Saturday, August 27, 2016

Eight things

Hello! Gosh, it's been a while since I had time to sit down and write a blog post. Life has been kind of nuts these past few weeks. Nothing bad, really, aside from the first cold of the school year (in an unwelcome twist, I was the sickest around here, pretty much laid up for about two days). We're settling into the school year and working through some changes, which has been challenging.

So what's new...the LB has graduated from his group guitar lesson after five years and is now taking private lessons with a really fantastic professional guitarist and music educator (he also took some of his group lessons under this same teacher). It's been a big change; we go to this man's house for the lesson once a week and the LB, who was used to fairly cursory practicing at home, is now required to practice at least 30 minutes a day. He did not take all that happily to this at first but is doing much better now. Miss GB continues her group guitar lessons and is back to ballet as well. Both children have had large school projects assigned immediately so we've been very busy juggling school and their activities. (I'm glad they only have one or two activities each. It's plenty. I don't think it's realistic not to do any activities, though; like everything else in life, balance is key). We've also had some major changes at school that we're getting used to.

I think everything will be just fine, but there's a lot of new stuff right now and I'm having a little trouble catching my breath. Needless to say, blogging has kind of gone out the window, both updating my own and reading others' blogs. I'm sorry about that, guys. I plan to keep blogging and will try my best to read and comment on others' blogs, because I really do love everything about the blogging life. I'm just busier than I used to be, especially at the moment.

Photography has fallen by the wayside lately too. I haven't taken many pictures lately, but as usual, I've tried to keep up with the major stuff, which is to say, the small, daily-life stuff - the kind of stuff that keeps me feeling grounded in the midst of the busy periods in life. Here are eight right-now things...

Our apples are ripened and ready to eat. I usually pick one for myself every time I go out to backyard. They're very good apples, even if they are small and often slightly blemished. I'm planning to try something new with them this fall - apple butter! I've never made it before but we love to eat it. I made jelly with our apples two years ago and it was good at first, but after only a few weeks in the jar it changed consistency and turned dark. It was unappetizing. So this year, in addition to the planned pies and crisps, as well as the inevitable applesauce and fruit leather when they get a little older, I'm going to attempt apple butter. I've been asked whether we spray our apple tree and the answer is no way! We don't use pesticides or weed killers anywhere in the yard.

I bought myself a new pair of shoes. They're just inexpensive faux-suede ballet flats but they're comfy and cute. I've never had red shoes before. These had silly little metal dangly things tied into the bows; I cut them off with a little pair of wire nippers and I like them even better now.

I also bought myself some vintage beaded necklaces from an Etsy shop called OldMemoreez. Courtney has some really cool and interesting vintage jewelry for sale. I chose these three necklaces (which are all long, by the way, each 24-30 inches), for their bright colors. The beads are plastic but they look and feel very much like old Bakelite beads; these were probably a lot less expensive but still cute and colorful.

If you follow me on Instagram (where I have also fallen off posting lately, oops), you've seen these crocheted goodies already. They're a hot dog and cheeseburger! I have one more to make, for a set of three. I'm keeping mum for now about why I'm making them, but they've been so much fun! I'll tell you more soon.

I haven't worked on my crocheted Choro top at all for weeks now. I was hoping to have it finished to wear this fall but it may not happen. Ah well, maybe for spring. I was finding it rather frustrating last I worked on it, but that's a good thing because I'm learning something new. I hope to have some progress to share soon, but in the meantime, it sits a bit forlornly on top of my sewing basket, on my desk.

I'm really enjoying homeschool with the LB lately. He's in fifth grade now and doing a lot of very interesting things. He is currently preparing a presentation on the Nineveh Flood Tablet, a clay writing about a portion of the Epic of Gilgamesh from ancient Mesopotamia; the Flood Tablet describes another version of the Biblical flood story. I've been helping him and learning a lot myself. I'm helping him with study skills too. And helping him learn to appreciate highlighters as much as I do - look at that baby, it can practically glow in the dark.

I started a new magazine subscription, to Real Simple. Have you ever read this magazine? It's so good. I'm on my second issue now. I'd gotten a really good offer (I think because I already subscribe to Martha Stewart Living). This one is full of very practical advice about so many subjects. I can always use advice. I love the style of it, pared-down and not full of glamorous models, just healthy, smart ideas for living, a magazine for grown-ups, I think.

We have had so many rainbows in the past few weeks. It's just incredible. I know I share a lot of rainbows here but they make me happy whenever we have them. And look at the bushes just right of center at the bottom of my photo - orange berries! Those are pyracanthas and the berries changing means fall is soon to be here. I can't wait. August has been a lovely month, weather-wise, though. Lots of rain and lots of rainbows, I really can't complain.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

His birthday

Yesterday was the Bear's birthday. We celebrated on Sunday with his parents, going out for dinner and then coming back here for dessert. He asked me to make tiramisu for his birthday cake. It's one of his favorite desserts and he often has it for his birthday. I enjoy making it (I've been using this recipe for years), even though it does require a trip to two stores I don't normally shop in - one for ladyfingers and one for mascarpone cheese. It's fancy but easy and he loves it, which is all that matters.

What does your family do for birthdays? Our family's birthday celebrations are always about the same: dinner out at the restaurant of the birthday celebrant's choice, with dessert and presents back at home. Everyone here loves everyone else's birthday almost as much as their own. The small Bears were reeeeally excited for Daddy's birthday and spent a lot of the evening bouncing through the house on their jumping balls (or "hop balls" as we call them here), with a lot of shrieking and laughter. They were powered by pasta and sugar, with a little rum too, so that may explain it. Or it was just infectious birthday glee. Some of each, I would suspect. Birthdays are the best. We've entered our family birthday season now and we're all excited.

I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the fall feeling that happens as soon as school starts, regardless of the calendar or the weather. I'm glad I'm not the only one who gets this feeling. It's just a relief to me, even when it's still hot outside, to have the routine and the structure to the days again. I also love the changes going on all around, in spite of the continued warmth, it seems. I've noticed just in the past week that the pyracantha berries are turning orange. That's one of the surest signs of autumn to me. Then there are the cooler evenings and mornings, which are definitely starting to happen here. And the angle and intensity of the sun - both changing quickly now. I know that when I can leave the blinds open on the west side of the house, where the children's bedrooms are, and not must mean we're on the downward side of summer.

The Bear and I just finished watching Stranger Things on Netflix. I know some of my blogging friends have watched it too. What did you think? We loved it. The eighties nostalgia was incredible, they did such a good job. The music, the clothes, the hairstyles, the housewares and toys. It was both scary and sad at times, but a very good story. The local representative of the US Department of Energy would like to assure you, however, that it was (probably) all make-believe. Don't worry (much), he says.

Thanks for your comments recently. I hope you're doing well. I'm sorry to say that I'm very far behind with blogs at the moment, life having suddenly become very busy in the past couple of weeks. This afternoon, the LB will be having his first private guitar lesson and we're looking forward to that. The GB will be back to group guitar lessons and ballet class soon. Evening school meetings start up for me soon too. It's crazy again and I love it. I hope you're having a good week, my friends.

Saturday, August 13, 2016


Hello! I feel like I'm resurfacing after a very busy week of back-to-school. I intended to step away from blogging for a few days, which turned into a whole week. The time flew, being packed with things to do and places to be. It's funny; as soon as school starts, it doesn't feel so much like summer anymore. Does anyone else have this? It's still quite hot outside but because I'm getting up earlier and also going to bed earlier, it seems like the days are both shorter and darker than they were just a week or two ago. Even the afternoons, which are still bright and sunny, seem a little less summery now that we're back to homeschooling. We never really stopped that, but summer afternoons were often reserved for outings to the library. I really don't mind, though; I like having a structure to the day, set times for various things. I feel settled, purposeful, intentional.

Homeschool is getting easier and harder at the same time - they're more independent but they're learning more challenging things. I think it will be a good year; the LB has a teacher we already know well, while the GB's is new to our school and seems organized and energetic. I'm enjoying some new highlighters that I picked up for myself in the back-to-school buying frenzy. I like using them to check math workbook pages. Well, really, I just love having fun things to write with. I also use various colored ink pens to edit essays and correct handwriting irregularities. The Bear and I both do a lot of this, but he prefers to use just one kind of pen, which is known as the G-POD, or Green Pen of Doom. The goal for everyone, of course, is to use it as little as possible.

I took these photos on one of my recent evening strolls around the backyard. Since the monsoon finally began at the end of July, I've been relishing the occasional storms and beautiful, dramatic sunsets (complete with rainbows) that we've had these past few weeks. It will be hot during the day for a while but not like it was. You can really feel fall nipping at our heels sometimes, especially in the evenings and early mornings. On two different nights this week after little rainstorms, I smelled wood smoke in the air. The first time, I thought it was my imagination, but the Bear smelled it too. The second time, I was sure. The slow but steady march toward autumn has begun.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Summer, this week

This was our tenth week of summer break. And our last full one before school starts in just a few days.

I picked up my new glasses. I'm adjusting to them, and I'm happy to say I am seeing better with them on. I have had glasses before but I never got used to them and stopped trying after a while. I have noticed some problems with my distance vision in the past couple of years, though, so I'm going to do better this time. I don't need to wear them all the time, only when my eyes are tired. Or I need some extra help seeing far away, like when I'm trying to read the tiny Netflix descriptive text from across the room. I like my glasses. They're gray in the front with purple on the sides. I almost got blue frames but I'm glad I went with these; they're more subtle and I do wear a lot of gray and black so they should go with everything.

We had some rain most days this past week. It was so nice to have cooler days and cloudy skies, even when it wasn't actually precipitating. Thursday night, we had over half an inch of rain! I've barely had to water plants this week, which has been a nice change. Not that I mind watering, really, but one less chore isn't a bad thing.

The cooler days were good for my cooking life. I've been desperately craving that feeling when you have a pot of soup simmering on the stove all afternoon, smelling heavenly while you go about your business. It wasn't exactly soup weather (upper 80's), but I couldn't resist so I made matzo ball soup the way my grandma taught me.  Yum! I love it so much. Roll on, fall, I've got a lot of soup to make.

When it wasn't raining, we spent a lot of time in the backyard. We can practically make a lunch of what's growing out there these days, between apples, cherry tomatoes and greens. Soon, we'll have cucumbers and zucchini too.

I heard from the other teacher (the GB's, who is a new hire) and was able to purchase the required school supplies for both kids. I spent a lot of money. Let's just say I could have bought these glasses AND the blue ones and had me a nice little glasses wardrobe.

I've had to put my crocheted top aside for now, while I work on some handmade birthday presents. Our family's birthday season has arrived; the Bear will celebrate his the week after next, with the GB's three weeks later. For one of her gifts, I bought some cotton yarns (I Love This Cotton from Hobby Lobby). They have some nice new colors lately. Clockwise from top: Rosebud, Mango, Curry, Aspyn, Royalty and Amethyst.

I finished reading How to Be a Tudor and have started How to Be a Victorian (both by Ruth Goodman). I also finally got my chance at a library copy of The Romanovs: 1613-1918 by Simon Sebag Montefiore, which is quite a tome. My current bedside reading pile is a hoot, between these books, Nick Offerman's Paddle Your Own Canoe, and Helter Skelter. All my boxes are ticked: history, comedic memoir, mass murder. Yup.

This week, I took the small Bears to Peter Piper Pizza (an arcade/pizza restaurant kind of place) to cash in some reading reward certificates they earned at school. The pizza is pretty dismal, but the games are fun. Miss GB tried a game where you have to guess whether a coin will fall heads or tails. She won the jackpot! Next thing we knew, the machine was spitting out 2,500 prize tickets. An employee brought us a shopping bag to put them in and they barely fit. The GB very kindly offered to split her tickets evenly with her brother and they both got some very nice (for an arcade) prizes in exchange for their tickets.

All in all, it was a good but quiet week and I don't have a lot else to share! Fine with me, quiet is good. Thank you for your lovely comments on my Voyage cross-stitched pirate ship. You're so sweet! I loved making it and I already miss working on it. Good thing I have at least 10 other designs I'd like to stitch eventually. I'll probably start the next one in a few weeks. In the meantime, there is crochet! I hope you're having a good weekend, lovely people.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016


I'm so excited to share my finished pirate ship cross-stitch today! The design is called Voyage, and it comes from the brilliant Jody Rice, modern cross-stitch designer and proprietor of the Etsy shop Satsuma Street. If you haven't checked out Jody's shop, I recommend that you do so immediately. She has so many wonderful designs. (I have no connection to Jody, I'm just a really big fan).

I loved working on this piece. I started around late May, just before the end of the school year, and worked on it throughout June and July. This piece was a little different from others I've made, in that there are lots of little areas of color, which meant more floss changes. I was a bit intimidated by that at first (I really like stitching big areas in one color), but I soon found it enjoyable and exciting as I watched the design take shape. I especially enjoyed working on the flags and sails, and also the part of the boat with the colorful triangular pattern from one end to the other. This ship is bold and graphic, but it also has a cartoonish feel; sort of Peter Pan, sort of Scandinavian, I think - a colorful vessel full of gentle, Disney-fied Vikings.

I stitched my ship on navy blue 14-count Aida cloth with a variety of different flosses from my stash. I only needed to purchase about five skeins to make this piece - everything else came from my collection of newish DMC flosses, as well as a sizeable collection of "antique" flosses given to me by my mother-in-law. They include Anchor and Coats & Clark flosses, as well as the more exotic Rose and Mez brands. For my ship, I matched colors as closely as possible to the design. Some are slightly different; I worked with what I had.

As I often do with stitched pieces, I framed this one myself. I won't offer a tutorial, as I don't think I have any real expertise in this area. I'm happy with it, though, and I think the frame works well. I wanted something a little bit gaudy, both to set off the dark background and to add some glitz to the gallery wall in our family room where I've hung it. But I also wanted to be a little bit tongue-in-cheek about it - pirates, gold, treasure - just for fun. I really wanted a scrolly, ornate frame, but the ones I found were a bit expensive and they looked silly with the more conservative black photo frames in my wall display, so I went with a simpler gold frame with delicate beading along the inner edge - subtle gaudiness suits me just fine. My gallery wall is a work in progress; I'm still not sure what else to hang up there but I know a lot of it will be handmade. I love the way my ship looks on the wall, adding color and balance just where I needed it, with a bit of sweet whimsy on the side.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Summer, this week

This was our ninth week of summer break.

With swimming lessons and the library's summer reading program over, we spent most of the week close to home, which wasn't a bad thing at all. I wouldn't say we've had a terribly busy summer, but calm, unscheduled days at home are always welcome in my book.

It rained a fair amount this week and I enjoyed watching the sky change as storms rolled in. With the monsoon, you just never know where a storm will hit. It could be storming a mile away and dry where you are, but it's still nice to see the clouds gather. This coming week should be even better for storms and I'm looking forward to it.

I started crocheting my Choro Top. It's going well enough, but I have a long way to go. I kept running into one obstacle after another when I was trying to start; I needed a bigger hook than I already had, then I realized I also needed one bigger than that to make the foundation chain properly. I had to wait for both hooks to arrive, separately, well after the yarn was delivered. Then I had some confusion with the pattern, which took me a while to work out. I like it, though. I don't how wearable it will be (it's looking a bit schmatte so far, but it's early days), but I'm happy to be trying. I loooove the yarn (Knitpicks Comfy Worsted), by the way. It's a cotton-acrylic blend and feels so soft and light in my hands. I wish I'd discovered it sooner.

My pirate ship cross-stitch is finished! I'm not sharing a photo today because I plan to show you the finished, framed piece soon, but I'm really happy with it and I think it's going to look good in its intended spot in the family room.

This summer has been really hard on my flowers. The roses would normally be on at least their third good bloom by now if we'd had the normal amount of rain during July. We water them regularly, but it's not the same. I've missed having flowers to bring in; nothing else is blooming well this summer either. I bought myself a bouquet at Trader Joe's to compensate. It has a big sunflower, several orange lilies, greenish-white chysanthemums, purple alstroemeria and pink-tipped ivory roses. Very cheerful and bright. It was a big bouquet so I separated it into two smaller bunches for different parts of the kitchen. I've been enjoying them so much, especially the sunflower. I put that bouquet next to the kitchen sink, where it makes washing dishes just slightly nicer.

We made our own peanut butter! I know, you're falling off your chair with excitement. We had some salted un-shelled peanuts that were getting a little stale so we shelled them and put all the nuts through our Wondermill Jr. It made really good peanut butter, a little bit too salty, but a good texture and very nice with my homemade raspberry jam. We've decided to make PB&J's with the next loaf of bread baked by the Bear, so the whole sandwich will be homemade. #selfsufficiencygoals

The Bear painted a little country house scene in acrylic. I love his paintings so much. I appreciate your compliments on them in previous posts. He loves to paint and draw. I try to show off his work here. He's modest but he appreciates the nice things you've said.

Our homeschooling has continued all summer, though I haven't really mentioned it here - just trying to keep things summery and light, I guess. But we've had daily math, music and art, in addition to lots of reading. Both small Bears entered writing contests this summer. The LB entered a contest through the State of New Mexico, sort of a "why I love NM" contest, and the GB entered one through PBS Kids and the local public TV station. Her contest asked for a creative-writing piece complete with illustrations. Both worked very hard and are eager to learn the results. We've also enjoyed playing a game of our own creation called Math Orb. This involves being asked math questions and getting to take a shot with the Nerf basketball and hoop in our family room. You have to get three in a row correct to have a chance to shoot. I play too; they're more apt to get shots than I am.

School starts in less than two weeks. So far, we've ticked haircuts and new shoes off our to-do list. School supplies remain; I've only heard from one of two teachers so far. I really hope this is our week to hear from her because the school supply section at Target was already looking post-apocalyptic when we went there for the shoes.

Thank you for your comments lately, particularly your replies to my questions about cookbooks. I loved reading about your collections, as well as your preferred styles of cooking and eating. I just adore knowing more about how people do these everyday things and what makes their households run more smoothly or enjoyably. I noticed several replies from new commenters and I just wanted to say hello and welcome, I'm really glad you stopped by and I hope you'll stick around. I'm always interested in reading new blogs, so if you have one, would you please leave a link?

I hope you're having a good weekend. It's a chill one for us, just doing things around the house and looking forward to whatever storminess the afternoon and evening might bring. We all love our summer storms around here. Last evening, a huge one rolled through while I was cooking dinner. The Bear came home from work around the same time; he'd been worried about what he was driving into, having seen a bolt of lightning flash clear across the whole sky. It was good to be at home together, to shut the door and stay inside. Later, there was a double rainbow, a gorgeous sight between us and the mountain. Lucky us, with our rainbows after almost every storm.
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