Saturday, April 15, 2017

Happy Easter









Hello! I hope this post finds you enjoying a nice weekend with your loved ones. I certainly am! Thank you for your kind words and well wishes for the Bear's knee surgery. He had his surgery yesterday and it went really well. He's now on mandatory rest at home. He's doing great; he's had very little pain and was able to remove his dressings today and also take a shower. He will be home from work for most of the coming week, resting as much as he can. I'm doing everything I can to help him; he's the kind of person who never slows down, but he's making the best of it. Yesterday, we watched his surgery on the DVD they sent home with us. That was freaky and cool! I guess they had to remove a lot more of his meniscus than they'd originally planned (about 60%!) but he was headed for long-term problems so it's a good thing they went ahead and fixed it now.

We've had such a nice Saturday otherwise. It's beautiful outside, almost like early summer. The wisteria is still blooming and now the Spanish broom is just starting to blossom. It smells so good outside! I went to the grocery store this morning for my regular shopping as well as things I still needed for Easter. I'm making a spiral-sliced ham, scalloped potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts and dinner rolls. Dessert is carrot cake, which I baked today. I'll make the cream-cheese frosting tomorrow. So excited for carrot cake!

We had company this morning; our next-door neighbors' grandchildren (eight-year-old boy-girl twins) are visiting from Phoenix for Easter and they came over to play. It was nice to have a houseful of kids. After they left, I went out again, this time to pick up some sandwiches from Jimmy Johns for lunch. This afternoon, we enjoyed our annual tradition of dyeing Easter eggs together. The Bear left the couch for just a few minutes, long enough to dye one of his trademark multicolored eggs. It's the stripey egg in the photo above; he calls it Tequila Sunrise. I think he needs a drink. Ha...maybe in a week or two. I did my eggs the way I like them, very brilliant solid colors achieved by leaving the eggs in the dye cups 4-ever. The small Bears, well, they did a lot of different things. I love the way our eggs look in the carton together, so bright and cheerful. Easter is just my favorite.

I hope you have a wonderful holiday with your family. Love and chocolate to you and yours!

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Crochet color conclusions


Or: An Experienced Crocheter Still Has Much to Learn

I've been trying for over a year to decide on a blanket design; I want a new afghan for our queen-sized bed, to use with the duvet in cooler weather. I made a giant granny square blanket for our bed several years ago and we like it, but it would be nice to have something new. The "giant" granny square isn't as big as we'd like, in spite of its name. And I'm better at crochet now, so I wanted to try a more complex design. Choosing one has been so hard. I knew I didn't want stripes or ripples for such a large bed blanket. I wanted individual squares. I tried close to a dozen different kinds of squares and hexagons, but nothing felt right.

I think I've finally figured out what was giving me so much trouble, and it's a huge relief. This may sound silly but my problem was color: I was using too many colors and everything was looking very busy. I was having trouble making pleasing combinations with so many colors in the mix. I kept seeing "gaps" in my color palette, and every time I added a new color, I'd have to add one or two more to balance it out. It was getting out of control. Most recently, when I thought I had found the key in Sunburst squares, which I really do love and enjoyed making, I was up to something like 24 shades. I started joining them and they looked terrible. The colors bothered me.

I thought I wanted another blanket like the GB's Ice Cream Flowers, only with gray instead of white. Her blanket is lovely, but...well, it's a little girl's blanket. I'm happy with it, and it works really well in her sunny, colorful bedroom, but it's not right for our room. I want something quieter and calmer, more grown-up. I also want a project I can handle. Some people are good at wrangling huge color assortments into a visually-pleasing creation. Some are really good at limiting themselves to a small color selection and methodically planning where colors should go. Some people can do both, which amazes me. I can make a detailed plan, but it's hard for me to execute. I don't like total randomness either, so I feel stuck sometimes. I think it's why I usually fall back on stripes or ripples. They make more sense from a color-theory standpoint, for me. Some colors look bad together, so you don't make adjacent stripes with them. Simple. Squares with multiple-round motifs confuse me, color-wise.


What I wanted, I slowly began to understand, was a square design that didn't rely on multiple colors. I thought about solid one-color grannies but those seemed very plain. Then I remembered how much I enjoyed making Maybelle Squares in the past. I'd only ever made them as decorations (I made a garland of squares as a blog giveaway prize several years ago, and a garland of the inner flowers without the square rounds for the GB's room). I liked making them, though, and I really enjoyed the blanket projects I'd seen made with the pattern, which is a joint effort between one crochet blogger, from the blog 6ichthusfish (sorry, but I don't know this lady's name), who designed the flower and another, Annette, of the blog My Rose Valley, who designed the squaring part. Annette has made beautiful blankets with the square she designed, and I've always thought I'd like to try making a pillow cover or throw with her squares. Last year, she made a baby blanket with her squares that I really admired. It occurred to me that Maybelle squares fit all my criteria for our new blanket: fairly large squares (about 6 inches across in DK yarn), one color for the flower and one for the squaring rounds, easily joined (I usually prefer joining-as-I-go and may do that here). Most importantly, it's pretty but simple.

I remembered that I'd already been thinking somewhat along these lines last fall, when I came up with a plan for large hexagons made in various color gradients using nine colors of yarn, joined with gray. I lost interest in the hexagons, but I still liked the colors very much. I knew I would do better with fewer colors, which is why I wanted to do the hexes in just such a way, and it occurred to me that I could use those colors for Maybelles instead! Annette's baby blanket uses five colors squared with cream and joined with beige. I love the look but I wanted to stick with gray for our blanket. I think the gray offsets the femininity of the flower motif. My nine colors of Stylecraft Special DK are in the basket above. Clockwise from top: Denim, Grape, Raspberry, Duck Egg, Petrol, Pale Rose, Sage, Storm, with Gray and Parma Violet in the center.



I worked out the numbers for my blanket and started crocheting. Most of the colors will require 19 squares and a couple of them (Raspberry and Petrol) will require 18. I finished all the Raspberry ones already. I looped a piece of yarn through the centers to keep the pile together. Then I started the Sage ones. I think Sage is my favorite color of Stylecraft Special DK right now. I just love its retro look; I think it has sort of a 50's feel. In fact, I think the whole color palette does. I like the slightly washed-out look of these colors with the gray. I know I keep saying I feel good about various blanket projects, but I really do think this one is right. I honestly love making these squares. They make me feel like I did when I first started crocheting seriously five years ago. It's that kind of design, I guess. I find it exciting and calming at the same time. The pattern is easy to memorize and they make up quickly. I can work on them while I do other things. I think this is going to check all my blanket boxes. Finally, a blanket!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Springtime, more or less













Every time I think spring is really here - finally - to stay for good, the weather gods laugh. They must be rolling in aisles up there. Oh, so you put away the winter pajamas? Tee-hee! You wore flip-flops to the grocery store? You're so cute. You want to use the screen in that new door? Here's some wind and snow! 

That's early spring around here, though. It can be eighty degrees without a cloud in the sky one day and then you wake up the next morning to slushy rain. The furnace doesn't run for an entire week and next thing you know, it's on all day long. We've had another round of colds over the past week and I blame the weather. Nobody can figure out how to dress. And people do crazy things, assuming that one warm day is all it takes and now it's just spring forever. I saw some kids using a Slip 'N Slide a couple of weeks ago! It really wasn't warm enough that day and I'm not just being a curmudgeon. My own two watched longingly and made noises about wanting to join them or get their own, but I shut it down fast: we don't know those kids, and we don't have a slope in our yard. I didn't say Only dummies use a Slip 'N Slide in this kind of weather. But I was thinking it.

In spite of the meteorological roller-coaster, all the plants are blooming nicely. We have a few iris buds here and there; I think there will be flowers sometime next week. The apple tree bloomed rather pitifully this year. We won't have many apples but the flowers looked nice while they lasted. The birdbath and hummingbird feeders are out again. After severely pruning the vines over the courtyard last fall, we've had a lot more wisteria in bloom this spring than I can ever remember before. Maybe it was being choked by the trumpet vine it's intertwined with up there. There's nothing like blooming wisteria directly outside your front door. I want to walk out the door a hundred times a day just to have it hit me as I step onto the mat. As it is, I find a lot of unnecessary excuses to go out that way. I could get the mail and the UPS packages in one trip, but I treat myself to two - wisteria is worth it. I will never stop feeling grateful to the couple who owned this house before we did. They were very talented gardeners and we're still reaping the rewards eight years on.

Our evening garage-biking program continues. We did this all winter and now we're getting close to the time of year when we can open the garage door while we ride. We're going to look ridiculous, but we're exercising and that's a good thing. I do feel healthier. I'm less tired during the day, for one thing. I've never been an enthusiastic exerciser but I've always loved that feeling when you're finished. If I could make myself feel that way before I started, that would be awesome. Then I'd never want to stop. Instead, I try to relish the great feeling after I've taken a shower and am sitting down with a book or watching TV. That's a great feeling. It sounds really lazy, and to be fair, I am pretty lazy. You know what I mean, though. I love that "being done" feeling.

We're getting ready for Easter. I wish we had a bit more time off for the holiday but we're in full-steam mode now, finishing up the school year. I think we have about six weeks left. I've got the Easter menu planned and will finish shopping this week. It will be weird holiday weekend because the Bear is having his knee surgery, finally, on Friday morning. There's no school, and I don't have childcare help, so the small Bears will be at the hospital with me. I plan to pack a lot of activities and snacks. We'll take a walk around the building. It's outpatient surgery and isn't supposed to take all that long, so we'll make the best of it. The LB had his surgery in the same hospital two years ago and he knows all about the Subway in the lobby, so maybe I'll spring for lunch. You can keep kids quiet for a while with a Footlong. Everything is ready for the surgery; we borrowed a set of crutches, we bought a new ice pack and we added a lot of new things to our Netflix streaming queue. Wish us luck.

I'll be back soon to tell you all about the latest incarnation of my Never-Ending Blanket Project. I know I've waxed poetic about approximately 15 different ideas over the last year, but hear me out. I've cried wolf an awful lot, but I finally feel like I'm doing the right thing.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Hens and chicks

Left to right: Latte, Caramel and Ginger









Life lately has been a bit of a blur. We're just about finished with the home-improvement projects which have consumed us (I'm not kidding) for a couple of months. There was so much we wanted to do and we needed to get it done between the really cold season and the really hot one, and let's face it, that's not a long time. Spring and fall are short here and we spend both seasons scrambling to finish projects that we can't do in winter or summer. We've reached a stopping point now, which is nice. We hung our new storm door this weekend. I am so happy with it! The whole room looks more finished. I've been kind of obsessive about keeping the glass clean on both doors, inner and outer. As soon as I see a fingerprint, I'm running for the Windex. I don't think this level of fastidiousness can last but right now I'm just so darn excited about this door. What a dork. A door-dork.

I've been missing this space a lot. I haven't had much time lately for blogging, but it's just that time of year. The big school projects are behind us, thankfully, but now there's testing and the class plays have started rehearsing. The LB is playing Doctor Craven in his class production of The Secret Garden, and the GB is playing the West Witch in The Wizard of Oz. I've been working on their costumes. The GB's dance school has their biennial recital at the end of May. It's held in a theater on the university campus and it's a very big deal. Her costume is just beautiful, a long dress with a red velour leotard-bodice and full pink tulle skirt with red satin trim along the bottom edge. Her class is dancing to "Reflections" from the Disney movie Mulan. She'll also have a guitar recital. So much to do! They're having fun, which is the most important thing. I've been looking ahead to summer break too; both will be signed up for swimming lessons again (the LB is almost finished and can take diving lessons soon!) and I've booked a camping weekend already and I'm looking for one more. Whew.

These past few days have been pretty chicken-centric as we get the new girls acclimated to life in the coop with Betty. We took it slow, first putting them in enclosures near each other, then letting them free-range together in the backyard. Eventually, we closed them in the coop together and stood back. Betty was a little bossy at first. Each chick got a little peck on the beak and they spent the first day huddled in a corner of the run while she patrolled the area near the food and water. Then the chicks discovered the ramp into the "apartment" section of the coop and hightailed it inside. But they all slept together peaceably in the apartment that night and everything seems fine since. Betty lets them eat and drink and hasn't pecked them again. They still stick together but I think they'll mingle more when they're bigger. Big Betty is dominant for now, but it may not last; the new Ginger is already looking pretty brawny. They have names now, by the way. The small Bears named them, overriding my old-lady name suggestions. The Buff Orpington is Ginger, like her surprise-rooster predecessor, and the New Hampshires are Latte and Caramel. I can't really tell those two apart, but I'm told Latte has more white on her wings, hence her milky moniker. It's fine, but I was holding out for Gladys and Harriet, in case you're wondering.

Thanks for your sweet comments lately. I hope you're doing well and enjoying a taste of spring (or autumn!) wherever you are.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Seven spring things


One: it's daffodil time and I've been buying a few bunches every time I shop. They smell wonderful. I love having them in the house, looking cheerful and bright. I put them all over, a few on the table, a few on the counter, a few on the coffee table in the living room so you see them as you come in the front door.


Two: there's a mama dove in the juniper on the side of the house where we keep our trash cans. We think this is her second egg. There were shells on the ground under the tree a few weeks ago. Then we saw this egg and noticed she was back to sitting on the nest. We're trying so hard not to disturb her. We put out the trash on tiptoe.


Three: I'm enjoying our new paint so much. This is the back porch (the sliding doors go into the breakfast nook). It looks so clean and fresh. Now I just want to replace that old, dated light fixture. In my excitement about the paint, I was inspired to buy a new patio umbrella. We haven't used it yet, but it's bigger and sturdier than the old one and I'm really excited to have our first meal of the season on the patio, hopefully soon.


Four: our rosemary is blooming more than it ever has. I'm so pleased! We have two large rosemary plants along the front walk. I don't know if we did anything differently, but it's been on a steady course of improvement for the past few years and it's better than ever this year. I might even try cooking with it more now. It's completely edible, I was just afraid to remove any when the plants weren't as robust. I've been eating a piece here and there when I'm out there. We all do.


Five: the new chickens are growing like crazy! Oh my goodness. We think they'll be able to go out to the coop by this coming weekend. They're still very sweet and funny. They're also becoming noisier and more rambunctious all the time. We love having them in the house but they're just about ready for the real hen life.


Six: I'm making very slow progress on an amigurumi crochet project, the Dutch Rabbit stuffed toy by Kati Galusz. I love the look of this toy so much, and Dutch rabbits are my favorite kind, so I bought this pattern in the hopes of making one or two (potentially as Easter gifts for my children). I'm finding it so difficult, though - like really agonizingly so. The feet were easy; I could make those little front feet all day long. The head, though - holy moly. So hard. I've made the head three times so far and it's always wrong. I don't think it's the pattern, for what it's worth. My amigurumi skills are pretty rudimentary. I plan to keep trying, but these are some tough bunnies!


Seven: a bit more promising is this sewing pattern, the Sailor Top by Fancy Tiger Crafts. I've never really sewn a garment for myself, aside from some stretchy-waist skirts, so I'm looking forward to trying this top. I really want some tops that aren't t-shirts, much as I love those. Pattern-wise, I also have my eye on designs from 100 Acts of Sewing. For now, I just need to find fabric for the Sailor Top. I spent some time at Jo-Ann over the weekend and was disappointed. I really want something light, like cotton voile, or maybe double-gauze, but there wasn't much to choose from. I'll probably order something online. I'm pretty excited to make something for myself!

*********

Thanks for your lovely comments lately. I was in total spring-break mode last week and wasn't keeping up with blogs, but I hope you're doing well. The weather went back to normal springtime patterns here, but it was gorgeous for a couple of weeks. You'll be proud to know that I resisted buying annual plants FOUR different times! Some neighbors down the street made up beautiful urns full of geraniums and other annuals for their yard and every time I pass by, I cringe a little thinking about all the plants I've killed by putting them in too early. I hope theirs make it but I'm jaded now, I can't help it. My big rosebush has buds now, and my tulips are about to bloom, and my little ivy houseplant is going like gangbusters, so I'm satisfied. And just think of all the money I'm saving on annuals by not buying them twice! These are the things I tell myself as I stroll past the carts of geraniums at Lowe's...and the edible herbs in the vestibule at Trader Joe's...and the impatiens beckoning from the sidewalk at Smith's...

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Pineapple nut bread


Hello from Spring Break Land! Well, actually, we're just here at home. We didn't go anywhere, exotic or otherwise. We decided that after the interminable recent illness and the past couple of months of endless school projects, it would be best to stay home and recharge our batteries. Did I tell you that the Bear was scheduled for knee surgery earlier this month? He had to cancel his surgery when everyone, including him, got sick. Now it's scheduled for mid-April instead. It would have been nice to have it behind us by now but that's life, right? Actually, it was kind of nice to have some "found" time before it gets hotter outside; we have been able to finish a bunch of projects lately.

Over the weekend, we ordered a storm door for our bedroom, where we have a door leading to the backyard. It's a custom size - 32 inches wide as opposed to the more standard 36 inches - so we have to wait for delivery. I can't wait to have it; the room will get so much more light than it did with the old screen door and it will be much easier to keep the inner door clean. We've been cleaning like maniacs this week, actually. We moved the furniture in all three of our bedrooms, as well as the office/fourth bedroom, to vacuum and dust thoroughly. Mattresses have been flipped, bathrooms have been scrubbed from top to bottom, windows and window frames washed and some windowsills even re-caulked and repainted! Everything old is new again - or at least somewhat cleaner.

In between blitz-cleaning, we've been cooking and baking together. We each came up with things we wanted to eat and put them on the week's menu. It's been kind of a hodge-podge - tacos, stuffed peppers, Gorton's fish fillets - but it's fun too. I've baked cookies. For a change of pace, I baked Pineapple Nut Bread, a quick bread recipe that we really love and I thought I'd share it here because it's kind of an unusual one. If you like fruity, nutty breads made with relatively little sugar or butter, this one's for you!


The recipe came from my mother-in-law's 1960's copy of Betty Crocker's New Picture Cook Book (when did "cook book" become "cookbook"? I'd really like to know). I think the book in this photo is the same one she has, though I'm not positive, and I don't have this book in my possession, but I like it. There are lots of really cool, stylized illustrations of sixties ladies, and many great recipes, as well as some very strange, dated ones that nobody makes anymore - hot, boozy broth drinks, copious amounts of aspic, so much mayonnaise. My in-laws make their permanent home in New Zealand, with several months of the year spent near us in New Mexico; this book is at their home in NZ and I encountered it while visiting them for Christmas in 2002, the year the Bear and I were married. (My in-laws are American expatriates, having retired to NZ in the 1990's).


I didn't really know my in-laws until we made that visit. I had met them for the first time at our wedding. When we visited them in NZ, it was a good opportunity to get to know both of them. My mother-in-law and I did a lot of cooking together, which was a very nice bonding experience. She let me go through her cookbooks one day, looking for something to make when friends were coming. I chose this Pineapple Nut Bread based on the ingredients she had at hand. It was so delicious I decided to write down the recipe to take it home with me. I'm glad to have written it down because I can't find it online! Above is my hand-written recipe, which I carried home in my suitcase after our visit. I've made it many times since; it's an easy recipe that makes a very nice loaf.


Pineapple Nut Bread

3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
3 tbsp. soft butter
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 can (8.5 oz) crushed pineapple
3/4 cup chopped nuts
2 tbsp. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a loaf pan, 9x5x3 inches.

Cream brown sugar, butter and eggs until fluffy. Measure flour by dip-level-pour method or by sifting. Blend dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Stir half the flour mixture into creamed mixture, add pineapple and juice, then remaining flour mixture. Blend thoroughly. Pour into prepared loaf pan.

Mix granulated sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and sprinkle over batter. Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool before slicing with a thin, sharp knife.
 

I like to make this loaf with walnuts, but I'm sure other nuts, such as pecans, would work well. I always use pineapple in juice, as opposed to syrup. I think it tastes more like pineapple and it keeps the sugar content down, of course. I rarely buy small cans of fruit, just because they're more expensive, so with this recipe, I weigh out 8.5 ounces from a larger can and store the rest in a container in the fridge, or just feed it to my fruit-fiend children.


The loaf comes out with a nice, crisp coating from the sugar topping, and it's delicious to eat right away, but I think it's even better the next day. The pineapple flavor deepens and the bread is much moister and a little sticky, more like cake. It's delicious with tea or coffee. Be careful slicing it; I find that the recommendation for a sharp, thin knife is a good one because a serrated bread knife tears it apart. I store my loaf in a rectangular plastic container with a tight-fitting lid and it's good for several days - on those rare occasions that it lasts for more than two.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Blossomtime







Year after year, it's the same - my plum trees bloom and I can't tear myself away from them, heading outside just to stand underneath, inhaling deeply and staring up into branches thick with frothy, pink blossoms. I take a lot of photos, which look about the same every year, playing with camera settings to try to capture exactly what I see. I want to remember them in brassy summer and in brown winter. I stand there for a long time. I probably look a little strange to the neighbors, but I think they're used to it by now. I'm always outside taking a picture of something - sky, trees, mesa and mountain. Things inside need my attention, but I stay just a minute longer as the petals take flight on a sudden breeze, coming back in the house with petals in my hair and in the folds of my shirt. There are some stuck to the bottoms of my shoes and I will find them later, dried stickily onto the tiles in the kitchen. Another year, another brief season of pink petals everywhere. My plum trees are important to how I mark time - the seasons pass but the years pass even faster. Spring is here again.
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