Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Making now

When the weather begins to cool down, I get the blanket bug. This has been going on for several years. Cooler nights and earlier sunsets make me want to stake out a corner of the couch for the evening, crocheting something big while I watch TV - the more mindless, the better (the crochet, I mean, though I do sometimes crave mindlessness on TV too). This fall, I'm working on a blanket I've been calling Heartwarmer - it's big, soft and warm, like a hug. I'm enjoying the work - it's suitably mindless, perfect for my evenings with Create TV or Law & Order on Netflix, but also good for this week's viewing of Ken Burns' documentary, The Roosevelts, which has been excellent but requires more concentration. Sometimes we just listen to the radio or talk. But always, the crochet is easy and calming, and the blanket keeps my legs warm on these cooling evenings.

This is my color palette for Heartwarmer, which is destined for our family room. My goal is to replace two very old, worn out afghans made by my husband's grandmother about 30 years ago. She loved to crochet and she churned out gigantic blankets. We've had at least four of them in our house and we're down to just two, the better ones. Those two are fading fast, though, and I intend to replace them with new blankets in the near future. We already have two others that I've made, and I'd like to have four good ones so that we'll each have one to use. They're good for tent-building too, of course, and all manner of rough-and-tumble play. To this end, I've been using tough yarns - mostly I Love This Yarn worsted-weight acrylic. I've had a love/hate relationship with this yarn, but it's softer than it used to be, and they've added new colors. My main color for the blanket is that gray yarn above; it will be used more often than the other colors, which I've attempted to keep in a soft, classic palette. The furniture in the family room is upholstered in navy blue corduroy; I think these colors will work well. I'll probably stick with most of them for the other eventual blanket too.

(As an aside, I've struggled in the past with writing about yarn on my blog. I have felt a little scared to admit that I use this sort of yarn in much of my work. I think I worried that I wouldn't be taken seriously as a "crochet blogger" (not that I'm really trying to be one; the competition is stiff). I love luxury yarns and natural fibers, but my crafting budget is small and most things I make end up being used, hard, by the whole family. I think this very rational, but I felt shy. I've even stated that I wanted to stop using it eventually. I don't care anymore, though. Loud and proud: I use cheap yarn, a lot).

Heartwarmer is crocheted with stripes, which is my favorite motif in crochet lately. I love granny squares, but after making Ice Cream Flowers, I'm burned out on small, fiddly crochet. I wanted mindless and boy, did I get it. The stitch pattern is a very simple one that I improvised - hdc, ch 1, sk 1, all the way down the rows. Each stripe is made with eight rows. In worsted-weight yarn with a size H hook, eight rows of hdc creates a three-inch-tall stripe.

I love hdc (half-double crochet); I think it makes a nice, dense fabric. This stitch pattern looks woven, to me, like the cotton waffle-weave blanket we've always had on our bed. I also like the way a new color looks against the previous one; the "teeth" remind me of something interlocking, Lego maybe. It's a warm, cuddly blanket already, and I still have a lot to crochet. Good; that's what I wanted - a project that takes awhile and requires very little thought.

I haven't decided exactly how long I want it to be; I'm thinking at least five feet. The Bear is a bit over six feet tall, and he likes to wear a blanket up to his chin, so it needs to be long for him. I think I'll just keep going until the yarn runs out. I have lots. It's pretty wide, over 44 inches, and there will be a border, eventually. For now, I'm just enjoying the simple, soothing pattern, the color palette (my kind of colors, the ones I have always loved and always will), the warm, squishy texture and the way it's already keeping my lap warm as I work. Heartwarmer, I think I love you.

image via Fat Quarter Shop

I'm also thinking about a new sewing project. My kitchen curtains are old and tired. They're Waverley valances in a frumpy ivy-and-berries print. I want something fresher! I'd make them myself, and this is the fabric I want to use. It comes from Moda's Milk Cow Kitchen feedsack reproduction line; this design is called Strawberry Jam. My kitchen happens to be strawberry-themed, with lots of red. I think red is so cheerful in a kitchen. Gosh, I love to shop for fabric. Online, in a store, it doesn't matter. I never get bored looking at fabric.

What are you working on? Does fall bring out the crafter in you, like it does me? The cooler days and nights, the darkness, the impending holidays and all the decorating opportunities...I feel invigorated, I tell you!

Monday, September 15, 2014


On Friday, the Bear and I had a lovely but quick coffee date before going back to the kids' school.

The Bear had volunteered to present a workshop about ecosystems for the LB's class...

and also taught the LB and his friends to use an ecosystem-simulation program (with sheep and wolves!).

Then, we spent the rest of the weekend...

Having homeschool fun (these are sugar crystals we've been growing for two weeks)...

Celebrating a doll's birthday with a stool made just for her (by the GB, with help)...

Watching a NASA science balloon hover all day and into the night...

Observing spiderwebs all over the yard, including this orb weaver's web near the back porch...

Making raisins with Grandpa's bountiful grape harvest...

Playing with our lovable hen friends...

Noticing a hint of fall in the air...

Roasting a chicken with lemon and butter...

And baking an apple pie...

Thinking hard about math...

Pretending and climbing (this was some kind of train)...

Crocheting al fresco...

Enjoying a restorative weekend at home together.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Friday Happies

Thank you for the thoughtful, encouraging replies to my last post. I'm a natural worrier, especially when it comes to people I care about. But I'm learning to let go and be more focused on the things I can control, like my own feelings and attitude. And you know what? There's a LOT to be happy and contented about in my own life. This little family, and my role in it, bring me so much joy. Our chosen home in the high desert, our simple way of life, our school choices, our friends and neighbors, my hobbies - all of this feeds my soul. This blog, too, is a source of happiness and satisfaction in my life. I'm thankful for the connections I've made and for the way that blogging has helped me focus on the good and appreciate my life more. I don't often worry about blogging, I can say that for sure. I feel that it fits quite naturally and comfortably into my life and enhances it. I love to write and take photos and I love to share my ideas and experiences. I wish I'd started sooner. Now I'd like to share some recent happy moments!

It's September - time to start a new blanket project. I've done this for a few years now. There's something about the cooler temperatures and nights drawing in. I just want to crochet something big, to watch it grow down my lap to keep my legs warm as it gets colder outside. This blanket is intended to replace some ancient (ratty) afghans we use in the family room. They've served us well but it's time to upgrade. I'll probably make at least one more, over time. The yarn is nothing special, just hardy worsted acrylic, and the stitch pattern is something I improvised - I want a warm, sturdy blanket for snuggling as well as tent-making. But colorful and cozy too. I'm thinking of calling it Heartwarmer.

The mailbox is filling up with our October magazines lately. I don't know about you, but the Halloween issue of any children's magazine is my hands-down favorite. I love Halloween. Dogs in costumes! And that monkey, so cheeky!

I tried a new-to-me recipe from Jamie's Food Revolution and it was delicious. This is his Cauliflower Cheese Soup, and everyone loved it. I had no idea cauliflower could make such a rich, creamy-tasting soup. There's no milk or cream in it, just cooked, pureed veggies, broth and cheddar cheese. It was inexpensive, easy and good.

I bought flowers for the GB on her birthday and we displayed them on the table at her party. They're just a cheap bouquet from the supermarket but they're holding up beautifully and they look very cheerful in the kitchen. They remind me of my boisterous Beargirl even when she's not here.

I watched these two talented, handsome fellows practicing the guitar together one night and thought to myself that I am one very lucky woman.

I made a trip to Home Goods one morning. It's only five minutes down the road but I don't go often. I'm afraid I'll buy a truckload of stuff if I do. I did want some new pillows for the living room couch, though, so off I went. We'd recently hung some solid panel curtains on the windows in that room (you can just see one of them in the above guitar-practice photo), to complement the sheers we already had (we had the solid panels for several years too, just not hung yet - you don't want to rush into these things). I already had the multicolored pillows and thought they looked skimpy alone. I was trying to continue the surge of sprucing energy. Gosh, I love that store. The set of two pillows cost the same as one pillow at Target. And I like these better. I'm thinking about a crocheted one too...

I also bought a new candle for the kitchen, pumpkin spice scent. Because September. Blankets, soup and candles, your time is now.

Joining Gillian.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Change is all around me, outside and inside. Berries and leaves, sunsets and stormy skies. My children are bigger than they were just last week, I think. They run, jump and shout. They eat and eat. They chase the chickens. They chase each other. I chase them, catch them and tickle them. I teach them and feed them. They are my favorite job.

I'm adjusting to my new role as mom-of-big-kids. They go to school four mornings a week, and I have all that time to myself. I've been doing housework and errands some days, but I'm making time to just be - something I'd been craving for years. There's nothing like reading a book in morning sunlight. I'd forgotten about that. I'm doing it again, sometimes, reminding myself that there's still a me inside. I like to be alone, and have rarely felt lonely. There's always something to do and they're back home soon enough for lunch and homeschool time.

Lately, I've felt even more driven to foster a peaceful and happy home. It's my goal in life, really. It's the goal of this blog too. Being here makes me feel good. It helps me focus on the good things in my life and try to let go of the negative ones, especially other people's problems and choices. I will probably always struggle with this, and I've written about it before; this is not a new challenge for me. But my attitude is changing lately: I feel tougher, less susceptible. I feel more centered and confident. I can't make other people's problems go away, not even if I lie awake all night long worrying about them (ask me how I know). But I can choose my reactions. I can choose to be happy anyway.

Sunday, September 7, 2014


It was a celebratory weekend! We had three days of birthday revelry in honor of our GB. She turned six this weekend. Oh, my sweet little girly Bear. I can't believe she's six! It was a very happy weekend, full of things she loves.

On Friday, we brought Rice Krispie Treats to school, to share with her classmates. Her teacher does a really sweet little ceremony on the children's birthdays, where they walk around a symbolic calendar of the year, while the parents share one milestone from each year of the child's life. I was a little emotional by the end, I have to admit. It was the same when the LB had this teacher when he was younger. What can I say, I love to talk about them!

On Saturday, we had our family celebration. We spent some time with the Bear's parents, who gave the GB a set of Amelia Bedelia books. Back home, we gave her our gifts to open. She was so happy to have her new blanket, finally. It went right onto her bed and she's excited for the nights to be cold so she can sleep with it. She also got some new toys and a set of colorful ball-shaped string lights for her bedroom. I noticed that she was really patient with her gifts this year. She opened them carefully and examined each one for awhile before moving onto the next. After we opened gifts, we went to dinner - her choice, Red Robin. We let them know it was her birthday and the waitstaff came out clapping and singing for her. They brought her an ice cream sundae too. She was so surprised! I worried she might be upset by it; she might have been as recently as last year. But she was thrilled. She even shared her ice cream with all of us.

On Sunday, we had a small birthday party with some of the GB's friends. In previous years, we've invited a big group and all the families stayed too. Now that she and her friends are older, I suggested a smaller group and let the parents know it was okay to leave the kids. It was a quieter party, which was nice, and we were able to do more activities. The Bear and the LB were in charge of fun, and that allowed me to manage food and other tasks. It was such a nice party. I really love throwing parties, especially for my kids. This was a Frozen-themed party, and while I didn't go "all out" with the theme, I was able to do a few things to keep it thematic and fun.

I made Olaf snowman treats, which I included on the table with other snacks. They're not fancy, but the girls really got a kick out of them. I used some small pointed-end wooden skewers, with two marshmallows for the body. Then I used one of the new "Stacker" marshmallows for Olaf's head; I cut the corners to create a face shape. I drew on Olaf's face and buttons with a black edible marker, then I created his nose from an orange Mike 'n Ike candy, "glued" onto his face with icing made from powdered sugar with a tiny bit of water mixed in. Olaf's arms are pretzel sticks, of course.

I really love old-fashioned party games. We played one of my favorites from childhood, "pass the parcel," with songs from Frozen as music for playing. Do you know this game? You wrap a prize in many layers of paper and pass it around in a circle until the music stops, then the person holding it gets to take off a layer of paper. The last un-wrapper wins the prize! (Twistable colored pencils in our case). We also played "stick the nose on the snowman," which is just like "pin the tail on the donkey." I thought, why not play the same game with a different character and body part? The Bear gets all the credit for the Olaf poster; he drew Olaf and hand-painted his face and outlines, adding cut-out cardboard arms. I made the "carrot" noses. They had a bit of Scotch tape on the backs. This game was a close call! The Bear used a tape measure to decide the winner, much to the girls' delight.

To me, it just isn't a kids' party without a hands-on activity. The girls made snowman picture frames to take home. I bought kits from Oriental Trading; they were very affordable and every piece comes with adhesive backing, so there was no messy glue or paste needed. I set up a card table for this activity, with a trash can nearby for the peel-off backing scraps. The LB manned the table and he did a great job. I had made an example frame in advance and he put together his own to show them step by step, which was very helpful.

We had simple snacks in between the frame-making and the games. I served strawberries, grapes and watermelon, along with the Olaf treats, Pirate's Booty (a special request by the GB), and a small bowl of Mike 'n Ikes - the leftovers from the two boxes I needed to ensure I had enough orange ones for Olafs' noses! We also had strawberry lemonade.

We had cupcakes too! I made them with vanilla cake mix and vanilla frosting. I decorated them with blue sugar and small blue and white snowflake sugar decors. I had the sugar and decors already, having picked them up on clearance after Christmas last year. They worked really well for these cupcakes, I was very happy with the way they turned out. I baked them in blue wrappers and served them on a blue platter; it seemed pretty "frozen" to me!

The GB received lovely gifts from her friends. Everyone behaved very nicely, like little ladies. They ate at our small kids' picnic table and played on the swingset. The LB helped them pet the chickens. Instead of goody bags, I gave each girl a rock-candy pop to take home; I ordered pretty ice-blue ones from Oriental Trading. The pack included twelve pops; I can use them for the LB's party later this month too. Now I need to get started planning it! It's a fun month with both of their birthdays. Lots of planning and details to remember, but we get it all over with in the space of a few weeks. I didn't plan it this way, but I like the way it has worked out for us.

I think our GB had a good birthday weekend; she certainly seemed exhausted by the end! Six, I can hardly believe it. I think I already said that, but it's true. This little girl is a blessing. At every turn, bringing her into the world was fraught. She was almost born three months early. Thankfully, she was able to keep cooking and only came about a month earlier than she was supposed to. That wasn't so bad. She was so tiny, though, and so needy with her reflux and colic and screaming-screaming-screaming, for her entire first year. Oh, my unhappy baby girl. Raising her has been a test of every part of me, but a beautiful experience I can't imagine not having. She is smart and kind and interesting. She is willful, decisive and assertive. She is a truly fascinating little person to know. I am thankful and proud to be her mother.
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