Friday Check-In

Boy watching caterpillar

This week was the second week of school. It’s the week where we start to settle into the routine, start to see where we might have some problems and try to think of solutions. It’s also a week in which the weather finally turned and the sun has been shining. It feels absolutely glorious after the rainy cold end of August. Now, on to some questions!

1. How are you moving forward at work?

Without a doubt, the single most exciting thing that happened to me this week was seeing my Kokka Messenger Bag on the U-Handbook Facebook page. I was dancing around the house with glee. The lady who designed the pattern liked the bag I made from it! It’s like being back in school and having the teacher like your creative writing assignment (which never happened to me, by the way). Total satisfaction. The bonus was a lot of new website traffic (hi, all, hope you’re sticking around!) and I discovered some neat folks by checking who was commenting!

2. How did you improve your home?

This week I managed to keep the house neat. It was an improvement over last week when we were in “a bomb exploded in here” mode for most of the week. I also put together a slightly wonky tent-like drapery for over the kid’s new kitchen playing area. It’s starting to look really cozy.

3. How did you take care of yourself?

Just this afternoon, I took myself off to Arnhem for a visit to the Dutch quilting guild’s annual show. It was wonderful to take a break and to soak up some inspiration. I’m trying to take more, smaller, meaningful breaks for myself. This outing was a winner. I came home feeling refreshed and energized.

4. How are things going with the daily writing project?

This week was the first time I nearly forgot to write a couple times. The days got away from me and somehow, after writing about it for the first time last week, part of my brain must have been satisfied with how far we’d gotten. But the point is to keep on writing every day. It wasn’t always so easy this week, but then on the train this afternoon I found myself bursting with ideas again. I’ve got seventeen dots now. That’s only fourteen away from my first full month. I can do it!

5. Talk about the picture.

Last night after dinner, I checked on my kale and sprouting broccoli plants. The white moths have been busy laying eggs this week and the larvae are not invited to the garden buffet! During my search, I found a caterpillar. The kids spent a good long time watching him crawl on the table and up and along this stick. We even watched the caterpillar poop. Seriously, who ever gets to see a caterpillar poop?! It was neat to see Peanut especially so engaged in watching this little creature.

As I’ve gotten more serious about my writing and my work, I feel a need to be more accountable for maintaining balance in my life and for working on long-term projects. In order to do that, I’ve decided to transform my Friday Moment into a Friday Check-in. Here’s the plan. Every Friday, I’ll post a picture and answer five questions. They will be about my work, my home, myself, my project or goal, and the picture. We’ll try it for a season and see how things go!

In My Kitchen: Meal Planning

Greens from the Garden

Purple and Green Basil Delight!

Polenta before

Plenta (joy!)

Summer Veg


I’m playing along with Heather over at Beauty that Moves. Here’s a look at what’s going on in my kitchen!

So excited that Heather’s back this week! I got all excited about joining in after a long summer ended up writing a rather emotional little post last week. But I also realized that I’ve come to rely on this weekly sharing for some good inspiration for my own kitchen. Cooking every day is a job that requires serious creativity. The ladies who share give me ideas about using ingredients, different combinations, and even meal plans. Most importantly, they remind me what’s in season here and elsewhere and just how beautiful the obligatory time we spend in our kitchens can be – if we let it!

Around here, school is starting here. One of our big shifts from summer into fall is that the after-work schedule picks up and I’m on my own with the kids a couple nights a week. As with all things in my life, this kind of situation requires some kind of strategy and hopefully a list or seven. Over the past few years, I’ve tried different approaches to meal planning and learned a few lessons along the way. My introduction to meal planning was a decision when we lived in Chicago to make pizza on Fridays. It had more to do with a new mixer and an obsession with learning to make a good yeast dough than simplifying our eating. Meal planning has evolved since then. I thought I’d share my current plan and maybe get to hear back what others are doing!

Working with themes or categories has turned out to be my favorite system. It limits my choices when planning a particular day and encourages me to look for meals that fit within the categories and make the family happy. I try to keep an updated list of favorites by category and that can help if I’m not feeling inspired. I plan a week or two weeks in advance, often just before grocery shopping. Sometimes I get to spend some quality time with a favorite cookbook and will fill in days with meals that fit the category. Here’s the game plan for this season with a current favorite for each category!

  • Monday: Soup (beef barley soup)
  • Tuesday: Pantry (polenta)
  • Wednesday: Fish (salmon steaks)
  • Thursday: Pasta (pasta salad)
  • Friday: Pizza (four-cheese pizza)
  • Weekend: one big meal, one easy meal
  • The schedule is flexible. This week, for example, it was just me and the kids on Wednesday but we’ll all be home on Thursday, so we are swapping fish and pasta. The actual plan lives in my agenda/weekly planner. I make a little colored box on each day right over the dinner hours and write the meal plan in there. It works well because any notes about going out to eat are right there. Notes about anyone eating elsewhere are there as well.

    As for this week’s pictures, the garden hasn’t been the massive bonanza I hoped for this year, but look at those beautiful greens! They were delicious, although my attempt at spelttoto (River Cottage Veg strikes again) wasn’t so nice. It may have something to do with using the wrong spelt. Ahem. As for the basil, I feel like I cracked the code this year! We have four happy, healthy basil pots on the window sill and enjoy eating from them once or twice a week. No pesto volumes yet, but this is fantastic!

    We have (or maybe I have) fallen hard for the River Cottage Veg polenta recipe. It is incredibly delicious, rich, and cheesy with so little work! It was divine with the veggies. It’s something about the buttery zucchini and sweet tomato sauce and cheesy polenta… I must stop or find myself in the kitchen making more! I ended up adding quite a bit more milk both times I made it, but that could be due to the type of polenta I’m using. I’d be curious about other peoples’ experiences.

    The cake is Sandkuchen that we decided to make when all other afternoon plans fell through due to first-week-of-first-grade exhaustion. I’ve got a thing for the Dr. Oetker recipes that’s related to a couple childhood years in Germany. The surprise ingredient in Sandkuchen is corn starch, as much corn starch as flour. It gives the cake a nice dense texture. Delicious!

    Let me know how things are going in your kitchen, then click that link and go see more kitchens at Beauty that Moves.

    Summer Camping: France

    The beach in Brittany

    Happy dancer

    House and fence


    Bench for little girls

    Crafting at the campground

    We had six weeks of summer vacation this year, meaning no school for six weeks. It’s a bit shorter here than in the States. Instead of getting ten weeks in the summer, we get six weeks and the extra vacation time comes during the school year. It makes for a more relaxed year. We like being able to plan a few smaller trips throughout the year.

    Our big trip was two weeks of camping in France. I think of it as my last right of passage for living in the Netherlands. The summer camping trip in France is a typical Dutch family vacation. It goes so far that the ANWB (the Dutch Triple-A) and the newspapers publish traffic alarms for when the roads in France will be especially busy with mainly Dutch vacation traffic. School is out on Friday and on Saturday, everyone from that region of the Netherlands (there are three) hits the road for France. They broke a record this year with over 800km of traffic jams on one Saturday. It’s a shocking phenomenon.

    We went to Brittany. It’s the part that sticks out way into the Atlantic and it’s farther away than you’d think! The first week was in a pretty little town called in Locronan close to the coast. We were with three other families and had a wonderful time. The kids were out of the tent and off to play with friends as soon as they were up. We went to the pool, we went to the beach, we went to a fantastic Celtic music festival in Quimper. Those kids danced so hard and so long and so joyfully, it was beautiful. I can’t remember seeing them look so happy and free. Loved it.

    The next week we went inland towards an area called the Perche. It was quiet. We got hopelessly lost on a little walk behind the campground and spent 45 minutes fighting our way through big stands of blackberries and stinging nettle. The way out involved sending Papa out to scout a route, climbing up onto big old hay bales, jumping down, and then getting through the stinging nettle before finding the road again. What did the kids say after that little adventure? “That was the best! I want to do it again!”

    I really enjoyed the quiet of this vacation. There weren’t a lot of touristy things to do or check off a list. We went by Carnac to see the Asterix and Obelix monoliths, a must for any boy who has access to the box set, right? We spent an afternoon in Chartres eating pizza for lunch and checking out the cathedral. Other than that, there wasn’t much to do. We hung out at the campsite. We made good use of the drawing and crafting time. The kids wanted to draw together and I (re)discovered how relaxing I find time with paper and pencil. It’s not that I can draw at all, it was just nice to lose myself in something that wasn’t an obligation.

    Now we’re back to school, back to work, back to routines and schedules. There’s goodness there, too, but it was really a break to have those days of nothingness and sitting outside. I just might be converted to a camping vacation after all!

    New Bibs New Plans

    Little Bird Bib

    Little Bird Bib

    Little Bird Bib

    Last week I took some time to put together a production schedule through the end of 2014. It’s organized by week and on basically has three categories; make, develop, and extra. Make is for the product I’m going to batch make, including fabric notes. Develop is for products I’m developing or improving. Extra is all the other stuff I need to do to keep my little shop running, packaging and banners for example. The idea of a production plan is ridiculously simple and basic, but this is the first time I’ve done it. I couldn’t be happier with the way it’s changed not only how I work, but how I feel about my work.

    For the past year, I’ve been making it up as I go. That meant making a lot of choices and usually making them based on intuition rather than information. Selecting fabric by intuition works. Making production decisions by intuition is not fun. The worst part of it was that it was impossible to know when I’d done enough. Every time I crossed one thing of the list, something else filled the spot almost immediately. My non-system left me feeling nervous and frustrated. A market date sent me into a making frenzy, but I also spent a good bit of my sewing time looking around my workroom wondering where to start.

    When it came to putting together my production plan, I set manageable goals. In my weekly schedule, there are only three to four hours of guaranteed daytime sewing time. The rest is full of kids, household, and the other shop work that needs to be done. I can sew in the evenings and on the weekends, but the first nine months of this endeavor taught me that working like that was bad for me, bad for my family, and not too much fun. I’m being realistic and with some luck, that will keep me happier and ultimately more productive.

    The unexpected magic came when I realized that a production plan was a great tool for organizing a lot of aspects of my business that I’ve been struggling with. Knowing what’s going to be new in my workroom and Etsy shop every week means it’s easier to plan blog and Facebook posts to support those additions. Make this week, blog about next week. Make now to prepare for the Lindenmarket on November 30. I also have some idea of how my inventory will build over the next few weeks, which means I also have a better idea of what supplies I need to have. Planning down to the fabrics I’ll use means fewer last minute panics about KAM snap colors (ahem). One week in, I’m pretty excited about how useful my production plan is going to be.

    All of this brings me to my latest batch of bibs! The fabric choice was inspired by friends who’ve just had a baby and gave him a lovely bird name. I got a bit emotional about it and decided to make a series of bibs in his honor. If you’re following me on Facebook, you know they are already in my shop here. They are a bright teal with dark purple birdies. Figuring out which fabric would best coordinate for the neutral was tough. Once I gave up on anything matchy-matchy, I found this lovely dark gray tan in my stash that lets those bright colors just pop! I’m very pleased with the results and hope you are, too!

    Friday Check-In (on Saturday)

    First Day of School 2014

    First Day of Schoool 2014

    I’ve been thinking about my Friday Moment posts. I love the picture and looking at all the other pictures people link to at Amanda Soule’s blog. As I’ve gotten more serious about my writing and my work, I feel a greater need o be accountable for maintaining balance in my life and for working on long-term projects. In order to do that, I’ve decided to transform my Friday Moment into a Friday Check-in. Here’s the plan. Every Friday, I’ll post a picture and answer five questions. They will be about my work, my home, myself, my project or goal, and the picture.

    We’ll try it for a season and see how things go! No points for starting on a weekend, right? I had to marinate the idea well!

    1. How are you moving forward at work?

    The most important thing I did at work was to create a production plan. For the first time since I started Earth Apple Studio, this puts making things first. Having the list on my board makes it difficult to convince myself that working on my website is improving business, which it isn’t because my business for now is to make and sell things!

    2. How did you improve your home?

    Here I’m lucky to be writing a day late because this weekend we purged. I mowed through the pile of newspapers and magazines deciding what to keep and recycle. Magazines get a year in our house, after that I tear out the interesting stuff and the rest goes to recycling. There are a couple exceptions, but they might not last much longer. Not so much space around here!

    3. How did you take care of yourself?

    On Thursday morning, things were clearly going poorly for me. I had the morning to myself and instead of sitting down to work, I sat down to browse the internet for any kind of junk I could find. It was junk because it was an excuse to not work. Just moment before total despair set in, I closed the computer, put on my shoes and went for a walk. We live next to the forest. I walked through the woods, felt the sun shine, saw the gorgeous purple heather in bloom, and got lost in constructive thoughts. It was good.

    4. How are things going with the daily writing project?

    Fabulous, fabulous, so fabulous! Here’s what happened. In one of my internet trolling sessions (they are too frequent), I ran across an article by Jamie Todd Rubin, who wrote every day for 373 days. It turns out the internet is bursting with articles about the value of writing every day. All written, no doubt, by aspiring writers who’ve committed themselves to writing every day (and this feels a bit like a rabbit hole). This one touched me because he writes about writing amidst the kids and the mess. It sounded all too familiar and I decided to do it. I’m putting a little dot in my notebook calendar next to every day I write (5 minutes counts, but it has to be every day) and so far there are eleven dots. My first goal was seven. Now I’m going for 31! Anyone with me? What I’m noticing is that I have more ideas. The writing flows better, and I’m actually editing myself more often – because there’s something to edit. All good. All exciting.

    5. Talk about the picture.

    The kids started back to school this week, pre-school and the first grade. They both had a great time and were completely exhausted at the end of the week. What’s crazy is we started school on August 25th and those kids are wearing fleece! I love how the first picture so accurately shows my thoughtful first grader and my eager pre-schooler. I love how the second picture shows how much fun they love to have and how much she adores him. That’s his favorite pose and she does it right along with him, every time.

    In My Kitchen: Rooted

    Chioggia Beets

    blogged at:

    Chioggia Beets

    Let me know how things are going in your kitchen, then click that link and go see more kitchens at Beauty that Moves.

    Yesterday I picked our four beets from the garden. They’re beautiful things, Chioggia beets that I grew from seed. They’ve got red and white rings on the inside, but I was too busy putting them straight into the oven for roasting to cut them open and look. We’ve been loving the Roasted Beetroot with Walnuts and Yoghurt Dressing from River Cottage Veg – a brilliant cookbook if there ever was one. I’ve never picked a beet before and it was a mini-adventure in my backyard. Selecting, pulling, rubbing off soil, and washing all put me in a meditative mode. Beets. Beetroot. Roots.

    I’ve never felt rooted. I’m the kind of girl who doesn’t like to answer questions about where she’s from. Rattling off a list of locations and dates is somewhere between boring and obnoxious. I am genuinely curious about a life in which people grow up and live in one place, or at least have family that stays in one place, a place they return to year after year after year. I went to elementary school in South Dakota. We lived in Germany before and Saudi Arabia after. I went to a boarding school and never stayed anywhere more than two years in a row for maybe fifteen years. Then we moved to Haarlem. We had shifted by then from my fmaily to me and my partner, now husband. We spent a long time in Haarlem, six years. They were busy years, but not building years. We knew we weren’t staying. A lot of people knew they weren’t staying. No one was rooted or putting down roots.

    All of which is to paint a picture. I don’t really know what it is to feel rooted and may not even know how to do it. It’s an action, right? Rooting? It has to do with people and places and connections, building and digging deep. In my life, those things have been fleeting. So many of the people and places that have been important to me are no longer present in my (daily) life. Lately I’ve started to miss them, sometimes a lot. Things are slowing down a little bit. We aren’t moving or planning on moving. Lately, I’m starting to feel like I’m a part of a community here in Nijmegen. It is like a little magic every day.

    The past 48 hours have been full of little extraordinarily mundane moments, but each of them has been special to me. A friend called just to chat. I can laugh at myself over finding this special, but in all honestly, it almost never happens. Most of my close friends live in different countries and time zones. The last time someone called to chat, I asked the babysitter to stay an extra hour! While we were biking to school, we ran into my husband’s colleague who lives in the neighborhood. We did the Dutch version of a quick catch-up, biking together and chatting until our routes diverged. After dropping of Peanut at school, a mom invited a couple of us over for coffee. In the afternoon, Pumpkin and I ran into more people we know in town. And when we finally all got home, the kids took off to our retired neighbors’ house for a good 45 minutes of spoiling.

    When did this all happen to me? This life in which I see people all over town? This life in which I’m not anonymous? I am not always sure what to do with all this, but oh my am I grateful. Grateful that all these people make space for me and my family in their lives. Grateful that we have such a wonderful group of people around us. Grateful that my littles are surrounded by caring adults and fun kids. Grateful that the stars aligned and brought us to this place in the world where it feels like we can settle in and put down some roots. All of which will certainly involve planting more beets, many more beets!

    The Real Bag: Kokka Messenger Bag

    Kokka Messenger Bag

    Kokka Messenger Bag

    Kokka Messenger Bag

    Kokka Messenger Bag

    Kokka Messenger Bag

    Kokka Messenger Bag

    Just before summer vacation, I made The Organized Office Bag from the Bag Making Bible. It’s part of my little challenge. In the process, I was reminded of a fundamental lesson about my work. One must buy high quality fabrics to make a high quality bag. It’s tempting for me to buy affordable (cheap!) fabrics and notions. After all, part of the appeal of sewing is that if you make it yourself, you might invest the time but you won’t have to invest the money. The more I sew, the more I see that it’s just not worth it. Too many nicely made bags have turned out off because the fabric wasn’t right. Maybe it wasn’t the right weight or quality or color. Experience has shown, the wrong fabric can turn anything into a disaster.

    On the other hand, the right fabric can take a bag right into the stratosphere of bag-making satisfaction! And who wouldn’t love this gorgeous Kalima Echino decoro by Etsuko Furuya for Kokka? The colors! The birdies! The geometric patterns! It’s a cotton/linen canvas and utterly divine. I picked it up at the Stoffenkamer in Ghent during a family trip. My seriously supportive husband took the kids so I could go fabric shopping and congratulated me when I came home with a bag full of fabric gloriousness. What a guy, right?

    As cheesy as it sounds – and it sounds so, so cheesy – this bag was the end of a journey and feels like the beginning of the future. My obsession with messenger bag making goes all the way back to 2009. Seriously! This particular bag felt like a massive accomplishment, the cherry on the cake of my years of bag making attempts and education. It’s a Real Bag. We have upholstery weight or heavier fabrics for the exterior and interior. We have interlinings and interfacings to give the bag structure and body. It uses hardware. There are metal parts on this bag, clasps to close the flap, d-rings to fix the strap to the bag body, and a big shiney metal slider to make the strap adjustable. All that adds up to a Real Bag.

    This bag features a zip pocket, and elastic pocket, and a divided slip pocket on the inside. I skipped the optional laptop flap, adjusted the dividing lines on the slip pocket, and added a d-ring inserted into the side seam for my keys. I love the elastic pocket. It’s perfect for my water bottle and I use it all the time!

    Kokka Messenger Bag

    The biggest challenges when it came to sewing was getting the gussets nice and smooth and figuring out the adjustable strap. Two or three rounds on the gusset taught me the trick: align the sewing lines, not the edges of the fabric. In practice, that means the gusset piece is pulled tightly against the body piece. It looked like I had pulled it too tight, but it worked out just right with minimal puckering. Next time I will try drawing the seam line to help with pinning. My brain was terrified of the adjustable strap and convinced I’d manage some kind of ridiculous mistake. In the end it was easy, but I had the music off and practiced the slider placement at least three times before sewing anything down. Nothing like a little primal sewing disaster fear to make a girl work a bit carefully!

    So there you go, I feel like I’ve graduated into Real Bag Making now. The next challenge? Translating the lessons learned here into my own design. Hrm…..

    Inspiration: Patchwork Style and Peanut

    The design

    Adding a strip

    Getting ready to quilt

    There’s something very special about making a pillowcase designed by your 5-year-old son. He chose the log cabin style out of a few sketches and played with different color combinations until he found this one. Once he’d chosen his favorite, he took it into my work room and found fabrics in almost exactly the same colors that he used in the design. The look of total satisfaction and expectation on his face when he came back with his stack of solids was priceless. Now I just have to make it!

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