springtime at frog creek

April 6th, 2010 by sarah

Despite the gusting winds, the rain, the puddles, the frost cuddling up to the strawberry blossoms this morning — or maybe because of all these — I know spring is here.

I see it in the broody hen, who growls at me and fluffs her stuff every afternoon when I steal her eggs away.

It’s there in the wildflowers and miner’s lettuce, clutched in eager fists.

And there, on Opening Day.

And here, in the first shorts of the year.

And always in the stitching, that anticipates the season even on the dreariest day, piecing together the promise of sunny afternoons ahead.

Find the tutorial for the Milkmaid Skirt here.

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simple pleasures

March 13th, 2010 by sarah

In my early days of motherhood, when I first tasted that shocking loss of independence, my mom taught me to seek out simple pleasures. For her, it was the treat of a fountain coke and a mystery novel, lingered over in the car while she waited for us to get out of school. This is how I learned to consider a cup of tea on the back porch a few moments of indulgence, and a brisk walk to the mailbox under a sunny sky something to treasure.

Anyway, when I found myself driving home from the feed store a couple weeks ago with six peeping balls of fuzz in a box on my son’s lap, I was thinking about Mom’s simple pleasures. I could make an argument that these chicks are for the kids, that watching a pair of feisty Silkies hold a tug of war over a slimy garden worm is something only a five-year-old boy could enjoy. That would be the worst sort of lie.

Because when the house is quiet, the kids tucked away, it’s just me left marveling at this tiny fluff of creation.

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a snickerdoodle for the season

November 9th, 2009 by sarah

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Inspired by this post from RecipeGirl, I dug out grandma’s snickerdoodle recipe today and made it a little more “fall-friendly.” Yum.

PUMPKIN SNICKERDOODLES

Mix:

1 cup shortening

3/4 cup pure pumpkin puree

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 egg

Sift and stir into creamed mixture:

3 cups flour

2 tsp. cream of tartar

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

Chill dough for at least 1 hour. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Roll into walnut-size balls, then roll in sugar mixture:

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp. cinnamon

1/2 tsp. nutmeg

Place balls about 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake until lightly brown on edges, about 8-10 minutes.

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a match made in apple heaven

October 28th, 2009 by sarah

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Ah, the humble Golden Delicious, that girl next door, mild-mannered and sweet. She’s never turned heads like that pretty Pink Lady, never sassed up a crowd like that tart Granny Smith. A little bit plump, with a blush on her cheeks, she was content enough to spend her days lounging about unnoticed.

That fellow Winesap, more than 70 years her senior, took one look at that blushing maiden in her soft yellow gown and declared her his own. He’s rough around the edges and scarred with age, a hard man really. She softens his edges though, she sweetens his tartness. And he, well, he helps that girl to stand up tall.

~

Here at Frog Creek, the apple pies are not too tart, not too sweet, and they come out of the oven just as tall as they were when they went in. The applesauce is perfectly sweetened by nature’s goodness: 50 percent Winesap, 50 percent Golden Delicious and not one pinch of refined sugar. Thank heaven for this perfect match.

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one mean snake and one curious dog

October 20th, 2009 by tevis

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I was five steps and about a dozen thoughts past that rattlesnake before my head got the message from my eyes that said, in big capital letters, “SNAKE!” The funny thing, and the thing that kept me up half the night after, is instead of hightailing it outta there like any thinking girl would do, I turned myself back around to get a closer look. By then that rattler was coiled up tight and I hope you won’t think I’m funnin’ with you when I say he had a downright mean look in his eye.

Well, soon enough here comes Pilot, leading with his nose of course and all sorts of curious. I hollered out “No!” and “Get away!” and “Get back!” and “Go!” and all the while Pilot’s ignoring me and that rattler’s tail’s gettin’ higher and before I know it there’s a sound like a mighty rushing waterfall and it’s that eight-bead tail just sendin’ up the alarm. Pilot’s gettin’ closer and that rattler’s lookin’ meaner and I’m thinkin’ this is it. This is the end.

~

Pilot first came to us by way of the Yolo County Animal Shelter away off toward the big city. We had a television back then, and maybe this is why we don’t no more, cause one Monday mornin’ Aunt Kitty had the news on and cakes on the griddle and here’s this newsman sayin’ how they’re puttin’ down animals left and right at the Yolo County shelter ’cause they just got too darn many of them. Now, I’d only been with Aunt Kitty and Ben for a few months at that time and when I think on it now I think, Whatever happened to the power I had then? Somehow they got me wound off their little fingers, I guess, cause that day it was no more than me asking that had us all piling into the car and driving through three counties to rescue Pilot.

That Pilot (and his name was Button then, of all things!), he put on quite a show, pretendin’ to be all meek and mild-mannered. Ben, he said he reckoned he’d be a decent enough dog, and we drove three counties back home with Pilot seat-belted in beside me.

I made Ben all sorts of promises, of course. I’d train Pilot up real good, and I’d take care of his feed and water. I’d bathe him every day and make sure he got exercised good and regular, and he’d be the best behaved dog this side of the Mississippi. Turns out maybe I should have said this side of Frog Creek, cause mostly he’s the only dog around these parts.

I spent a whole week trying to get that dog to sit and we weren’t gettin’ nowhere ’til I found he had a powerful affection for Fig Newtons. That’s right. I tried bribing him with hot dogs and sausages, bacon and cheddar cheese and he’d just wag and nibble if I gave him a taste. But it wasn’t something he needed, wasn’t something he’d be willing to work for. Then he snuck into Aunt Kitty’s pantry and cleaned out her package of Fig Newtons and while she was busy hollerin’ and wavin’ her broom around I was thinkin’, Hmmmm.

Ten minutes and one Fig Newton was all it took and that dog would sit before I finished sayin’ the word. To this day it’s like he can’t help himself. His face’ll be telling me how very much he does not want to, but if I tell him to sit, almost against his will he does it.

~

So after I was done screaming “Stay!” and all manner of other stuff and Pilot was closin’ in on that rattler real deliberate-like, the word finally came to me and I said it like I meant it more than ever before: “SIT!” And darned if he didn’t.

Oh, that dog gave me the pitifullest look when that rattlesnake hunkered down and hurried off. But he followed me to the kitchen door and I dropped half a dozen Fig Newton’s at his feet and must have said Good Dog more times than he’s heard in his whole life to date.

Darned if there wasn’t too much scare to be used up in that three minutes though, and I’ve spent the better part of two days still carrying that scare with me.

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the stargazer’s shawl

September 8th, 2009 by sarah

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SUPPLIES:

1 1/4 yards flannel fabric

2 1/4 yards bobble trim

matching thread

DIRECTIONS:

Prewash your fabric.

Open out the fabric, then fold it on the diagonal. It should measure about 58 inches on the long edge.

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Cut along the straight edge.

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Pin and machine baste bobble trim along right side of two shorter edges of shawl, beginning and ending at folded edges and extending the ends of the trim slightly beyond the edge. Be sure to baste the trim onto only one side of shawl, not through both layers.

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Now, turn the shawl so right sides are facing, with the bobble trim sandwiched between (except for the ends, which should be poking out so they will finish to the inside). Stitch a 1/2-inch seam along the raw edges, leaving a 4-6-inch opening for turning.

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Clip corners, turn and press. Topstitch all three sides, sewing closed the opening in the process.

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You’re done! Tie it in front, wrap it around and tie it in back, or just drape it over your shoulders… You’re all set for a brisk night of stargazing!

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one star to fall and one hand to hold

September 2nd, 2009 by tevis

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And what was I supposed to do, when that rat-a-tap-tapping started in on my window pane a couple hours after the sun went down? What would you have done, hearing your whispered name rising out of that darkness?

“Tevis,” came the whisper. “Come on! Tevis! Get on out here!”

Well I don’t mind tellin’ you, when I cranked that window open and saw that rotten neighbor boy standing knee-deep in our rosebushes, I near to cranked it back shut again and went back to bed.

“What’re you doin’ in our rosebushes!”

Now any normal person would have answered me, would have said something along the lines of, “Well, Tevis, the reason I came knocking on your window in the middle of the night and am standing in the middle of your rosebushes is because…”

But Zeke, he just got that crooked grin of his and wouldn’t say a word till I’d clambered out the window and stumbled after him into the darkness.

“It’s a meteor shower,” he said, not sparing even a glance over his shoulder to be certain I was there. It’s true my grumbling may have been louder than I thought.

Now I don’t care to get hit by a meteor anymore than the next person, but I reckon if they’re gonna rain down on us I ought to at least know where they’re comin’ from.

“Are we gonna die?” I asked him, and when he laughed I guessed the answer was no.

I guess that boy must have done a fair bit of night wandering, what with the way he traipsed through the darkness and led us up the hillside like there was a noonday sun lighting our path. For myself, all I could make out was the white of Zeke’s undershirt, where it peeked out at the nape of his neck.

I finally kicked a rock that got the best of me, and my hands only narrowly beat my face to the ground.

“Okay?” Zeke asked, his hands taking my shoulders to set me aright.

“Hmph,” I said.

He took my hand then, and set off at a pace maybe even faster than before. Somehow we crested that hill and settled ourselves on a mossy boulder. It may be we saw some stars fall out of the sky that night. To be honest, I can’t much remember.

“Do you believe in God?” I asked him.

He said, “Probably not.”

“What kind of a dumb answer is that?”

“Not much dumber than your question, I guess.”

We weren’t much inclined to talk after that. Some people just aren’t a right fit; some you just can’t talk to no matter how you try.  If he was going to get all ornery every time I asked a simple question, well, I reckon there weren’t much point in me continuing to try.

~~~

Next morning I hurried to find Ben in the barn where he was wrestling a bale of hay out to the goats.  He looked at me funny, but being Ben said nothin’ when I yanked the hay hook out of his left hand and set my palm where the handle had been. I counted to twenty, because I wanted to be sure. That whole time, from one to twenty, Ben just stood there starin’ at my little hand in his dirty one and I couldn’t begin to guess what he was thinkin’.

‘Cause my thoughts were all used up with this one: There was no magic here. Just Ben’s hand, sort of scratchy on mine. I didn’t feel it in my toes, didn’t feel it under my skin, most certainly didn’t feel it in my chest, which had been all fluttery and gasping under the stars.

I had to pry Ben’s fingers loose when I got to twenty though. He didn’t seem much inclined to let go of me.

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wishes

June 2nd, 2009 by sarah

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… for a summer filled with deliberate moments, with ice cream faces and pajama days, with burnt marshmallow s’mores and sand castle hands, with evening walks and garden bounty.

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Enjoy your summer. I’ll see you back here sometime after the school bell rings.

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one girl itchin’ and one boy tongue-tied

June 1st, 2009 by tevis

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It’s a terrible thing happens round this cottage every year, ’bout this time. You might think I’d be expecting it by now, that I’d prepare myself and spare my poor heart the disappointment. But hope is a powerful thing.

I can’t be the only one who finds herself buyin’ into the promise of the sun come springtime. It tells me all sorts of lies about lazy days ahead, ice cream and picnics, nothing to do and loads of time to do it in. Then Aunt Kitty shows up by my bedside, first morning after school lets out, and there it is in her hand: The Summer Chore List.

So while I was pinning Ben’s undershorts and Aunt Kitty’s knee-highs to the clothesline, Pilot and Wilbur took themselves off on a little adventure up the hillside. Now it wasn’t till after I spent the evening cozyin’ up to Pilot on the back porch, not till after Wilbur crawled into bed with me that night, not till I woke up next morning to the sun in my eyes and a terrible itch under my skin, that I realized Pilot’s and Wilbur’s little adventure had taken them through a mighty crop of poison oak.

Now in case you’re thinking Aunt Kitty might have taken pity on this poor, rash-ridden girl, let me just wipe that thought clean out of your head. Aunt Kitty, she’s of the “Take your mind off it and it won’t hurt no more” way of thinkin’. When the preacher shared last Sunday ’bout how Martin Luther would counsel a man struck with the blues to hitch up the horses and go spread some manure, Aunt Kitty was noddin’ her head so hard she near to bounced right out of the pew.

When she found me doubled over in the kitchen, attacking those itchy spots with a potato masher and Ben’s best grillin’ spatula, she shoved a bar of Fels Naptha into my hand and sent me off to the bend in the creek to give Pilot and Wilbur a bath.

Well if you’ve never suffered from a fire under your skin, I’ll thank you to keep your judgment to yourself. By the time we reached the creek I was near to goin’ out of my mind, and I won’t be ashamed that I stripped off every lick of clothing and sat my bare, burnin’ bottom right down in that muddy bend of the creek. I scooped up a handful of that lovely, rocky silt and scraped at the redness on my arms and legs. It’s not the first time Pilot and Wilbur looked at me like I was nuts, but it may be the first time they were right.

If Pilot hadn’t perked up his ears and jogged away, I might’ve never known that boy was standin’ there in the trees.

I scrambled to the water’s edge with as much dignity as I could muster, which was hardly any at all, and I shouted at him:

“Ezekiel! What in tarnation are you doin’ here?”

That boy said nothin’, not a single word! I crouched behind Wilbur and tried to draw my clothes closer just by thinkin’ about them.

“I got some rope back home,” I told him. “We could tie up that misbehavin’ jaw of yours, ‘fore you swallow a fly or somethin’.”

Still, nothing.

“Oh, get on!” I hollered. “Ain’t you seen a girl naked before?”

His jaw was closed now, but there was somethin’ in his eyes I didn’t understand and it shut me up. He turned and left the way he came, but none too fast, and darned if I know how he left me feelin’ like I was the one who should apologize.

I’ll tell you one thing though. Aunt Kitty and old Luther may be on to somethin’. I clean forgot about that fire under my skin for a good thirty minutes or so.

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waste not

May 30th, 2009 by sarah

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Some strawberry jam in the making…

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and with the strawberry tops…

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…strawberry vinegar!

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A little gardening to pass the time…

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…and a day well spent.

For the strawberry jam recipe, check here. For the vinegar, just let those berry tops marinate for 12 hours or so, strain the vinegar out and boil it for a bit (you can add some sugar here if you like, but I just left it as is with plans to mix it up with honey and oil for salad dressings this summer). Process the vinegar just as you did your jam.

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The Cottage at Frog Creek is the creation of Sarah Wylie Slater