The New Home Economics


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Let’s call it a year

A week ago, we made our final harvest of 2012:

blanched leeks

We did great on the blanching part of growing leeks, but they stayed very skinny. I think I may change my method somewhat next year, and make the holes that I drop them into a bit wider. They still tasted great in a potato-leek soup, however.

gingerbread house

Last weekend, we made a gingerbread house from scratch. (Recipe here, though we used considerably less frosting.) I had no idea how much work was involved, and with the rest time between steps, it ended up taking 3 days. We busted it up and ate part of it while watching Rudolph on Tuesday night, and froze the rest. It was delicious. New family tradition, perhaps?

The effort with the gingerbread house satisfied my Christmas sweets-making needs, so this year we’re skipping our sea salt caramels and coconut haystacks. We did make karova cookies, though—I’ve had several requests from co-workers.

Blake the fairy dogWe had a great Thanksgiving “up north” in central Minnesota. It snowed all day, so we stayed in, and eventually libations came out. I found this picture of our poor dog Blake on my camera a few days later. Not sure where I was when this happened!

hipsterholdsters

The Christmas crafting continues unabated. I was going to post a detailed how-to for these little homemade “holdsters” that Adam’s been making for many people on our list, but he’s run into some snags. Leather is a bit fickle to work with—two pieces can seem to be the same thickness but after being treated with the stain, some will shrink down. So Adam didn’t really feel comfortable posting specific measurements. But if you have a basic leather toolkit, 5 rivets (or 3 if you leave off the handle), a tape measure and a sample wide-mouth pint jar you should be able to figure this out.

DIY skinny jeansJeans that fit well are so hard to find. I was lamenting this to a friend who admitted that she simply converted all her well-fitting flared jeans to “skinny” with a sewing machine. Why did I never think of that?! It was a super easy project that even I, of few sewing skills, handled pretty easily. The key is to try on the jeans inside out, pin them, sew a loose line, try on again to check, then sew a double seam and cut. And it should be easy to rip out the seams and sew in some filler material when flares come back in, which I assume is only a year or two away, right?

Christmas time is hereWe got 11 inches of heavy, wet snow in the Twin Cities yesterday, so winter has really and truly arrived. We kept a fire going all day to ensure that our chimney would not get plugged. We felt the devastating consequences of that very problem in 2010, when Santa had to come in the front door. The kids were very concerned about it.

I will most likely not be back here until my post-Christmas wrap-up and budgeting stuff—we are on track to hold expenses to the line this year, for the first time in a long time. More on that later. In the meantime, I wish you a warm and happy holiday season!


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Cargo bike!

Finally, my Christmas wish from 2009 has come true. We are the proud new owners of a Sun Atlas cargo bike! Here’s Adam and the kids riding it home from the farmers market last weekend:

Why a cargo bike? Well, the kids outgrew their baby carriage and I needed a way to get them to preschool in the mornings this fall.

Why the Sun Atlas? Price was the deciding factor — it’s among the most affordable complete cargo bikes we’ve seen, and we’ve been shopping around for a long time.  We looked at Xtracycle, Yuba Mundo, an Electra Townie with Xtracycle FreeRadical add-on (which was affordable but uncomfortable), and we also even fantasized about the Big Dummy or (be still my Dutch heart) a bak fiet.  But our tight budget won out in the end, and we went with this very comfortable, affordable, versatile solution.

The other thing was this: I’m four inches taller than Adam, and in order to justify spending this kind of dough on a bike we wanted to be able to share it.  That meant a frame that was made for sharing — the seat is easy to adjust and at an angle such that it moves farther away from the handlebars the higher you raise it, making on-the-fly adjustments easy.

So enter the Sun Atlas, which we were lucky enough to be able to test ride — both of us — and buy at Varsity Bikes in dinkytown.  This bike is no Big Dummy; many of the components are a bit on the cheap side: the center kick-stand, for example.  But Adam’s a pro at finding gently used bike parts on eBay so we should have no problem swapping out various components as that becomes necessary.  The frame and the wheelset are the most important things right now, and they rock!

Here’s how we customized it for four-year-old twin transport:

mountain bike bar ends - or foot pegs

First, Adam picked up two sets of mountain bike bar ends from the salvage bin at the Hub to attach for foot pegs, so the kids’ feet wouldn’t just be hanging there.  Here’s how the look on: (with princess shoes of course)

However, their heels were still dangerously close, at times, to those spinning spokes, so we also decided to go for it and get the Xtracycle bags. The Sun Atlas is made to be compatible with most Xtracycle accessories. They’re not necessary for hauling kids, obviously, but they’ll make the bike much more useful in the long run.

Here was our solution for something to hold on to:

Stem from the Hub salvage yard, and an inexpensive set of handlebars and grips, considerably cheaper than the Xtracycle “stoker bar.”

Finally, we did a bit of sewing — a bit of colorful canvas and some foam from the fabric store and we had a nice little pad for the kids to sit on.  ALL SET!

Sun Atlas Cargo bike

The first couple times we took this out the kids were a little nervous, but now… well now they barely even hang on and I have to warn them when we’re about to go over potholes.  Anneke sits in front and holds on to the handlebars and Rowan usually just holds on to the bar under the pad.

This thing is A BLAST to ride. Much easier than pulling the baby carriage, even with 75 lbs of kids on the back.  And the basket that Adam bought me for my birthday last year fits perfectly on the front! This bike is the bees’ knees.  It was worth the wait!


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DIY arm warmers

Arm warmers are pretty handy for bike commuting.  You leave your house and it’s 50 degrees but soon it’s 60, and you don’t exactly want to pull over to the side of the road to change clothes.  The spandex crowd Serious cyclists pay anywhere from $20-$50 for a pair of arm warmers — and they are really nice; I’ve checked them out.  My friend CJ makes them from the sleeves of old wool sweaters that she buys from Good Will.  I would love to knit myself some, but I haven’t knit anything in a really long time.  I can only do so much, y’know!

This week, I made myself some nifty arm warmers for FREE with an old pair of over-the-knee socks.  Here’s how I did it:

I cut off the toes and a small circle of heel.  I hemmed the toe end with the sewing machine, and the thumbhole by hand.  Took a little under an hour, total (and most of that time I was watching Curb Your Enthusiasm while doing the hand-sewing).  It was cool enough outside on Friday to try them out:

And a couple of detail shots — I may not be a super talented seamstress but they are definitely functional.

I’m jazzed about these!  They match my bike so perfectly that I’m about now ready to enter the next phase of hipsterdom.


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Getting organized

This happens to me every year in January — I want to throw out everything and simplify my life.  This year, in addition to my Master Gardener classes, work, and baking bread like a maniac, I’m also reading a parenting book.  I haven’t read one since the kids were born, so it was about time.  The book is Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne.

I’m only about 1/3 of the way in, but one of his recommendations is to dramatically reduce the number of toys in your household.  We don’t have excessive numbers of toys, but I still did manage to get rid of one very large box.  Then I organized the remaining toys in fabric bins from Target — we’ve been using them for a long time because they fit so perfectly on our bookshelf.

The bins were a bit disorganized, so this weekend I dusted off the sewing machine and cut up some old jeans and made these simple labels for them:

I just sewed around the edges and will let the denim get a natural fringe over time.  Adam drew the little pictures with a Sharpie. (Hey, it’s minimalist crafting!) Then I safety-pinned the labels on the boxes — that way if we change things up later they will be easy to remove.  These labels aren’t perfect — the “cars” one has all their four-wheeled vehicles in it, and the Barbie one also has ponies in it, but we tried to keep it as simple as possible.  We did need two whole bins for dress-up clothes:

Wouldn’t Amanda Soule be proud of me right now?  I’d like to think so…  And I will definitely post a review of the book when I finish it.


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Darning socks.

Well, it’s now come to darning socks.  I’ve been throwing every pair of socks that develops a hole onto a big pile in the basement.  Now I want to wear them, especially the wool ones.  Sandal season is over.  I need socks!

darning1

I have no idea if I did this right or not.  Needle, thread, and sewed up the hole nice and tight.  That’s it.  I wore a pair to work today and they were perfectly comfortable.  I feel kinda weird writing about it, but this is not something I ever would have done until money became so tight.

darning2

Only one thing to note: watching a foreign film and sewing simultaneously doesn’t really work.  Anyway, there you go Christina, finally something to tag with “sewing.”


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Does sewing fit in?

sewingmachineWhen I wrote up my initial description of a new liberal art called New Home Economics, I debated whether or not to include sewing. Sewing, knitting, and the like were definitely part of the “old” Home Economics. I’m reading a really old Home Economics book (from the 1800s) right now and the author goes on and on about knitting your own stockings, weaving your own straw hats, etc.

My first instinct was to not include sewing. I had to draw the line somewhere, and I thought it would be better to focus more on daily activities — eating and basic household stuff — in order to make the biggest impact. Most of us don’t buy clothes every single day. Plus, at some point getting all DIY about everything becomes unrealistic when you work full-time. Part of the reason we are able to do a lot of the from-scratch cooking we do is that Adam is home part-time. He can whip out a pot of dried beans on a Monday. We don’t have to cram every single thing into Saturday and Sunday.

When I think about attempting to make even some of my own or my kids’ clothes, I  feel overwhelmed. I enjoy knitting, and I sew a little bit (hemmed some curtains 3 years ago). I knitted a couple of pairs of mittens last year, and considered that an accomplishment. We DO buy a lot of our clothes second-hand, so that’s something.

But maybe there’s a place for sewing. I just noticed that one of the sheets for my bed has a hole in it. I hate to throw out that whole sheet, when most of it is still perfectly good. What else could I do with it?  I also have some old dish towels that my grandma embroidered for me that I am saving. I want to turn them into some cloth napkins, and maybe a bread bag or two. When will I get around to this? Hard to say.

pileoftowels

Realistically, we’re not ever going to see huge numbers of people sewing all their own clothes. But what if people darned their socks? Sewed buttons back on? Repaired tears to jackets or mittens or pants? Most of us do at least some of those things, but could we do more?  Could I do more?

Maybe it comes down to being more conscious of what we throw away and purchase new, and examining each with much more care than we used to. So I am hereby creating a small checklist that I will try to complete before throwing a piece of clothing, or really anything at all, away:

1) Can this be repaired and still used?
2) If not, can it be taken apart and used for something else?
3) If I must dump this, can any part of it be recycled or composted?
4) If I must replace this, can I replace it with something that I can buy second-hand? Something that is more energy-efficient?

Do you think sewing should be included, or would that be taking New Home Economics too far?