Monday, January 26, 2015

Weekending: Snowbears

Last week's wild, windy storm brought us an inch or two of snow here in the city, which was pretty while it lasted. You can't do much with that little snow, though. The Bear and I have been hoping for several years to take the kids sledding. We both come from snowy places and grew up sledding but our kids hadn't tried it yet. Finally, a promising opportunity: the mountains east of the city received about a foot of snow in the same storm. Friends who live out there were unable to get into the city during the week. They said there was plenty of snow for sledding and recommended a place. We drove out early Sunday morning to have a look. We parked and hiked into an area of the Cibola National Forest called Tunnel Canyon.

There was still lots of snow on the north-facing slopes and we found a perfect place to sled. We only have one sled, so we all shared it. The hill was massive! We had the whole place to ourselves for a good hour. There had already been lots of sledding and there was a good, smooth track worn into the snow. I only made one run myself; it was crazy and I was worried about my back. It was fun, though! I got my sledding fix, for sure. The GB was hesitant; she lost her shoe on two runs and got a face full of snow on another run. But the LB really took to it! He quickly developed good techniques. He was covered in snow and he laughed until he had hiccups. The Bear flew down the hill, making rooster-tails in the snow. It was cold but brilliantly sunny and the snow began to soften by mid-morning. Another family came to play and some of them had a pretty spectacular wipe-out at the bottom of the hill. They were fine, but it was time to call it a day.

We drove home, made hot drinks and reheated leftover Chinese food for lunch. I washed and dried all the wet clothes, some of which were muddy. We spent the rest of the afternoon working on projects around the house, finishing homeschool tasks and cooking a tri-tip roast for dinner. In the evening, the Bear and I watched our current Sunday night shows: The Great British Baking Show, Downton Abbey and Grantchester. We were in bed by 10:30 and we slept like logs. It was a really good day.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

June roses in January

We're having a fairly snowy winter for my neck of the woods and I'm mostly enjoying it. We don't get a lot of snow, maybe an inch or two at a time, but we've had several storms so far. It's nice to have a little snow; everything looks pretty with a bit of snow on it. It's cold, though; I feel like I can only get warm enough when I'm in bed at night, under a sheet, a cotton waffle-weave blanket, a duvet and an afghan on top of all of that. I'm always looking for more things to pile onto myself as I go through my day. Socks, slippers, a sweater over my long-sleeved top, an afghan when I'm reading or watching TV at night. Ever try to crochet an afghan while wearing another afghan? It's awkward.

This week, we had a strong storm which included very high winds. The wind was so loud and so forceful that I couldn't sleep. I lay in bed listening to it howl across the roof, slamming into the steel walls of the swamp cooler and sending loose items crashing around the backyard. I worried about the chickens but they were fine and they even managed to lay an egg apiece overnight. They're tougher than they look. I, on the other hand, am a wimp. That wind was scary and I was so glad when it finally died down late in the morning. The storm left behind very cold weather but there was fresh snow and the crystalline skies that I love in wintertime.

While trying to will myself into bodily warmth this week, I've been thinking about the Rose Garden in Golden Gate Park, which the Bear and I visited on our trip to San Francisco last summer. The roses were in full bloom during our visit and we spent a couple of hours wandering. We ate a simple lunch on a fallen log under tall pines. There were many people around - tourists, dog-walkers, a preschool class on a field trip - but it was peaceful. And oh, those roses. There were so many kinds and they were hardy, prolific and stunning. I have a weakness for roses; my wedding bouquet was a densely-packed ball of pink and ivory ones. I took photo after photo that day in the rose garden - I just couldn't get enough of that beautiful space! My memories of that lovely June afternoon make me feel a little bit warmer now, in the heart of winter.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Color Collaborative: January: Home

During our hunt for our current home, our realtor asked me a very simple question: "Do you want a showy home or a homey home?" We had owned a home before, but I had never thought of home-buying in these terms. The whole process was easier after she asked me this question. I wanted a homey home. I wanted to feel at ease, comfortable, safe. I wanted a home where my children could really live - playing, moving, creating, resting and growing. I wanted a light, bright home, but I didn't want vaulted ceilings or a cavernous "great room." I wanted an open feel and multi-use rooms but I also wanted delineated spaces, places to go to be alone and quiet. When we found this house, we only needed a couple of hours to decide it was the right one for us. It wasn't perfect (could any house ever be? I'm not sure) but it was very, very good and we knew we'd be happy here.

I've always been a homebody. I would rather stay at home, alone or with some combination of my family members, than do anything else. I think I was born to homemaking; my favorite game was "house" when I was little. Even my Barbies were stay-at-home mothers (in evening gowns). In college, I often stayed in at night, crafting in my nightgown. My friends were bemused but I needed to feel a sense of hominess even in the dorm. Little in life makes me as happy as playing house, even now that I'm all grown up. Simply put, home makes me happy. I am especially enthusiastic about my home in wintertime, when I spend more time in the house. My winter home is simple, with a few basic but important elements. Wintertime is afghans and tea, weak sunshine, warm beds, baking scents, piles of books and magazines, candles in the evenings and a fire on the really cold days.

I don't know where I'd be without afghans. I made my first when I was sixteen. I ran out of yarn and it was barely long enough to cover my lap. I don't have it anymore but I have lots of new ones. I've been crocheting in earnest for several years now and there are blankets in almost every room of our house. One of the best things about an afghan is the color it can add to a room. I used very bright colors when I first became reattached to crochet and I felt bold and daring. I was especially unaccustomed to using red. I tend to play it safe with most of my decor, choosing neutral and soft colors for paint, furnishings and linens, but afghans allow me to experiment with color. I love to see my blankets in use. The colors and patterns brighten the room, a loved one's comfort warms my heart.

Art is important to me and I fill my home with artwork from many sources. Most of it comes from my children, though, and I am proud to display their work. We have our gallery wall, made with strips of wood embedded with slices cut from wine corks, where I hang the best examples of their artwork. In the winter, this work is always fresh and new because much of it comes home from school after the annual art-and-writing exhibition just before Christmas. There's lots of homegrown art too, things we make together during homeschool time or on the weekends. If you're looking for bold decoration, children's artwork will never disappoint. It's bright and cheerful: slashes of crayon, oil pastel and watercolor, fabric and glue dried lumpy and stiff, garish colors blending in fevered imagination. They make it, I hang it. I couldn't be happier to do so.

Saturday afternoons are for listening to A Prairie Home Companion on public radio. This is a tradition from my husband's family and one I eagerly adopted. I love radio and I almost always have a radio playing wherever I am in the house. The show is funny and entertaining and I enjoy the music. My children have listened since they were born; they know Garrison Keillor's voice with just a few words. The show is a way of life, really. Saturdays at four, we switch the radio to KANW 89.1 and settle in. In summer, we sit in shade on the back patio with a small portable radio. In wintertime, we sit in the living room together, listening on our tabletop radio. The kids play on the floor with their bins of K'nex and Legos, the Bear and I craft or read. We listen through the late afternoon. The sun moves across the front of the house, the room dimming and shadows creeping up the walls, light fading to dusty blue and violet as the sun sets. We keep listening together in golden lamplight.

This is the first house I've lived in with a fireplace and oh, how I love having a fireplace. As soon as it's cold enough we start having fires on the weekends and we continue as long as we can. The Bear, former Eagle Scout, builds a perfectly beautiful fire and we spend all afternoon and evening in front of it with our various diversions. Sometimes we eat dinner on the floor. We drink cocoa and eat popcorn. Some of the wood is from our own trees, apple and juniper. I love to sit with the lights off, or at least dimmed, and watch the flames and the shadows dancing on the walls. The golden glow of a good fire means coziness and warmth. It's one of the very best parts of winter.

In warm weather, I cut flowers from our yard to make bouquets for the house. In winter, I buy my flowers and they are almost always tulips, my favorite flower of all. I love having a fresh bunch in the house and they have to be bright - lipstick red, hot pink, fuschia, flame orange. A bright bunch of tulips in the kitchen, or on the buffet in the dining room, instantly lifts my spirits. It reminds me that spring is coming and that as much as I enjoy winter, the spring holds great promise and beauty and lovely traditions all its own, inside and outside our beloved home.


 Don't forget to visit the other Color Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts. Just click on the links below: 

Annie at Annie Cholewa 
Sandra at Cherry Heart 
and January's guest poster, Bee at the linen cloud
What is The Color Collaborative?
All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff. Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together? Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts? We think so and we hope you will too. We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a color related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about color in new ways.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Potholder pursuance

Yesterday, I began working on a crocheted potholder to add to my kitchen wall. I have four vintage potholders, all from different places, and I plan to add more. I want to make a few myself. I've been pinning patterns and filling up my Ravelry library too. The potholders I already have are made with cotton thread. I decided to make mine with thread, as opposed to thicker yarn, for consistency. Last week, there was a sale - half off all crochet thread. But the selection was poor and I ended up with acrylic thread because there were so few choices left in the cotton. Thus began a really challenging project. Thread crochet is difficult! The thread is tiny. The stitches are tiny. My tension is too loose, in large part because my smallest hook is still too big. The crochet is curling and lumpy and I can't even block it. I don't like the shininess, or the crinkly feeling. I think it would look like an old rag hanging on my wall.

For all that, I'm enjoying myself. I'm using this pattern - a real vintage one from 1948. I think thread crochet is a lost art. The doilies, the clothing, the bedspreads! The potholder pattern is very similar to one of my vintage potholders. I like knowing that lots of people have made this pattern before me and that the same potholder has graced many, many kitchens. I've always loved to look at photos of forties and fifties kitchens. I try to bring a little of that style to my own kitchen. I like things old and kitschy. I want lots of potholders, going up the wall and over the doorway to the dining room. I'm going to stick with it. I ordered some cotton crochet thread online last night, reds and pinks and greens to match the kitchen and the vintage potholders. I'm going to keep working on the acrylic one, though. It's good practice. I can be patient - just think how long those potholders waited to find each other in my kitchen.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A happy week

We had cold, wet weather for a few days this week. We even had one school delay (I think there should have been two because the roads were slippery both mornings). There's a lot to be said for cold, wet weather when it's usually clear and dry and I try to make the most of it. I like a little winter in my winter. I like to make soup. I like to wear slipper-socks. I like to spend dark afternoons in the kitchen - teaching, cooking, puttering, talking. I hope we have another cold, wet spell before the winter is over. Maybe we'll have a few - the winter is still quite young.

We've been playing with the perler beads a lot lately. Some call them hama beads. I designed that mushroom myself. I like how it came out. I know all about using cross-stitch patterns to make them, and I do that sometimes too, but I really enjoy winging it. I need to buy more beads; we're running out of a few colors, especially red...hmm.

I'm feeling good so far this month, and this year. I made a conscious decision to let go of stress and anxiety about things I can't fix. And you know what? It's working. I feel freer and happier. This week, I went to a friend's sales party and had a really good time. On Friday the weather was nice again and I took my kids to the park after school, where I met up with some mom friends. I laughed a lot this week. I felt lighter. I'm crocheting a lot and am back to reading more after a spate of terrible books. I savored the last of my Christmas-stocking treats. I made really good lasagna. I had a good week. I hope you did too.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Winter hens

Our hens are faring well so far in their first winter. We've had many cold days and nights, and a few minor snowfalls, usually overnight. The first time it snowed, they seemed wary; they moved with trepidation, stopping to peck at the snow. Now that they've experienced snow a few times, they seem totally unfazed by it. They still go to the patch where the grass is sparse, as do the wild birds, to look for seeds and bugs. They crisscross the patio, leaving tracks in the snow. The LB is their main caretaker, going outdoors first thing in the morning, after getting dressed but before his own breakfast. He feeds them, changes their water and collects eggs (we've gotten at least one egg per day all winter so far, without using a sunlamp yet). The LB has started cleaning out the coop all by himself too. He loves his hens. I have so enjoyed watching him grow with these responsibilities. My super kid.

When we went away, the boy next door came over, with a parent, to care for the hens. He's seven years old and was very eager to help. His family enjoyed the eggs. We stayed very connected to our hens on the trip, though. The Bear spent some time this fall working on two technological additions to our chicken-keeping life. The first is a "hen-cam," which he can access on his phone or laptop to keep an eye on the coop. He built a small "bot" with a camera, similar to the one he used to make a stop-action film of the monsoon clouds last summer. He placed the camera in our bedroom window, aimed at the coop. It was really fun to check in on them while we were away! We could see them eat and drink, go in and out of the coop to lay eggs, emerge in the morning and retire for the night. They're surprisingly busy! For such a small flock, this is a high-traffic henhouse.

The Bear built another helpful item this fall too: a computer-controlled door for the henhouse. The computer is set to recognize sunrise and sunset times each day, signaling an actuator to open or close the sliding inner door accordingly. The hens are always inside their coop by sunset, so this insures they get closed in safely for the rest of the night, and it lets them out in a timely way in the morning. It's so cool. It came in really handy while we were away, but we use it all the time right now. It's really convenient with the short days and long nights. When the days get longer, we'll go back to doing it the old-fashioned way. The Bear is very proud of his invention and you can read more about our Electric Henhouse, in much more technical terms than I could ever offer, on his blog, Ink of Park. Yep, he blogs too. He's been blogging much longer than I have and he's a good read, that one.

Monday, January 12, 2015

After the storm

I took this photo on our drive home from vacation in Arizona. It was New Year's Eve and we'd left bright and early, trying to beat a snowstorm that was expected to sweep across the Southwest beginning that day. We got out of Phoenix just fine, it was only cloudy there. About an hour north of Phoenix, it started snowing lightly and the snow got heavier as we drove north, approaching Flagstaff. The Bear was driving; he's a careful, confident driver, but snow really changes the game. I used to be good at driving in snow, when I lived in a very snowy part of the country, but I was also younger, and childless, then. My fear-meter is very different today.

Just south of Flagstaff, the snow was dumping down. There were many accidents in both directions - overturned cars and jackknifed tractor-trailers. We sat forty-five minutes while one accident was cleared. Our trip between Phoenix and Flagstaff should have taken two hours but it took nearly five. We finally reached Flagstaff and had a gas and bathroom stop. Back on the road, the conditions were worse for awhile as we drove east on I-40 toward New Mexico. The weather radar map on my phone showed a big clearing just west of Winslow, Arizona, and I started counting down the miles. It would be clear in Winslow. Everything would be okay in Winslow. It seemed like a matter of life and death to reach Winslow. Given all the accidents, maybe it really was.

Finally, we got there. It was cloudy in Winslow (such a fine sight to see...), but it wasn't snowing yet. Just east of Winslow, the sun started peeking through. I realized I'd been clenching my fists in my coat pockets so hard that I had angry-looking indentations from my nails in the palms of my hands. My ring had made a deep groove in my finger. I had a bag of sandwiches, baby carrots and chips on the floor behind my seat and I started passing the food around. We'd planned to stop for lunch much sooner, but now it seemed like a good idea to keep going, before the storm caught up with us again. The Bear was relieved too, I could tell, but he rarely shows his nervousness and I'm pretty thankful for that. I handed him sandwich halves and handfuls of chips to eat while he drove. I looked back at my children. In the backseat, the small Bears had been sitting quietly, knowing there was trouble, but mostly sure it would all be okay. It was okay. We made it. We were on our way home, safe and sound.
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