Thursday, July 19, 2018

A cowl for Blais

I've just finished making a quick crocheted cowl for our neighbor, Blais, who helps look after our hens when we're away from home, as we will be from tomorrow for a few days while we go camping again. Blais is eleven years old and is friendly with our GB; in addition to living right up the street, the girls attend the same dance school. We pay Blais a little when she helps us, but I still wanted to make her something. I thought a simple wearable item would be a good idea; we don't often need hats or mittens, but a cowl can be a nice addition on a chilly morning.

My design is very basic. I chained 250 to start, then did single-crochet stitches in every chain for the first row. Through the body of the cowl, I mixed solid SC rows like this with rows consisting of double-crochet stitches alternated with chains (a DC in every other SC, with chains between each DC), to give a lacy, open look. I finished the top edge with another row of SC in the same color I started with, for a finished effect. I like the way the mixed rows look; it's interesting, and the solid SC rows give a little bit of structure in between the lacier DC-chain rows. Above, the cowl is wrapped twice around the hanger; it should fall at mid-chest level this way.

She can wear it straight too, it's up to her. Unwrapped, it should reach hip-level on a girl her size.

I joined the ends with slip stitches. I'm not thrilled with the center yellow and green rows where they're joined; I think I dropped a stitch at the same end of both of those rows, so I had to catch those rows a little clumsily in my slip-stitching. It's okay, though. I think this made a generally neat join and unless you flatten it out this way, it's barely noticeable.

All the yarns are Stylecraft Special DK (see color names below). I used a small amount of each in my cowl, probably about 10-15 grams depending on the color. Miss GB was a big help to me in choosing the colors and they were a lot of fun to work with. We think of them as juicy colors! They remind me of Fruit Stripe Gum - do you remember that? Yipes! Stripes! :)

Blais's Cowl
Yarn: Stylecraft Special DK in the following colors: Candyfloss, Fondant, Fuchsia Purple, Shrimp, Saffron, Lime
Hook: Clover Amour G/6 (4.00mm)
Length: about 58 inches (29 inches joined)
Width: about 6 inches
Made: July 2018

Monday, July 16, 2018

July five

Just a few things I'm really enjoying in mid-July...

Homegrown tomatoes! Our tomatoes are better than ever (by a lot!) this year. We tried some new things, such a better soil amendment and fertilization, along with more conscientious watering, but we also tried new plant varieties, which are making a huge difference. We have a "Patio" tomato plant, in a bucket, which is just wonderful. We bought it at Lowe's. It's the first one of this kind we've had, and it outshines our other plants ("Early Girl," "Sweet 100" and "Park's Whopper") by quite a lot. We bought the larger size plant (there were large and small available), and we bought one with fruit already starting (in late April). Something about all of this was magical because we have gooood tomatoes this summer. I'm using them all the time, as in the family-size tomato-basil salad dressed with oil and balsamic vinegar, above...

And tomato sandwiches for my lunch as often as possible. I can think of few lunches I enjoy more than a tomato sandwich. I eat mine very simply: mayonnaise, salt, pepper and tomatoes on toast. Even better when the tomatoes are freshly harvested and still warm from the sun.

Speaking of sun, our sunflowers have done really well this summer. These are volunteers that grew from old seeds in the ground. I haven't planted any seeds in a couple of years but we still get sunflowers from all the years we did plant them. I'm not even sure what kind these are - they were probably in one of those assortment seed packs - but they sure are beautiful, especially on a bright, sunny day.

One of the best things about sunflowers is how they last and last. Each of these big blooms lasts for about two weeks before the petals start dropping. The sunflowers are in a straight line out of my kitchen window and I love to see them out there when I'm standing by the sink. They draw your eye right to them with their height and color. I love to watch them sway in the breeze.

Less beautiful, but oh so beloved already is my new rice cooker, which I've just started using in the past few days. My old Zojirushi, at least 22 years old, finally gave up the ghost. I used the heck out of it, as did the Bear before me (he owned it in college, from before I even knew him). This new one is a little more complex, but I'm figuring it out. It makes terrific rice and it's almost silent, which is a big improvement over the old sputtering, juddering Zojirushi.

As always, I'm enjoying strawberries almost every day. They are my favorite food, after all. I like them best just plain, but not straight out of the fridge. I like to let them warm up on the counter for a while before I eat them. It takes a little planning, but not much, and they taste so much better.

We're in the thick of monsoon season right now. We've had a few really good storms. On Saturday, we received more than an inch of rain in a late-afternoon downpour. I sure do love this time of year.

Every storm is exciting. The water pours from the canales and floods the patios and our tiny patch of grass. We had vivid lightning and very loud thunder with this storm. As I tried to take these photos out the kitchen door, a crack of thunder made me jump back into the house! It was intense. I love being at home during this kind of weather, especially on a Saturday when we're all home together. I cooked egg fried rice (with rice from the new cooker!) for dinner and made a fruit salad while the lightning carried on all around the house. The next day, Sunday, we had light showers on and off all afternoon and into early evening. The rain was light, and intermittent, and didn't stop us from grilling outside or picking up the yard, but it was nice to have it going on in the background. We're all weather-lovers here (maybe me, especially), and it's very exciting to us when the weather is doing interesting things. In every season, we read the forecasters' scientific discussions every day on, we listen to the weather radio (which is surprisingly interesting for reports read by a robot), we watch the sky and try to figure out if that dark patch over the mountain is going to amount to anything. It's fun! And educational, yes, but totally fun.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Crochet lately

After a couple of down months, crochet-wise, I've been feeling very inspired again. I'm taking a break from big projects, having completed three large blankets recently, and trying my hand at some other things instead. I have several projects in the pipeline (I'm waiting for yarn to be shipped for some of them), including some gifts for upcoming birthdays and even something for around the house. First, I'm making myself a purse, or maybe it's a tote bag. I've been wanting to make a nice bag for myself for several years now, with sturdy handles and a lining, but haven't got around to it until now, when I decided that it's time.

I'm using a pattern called Fair Day Tote (Ravelry link) from a designer named Marji LaFreniere. I've had this pattern in my library for aaaages while I worked on other things but it's always been in the back of my mind. I just love the squares, which have a slightly raised "bobbly" round (the black round in my squares) that kind of pops out of the frame. I'm going to have to block it all after I've got the squares joined; I'm using cotton yarn and it definitely requires some neatening. I'm enjoying making the squares so far. I plan to make them with four different center colors, a total of thirteen squares (I'll repeat one color). I've made my squares in blue and this sort-of honey color so far; all will have the bobbly round in black, with gray outer rounds.

I'm planning to line this bag, and use pre-made bag handles. I'm hoping it will look tidy and ladylike but maybe a tiny bit funky too, one-of-a-kind and crafty-looking. I used to be really into cool bags when I was younger; it was probably my main fashion statement. I had a knack for finding interesting bags at super-cheap prices, often at street markets and fair-trade or head-shop kinds of places. My friends rarely asked to borrow my clothes, but I passed my purses and bags around.

I didn't buy any yarn for this project! That's one of the best feelings, isn't it? I wouldn't call it a "yarn diet," but I've been trying not to buy very much yarn lately. For specific projects that I know I'll use it all up for, yes, but not so much just for stash-building. For this project, I'm using cotton yarn from stash, all of it I Love This Cotton brand. The four colors at left are my center colors, with black and gray at right. I have some fabric already that I will probably use for the lining, a basic calico that is dark charcoal with small, scattered white triangles. I will need to buy bag handles, and will most likely buy them at Jo-Ann, but I have seen nice ones on Etsy, so I'll have to look around. I'm really excited about this bag!

I've come up with a new (to me, anyway) idea for project bags. Maybe this could help you too. For years, I've been saving the cloth sacks that new sets of bed sheets come packaged in (the brand of sheets I normally buy, from Target, always includes these bags). I've been giving them to the GB for storing small things, like doll clothes and accessories. She had amassed quite a collection of them with some extras, which she offered to me. Right away, I thought of using them as small-project bags! They're perfect for this; they have a drawstring, they're sturdy, they're easily washed, and they're very compact. I can throw in my hook and a copy of my pattern, and put the whole bag inside a tote bag when I'm out and about, which has been very handy as we run from here to there attending our summer activities. I have two of these sheet bags and I think they're going to get a lot of use.

I hope you're having a good week! Thank you for your kind words and insightful comments lately. Some of you remarked that I sounded happier, and I'm glad to report that I really am. Life is good and we're having a lovely, busy summer. And guess what! The Santa Fe National Forest has reopened and we'll be able to have our second camping trip after all - with campfires! Blackened hot dogs await me.

Friday, July 6, 2018


At our house, it's a been a calm and relaxing week - time at home, crafting, reading and cooking - interspersed with parties, playdates and trips out for errands and eating. I didn't take my camera with me to many places, so I mostly have photos from home but they've all been good things everywhere we've been. It's been a good week. We went to a party at our friends' home for the Fourth of July and had a great time. Lots of kids and food and backyard shenanigans, with fireworks after dark. The Bear brought our supply and our friends had some too, so it was a good hour of dads running around putting on a show. Everyone loved it. Then we came home to find neighbors outside watching the nearby big fireworks show at ten pm, so we joined them and finally went to bed sometime very late. Our neighbor next door has his daughter and grandchildren visiting from Arizona for the weekend and the kids were so happy to see each other; they always play when the grandchildren come to town. I have two nine-year-old girls very quietly, concentratedly, building a box fort in our living room right now.

I've started working on something new on the crochet front. It's a purse! I haven't made anything for myself in so long, but I've been kind of itching for a while to make something different and also wearable. I have plenty of scarves (especially given that I don't need one very often) and numerous hats. I recently started a top for myself but I definitely chose the wrong yarn (burgundy cotton blend) because it looks exactly like a wine-soaked dishcloth and even for me, that's not good fashion. So a bag seemed safe, and if it comes out nicely, it could make a good gift for others in the future. I'd like to expand my repertoire a little while we aren't in the blanket-making time of year. I'll probably start something more blankety in the fall, not that I'm really thinking that far yet.

My reading has mostly been cookbooks for the past couple of weeks, whether borrowed from the library (like Nigella Summer, above), or from my own modest collection. I'm looking for good summer recipes that a) don't have a lot of ingredients and b) don't require the oven. Lately, I've been most satisfied - both in cooking and eating - by my basic tomato-basil sauce over spaghetti. Every time I make it, I feel like I'm finally eating exactly what I want to eat. I can make it three times a week and feel fine about it. I don't usually do this because I know everyone else will object, but I wouldn't mind at all. Still, it's a good idea to diversify; growing children, and all that. So I've been bookmarking my own cookbooks and scanning pages or copying by hand from the library books.

I'm still enjoying my new Mark Bittman cookbooks. Tonight, I'm making a version of his Provencal chickpeas, but having tried it with dried beans a few weeks ago and having it all fail spectacularly (we felt like we were chowing down on gravel because the beans never softened, even after hours upon hours of cooking), I'm making it tonight with drained, rinsed canned beans. We want to eat before bedtime and we want to keep our teeth. No offense to Mr. Bittman, but that was the first recipe since my newfound devotion to him that just didn't work for me. Everything else has been wonderful, though; in particular, I've been making his bean burgers really often and still loving them.

The coming week will get busy again, with a return to swimming and diving lessons, kids' library events (on Tuesday, they're making wind chimes with metal washers, which should be interesting), and guitar and ballet lessons. We've entered the monsoon season, which is so welcome. I absolutely love these gray afternoons and the potential for stormy weather. We don't always have a storm, but the possibility is there. It's just nice to know that it could happen. There are still about five and a half weeks until school starts, and I often feel a little stir-crazy by this time of the summer, but this year, I feel much calmer. I'm sure some of it is the kids getting older and not needing to be entertained through the long days and weeks like they did when they were smaller. Or maybe I'm just learning to let go and relax more, savoring life as it unfolds. I'd sure like to think so.

Do you have weekend plans? Here, we'll be painting some patio furniture as well as a section of our courtyard railing that we have needed to finish for, oh, a couple of years. You don't want to rush into these things. I'm hoping to do some more organizing in my closet and dresser drawers too. We took a load of clothes down to the thrift center this morning and it felt so good! I've been working on streamlining my wardrobe, and have also lost a bit of weight recently, so am feeling good about wearing clothes I already have (some of which I'm wearing anew, due to said weight loss). I have also recently treated myself to new nightgowns and underwear, which look ever so lovely tucked away in my neatly-organized drawers. Otherwise, it will be another weekend of hot mornings and monsoon-watching gray afternoons, grocery shopping for me early on Saturday, yard work and house work, some more cookbook-perusing and bag-hooking too. I hope you have a good weekend.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Fresh strawberry granita

For the last few years, I've been making ice cream during the summer. I'm a huge fan of ice cream, like a lot of people. I could eat it every single day, though I recognize that this isn't a very good idea. I try to keep other frozen treats around, like popsicles and fruit bars, to satisfy the craving for cold sweetness on hot summer days. Really, anything goes for me when it comes to frozen desserts. I'm not picky; I love it all.

I've been looking at homemade dairy-free options for frozen desserts lately, since dairy has become a bit of an issue for a family member. I remembered making a lemon granita with my dad when I was a kid - how much I enjoyed the process, which involved lots of ice-scraping, and how delicious it was to eat. I went looking for something similar to make with my kids, and found an easy, delicious-sounding recipe from for Fresh Strawberry Granita. Have you tried a granita? It's a puree of fruit that is frozen in a flat pan and scraped periodically to create mounds of juicy, fruity flakes of ice. If you like sorbet, or Italian ice, you'll love granita.

Fresh Strawberry Granita
Makes about 6 cups

1 cup hot water
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 cups sliced, hulled strawberries (1 pound whole berries), plus extra berries for optional garnish

Stir first 3 ingredients in small bowl until sugar dissolves. Blend 3 cups strawberries in processor (or blender, which I used because I don't have a processor) until smooth. Add sugar syrup and blend until combined.

Pour mixture into 13x9x2-inch nonstick metal baking pan. Freeze until icy around edges, about 25 minutes.

Using fork, stir icy portions into middle of pan. Freeze until mixture is frozen, stirring edges into center every 20 to 30 minutes, about 1 1/2 hours. Scrape granita into flaky crystals.

Cover tightly and freeze (I transferred my granita to a plastic container with a lid; it can be made 1 day ahead. Keep frozen.) Scrape granita into bowls. Garnish with berries and serve.

You might find that your granita takes a bit longer to reach the stage where it gets flaky, so you can do what I did: freeze it for another hour or so after putting it into a container, then scrape it again really well just before serving. It was much easier to scrape with a little extra freezer time. But it melts quickly - I almost couldn't take my photos in time to show it really icy.

I'm going to make this recipe again very soon with a mixture of berries, probably raspberries, blueberries and strawberries. We all loved its cold, sweet-tart freshness and we can't wait to eat it again! The recipe makes a lot, plenty to share. You could easily adjust the sugar and lemon to your taste. If you're looking for an easy, fruity and fresh dessert for the Fourth of July, you should definitely try a delicious granita.

Friday, June 29, 2018

16: the Dishwasher Anniversary

I like to keep with tradition in gift-giving where I can, but it's not always clear-cut, as with anniversary year traditions. It depends on whom you ask, I guess, but there doesn't seem to be agreement on an official gift to celebrate sixteen years of marriage, which the Bear and I celebrated at the end of May. I looked around the internet a little bit, and while most recommendations follow suit with the chart above, listing individual years through fifteen and every five years thereafter, there are some sources that say the sixteenth anniversary is to be commemorated with a gift of wax. I'm not even sure what that would entail - candles? Crayons? Batik cloth? A set of dummies in our likenesses, a la Madame Tussaud?

We did not gift one another with objects of wax. We did, however, buy ourselves a new dishwasher (apparently, we missed the appliance-gift boat on our fourth anniversary if we go by the chart, but we didn't live here then, and anyway, we had a new baby and had just started living on one income; we weren't buying anything nice). A new dishwasher is hardly romantic, but our old one was on its last leg. It wasn't really old, just very, very cheap. The previous owner of our house installed it just before he put the house on the market; it was only three months old when we moved in. But it was junky, even by our frugal standards. In the nine years we owned it, we'd replaced both racks (one of them twice) along with the motor. We'd also experienced several issues with the electronic control panel. Just before our anniversary, the heating element gave out. We're great believers in fixing things until we can't (my 2006 car is still going strong, and the Bear drove a 1999 until 2016), but in the case of the dishwasher, we had irrefutable proof that it was no longer worth it: the original receipt. We'd already spent more fixing and replacing than he'd spent buying it new. Enough was enough.

Please settle in for some dishwasher blather, fair reader...

The new dishwasher is made by Kenmore. I've been very satisfied with the Kenmore washer and dryer I've had since 2007, so was overjoyed to see that Consumer Reports listed a Kenmore dishwasher as one of their Best Buys. My only hesitation with buying a Kenmore is that we no longer have a Sears Parts Center in New Mexico, but parts can always be ordered online or by phone. In fact, I needed to order a longer drainage hose for the new dishwasher the same day it was delivered; the drain is on the opposite side from where it was on the old dishwasher, and we needed to run a long hose all the way around the back of the new dishwasher to the drain valve. So the new dishwasher actually sat in the open space without being hooked up for a whole week while we waited for the hose to come. The old dishwasher sat on the back porch. I washed all the dishes by hand. Boy, was I excited for that stupid hose to show up.

I was very happy with the new dishwasher and started using it right away. I love the white finish (all of my appliances are white; I know that's not the height of fashion these days, but I don't care. I like the clean, crisp look of them). The handle on the door is nice; it echoes the handle shapes on the oven and fridge, even though they're all different brands. I do love having a stainless-steel lining on the inside of the dishwasher. The old one was all plastic and was covered in stains. It was weird at first to look into the dishwasher because it seemed so dark inside, but I'm used to it now. I like the racks too, they're much sturdier than the old ones, and the whole thing is roomier and has more useful space.

This is my favorite part: the pull-out drawer on top for smaller items. It took me a few days to remember that I had this drawer, then it took me a few more days to remember to empty it when I unloaded the dishwasher. I kept wondering where things had gone to, only to remember hours later that they were still in the top drawer. Duh.

I like having the controls on the top edge of the door, instead of the front. I was always leaning against them and pressing them with my belly. This is only my second dishwasher with electronic controls, mind you; the old one was my first. Before that, I had one with a knob, and before that, I had a succession of dishwashers my own age or older, with lever-locks and push-buttons. This is also only my second dishwasher with a rinse-aid dispenser. I'm telling you, it's like I've entered a whole new world of housekeeping technology and I can't get enough.

There were free samples included, to my delight. Do you love samples as much as I do? I've always been into little bottles and packages of everyday products. One of the first things I ever did when I began using the internet, after making an email account, was to go hunting for free samples by mail. Later on, I found that free samples were one of the best things about being pregnant; everywhere I went, I got something for free. I even still have a little pouch of Dreft that I never got around to using; I put it in a memory box. As for dishwasher supplies, these are somewhat more luxurious than the type I would buy for myself, and they cleaned beautifully, but to be perfectly honest, the old dishwasher was doing a terrible job in its final months and I could use the cheapest products now and still get cleaner dishes. I'm just amazed at how well the new dishwasher works. Everything comes out sparkling. I'd forgotten what truly clean dishes looked like.

I don't normally like to brag on my blog about things I've bought for myself, but I'm just so happy with this thing! It's a surprise, really; I'd never had a really good dishwasher and had no idea what one could do, so this is all new to me. If you've made it this far, thanks for sticking around for my poetic waxing (see what I did there?).

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Camping at Villanueva

We've just returned from a few days of camping at Villanueva State Park, which is located on the Pecos River, about two hours north and east of Albuquerque. This was my first time camping here, and my first time visiting this area of the state. It's a very interesting place. The park is tucked in beside sandstone cliffs that run all along the river, which is quite shallow and slow-moving. I was intrigued to learn a little about this history of this area; it was an ancestral Zuni pueblo, eventually explored by many Spanish conquistadors, starting with Francisco Coronado in 1540. I came across an interesting PDF detailing Villanueva's history; it's here if you'd like to have a read

The park is beautiful! It's a desert environment, very dry and hot during the day, but it gets quite chilly at night. The sandstone cliffs were just behind our campsite, as was the river. The kids often played in the water (it's only knee-deep in most areas), getting very muddy in the process. They, and the Bear, did some fishing too, but they only caught tiny ones which they threw back. In the mornings, the sun is behind the cliffs until about eight o'clock, leaving the campground in wonderful, cool shade. I really tried to savor it, since it got brutally hot in the afternoons. There are good shade trees everywhere, though. Lots of cottonwoods, many of which are absolutely enormous, and lots of juniper and cedar, which give the whole place a fresh, woodsy scent. It was windy most of the time, especially at night (when it became almost a little too windy for comfort) but the afternoon breezes were most welcome in the heat; it hit the upper nineties every day.

The water was only a few yards behind our campsite, but I didn't get very close. We could see the kids where they played, which was nice, and the Bear did go over there to play with them a lot, but I was too worried about mosquitoes. I have particularly bad reactions to them and I wanted to try to avoid bites. I got bitten about a million times anyway, so I should have braved it.

We liked our campsite. We had a nice three-walled shelter with a roof, almost like a little house, good for cooking and eating, and getting out of the wind. There was a fire pit, which we couldn't use because of fire restrictions. There were plenty of nice trees, so we were able to set up both tents in relatively shaded areas behind the shelter. We have been using two tents since last summer, one for us and one for the kids. We had a tiny, old tent for the kids before, but we were very kindly given a larger, nicer tent by a friend who no longer needed it. The Bear and I have started using better air mattresses and bringing our pillows from home instead of using inflatable camp pillows; what a difference!

Our first night in the campground was actually kind of awful. There had been an all-day picnic going on just up the road from our site, with lots of motorcycles in and out and much rowdiness. Some of the party-goers were also camping overnight, and a large group was across the road from us, just a few feet away. They stayed up all night long, screaming and yelling, driving in and out, generally just being disruptive and annoying. I think I slept for about an hour between the time they finally stopped making noise, around four o'clock, and the point when the birds started waking up. We were all dragging the next day. The second night was much more peaceful, thankfully; all the rowdies left and the campground was about half-empty.

In the afternoons, we moved ourselves behind the shelter to hang out. Once the sun moved around to the front of the shelter, it was much too hot to sit inside it. We hung our hammock, taking turns using it, and brought our chairs around. It was only slightly cooler back there, but at least we were out of the sun. I love sitting around the campsite in the afternoons, once we've tried different things like wading and fishing, played in the playground, taken walks, and everything else. The work of cooking and cleaning up will start again soon with dinner, but it's nice to have a lull when nothing much is going on.

I cooked everything on the Coleman stove, since we couldn't have a fire or a charcoal grill due to state park fire restrictions. I'd made a huge pot of vegetarian chili (recipe is here) at home, then frozen it in containers to transport in our cooler. This worked really well. The chili was delicious (I've used this recipe for a while and I love it), but it was too hot to be eating chili. We really should have brought cold pasta salads instead. Not being able to cook there is really kind of a hassle - hot dogs, foil packs, or shish kebabs cooked at the site would have been much nicer. It worked, though - there were very few dishes to wash, and I can't complain about that.

Every time we camp, I try to scout out wildflowers. Disappointingly, there were almost none in this campground! I think it must be because of the dry, desert environment there. We have mostly camped in the woods, which are always filled with many species of flowering plants. I came across only three here, though. The lavender flower is a type of thistle, which was rife in the campground. The yellow one is an aster, and then there's the white one, which I can't identify. Some sort of weed, I think, but the flowers were pretty enough.

One really great thing about this campground was the showers and flush toilets! There were latrine huts too, which were exactly like you'd expect them to be (and we did use the one right across from our site many times), but just a short walk away were real toilets, sinks and fairly decent showers. That was a nice change of pace. My shower refreshed me for only about an hour, but what a nice hour that was. Oh, and we unexpectedly ran into people we knew at the campground. We spent a nice couple of hours chatting with them before they needed to pack up and go home. It's a small world.

All in all, this was a nice camping trip. I don't think I would camp there over a Saturday night again, if the wildness of our fellow campers was any indication, but maybe that's unusual. I would also prepare for much hotter and drier weather than I'd been given to understand we would encounter there. But it was a nice time and everyone had the chance to explore, seeing and doing some new things, and of course, and most importantly, we spent lots of good family time together.
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