Monday, May 23, 2016

Very Large Array

Earlier this spring, the Bear crew and I made a visit to the Karl G. Jansky Very Large Array, a radio astronomy observatory located on the plains of San Agustin in southern New Mexico. The VLA, as it is known, is a component of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, a department of the National Science Foundation. The VLA is made up of 27 gigantic radio telescopes, each 25 meters tall, which work together to observe various structures and features in space, such as black holes. The telescopes are spread in an arrow-shaped array across a huge field, where they are programmed to turn a little bit at a time, all of them at once, to gather information.

It's an interesting place to spend a few hours. You can take a walking tour on a path and get pretty close to one of them, standing underneath and looking up as it whirrs and hums lightly, ticking around ever so slowly. An anemometer (wind-speed gauge) protrudes from the very edge of the huge dish-shaped part (the wind on the field is not to be underestimated). The telescopes can be moved around the site on a dedicated railroad track, using caboose-like cars to push them into position. The site includes a museum, gift shop and theater, where you can watch an informative film before heading out for the walking tour. You've probably seen the VLA; Carl Sagan featured it in his documentary Cosmos, or maybe you've seen it in the movie Contact, starring Jodie Foster. Just the other night, I saw a truck commercial featuring the VLA. This enormous pick-up truck was driving dangerously close to the telescopes. Watching it, I felt concerned, and protective, now that I've walked among them.

You may be wondering what I really thought about visiting the VLA. Well, the truth is that I don't know enough about astronomy, or any branch of physical science, to give you a good review of the experience. The telescopes are an awesome sight, for certain. I like knowing that I live within a few hours of a major component of the national observatory and that real research is being done here in my state. I also like having a chance to see things that really interest my husband, who is a systems engineer for a National Laboratory; he works mostly on GPS satellites at the moment. His work is classified; I can't visit him at work, and he can't tell me about most of what he does there. In our nearly two decades together, I have only had a few opportunities to see him in his true element, so that was actually really nice. And then there are the two smaller Bears, wondrous and terrifying - the boy who is already years ahead of his peers in math, and the girl who just soldered her first circuit board this weekend.

I guess what I'm saying is that it hasn't always been an easy road, and I know I'll spend the rest of my life trying to keep up with the three of them, but I've come to appreciate having experiences as a family that aren't necessarily every member's cup of tea. We don't have to love the same things to find value in them, or to learn from them together, or to appreciate each other's reactions to them. In a family, you make room for each other.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Afternoon, late May

Friday, 81 degrees, the three of us whiling away the afternoon in our backyard - bikes and books, roses and honeysuckle, lizards and hummingbirds - he and she and me.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Ahoy, me hearties!

Thank you so much for the lovely replies to my last post, about what kind of blog I have (or don't have). I appreciate what you said. I have a lot of fun with blogging and that's what really matters to me. I've met wonderful people through blogging, have had some really nice (and totally unexpected) recognition now and then, and have just generally enjoyed expressing myself in words and photos. Of course, I'm very glad my blog resonates with people out there. Thanks for the encouragement and inspiration.

I have a new project to share today. Backing up a little bit first, I've given myself permission to stop worrying about crochet for as long as it takes to feel inspired again. I put a lot of pressure on myself in most areas of my life, even my crafty hobbies, and I'm really trying to change that. I like to get projects done, but it's important to savor, enjoy, stop and smell the roses, and all that.

The blanket I still hope to make will probably be my last one for a while, I've decided. I've made a lot of blankets over the past four-plus years since I really started crocheting in earnest - eight of them for our household alone! The new blanket will be a large one for our queen-sized bed, an extra layer at night in cold weather, and a colorful cover during the day. This blanket will be a good addition, but I think we've got plenty of them otherwise. I think my crochet future, at least for now, holds a lot of smaller projects like pillow covers, decorations and toys. Crochet has been a wonderful addition to my life these past few years, but there is no need to be a crochet machine. Whether I crochet a lot or a little, I believe that the benefits are here for good - they're part of who I am now.

I recently started this cross-stitch design, a colorful, whimsical pirate ship. The design is Voyage, from Satsuma Street, a modern cross-stitch pattern shop on Etsy. If you haven't seen Jody's shop yet, I strongly encourage you to take a look (I have no connection to the shop, I'm simply a huge fan of Jody's work). I love every design in her shop and have purchased a few over the past few years. This is the first one I've actually started making so far, but I have Big Plans, let me tell you.

Isn't this design fun? I love how colorful it is. The stitching itself is pretty straightforward - just basic whole crosses - but I really enjoy the intricacy of the design. It's a bit different from my last stitched piece, Retro Kitchen, in that the areas of color are smaller. I liked the big blocks of color in Retro Kitchen, but I like this too - it keeps me on my toes. I haven't stitched much yet, as you can see from the top photo, since I've been so busy with kids' stuff lately, but the bit I have done has been relaxing. I do so love my stitchy time.

Jody stitched the ship on black Aida but I've decided to use navy blue for mine. I was glad to find some at Hobby Lobby; they have a limited selection of colored Aida cloth there. I thought the blue would work better in the family room, where I plan to hang the finished piece. We have dark blue-upholstered furniture in that room. For flosses, I tried hard to match up similar colors from my own stash, as opposed to buying every color in the chart (there are quite a few colors in this design, as you can see). Luckily, I was able to find almost every one of these in my stash! Some are wound on bobbins, leftovers from previous projects, while others are still in skein form.

I took numerous skeins from my antique sewing basket full of old flosses, a gift from my in-laws (you can read more about this sewing basket here). I have some really interesting flosses in there, actually, and it's always fun to sort through them. I've never heard of a few of the brands anywhere else; I've got Rose brand, with Chinese on the label, Mez brand and Semco, in addition to Anchor and Coats & Clark. I only bought a few new skeins, plain white and a few blue and peach tones. I think the mix is great - there are bold, bright colors as well as soft, pale ones. Pirates, and their proud seagoing vessels, are nothing if not motley!

I'm planning to hang the finished piece in the space at the bottom left of our gallery wall in the family room (look! There's a little slice of Retro Kitchen in the yellow mirror). There should be plenty of room among these modern scrimshaw engravings of me buccaneers. I'm thinking about going slightly gaudy for the frame - something gilded and scrolly, maybe, pieces-of-eight style. Yo ho ho (and other piratical exhortations)!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Under construction

It's the time of year when I feel like I can't catch my breath for all the running-running-running I need to do. Everything happens at once during these May weeks. I love to be busy, but I don't relish the feeling of needing to be in several places at once. Lately, we've been seeing the doctors again for the LB, which is never easy, but the news has mostly been positive. This time last year, we were preparing for a major surgery, in addition to everything else we needed to do with the school year winding up, and we're glad not to be doing that now. Seeing the doctors again isn't so bad; in a way, they begin to feel like friends. We're fortunate to have good people to help us care for him.

It's a Saturday at home for us. We're watching Home Improvement on DVD and relaxing. The small Bears have runny noses and with the biggest school and ballet events still to come this week, we're just taking it easy this weekend. I was crocheting a bit earlier but I have to tell you that I'm feeling very uninspired at the moment. I'm sure some of it is just the time of year, but I'm also feeling out of ideas. I've been halfheartedly crocheting squares from the Paeonia pattern I shared a few weeks ago. I did the math; I have to make nearly 300 of them to have a blanket sized for my bed, and I'm afraid I'm just not feeling it enough. I'm thinking about big, basic granny squares instead, joining them with gray outer rounds. I've pinned a few granny afghans lately, like I just started crocheting (my crochet pinboard is here, if you're interested). I like Paeonia, but I'm undecided. Maybe it's time to have a little crochet break and do something else for a while instead. I do have sewing and cross-stitch projects that need attention. Too many projects? Undecided and uninspired - this is my crafting phobia.

This week, I received another email from someone who wants to help me "brand" my blog. I get these emails fairly often. I ignore them. This particular company wanted to help me design clothing that would boost my "brand recognition." Well. I have a style to my blog, and a color scheme, but I'd hardly call that a brand. I didn't engage with the offer, of course, but it made me think about what kind of blog I actually have. It isn't a craft blog; I see myself as more of a dabbler - an enthusiast - than an expert. It's not a food blog, though I enjoy sharing recipes that I've tried and liked. I don't have a farm, or a large family, or religious content. I've made a little bit of money with my blog but it's hardly a business. I'm pretty hopeless with social media; I don't think I've scrolled through my Instagram feed yet this month. Maybe I don't have a focus but I like it this way. I've spent too much of my life worrying about what others think; finally, now that I'm in my late thirties, I've been learning how to let go. It's liberating, and I wish I'd figured it out sooner. Life is so much easier when you aren't imagining that everyone thinks you're ridiculous.

I started blogging with the idea that I would write about the good, positive things in my life, to help me appreciate them more, I think. Everyone hopes people will read their blog; I've had modest success, which keeps me going too, of course, but this whole blogging gambit, for me, is mainly about the small things in life - the ones that make me happy and remind me of what's important. I write about my hobbies, my family, or the season, or the sunset or my backyard flowers. So that's my focus, I think - simple, happy things. I'm glad others out there enjoy the same kinds of things I do. It makes me happy to know that people like to stop by and see what I've been up to. You're good people, I like it when you come around. Pull up an afghan, stay for tea.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Quickly pickled

With the weather warming up, we're enjoying fresh, cool foods more often. We're even growing our own lettuces for the first time, a mesclun mixture, which has been really interesting. They're not quite mature yet but we've been eating a little here and there and it's delicious. Summer is hot here, so eating is all about keeping cool - lots of salads, sandwiches, fresh fruits and veggies all day long. I really love summer eating.

With summer eating in mind, I've been trying some quick-pickled vegetable recipes lately. I've made quick cucumber pickles for years, throwing in onions, garlic, herbs or whatever else I have handy. I hadn't tried any other veggies yet, though, and decided to try pickling carrots recently when I had an enormous bag of them I needed to use up. Quick pickles are easy to make; there is little to no cooking involved, no fermenting and no canning. They don't last long, but they're crisp, cool and highly flavored, and very nice to have on hand for a quick accompaniment to any meal.

The pickled carrots were absolutely wonderful and I felt inspired to make up some sweet-and-sour cucumber pickles too, using a recipe from Sunset. The carrot recipe comes from there too; both are included in a series of quick-pickle recipes I tore out of the magazine and saved years ago, planning to try them eventually. I don't know what I was waiting for! The two I tried are delicious and I will definitely try the others. The recipes are presented in a sort of "mix-and-match" format, encouraging you to try different combinations of ingredients to develop your own "house" pickles. I did a bit of improvisation with mine and I think they worked well. It's hard to go wrong with fresh veggies, vinegar and spices. Both kinds of pickles floated my boat just fine, and there's no stopping me now - I'm already thinking about more pickles, like green beans, jicama and peppers.

Both recipes adapted from "Pickle It Quick," in the July 2011 issue of Sunset, to fit a quart-size Mason jar.

Sweet and sour cucumber and red onion pickles
2 large cucumbers
1/4 medium red onion
5 stalks fresh dill
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp. sea salt
1/2 tsp. mustard seeds
3/4 cup white wine vinegar

Slice cucumbers and onion very thinly on a mandoline or with a knife; rinse onion and drain. Put both into clean jar, layering with dill stalks.

Whisk sugar, salt, mustard seeds and vinegar together in a bowl. Pour over cucumber mixture and chill at least 1 hour. Serve cold. Keeps, chilled, up to 1 day.

Mustard and ginger pickled carrots
5 to 6 medium carrots
1 cup distilled white vinegar
1 tbsp. + 1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tbsp. + 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
3 thin slices fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced lengthwise
1 tbsp. + 1 1/2 tsp. mustard seeds
1/8 tsp. red chile flakes

Peel carrots and cut into 1/2 inch sticks.

Bring 1 1/2 cups water and all ingredients except carrots to a boil in a large saucepan. Reduce heat to low and simmer 1 minute. Add carrots and simmer until almost tender, 2 to 3 minutes.

Transfer carrots and liquid to jar and let cool to room temperature. Chill, covered, overnight to let flavors develop. Serve cold. Keeps, chilled, up to 1 week.

Monday, May 9, 2016

With sunshine and flowers

We had a beautiful weekend, including a lovely Mother's Day with the Bear's parents, who have returned from New Zealand for the summer. On Saturday, we attended two guitar recitals, spaced several hours apart, which meant driving back and forth to the university twice. It ate up the day, pretty much, but it was worth it. These kids are so talented! Not just my own, of course. I'm amazed at what they learn in a semester. The LB's class learned "Stairway to Heaven" this spring (a classic song for anyone learning the guitar, no?) and I was absolutely blown away. They're both getting really good. And they love it, which is the most important thing anyway. I'm very proud of my guitarists.

Sunday was another lovely day, sunny and a bit cool, with a surprising little thunderstorm right after lunch, but mostly very good weather for working in the yard. We got a lot accomplished in the morning and I'm so happy with how it all looks. We cleaned the patio furniture and the umbrella, mowed and edged the grass, cleaned up the chicken coop, weeded front and back yards both. It's all ready for summer now. We spent the afternoon visiting with the Bear's parents and preparing dinner; the Bear smoked salmon outside and I made side dishes (baked potatoes, green beans and dinner rolls). We had a store-bought key lime pie for dessert. My in-laws brought me a beautiful bouquet. They always think of me on Mother's Day and I really appreciate it. I love being part of their family.

My Bears gave me some really wonderful, special gifts yesterday. The LB made a mobile in school, featuring polymer-clay butterflies dangling from sculpted wire. I'm so impressed with the intricacy of his butterflies. The children made their own clay canes, formed into shapes and sliced, then baked. All three of them built me a beautiful little table, which I intend to use as a plant stand in the living room. The Bear did most of the work, obviously, but the small pair helped with sanding and staining. The table is made from Brazilian cherry and it's lightweight and delicate. They inscribed it for me. I can't wait to put a plant on it. I'm thinking about a shallow bowl of succulents; the window is very sunny most of the day (that's the chair where I usually sit to cross-stitch). There was also a lovely handmade card, a bottle of hazelnut syrup for my coffee and a new set of fineliner pens. I felt loved on Mother's Day, as I do every day, and I love them all so much. I hope you had a lovely Mother's Day, if you celebrate it. I know it isn't an easy day for everyone, but I hope you felt loved and honored.

Thank you for your comments regarding the LB's medical results; we are so glad to have one part of this situation over and done with. He is a happy, kind and bright child who brings so much joy to our lives and to know that he has one fewer health concern is a great relief to us. Thank you, too, for keeping him in your thoughts and prayers, I appreciate it very much. I hope you have a great week!
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