Wednesday, May 24, 2017

One more chevron scarf

Last week, in the midst of the end-of-school-year craziness, I finished a gift for the GB's teacher, Miss Tara. She is a lovely young woman who came to our school at the beginning of this year. She did a wonderful job with our kids. I know the GB has loved being in her class and I've seen her grow by leaps and bounds this year, becoming much more independent and self-confident. I am sure that our teacher had lots to do with this. Sadly, our teacher has decided to go back to the East Coast, where she comes from. She is about to be married and wants to be closer to her family again. I'm thankful for our year with her and I'm glad she came here for a little while because she made good things happen every day and you really can't ask for more than that.

Tara's gift is a crocheted scarf like the ones I've made for other teachers, friends and relatives over the past few years, using the One-Skein Chevron Scarf pattern by Dena Stelly (Ravelry link). I've even made a cowl for myself with the same pattern. I think I've made about eight scarves or cowls from this pattern now. I love it that much. It's easy and it works up quickly, and it makes a very pretty scarf. I especially love to make this pattern with Caron Simply Soft aran-weight acrylic, which is just a gorgeous yarn. It's soft and silky, with nice stitch definition, a bit of sheen, and a lovely drape. I think it's perfect for items that are worn close to the face. I chose this pretty pink shade - Victorian Rose - especially for Tara, who is a redhead with a beautiful, creamy complexion.

The pattern is designed to be made with one 3.5-ounce skein of yarn, just the weight of a skein of Simply Soft. There are three width options; the narrow- and medium-width scarves can be made with one skein, while the widest one needs a bit more. You can use any yarn you like (I used worsted superwash wool for my cowl, which admittedly is a bit scratchy on my face and neck), of course. The hundreds of one-skein scarves on Ravelry run the gamut through all sorts of brands, fibers and weights, but I'll probably stick with Simply Soft. I have a feeling there are many more of these scarves in me.

I love the simplicity of this scarf. The chevrons are nice and neat, and the ends are smooth and tidy. You could certainly add fringes or other decoration to the ends if you wanted to. You can join the ends for an infinity scarf or cowl, as I have done in the past, or leave them free for a nice, long scarf you can wrap a couple of times.

The pattern suggests using a G/6 or H/8 hook, but I went up to an I/9. In my experience, the larger hook gives a looser, lacier effect to the stitch pattern, resulting in a nicer drape. I've tried this scarf with a smaller hook and it seemed very stiff to me, not soft and flowing like I get with a larger hook.

Miss Tara will get her scarf tomorrow, on the last day of school. I hope she finds it useful. Given where she is going, she'll probably want to wear a scarf sometimes. I hope mine will keep her warm. I also hope it will remind her of a family who appreciated her very much, and wishes her all the best in whatever she does next.

Tara's Scarf
Pattern: One-Skein Chevron Scarf by Dena Stelly
Size: about 6 feet long by 8 inches wide
Yarn: Caron Simply Soft in Victorian Rose
Hook: Clover Amour I/9 (5.5mm)
Made April-May 2017

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Start and stop

This time of year, I love to spend time in the yard in early evening. I do my watering and weeding then because it's cooler and also because I just really like being outside in the evening. It's quiet. The crazy after-dinner portion of the day is over. It's a nice time to recharge a bit. The hens are usually with me; the babies are almost as big as Betty now and that's saying something. They all appear to be female, which is a relief after last time around with Ginger I. I think we could have eggs again by the end of summer, which I'm very excited about. Good eggs are so expensive in the store. I can't wait to have my own "free" (well...) ones right in the backyard again.

My plants are doing well. My barrel of geraniums has done great so far. They're growing quickly and putting on a lot of flower heads. But the celosias I planted in my Talavera planter didn't make it. I did my best to give them plenty of sun, since they want a lot - 6+ hours per day of full exposure - but I ran into a different problem with them, an unforeseen one. The planter has poor drainage - just one big hole in the bottom - and I actually managed to drown plants for the first time ever. I love that planter so much, but I just can't win with it. My plants either scorch in the sun or, shockingly, languish in wetness. Maybe I could put an established potted plant inside the planter and see how that does. Last-ditch, I know, but I really love this planted and I need something to survive in it.

Our week was so hard, oh my goodness. The small Bears got over their cold from last weekend just in time to go back to school and perform in their class plays. They both did such a good job. Everyone did; I was so impressed with these children. Every kid did great. We went back to school two evenings in a row for each of their plays, making the days pretty hectic, and we were all exhausted by the end of the week. Then the latest axe fell and the GB was sick again, much worse than last time. There was some kind of virus tearing through her class all week and kids were falling fast. One poor little guy vomited all over the reading circle rug. I heard the gruesome tale from about six different goggle-eyed children at pick-up.

I wasn't surprised when the GB came down with the illness everyone else has, but it's been a rough one. I've been back in the house all weekend with her, while she rests on the couch. It's not all bad: I've been crocheting a lot (my Maybelle squares are coming along really fast lately). I've been organizing closets and storage bins now that I've switched winter clothes for summer ones. I even did a little baking. The main thing is to keep her resting so she can be well for her super-mega-major dance recital this coming Friday. There's also a dress rehearsal on Wednesday night. Oh, and this is the last week of school; there's a talent show, a games day, a pizza party and a classroom-cleaning day. Get well, little lady!

I've also been keeping busy planning the summer's activities. Our summer break is sooooo flippin' long and it just drags on if we don't keep busy. The LB will continue his private guitar lessons through the summer, and the GB will take summer ballet. They'll both take swimming lessons and we'll swim during open times too. I've signed the LB up for numerous "tween" events at the library (the GB isn't quite old enough to participate officially, but the librarians almost always allow anyone to join in who wants to, which is very nice). We'll also attend movie showings at the library and as many all-ages activities as we can fit in. There's always something interesting going on. I've booked two camping weekends as well, one in June and one in July. Meanwhile, we have plotted our summer math and reading homeschool, and each child has chosen some recipes for mostly-independent cooking. There will be plenty of downtime, of course. I don't want to overschedule them (or me!), but we do need to keep some structure. It's more fun, and the days fly by. Future-me will want to take now-me out for a congratulatory beverage. Now I'm just hoping for a good monsoon this year! Perfect summer.

I hope life is going swimmingly for you these days! Thank you for your lovely comments lately. I'm sorry to have been so absent from blogland recently. It's been hard to find time for blogging but that should improve, what with all the free time I'll soon be enjoying. Have a good week, my friends.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Roses and raspberries

Mother's Day was very nice, in spite of the fact that both of my children were sick with colds all weekend. They gave me a lovely day, though, and I enjoyed it very much. To be honest, it was kind of awesome to stay home all weekend, given how busy we've been lately - and how busy will be this week and next before school finishes for summer. I went out on Saturday morning for groceries; otherwise, we hung out at home. On Saturday afternoon, I baked a cheesecake (the super-easy recipe I like to call Lazybones Cheesecake) as a Mother's Day dessert. The Bear and I had Chinese takeout for dinner on Saturday for our at-home date. The small Bears went to bed by 7 because they felt poorly, so we had a nice, long evening of MST3K on Netflix (have you seen the new episodes? They're pretty good!). And Sunday was a lovely Mother's Day for me.

They made my favorite breakfast, an everything bagel with cream cheese, lox and tomato. This is my usual Mother's Day breakfast. Lox is a very special treat for me, and they always remember. So delicious.

The Bear made me a hazelnut latte with Torani syrup and milk foamed with an immersion blender. Also delicious.

They gave me some lovely presents. The Bear replaced my old pruning snippers with a new pair. The old pair could barely cut anything, plus I'd been holding them closed with a rubber band because the strap broke. The GB made me an embroidered card (see the first photo in this post) and the LB made me a beautiful necklace in school. He used a flat glass marble fused to polymer clay to make a pretty background you can see through the glass. He wrote a very sweet message in a card too. 

I took my new snippers outside to try them on the roses. They work beautifully, so sharp and neat. They're exactly what I've been needing for happier gardening.

I brought a few roses inside for a kitchen bouquet. I'm so glad it's rose season again. The new snippers will be nice for the roses and everything else this summer. While I was outside, I watered my geraniums and also the seeds we planted a few weeks ago in the beds around the water feature. We have sunflowers sprouting now, as well as lots of other wildflowers from seeds I've put down over the years.

The afternoon progressed in a mostly non-photo-worthy way, including laundry, cleaning and straightening up. Yes, I know it was Mother's Day, but there was plenty to do. I made a quick sauce from frozen raspberries to eat with our cheesecake. For dinner, I roasted a chicken, which we ate with mashed potatoes, and broccoli slaw that I made with apple, walnuts and Craisins.

Later, I watched Call the Midwife and had a small slice of cheesecake with raspberry sauce. Perfect! It came out well and it capped off a day of really good food. My family made such a nice day for me. I'm so thankful for them. I hope you had a lovely Mother's Day as well.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Blueberry jam

A couple of weeks ago, I was rooting around in the pantry while making my grocery-shopping list. I noticed that I was getting low on jam. I did have three unopened jars of peanut butter, though. That was heartening. We'll be able to survive a Peanut-Pocalypse with that kind of supply. I had just one jar of jam left - raspberry, made last summer. That was my favorite homemade jam so far. I really want to make more, but it will probably be a few weeks before raspberries are in great supply.

I decided to watch the grocery-store circulars (I get them in a handy bundle with my mail on Tuesdays) for good fruit sales. The first good sale to come along happened to be on blueberries, so I bought eight half-pints on my next shopping trip. I was excited! I'd never made blueberry jam before, and in fact, I don't think I'd even eaten it, aside from jam made with a blend of berries. But we all love blueberries, and they really looked nice when I checked them out in the store, so blueberry it was. I was in need of lids, so I ordered some more (check out this great deal I found on Amazon - the four-pack is really economical) and soon, I was jammin'.

Eight half-pints was more than I needed, but it was such a good price and we can always find a home for fruit around here. My recipe called for four cups of mashed fruit, or 1 1/2 quarts of whole berries. This equaled about six half-pint containers of berries, give or take; I think my fruit actually measured closer to five cups after it had been mashed. (I followed the recipe that came with my powdered pectin).

I was a little surprised at how the berries looked when I crushed them with my trusty potato masher. The colors were awful, all mucky green and brown. The berry skins were a little hard to break through, but enough mashing and they went down eventually.

As mentioned, I used powdered pectin in my jam, adding it to the crushed berries before beginning to heat them. I used pectin last summer with my raspberry jam and it worked so beautifully. I used to think it was cheating to add pectin, because you can make jam without it. You can use some ratio of ripe fruit to under-ripe fruit, or combine high-pectin fruits with low-pectin ones. I've done this with some success, but I find it complicated. So I gave myself permission to use pectin and I'll never look back. Jam-making feels foolproof now.

My recipe said I'd get four to five half-pints of jam, but I actually got almost six and a half! That was a nice surprise. The partial jar was for eating right away, as usual. The rest of the jars were processed in a hot-water bath for safe storage and later use.

Here's how I made my jam, including notes on my own preferred methods. There are many ways to do it, but these are my own personal jammy ways. I hope you'll find them helpful.

Blueberry Jam

1 1/2 quarts whole berries or 4 cups crushed berries
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon butter or margarine (to reduce foaming)
1 package powdered pectin
4 cups granulated sugar

Prepare jars, lids and bands. I like to wash everything in hot, soapy water. Then, I place the jars on a baking sheet in a 250-degree oven, to sterilize and heat them, while the jam cooks. My lids and bands go into a medium saucepan filled with water to cover them, which I bring to a boil and leave to simmer on the stove while I work.

Wash and sort the berries. Crush them in a large pot (I use a potato masher). Stir in lemon juice, butter and pectin. Measure the sugar into a bowl and set it aside.

Heat berry mixture over high heat until it comes to a full rolling boil. Stir in sugar all at once and bring back to a full rolling boil. Cook at a full boil for exactly one minute, then take the pot off the heat. Skim off any foam with a spoon.

Quickly ladle jam into hot jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of the top. Wipe the rims with a damp paper towel, then add the lids and bands. Screw on the bands "fingertip-tight," then process them if you so desire. The jars should seal on their own after they come out of the bath. You may need to screw down the bands a little tighter as the jars cool.

(I follow US Department of Agriculture guidelines for canning jams and jellies, a helpful PDF for which can be found here. I don't have a formal canner, but I make a pretty good canning bath in a stockpot lined on the bottom with a dishtowel. I fill it about halfway with water and bring it to a boil. Then I place the jars in the pot, which displaces the water enough to cover them by a couple of inches. If necessary, I use a big ladle to remove some of the water so it doesn't overflow on the boil. I always add ten minutes to my processing time because I live at high altitude (approximately 5,500 feet above sea level). Elevation matters in canning. Ball and Kerr have some reference charts on this subject right here, if you're interested).

I think raspberry jam is probably still my favorite, especially of the kinds I've made myself, but this blueberry jam is really good too. In a way, it reminds me of cranberry sauce, but not as tart. It was really good on buttered toast. And look at the color! It's nothing like that early, mashed muck in the pot. Pretty, pretty. We all like it a lot and now I've got something fresh and new to go with all that peanut butter.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Flowering, flying May

Hello! Happy Sunday. I'm finally sitting down, feet up, with my laptop and a glass of water, after a morning of bedding-changing, cleaning, yardwork and jam-making. It's very warm outside, which is a big change from last weekend, when it snowed! Ah, springtime in New Mexico. It's like the proverbial box of chocolates.

This week was crazy with all kinds of kids' activities as well as medical appointments for the LB, pertaining to his chronic kidney disease. He's doing great, thankfully. We had a little hiccup on Monday when we went to the blood lab and realized that his favorite phlebotomist, the guy who makes blood draws bearable by talking about football and junk food, had retired since the last time we needed bloodwork. We didn't know he was going to retire, we just assumed he'd always be there. Poor LB. I felt badly for him, but he did okay. He's a tough one. I wish I were so tough; there were more arguments to be had with pharmacies and insurance people this week, enough to make me run screaming up the street. I won't bore you, dear reader, I'm just exhausted by it all.

May is always such a busy month for us. School will finish for the summer break just before Memorial Day weekend (the last weekend in May). In the meantime, we have plays and recitals and parties galore. The LB is working hard on his upcoming performance as Dr. Craven in The Secret Garden. He has a real lab coat, a purse that looks a little like a doctors' bag, and a 50-year-old stethoscope that we keep in the garage for some reason. He's working on not smiling so much while he plays this fairly evil-minded character.

The GB will play the Wicked Witch of the West in her class play, and she'll also perform in her dance school's massive biennial recital show, held in a local concert hall. She had professional portraits taken in her beautiful costume last week. Yesterday, she had her guitar recital, which was fantastic. There were five kids, all of them about eight or nine years old, and all very talented. She did two solo songs, a flamenco-style piece called "Farucca," and also "Iron Man," by the esteemed Mr. Osbourne. After the recital, we walked across the street for pizza, her choice for lunch.

As for me, I'm just trying to keep it all straight and show up on time. I really want to be blogging more often than I've had time for lately. I'm crocheting as much as I can, and I'm looking forward to getting back to a small cross-stitch project I started weeks ago. I enjoyed my jam-making very much this morning; I made blueberry jam for the first time. It was easy and made lovely jam. I'll tell you more about it soon. Life is good but I won't lie; I'm ready for the end of the month when it's all behind us. I'm so looking forward to it. The Bear and I will celebrate fifteen years of marriage on May 25, and we're planning to spend Memorial Day weekend alone at home while the small Bears stay with their grandparents. We'll eat out and do some shopping and driving around, but mostly just stay home and relax. We did this for our anniversary last year and it was better than any weekend away we've ever had. We both love to be at home, so now we celebrate our marriage by staying home together.

What's going on with you in May? I hope your month is off to a beautiful, happy start.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Maybelle, ma belle

I feel so good about crochet right now. I'm crocheting every day and it's all wonderful again. My renewed enthusiasm is all due to Maybelle squares. My recent crochet apathy has gone out the window. I really can't believe how much better I feel! It's like a whole new crafty world when you love what you're doing. I'm sure many of you can attest to this as well: a good project, much like a good book, draws you in and excites you. You don't want to put it down. You can stay immersed for hours without a break. That's how I'm feeling these past few weeks about Maybelle squares. This is the right project for me, at last. I've been waiting for ages to be able to say it.

Actually, I'm feeling a serious shift in my mood since I started this project. I was feeling pretty down lately, which is not all that unusual for me, but I was feeling a bit aimless too. I find that having a project gives me a lot of energy and helps me overcome other negative feelings and situations I may be dealing with. Now that I'm working on something again, I feel that sense of purpose and accomplishment. So it's more than just love of yarn and hook - important though they are - motivating me here. That's been a big improvement in my life lately, just like when I started intentional creative work five or six years ago, learning more about crochet, setting my mind to making a big blanket - which turned into many blankets, a fun, rewarding blogging presence, and a strengthened passion for hearth and home. I feel my best when I'm busy, and one of the best ways to be busy, for me, is to be making.

My squares will be made with nine center colors of Stylecraft Special DK, on a G/6 hook, and all will be edged in the same color, Grey. There will be 169 squares, to make a large square blanket that is 13 by 13 squares. Joined, this will give me a blanket of about 90 by 90 inches before crocheting a border. I want this blanket to be pretty huge because it will serve as a top layer on our queen-sized bed during the cold months. I've now completed squares in two of the center colors, Raspberry and Sage. They've been bundled with a strand of yarn and they sit in a grocery bag near my desk. Inelegant, yes, but these are pretty big stacks of squares and they can't just float around the room. Each of these stacks is about six inches tall by six inches wide. They're like fluffy little Nerf balls.

One thing I really like about this motif is that while they are flowers, they aren't particularly feminine. If anything, they're geometric. I really like the symmetry of them and the repetitiousness, both in the creation of them and in the way they look when they're complete. I've realized that they remind of the Tudor rose emblem. Do you see it too?

Now, I'm working with Parma Violet. I really like the way these look. I feared that this palest of violets would blend right into the Grey, but there's just enough contrast. They look soft and light.

I've been making about two squares every day lately. They take about half an hour for me to crochet from start to finish, so they fit nicely into certain "down" times of the day, like when I'm finished with my morning housework but it's too early to do the school pickup, or when I've just put something in the oven for dinner. If I can, I time it to my two daily cups of tea for that perfect sip-and-hook experience.

My crochet mojo has been so strong that I've started a crocheted end-of-year gift for the GB's teacher. This is the One-Skein Chevron Scarf by Dina Stelly (Ravelry link), which I've made many times before. It's a delightful, easy pattern which works up quickly and makes a nice gift. I'm using Caron Simply Soft (which is absolutely perfect for this project, a dream to work with, and so soft and silky crocheted up) in Victorian Rose. It's nice to have another chance to make this scarf, especially for someone as lovely as she.

What are you working on right now? Do you have the crafty mojo in you?

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Storm and shine

On Tuesday, we were in and out of storms all day long. As you know, I am a pluviophile (love that word!), or a person who really, really likes rain. Tuesday's weather was a nice change of pace from the sunny, warm weather we've had here for weeks. February, March and April were all fairly dry and the temperatures were mostly above average, day after day. Don't get me wrong - I love beautiful weather too. However, I find it gets kind of boring to have nothing but. So when the weather turns stormy, I'm really happy. I find myself going outside just to look at everything while it's wet, because it really does look different. I especially love to see water on the flowers and leaves. Raindrops on roses, and all that.

It was lovely. There was steady rain all morning, then things got more exciting in the afternoon with occasional thunderstorms. In the morning, I stayed home and crocheted, while watching Heir Hunters on Netflix, to which I'm a bit addicted at the moment. It's fascinating. I wonder if it's hard to become a probate researcher...I think I'd be good at it. I'd certainly enjoy being nosy for a purpose. I'm working on my crocheted Maybelle squares right now and loving them so much. I'm making a lot of progress. I think we could be using this blanket by next winter! I don't want to rush but they're so pleasant to make, they almost crochet themselves. It feels so good to have a project I love again. I went so long without a good crochet adventure. Last year without crochet was surprisingly frustrating, though I did complete three large cross-stitch projects. I enjoyed them a lot but I really missed crochet. A rainy morning for quiet crochet was just the ticket after a hectic and stressful couple of weeks.

The weather on Tuesday reminded me a lot of the lake-effect storms we had when we lived near Lake Ontario. The rain seemed to come in bands, much like lake-effect snow, interspersed with periods of broken clouds and bright sun. We had two separate thunderstorms, with lightning and small hail, in the afternoon and evening. The sky turned dark and the wind howled. Both storms lasted just a few minutes but they were thrilling. The small Bears and I stopped what we were doing and watched from inside the house. After the first storm, we spent some time in the backyard and let the hens out. It was chilly outside, damp and windy, but the sky was pretty.

Before we knew it, the weather turned again and we went back inside. I started dinner - Chicken Pot Pie Soup, an easy favorite we don't have very often but oh so perfect for a stormy day. I sat down with a magazine under the family room skylight just to listen to the raindrops and tiny hail hit the glass. Our soup was delicious. After dinner, I sat looking out the sliding-glass door at rain-soaked flowers, hummingbirds dipping and darting, and the last few raindrops splashing into patio puddles.

Have you ever had Chicken Pot Pie Soup? I got this recipe from a friend years ago, one of those concoctions that uses canned condensed soup as a base with lots of fresh ingredients added. I try to cook most meals from scratch, but sometimes this soup is just the thing. It's especially good with a biscuit or bread roll on top, just like a pot pie.

Chicken Pot Pie Soup

2 small boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon olive or other oil
Black pepper
Dried herb poultry seasoning (or dried sage and/or marjoram)
1 cup sliced carrot
1 cup sliced celery
1 cup diced potato
1 can (10.5 oz) condensed cream of chicken soup*
1 can (10.5 oz) condensed cream of celery soup*
2 soup cans water
1 soup can milk
1 cup frozen peas

On medium heat, brown the chicken in oil in a large stockpot that has a lid, seasoning with pepper and poultry herbs to taste. Remove the chicken to a plate. 

Add the carrot, celery and potato to the pot. Cook them for 5 minutes until they're just starting to become tender. Remove the vegetables from the pot. 

Put both soups into the pot, adding cans of water and milk. Whisk the soup and liquid until well-blended and add the chicken and vegetables back into the pot, stirring to combine.

Bring the soup to a boil. Reduce heat and let the soup simmer with the lid tilted, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes until the vegetables are cooked and the soup is thickened a bit. Stir the frozen peas into the soup about five minutes before serving. Enjoy!

*I prefer Campbell's Healthy Request varieties of cream soups, for lower sodium and fat.
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