Sunday, July 16, 2017

Summer, this week

In our seventh week of summer break...

We started a new session of swimming lessons at a different pool, an indoor one. We have gone swimming there before, but this is our first time taking lessons there. We switched because they have a diving pool and the LB was ready to take diving lessons (the GB can still take regular swimming lessons there too). He's doing great, but it was rather terrifying for me at first. Now, after a week, I'm mostly okay watching him plunge head-first into 14 feet of water...mostly. Oh dear.

All the summer activities are beginning to wind down. We went to the library to learn how to write in Egyptian-style hieroglyphics. They made bookmarks with their hieroglyphic names on them. Summer ballet has ended, and the library's summer reading program will end soon.

The small Bears saw their dentist for cleanings and x-rays.

I had my domestic day, which was totally reinvigorating. I'm so glad to know that others out there see the benefits in having a day at home.

I made five Maybelle squares this week. I finished a novel and am almost finished with an Ann Rule Crime Files book. I know, it's total trash, but I need that sometimes.

We had a really good cold chicken salad for dinner. I had leftover meat from a rotisserie chicken which I mixed with celery, chopped dill and mayonnaise. We ate it on bolillo rolls from the supermarket bakery. Easy and good. I love cold dinners in the summer.

I'm hoping for a good monsoon week. The storms have been pretty wimpy so far. Come on, gully-washer.

The Bear and I had a surprise evening out when the small Bears slept over with their grandparents last night. We did very exciting things: went to Starbucks, roamed around at World Market looking at foreign groceries, ate dinner at Pei Wei (where we got a free bowl of pad thai because they made a mistake with our order; the Bear has lunch for Monday in the bag), stopped at Flying Star and shared a slice of cake and sat on the patio until it was dark and starting to rain, came home and watched Can't Pay? We'll Take It Away! on Netflix. Only a trip to Hobby Lobby could have made this a better night. Ha.

Today, we're catching up with house stuff. I'm doing laundry. We'll grill steak for dinner and watch our Sunday PBS shows. Tomorrow, it's back to the pool and probably the library because I have books waiting on the holds shelf. I'm determined to crochet more this week, and maybe start my new cross-stitch project. I hope you have a good week ahead!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Domestic day

I woke up this morning with a strong urge to stay home. We've been so busy all summer, and this week has been no exception. Today would be the first day this week with an open afternoon - no guitar or ballet lessons, no library events, no appointments or commitments. We did have swimming lessons in the morning. But today dawned cloudy and cool at first, like a few days have lately (it's so refreshing and I'm savoring every one), and I felt like concentrating on home things after swimming lessons. I just needed to spend some time loving my home. We came back from the pool and I told my children, "We're staying home the rest of the day. We're enjoying time at home and we're not going back out again." They were surprisingly agreeable. Then I spent the rest of my day playing house. These are some of the home-loving things I did today...

I cut half of a seedless watermelon into bite-size pieces. I'm still amazed by seedless watermelons, even though I've been buying them for a few years. It's a wonderful advancement, but I have to admit that I sometimes miss seed-spitting contests...and seed-spitting fights.

I watered and pruned in the backyard and was so excited to see how big my sunflower buds are getting. I was disappointed not to have more of my seeds germinate, but the ones that did are looking good. I think this one is a Mammoth.

I straightened up our bedroom. My dresser had collected a few stray items and it was driving me a little crazy. I cleared them away and ahhh...I felt so much better.

Then I dusted inside the hutch - a job I don't particularly enjoy, but it all looks so much prettier when it's done.

After lunch, I sat with this week's book, Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan. I had just a few pages left and I was able to finish it. What a great book. She's one of my favorite newer novelists and I recommend her highly.  I'm really on a roll with the good novels lately.

Miss GB helped me put her ballet costumes into a new dress bag (I bought this one). She will have a new costume every other year, when her dance school holds its big recital. So far, she has two costumes. As long as she wants to continue dancing, there will be new costumes, so I wanted to find a nice way to store them. This bag has a five-inch side gusset, which should give us plenty of room as she progresses.

I started a load of wash (kids' comforters from their beds), and headed back to the kitchen. I'd told them we could bake something this week, and here we were on Thursday not having done it yet. We baked blondie bars from a Trader Joe's mix. These are so nice and easy - just add melted butter and an egg, bake for 30 minutes, slice into 16 squares. They're a nice, just-a-few-bites treat, just enough for a small tin.

In between washloads, I crocheted a little. I made two more Maybelle squares. Only sixty-six left to go! Not that I'm counting down, really, I love this project. But keeping count does help me see the progress. We watched some science videos on YouTube, via the Blu-Ray player, and soon it was time to make dinner. We had some leftover pulled pork on buns, with potatoes and corn. Then we cleaned up, started the long bedtime routine, and finally, the Bear and I are sitting down with glasses of water (hey, it's a weeknight) and Netflix. All in all, I had a very good domestic day. Sometimes, I just need to stay home and putter. I feel best when I'm at home and doing busy, homey things. It's not exciting and it sure isn't glamorous, but it sets everything straight in my head when I pause in the bustle and take care of the small things.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Summer, this week

In our sixth week of summer break, we saw the first hibiscus of the season, followed by many more! They were right on time, blooming as usual in the first week of July.

But the eggs were the biggest news. This week Ginger, our Buff Orpington hen, laid three small eggs. She is the first of the young hens to lay and we're very proud of her.

This is one of her eggs compared to a store-bought egg. Just tiny so far.

For a Fourth of July treat, I made one of my favorite festive recipes, a strawberry Poke Cake. You know me and my kitschy, old-fashioned desserts. I arranged blueberries on top in my best attempt at a star shape. It was hard! Some people thought my star looked like Patrick from Spongebob Squarepants. They liked the cake anyway.

Look at those lovely strawberry streaks! This is such a fun recipe. I make other variations sometimes too. My favorite is what I call Creamsicle cake - I use orange Jello! YUM.

On Saturday, we woke up to a cloudy sky for the first time in weeks. It was so pleasant to water and prune my backyard plants in the cool air. The sun was just peaking through the clouds when I finished. These July days bring much more interesting weather. Rain is predicted every day in the coming week.

My barrel of geraniums is just blowing me away right now. I'm so excited about them. I can see them through the sliding glass doors in the breakfast nook and they remind me that I really can grow flowering plants if I put my mind to it. I've finally got the hang of this.

I bought myself a few craft supplies. I've been on a supply diet, including yarn, for the past few months. I want to use what I have before I lay in much more of anything. But my cross-stitched butterfly inspired me to get back to stitching again, and I want to make a large design for my gallery wall. I bought a nice hoop and I treated myself to a set of good embroidery needles. I'm going to stitch this gorgeous floral heart design from Galaborn Patterns on Etsy. I've been saving the pattern for almost a year. I'm so excited to get started.

I'm still working on my lunches. My favorite lunch this week was a salad (some of the lettuce was from our own garden!) with tuna, cannellini beans, tomato and a few kalamata olives. I used bottled vinaigrette dressing. My salad was delicious and very filling, a grown-up's lunch.

School won't start for another month, but I bought new lunchboxes for the small Bears this week. They'd used the old ones since preschool and it was time to replace them. These are the ones they chose - plain blue for the now-big boy and colorful crayons for the still-little girl. You can see their personalities reflected in their lunchboxes.

I made five Maybelle squares this week. I wanted to make more, but I was engrossed in a book instead. Do you enjoy Anne Tyler's books? I find them to be hit-or-miss; some are amazing and some I just can't get into. I found an older one, The Amateur Marriage, at the library and it was just fantastic. I literally couldn't put it down - I was reading while I cooked, book in one hand, wooden spoon in the other. It was so insightful, and the characters were so intensely real. I was completely enthralled. For me, it was one of those books that comes along maybe every couple of years, and always leave me hoping I'll love a book that much again someday.


I hope you have a good week ahead, my friends! Thanks for your lovely comments lately. I'm glad you enjoy reading these posts about our summer days. I have to say that writing these posts has really helped me feel more at ease in the long summer break, both last year and this. It's helping me savor the time as well. Thank you for being supportive and kind. Thank you for continuing to read along with our adventures, I'm glad you're here.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

A stitched butterfly

Hello! I hope you've enjoyed a nice holiday celebration if there was one where you live. We had a quiet few days at home together, finishing some household repairs and yardwork, with some good relaxation too. The weather has been hot and sunny most days, but we're starting to get cloudy afternoons sometimes, which is a nice relief, and we've had a few storms too. This is probably my favorite part of the summer; the monsoon is just getting started, the later-summer plants (which I like best) are flowering, and the very bright morning sun is starting to wane a bit - enough to be just a little less intense when it comes into my bedroom windows early in the morning. We even have things to eat in our own backyard by this point in the summer; we made refrigerator pickles from our own cucumbers this week, we're getting a few cherry tomatoes every day and we're putting fresh herbs in everything. Yes, this is a very good part of the summer.

I've been trying hard to keep crafting through the summer, even on the busy days when we have lessons and library visits and activities. I'm really glad to have a crochet project with small parts right now; I can fit in a Maybelle square or two between outings. My squares are coming along quickly, which makes me very happy. I really think I can have this blanket finished by the time we need one on our bed when the weather turns cool. I'm even thinking ahead to my next blanket already. Can you believe it? After all that hemming and hawing for a year before landing on Maybelle, I'm already thinking about what to make next. I feel reinvigorated about crochet! It's a great feeling.

Last week, I felt like doing some needlework in between the Maybelles. For a while now, I'd been wanting to stitch something small, to be displayed in a 4-inch hoop, for my gallery wall in the family room. I planned to recycle a hoop that I already had hanging there as a frame for a piece of fabric I like. I'm falling out of love with my hoop-framed fabric lately, though. I still think it's a lovely look, but I was ready for a change, so I decided to stitch something instead. In my mind, I was picturing a colorful butterfly on black Aida, something that would be bright and cheerful, but small, like a tiny enameled plate. I'd stitched a small pink rose on black for this wall a few years ago, with a similar look in mind.

For several years, I've been looking for Perler (or Hama) bead designs on Pinterest, which can easily be turned into cross-stitch patterns (and vice versa!). The GB and I both enjoy using Perler beads and we make all kinds of designs with them. I pinned this butterfly design here, if you're interested in re-pinning. You're also welcome to peruse my Pinterest board for other embroidery designs and patterns, many of which can be used in both cross-stitch and Perler beading. I decided to make this butterfly because it would fit perfectly into a 4-inch hoop. I left off the daisy behind the butterfly; I felt the butterfly alone would be more dramatic against the black Aida cloth. I chose embroidery flosses from my stash, aiming for the same general colors as the design (I love the blues with pops of orange in the wings) but I wasn't fussy about exact shades. To create a physical pattern, I save the design to my computer and print it as a full page. Then I use my Staedtler pens to shade general areas for each color as a guide (my old-school printer doesn't do color, only black and white).

I was so happy to be stitching again. I hadn't stitched since just before Christmas, when I finished my Sweetiepie ABC's sampler for the GB. I was really starting to miss it. The butterfly didn't take long - I worked on it on and off for three or four days. I never thought I'd say this, but I really enjoy stitching on black. It takes some getting used to, but it's a fun little challenge for me. In the winter, I stitch sitting in the living room with the sunlight behind me, but in summer I need to sit under the skylight in the family room instead. It's amazing how different the light can be from one season to another.

The pattern shows the butterfly outline in black, but that obviously won't work on black cloth, so I outlined my butterfly with white. It was really an experiment, because I wasn't sure if it would look nice at all, but I was pleased with the effect. You can see in this photo how much difference it makes; the butterfly pops even more after outlining in white, I think.

I hung the butterfly in the same place where I had the hoop-framed fabric before. I would show you the whole wall, but this day, most things on the wall were crooked and I was too lazy to straighten them for a photo. I'm so happy with my butterfly. I just needed an update. It feels good to have something new, doesn't it? Even a tiny thing like a stitched butterfly can perk me right up. Now I feel inspired to stitch something jazzy for the opposite end of the gallery. I have a pattern in mind already: a big, colorful Polish-style cross-stitch design with flowers arranged in a heart shape. There will be lots more stitchy satisfaction in the near future for me!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Summer, this week

This was our fifth week of summer break, 2017.

The weather is starting to get interesting. We had some cloudy afternoons and two storms, including one that ended with a very faint rainbow - too light to show up in my photos, but it was there. I'm enjoying sunlight rainbows all over the house, especially in my bedroom, where the bevel-edge mirrored medicine cabinet doors in our adjacent bathroom spread rainbows in every direction for about twenty minutes in the evenings.

I won a contest! The library does something called Book in a Jar every week. They shred a copy of some book and stuff the shredded paper into a mason jar. You have to figure out which book it is from clues in the words printed on the shredded pages. Then you write your guess on a slip of paper with your name and phone number for a random drawing. I guessed correctly that last week's book was Corduroy, about the teddy bear. I won a five-dollar gift card to Baskin-Robbins! How exciting is that?

We baked chocolate-chip cookies. They were fabulous, I assure you.

The LB attended a library event for learning to use 3D maker pens. We went back to the library a few days later to watch Guardians of the Galaxy. The LB and I enjoyed it, the GB was bored. I liked the soundtrack and Chris Pratt. The LB liked the many explosions and fires.

I worked on a small cross-stitch project, which was very satisfying. I hadn't done any cross-stitch since last winter!

I made seven more Maybelle squares. I'm more than halfway finished with them now, and almost done with my fifth of nine colors.

I didn't finish a book this week. I did make a small dent in my pile of magazines, and I'm almost finished with the book I started last week. I might finish it during this long weekend.

I've been trying to add some variety to my lunches. It gets boring eating peanut butter and jelly most days. That's what my children usually want and I just eat whatever they're having. I'm trying different things, though. This week, I really enjoyed one lunch of toast spread with mashed avocado, topped with chopped hard-boiled egg. I saw this on a cooking show recently. The host was teaching a mom how to make healthy, easy meals for herself. I took notes and I'm glad I did because that was delicious.

I pruned back my rosebush pretty severely. It just finished its third bloom of the season and has a few new buds. It was getting really overgrown, though. Things have been growing beautifully this summer. It hasn't been terribly hot, except for that one stretch a couple of weeks ago, and we're getting rain now; the monsoon seems to have arrived (I'm so excited about that, I can't even tell you). The hibiscuses are ready to go any day now. I think we'll have our first flower in bloom tomorrow (I'll keep you posted, of course - this is majorly important stuff!).

We had really good corn on the cob one night for dinner. I'm hoping to have it more often this summer, now that I know of a good source for farm-grown, which isn't easy to find around here. It's for sale in the parking lot of a lawn-sprinkler shop. I know! WEIRD BUT TRUE.

Hope you have a good week ahead, friends! Happy belated Canada Day and happy Fourth of July!

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Camping in Black Canyon

Last week, we spent a few days at the Black Canyon Campground in the Santa Fe National Forest. This is a wonderful campground. We first camped here last summer and now we think it may be our favorite of the ones we've tried around the state. It's clean, well-maintained and quiet, even though it has been nearly packed when we've camped there. We tried a different campsite this year, further up the hill toward the trail head for the Black Canyon Loop hiking trail, which is a very nice 1.5-mile hike. This was our first time using two tents, one for the children and one for us. They're plenty old enough to sleep in their own tent, and though the larger tent can sleep four, giving them the boot allowed us to really stretch out.

All of the campsites have their own parking area, and most can be backed into. We have a small utility trailer on the back of our car, which you can't see from this angle. It was simple to unload everything from the trunk and the trailer when we came in, and put it back again when we left.

I didn't get a great photo of the whole campsite, but this gives you an idea of the other amenities. Our site had two picnic tables and a fire pit. All of the sites have stone walls built around some of the sides, which is nice. It gives you more places to put things, can be used for seating, and helps delineate the site area. I don't know about you, but I like the feeling of a bit of enclosure when I'm in the woods.

When we camp, we usually bring a cooler, a box for dry foods and a big, heavy plastic trunk (which is actually a surplussed shipping container for computer chips, courtesy of my scavenger spouse by way of his employer. We will never, ever be considered "glampers"; our things are too weird and ugly). We use the trunk for all the cooking/eating and campsite-living equipment, like our Coleman stove and lantern, matches, towels and soap, etc. We also bring a 6-gallon Aqua-Tainer water jug. This campground has drinking-safe water, which is a great feature. It does not, however, have shower facilities. The bathrooms contain "vault toilets" - latrines to you and me. My family doesn't mind one bit, and I'm fine with it up to a point myself, but I'll admit that two nights of shower-free camping is plenty for me.

Our campsite included an open space under several large pine trees. We made this into a little sitting area with a tent over it, as it soon became obvious that the trees' shade would be short-lived. We used a big tarp, ropes and some aluminum poles to rig up a pretty good shade tent and put our folding canvas chairs and camp table underneath. All the Bears played the guitar in turns. We drank beer and soda, and ate trail mix. Some of us (well, me, because I'm the only one who has terrible reactions) got eaten alive by biting flies. Later, we strung up another rope between the front two trees as a clothesline for our towels. I usually bring two: a small one for washing dishes, and a bath towel for washing faces and hands, brushing teeth, etc.

For washing, we use a plastic basin. After we wash ourselves up in the morning, I keep the basin on the picnic table with a little soapy water throughout the day and all the dishes go into it as we finish using them. Later, I boil some water on the campstove and add it to the cold water in the basin for better dishwater. I try not to wash every dish as it gets used, which is something I do at home. As much as I can't stand seeing the dishes sitting there, it would be wasteful of water while camping, so I sit on my hands and leave them be. After all the dishes are done, I wash out the basin and fill it with clean water (again adding boiling water to cold for warm washing water), and we wash up for bed. I could use two basins, but then I'd have to wash them both anyway, so I stick with one. It's like musical chairs, only with a basin.

I try to take lots of photos when I'm camping. It's so nice to be in the outdoors, and the higher-elevation woods are so different from the city, where I live. The campground is actually 3,000 feet higher in elevation (about 8,400 feet) than we are at home, so the vegetation is all different. I walked around the campground looking for interesting things, especially flowers. I love forest wildflowers; they seem to leap out of the darkness. I also came across a robin's eggshell and a beautiful feather with an orange spine.

Less beautiful but still interesting was this metal jar lid the Bear found in the woods. It must be fairly old; I can't recall Kraft Mustard being available in my lifetime. I didn't save the lid; it was so rusty as to be crumbling, but I appreciated that he thought of me and brought it down from the trail so I could have a look.

We were at high enough elevation to be surrounded by quaking aspens. If you've never seen one in person, these are beautiful, delicate trees with spindly trunks and branches, and flat, rounded leaves that shiver in a breeze. They're always moving and are so interesting to watch. We don't have many at 5,500 feet, where we live; it's too hot. But if I could plant any tree in my yard, it would be aspens.

The whole campground is beautiful and I really can't say enough good things about it. Our site was very close to a path into the woods, which led to a nice hiking trail. On the canyon walls, ponderosa pines, birches and aspens grow thickly, and all around you is the sound of the wind in the trees, day and night. It's relaxing and soothing, and it makes you feel cooler just to hear it.

During the days, we spend lots of time together but we also do our own thing. I always bring books. I didn't bring yarn this time, but I have in the past. The Bear reads or paints; he brings his Koi travel watercolor set and a sketchbook on most of our vacations or camping trips. There is the aforementioned guitar-playing. There is lots of running around getting absolutely filthy if you're small, along with lots of climbing in and out of the tent until it gets too hot to be inside. There is bird-watching, compass practice and hatchet training. We stay busy.

At last, in late afternoon, there is fire-building. We bring our own firewood, from our supply at home. We also bring a small tabletop charcoal grill and briquets, as well as our Coleman stove. We usually use all three; there are different reasons for each. The Coleman stove is especially good for boiling water and making Jiffy Pop. The grill included on the fire pit is never clean enough for my taste, so I like having our own charcoal grill for foods that need to be cooked on one.

On our first night, we ate chicken kebabs, cooked on the charcoal grill. I assembled the kebabs at home, using marinated chicken breast, green and red peppers and crimini mushrooms. After everything was cooked, we took the food off the skewers and loaded pitas with it for sandwiches. It was really good, and very easy. Bonus: you can pack the raw kebabs in gallon-size Ziploc bags and freeze them, for more coldness in your cooler.

The second night was for roasting hot dogs on the fire. There are only so many nights of healthful, low-fat kebabs that they'll let me get away with. I do love hot dogs, though, and the more blackened, the better (in my humble opinion). I forgot to bring condiments, so they spread baked beans (heated on the Coleman stove) over their hot dogs. I ate mine plain, so as to better enjoy the char. On both nights, we snacked on Jiffy Pop and s'mores. We used the roasting tools above for the marshmallows too. Sticks work too, but these are so handy.

I think morning is my favorite time while camping. I love the coolness and the sounds of crows waking up for the day. I love to drink my tea under the trees and watch the campground stir - people walking to the toilet hut, someone starting a fire for breakfast, someone else walking a dog. I wish we'd had a chance to talk to other campers, but people kept to themselves. We chatted with the campground hosts, an older couple working in the campground for the first three months of the season. They made several daily rounds of the campground in their Kawasaki Mule, checking on things and making sure everyone understood the National Forest's fire restrictions (which were tightened during our stay). We love to talk to people and they were very nice. Otherwise, we enjoyed each other's company and bickered a little and shushed each other when the yelling or laughing got a little too loud. We spend a lot of time together and we really like it that way. Camping is more of the same, but a change of scenery - a few new challenges mixed with lots of new adventures.
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