Friday, October 21, 2016

The stitching cure

It's been a week around here. We refinished our double front doors, which were looking fairly shabby for the past year or two, as the old finish wore off and the wood started to dry out. The doors are not fancy - they're the original builder's-grade doors from when the house was built in the early 1980's - but they're pretty, fully paneled with a carved floral section in the center. They are meant to look like old-fashioned Spanish-style doors (our house's exterior is designed in the pueblo style, with Spanish touches; the interior is standard four-bed, two-bath ranch with two living areas). We looked into having the doors professionally refinished but the contractors' quotes made me cry, so we did it ourselves. Basically, there were many phases of sanding interspersed with many phases of varnishing, all to the local 80's-only radio station because it gets you going. The doors stayed open all day long, which was actually nice, but we needed to finish the job while we're in the window of good weather for leaving double doors wide open all day (tediously, the deadbolt and doorknob had to be reattached every night before bed). It was a lot of work but the doors look much better now and they'll have better sun protection. Oh, that relentless high-desert sun. It's lovely, especially right now, but it can really do a number on your stuff. 

Meanwhile, regular life continued - work, school and homeschool, doctor's appointments, minor medical-insurance struggles (ugh), school meetings, kids' lessons, the odd cat on the roof late at night (yes, it kept me awake for hours; I think it was having trouble finding a way down). I meant to blog days ago but I never got around to it. Today is my day "off." I went grocery shopping, put all the food away and repackaged the meat into smaller portions for dinners. I washed and dried a load of towels. I cleaned the kitchen and the bathrooms. I don't have to do any school driving today, luckily. The Bear is doing it both ways. Whoop! We're a good team.

I've had very little downtime lately, but when I have had some, I'm finding myself working on the My Sweetiepie ABC's sampler by Alicia Paulson, which I began stitching in September. It's meant for my sweetiepie GB as a Christmas present. I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself to get it done in time (I plan to have it framed, so I'll need to leave time for that as well). I do hope to finish it in time, though. I think it will be a nice gift. 

For me, the preparations for a stitching project are part of the fun. Alicia's cross-stitch kit comes very neatly organized with the flosses separated into three labeled groups, A, B and C. There are a lot of colors, so this makes it easier to figure out which is which as you make your floss organizers (using a piece of chipboard included in the kit). There's something about a craft kit that makes me feel really on top of things - all the supplies at my fingertips, ready to make something pretty. I stitch lots of pieces without a premade kit, but when I have one, it feels special.

Just look how neat and tidy...I love seeing the flosses laid out like this. I used my best handwriting, too. Always important. The colors in this sampler are really pretty. I like the way they range from neutrals and pastels through brighter, more saturated tones. The fabric is 28-count Cashel linen in a putty-beige color, I'd call it, but to me it also has a pinkish tone. I think the colors look really good against it. I'd expect nothing less than beautiful color sense from Alicia, though.

I really like how the sampler pattern is broken down into quadrants. Alicia says in the instructions that you can start with the apple for A if you measure so much down from the top and in from the left side, so you don't really have to start in the center of the design. This is a new approach for me; I've never started a cross-stitch project, even a tiny one, anywhere but dead-center. I like this a lot. I'm almost finished with the upper left quadrant. I hope the motifs are self-explanatory.

The house is my favorite so far. It took me about six hours altogether to stitch. It was so relaxing! I've said it before, but nothing soothes me like cross-stitch. Gosh, I love it so much. Look at the windows! And the red door! So sweet. I should have painted my doors red.

I still have an ice cream cone to stitch before I finish this first quadrant, but it's small. I'm excited for some other things later on. There's an octopus! Miss GB loves octopi, she draws them often and recently wrote and illustrated a story about an octopus family. They wore eight-legged jeans, which amuses me so. She doesn't know this sampler is for her, though she has commented several times that it would be "really nice for a girl's room." Perhaps she is dropping hints? Well, she is in luck because it IS for a girl's room - MY girl's room. I'm really glad to be making it, for her and for me.

What's new where you are? October shines and glows here. The weather here just won't quit - it's warm and sunny day after day after day lately, not a cloud in the sky, ever. It's lovely and slightly eerie. But the nights and mornings are nice and cold now, just the way I like them to be, and layering is easy. I'm pacing myself: when the wind is howling across the roof in January, I know I'll miss these balmy afternoons and sweater-worthy mornings.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Vista rosada

Autumn evenings are finally here. I wait all year for this short stretch - a week or two, no more - when the sunset happens at just such a time and in just such a way. Right now, it comes at a perfect moment, when I've finished cleaning up the kitchen and have just tucked the GB into bed. Suddenly, I'm free. The first thing I do is wash my face; it's my time-for-me ritual since I became a mother. I have always relished the feeling of a clean face and at the end of a long day, it's the one thing that truly refreshes me. I practically run to my bathroom after I shut her door.

If I get outside on time, I can watch the mountain take on the color of its namesake - Sandia, or watermelon in Spanish. The granite lights up orange-pink for just a few minutes and everything - sky, trees, my very skin while I stand there - glows a little. To the west, a fiery display as the sun sinks beneath the horizon. I look back and forth from mountain to mesa - it changes fast. By the time the moon rises over the garden wall, I feel calmer, ready to start the next round with the LB. He's been at the kitchen counter with the Bear, two sandy heads bent over a math textbook. Now it's time to supervise his evening rituals - chores, shower, last-minute backpack check - while I make something decaffeinated for me and the Bear to sip as we go about the rest of our evening. He works, I crochet or read. We watch mindless things on Netflix. Or smart-ish things, but not as much.

That's an autumn evening as we experience it. We're still waiting, as I write, for the weather to really turn. I haven't noticed the furnace to come on yet, as it will have once or twice by this time most years. This time of year is tricky, weather-wise; it can still be quite warm, as it was this past week. I felt disoriented; it was so dark, yet there was barely a hint of crispness. No sweater needed - no shoes, even. It's temporary, of course. By the end of the week, it's supposed to be chilly. The furnace will probably run. We'll kick off our covers in dusky early morning, waking to its familiar sounds, last year's dust toasting in the ducts. We'll eat our cereal in a pool of yellow light, talking about the fresh, new day ahead of us, and evening putters in the backyard will seem a million miles away.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Hawk in the yard

Do you see it?

This is a Cooper's hawk we spotted in the backyard last night while we were eating dinner. Our breakfast nook, where we have our kitchen table, looks out onto the back patio through a sliding glass door. We often watch the yard for squirrels and birds while we eat; we're all pretty enthusiastic about birds around here. We'd never seen a hawk right here in the yard before, though, so it was cause for excitement.

Have you seen a Cooper's hawk? It's a very common bird in North America, living year-round in many parts of the country. There has been something of a population explosion of Cooper's hawk in Albuquerque over the past few years. They say that if you live in the Northeast Heights quadrant of the city, as I do, then you probably live within a quarter-mile of a Cooper's hawk nest. Every park in the city has a mating pair, according to wildlife researchers. There are more nests here, in a fairly densely-populated urban area, than there are in the Bosque, the wooded area along the Rio Grande. The experts say that Cooper's hawk has been successful in the Northeast Heights because we've built an "urban forest" up here: the neighborhoods to the east of the Rio are older, therefore our trees are more mature, making good habitats for the hawks to nest. And not just hawks, but smaller birds like the pigeons, doves and sparrows that hawks want to eat. As the dove population increases, so does the hawk population.

We hear them a lot more often than we see them, I think. They have a very loud, piercing cry, which I am sure I have heard in the backyard before yesterday, so chances are good this was not the first Cooper's hawk to visit our yard, and maybe not even this particular fellow's first visit. He stuck around for a while, enabling me to take a few photos.

When he first arrived in the yard, we could see that he had a meal in his beak. It was probably a lizard, most likely caught right here in the yard. We have a huge lizard population in our yard but it's tough out there for them; they have natural predators in hawks and road runners, and I swear I've seen one of the hens with a lizard in her mouth. The hawk took more time with his catch than the road runners do, to the delight and/or disgust of those dining on the other side of the glass.

I find the hens' reaction to hawks very interesting. Hawks are a huge threat to backyard hens around here, though bobcats, coyotes and skunks are major concerns, too. I've seen the hens go into what looks like survival mode when there is a hawk circling in the sky over the neighborhood. They freeze, look upward and let out a terrible, shrill warning cry. They see the hawks before we ever do, even when it's just a tiny, dark silhouette far away. I assume this is a very primitive thing built into their brains: the shape of the hawk against the sky, the sound of its cry. When we spot a hawk, we put the hens back in the coop immediately. The small Bears are trained for it and they both watch the sky warily when the hens are having free-range time. The LB is particularly watchful; I've seen him carry each hen across the yard, looking up and in every direction on the arroyo, before hand-delivering her to the grassy patch where they like to roost.

The hawk eventually flew up to our weather station, which is fixed to the back garden wall, abutting the arroyo. He perched on the anemometer, looking out over the wildlife-rich arroyo for a long time. It was fully dark when I last heard him calling. He must nest nearby, possibly in the large city park just east of here, an easy thousand yards away if you can fly straight up the arroyo. 

Friday, October 7, 2016

Mexican Hot-Chocolate Cookies

I had very few real plans for the first day of the fall break. I wanted to stay home, catch up on some cleaning, maybe fit in some reading, a little crochet or cross-stitching, if possible. I also wanted to bake cookies. I hadn't baked cookies since summer; cookies require a blank space of a few hours and a lot of room to spread out. I hadn't had any of this lately, so cookies weren't happening. Yesterday, though, cookies were going to happen. I tried a recipe I've had my eye on for months, Mexican Hot-Chocolate Cookies from Martha Stewart, and oh, boy, am I glad I did! These cookies have the perfect flavor combination - sweet, spicy and richly chocolatey, just like authentic Mexican-style hot chocolate, with a very satisfying crisp-crumbly texture and pretty, crinkly tops.

Mexican Hot-Chocolate Cookies (my batch made about 4 dozen cookies)
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon chile powder (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees, with racks in upper and lower thirds. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, cocoa powder, cream of tartar, baking soda and salt.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down side of bowl. Add eggs and beat to combine. With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture and beat until combined.

An interjection from me: the recipe calls for chile powder, which is not the same thing as "chili powder," such as you might use in chili con carne or taco meat filling. That kind is typically a prepared mixture of ground chile peppers, garlic, onion, cumin and salt. The kind to use for these cookies is plain ground red chile peppers. Here in New Mexico, this is easy to find. I keep medium-heat red chile powder, shown above, in my pantry, to use in all sorts of savory recipes. I was concerned about the spiciness of my chile powder and originally planned to use half the amount in the recipe, but it was very mild when mixed with the sugar and cinnamon, so I used the full half-teaspoon.

In a small bowl, combine remaining 1/4 cup sugar, cinnamon and chile powder (if using). Using heaping tablespoons, form balls of dough and roll in cinnamon-sugar mixture. Place, about 3 inches apart, on parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake until cookies are set in center and begin to crack, about 10 minutes, rotating halfway through.

Let cookies cool on sheets on wire racks 5 minutes, then transfer cookies to racks to cool completely. (Store in airtight container, up to 1 week).

These are the most interesting cookies I've made in a long time. I don't take these things lightly - I really love cookies. But these are very different from the types I'm usually drawn to. The flavors are quite complex, spicy without being hot, sweet but not cloyingly so. The heat is mild, a light but noticeable warmth in the back of the throat - even the most spice-averse member of the family enjoyed them. There's an autumnal air about them, and as I suspected, they're even more delicious with a cup of coffee. Why are you still sitting there? Go bake some!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

At home, in October

Autumn has arrived in a quick, sharp gust. It's often this way here, like someone flips a switch one day and suddenly summer ends. A storm will plow through, often from the northwest, with high winds, lowering clouds, spitting rain, and then it's fall. Just like that. Today was the perfect October day - crisp and bright. Things are happening out there - the leaves are changing and falling, the apples - the few we have left - have turned rosy on the outside, mealy and dry inside. The air smells different, especially early and late. Woodsmoke in the air is a fact of life now, along with darker mornings and evenings. There are almost no flowers left, aside from my one can't-kill-it yellow chrysanthemum and my roses, which languished in the hot, dry summer but came back with a vengeance in September. I'm clipping new ones every few days to bring inside for a Mason jar arrangement, adding whatever else is left out there. Right now, I have five roses, two sprigs of pyracantha berries, three cuttings from the mums and a sheaf of Russian sage. It makes a homey bouquet, nothing fancy. This time of year makes me happy in a way I can't really describe - I'm looking forward to so many things, I feel better and it shows.

I do feel better, it has to be said. I was having a very hard time for a few weeks, dealing with the relentless illness in our house, and just generally feeling rundown physically and mentally. It goes without saying that I don't take good enough care of myself and I know I need to change that. It isn't easy to make that kind of change, though, as I'm sure many of you would agree. There are just so many hours in a day and my needs always end up coming last. My husband tells me it's one of the things he loves about me and also one of the things he finds most frustrating about me - that I treat everyone better than I treat myself - and he's right. I know he is. I need to say no more often. I've made great strides in the past few years, though; I actively pursue hobbies now, including my crafts and my blog, which is more than I had not all that long ago. I think sometimes that my chosen lifestyle - longtime stay-at-home mom, partial homeschooler - makes it very easy to be isolated and to forget that I'm a person too. I'm working on it, trying to get out more and remember my own needs. I'm feeling better now than I have in a couple of months. It's amazing how everything seems so much worse when you're in the thick of a stressful situation, and especially when you aren't getting enough sleep.

I've started working on a new cross-stitch sampler, Alicia Paulson's My Sweetiepie ABC's (which seems to be out of stock in her online shop at the moment, or I'd offer a link). I'm enjoying it very much so far, as I have the two previous samplers by Alicia that I have stitched. This one is a very sweet, girly-themed design, which I'm stitching especially for my GB, as a Christmas present. I'm going to have it professionally framed to hang in her room, probably above her chest of drawers. She's the family member I make the most things for, in part because it's easier to find girly things to make, but also because she really seems to appreciate them. I also have plans for a mobile of sorts, involving crochet and beads. Yes! It's a cute idea I first saw on Pinterest and then tracked down on Ravelry, where there aren't really instructions, but I think I can figure it out. I'll share more about that soon, along with the sampler. I've finished four letters and their accompanying motifs. So sweet! I can't say enough good things about it, although my new glasses are definitely getting a workout.

Everyone else is doing all the fall things around here too, like working in the shop, which is delightful in spring and fall when the overhead door can stay open all day and the breeze seems to sweep the sawdust into a pile for you. The Bear and the smaller ones put together a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle over a week or so while everyone was feeling poorly. We're all enjoying video clips from Mr. Wizard's World on YouTube, but maybe especially me because it was one of my favorite shows when I was a kid. The Bear and I have both been busier in the kitchen. I've got the slow-cooker working overtime on Mondays and Wednesdays, when we have afternoon activities and I have less time to cook. I'm dreading the day it stops working - it's 16 years old already - because I fear the newfangled digital kinds. I know this thing like the back of my hand. I have big plans for a new cookie recipe, maybe to try on Thursday afternoon - Mexican Hot-Chocolate Cookies from Martha Stewart. I know I'll need to cut down the chile powder for the young Bears, but a little will still be nice. I'm just imagining one with a cup of milky coffee.

I hope you're having a good week so far. Enjoy these beautiful early autumn days, my friends.


Have you joined in with my Winter Project Link Party yet? If not, there's still time! The link-up will close on Saturday, October 8. Please join in by sharing a post about your current winter projects (or summer ones, if that's the time of year where you are).

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Winter Project Link Party

Welcome to the first Winter Project Link Party of the season! I hope you'll want to join me this winter to share your projects and help each other stay motivated to work on them for the whole winter. My current winter project is a hexagon afghan that I shared a few weeks ago. I haven't made any progress since then, as we've continually battled illness in our house and crochet has unfortunately needed to take a back-burner lately, but I am motivated to get back into it as soon as possible! I really like this project and I'm very excited about it.

I'm making my new blanket with trusty Stylecraft Special DK acrylic yarn. It's not the fanciest yarn but I love it for its durability and wonderful array of colors. I went with soft, cool shades for this blanket. From left in the above photo, top row: Pale Rose, Raspberry, Plum, Grape, Parma Violet; bottom row: Denim, Petrol, Storm, Sage, Duck Egg.

Each hexagon will have six rounds and will be about 8 inches at the widest dimension, straight across the center of the motif. The main color, edging each hex and forming the joins, will be Grey. This blanket is meant for our bed, to replace a giant granny square we've used for several years. That one is a bit too small and is looking shabby these days, so I'm really looking forward to having a big new blanket to snuggle with...eventually.

My hexagon motif is inspired by one I came across on Ravelry, made by a crochet blogger named Nova Seals. Her Ruby Hexagon Blanket, shared on her blog, Novamade, is just beautiful. Someday, I'd like to make one very much like hers, with white or cream as the main color and lots of bold jewel-tone colors in the motifs. Maybe a future family-room blanket project? We'll see. Next winter will be here before I know it!

It might seem a little odd to some, but I spent a good deal of time planning this blanket and I'm looking forward to seeing if my plan turns out well. I think it looks very good so far. I want my hexes to follow a fairly narrow color-gradient format. I sketched out twenty gradients and will make 9 of each, for a total of 180 hexes. It was a really soothing and relaxing process to draw them, actually, and I got to use our newest box of Crayola colored pencils. Any chance to color is a good one in my book.

Originally, I thought I'd make my color placements randomly, using the same ten proscribed colors, but it was proving to be complicated and not very enjoyable. I've mentioned this before, but I find "random" color-placement pretty stressful. It never works out the way I envision it in my head. This way, I know what's coming next.

I'm enjoying these hexes a lot so far and I think it's going to be a good winter project. Now if I can just have a little more time to work on it, I'll be all set! :)

This year, I've changed a few things about the Link Party. Please read this part carefully. I know some readers may be new to link parties and I want to make sure everybody knows what's up.

The party will run from Saturday to Saturday. You'll have the full week to post about your winter projects on your blog and come back here to leave a link to your post in my link-up. There will be a new link-up at the beginning of each month. You'll need to add your new blog post each month to participate.  There will be parties in October, November, December, January, February and March. Join in with any or all!

I've created a linked button for the Link Party, which you can add to your posts or put on your blog's sidebar. I'm not particularly good at this stuff so I used a code generator. The button is optional, but I would ask that you at least put a text link back to the Link Party in your blog post, to help spread the word about my party.

Finally, please read the brief rules below when you join the Link Party. I just want to make sure everyone has fun and gets the motivation they need to continue all winter with their projects. Thanks for taking the time to check out my party! I hope you'll join. Here's to a productive winter!


Wednesday, September 28, 2016


Most afternoons, these two spend some time playing their guitars together. They practice separately too, and each is a little annoyed to have the other nearby during their solo practice, but they will usually sit together for a few minutes at some point in the afternoon. He helps her with fingerings that she's still trying to master. He's remarkably patient with her, explaining the same things over and over until she understands. Sometimes he moves her fingers on the neck of the guitar to make sure they're in the right place. When they start to play, he waits for her to get it right. He isn't this patient with her about everything, so I'm often surprised by this. I think it's because his own playing is very important to him, making him feel more tender toward someone he plays with. They don't always get along, but they care about each other and they're mostly kind. Even on the rough days, I can look forward to a few minutes of gentle harmony.


Thanks for the birthday and get-well wishes you've left for us lately. We're still dealing with the latest illness, though the small Bears are back in school today. We're following our doctor's advice as to medicines and treatments and otherwise riding it out. It's fall and we have young kids, so illness is just a fact of life. I've accepted it, but that doesn't mean I have to like it, ha. Anyway, I'm really tired. I've been sleeping very poorly for weeks now and am so ready to stop nursing sick people. This too shall pass. Just another week until our fall break and I'll have a few days to relax.

The first installment of my Winter Project Link Party will be live on Saturday! Please join me for another motivating season of check-ins and project-sharing. 
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