Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Guitarists







Most afternoons, these two spend some time playing their guitars together. They practice separately too, and each is a little annoyed to have the other nearby during their solo practice, but they will usually sit together for a few minutes at some point in the afternoon. He helps her with fingerings that she's still trying to master. He's remarkably patient with her, explaining the same things over and over until she understands. Sometimes he moves her fingers on the neck of the guitar to make sure they're in the right place. When they start to play, he waits for her to get it right. He isn't this patient with her about everything, so I'm often surprised by this. I think it's because his own playing is very important to him, making him feel more tender toward someone he plays with. They don't always get along, but they care about each other and they're mostly kind. Even on the rough days, I can look forward to a few minutes of gentle harmony.

******

Thanks for the birthday and get-well wishes you've left for us lately. We're still dealing with the latest illness, though the small Bears are back in school today. We're following our doctor's advice as to medicines and treatments and otherwise riding it out. It's fall and we have young kids, so illness is just a fact of life. I've accepted it, but that doesn't mean I have to like it, ha. Anyway, I'm really tired. I've been sleeping very poorly for weeks now and am so ready to stop nursing sick people. This too shall pass. Just another week until our fall break and I'll have a few days to relax.

The first installment of my Winter Project Link Party will be live on Saturday! Please join me for another motivating season of check-ins and project-sharing. 

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Eleven








Our LB celebrated his eleventh birthday on Friday. It felt like a different kind of birthday to me because he was much more involved with it all this time. He asked for a homemade cake and I was happy to provide, though when I say "homemade," I mean that I got by with a lot of help from Pillsbury. Which is okay, really, because I'm not very good at baking cakes from scratch. He wanted yellow cake (fine with me) with Aqua Blue Vanilla Funfetti frosting (somewhat less fine with me), which comes with tiny, colorful shark-shaped sprinkles to put on the cake. Everyone had a bright blue mouth after eating their slice. He insisted on lighting his own birthday candles, which was okay with us since we were standing right there, but I did kind of miss doing it for him as he watched. He helped cut and serve the cake, too. It was sort of a do-it-yourself birthday for him, I guess. He's growing up. After cake, he played the guitar for everyone, blue lips and all.

I think he had a good day, but he's the stoic type and it isn't always easy to tell. In school, he handed out Rice Krispie Treats for his birthday treat. He attended the first meeting of the year for an after-school computer club that he's finally eligible to join now as a fifth-grader. He's happy with his birthday presents, especially the radio-controlled quad-copter with video capability, which has already been retrieved from the roof twice this weekend. He also received books from some of his favorite series, in particular the Bone series of graphic novels for kids. I recommend Bone highly; my somewhat-reluctant reader of fiction has suddenly decided he likes it a lot. I gave him a box of Twinkies because he told me that he really wanted to try one. I know, mean old mom, her kid reaches the ripe old age of eleven without trying a Twinkie? Well, the time has come. He has to share them, but suffice it to say he has no other complaints about Twinkies.

His take-charge approach to his birthday festivities is a reflection of the kind of person he is turning out to be. I'm a bit of a pushover and I don't want that for him or his sister. No, he's becoming very independent, thinking more for himself all the time. He knows what he likes. He also knows what he doesn't like. I told him recently, in a moment of exasperation, that I wanted to raise him to adulthood, not drag him there. I think dirty socks were involved. I know I'm only on the fringe of these woods, though, and I'm enjoying this phase with him very much. He is still little in a lot of ways - for one thing, he's still smaller than I am. He still hugs me spontaneously, letting me rest my chin on top of his head, pushing down ever so slightly, as if that could possibly work. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

All the signs












August and September really haven't been my months. Aside from the craziness of the new school year, we've been almost endlessly sick around here for more than a month. It's been one cold after another; such is life with two kids in elementary school. I think we've all been sick twice so far, in the space of just over a month. Right now, the Bear is the sick one, but I'm starting to feel that scratchy throat that usually heralds another cold. I'm doing everything I can to keep it at bay, including sleeping on the couch to avoid the Bear's germs at night. It will be fine, but I'm tired. I need a day to sleep and relax. I'm not going to get one, but it's nice to dream. I'm accomplishing very little lately. Blogging has fallen by the wayside. I love to be busy, and I certainly have the busy part in the bag, but I'm looking forward to fall break in a couple of weeks. We're all ready to build a blanket fort and hibernate for a while. I'm not really looking for sympathy, by the way, I'm just complaining.

In the past couple of weeks, it's suddenly becoming fall around here. I can't believe how quickly it goes. We never get the really vibrant fall foliage here, but the trees are definitely looking different. Green has become gold or brown. Our pyracantha berries are completely changed to orange now, and many of them have already been eaten by birds. The nandina is changing too; the berries are just starting to develop a pink blush on their sun-facing sides. It's much cooler outside now, which is a very welcome change. I'm cooking fall-ish foods again and baked my first apple pie last week. I used homegrown apples, a combination of some from our tree and some from a neighbor's. I still want to make apple butter and might do it this weekend. We haven't made applesauce or leather yet and I hope to make at least one more pie. We'll need to use the ladder if we're going to make all of this; we've picked everything within reach already. Our apples are better than ever this year and it makes me feel inspired, even if we end up running out before I can make all the apple things.

The good news about feeling sort of lousy is that I've been reading a lot, and I've watched some good TV. Not everything I've been reading was especially good, but at least I had time for it. I'm reading Amy Poehler's Yes, Please right now and really enjoying it. I love her. I should have read her book sooner (it came out a couple of years ago) but I'd read Tina Fey's Bossypants around the same time and didn't really understand the hype, so I put it off.

I've read a couple of novels lately, which is kind of unusual for me these days. The first was The Girls, by Emma Cline. Talk about hype. I waited months for a copy from the library. It's a fictional story of a young girl joining up with a cult similar to the Manson Family. I freely admit to enjoying crime-related books, anything about Manson being a particular interest, but this story felt contrived, like the author was trying too hard to prove the place and time. It's one of my pet peeves in period novels. Details are important, but I don't like being barraged with endless references to music, food, television, movies, clothing and hairstyles, cars, literally anything that helps make the case for a specific setting. I also read The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell, which I liked a lot. I'd tried one of her books a few years ago and never really got into it, but this one was good. I see she has a lot of books so I'll look for some more. TV-wise, we're watching a lot of PBS lately. We're looking forward to Poldark starting on Sunday. I LOVED Royal Wives at War. I can't wait for Victoria this winter, not to mention The Crown, coming soon to Netflix.

What's new with you? I'm sorry to be so behind with blogs lately. I hope everyone is doing well and enjoying the change of seasons wherever you are. Make an apple pie or three, I guarantee you won't regret it.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Maximilian's sunflower







Helianthus maximiliani 'Santa Fe'

Maximilian's sunflower, sometimes known as New Mexico sunflower, grows throughout my local area. It's a native prairie species that can grow in sandy soil with very little water. You can see it almost everywhere. People plant it as a perennial and it can also seed itself. Range areas are dense with it, surviving wind, hail and heavy rain until the local livestock come along. I know of a large cluster of New Mexico sunflowers growing lushly on the edge of a golf course, untended in a dry gravel patch. Like most things that grow here, they don't mind harsh conditions. If anything, they seem to prefer them.

Currently, I have a large bunch of New Mexico sunflowers in my house. My mother-in-law grew them in her backyard. She lives a few blocks away from us during the summer months and does a fair amount of gardening while she's here. She planted these flowers a few summers ago, to add some color and coverage at the back garden wall, a long stretch of gray cinder block. The sunflowers are a perfect touch there, growing as much as six feet tall and expanding width-wise a little bit every year. For most of the summer, the plant bears only slender, willow-like leaves as the flowers begin to bud. By mid-September, they bloom up and down the long stalks in profusion. My mother-in-law cuts armfuls of these stalks to display in the house, giving me some as well. 

I use my tallest vase for them. It's pink and doesn't really go with the flowers. They shed pollen absolutely everywhere (and it's the staining kind of pollen too). I don't typically gravitate toward yellow flowers to begin with. But I'm not complaining, not really. In spite of the mess, and the almost comical feat of displaying them, they're most welcome here. They're fresh and cheerful. They were grown by someone I love. They only happen once a year and they are quintessentially of this place, flowering in brief, exquisite early autumn: cold-morning-hot-afternoon time, chile-smoke time, skyful-of-balloons time.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Vexed and hexed


Hello! Thanks for your lovely comments lately, especially your birthday wishes for the GB. I'm feeling like I'm back in the blogging groove in the past week or so, after a very hectic settling-in period when school first started a month ago. New teachers, new routines, new rules - it was all feeling pretty oppressive there for a bit. I think we're all doing better with it now, which is a relief. I missed being here, though I wasn't really gone that much. It's just the habit of it that I've gotten accustomed to - and look forward to, a part of the rhythm of my days. Today, I want to share my newest crochet project, and the roundabout journey it took to get to here, the exciting early days of a new creation.

Back in the spring, I decided to start looking at designs for a new blanket. This blanket would be a big one, destined for our queen-sized bed, and would probably be my last blanket for a while because - let's face it - I've made a lot of blankets over the past few years. I've even started a few others that haven't featured much on my blog. There are only so many blankets you can make, I think. Yes, it's lovely to have stacks of them all around for the family to use but eventually, the piles are just huge and storage becomes an issue, at least it does for us. We have a smallish house and we are careful to limit our furniture to the most useful items; I already have one large cedar blanket chest full to the point I can barely close it. But I did want to make a big blanket for our bed, in part because the one I made a few years ago isn't quite large enough to cover us comfortably, and also just because. I haven't really crocheted much in the past six months since I finished Hensfoot, the larksfoot afghan that I made last winter. I devoted my crafty time to cross-stitch instead, creating two pieces that I really enjoyed stitching - Retro Kitchen and Voyage.

I missed crochet, though, and was feeling down in the dumps a few weeks ago when I realized how little I'd done lately. It wasn't for lack of trying. Back in the spring, I went through a period of trying all different kinds of blanket motifs - squares, circles-in-squares, flowers-in-squares and others - trying to figure out exactly what I wanted this blanket to look like. I don't want to treat this blanket like it's my magnum opus or anything, but I want it to be nice and I want it to feel worthwhile. It needs to be very large and it will require lots of yarn and time. I was frustrated time and again with everything I tried. Nothing felt right. I didn't want to have to make 300-400 small motifs. I didn't want to do any more stripes or ripples, either. I especially didn't want to do another giant granny square, which is what we have currently. I was stressing out way more than anyone needs to stress out over a crochet project that hadn't even happened yet. Finally, toward the end of August, I hit on the perfect design - hexagons. I'd made a few last year, just for fun. I liked the look of them and I thought they could be a fresh addition to my crochet repertoire.


I'm totally loving these hexagons! I'm so glad. I went hunting through Ravelry for inspiring hexagon afghans and came across the Ruby Hexagon Blanket, which led me to the maker's blog and her pattern for hexagon motifs. Nova Seals is a talented crocheter and her Ruby blanket really spoke to me. I love the way she made her motifs all different, with lots of different colors, but I had a more limited palette in mind for my blanket, as you can see above. My blanket will have very soft, cool colors with gray as the main color around each hexagon. I haven't yet decided whether I will join them as I go or if I will sew or crochet the motifs together. That's for another time. Right now, I'm just enjoying making the main parts of each hexagon. It's an easy design, just like a granny square except that you make six corners instead of four. I recommend Nova's pattern highly; she teaches it really well.


I had such a hard time getting started with this project, and I've only made these six hexes so far, but I'm really excited. I've also promised myself a new duvet cover when I'm finally finished and the blanket is ready to put on the bed. The current cover is four years old and starting to get a bit faded and worn (it's a small floral pattern). I'd like to get a plain off-white one next time around and have the blanket be the colorful statement piece in the room. We have a funny bedroom with no large solid walls (one has a full length closet with sliding doors, the other three boast a window, a doorway or both - it's weird), so I can't easily paint an accent wall, and we don't get a lot of sunlight as the room is on the north end of the house, so light and airy linens are a good idea.


I'm using Stylecraft Special DK for this blanket, as I often do. I really like this yarn for blankets because it's soft and cozy but it's also washable and sturdy for hard use (which I consider nightly sleeping to be, especially with a flailing lumberjack sharing the bed). Above are the colors I'm using for the main hex shapes. Top row, from left: Pale Rose, Raspberry, Plum, Grape and Parma Violet. Bottom row, from left: Denim, Petrol, Storm, Sage and Duck Egg.


The same palette with the inclusion of the main color, Grey. I know that some of the colors sort of blend together, but it's deliberate. I really want this to be a calm and soothing blanket with just occasional pops of brightness and mildly clashing colors, a look that is harder to achieve with large color palettes or "random" color placements within a motif. I like that look sometimes, but it's not the one I want here.


To that end, I made my own color placement guides. I want the hexagons to contain color gradients - one color fading into the next in a sort of spectrum - as opposed to using the colors "randomly" (I put this word in quotation marks because it technically isn't truly random when you do this, and because I'm always biased about which colors I put next to each other. I also always end up using my favorite colors more often than the others, almost unconsciously). I find random placement to be pretty stressful, actually. I lose interest more quickly. For these hexes, I'm glad to have an "order" to follow. I made my sketches with colored pencils, trying to match the yarns as best I could. There are twenty different designs (ignore the third one in the bottom right photo, it's a repeat). I did all the math and worked out that I'll need 180 of these hexes to make a queen-sized blanket with good overhang, so there will be 9 of each of these designs in it. I probably will place the hexes "randomly" on the blanket for interest, but let's cross that bridge when we come to it.


I'm glad to have a long-term crochet project again and I really like having a portable, individual set of motifs to work on. I have other projects in the queue - some more cross-stitching, a crocheted decoration, some machine-sewing - which I'll pick up as needed (some of them are to be gifts), but these hexes will take a lot of my crafty time this fall and winter, I am sure. It's a relief to have a big project back on the go. I needed to put down the crochet for a bit, but it's always there in the background calling out to me, even when it doesn't speak as clearly as I would like it to.

While we're on the subject, I'd like to ask if there is interest in another Winter Project Link Party for this year? No pressure, and certainly no hard feelings, but if you would like to take part, can you leave a comment to that effect? I'd post about specifics another time, but it would be about the same as last year, a monthly check-in/link-up where you would link to a post on your blog discussing your current projects. The first one would be at the beginning of October, to help you plan ahead.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Scatterday








The weather is pretty much perfect today and I can't wait to sit outside this afternoon with a drink and the guacamole I made a few minutes ago. I love this time of year.

Last night, we had a lot of wind and it knocked apples off the tree. We need to pick them up but I kind of like how they look. I like the sweet vinegar scent and the way they attract fat, lazy bees.

I finally figured out what to do with my next blanket and have been enjoying crochet again. I'm making hexagons, with a narrow range of ten colors, arranged in a sort of gradient. I spent about two hours one night this week sketching a plan with colored pencils. I came up with twenty gradient patterns using all ten colors through a spectrum of pink, purple, blue and green. I'm excited!

I've been having anxiety about driving lately. I've never been terribly enthusiastic about driving, but it's worse now. I'm driving more than I used to, for one thing, but I'm also scared of other people on the road. I see crazy things every single day. And safe driving has consequences too; yesterday, I was trying to make a left turn across four lanes of oncoming traffic, with the woman behind me irate because I wasn't doing it fast enough. Waving her arms, making obscene gestures, yelling - with a young child sitting in the front seat next to her (which is illegal) and a small dog running free across both of their laps. I'm worried for that kid, and everyone else.

The Bear baked zucchini breads earlier this morning, with zucchinis we grew. We've been eating them for a few weeks and learning to pick them early, before they go all sticky and seedy inside. The tomatoes are almost finished and the grapes are rotting on the vine faster than we can pick them - food for birds now. This was our best gardening year in this house and we're pretty proud of ourselves. Next year, more tomatoes, especially large ones for slicing.

Did you know there's a new Tana French book coming out in October? I know I have some fellow Dublin Murder Squad fans out there. It's called The Trespasser. I have it on hold already at the library. I can't wait to read it!

I've been doing laundry since early this morning. I don't mind laundry, really. Even the folding and putting away is pretty bearable, to me. I hang my nightgowns, bras and some of my underwear on a rack which I keep in the foyer when it's in use. I'm enjoying the way the detergent scent floats through the house when a breeze comes through the windows. The windows are open, did I mention that? Open windows, coolish temperatures, a soft breeze! It's really happening.

It was actually cold out this morning when we got up. Down in the fifties, sunny and bright with that crisp look to everything outside. Now I want to bake an apple pie. As soon as all the zucchini bread is finished, I will.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Eight









Yesterday was the GB's eighth birthday. She spent a good portion of the afternoon playing in the backyard with the "wagon" she built out of a square plank with caster wheels screwed onto the bottom, and a rope with a length of wood tied on the end as a pull-handle. She mostly drags her baby dolls and stuffed animals on the wagon, around and around the back patio or up and down the sidewalk. If the LB is around and looking for fun, as he was yesterday, she will often cast the baby dolls aside for 85 pounds of brother. She struggles with the load, but she does it because he likes it. That's the kind of person she is.

Around 4:30, a big thunderstorm rolled through (the remnants of Hurricane Newton are currently passing over the Southwest). I don't think I can remember another rainy birthday of hers. She was born on a hot, sunny Saturday afternoon and all her birthdays so far have been bright. It was nice to have the rain, actually, something a little different for her birthday and you know how we all love rain around here. They came inside and she put her baby away and sat quietly listening to her brother practice his guitar (she'd already practiced hers and finished all her schoolwork; she never plays until she's done). I started making her birthday dinner, the macaroni and cheese with broccoli that she'd asked for. She came and watched, chattering on many topics as I worked. She helped a little too. We ate dinner and then her grandparents came over to watch her open presents. We had an ice cream cake, which she picked out herself at Baskin-Robbins.

Her favorite present is her sewing basket. A few weeks ago, the Bear and I went to Jo-Ann Fabrics and bought her a nice basket and all the basic sewing necessities to fill it up. I already had a good pair of sewing scissors and a needle book that I'd been saving for her. We added a tape measure, pins, needles, a few colors of thread, a seam ripper and a marking pencil. We also gave her fat quarter bundle. She already enjoys making simple clothes for her dolls and I plan to teach her some more. She especially loves that her basket is just like mine (aside from the colors). She made sure to add her very first sewing supply to her basket right away: her pincushion. I bought her a vintage tomato pincushion in Arroyo Seco a few years ago, adding long pins with large heads. She was about three and she could spend an hour pulling out the pins and pushing them back in, over and over again. She called it her "sewing," which still entertains me.

She's grown up a lot in the past year - in the past few months, even. She has a new teacher at school and she is enraptured by this lovely young woman with pretty clothes and fun sayings and songs. Lately, I can see that she's beginning to think about the kind of woman she will be. She continues to learn the guitar and is now in her fifth year of ballet. She is small for her age but she uses every bit of herself. Her front teeth are in and it's clear that her bottom teeth are going to cost us a fortune. Our GB had a good birthday, I think. She is a delight - sweet and kind, opinionated and determined, smart and creative.
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