Monday, August 3, 2015

Rainset







Now, the storms roll in almost every afternoon, clouds building and darkening, finally letting go in early evening. The rain comes down hard at first. It can go on for hours, or it can end quickly, a brief but intense shower that has the canales running and the arroyo rushing in mere minutes before it moves on. Some evenings, we can sit and watch it raining all around us, sheets of gray falling in every direction but not here. And sometimes we're the ones who get it, those of us tucked up against the bottom of the mountain. This night, the western sky stayed clear. The rain fell over us as the sun set, the sky moving through a spectrum of colors from west to east: flaming red to orange to gold, cooling to blue and violet and gray toward the mountain. Everything was bathed in golden-orange light and the shadows loomed. I stayed outside, under shelter of the porch roof, until the sun sank beneath the horizon. My world was only dark and wet then; the breeze felt chilly without the blaze of setting sun. The canales ran and the puddles grew. Our overgrown roses whispered against the garden wall and the wind chimes rang softly. It was eight-thirty on a Sunday night in the last real month of summer - already a little darker in the mornings and evenings, already a little cooler at midday, every flower already past its peak. It was cool enough for a sweater but I wrapped my arms around myself and stood there until it was too dark to see.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Storage in a small backyard

Our property is relatively small. It's about a fifth-acre, which is a normal lot size for our city and for our home's era of construction (newer homes around here are often situated on as little as one-tenth of an acre!), but it does mean that the average homeowner needs to find ways to maximize the space. Our own lot is sort of narrow, being only a little wider than the house itself, with most of the yard space being in front of the house or behind it. For our area, it's a very good yard and we liked it right away. We like it even more six years after buying our house, largely because we've figured out the best ways to use it.


In general, I like the shape of the lot, as it slopes gently downward toward the street in the front, allowing our house to sit back, and a bit higher than the street, keeping it quiet inside and in the backyard. Our backyard is my favorite part, though. It's a quiet, sheltered sanctuary with lots of mature plants, including shade trees. I'd go so far as to say our backyard is park-like, though I know that's a tired cliche. It really is, though; it's quiet, we have just enough grass to enjoy (but not be tons of work), two large patios for dining and entertaining, and planter beds delineated with upright railroad ties or inlaid brick edgings. I like having mature plants in the yard; it was a great relief for this fledgling gardener to be given the responsibility for maintenance instead of full-on nurturing from seedlings. We do pretty well, but if there is one complaint we both have, it's that our storage options are limited here, and the house is actually part of the problem.


We have a two-car garage, which seems like it would afford good space. Our garage is attached at the front of the house. The Bear uses one half (car bay) as a workshop; he has workbenches, cabinetry, table-based tools like saws and a drill press. He has pegboards on the walls. It's a very nice workshop, but it takes up plenty of space. The other half of the garage is meant for storage of other things, like our bicycles, some food storage, extra toilet paper and paper towels - you know the drill. There is little room for gardening implements. We do keep a few things in there, such as a wheeled seed-spreader, but one big problem is that we don't have a way to get into the backyard from the garage, and that's a big pain. The bedrooms are behind the garage, staggered back toward the rear of the house. Ours is furthest back, with a door leading out to the backyard, but I refuse to allow gardening supplies to go out that way. We've had to come up with a different solution.


Just next to the garage, there is a locked gate leading into the side yard, with another gate at the end leading into the back. Things from the garage have to be taken through here, which can be a hassle. The other side yard can only be accessed from the backyard; there's a wall separating it from the front yard. Our front yard is xeriscaped, meaning we don't have grass or other water-loving plants there, and the ground is covered with gravel and rock chips. There is seasonal pruning to do in the front, but not nearly as much as there is in the back, so it's the backyard where we really do our serious yard work. We've decided to use sheds in both side yards to keep our gardening tools handy for working in the back yard. Both sheds are the same - tall, narrow wardrobe-type sheds with double doors and security latches - and each has been helpful in our quest to stay organized and keep our tools close.

The one above sits on the garage side of the house, and we keep our more commonly-used items inside, like the reel mower, rakes, shovels, spades, pruning shears and gardening gloves. We hang smaller items on hooks at the top, to keep them from getting lost among the big things on the floor. This mostly works fine for us, but we do need to be mindful of the way we stow things; everything fits just so, with little space left over.


The other shed sits on the opposite side of the house and is not used as often. It's at the end of a long, narrow tunnel-like space and not as easily accessed, but it's good for items like the weed-whacker and the rotating edger, things you might use every couple of weeks. We also have a trunk-style deck box on one of the patios, for storing folding chairs, scooters, toys and helmets; this has been handy for rounding up all the small stray things our family uses in the yard.

These storage solutions work fine for us, really. There is plenty of space to stow things, and we're able to keep it all out of sight and make more space in the garage too. It's a pretty good solution. Ideally, though, we'd have all of the gardening things together in one place, and we'd have more room in the garage too, so that we could store a car in the other bay, the non-workshop one. We think often about having one big shed somewhere in the backyard, where we could store all the yard stuff, and the bicycles and scooters and other big stuff currently in the garage.


Our backyard is carefully planned to be park-like, as I mentioned, so this would be sort of a challenge. We'd have to find a space both large enough and flat enough for a big shed-type building to fit and still have yard space to enjoy. It would need to have a tall enough ceiling that we could get in and out easily (all of us - the Bear is just over six feet tall and he'd probably be in it the most). And why not make use of our (sometimes annoyingly) abundant New Mexican sunshine with a built-in skylight? I think that a large garden shed from Tesco could be a super choice for our needs. I really like the Palram 6x10 shed with a skylight; it's simple and economical and it would be deep enough to store the bikes as well as the gardening tools, with the least-used items at the back. This 8x6 shed with a tongue-and-groove floor is slightly smaller, but would be a beautiful, natural-looking addition to our yard, and it even has a little window to make good use of our sunshiney days.


We could put it against the west wall of the yard, but we'd have to move the chicken coop and possibly cut down a tree. I think it would look nice over there, though. Or we could remove a large juniper bush, which already has some dead parts on the inside anyway, and put the shed in its place. There are possibilities, but in a yard this small, we would have to be willing to give up something to make room for a shed. It wouldn't be easy to decide, but I think it would be worth it in the long run, to have all the gardening items in one place, along with the items currently taking up space in our garage. Our newest car is nine years old, so clearly there has been no hurry, but it would be nice to park a car in the garage. We really love our house and have been very comfortable and happy here, but it's always fun to think and plan different ways to use our space and maximize storage potential. The garden shed possibilities are endless, even if space and money are not!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Color Collaborative: July: Mend

 
A battered and faded stuffed baby doll lives in our house. Her name is Stinker, and she belongs to the GB. Stinker, so named by the GB when she was a toddler, was a present from Santa Claus for the GB's first Christmas. The GB was three months old then. Stinker was the first toy she ever really loved, and the attachment has grown over the years. Now at six, the GB still sleeps with Stinker every night and carries her from room to room during the day.

2011

Stinker started life as a soft doll with a velour-like covering. Her hands and face were pale peach. Her hat and bodysuit (both non-removeable) were candy pink with satin trim on the sleeves, feet and hat. The trim was in pink, yellow and green - stripes for the sleeves and a swirly pattern for the feet and hat. Stinker's hair is straight now, two narrow, faded yellow ribbons hanging down over her face, but it used to be curled in corkscrews. Her once-vibrant blue eyes and pink facial features have faded to less distinct shades.


Over time, Stinker has taken on a dinginess. She is sort of grayish all over now, but that doesn't bother the GB. She comes up with the most interesting situations and scenarios for Baby Stinker. Above, Stinker is seeing a doctor, who wears Ziploc sandwich bags on her hands and uses the handle of a jump-rope to administer crucial medical treatments. It has been interesting to watch their relationship evolve. Stinker is more than just a soft thing to cuddle. She is also a conduit for many of the GB's thoughts and feelings and fears, and the GB often speaks through her, telling us when Stinker is worried about something and reassuring her about new experiences.


Stinker was a woman of action when she was younger. Both small Bears played with her a lot. She was thrown across rooms and dangled over stairwells. She raced at high speed through the house, strapped precariously to a doll stroller. Noses were wiped on her. She was vomited on. Back then, Stinker took rides in the washer and dryer, tied inside a pillow case, until she became too delicate for such adventures. Now, she is gently hand-washed in a basin with warm water and a drop of Woolite. She has given up the dryer altogether.

Thankfully, Stinker stays cleaner in general nowadays than she used to, but she still gets plenty of attention. Stinker is so deeply loved that she often develops holes and tears in her seams. We try to mend her as soon as possible when this happens, so as to preserve her for good playing and sleeping. She has stitches on most parts of her body. It's actually the Bear who mends her most often, getting out his own sewing kit to repair these injuries to dear little Stinker. Here, he repairs Stinker's hat earlier this summer; the little satin piece at the top had torn and the stuffing was starting to come out.


He really enjoys the opportunity to fix Stinker for the GB. He talks to Stinker while he works, telling her each step of the way as he threads his needle, prepares to make the first stitch, closes up the hole with tiny, neat stitches, ties the thread and cuts it off. The GB watches raptly, looking a little nervous and listening carefully, knowing that Daddy will fix Stinker and make her as good as new, or almost. She tells Stinker not to worry. When he's done, he gives Stinker back and they hug and hug. I love that he does this for her, and that he does it cheerfully and with imagination and kindness.

Christmas Day 2008

It's just my own personal theory, but I think Stinker and the GB get along so well because they looked alike when they first met. For the GB, it must have been like looking in her (plastic, somewhat distorting) toy mirror. No wonder they fell in love so fiercely and enduringly.

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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 
Sarah at mitenska
 
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, July 27, 2015

Martha & Me - July



This month, with Martha's help, I made Strawberry Shortcake Sundaes, from the July/August double issue of Martha Stewart Living. The recipe can also be found on Martha's website; just click on the link to see it. This month was pretty hectic with the LB's surgery, so I only had time to try one new thing from the current issue of the magazine. I absolutely loved this recipe. It was a little complicated as ice cream sundae-prep goes, but it made for a really special dessert on a Friday night. And you know how I feel about strawberries; when I saw this recipe among the several Martha suggested for fun ice cream treats, I just had to give it a try. I started the day before I planned to serve them, which seems a little odd for ice cream sundaes, but it took some labor.


Pound cake is a major component. I considered baking one from scratch, and I also looked at pre-baked ones in the grocery store, but in the end, I went with a Betty Crocker mix. It was less expensive than either the bakery pound cakes or the frozen Sara Lee ones in the store, and I could use real butter and fresh eggs. Another bonus was that it actually makes enough batter for two loaves of pound cake. I'm sure that a fully homemade pound cake would be even better, but this seemed like a good compromise because there was other work to be done.




There was also a strawberry sauce to make. This would be used in two ways. It was an easy little sauce, very similar to jam, actually. I liked that it included salt and lemon juice, making it slightly less sweet than jam. The technique was simple; just quarter the berries, place them in a saucepan with sugar, lemon juice and salt and bring to a boil while crushing the berries with a potato masher. Then the sauce stays at a low boil for 10 minutes, stirring often, until it coats the spoon.



Sauce and cakes were left to cool. I removed about half of the sauce for the next step, which was to add the strawberry sauce to vanilla ice cream, to give it a swirly-ribbon effect of strawberries going through the vanilla.


I used basic vanilla ice cream by Dreyers. I'm sure you could use any type (premium ice cream would probably be amazing here), but this is the brand I usually buy and it was on sale in the store.


I removed about half of the ice cream in the carton (the total amount in the carton was 1.75 quarts) and put it in a large mixing bowl. I let it sit at room temperature for about five minutes, just to soften a little, then I stirred it with a big spoon to make it soft and creamy.


Next, I folded the strawberry sauce into the ice cream with a rubber scraper. Martha said to leave some streaks of strawberry; I probably went a little past that, but it was fairly difficult to do because the ice cream was melting fast.


Then, I spooned it into a loaf pan, covered the pan with plastic wrap and put the pan in the freezer for the night. You have to do this ice cream step at least two hours ahead, but I decided to do it a day ahead just to be safe. You never know when something might take longer to freeze - or, heaven forbid, never freeze at all. I was kind of crossing my fingers for this part of the recipe.



The next evening, it was time to assemble the sundaes for our dessert. Finally! I made an alteration to the assembly in that I used ceramic bowls for our sundaes. Martha used glass parfait-style glasses but I don't have those. She cut her pound cake slices into rounds, using a circular cookie cutter, to help them fit in the glasses. I didn't see any reason to do this with my bowls, so I just cut my slices in half vertically to make sort-of squares. I layered them in the bowls with cake in the bottom, sauce, a scoop of ice cream, cake, sauce, ice cream, etc., until there were three layers, then put a little whipped cream on top (I used Reddi-Wip, though the recipe would have you whip your own cream. Additional sliced, macerated strawberries were called for as well, but I didn't bother with them. I thought baking cakes, making strawberry sauce and remaking ice cream seemed like quite enough, thank you very much).


The verdict was positive, as you might expect. Everyone liked the sundaes very much. It seemed that the ice cream was the best part. I liked that a lot myself; it reminded me of a kind of ice cream I loved as a child, Sealtest raspberry swirl, which had a very mild, sweet vanilla base with a generous ribbon of jelly-like raspberry sauce (without seeds) swirled throughout. Aside from being made with strawberries, my ice cream was different by having small chunks of fruit intact, which I liked too. The strawberry flavor was intense. The cake was good too; it soaked up the strawberry sauce nicely. We had some ice cream left over and we added more as we ate. As far as we're concerned, there is no such thing as too much ice cream.


It was an elaborate recipe, and I don't think I'll make it very often, but it was the best strawberry shortcake I've ever had, and I think my favorite Martha project yet.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

They like buses






They drew a mural of a school bus, on the big roll of paper we bought at IKEA in Denver, which we visited on our vacation in June. We also bought a package of stamping markers. It's a band bus, on its way to a musical gig somewhere (we don't know where). They love buses, more than I can really describe because I don't share their feelings. I think it's because I rode the school bus twice a day for thirteen years and they're driven to and from their school in the car. They ride a school bus occasionally when I take them to a daytime play at the university; we have to park our car in a big lot far off campus near the stadium, then ride a shuttle bus onto campus and back to the lot again later. The bus rides are at least as exciting to them as the plays are. Daddy thought of drawing a musical bus and they liked that idea very much. Magical, musical bus! Now it hangs in the family room.

I feel much better today. Thank you for what you said. I don't always do a very good job of feeling my feelings. But I'm learning how, and it's better this way.

I've had a fairly busy day so far; I went to the grocery store alone this morning and did a really thorough shopping, which always makes me happy. I'm doing better with meal-planning lately and I have the whole week's dinners scheduled. I got my money back from some chicken I bought earlier in the week; it was bad in the package! Ugh, the horror of that experience. I bought everything I need to make Cobb salads for the Bear and me tonight, for our at-home date. We have some cheese and crackers for later in the afternoon, and coffee ice cream for dessert. We ate up all our leftovers for lunch and I cleaned out the pantry a little.

Oh, and I felt so good and productive and bolstered that I had the chutzpah to frog a crochet project! Yes. The queen of plodding along with projects she doesn't even like frogged something. Remember the little cardigan I've been making, the one from Simply Crochet magazine (which I still plan to talk about here)? I didn't like it. The colors were pretty, but I should have used heavier yarn and a bigger hook. It wasn't coming out right. Begone, bad cardigan! I can start over and do it right.

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I've drawn a giveaway winner, using the Random Number Generator. The winner of my giveaway is Gracie of One Saylor's Log. Thanks to everyone who played along.

I hope you're having a good weekend. You're a nice bunch of people.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Muddling





 


And so we plod along, making our way through these final weeks of the long, drawn-out summer break, made exponentially more mind-numbing by a post-operative recovery. I think we're all going to lose it some days. It must feel like a special kind of hell to a nine-year-old boy to have to spend his summer days sitting sedately, when he'd rather be running, jumping, climbing, just plain moving around. At least the catheter is out; I don't miss my pee-decanting responsibilities one bit. And we're down to only three medicines per day, and that will be down to two, just the normal ones, in another ten days. So there's that to look forward to. In the meantime, our days have taken on a restless sameness; there's plenty of time and I'm getting a lot done, but I'd rather be doing just about anything else. In a heartbeat, I'd trade all the creative meals and the current spotlessness of my home for an afternoon at the pool with some friends. I'm not depressed, exactly, but I am restless and bored, and I feel badly for both of my kids.

I shouldn't complain. I keep telling myself not to complain. Last week, in the thick of our post-op chaos, I found myself getting irrationally angry at an article about the writer's longing for a gigantic family and feeling unfulfilled with the numerous healthy children she already has. I actually had to walk away from the computer, just stood up and exited the room and went and emptied the catheter bag. We all have our crosses to bear, but it was precisely the wrong time for me to read about that one and it reinforced for me the pointless negativity of complaining.

We did make it out to the library this week, which was nice. It was the last week of the summer reading program and there was a demonstration about the life cycle of butterflies. I remembered that we have a mesh butterfly house in a closet somewhere around here. I think we'll try to find some caterpillars next spring. I remembered while I was watching the demonstration that we hatched butterflies in elementary school, maybe around fourth grade. The teacher had these big boxes with clear plastic windows in the sides, and we could watch the caterpillars form their chrysalises inside. When they hatched, we released them in the field behind the school. It was fun. What I remember best, though, was when a boy in my class pointed to a drop of reddish fluid on the floor of the box and said that the butterfly was "on her period." The same boy had drawn genitals on my Cabbage Patch Kid eraser the previous school year. He was not what you'd call a nice boy.

I have to repair Maggie Rabbit. I had a feeling when I gave her to the GB that this would happen. One of Maggie's legs is hanging off by a thread, and she has a hole in her neck seam. Right now she's sitting forlornly on top of my sewing machine. She wasn't even played with much; she sat on the GB's nightstand and was really just decorative, or so I thought. I probably should have kept her for myself. 

I had my hair cut this morning. I couldn't take it anymore. I meant to have a haircut weeks ago (you may recall that I complained of having Meatloaf hair). It was getting progressively worse. I could barely comb it. I have the kind of hair that can look pretty nice if I take my time with the blow-dryer and big round brush, but I haven't been doing that lately, needless to say. The stylist cut off about five inches of scraggly, dry blah and I'm happier now. It's just to my shoulders so I can still put it up in a short ponytail but it has some body and can look nice with just a brushing at this length. When I got home, I washed my hair in the kitchen sink using the spray nozzle. My kids watched me in awe and I realized that I hardly ever wash my hair in the sink now. I used to do it all the time, though. Did you? Maybe it was an effect of living in a house with six people - three of them girls close in age - and one bathroom, but I washed my hair in the kitchen a lot.

It's taco night here. I feel like eating something really crappy. I don't want to go out for it and I don't have enough cash on hand to have anything delivered but I do have tortillas, meat, veggies, cheese and Old El Paso seasoning. Tacos, it is. Later, it will be a hard cider and stove popcorn with something mindless on TV. I can't wait.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Yarn Along


Against my better judgment, I started crocheting something new. I'm still working on the ripple and cardigan of past weeks but I came across a pattern I just had to try and here we are. I didn't used to be this way; I would finish every project before picking up a new one. But life has been fraught lately and I've had trouble focusing on the ripple throw, especially, so I'm cutting myself some slack. The item you see above is going to be a table decoration, I think. I'm using a potholder pattern, the Vintage Climbing Trellis Hexagon, by Alipyper. Instead of making it with crochet thread (sooo hard for me, seriously, I try and try but I'm bad at it), I'm using regular cotton yarn. This makes it bigger, more like a trivet. I like the pattern; it's simple and easy to follow and things like this always make good stashbusters.

On the reading front, it's mostly cookbooks at the moment. Now that the LB is more self-sufficient, but still needs to hang out at home most of the time until he's more recovered, I seem to have plenty of time of my hands. Sure, there are household chores and I do have to keep these two small people occupied, but I have more time than usual for cooking and baking, which is good but also sort of frustrating because it makes me feel like I'd better step up my game while I have the chance. I've been in the proverbial cooking rut again lately. So I've been looking through my cookbooks more lately. This Jamie Oliver book, Jamie's Food Revolution, is one of a handful of true favorites that I keep on my kitchen counter at all times. I find his recipes very interesting and fairly easy to make, and they usually go over well with the Bears. This is my favorite of his cookbooks, in large part because of the real, everyday people in it. I feel more inspired when I see them, like they're cheering me on.

Joining in with Ginny's Yarn Along
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