Friday, October 9, 2015

Each and every

This time is golden, bright and sweet. The weather is perfect, exactly the way I like it, with mild days and chilly nights. The whole world is lighting up with the colors of autumn. My children are in another sweet spot, one of those brief moments in time where they are calm, peaceful, playful, easy. I feel good. There is good all around and I'm doing the best I can to hold on, to capture each and every moment in my mind and heart.

We're enjoying all the things that autumn has to offer. We're cooking more (the Bear made butternut squash soup in the pressure cooker, which I'm too scared to use, and it was so delicious). I've been crocheting a lot, and cutting up fabric with no real plan in mind but immensely enjoying the cutting. The cozy times at home are back, and you know how much I adore being cozy. The Balloon Fiesta is on right now and that's always a thrill. The small Bears saw a zebra-shaped balloon, belonging to their classmate's family, land in the dirt lot next to their school. It was a planned landing and the whole school was there to greet Mr. Z, the balloon, and his balloonist, Mr. W.

Now we're on fall break and we're so relieved to take a well-earned break. We had another ballooning adventure this morning! We watched one land in a city park and some of us got to help pack it up. I'll tell you more about that soon. We have a quiet weekend planned for ourselves - workshop work, housework, yard work...but not schoolwork!


Thank you so much for joining in with my Winter Project Link Party! I'm so excited about it and I really hope you find it fun and supportive as you work through your projects this winter. The October link-up is now closed, but there will be a new one at the beginning of November, so please remember to link up then. 

Thanks too for all the lovely comments you've left lately; I'm so glad you like my chevron cowl and I hope you'll make your own. It's easy and pleasant, you won't be disappointed. A big hello and welcome to new readers and followers; I'm so happy you're here!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Yarn Along

I really ought to be working on crocheted holiday gifts right now, but I was drawn back to Hensfoot this weekend and there I have stayed. I really love working on this blanket and watching it grow - which it does quickly. The best part is that it's now long enough to cover my knees while I work, which is coming in handy since our change to more autumn-like weather. The incidental warm lap is, to me, one of the greatest joys of crocheting a blanket.

I should be working my way through my bag of library books too, but I'm not. I'm reading this book, Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, which I picked up last week on our Private Friday trip to a charity-run thrift store. We donated clothing and received a discount voucher in return. I bought four books and a picture frame. I just started this book but I like it so far; Strout's novel Amy and Isabelle is one of my favorite books so I have high hopes for this one.

Joining in with Ginny's Yarn Along

Sunday, October 4, 2015

A chevron cowl

Autumn took its sweet time arriving this year. September stayed warm, even hot some days, with very little rain. Well, there was that one day when we got nearly the entire month's rainfall in one afternoon, but other than that, it was a hot, dry, relentlessly sunny and summery month and I wasn't enjoying it much by the end. But here we are in the first week of October with a drastic change in the weather. Friday night brought a major pattern change and now it's cold and wet. It will dry out but it isn't likely to heat up again. And that means it won't be too much longer before I can wear the cowl I made this summer - that long item I crocheted during July and August, when nothing warm was needed. I decided to wait to share it here, to keep it seasonal. As much as I love fall, I never let myself jump the gun in welcoming it. The surprise hot days will feel even more oppressive, I have found. I'm superstitious that way; as in childhood, I still wish on stars sometimes, and when a digital clock reads 11:11. Old habits die hard.

For the stitch pattern, I used an old faithful friend, the One-Skein Chevron Scarf by Dena Stelly (Ravelry link). I have made five or six scarves from this pattern as gifts for other people but had yet to make one for myself. I really love this pattern - it's easy, works up very quickly and makes a nice, drapey and open stitch pattern for a very pretty scarf. This is my first project made with real wool. I'd always thought it would be too scratchy to wear next to my skin so I avoided it, in favor of softer synthetic blends. I was pleasantly surprised to find that my cowl isn't scratchy at all. It's warm and soft, and I think it will be lovely to wear.

You might remember that I waffled about whether to make this into a cowl or leave it as a long scarf. I think most people suggested leaving it as a scarf (thank you for your input), but in the end, I decided to join the ends to make a big, loopy cowl. It was just so long - about 15 feet! - that I couldn't see how I'd wear it as a scarf. It seemed silly and possibly sort of dangerous. I could see myself getting caught in doors, or tripping over it. I crocheted the ends together with a row of single crochet. I put one twist in the cowl to try to make the ends match up better.

I love a nice ripple design, don't you? This pattern is particularly nice, I think, because it includes open spaces between the ups and downs of the design. I've made a fair number of ripple-based projects and while I like all the different styles, I've come to prefer a looser, lacier ripple design over a solid one. I also like the way the sections form ridges, sort of accordion-style. It would be rippled if you looked at the end straight on too. Ripples everywhere.

I haven't worn it yet, not outside the house where I try it on periodically. I'm hoping that I'll need to wear it by the end of the month, almost certainly next month. When I do wear it, I'll wrap it three times. This gives the optimal combination of warmth and shape, I think. I've really started to like cowls and infinity scarves in the past couple of years; what I had always thought would give me sort of a bandit look is actually nicer and neater than I'd realized. Warm and cozy too, which is great because when it does get cold here, it gets really, really cold.

Color-wise, I did something a little adventurous with this project: I used yellow! I really wanted to branch out a bit; most of my clothes are gray or black, with soft pastels and mid-tones mixed in. Lately, though, I've been noticing soft gold shades and even recently bought a white top with gold stripes. I've been using gold in my crocheted blankets more lately too. It's a good color. There are five color sections in my cowl - 36 rows each, for balance.

I like what this project made me do: I put an old pattern up to new tricks, I tried a new fiber and a new color, and I had to be decisive about the form (scarf or cowl). At the same time, it was relaxing and soothing to crochet, as I rippled away through the long, not-so-easy-living summer we just had. It was just what I needed.

Chevron Cowl
from Dena Stelly's One-Skein Chevron Scarf pattern (medium width directions)
I/9 (5.5mm) Clover Amour hook
Yarns: I Love This Wool in Winter White, Smoke, Rosewood and Sungold; Lion Brand Wool-Ease in Seaspray

Friday, October 2, 2015

Winter Project Link Party

Welcome to the first installment of the Winter Project Link Party! I hope you'll want to join me in sharing our crafty projects as we progress through the winter months. I love to have a wintertime crochet project to work on here and there, usually a blanket, throughout the colder seasons and I try to do this every year. I always feel very enthusiastic about my projects in early autumn, when I'm just starting them (this year's project is no exception), but sometimes I find my projects to be a little slow-going after awhile. Some of you said that you also like having winter projects and that you'd appreciate a periodic check-in to help keep you motivated, so here we are! I will post a link-up on the first weekend of each month for the next few months (until spring?), and we can join and check out each other's work through the winter season. Sound good? Here's my winter project as it stands right now:

My project is a blanket that I call Hensfoot. It's intended for our family room, as a multi-purpose play/snuggle/keep-warm blanket for all of us to use. I love to wear a blanket while I read or watch TV, and so does everyone else around here, so we like to have lots of blankets at the ready! My blanket is made with the Larksfoot crochet stitch pattern, a great tutorial for which I found on Crochet Geek's blog (you should check it out; she has some really interesting patterns and excellent, clear step-by-step videos on YouTube as well). I'm calling my blanket Hensfoot because, well, I really love my hens and I especially adore their funny little feet.

I've got a pretty good start on my blanket so far. I started in the beginning of September and it's about 22 inches long one month later. It's about 50 inches wide, I think. It's going to be big, that much I know, but I haven't decided exactly how long it will end up. I'd like to aim for about six feet, so that the tallest Bear can use it comfortably.

Whatever happens, I have plenty of yarn. This project is my biggest stashbuster attempt yet. I'm using ends and partial skeins of yarn, some of which I've had hanging around since at least last winter, when I made Heartwarmer (some is even older than that).  My goal is to make this blanket without buying any additional yarn. I think I can do it; what you see here is only part of my stash of worsted acrylic yarn. I have even more stowed away in a closet and in bins in our office/hobby room. It's going to feel good to use it up and get another warm pretty in the process.


Now it's your turn! There are some simple rules below for participation in this link party. Please join in! Share your own post about your winter craft projects on your blog, then come back and share a link, so we can have a look at what you'll be making. Everyone is welcome, even if it's heading into summer in your part of the world. All I ask is that you link back to this post in your post, so that we can spread the word about the link party. The more, the merrier! I'm really looking forward to seeing your projects, so bring them on!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Yarn Along

This week, I'm making some more progress on my little crocheted bag. I stopped increasing and am now just working even, building up the sides. I haven't really made a concrete plan yet, just crocheting around and around to make it taller. I hadn't done much crochet-in-the-round for a while and had forgotten how much I enjoy it. Do you like to work in the round? I think my favorite thing about it is how neatly it works out, as long as you make the stitches in the right places. It's fun to watch the shape develop, even if you're not precisely sure what you're making...

I finally got back to the library on Monday and brought home a big bag o' books. All my life, I've loved having new library books, it's like Christmas for me! There's so much potential in unread books; I borrow a bagful and I'm happy as a clam for a couple of weeks. First up, I'm reading I Regret Nothing by Jen Lancaster. Have you read any of her books? She writes memoirs in the self-improvement vein but not the preachy kind. Instead, she swears a lot and tells funny yet thoughtful stories of her mistakes and misfortunes; she learns and so does the reader. She may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I like her.

Joining in with Ginny's Yarn Along

Monday, September 28, 2015

Martha & Me - September

This month, I tried two recipes from the September issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine, a PB&J Tart, and Sweet Potato-Parmesan Fries (you can click on each link to see the recipes on Martha's website). Both recipes were basically successful in my kitchen, but I would not call this my favorite Martha month. Let's start with the tart...

The PB&J Tart caught my eye right away when I first browsed the September issue. I love peanut butter. I eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches several times a week, even now as an adult (they're cheap, filling and delicious, what's not to love?). I was very eager to try this recipe.

The recipe is simple, maybe a bit deceptively so, actually. You're making a simple shortbread crust with sugar, salt, flour and butter, baking it, then spreading peanut butter and jelly over it and baking again. It seemed easier than it actually was, but I'll get to that. The recipe suggested using grape, strawberry or raspberry jelly (not jam; you need thin, non-chunky jelly for this recipe) and sweetened peanut butter. The jelly was easy; I happen to really love concord grape jelly and it's cheap and easy to find. But I don't keep sweetened peanut butter around and just can't buy it either. Not because I don't like it but because I really like it. I used the natural, non-sweetened peanut butter I always keep in the house.

The dough was simple to make, but I had to modify the directions because you were supposed to make the dough in a food processor. I don't own a food processor (I did once, but I gave it away because I never really used it and it just took up valuable kitchen space), so I used my standing mixer with paddle attachment to mix up the dough ingredients. I think it worked fine, but I also found the dough to be a bit stiff and hard to shape, so maybe using a food processor would have worked better. I don't know. I do know that the dough was supposed to be rolled into a long, narrow rectangular shape and it wasn't going to happen for me. I was also supposed to flute the edges with my fingers, but it was too stiff and dry so I did the best I could without breaking it apart.

The crust is made with an interesting technique that I haven't really seen before. After the raw dough is rolled out and placed on a sheet pan, it's placed in the freezer for 15 minutes. Then, it's baked (un-topped) in two stages, with a pause in between to push down the bubbles forming in the crust with the bottom of a metal measuring cup. After the second stage, the crust is removed from the oven so that the peanut butter and jelly can be spread over the top. I heated the jelly in the microwave to thin it and make it easier to spoon over the peanut butter. The jelly is also swirled through the peanut butter with a wooden skewer before the whole thing goes back in the oven again.

After baking for the final time, the tart is moved to a cooling rack. The jelly was bubbly at first, but it sort of hardened into a thick gel with the peanut butter, becoming a bit dry and pasty. I wondered if the sweetened peanut butter would have done better here. I didn't think the tart looked very nice by this stage (the peanut butter and jelly looked lumpy and forget that crust), but it smelled really delicious.

I cut my tart into 12 squares, instead of the slender wedges shown in the recipe. I was concerned about the integrity of my crust if I cut it that way. Squares worked well, though, and the crust actually turned out to be surprisingly sturdy. The tart was tasty. I liked the crust, which was buttery but not too sweet. The peanut butter did have a pasty texture, which I didn't love, but the jelly was nice and firm and I thought the PB&J flavor came through nicely. I think that if I were to make this again, I might use a basic sugar-cookie dough for the crust; it would boost the flavors of the peanut butter and jelly, and be a little easier to work with. I might not bother swirling the jelly through the peanut butter because I don't think it matters much to the recipe and didn't look as attractive as I'd hoped. All in all, this was an interesting recipe but not one that I'm clamoring to make again right now.

The Sweet Potato-Parmesan Fries came from a spread featuring recipes for french fry-like baked vegetables. I love french fries and I enjoy trying different takes on the idea. Sweet potato fries are one of my favorite variations and I have made them numerous times, but I've always kept it very simple, making them with just olive oil, salt and pepper. This recipe also included grated parmesan cheese, which I'd never tried before. I thought it sounded good.

The fries were simple to make. I used a little less sweet potato than the recipe called for, but that was inadvertent; one of the three potatoes I'd purchased turned out to be bad and I had to throw it away. I was short only a few ounces of potato for the recipe, so it was not a big deal. As much as I enjoy eating sweet potato fries, the slicing process is a little scary for me. Sweet potatoes are difficult to cut because they are so hard. I usually end up using some combination of about three different knives to achieve the slender sticks needed to make fries with them, and I pray the whole time that I'll still have some fingers left when I'm done. The recipe was just the same as I've always done - peel, slice, place sticks in a bowl to be tossed with oil and seasoning - except this time, I added 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese to the bowl.

I baked the fries on a sheet pan, as directed. If I'd used the full amount of potato, I would have followed Martha's suggestion to divide the fries between two pans and rotate them in the oven halfway through cooking. My fries fit just fine on one half-sheet pan, but they took much longer to bake than the recipe suggested. I don't think they were crowded on the pan, which can be a problem for baking. I often find sweet potatoes to be slow to cook, whether they're whole or cut up. I ended up using my oven's "speed bake" feature (basically turning it into a convection oven) for about ten minutes in order to get the fries to cook through and start crisping up. I don't often use the "speed bake" setting because I feel it dries food out too much, but it was necessary here.

We had our fries with Shake N Bake chicken and corn. The fries look pretty good, right? The color is nice and they did get some browning after awhile. Well, they looked better than they tasted. The parmesan made them very salty and kind of greasy. You couldn't really taste the cheese flavors, just salt. I would have cut the added salt or omitted it altogether. I might have used less cheese too, but the cheese turned out to be the best part because it had browned all over the pan and was crispy and delicious. But it was stuck hopelessly to the pan in a lot of places and required hours of soaking and much scrubbing with Brillo to remove. This doesn't happen when I make my ho-hum cheeseless sweet potato fries, which taste really good anyway, so I'll probably just stick with those in the future.

You win some, you lose some! September was not my Martha-est month. Here's to more success in October.

Saturday, September 26, 2015


The LB turned ten this week. We celebrated quietly at home, just the four of us. His birthday was on our busiest day of the week, which includes a late-afternoon ballet class for his sister and a slapdash dinner at home afterward. I felt badly that this was the same day as his birthday, so we made sure to go out for dinner over the previous weekend - his choice. Do you know what this boy chose? Jason's Deli. Because he loves the salad bar. He wanted salad for his special birthday dinner - for the second year in a row. It's entirely possible I am not his real mother. Granted, they do have banana pudding and chocolate mousse on the salad bar, and there is soft-serve ice cream with chocolate sauce too. After his two huge plates of salad, he was certainly entitled to indulge.

Most of his birthday presents were computer-related; he is rapidly becoming a very proficient programmer and loves to build small computer systems. The Bear helps him, but it's amazing to see how much he does on his own. It's all Greek to me, of course, but I'm proud of his interest in computers. I think it could easily become an obsession if we let it, so we try to encourage other hobbies too. We also gave him some books and art stuff, as well as some baking supplies - cake mix, decorator icings, sugar decors, etc. - that he can use alone, or with a little help. This summer, he learned to make several foods by himself, such as scrambled eggs and oatmeal, and I think cakes and cookies will be fun for him. He also got a bottle of blueberry pancake syrup, just because. We had ice cream cake after our hasty post-ballet dinner. I noticed that the light levels were very different from his sister's birthday, only 17 days previously. It's all happening so quickly now and it really struck me this year.

He's TEN! Goodness. It's incredible to think that he has been here for a whole decade. As you know, it hasn't been the easiest or happiest year for him, and while that hurts my heart, I do think that I've had a remarkable opportunity to watch him grow and learn through it - sometimes in spite of it. I've learned from him too - to be tougher, to be calmer, to accept things that can't be changed, to work harder at the things that can be changed. Toughness, calmness and acceptance do not come easily to me, but they do to him. Salad aside, there are plenty of reasons to wonder how this kid came from me. He's all mine (I'd know that nose anywhere because it's mine too), and I really couldn't be prouder to be his mother.

Just one more birthday to go in this year's birthday season - mine!
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