Friday, March 29, 2013

Easter week

Easter's on its way! This is my favorite holiday of all. Easter crafts have been coming home from school and Mini Eggs have been eaten with gusto.

We'll buy our ham tomorrow morning. I have a tasty holiday dinner planned, along with a simple brunch. We'll have a quiet holiday at home, just the four of us. On Saturday night, we'll make the small Bears' Easter baskets and hide jellybean-filled eggs for them in the backyard.

I bought their Easter goodies a few days ago. We keep it pretty simple but I think they'll like them. The GB is getting a new box of sidewalk chalk and a Hello Kitty wristwatch; she really wants a watch of her own, just like Brother. He's getting some new tennis balls and a bag of "punch balloons." The candy is to be divided between them.

I'm almost done with the top of my Scrappy Trip-Along project! I had plenty of time to work on it this week with the traditional granny afghan finished. I've never been one to have more than a couple of WIP's at a time; I find it stressful. I like being back down to just one.

Good things this week:

~ I survived my annual (lady-related) exam. I rewarded myself with a vanilla milkshake and a pretty skein of yarn.

~ It has been warm all week, dare I say it's even been kind of hot in the afternoons. More sun than clouds, but not the most brilliantly sunny week overall. I'll take the warmth, though.

~ There is no school today and we're ahead in our homeschool work. We have the GB's pre-ballet class this morning. This afternoon, a good friend who makes me laugh a lot is coming over with her two little boys. We'll play in the backyard and have a good time.

~ I'm eating strawberries every day lately. This is the way life should be.


Thank you so much for the compliments on my granny afghan. I really appreciate your kind words. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

More Liebster Love, Part I

"The Liebster Award is for blogs with under 300 followers and the rules of the award is that the nominee must link back to whoever nominated them, write 11 random facts about themselves, answer 11 questions from the award giver, and then nominate another 11 bloggers and make up 11 questions for them to answer. It's a great way for new and undiscovered bloggers to meet new people, get more followers and find some blogs that they want to follow."

I have recently had the pleasure of being nominated for FOUR new Liebster awards! Wow. I'm having so much fun with blogging. I'm meeting lots of new bloggy friends, learning great techniques and tricks for better blogging, getting lots of new crafty ideas and generally enjoying my time in Blogland even more now that I have my own little space. 

I've decided to respond to my Liebster nominations over a couple of posts, two awards for each. I think that will allow me to give my award-givers and the awards themselves the attention they deserve. For this first post, I will respond to my awards from Elisabeth, at Elizy Art Crochet and Stephanie, at Crazylittlelovebirds. Thanks to both of you for my awards! 

Elisabeth and Stephanie are very talented and crafty, and their blogs are wonderful places to visit. Please check them out and say hello!

11 Random Facts about Me!

1. My very first celebrity crush started when I was about six, and it was on George Michael. I saw the video for "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" and I was in love with him for the next five years.

2. I still have all five of my childhood Barbies and their clothes and some of their furniture.

3. I rarely wear makeup, but when I do, I wear Clinique. It's one of the few things I let myself be snobbish about. I'm also a snob about mayonnaise: Hellmanns/Best Foods, or nothing.

4. My refrigerator is named Adele. It was delivered to my house the morning after Adele (the singer) won all those Grammy Awards and I named the fridge in honor of her.

5. A boyfriend broke up with me because he wanted to become a priest. He's a Jesuit father today. We're still friendly.

6. Every day, I drink two cups of tea from a giant cappuccino mug which was a favor at a dorm dance in 1997 and which I've been drinking from since the day I got it.

7. "Mr. Rogers Neighborhood" is in my top five favorite TV shows ever.

8. I enjoy doing the laundry. But I have pretended to hate it because that seems more normal.

9. I worked in grocery stores when I was a teenager and I can still remember some produce codes.

10. I don't have any tattoos and my only piercings are two in each earlobe.
11. I can recite the Preamble to the US Constitution from memory.

Elisabeth's questions:
1. What is your favourite day of the week? Friday. My husband has every other Friday off from work because of the way his work hours are accrued, so we have a three-day-weekend every other week. "Fridays Off," as we call them, are very nice. We do things as a family and beginning with the coming school year (this August), we'll be alone together in the mornings on his Fridays off! Both children will be in school then. I can't wait.
2. If you were an animal, which would you be and why? I would be a house pet, I think. Maybe a dog or a cat, because I love to be at home and would love to be able to curl up in a sunny patch and take a nap whenever I wanted.
3. What is your favourite song? "One" by U2, since I was thirteen years old.
4. If you were President/Prime Minister for a day, what would you do? My answers would probably be controversial (ha), so I think I'll just say that I would shake a lot of hands and kiss a lot of babies. :)
5. What are you afraid of? Medical treatment. Spiders. In that order.
6. If you could speak another language (that you don't already know) which would it be? Arabic. My mother is of Syrian descent and I always wished that her family had taught us to speak Arabic. I listened to them speak Arabic when I was growing up and I understood some, but never well enough to speak it myself.
7. What craft do you want to learn but have never tried? Weaving. I could learn, since my mother-in-law is an accomplished weaver, but I find it intimidating. I'm sure she'd be glad to teach me, but I'm afraid of doing something bad to one of her beautiful looms!
8. Which country do you most want to visit? So many, but I'd probably start with the UK because it's quite different from my own country but the language is the same.
9. If you had a day all to yourself completly free of responsibilities and things to do, what would you do? Sleep! Ha. Eat a quiet meal in a little restaurant, sew and crochet a lot, eat all the snacks I love, drink real Coke and not share with anyone, read for hours...this sounds pretty nice!
10. Do you have any bad habits? I pick at my split ends and touch my face too much. I was a lifelong nail-biter until about a year ago but crocheting has helped me stop. I hope to never start up again.
11. If you could go back in time and witness a famous historical event, which would it be? This is a hard one, it's difficult to choose! Seeing the first men walking on the moon would have been great; being alive during the feminist movement, especially for big events like Roe v. Wade would have been interesting, the ends of WWI and WWII..

Stephanie's questions: 
1. Where have you recently traveled to? And did you enjoy your time there? My husband and I went to upstate New York in September for a friend's wedding. My husband was a groomsman in the wedding. The wedding was in the city we lived in when we were first married and where our son was born. I did enjoy it; it was a lovely wedding and it was nice to see our old friends but it also reminded me that I was glad to no longer live in that area.
2. Do you enjoy working out? And do you prefer working out morning/evening/night? Truthfully, no. I don't enjoy working out. I know that's not the right thing to say, ha. I do it because I should, not because I like it. I prefer to do it in the early morning.

3.  Plain water, or flavored water? I haven't really tried any flavored water, so I'll go with plain.

4. Where do you currently live? Do you enjoy it there? I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico and I love it here. It's not perfect, but as transplants to the area, we have built a nice life for ourselves and found ways to live which suit us.

5. What season do you enjoy the best? I think it's a tie between spring and fall.

6. Do you enjoy gardening? Yes. I don't love the back-breaking parts of it, but I do find it fulfilling. If I could just plant, and harvest, flowers all year long, that would be ideal.

7. How many pictures would you say you have taken so far this year? Oh boy...close to a thousand? I take a fair number almost every day.
8. What's your favorite fruit, and why? Strawberries. I just love them, and have all my life.

9. Do you have a nickname? I have a few. Most people who know me call me Jenny, short for Jennifer. My father has always called me "Jenny Wren," or just "Wren." My husband often calls me by the nicknames "Thistle" or "Bee."

10. Do you enjoy doing home improvement projects? For the most part, I do. I don't particularly enjoy painting or heavy cleaning, but I like decorating and sprucing up.

11. Why do you blog? The primary reason is that I love to write and take photos of my life, and because I think it's important to take time to appreciate everything good about my life. Blogging is an easy way to do that. I also like to communicate with others who have similar interests and values, and share creative things I have done, and get ideas for new creations (and admire those others have made!).
My questions for other bloggers!
1. Do you have any pets?
2. What is your favorite movie? What is your least favorite movie?
3. Have you ever been on an ocean cruise? Where did you go?
4. What was your best subject in school?
5. Name three kitchen utensils you can't live without.
6. Chocolate or vanilla? 
7. What was your most hated job?
8. Can you play a musical instrument and if so, which one(s)?
9. Can you roller skate? Skateboard? Ride a bicycle?
10. Who is your favorite character on the TV show "Friends"?
11. Wine or beer?

And now I'd like to pass the Liebster Award on to the following bloggers! Please take some time to visit these blogs, they are all interesting and lovely to read. 

I'll be posting soon with the responses to my other two Liebster Awards and more blogs I'd like to pass on the award to! Thanks for reading and for participating.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Traditional Granny Afghan

It's done! I have finished my granny afghan. This was not my favorite project to work on, as there were pitfalls and annoyances along the way. But now that I have finished making it, I feel better about it every day.

So grab something hot to drink (I have my tea), and let me tell you the story of my traditional granny afghan!

It all started back in early January when I spent a morning at Hobby Lobby, perusing yarn. I'm probably an irritating customer, what with the way I spread yarn out all over the floor in the yarn aisle, looking for the perfect combination of colors. People probably can't wait until I just get the heck out of there already.

Choosing the yarn is one of the best parts of starting a new project and I think people ought to understand that. Nobody really seemed to mind, but I do think stores which sell yarn should all have big open spaces to try out colors together; so far I have only seen this in small, independent yarn shops.

I ended up with a lot of yarn. It was all worsted-weight acrylic, most of it in the Hobby Lobby I Love This Yarn house brand, with a few skeins of Vanna's Choice, for shades I couldn't find in the ILTY range. I wanted to use tough, inexpensive yarn for this project because the blanket would get lots of use. My small Bears play with blankets very frequently, and they can be hard on them

I wanted bright, vibrant colors which would stand out against my main color, a dark blue. This blanket was intended for use in our family room, where the couch and recliner chair are upholstered in dark blue chenille. At home, I added assorted small bits of worsted acrylic yarn I had left over from other projects, and I had quite a wide spectrum when all was said and done.

Though I only photographed my assortment with one skein of the main blue color, I actually purchased three of them that day, thinking it was enough to get me started and that I'd just get more as I needed it. Frustratingly, it didn't work out that way, as I'll discuss more later...

I started making individual five-round granny squares. My plan had been to stitch them all together into a giant blanket after they were made. I had originally planned to make, I think, 146 of them, to achieve a certain size. It was going to be big. I got to work immediately after I bought the yarn because I had a LOT of squares to make. I used Bunny Mummy's granny square tutorial, which I also used for my giant granny square.

I liked making the squares. It was really fun to come up with combinations of colors and to play around with darks and lights. I wanted this blanket to look very scrappy, like it really had been made by somebody's "granny" a long time ago. And making granny squares is very addictive, especially when you get good at them; I was flying through the yarn.


I loved making them, but I also loved laying them out as they were made. I would move them around like tiles, deciding which ones looked best together. I was still planning to make this blanket out of small squares stitched directly together, remember, so this seemed important. Soon, I had stacks and stacks of these little squares.

When it got warmer out, I even took my show outdoors, hooking on the patio as my small Bears and I whiled away the sunny afternoons in late winter. Ah, bliss.

And then I realized something: three skeins of my main color might not be enough. I realized this around the time I had fifty squares made. I panicked at this point because I had heard through the Ravelry grapevine that Hobby Lobby was possibly discontinuing their I Love This Yarn worsted acrylic, with plans to bring it back under a new manufacturer sometime in the future.

I checked our local store, and they had almost nothing left, and neither did their website. My own color was completely out of stock in both places. I asked for help on Ravelry and had a very helpful offer from the lovely Kashi (Ravelry and bloggy friend) to check in her store where she lives in Iowa so that she could send me a skein; alas, they were all out in Iowa too.

Silly me, I should have just bought a lot more yarn while they had it, but I didn't know they would discontinue the whole line. They really should have hung a sign to warn people. I am sure that would have been bad for their business, but this was becoming bad for my mental health. I really worried about it, especially after all the work I'd already done, not to mention the money spent.

So I revised my plan: now I would make only eighty squares, but I would put them together in blocks of four, with several rounds of color around each block, and then sew the blocks together. It would look very similar to Lucy of Attic 24's gorgeous Big Blanket in its design. The blanket would still be large, but I would not need as much of the main color. It seemed like a fine plan.

When I had all eighty squares made, I spent most of an afternoon doing my tile job with them. There were so many to play with and I loved every second of playing with them.

Now I needed to stitch them together in fours to make blocks, and then do a few rounds of color around each block, with the blue as the outer round. I had twenty of these blocks when I was done.

Then I was going to stitch the big blocks together. But I soon realized I didn't have enough yarn to do that either. So I taught myself Lucy's join-as-you-go method, which was actually very easy; I'm glad I learned it and I know I will be using it again.

I chose to do the joining this way because I thought it would save yarn, and it did. I was still frustrated, though, because this was yet another change to my plans and I didn't particularly want to learn a new technique just then. I like to learn new things without so much duress, ordinarily.

And the shenanigans don't stop there, for when I started the JAYG I realized that I STILL didn't have enough of the blue color to join all twenty of my blocks, so I had to jettison five of them and make my blanket with only fifteen, in a three-by-five configuration. Now I have five lonesome blocks hanging out on my desk/crafting workspace. But I digress...

Once the blocks were joined, I could start my border. I never understood why people bothered with edgings or borders; it always seemed to me that they were superfluous. But Lucy's blog, as well as others like Jacquie/Bunny Mummy's, showed me otherwise. Blanket borders are wonderful.

For the border on my blanket, I chose to do one round of the main color, which just about finished off my supply of it. Then I did six more rounds in other colors from the blanket. For that first round using my main blue color, I followed Bunny Mummy's tutorial for making a flat edge on granny squares. I also used this technique for the first round of each of the small blocks of four squares, just to keep them flatter too.

I finished the whole thing last Thursday afternoon, at the end of our book-on-CD session. I was thrilled! The blanket looked pretty good and my small Bears immediately started using it, wrapping themselves in it on the couch. Since then, it's been used almost constantly.

Want to see it? Here's a whole bunch of photos!

What do you think? I like it. The Bear says it reminds him of millefiori glass. That's a little fanciful, but I see what he means. Each small square does look a little bit like a flower, which makes me excited to try one of the more flowery granny square patterns.

Here are some closer-up photos of the more technical aspects of making this blanket, since I did a few things which were new to me. First, here's a photo of my JAYG seams; it took a little while to get the hang of this method, but it really wasn't bad at all. I think this will be the go-to method for me now.

And here's the slip-stitching I did for the original joins of the small squares into fours. I don't know that I'll join this way again in the future, unless there's a good reason not to JA(I)G; this actually makes my hands hurt while I hold the squares sandwiched together for stitching. It did come out nice and neat, though. The little ridge is kind of attractive to me.

This photo shows how the flat-border method works; you would do this at the juncture of two granny square corners. It's a 2dctog in the right-hand corner and 1dc in the left-hand one. This reduces the number of stitches therefore keeping the border from getting too bunchy or wavy, which is what would happen if you just did a regular granny cluster (3dc) in each space.

Can you see in the above photo? Between those two turquoise clusters, you can see the 2dctog/1dc combination in the darker blue.

The blanket actually ended up being quite large, certainly big enough for our TV-watching and fort-building needs. I tried it on the GB's bed, and it could even be used as a coverlet.

She wasn't actually that pleased with my experiment and asked me soon after if I would "please put my owls and head-chops [hedgehogs] blanket [her usual quilt] back on my bed now?" Yes, ma'am. Of course.

And how about a picture of me with my blanket? Getting daring now, posting a picture of my whole face. Please excuse the pasty, exhausted look; I was lying awake all night thinking about my blanket!

And that's my traditional granny afghan. We've been through a lot together. We've laughed, we've cried, we've even done a little bit of swearing. But in the end, we're good friends. We've shared a true adventure.

Here are some stats for this blanket:
  • Finished blanket size: 64 inches long by 42 inches wide
  • Approx. 4000 yards of worsted acrylic yarn
  • Size I/9 (5.5 mm) Susan Bates Silvalume crochet hook
  • 15 blocks, each 13 by 13 inches
  • 3-inch wide border
  • Began January 6; finished March 21.
Go make one! Make yourself a funky, vintage-y granny afghan and show it to me when you're done.

Monday, March 25, 2013

52 Weeks of Happy - 12/52

Joining in with Jen at little birdie, here are my four photos of happiness for the past week.

Flowers by my bedside make me very happy. It's a simple way to make the bedroom feel fancy. These daffodils are in a jar prettified by me. I've been loading up on daffodils lately; they're inexpensive and so cheerful. I think I'll buy some more when I shop later this week.

These are Cadbury Mini Eggs in an antique cut-glass dish. So totally happy.

As a devotee of the GreenGate blog, I was very excited a few months ago when they announced a lower-cost line of their clothing to be sold at UNIQLO, but we don't have one of their stores and shipping is a little high for buying online. I really wanted one of their stoles, though. I was still pining for one when I went to Payless Shoes and found the above scarf! The print is a little different from the GreenGate ones, but so pretty. I love the colors and the size; it's huge and can be worn in a lot of different ways. I wore it last week with my favorite bright pink t-shirt, and it dressed up my shirt nicely. I'm so happy with this find.

It's finished. My traditional granny afghan is done and we used it all weekend on the couch and around the family room (it was cold and windy, and we did a fair bit of lazing). I'm happier with this blanket than I thought I would be. It was not the happiest project to work on but the finished product is growing on me quickly, which makes me very happy. More on this blanket very soon...

Saturday, March 23, 2013

This week

Little darling  
The smiles returning to the faces  
Little darling  
It seems like years since it's been here

Here comes the sun  
Here comes the sun, and I say 
It's all right

                  - George Harrison


Hello and welcome to my new readers and followers! I'm so glad you're here. 


Thank you for all of your lovely comments on my posts and photographs. I especially appreciated the comments on my "Lazy afternoon" post, pertaining to my family's life at home. It's very important to us to have an organized, peaceful home, to truly love being at home together doing simple things, and we try very hard to impart that to our small Bears. It isn't always easy, as any parent knows. But I'm glad our choices seem to come through so clearly in my writing and photos. My time at home with my family is one of the greatest pleasures in my life.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Plant progress

To borrow a line from one of my favorite movies, "It's all happening."

Spring is here, officially. And spring has sprung in the yard. Roses have leaves. Everything is greening up quickly. We even have flowers: my pink hyacinths bloomed in the past couple of days.

The weather has been a little changeable this week; we've had a fair number of cool, cloudy days and there's a storm coming through this weekend which will bring especially cool temperatures and high winds. I hope this won't be the swan song for my plum blossoms.

I love this time of year and the way it all seems to happen at once. One morning this week I looked out the kitchen window toward the trees across the arroyo. They were green! A pale green haze surrounded them like a mist. They hadn't looked that way the day before. The wonders of springtime.
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