Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Looking out

My friend Leanne had to stay home the other day, waiting for her car to be returned after repairs, and she spent some time looking out the window. She wrote a fascinating post about what she saw, in her own garden and beyond. At the end, she asked what we saw out the window at our own houses. Since I stay home a lot (as you know), and often spend my time gazing out the windows, I thought this seemed like a good exercise for me too.

On Monday, I stayed indoors all afternoon because it was raining. The clouds were threatening for much of the day but the sky really darkened after lunch and then it rained on and off into the evening. Monday is our all-homeschool day. We went to the feed store and the library in the morning. I made quesadillas for our lunch. We listened to our audiobook after that. There was a lot of arguing between the small Bears in the afternoon; among other topics, they were fighting over correct abbreviations for names of things (smart kids, dumb argument). They fought quite badly, actually, and were sent to their rooms for awhile. Everyone needed a break. I took the opportunity to sit with my tea in the living room to watch the rain fall and observe my front yard, inspired by Leanne.

In my front yard, there are mostly low-water plantings, in addition to our plum trees down by the street. We have Russian sage, yarrow, winter jasmine, Spanish broom, lavender, rosemary, thyme and other plants whose names I don't know. That yellow tree in the above photos is a small olive tree that is planted in a little raised bed at the side of the yard. I love that tree. We have a lovely view of it from inside the living room. It's almost at its fall-color peak, and it casts a golden glow in the living room on sunny days. The olives are tiny and hard, not edible as far as I know, and we occasionally find them on the ground. It's a good climbing tree because the trunk branches into multiple slender parts, easy to brace against for a quick upward scramble. Not that I climb it myself, you understand.

The plum trees are just starting to change color, but they don't really change much; the leaves just get darker, more of a rusty brown than the burgundy of summer. I was so proud of those trees this past spring and summer, when we harvested a good eight or ten pounds of tiny plums. I made jam and the Bear made lots of fruit leather. We're eating the jam now, it's popular around here. The flavor, and the little bits of plum-skin throughout, remind me of cranberry sauce and I'm considering serving a jar of jam with our turkey on Thanksgiving instead of my usual cranberries. I can't decide whether this would be fantastically resourceful or profligately wasteful.

Across the street...oh, across the street. I like to think the best of people, I really do. But I'm worried about that place. The upkeep is sliding. There are four generations living there. The great-grandpa died a couple of years ago. He kept the yard looking neat. His survivors have not carried on the torch. It's all looking a bit shabby now. But they did decorate quite spectacularly for Halloween. I would have preferred to see a good weeding...

I love watching the rain fall in the yard. We don't get a lot of rain here, but everything looks better in the rain and I look forward to it. Everything smells better too. The doorbell rang (it was the UPS guy) and when I opened the door, a little breeze blew in, bringing the scent of wetted lavender and sage. I need to sweep the front entrance; the leaves are falling onto the walkway and covering the doormat. They blow into the house when I open the front door, or get tracked inside on our shoes, sticking to the rug in the foyer. If I don't sweep outside, I have to vacuum inside more often. It's one of those constants of life, isn't it? I have to vacuum a lot anyway because of the goat heads. Do you have those where you live? Goat heads, I shake my fist at you!

I can't leave them in their rooms forever, and they won't want to look at the window for very long with me, so I need to plan some sort of activity for the afternoon. I know - we'll bake something. Who doesn't love baking on a cool, rainy fall afternoon? Even the most cantankerous, weather-limited little people love to bake. I leave my big bay window and retrieve my children from their rooms: back to it. I'm glad I had a chance to concentrate on the details of what I see when I look out the front window.

Edited to include a link to information about goat heads, for the blissfully uninitiated.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A stitched rose

I've had the sprucing-up bee in my bonnet lately. Nothing fancy, and certainly nothing expensive. But I am enjoying it more since finally letting go of the idea that my house should be decorated a certain way. I think I'm finally figuring this out: your house should be filled with things you like, period. Maybe I didn't trust myself to do it right; this isn't just my house, after all. I think I tend to go overboard with a trend, and then I have to backpedal: black wrought-iron everything, in the early 2000's, as one example; way too much kitschy Southwestern-style stuff as another. I'm learning, though; I like things eclectic now - a little bit of everything, in all different styles.

One part of my home that I've been trying to get right, decor-wise, is the long wall in our family room, the one behind the couch. It's an open room and this wall is really the only one we have in the room. It's been an expensive wall - we had to have a leaky pipe repaired inside it last year, with accompanying Sheetrock and woodwork repairs too. That's all over now and I've been building a "gallery" display, with family portraits and knickknacks. Every time I go to Hobby Lobby or World Market, I look for something interesting to add, but I've felt uninspired lately. I want small, delicate things that look like they're old. I decided to make small counted cross-stitch items. I made my first one this weekend, a pink rose on black 14-count Aida cloth, framed in the same little wooden hoop I used to stitch it.

I have a few old cross-stitch pattern books that used to belong to my mother. She gave them to me when she stopped cross-stitching years ago. They're from the eighties and are filled with country-style motifs - teddy bears and geese figure heavily. Cute as they are, I wanted something more vintage-style, and went looking online. Did you know that there are lots of free patterns online? You can just Google for them, it's pretty amazing how much is out there. You can find a lot on Pinterest too. I print them and hand-color them (largely because I don't have a color printer, but also because I like choosing my own color scheme). This rose pattern came from Pinterest, but there was no source credited, unfortunately. I liked the size and shape of it, though, and it went into my small library of printed patterns.

It was quick and easy, but so pleasant to stitch. I didn't finish the edges, I just trimmed it as close to the hoop as I could. It's cheap Aida cloth and it doesn't even fray. Good enough, I think. I don't do a lot of embroidery (I'd like to learn more), but I've always loved cross-stitch. It was one of the first crafts I ever did seriously, beginning when I was about nine years old. I learned to cross-stitch in Brownies, and took to it immediately. I don't remember anyone else enjoying it as much as I did, though; I also remember feeling like it made me a little weird. But I liked making things and I still do.

I think it looks good in the gallery display. I like how it looks on black; I think it saves it from looking too cutesy, and it picks up the black in the other items too. Roses and matryoshkas certainly go well together. Eventually there will be a Midsummer Sprigs sampler up there too, but that's a long way off. I do love having something handmade and now I'm looking forward to making a few more; they're so quick to do and there's still plenty of space up there. I'm on the hunt for patterns with a retro-modern feel. Birds and mushrooms are catching my eye in particular.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Sweet science


The small Bears' school has a focused-learning theme for the year. The theme is water, with everything that encompasses. Science, social studies, art and even math can be taught around this theme, which has been interesting and challenging for everyone. We're focusing on water in our homeschooling too, building on the lessons they receive in school and creating our own projects as well. There's a lot to learn about water. A few weeks ago, the GB was intrigued with crystal formation after we watched a video about the subject. We decided to make some crystals of our own and boy, was it fun! They were just simple sugar crystals but it was my first time making them and I think I learned as much as the kids did. It was easy, but patience is necessary while you wait for the crystals to form. Ours took about three weeks to reach what we thought was a good size and shape; the bigger the crystals, the more there will be to study and observe.

If you want to give it a try, I'll share what we did. Sugar crystals should be made with a ratio of 1 part water to 3 parts sugar. For simplicity, we measured our sugar and water in regular kitchen 1-cup measures. We heated the water to boiling in a saucepan, stirring in the sugar to dissolve. The syrup created is funky! It's unbelievably thick and gooey. I'm not a candy-maker but I imagine there must a similar stage in that process. We poured our syrup into a large glass jar (ours came from Ragu pasta sauce, I think it's a 26-ounce size? It was an old jar already missing the label). We weren't sure what would work best for a "base" on which the crystals could form, so we used two options: a couple of long, thin wooden skewers, and a few lengths of monofilament (fishing line-type stuff) tied onto a set of child's plastic chopsticks, which could lay across the mouth of the jar. We left the jar in a quiet place on a metal baking tray for about three weeks, checking it periodically and making observations.

When the crystals seemed big enough, the steady-handed Bear chipped them out of the hardened syrup with a fork. We pulled out the sticks and strings and there were lots of sugar crystals! The sticks formed much larger structures but the strings looked prettier, glittery like glass beads. We dug out as much as we could and left it to dry on waxed paper on a plate. We made observations and we ate some too! They dissolved quickly in our mouths but they sort of crackled on the tongue first, like mildly fizzy Pop Rocks. It was exciting! And messy - you should have seen my kitchen counter. But it was for a good cause and ant season is just about over anyway. We all loved this experiment; the crystals worked great and were fun to taste, and we all learned something. Sweet.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Autumn posy

Fall is definitely, gloriously here. The nights are cold now, the daytime sun is lower in the sky. It's only a matter of time before the furnace switches on, warming us in our beds some early, frosty morning in the near future. Afghans are back on the beds, I'm wearing slippers at home (there's a lot of chilly tile in our house). I wore a cardigan to go shopping yesterday morning and bought myself a cup of coffee, partly for the hand-warming.

Our yard is changing quickly. I haven't had a really nice rose in weeks; they're small and tightly furled, as if guarding themselves from the nip in the air. Russian sage is still doing well, at its most beautiful in fall, I think. The color deepens and the flower petals seem more prominent. But the yarrow is dry and crispy-brown now, the yucca flowers are spent. There's still plenty of color out there, though; Jupiter's beard is having a second wind after a dormant period in high summer, my mums are blooming prolifically and berries are ripening all over the yard.

I love making seasonal posies but they're more challenging in fall and winter. I enjoy the creative endeavor of it: bringing together the blooms and growth of the season and making it pretty and interesting. Half the fun for me is in the artful arranging; choose a vessel, create a shape, find the right angle for display (everything I know on this subject, I learned from Ina Garten). But I also love that I can make a posy for free, from things growing right out there in my yard. There's a time for store-bought flowers (I'm a total sucker for cheap bunches of hot pink or lipstick-red tulips in late winter), but when I can, I like to gather what's in season right outside my kitchen door.

My autumn posy brings together the last flowers in the yard - our late-bloomers and our three-season workhorses - with the berries that slowly ripen and brighten from summer into early wintertime. The colors faded quickly after I made the posy; they were at their brightest and freshest right after they were clipped, when I took these photos. Within a day, they darkened. I took the photos on a stormy afternoon, when the wind was whistling across the roof and fat raindrops were splashing east-facing windows. I was wearing a light sweater (and my slippers). I arranged my flowers and berries in a cheerful ceramic jug, savoring one of my last posies before the brown desert winter.

My posy includes (clockwise from top left in collage photo): 1. Russian sage; 2. Pyracantha berries and leaves; 3. Yellow chrysanthemums; 4. Burgundy chrysanthemums; 5. Nandina berries and leaves; 6. White chrysanthemums; 7. Jupiter's beard (red valerian).

Monday, October 13, 2014

Good and plenty

Life has been busy but happy lately. I love being back in the school routine. After two months back in school, everyone seems to be doing well with the daily schedule and expectations. I've been particularly proud of my GB. I was anticipating more bumps as she adjusted to her new life as a kindergartner but she's doing great. Both small Bears are learning a lot and having fun, at home and in school. I don't think I can ask for more than that. We just finished the kids' fall break. We enjoyed the first taste of real fall weather with two different storms rolling through. I wore slippers! It was cozy, the kind of family time we like - cooking, crafting, listening to NPR and just hanging out.

I'm doing better with my resolution to chill out about things I can't control - the drama and chaos in other people's lives. It isn't easy for me - I'm a fixer by nature - but I'm learning to focus more on the things I can control - the ones I enjoy and treasure in my own relatively untroubled life. It's an ongoing journey but I know I am getting there. There is so much to love! That includes all of you, and the kind things you say. Thank you for being supportive. I'm glad I'm not boring! I strive for peace and predictability in my own life and I'm proud to share this here. I have simple wishes. I don't really wish for things I don't have (well, not often). I like to stay home. I enjoy domestic pursuits. I finally feel really good about these aspects of myself, and blogging has been an important part of that. So, lately...

We've been enjoying our portable fire pit - a warming blaze in the backyard, complete with s'mores.

The small Bears and I visited the local aquarium. We all love the coral reef tank. I really could spend all day looking at it. I feel mesmerized and drowsy. I would curl up and sleep there, if it wouldn't make me seem all vagrant-y.

It's the season when my kids want to drink tea. They have their (decaffeinated herbal) tea in their favorite cups while I drink my high-octane Irish Breakfast tea.

It's soup season too. I made this minestrone, my own hodge-podge recipe, in the slowcooker and enjoyed the leftovers for lunch. I love soup.

We've been playing a lot of "store" lately. Both small Bears need the play-money practice.We sell everything in our store, from magazines to play food to stuffed animals standing in for food. Come on down!

We gave the GB a set of string lights for her birthday and they've been a major hit.We ordered them from IKEA after seeing them on our famous visit to the store this summer. We hung them on the wall just recently, and she enjoys them before going to sleep at night, but before that she was happy to lie under the bed with them.

I had a really fun opportunity to attend a local retail/media event. Lakeshore Learning invited me to attend their new store's opening here in Albuquerque. Our new store is their sixtieth location, opened in honor of their sixtieth anniversary as a company, and is the first of their stores to open in New Mexico. I was invited as a local blogger. There were local state and city dignitaries and people from the Lakeshore company, as well as local educators and media representatives. There were light refreshments, crafts for the invited kids, and a ribbon-cutting ceremony (with giant scissors!). The store is bright and colorful, filled with fun, interesting teaching and learning materials. I was given a very generous gift bag full of games and toys to take home. This store is sure to be a great addition to our city and I was honored to be part of this special event.

And finally, a scary sight just for you. Pretend vampire teeth + Elmo doll = Draculelmo.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Hang loose

We got up early this morning and drove to a park on high ground so we could watch the morning's balloon ascension. Balloon Fiesta is almost over. We've been watching the balloons from our backyard most days, or on the drive to school. Today was the Shape Derby, when all the special-shape balloons are flown. The shape balloons are so interesting. The bumblebees are my favorite and I look for them every year. I've even seen them fly close together so it looks like they're kissing. The kids point out the balloons excitedly; they liked the Angry Bird and the dinosaur. We all liked the cartoonish Elvis balloon. We have our traditions: we bring binoculars and cameras, we bundle up nice and warm. This morning was damp and cool. We stayed awhile, until most of the balloons had drifted southward and begun to land somewhere in the valley. Then we went to breakfast. Afterward, we went home and stayed there: crochet, Minecraft, laundry and books, rain lashing the windows periodically, a candle burning throughout the afternoon, our favorite pan-pizza recipe for dinner, TV and popcorn for the two of us tonight. Heartwarmer covers my lap now, all the way down to my shins. My legs, and my heart, are warm.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

I am/I try to be/I am not

I am: 
-  Having a stay-at-home day. It's fall break and there is nowhere I need to be.
-  Tired. If they'd let me, I think I could sleep for a week.
-  Tired of six-year-old-girl drama too. Get a grip already.
-  In the mood to bake. Maybe chocolate chip cookies.
-  Thinking about my blog. It's becoming repetitive, I think. But my life is pretty repetitive too.
-  Really glad my on-hold book finally came in at the library.
-  Concerned that my blog makes me seem nicer than I really am.
-  Glad for the 90's R&B played at my thrift store. That was me belting out "Real Love" by the linens.

I try to be:
Patient with my children. But it's not a natural talent.
Enthusiastic about shopping for anything other than food.
Fashionable, though I have to realistic; it's never going to happen.
-  A better ____________. But right now, mostly: cook and laundry-doer.
-  Open-minded. Lord knows I'm not always right.
-  Organized and managerial without being anal-retentive.
-  A non-cuticle biter, like I'm no longer a nail-biter.

I am not:
-  Going to be able to finish that Maggie Rabbit by Christmas if I don't buckle down.
-  Proud that I have to make myself "buckle down" to finish crafts lately.
-  Crafting as much right now but I am reading a lot, so that's something.
-  A fan of any media featuring zombies. I don't even get zombies.
-  At all upset about having another birthday next month. I love being "old."
On board with pumpkin-spice-all-the-things. Actually, I can't stand it anymore.
-  Happy to discover that Netflix removed "Peggy Sue Got Married" from its streaming content.
-  Ashamed to admit that I love Katy Perry.

There you go, some things that I am, that I try to be and that I am not. It isn't my idea - I came across it somewhere in Blogsylvania awhile ago, though I don't remember where. Try it, it's fun. Leave a link so we can read yours too.
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