Tuesday, December 6, 2016

My Sweetiepie ABC's

I'm really excited to share my newest cross-stitch creation today! This alphabet sampler was so lovely to make. It will be a Christmas present for my Girl Bear. The sampler is My Sweetiepie ABC's, designed by the talented Alicia Paulson. I received the sampler kit as a gift for Christmas last year, so it's a nice symmetry to give the finished and framed sampler to the GB for Christmas this year. (It looks like the kit is not available right now, but you can still buy the pattern in Alicia's online shop). If you've never stitched one of Alicia's samplers, I think you should try to do one very soon. Her designs are so pretty, full of sweet motifs, and her color schemes are always beautiful. I've worked from both her kits and her patterns and have thoroughly enjoyed them. Alicia says this sampler is her favorite thing she has ever designed and I think it's my favorite cross-stitch I have ever made.

I started stitching my sampler in late September. I love the planning phase of any project, but I especially enjoy preparing to create a cross-stitch design. There's so much possibility in a hank of embroidery flosses. I love to look at the chart and find where each color will be used. Sometimes there's just a little glimpse of a particular color - a few stitches in one small spot - and it makes me kind of antsy to get to that part, particularly when the color is a vibrant one. That single strand of bright pink in the above photo - I was so excited about it.

The first motifs are exciting, if slightly daunting. How can this turn into a full-fledged sampler? A for apple, for example, is just a tiny piece, but every piece is important to the finished whole. It's mostly a pleasure to watch the design take shape. Counting threads - especially on 28-count linen - can get a little tedious, but if there's one thing I've learned about stitching, from my first project at seven years old (a teddy bear's face in yarn on plastic canvas), it's this: I must stop working when it doesn't feel good anymore. Put everything away and do something else. Stare out the window, make a cup of tea. I can come back a few hours later, or the next day, with fresh eyes and a better attitude, and the work will be pleasurable all over again.

I liked the way this sampler was broken into quadrants, which made the design seem a lot simpler. The daisy, above, stretched down toward the quadrant below, which gave the sampler a nice balance. I enjoyed Alicia's choices for each of the letters, especially the less-obvious ones, like the pie for P and the mail for M. The heart for X (xox) was particularly clever, I thought. I don't know if I would have come up with that one, but the pink heart is very sweet and it reminded me of how my GB, as a toddler, called every heart shape a "valentine."

I don't know whether I have a favorite motif. I liked the quilt a lot, and the house, but really, I adore them all. I know Miss GB will like them all too, but I have a feeling about this little octopus. She really likes sea animals; in particular, she has a thing for octopuses.

I finished stitching in mid-November. I had decided before I even started that this sampler would be framed professionally. I often frame my own cross-stitched pieces; I'm no expert, but I do a presentable enough job, I think. This sampler is a special gift, so I wanted to have it framed as nicely as possible. I spritzed the piece with water and ironed it with the stitches facing down into a towel. Then I wrapped it up in a dry towel. I recommend using a towel to transport your stitched pieces. Lay the ironed piece on a towel that is folded in half horizontally. Then, starting from the top, roll the towel with the stitched piece inside. This protects the stitched piece and makes it easier to carry. It also prevents the stitched piece from getting wrinkled before you can bring it to the framer's. Once there, you can unroll the towel and the stitched piece should be nice and neat for the framer to work with.

For the frame, I chose a very simple wooden frame in a light finish. I think the wood is maple. I didn't want any matting; I felt it would detract from the sampler. I really like the spareness of the design, and the negative space - the way each motif sort of stands alone from all the others. The framer showed me a wide array of frame styles and I didn't like anything very much until I suddenly saw this one on the wall over her shoulder. It was exactly right. I am so happy with it. After I give it to the GB, we'll hang it over her chest of drawers. I hope she will enjoy having this sampler in her room. As soon as I saw the design, I knew I wanted to make it for her. I look forward to surprising her with it - she saw me working on it but she didn't know it was meant for her. It was a delight to make, especially with her in mind, a sweet and lovely design for my sweet and lovely girl.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Winter Project Link Party

Hello! Welcome to December's Winter Project Link Party. This link party is for sharing your current craft projects and giving and receiving encouragement for working on those projects and maybe even getting them finished. I hope you'll want to join me in sharing what you're working on right now!

I finished the My Sweetiepie ABC's cross-stitch sampler and dropped it off at the framer's a couple of weeks ago. It's back home now, ready for Miss GB's Christmas (I'll share it here soon). I moved right on to another project when I finished the sampler. My current crafty pursuit involves these colorful crocheted butterflies. I'm almost done making them; I'd like to add two more solid-colored ones, a light pink and a dark pink. You're probably wondering what I plan to do with them...well, they will soon become a decoration for the GB's room. I plan to give it to her for Christmas, if I can finish it in time, so I've been working on it quite a bit lately.

I'm not usually one for making rainbow-colored stuff, but I loved doing it with these butterflies. Aren't they pretty? I'm using a pattern called Bountiful Butterflies, from crochet designer The Hat and I (that's a Ravelry link). I'll use the butterflies to make a hanging decoration, similar to what you see on the link. The butterflies will hang from beaded strands that are attached at the top to a ribbon-covered embroidery hoop. Fancy! It's actually pretty simple, but it's taken a little bit of guesswork to figure out.

Let me backtrack a little: I first came across the idea on Pinterest, where I saw a photo of a finished decoration, which I just LOVED. Then I tracked it down to Ravelry and saw that there weren't formal instructions for the decoration, just the butterflies themselves, so I studied some of the project photos and came up with a plan for making my own decoration. It will hang from the ceiling, over the GB's bed. Fortuitously, there is already a plant hook in the ceiling exactly where I want it. It won't be exactly like the ones I saw online, more inspired by them. 

I've been thinking about this project for months, since July or so. I bought a few new colors of cotton yarns for the butterflies, to add some brighter colors to my mostly-pastel stash. I had fun choosing beads. I found these multicolored, faceted rondelle beads at Hobby Lobby. I'll use bright pink tulle strips to cover the filament strands where they attach to the hoop at the top. The ideas work in my head, but we'll see how they translate to the real thing. With any luck, I'll be sharing it here soon.

This rainbow on my desk has really grown on me. It has also brought to mind just how full of rainbows my 80's childhood was. I've been remembering all the rainbow things I used to have! I had a stretchy Care Bears belt; a pair of Kangaroos sneakers with rainbows on the sides; a Strawberry Shortcake shirt with a rainbow strip running up one arm, across the chest and down the other arm; shoelaces, hair ribbons, plastic barrettes, a ski hat! Rainbows everywhere. Even the Bear had rainbow suspenders when was a little boy (I have photographic evidence).


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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

First snow

We woke to a light dusting of snow yesterday, the first snow of the season. I went out to the backyard very early, before making breakfast and helping the children get ready for school, to look around and take a few pictures. The hens were awake and they watched me walking around the yard. They were cold, nearly silent and mostly still, standing on one leg at a time while waiting for their breakfast.

I was cold too. We've been having much colder than average temperatures this week, which looks to continue into next week too. It's hard to believe that we started November with warm, almost balmy weather, and now it's ending in a wintry way. You can see our warm autumn, though, in the way some of the leaves are still green. There are even still a few geranium flowers, in spite of our new sub-freezing nights. It's their last hurrah, for sure, so I've been savoring the sight of them on the patio. Yesterday, their leaves were little star-shaped cups of snow.

Flurries fell throughout yesterday morning. The sun hid; an icy wind blew. This morning, it's frigidly cold but the sun is bright. Things have changed out there. The backyard looks different, already a bit less green. The trees across the arroyo, which glowed golden last week, now wear just a few brittle, brown leaves. The mountain peaks are delicately frosted today, white lace against a crystalline sky.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Thankful weekend

We've had a lovely long holiday weekend here, with good food and lots of relaxation. We started with my birthday on Wednesday, which was a nice day. I had my favorite cake, the delicious Berry Chantilly cake from Whole Foods Market, and received some really great presents, including a frame loom, which I'd been wanting for a few months; I have a lot to learn, but the Bear helpfully included a book and I have some videos bookmarked. There were also new mugs, boxes of tea, a flower press that goes in the microwave (can't wait to try that), a new kitchen apron and two beautiful handmade presents from my children - a stitched card and a necklace with painted wooden block-beads, wrapped up in paper box with a strawberry drawn on the top. It was a very happy day and I felt so loved by my sweet little family.

Thanksgiving was a nice day too. I roasted the turkey whole, which I don't usually do, and there were a few moments of panic but it came out really well. It was a sixteen-pound turkey, which seems huge but it was the smallest Butterball turkey in the store! There was a lot of meat and it was all good, even the breast, which I have often allowed to overcook in the past when roasting a whole turkey. We had lots of other food but not too terribly much of anything. We ate leftovers for three days and now we've just got a little turkey left in the fridge, plus three lunches' worth in the freezer, for the Bear to take to work. I'm definitely ready to stop eating turkey, but only because I'm bored with it, not because it was terrible turkey. Tonight's dinner will be steak; the Bear asked for "meat from a four-legged animal."

We've spent most of this afternoon slowly preparing the house for Christmas. The lights are up outside, courtesy mostly of the LB, who is really into wiring things up. He had a whole vision for the yard this year and we mostly let him run with it. We've been staying in the house today otherwise because it's really cold and windy out. There may be a little snow tonight. I'm excited but it's just so weird: four weeks ago, we were carving pumpkins in the backyard in abnormally warm weather for late October. Now, it's just three packed, crazy weeks until the long holiday break.

Thanks for your birthday wishes and kind words on my posts lately. I have to tell you that I really needed a nice, homey birthday and holiday weekend. I had some really awful news about a member of the community recently, the kind of news that I think most parents would find startling and worrisome. Between that and our current national climate, I was feeling pretty lousy. I've always had the same type of response to bad news or troubled times: I go inside, shut the door, turn off the TV and the computer, unplug the phones if I have to. I'm glad I took the time because I feel better now. There's a lot to be done and I'm ready to do it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Rainiest day

We woke to rain yesterday morning. It doesn't happen often but I like when it does. The forecast was for rain on and off through the day, with snow on the mountain, where it's colder. We never get a steady, all-day rain here, though I like that too. But we were in and out of showers all day long, with a few breaks of weak sun. It was our full homeschool day, so the three of us stayed home most of the day, only going out for the GB's ballet class in late afternoon. There is almost nothing I enjoy more than a day at home in bad weather. After very hectic shopping on Sunday, to collect everything I need for Thanksgiving, I was happy to spend Monday at home, supervising schoolwork, crocheting, making soup in the slow-cooker (I made this tomato soup again, the third time in about a month, because I just love it), catching up with my magazines and doing a little housework.

The children like staying home on a stormy day too, which is one reason I love the monsoon in summertime; the unpredictable weather breaks up the days, making it easier, and more interesting, to spend lots of time at home together. They finished their work and moved on to other things - science experiments, reading and crafts. Miss GB worked on her long-stitch project. We watched a few How Stuff Works videos on Amazon Prime. We talked about baking but I decided that my impending birthday cake and our Thanksgiving dessert will be more than enough.

We headed out to ballet during a lull in the rain. While she danced, a big thunderstorm moved in. The LB and I listened to the rain falling hard on the dance studio's roof. We drove home in heavy rain, as heavy as any monsoon day, arriving home just as the Bear returned from work. We tucked into our soup and then we sat in the dark and watched the lightning.  After the kids went to bed, the Bear and I caught up on The Durrells and Soundbreaking. I finished writing out my Thanksgiving Day cooking timetable (two days' worth) and gathered dry ingredients on the buffet to make them easier to grab while I cook. The smoker is not quite fixed yet, so I'm roasting the turkey whole. I've got the Butterball website bookmarked. I'm not afraid to call the hotline if it comes to it.

Today, we woke to clouds and mist but we couldn't stay home; there was just one day of school before the break. But the Bear took the day off as part of his holiday time, and we spent the morning running errands together - Hobby Lobby, Target, liquor store, thrift store. We are home now, ready for our holiday. He's making wax-and-sawdust fire starters in the shop, I'm drinking tea and watching the storm clouds lift and fall over the foothills, leaving a little more snow every time they rise. The children float between us, back and forth with their own pursuits. We'll be ready for an excursion tomorrow afternoon for the LB's guitar lesson, but for now, I'm very content. I'll make more tea, think about tonight's dinner, check the backpacks and wash the water bottles, fold a bit of laundry. There will always be ups and downs, and the days are not always cozy and peaceful, but I am deeply thankful for my homely, lovely life.

Happy Thanksgiving from our family to yours! Thank you for being sweet, kind friends.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Feeling fall

This week, I focused on calm, quiet things - home things and family things; small, intentional things. I spent most of my mornings at home, while the small Bears were at school, aside from one morning of errands, which included dropping off my finished cross-stitch sampler at the framing shop. I really enjoyed working with the framer to decide what to do with it. I debated making it girly, as well as giving it a little glitz like I've done with my dark-background stitched pieces lately. In the end, I went with something very simple and classic - natural wood and clean lines. It should be ready before Thanksgiving, and then I'll have to find a good hiding spot. I can't wait to share it here.

I crocheted for the first time since September. I started making a pile of butterflies using cotton yarn. This is such a simple little pattern and I think they're coming out really cute. I'll tell you more about my project soon; it's another Christmas gift for my gal.

Autumn has finally arrived in my neck of the woods and it's wonderful. We're having truly cold nights now - our first hard freeze was Thursday night - and I'm enjoying the crisp, sunny days very much. I enjoy my monsoon season and my tender early-spring evenings, but I love this kind of weather best of all. Yesterday, I sat in the park with some friends, watching our kids on the playground. I wore a sweater but was still just the tiniest bit cold when the breeze picked up. I wrapped my sweater around me a bit tighter and felt a little thrill.

Reading-wise, I've been sticking with cooking and crime, I guess you could say. I've just finished Tana French's new novel, The Trespasser. It was okay, but I didn't like it nearly as much as I've enjoyed most of her other books. I saw the mystery ending at least a hundred pages early. I didn't like the characters at all. I miss Cassie. I got annoyed with the banter. I'm still glad I put myself on the library holds list for it lo these many months ago; it kept me reading in the in-between times, the waiting time, and at bedtime all week. I've just started reading The French Chef in America by Alex Prud'Homme, about Julia Child's career after she left France. It's sort of like a sequel to her own memoir, My Life in France. I really like it so far. I find her so interesting. I've also been flipping through Anthony Bourdain's new book, Appetites, which has been entertaining. It's sort of a compendium of essential recipes to pass along to his young daughter - a family cookbook, if you will. As is to be expected from Bourdain, this book is packed full of potentially unpopular opinions, culinary irreverence and cursing. He's not everyone's cup of tea, but I like him.

I haven't been cooking anything all that interesting myself lately, but there is that big turkey-related holiday coming next week. My menu is planned and I will be shopping tomorrow. I'm kind of dreading the leftovers so I'm going a little bit spare. I'm going to make a pecan pie this year, which has been hit-or-miss for me in the past, but I'm willing to try again. I've already decided to serve asparagus, since I can't get enough of it these past few months. Otherwise, a smallish turkey and a reasonable number of side dishes and life is good.

Last year's amaryllis may actually be coming back, to my sheer amazement. I followed instructions I read in a gardening book from the library (wish I could remember what it was...) for making an amaryllis bulb go dormant for the summer months and come back in the fall. I left the bulb on the buffet in my dining room until early August, then I bundled it into a bag and stashed it under the kitchen sink until last week, when I removed it to find that it was sending up a shoot! There's a lot of green on the bulb too. I've got it in a sunny window now, hoping hard that it will keep growing and give me another beautiful red-and-white bloom at Christmastime.

I'm at two weeks of daily hand- and face-moisturizing. Way to go, me. I can see and feel differences already, even in my old, weather-beaten face, which I was beginning to think might be a lost cause. Because I love to get ahead of myself, I also started taking a multivitamin with added calcium, in light of my family history of osteoporosis. Look out, world - she's maintaining her skin AND her bones!

This weekend finds us mostly at home. The Bear is having a problem with his smoker, which he needs to get figured out before the holiday so he can smoke his half of the turkey (every year, he gives me the breast for oven-roasting and he takes the rest for the smoker). I'm going to work some more on my butterflies while has the GB at her guitar lesson. Mr. LB is with me, doing homework. Tomorrow, after my shopping and laundry are finished, we will have dinner out to celebrate my birthday, which comes mid-week and is the last in this household's birthday season: August-September-September-November, and then comes the holiday season, not to mention the academic milestones, the work victories, the successful medical tests. Celebrate everything; celebrate with all your might.
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