Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Yarn Along

I've decided to join in with Ginny's Yarn Along series as we head into the summer. I have sort of a love-hate relationship with summer vacation. I know, I know...hear me out, please. I'm not good at relaxed, unstructured time. It just doesn't work well for me; my nature is to seek out projects and to get them done relatively quickly. I'm the kind of person who loves to clean, make beds, organize paperwork and books. I just came home from the small Bears' school, where I was helping the GB's teacher clean the classroom. I was up on a chair, scrubbing the whiteboards with a rag for nearly an hour. I felt a little tingly, I have to tell you. So, knowing myself and my need for structure and predictability, I think having a built-in blogging prompt each week will be a very good thing for me indeed. I'll probably want to keep going after summer ends.

Ginny says:  ~ Two of my favorite things are knitting and reading and I love sharing my projects and current reads here.  I would love for you to join me every Wednesday to share a single photo of what you are knitting (or crocheting) and reading too!  Share your photo on your blog, on Instagram (#yarnalong), or on Flickr. Leave a link below to share your photo with the rest of us! ~

As of today, I'm reading Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng. This is a novel about a young girl who goes missing from her suburban Ohio town in 1977. Familial tensions ensue. I'm only a few pages in, having just finished The Last Days of the Romanovs last night. I like the new novel so far, but we'll have to see where it goes. It seems like the plot will be thickening quite a bit.

I'm crocheting a small throw for our living room, using a ripple pattern from the blog Meet Me At Mike's. It's an easy design and I like the pointy peaks and valleys it creates. I'm using Stylecraft Special DK for my throw; I'm going with an easy color sequence that requires 16 rows of each color. I like the chunky, graphic look I'm getting this way. So far, the shades I've used are Cream and Camel. I don't really need another throw for the living room, and I don't normally start blankets in the late spring, but I was in the mood for soothing, repetitive crochet and this is perfect.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Reading the Romanovs

Two weeks ago, I borrowed The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport from my local library. Within just a few pages of reading, I found myself completely absorbed, swept away by an old obsession I hadn't indulged in many years - my youthful fascination with the Romanov family, the last Tsar of Russia and his wife and children. Do you know their story? Nicholas II was considered a weak ruler and his wife, Alexandra, was roundly disliked by their subjects. To make a long story short, the whole family was murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918, after the Russian Revolution brought sweeping change to the political and social landscape, ending imperial rule.

That's my copy of Robert K. Massie's epic biography, Nicholas and Alexandra, up there in the photos, along with the library copy of The Romanov Sisters. I've had the Massie book since I was a teenager, and it was old then, an edition from the 1970's. The cover is torn, mended with scotch tape where it's separating from the spine. Oh, how I love this book. I read it over and over again when I was younger, carrying it with me on long car trips, on the buses and trains I used to take when I traveled between college and my parents' house. My (maiden) name is written inside the cover. I found the book just after I'd learned about the last Tsar in history class, in tenth grade. I was already intrigued by their story and I think the book just came along at the right time and I was transfixed. Has that ever happened to you? When it happens to me, I'm hooked for life, literally. I can't let a book go after that.

I hadn't read Nicholas and Alexandra in about fifteen years, but my interest in their story has continued on and off. I took it out to use as sort of a companion to The Romanov Sisters, helping me refresh my memory as to family trees, especially (both Nicholas and Alexandra were descended from the major European houses of royalty). I've read numerous other books about them, some much better than others. The Romanov Sisters is about their four daughters - the Grand Duchesses Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia. The girls have often been depicted in an idealized way, bordering on hagiography, even while they were alive. They were the first four children of the Tsar and his wife, born before the longed-for male heir, Alexey, who was a hemophiliac and very sickly.

The girls were killed, along with their parents and brother, when all four were between the ages of 17 and 22. Rappaport's book brings the girls to life in a way that no other book I've read has done. They were close and loving, but they had personality flaws like anyone else. They nursed inappropriate crushes and struggled with schoolwork at times. They squabbled like any other siblings and sometimes had disagreements with their parents and tutors. I enjoyed the way that Rappaport told their stories through personal letters and diaries, which offered a glimpse of their everyday language and senses of humor.

I was particularly impressed with the way Olga and Tatiana were depicted. As the eldest daughters, they had more responsibility and more visibility, having entered the marriage market in the years before their deaths. Both also served as nurses during World War I, in makeshift hospitals with seriously injured patients. Tatiana, in particular, blossomed in this environment and proved herself to be a very capable and compassionate young woman. I was surprised by some things I learned about the girls, such as their close relationships with their appointed sailor/bodyguards on the family yacht, and the intimate friendships they formed with soldiers as well as the "healer" Grigory Rasputin, whom their mother relied upon for spiritual advice and faith-healing for herself and the hemophiliac Alexey. I was not aware that the girls were so close to Rasputin but they wrote letters to him and often looked to him for advice in their personal lives.

The younger daughters, Maria and Anastasia, were not as fleshed-out in this book, which is my only disappointment. I think Maria gets the least discussion in most books on the Romanov family. She was considered the sweetest, most agreeable of the four, while Anastasia is usually depicted as more of a spitfire. Anastasia is famous posthumously, of course, because of doubts that she had died with the family and even imposters who claimed to be her. (All members of the family have been proven killed, by the way, through forensic analysis of their remains. All have also been canonized as martyrs by the Russian Orthodox church).

As soon as I finished The Romanov Sisters, I went back to the library for Helen Rappaport's previous book, The Last Days of the Romanovs, which I've only just started in the last couple of days. It chronicles the last weeks and days of the family after they were imprisoned at Ekaterinburg, a city in western Siberia, where they were soon killed en masse by their Bolshevik captors. It's very good so far, and also does a good job of shedding more light on the personalities of all the family members. As a lover of biography, I think Rappaport has a real gift for bringing historical figures to life. I understand that she is also an expert on Victorian England, which I have also long enjoyed reading about (Alexandra was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria), so I will look for her books on that subject as well.

I know from having Instagrammed about The Romanov Sisters that some of you are interested in the last imperial family's story as well; I think you will love this book.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Three things

What a crazy week. We're in the home stretch with school now, just this week and next to go before summer vacation begins. In one way, I can't believe we're already here and in another, it seems like we can't get finished soon enough. Almost there, though. We've had more medical appointments for the LB and are making plans for a summer surgery, in addition to swimming lessons, summer homeschool curricula and a few days' vacation in Denver.

I've felt a bit absent from blogging lately, both my own and others', but I hope to be more immersed again soon. I have been reading and crocheting a lot in my spare time. I've started a small ripple blanket project and have been reading an excellent biography, The Romanov Sisters, about the daughters of the last tsar of Russia. I actually can't put this book down. It's the first book I've stayed up way too late reading in a while. I have more to say about both blanket and book, of course, and I'll do that soon. We have a new podcast online! We're talking about our experiences with chicken-keeping. Click on the "podcast" button in my sidebar if you'd like to listen.

Lately, life has been all about taking time to stop and smell the roses - sometimes literally - as we race through these last few hectic days before the summer break. Here are three things that I've enjoyed lately, because they made me slow down and savor the small stuff.

I stopped at an estate sale last Friday afternoon on the way home from school. I'd been at the park with the small Bears, who ran themselves ragged on the soccer field and the playground, and we were all ready to go home and chill out. I saw a sign in my neighborhood for a sale and decided to drive by just for a look. It turned out to be an amazing sale. I didn't have enough money on me (or elsewhere, let's be honest) for the beautiful antique furniture but I was able to pick up a tin tray with strawberries, perfect for my kitchen, and three old glass bottles.

The bottles are my favorite. I used to collect old glass bottles and jars, starting with a grab-bag of them I found at a flea market when I was fifteen. Eventually, I ended up with about thirty of them, moving them from house to house many times until with one move, I just gave up. It was becoming a chore and I wasn't even unpacking them anymore. I gave most of them away, keeping a few small ones for flowers. I wanted a few big ones again, though, and made room in case I ever found any. These will be great. They're all different (I have a small jar, as for jam, a large mason jar and a milk bottle). They're the old, thick kind of glass with a slight tint to it, and lots of nicks and pits and even a little crack in the big mason jar. Just the kind of old stuff I love!

Ever throw together a meal and have it turn out fabulously? I did that earlier this week. I was making a chicken stir-fry for dinner (I make lots of stir-fries; it's a great way to clean out the veggie drawer). I felt bored with the usual bottled sauce that I use (Trader Joe's Soyaki, which I doctor with a little sesame oil and thicken with a cornstarch slurry). I decided to try making a peanut sauce instead. I used a can of light coconut milk, about 1/3 cup of peanut butter, the juice of a lime, a teaspoon of fish sauce, a dash of red chili flakes and a couple of teaspoons of sugar. I brought it to a boil and let it simmer a few minutes to thicken, then poured it over my cooked chicken and veggies and let it all simmer together for a few more minutes before serving. It was so good! I will definitely do it again. It was a nice change of pace.

I'm really excited about the geraniums I planted on Mother's Day. Last summer, I planted numerous different kinds of annuals in this half-barrel on my back patio, and the geraniums seemed to do the best. This year I decided that I'd just plant geraniums. Why not? They're hardy, they don't require a lot of water and they're colorful. I bought three trailing ivy geraniums at Lowe's on Saturday. I knew one was a fuchsia color because there was a spent bloom on it, but the others were a mystery. The selection at Lowe's included white, pink, red, fuchsia and a white/fuchsia variegated type. As it turns, out, they all seem to be fuchsia and I really like it. The color is bright and crisp and I think it will look lovely in the barrel, which is right next to my red roses, dark pink Jupiter's beard and pale pink primroses. I like red and pink together. And green, lots of green! Let's keep that going.

Speaking of roses and Jupiter's beard...I really can't get enough of this combination right now. I'm bringing in a new bouquet every few days. My roses are a little shabby and the Jupiter's beard sheds all over the table, but I love my slightly untidy real-life flowers.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Mother's Day

My Mother's Day began on Saturday, when my beautiful mother-in-law gave me this potted petite orchid, and thanked me for being a good mother to her grandchildren. I thanked her for being an excellent role model.

On Sunday morning, my three Bears gave me a ceramic teapot. I've wanted one for a long time. Isn't it so "me"? It looks perfect in my strawberry kitchen. I can't wait to crochet a cozy for it; I have the perfect idea!

The Bear baked banana-nut muffins for breakfast (it was very sunny in the kitchen).

I spent a very happy half-hour in the backyard, planting some geraniums that I bought on Saturday.

I took the duvet cover off to wash it, hung the duvet on the clothesline to air and put the cover back on again. I love to change the bed. It's a happy ritual and I'm glad to do it, even on Mother's Day.

I watched the Bear bake ciabatta bread (he's still working his way through Peter Rinehart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice, and baking better bread all the time). We took one loaf to his mother later in the day.

We ate hot dogs for lunch on the patio. The Bear grilled my hot dogs nice and dark, just the way I like them!

Then I wandered around and admired my flowers for a while. I love flowers, especially when they are my very own.

I went inside and started a new crochet project. I've been wanting to try a pointy ripple design, and this one from Meet Me at Mike's is really easy to do. I think this will become a small throw for the living room.

Then my Bears surprised me; they wanted to take me out for ice cream! We went to Baskin-Robbins. I had strawberry cheesecake, my favorite since I was a kid. Back at home, I made turkey meatloaf for dinner, the Bear and I watched Call the Midwife and I crocheted. I had a lovely Mother's Day full of things I love. I hope you did too!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

On the wing

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Lately, it seems like birds are everywhere. We've watched our baby doves fledge (and we can get into the side yard again now that mama is finished sitting on the nest). The LB tells me that there is a dove's nest in the courtyard at school too. He was outside, getting a drink of water, when he heard lots of "cheeping" above his head, he says. He looked up and saw baby birds poking their heads out of a nest built in the crook of a drainage pipe. I told him that we have to leave baby birds alone and maybe he should keep his discovery quiet. He looked sheepish and that's when I knew that he'd already told his whole class.

At home, we're now watching (more cautiously and from inside the house) as our resident road-runners create a nest in the vigas (beams) above our courtyard. They fly up with twigs and small branches in their beaks, using the trunk of the trumpet-vine as a stepping stone. Sometimes they drop their twigs and have to come down to pick them up. They're determined; the other day, I watched one of the pair - the male, I think - descend five separate times to pick up the same stick. He'd drop it, fly down to pick it up, fly up to a low part of the vine's trunk, drop the stick, and start all over again. They really want to build that nest.

I've had birds on my mind for a couple of months. In March, the Color Collaborative wrote about birds (my post is here), and I looked to books and the internet for ideas. One place I always look for visual inspiration is Etsy. I make treasuries from time to time, just pulling together some items I like on a general theme (you can see two others here). I've added bird-related art, jewelry, fashion and home decor, some very obviously bird-based, some less so, but I find them all interesting. You can click on each of the photos for more info on the item.

What are the birds doing where you are?

* This is not a sponsored post and I have no connection to any of the sellers, I'm just sharing some things I like.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Feeding them





A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I used to make photo diaries of my days when my children were very young. I felt like it helped me stay in touch with the world. I took pictures of everything we did, from morning til night, uploading my photos to Yahoo to create slideshows. Sometimes I shared them with other moms on message boards where I was active at the time. We were all doing it; sometimes we'd go for weeks, everyone sharing a slideshow in turn. I loved it. I think it was a lot like blogging, actually. Blogs were still pretty new when the LB was an infant. I tried it, which I don't think I've ever mentioned here. I had no traffic but I kept it going for about six months. I'd always wanted to try again; it took another six years to get up the courage. The photo diaries suited me just fine during that period, though; they were a record, just for me, of the busy but tedious days at home with young children, and I look back at them now with a mix of pride and amusement.

Lately, I'd been thinking about feeding them as babies. I think it's the time of year; they were both born in September and I started them both on solid foods at about six or seven months old, in the spring. They were exclusively breastfed before that. (I tend to avoid discussing breastfeeding in social situations (blogging included) because I know it can be controversial. But I am proud of my accomplishments in that area. I nursed them for years. I nursed through my second pregnancy and then tandem-nursed (nursed both children at the same time) for over a year as well. I let them wean themselves, which happened well into the toddler years for both).

I didn't set out to do it this way; in fact, I was squeamish about it right up until I had my first baby and was sure I'd only last a few days. But then my pregnancy went off the rails, the labor and delivery were nightmarish and my postpartum recovery was like something out of a Civil War tent hospital. I noticed that in all of this, the breastfeeding I'd so reluctantly started was the only thing actually going well. It was empowering, so I kept going. It was important to me to delay solid foods as long as I could, with both babies, and I was happy to nurse until the right time.

When we did start, I gave them single-grain cereals like rice and barley for a couple of weeks, then moved on to single-ingredient purees and mashes. I made their food myself and I loved it. We moved onto "grown-up" food fairly quickly; I just gave them the blander foods from my own plate, broken up or crushed as necessary. Watching them learn how to eat solids was exciting! They were so different in how they approached it. The LB preferred meats and cheese to starches. His sister was the opposite; she ate pasta, beans, rice and potatoes with extreme gusto. She is still far more likely to eat starchy foods than her brother is. But both have always liked fruits and veggies, even as babies. I can barely keep enough fruit (or baby carrots or cucumbers) in the house to meet their voracious demands. Not that I'm complaining.

I think that one reason I feel nostalgic about their early feeding is because it was simpler. They only ate what I gave them. They'd never had candy or soda or chips. They'd yet to experience the dubious wonders of McDonalds. I'm not particularly controlling of their diets as they've grown; we all get our fair share of treats around here. But like every part of growing up, there was a lovely, fleeting innocence. One of the best parts was their facial expressions. I'm so glad I took photos of some of these times (or had the Bear do it while I did the feeding).

They love the photos too; it's hard for them to conceive of a time when they hadn't already eaten everything they love (or hate) now. Yes, you were both little babies who had never tasted mushy bananas or watery peaches or smashed kidney beans or shredded bits of chicken! You don't remember it, but you were. And you were surprised and eager and you looked incredibly cute in your Fisher-Price high chair and your bib. You looked so much alike, but I can tell you apart; my son, more like me, and my daughter, more like Daddy, both of you exactly ours.
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