I usually just throw in some, but I'd say go with about half a teaspoon to a teaspoon. Add the spices and let simmer on very low heat while you prepare the bechamel.

Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed pan, when completely melted, add the flour and immediately whisk the flour into the butter to form a sort of paste. I use a small hand whisk. Then pour in the milk, whisking all the while in order to not have those unsightly clumps and globs. Lower the heat and let simmer, whisking every now and then. Keep an eye on things here though, milk does not behave... When the sauce starts to thicken, add the salt and white pepper, again about half a teaspoon, and then the grated cheese. At this point, change your whisk to a spoon unless you fancy a weird clumpy thing previously known as whisk that just ate all your cheese. Keep stirring until you have a nice, saucey consistency.

Start layering by beginning with a base of tomato sauce, topped with bechamel and a layer of pasta, then tomato, bechamel, and infinum.. When you reach the top of your dish, only cover the last layer of pasta with the bechamel sauce on top of which add a generous layer of grated cheese. Cover with foil and place in an oven at about 220C for about half an hour. Then remove the foil and cook for another 20 minutes or so until golden on top. No ketchup needed. Promise.

And for the dessert, Sugar Donut Muffins With Raspberry Jam. 

The recipe you can find here
Baking Bites

Yeah, what can I say, I am a woman who can appreciate the finer things in life such as lasagna-that-does-not-ketchup-need and donutlike muffins, not to mention some seriously nifty hand sewn button loops and hems. Weeheehee. And now I'm going to go back to my Madwoman in the Attic ie. The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination and some smooth tunes. As a matter of fact, I think there just might be some of those donut thingies left over somewhere..

And here's to hoping the sun will get down to business...

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Happy Home And Speaking Trees

Home. Happiness. How much can you tell about someone on seeing their home? On feeling their home? Can you tell if people living there are happy? And where does happiness come from anyway... Oooh yes. Me, I am eternally curious. And that there on the left is our home. Are we happy? What does our home feel like?

I recently saw an article somewhere online saying that the endless pursuit people have these days of this elusive concept of happiness has actually made the whole 'search' one of the major things constituting for unhappiness. Don't doubt that for a second. Just think of the endless articles in glossy magazines, of those shelves after shelves of self-help books crowding any book store telling you how to become happy. How, if you just follow 'the advice of the day' you too can become it. For an hour. Or two. Until you read in some other magazine, some other book, some other way that simply has to be tried. Frankly, I got decidedly unhappy just now only thinking about that...

 And you know what, I don't even think you can 'find' happiness. I don't think it 'comes' from anywhere. So how does one 'get' happy then? How the hell did I end up like this? And does that mean that I no longer ever get unhappy? Well, for starters, yes siree, I indeed do get unhappy. I have the most bluest bouts of the blues. Mood indigo. But you know what, they go away. Because in my core, there is happiness that stems, I think, from acceptance. Acceptance of my life, as is. And yet I find myself asking what is there for me to be happy about? How can I accept my life the way it is, when it is so far from being the picture perfect life one would be tempted to think is necessary for one to be happy? How can I feel happy when I, in the eyes of the world, probably don't have that much to be happy about? Well, just call me weird like that.

I am not rich. I do not own houses, land, properties. I'm divorced. I've chosen a vocation that in terms of income at least is certainly nothing if not unpredictable. I live in a rented, two bed-room apartment in an old, rickety building. Heading for forty, fast. And as would naturally happen, my bits and pieces are heading south even faster than that. Can't fight the gravity. I'm a single mom, of sorts. I say of sorts, since I am not exactly, either in theory or practice. We have a joint custody, and the Daughter gets to spend as much time as she wants with her Dad. As it should be. And yeah, it's also very unlikely that I will ever have more children. Phewww. Happy woman, eh?

And you know what. Bollocks to all that. Sure, money does not grow in our household. But other things do. Love. Patience. Creativity. Freedom to be who you are. Granted, the occasional dust poodle under the sofa also keep growing inexcusably fatter by the day but hey, they will make a geart science project for the Daughter one day. It's life. And this is how I live it.

Yeah, and I'm heading for forty, and I'm single, and a mother. Weeheyy. Well, the important thing first. Damn straight I'm a Mother. Like I've said many times before, that's the best thing that ever happened to me and for her I'll fight whatever this life chooses to throw my way. And it is also for her too that I've chosen the career that I have. To have more time with her. To be not so tied to nine-to-five schedules. To have more freedom to live. To teach her that it is more important to feed your soul than your bank balance. That joy in what you do far outweighs any financial gain. To show her that if you're not happy in what you do, you need to change directions. I want her to learn to look at the beauty of things, rather than to think how much they're worth. Don't loose your soul and gain the world...

Don't need the dreadlocks to 
get the wisdom
of that

And forty? Fine by me. All I can say is I wish I knew twenty years ago all the things I know now. But that's not how it goes. Life teaches you. And to learn from life you must live it. So, welcome, forty, when it's your time. And yeah, I've had my heart broken. Again, so it goes. But you know what the Japanese do when a piece of porcelain breaks, they fix it so the place where it got broken remains visible. Because it shows life. Broken hearts. Dents in your soul. Scars. They should not be hidden, to be something shameful. Without them, we wouldn't be who we are. And going through them, healing yourself, not becoming bitter, but believing still in the beauty of life, is, indeed, the beauty in growing older. 

And love. The very word. Well, I have people around me who love me. Whom I love. Lucky me. Yep, again. Lucky me. 

The other day someone asked me to describe the style of our home. I laughed. Sputtered. Coughed. And finally came out with relaxed-bohemian-gone-mental. Seriously, now. What would anyone think of our home... I love our old building. I even love the old building smell in the staircase. It's a small house, with only a few neighbors. And when my next door neighbor plays his strange music at nights I can its echo through my bedroom wall. Him and my downstairs neighbors circulate one newspaper every day. When the old chap downstairs fell on ice, it was the neighbors who helped him to the hospital, and who make sure he's ok now that he is at home again. We have a communal sauna downstairs, and sometimes I get a knock on the door with one of the neighbors saying they won't be using their time slot, so 'us girls' can go ahead. And if I forget to put the car engine heater cable on in the evening, it will invariably be put on by some good fairy I strongly suspect to be my slightly strange neighbor.  Yeah. I like my home. 

And I want to make
me one of these...

Half of the walls in the living room are covered by floor to ceiling bookshelves. There's an old radio my Father brought from Norway, still in perfect working order, standing on its legs next to one wall. I can listen to the world radio on it. Lots of photograps of the people I love everywhere. A huge squishy sofa that once was white but thanks to a couple of changes of home, two now gone feisty cats and one dog puppy who still had to learn not to rip the pillows to pieces, is now covered in various blankets and throws in various shades of white and cream, with a huge fluffy green wool blanket thrown on top. And lots of pillows, some with bright embroidered flowers. There's no ceiling lamp. Haven't gotten around to finding one that I like. So there are small lamps and candles dotted around the room. White cotton rug on the floor. With modelling clay and various other substances making it much more colorful every time as soon as it's come from being washed. No chance of this room ever being cold and impersonal. Or boring.

And the snaking electric
cord down there
is such a touch, eh....

And there's an armchair in the kitchen as well, with a reading lamp next to it. Someone once exclaimed on seeing this that '' This is certainly your home! You have a reading nook in your kitchen!''. So I do. The coffee machine, a tiny one, sits conveniently on the counter-top nearby, and the radiator behind the chair provides not only perfect place to keep my coffee cup but also makes my nook fantastically warm even on the coldest of days. And from here you can see to my bedroom, with its huge cast iron bed and masses of pillows. Covered in vintage pillowcases. And of course, books everywhere. The Daughter sleeps in her room right behind the wall of my bedroom. In her white iron princess bed. And of course, next to her nightstand, with a pile of books on it, and sharing a corner with her wooden dollhouse, stands another armchair. An old one. Frankly, falling-to-pieces-old. In which I sit reading when she is falling asleep...

As night-time stories go,
we've been through
astronauts and space oddities,
princesses and little einsteins,
Dumbo and Pooh.
Pretty much anything goes,
as long as I
make the characters speak...
...and do you know how a
spacecraft speaks...

No, make that I love my home. It has a lot of personality. It could not be anyone elses. It is not generic. It did not come from any furniture warehouse or design magazine. We've made it ours. Whenever I walk in the door, I can feel at home. There's nothing insignificant in there, everything has its story to tell.  Yes, even the half eaten piece of toast forgotten on the kitchen counter during morning rush. Should you demand order-at-all-times, no-clutter-ever, you'd soon be going bonkers in our happy little house of, errrm, creative chaos...

Damn straight.

And the house itself, it speaks. The doors squeak. The floors make strange sounds. The rain and sleet as they hit the windowsill outside have their very own drumming band. And the trees around the house converse with it. They share their secrets, early in the morning, late at night. Just recently I spoke to someone about the forest speaking. He did not understand. Well, you tell me, does it not? Sometimes, the song of the trees is gentle like a mother rocking her baby to sleep. Sometimes, the trees shout, they wail. And the house answers. Yes, I know. It says. I know. Hang in there. It's not our time to go yet. We have a purpose. We all do. I might be old, the house says. But I bring happiness to these people that live in me. And they to me. Wait. It says. The spring is almost here. And then these happy, funny, crazy people in me will come out and run among all you trees out there. They will sit under you. Yeah, the big blonde one, she might even hug you. The small beautiful one, she certainly will. Just hang in there. 

Frozen backyard birches.
Sun, you've got
some job to do yet...

So. Yes. I think you can tell a hell of a lot about someone just by seeing their home. And even more by feeling their home. I think our home feels happy. I think it feels warm. And more than anything, it is our home. Should you be dropping by, as a friend, just knock and come on in. There's always space in our home for you, just be prepared to move away a couple of piles of books, some unfinished sewing stuff, a few toys and maybe a dust poodle or two, but after that, just cuddle up in the pillows and blankets and well, make yourself at home.

And yeah.
I listen to country music.
Just how un-cool
can I be...
...and just how little
can I care
if I am?