Thursday, December 7, 2017

Decked out








Hello! How is the holiday season treating you? Things are running pretty smoothly over here so far. I'm not feeling too much stress, which is kind of unusual for me at this time of year. I finished my Christmas shopping earlier than ever before, and that helps a lot. I still have to wrap everything, but I'll do it in the evenings over the next couple of weeks. We decorated the Christmas tree and put up the outdoor lights and all the other indoor decorations over the weekend. I'm enjoying having the tree up. I've always liked the feeling of being at home with the Christmas tree all lit up, even in the middle of the day. In fact, I turn on the lights first thing in the morning. The lights are on a switch in the foyer and I walk right to it when I come out of the bedroom (it's about ten paces, my house is small). By New Year's, I'll be itching to get everything packed away but right now, I'm all about maximizing holiday enjoyment.

On that note, I plan to bake cookies over the next few days. I will donate most of them to next week's school bake-sale fundraiser, and probably take some to a friend's party on Sunday afternoon. I usually bake about four different kinds of cookies and will try to do that this year too. I hope to try my new cookie press - a birthday present - to make a large batch of spritz cookies. I've never tried making them before so I've been looking at recipes. I'm excited about all the different ways to decorate them with colored sugars, sprinkles, candied fruits, icings...it's all so pretty. I've been thinking about Christmas dinner too; we'll have a spiral-sliced ham as usual, but I'm still deciding on side dishes and dessert.

It took me a bit to get excited about the holidays, but I'm finally starting to feel it now. The weather has been so warm and dry, it just didn't feel like winter until this week. Now it's freezing cold and we have a little bit of snow on the mountain for the first time. It helped some to go to the mall last week and see the decorations while the Bear and I finished up our shopping and made a return. And now the small Bears have started their chocolate Advent calendars, which lends a festive moment to every day.

Yesterday, I went to Trader Joe's and saw a few things I'll go back for closer to Christmas, for festive meals and snacking. I don't want to buy them too soon because then we'll just eat them all. I did buy a really cool amaryllis bulb. The bulb is dipped in wax and you don't have to water it. You don't even need a pot. I did put it on a saucer to protect my kitchen tablecloth, just in case the red wax rubs off or bleeds. Otherwise, it's really neat! The flowers will be red, which is my favorite amaryllis color. I may buy a poinsettia soon; I don't buy them every year but Smith's has the rose-pink ones I really like.

This weekend, I have a crafty project to work on, to help the LB's teacher. The school has its annual art show next week, just before school finishes for the holidays, and she needs name cards for the display tables. She knows I like to make stuff, so she always sends things home for me to put together. I get to work with pretty papers and glue, which suits me just fine. I've been crocheting a lot in between all the activities and that stashbuster I shared in my link party post is really coming along!

I've been reading in bed at night. We bought ourselves new bedding in the Black Friday online sales and now have a much warmer comforter and two new sets of sheets. I kept saying I was going to buy a white or cream cover to put on the old duvet, but when we seriously started to discuss it, we realized we didn't want to deal with white, and what we really needed was a warmer blanket, so we bought a linen comforter set. It's a pale duck-egg blue color, not white. It's very snuggly and warm, looks great in the room (very pulled-together and grown-up), and matches my Maybelle blanket beautifully, so I'm happy. I can't stay out of my bed now! Everybody wins, haha.

This post ended up being newsier and maybe choppier than I'd planned, but that's just life. I hope you have a good weekend! Enjoy your holiday prep and all the fun and festive times, and remember to breathe - everything is going to be just great.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Winter Project Link Party


Welcome to December's Winter Project Link Party! I hope you'll want to join me in sharing your current winter projects (or recent finishes) and cheering each other on to progress. This month, I'm sharing a stash-buster I started right after I finished Maybelle in November. I couldn't have predicted it, but I actually felt the itch to crochet again almost immediately. I had lots of I Love This Yarn worsted-weight acrylic in my stash from previous blankets and I had been wanting to clear it out for a while. I decided to make a blanket for the living room! I could really use a new one in there; the ones I have were made when I started crocheting in earnest about six or seven years ago. I like them, but I'm tired of them, and besides, they're both a bit small for our needs. I want to make one large blanket, and if I have enough yarn left over, I might make a smaller throw too. For this first blanket, I chose to make large solid-colored granny squares joined in cream, really simple and graphic; back to basics, really.


Here is what I've done so far. These squares are about 12 inches apiece, so the blanket is growing very quickly. Each has eleven rounds (including the cream-colored joining round), made on an I/9 hook. My plan calls for thirty squares total (arranged 5 by 6), which will give me a blanket about 5 by 6 feet before adding a border. I think this will be plenty big enough, but I can always add more squares if needed. I really like this blanket so far. The colors are great because they're all my favorites that I've stocked up on over the years, and I love the look of solid-colored granny squares; they allow texture to be as important as color.


I'm literally joining as I go, one square at a time, which I've never done before. Normally, I make all the squares first, and then have a big joining event at the end. I felt like changing my approach this time, though. These squares are simple and fast to join, and since they're so large, the blanket takes shape right away, which has been really satisfying. I love having a blanket grow down my lap as I work on it, but that can take some time. This blanket is an instant grower. I try to make an hour or so in my day for crochet and I'm usually successful, even if the hour is broken up in small parts here and there, or even if I have to crochet while giving spelling dictation or drilling in math facts. These squares are perfect for my crochet-time allotment because I can typically make and join one square in about an hour's time.


I'm trying a new technique for the squares, which is pretty exciting. I came across a square pattern on a blog called knitpurlhook, which taught me some new things that make granny squares way easier, especially if you're making them in just one color. I'd always turned my squares with each round to avoid getting a "twist" in the work, but this blogger's technique has you joining the rounds in a corner, and only adding one chain in each corner, which keeps the work straight. And you don't have to cut the yarn and start again on another side. It's a great technique, I recommend it highly. This blanket is really filling the bill for me right now, with holiday nuttiness ramping up. There's nothing like a simple, nearly-mindless project to give you a little peace and relaxation. Watching your stash dwindle is a pretty good feeling too.

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Thistlebear

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Green up


I have three living, thriving plants in my house now, and it's going surprisingly well! Nobody is more shocked than I am, of course, after a long history of absolutely terrible houseplant-keeping, but here we are, with three living plants in our home. I can hardly believe it, and I'm certainly not going to count my chickens before they hatch, oh no. But I'm really enjoying this! My newest plant is a philodendron (also known as pothos), gracing a corner of the breakfast nook in a lovely macrame hanger and simple white plastic pot.



The hanger is from Mkono, a company selling macrame products on Amazon. My hanger is here. I love the simplicity and neatness of this hanger, which is made from creamy-white cotton. It's very natural-looking, not shiny and cheap like some other hangers I've seen for sale. If you get a chance to browse Mkono's macrame products, you'll see some really cute stuff. (This is not a sponsored post, I just really like the look of their macrame). I tried macrame once, when I was a kid, and ended up with a tangled mess. I think I'd like to try it again, though. I think I could do it now. I was really good at friendship bracelets once upon a time. Macrame is cool; it's kind of retro but I don't think it ever goes out of style, especially when you have such useful items made with it. The pot inside didn't come with the hanger, I ordered it separately from a different Amazon seller. It's just a basic white plastic 8-inch pot, which fits nicely inside this hanger. It doesn't have drainage holes; I just set the nursery pot inside it and take it out to water the plant. I can re-pot it later on, but this pot works fine for now. My pot is sold out at the moment, but the listing is here.

One thing I really appreciate about this hanger is that it isn't very ornate. I remember macrame plant hangers my relatives had when I was a kid and they were so much fancier. In particular, I like that the bottom ends of my hanger just trail down under the pot. My grandma had a nylon hanger whose bottom ends finished in a big, frizzy puff about nine inches wide. My sisters and I would stand underneath it and pretend it was our hair, which was hilarious for a little while. Otherwise, it was just in the way. Someone always bopped it with their shoulder as they walked by. Unobtrusive plant-hangers just seem like the way to go.


My plant is formally called Marble Queen Pothos. The leaves have a distinctive marbling effect, white on green. I had one of these before and the leaves were really gorgeous, so I'm hoping this one will be too. Right now, the plant is very small, but I think it's already grown since I got it two weeks ago. I'm hoping for a big, trailing, verdant pile o' plant in that corner someday.



My ivy plant in the living room is doing great! It gives me hope for the kitchen plant's future. This ivy has grown like gangbusters and I'm really happy about that. 


This is how it looked last January when I first got it. I think it's doing well in the living room window, which has southern exposure most of the day. I have sheer curtains on the window, so the light is not totally direct, more filtered, which we need because the sun will just blast this room without something on the window. I crocheted a little mat for my ivy when I first brought it home, just to protect the little table underneath (the Bear built me the table for Mother's Day a couple of years ago, for the someday-plant I kept talking about getting). This one is still in its original nursery pot too, set inside a little ceramic pot I bought years ago for some other failed plant experiment.


Lately, a few leaves have been taking on a reddish tinge, and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the sun, which is very strong through the window at this time of year. Good for crafting in the living room, but maybe not so good for my plant. I might start moving the table to a different part of the room for a little while each day this winter, if I can manage to remember to do it. We'll see. It's getting plenty of water, but maybe it needs a supplement of some kind. It's healthy otherwise, and I'm pretty proud to have kept it alive almost a full year now.


My marigolds are still alive too! I bought them the day after Halloween, for Dia de los Muertos. I wrote about them, and their significance for the holiday, because I was enjoying them so much and because I think the tradition is interesting and attractive. My marigolds have been on the kitchen table ever since. I'm actually surprised they've done so well, though they are beginning to droop just a little bit, I think because the furnace is running regularly now and making the house rather dry. I'll just keep watering them. They still look nice and bright on the table, cheerful as ever, especially with the hanging philodendron/pothos nearby. It's amazing the difference indoor plants can make; the whole kitchen feels much more homey now, and homey is where it's at, as far as I'm concerned.

How are you with houseplants? What are your favorite kinds to grow?

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Holiday birthday








I've had the loveliest birthday-holiday weekend! The weather has been absolutely beautiful, far warmer than usual for this time of year, sunny and clear. I wouldn't mind something a little more wintry, but I won't complain too loudly. I'm sure there's plenty of winter in store for us later on. For now, we've been spending time outdoors, cleaning up the yard and pruning the plants that need it now. We've been indoors plenty too, watching movies and relaxing. I've been crocheting a lot; I started a new stashbuster a couple of weeks ago and I've made a lot of progress already. I'm so happy to use up lots of yarn and to watch a blanket growing before my eyes.

For my birthday, I baked something wonderful: dulce de leche cheesecake! I'd been wanting to try the recipe ever since I saw it on Pati Jinich's cooking show a few weeks ago. I've really fallen in love with her show, which focuses on Mexican home cooking. The Bear even gave me one of her cookbooks for my birthday! I'm so excited to try some more of her recipes. I've been looking for a good Mexican cookbook for a while and I think hers will be just right. I received many nice gifts: two (!) new purses, a cookie press, cake decorating tools, a silk scarf, and a garden decoration made by my children. Friends near and far - including blogging pals - have sent their wishes, and my friend Jo sent me a lovely chicken-shaped basket that she sewed herself. I've been spoiled and I appreciate it very much. We had our Thanksgiving dinner out, as planned, and it was really fun! I loved going out for the holiday, and of course it was nice not to be cooking on my own special day. The food itself - meh, I can do much better. But the company was great, the whole restaurant was in good spirits, and everyone was happy to be out on the town on a balmy Thanksgiving afternoon.

Thank you for the birthday greetings! I hope you're having a nice weekend. I did the grocery shopping and we went to the feed store (chickens need groceries too). This afternoon, I'm hanging out in the house, watching TV and thinking about getting my yarn basket out. I've been feeling a little raspy in my throat today and I'm hoping it's not going to amount to anything, but I'm keeping a cup of tea by my side as insurance. Tonight, the Bear and I will have our at-home dinner date with soup, salad and bread. Nothing fancy, just me and my guy. I think we'll watch the Ron Howard film about the Beatles on PBS. Life is about to get very busy over the next few weeks, so we're very glad to kick back while we can, before it all goes Christmas crazy. Have a good week, friends!

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving


Since this is a time to be thankful for all the good things in our lives, I'd like to share a few of mine.

I am thankful for...
my delightful, rambunctious children, and my brilliant, kind husband and our happy marriage
the help we have with the LB's health concerns.
our school, which allows us to educate our children in a way that suits us.
good friends who get me.
a beautiful, interesting place to live.
four distinct seasons, and good weather most of the time.
my cozy, comfortable house.
our food, shelter, warmth and safety.
good cars that I rarely worry about.
radios all over the house so I can always listen.
my hobbies, which keep me busy and calm my mind and spirit.
the people who read my blog, sharing their thoughts and feelings and offering support and kindness.
good books, movies and television shows.
plants and flowers outside my kitchen window, and now inside my house too!
cooking and baking, which make me happy and nourish my family.
online shopping, which has made my life way easier.
hens, whom my children love, and who give us endless eggs.

I could go on and on, but these are just a few. I hope you are feeling thankful too, whether you're having a thankfulness holiday or not. Happy Thanksgiving to all who are celebrating this week! I hope you have a wonderful time with your friends and family, lots of delicious food and happy times, and safe travels.

Friday, November 17, 2017

New and improved











This morning, the Bear and I went to the hair salon. He needed a haircut. I've been trying to let my hair grow for the past month or so, since I had a really bad haircut at this same place. But while I was sitting there, I realized that the stylist I really like was going to be finished with her customer very soon, so I had myself added to the list for a haircut. I wanted to see if she had any advice for my hair while I'm trying to let it grow; I'm finding it really unmanageable lately, especially as we go into winter and the air is so dry indoors and out. 

When it was my turn, she took one look at my hair and wanted to know if so-and-so had been the last to cut it and whether he'd used "the razor." Yes and yes. I'd had to trim it myself with sewing scissors when I got home the day of his haircut, because there were chunks of hair three or four inches longer than the rest. She was kind of horrified. She gave me a much better haircut, for free, and I was so glad I had decided to get mine cut too. I like my haircut; it's nothing special, just a "long bob," as they're calling it these days, but it looks and feels much better. Now I'm wondering just how bad I'd been looking before. Her face really told the tale when I sat down in the chair. The Bear is too nice to say anything. Or maybe he thought I'd gotten that haircut deliberately, in which case he knows better not to say a word.

I've been crocheting up a storm this week. Now that I'm finished with Maybelle, I feel at loose ends. Which is weird, because I actually had a few tearful moments toward the end of Maybelle when I just couldn't stand to be working on it anymore. I just wanted it over with. But after a few crochet-free days, I actually found myself missing it again. So I gathered all of my worsted-weight acrylic yarns and started a new blanket. I know. But this one will be really useful in the living room, where two of my oldest (and most amateur) blankets live. We could use bigger and nicer-looking blankets in there. I'm making large (15-round) one-color granny squares and joining them in cream, like a big patchwork quilt. I like it so far. It's basic and almost totally mindless, which feels right at the moment. Plus I'm using up all that yarn. I love stashbusting, it feels great. You should see how much yarn this blanket uses, especially with a size I hook. I'm thinking about naming this one Big Gulp.

Also on the hook: more Flowers in the Snow circles, for another small dolly blanket. Santa Claus is bringing a very special doll to a little lady in Albuquerque this year, and she's getting a fully-equipped handmade bed of her own, like the other dolls already have. There's just something about crafting for dolls. It's so much fun to make tiny versions of real things, isn't it? I still have a mattress, pillow and quilt to churn out before Christmas; wish me luck.

I'm so excited to have a new plant in my kitchen! I bought a little ivy plant just after Christmas last year, putting it on a small table in the living room. I'm bad at keeping houseplants alive, but I must have done something right (or this plant is just miraculously hardy), because it's still kicking and I'm actually enjoying indoor-plant care again. So I decided to get one for the kitchen too. I ordered a macrame plant hanger and a little white plastic pot from Amazon, and bought a small philodendron plant at Lowe's. I hung it in the corner of the breakfast nook and I think it does a lot for the room. Nobody really walks through that corner, so it shouldn't be disturbed. My best houseplant ever - which I had to leave behind when we left New York for New Mexico in 2006 - was a huge philodendron. And my mom still has philodendrons in her dining room that she planted when I was about six years old! So I have hope for my little friend.

We're watching a storm roll in this afternoon. The temperature should drop substantially tonight, and we may freeze two or three nights in a row. November has been unusually warm and dry here, but I haven't minded so much. Often, I feel weird and disconnected when the weather doesn't match the calendar, but it didn't bother me this time. Maybe I was just too busy to notice. Today, though: windy, dark, still a little warm but dropping fast. We're going to get a pizza for dinner. Then it's stove popcorn and TV for the Bear and me. It's Friday night, you know.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Presenting Maybelle


Maybelle is all finished! I'm so excited to share my latest crochet blanket project today. I can hardly believe Maybelle is complete and ready to use (though we haven't really needed an extra blanket on the bed yet this fall). I started Maybelle in March 2017, finishing in November, for a total of nearly eight months of work. But really, this blanket's story began at least a year before I settled on the Maybelle square design. I searched and searched for the right blanket design but never felt comfortable or even very excited about a design until I hit on Maybelle. And then, it was like I'd experienced a bolt of inspiration and I was off!


The Maybelle Square is designed by Annette of the blog My Rose Valley. The center flower itself comes from another blog, 6ichthusfish, designed by a lady whose name I don't know. Annette came up with the squaring-off and has made many lovely blankets with the square design. My blanket is not my first brush with Maybelle; in the past, I've made stand-alone flowers (for a garland which hangs in the GB's room), as well as squares for a Christmas garland that I gave away here on my blog several years ago.

I've enjoyed the Maybelle design for a long time. I'd never really thought about making a blanket with Maybelle squares until this blanket, though. After trying numerous square and hexagon patterns, and being dissatisfied with all of them, I realized that what I wanted for this blanket was LESS of everything - less color and less busy-ness, above all. But also less switching colors, less weaving-in, less to look at. I wanted a smaller color palette and I wanted the texture and design of the crochet itself to be at least as important as the colors. Maybelle seemed like a good choice because I could limit the center-flower colors to just a handful (I ultimately went with nine colors), and keep all the outer rounds and joining to just one color - the gray that I knew I wanted as a main color regardless of the pattern I chose.

As an aside, I often name my blanket projects. The names are sometimes jokey, sometimes sentimental. I know it probably seems silly to name them, but I enjoy it. Here, I chose to stick with Maybelle for the project name. I like it - I think it's a pretty name - and also, since it was made for our bed, and because we met in May, got engaged in May, and got married in May (all in different years), it seemed fitting to keep the name as is.


I had been thinking about a gray-dominant blanket for years. I love gray because it goes with everything, and I also love the way it looks in my bedroom, which receives filtered light. Bright colors don't work well in my room. Soft, muted colors look much nicer. For my blanket, I decided to use a mixture of shades, mainly in the mid-range, with a few brighter or deeper ones too. (See the bottom of this post for a list of the yarn colors I used). The yarn is all Stylecraft Special DK acrylic, my favorite yarn for blankets. I'd already been collecting balls of Gray for a while, anticipating its use in a blanket. I had plenty of these other colors are well, because I liked them and knew they'd be good contenders for the eventual blanket, whatever it turned out to be.

My plan called for this blanket to be really large, the biggest one I'd ever crocheted. I wanted this blanket to be big enough for us both to sleep under it comfortably. I started with the measurements of our queen-sized duvet, which is 90 by 90 inches. I wanted the crocheted blanket to be at least that size, preferably a little larger. I crocheted one Maybelle square all the way through to the joining round, and found it measured almost 7 inches. By my calculation, the blanket needed to consist of 169 squares, arranged 13 by 13 in a huge square. In the end, given stretching of the work and the addition of a border, my blanket is closer to 100 by 100 inches, making it very BIG!

The final square!


I crocheted Maybelle squares throughout the spring and summer. I had nine main flower colors, divided up over 169 total squares, which meant that most colors would appear in 19 squares each. Two colors appear in 18 squares; it's just the way the math worked out. I worked on these squares almost every day, usually making one or two in a sitting. I took them out with me, crocheting on the shaded grass near the pool. I crocheted in front of the TV a lot; this blanket is made of Switched at Birth, Heirhunters, and Last Man Standing, not to mention lots of radio: The John Tesh Show and repeat broadcasts of Casey Kasem's Weekly Top 40 from the 1980's (a local radio station plays them on Sunday afternoons) are in this blanket too.

By mid-September, I'd finished crocheting all of the squares. Miss GB helped me arrange them in a pleasing way. We spread them out all over the living room floor and tried to make sure the colors were fairly evenly distributed. It didn't need to be precise. Then I began joining the squares, using the technique in Annette's tutorials. The joining took about six weeks, and was probably the most difficult part of making this blanket because it became very unwieldy as it grew. I had to work mainly in the living room, where the chairs are wider and deeper than the one in the family room, just so I could have the blanket spread, or sometimes bunched up, on my lap as I worked.



Once the blanket was all joined up, I realized that it didn't need much of a border; it was already enormous and a simple border suits me more anyway. I did a round of granny clusters in the main gray color all around the outer edge of the squares, dividing the clusters at the places where two squares met (one stitch in the right square, two stitches in the left). This was to help keep the border from becoming too ruffly. Then I added a round of single crochet in Duck Egg (pale bluish-green) and a final round of single crochet in Gray. In the corners, I followed the same pattern that I'd used when joining the squares: in the granny cluster round, 3dc, 2ch, 3dc and in the outer two rounds, 3sc, 2ch, 3sc. In hindsight, I should have reduced the number of stitches in the corners because they're a little too pointy, but I like them well enough anyway.


I asked the Bear for some help with photographing my blanket, as I often do. He's much better at tinkering around with lenses and holding the camera on a monopod (not to mention 6 or 7 inches taller than I am), which makes for better shots of a large blanket. Here, he held the camera over the bed so you can get the perspective of how big this blanket really is. It covers the whole mattress top and hangs down substantially on the sides. I really love this photo because I can see that I did a pretty good job distributing the colors. There are a few gaps I'd go back and fix if it were easy to do so, but really, it looks pretty good to me.


The blanket is large enough to hang down almost to the very bottom of the mattress, where it meets the box spring. The wood in the above photo is the side rail of the bed frame. I'd been thinking that I would need to buy a new duvet cover just to look better with the blanket, but I needn't have worried because you can't even see the duvet under this blanket unless you scrutinize the open spaces in the crochet! The blanket covers the duvet completely. And actually, I like the way it looks against the duvet cover fabric, so I'm not in a hurry to replace the cover. It still has plenty of life in it, which gives me more time to shop.



It fits the bed really well in general. It's large enough to be more of a bedspread than just a blanket topper, which is nice because it will be plenty large enough to keep us warm. I love having a crocheted blanket on the bed in winter; it's just heavy enough. I have tried so many different kinds of blankets over the years, but when I started crocheting in earnest about 6 years ago, I realized that a crocheted blanket is just right for our needs. And it looks so pretty folded at the foot of the bed during the day, so it's just a nice thing all around.


I'm pretty proud of this blanket. It took a long time to come together and I was actually starting to wonder if I had reached my limit with crocheted blankets. I just couldn't seem to find a design to spoke to me or made me feel calm when I worked on it. That's the most important thing about crochet for me: it needs to make me feel happy and peaceful inside. With this blanket, I feel a renewed energy for crochet and also something unexpected: a sense of contentment in my own work. I think that sometimes, especially as a blogger, I feel some pressure to produce something new and cool for others to enjoy. What I've realized is that the basics make me happiest. The more complicated stuff - inventing new things, mastering really difficult techniques, working successfully with a multitude of colors - they aren't who I am as a crocheter. I want to create beautiful things (and I hope that I am), but even more, I want to feel good about it. Realizing this has been an important part of the journey. I'm happy with my Maybelle blanket; I feel true contentment with my creation, and I can't wait to start using it. Bring on the coldest, frostiest nights! We're ready.

Maybelle Blanket
Pattern: Maybelle Square by Annette Ciccarelli
Size: approximately 100 by 100 inches (169 Maybelle Squares)
Hook: size G/6 (4.00mm) Clover Amour
Yarn: Stylecraft Special DK in the following colors - Gray, Raspberry, Pale Rose, Parma Violet, Grape, Duck Egg, Sage, Denim, Storm, Petrol (1 ball of each flower color; approx. 20 balls of Gray)
Started: March 2017
Finished: November 2017
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