Wednesday, January 29, 2014

January, outside

We've had a beautiful January. The days have mostly been sunny, and relatively warm. We haven't had any snow this month. This is probably a bad thing, given that we are still in moderate drought here. But the weather has been so agreeable this month, it's easy to overlook the downside of dry, sunny weather day after day.

We've spent a lot of time outdoors - taking walks, playing in the yard and getting a head-start on yard work and pruning. Weeds have continued to grow and leaves are still accumulating in the courtyard, where the trumpet vine grows entwined in the vigas above. We prune our rosemary, lavender, Russian sage and nandina around now too. We collect our clippings in a big, old galvanized bucket, to be bundled for the city to take away in the spring. We rake the gravel in the xeriscaped front yard, spreading it evenly under the plants. It's so much nicer to work outside when it isn't oppressively hot. Or icy cold - we get both extremes at some point in the year. I'm trying not to get ahead of myself, though. We still have at least a few more weeks of winter.

The Bear and I work together, sharing tools and each keeping an eye on the small Bears as they intermittently play and help with simple tasks. There might be a picture of the four of us in the dictionary next to house-proud. The roadrunners scatter, but they don't go far; they watch as we work, sprucing up their habitat. We take good care of our house, inside and out. It's important to us. As we prepare for another growing season, we are thankful for our well-planned yard, for aromatic, drought-tolerant plants, for sunshine and soft breezes and roadrunners. We tend to our fifth of an acre on a quiet street in a pretty neighborhood. A mild January feels like a gift. Our bucket is full.

Sunday, January 26, 2014


Private Friday coffee date :: Serious chicken research :: A little thrifting :: Arcade birthday party - she loves skee-ball just like her mama :: My favorite fried rice recipe :: Evening fires :: Saturday-morning music classes at the university :: Scholarly pursuits :: Winter weeding :: Monkey business in a tree :: A pixie in the garden :: Birthday card-making :: Working with our own apple wood :: Hand-stitching :: Wood chip-soaking :: Maple-glazed smoked salmon :: Wonderful weekend with my favorite people

Friday, January 24, 2014

My girl, right now

I'm having such a good time with her lately. She's busy - movement and noise, twirling and talktalktalk. ♥ She still loves her baby dolls. She told me that she is their mother and their doctor, which they like because shots don't hurt as much when a mother gives them. ♥ She likes to be comfortable, usually choosing leggings over jeans, and she loves her dresses. We do a lot with her hair, now that it's long and thick. She sits patiently for French braids. ♥ She is friends with both boys and girls and has lately attended a birthday party (or two) almost every weekend. There are no cliques or mean girls in her life yet. ♥ She loves school, especially art time, and is reading more and more. She'll be registered for kindergarten soon. ♥ She is learning to do arabesques in pre-ballet class. She delights in her body and all the things it can do. ♥ Sometimes I wish I could freeze her at five - happy and free.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Of gifts and gratitude

When I began blogging, I had few expectations. I hoped people would eventually find my blog and that a few would want to be regular readers. One year later, I've found this and more. I've been overwhelmed by the camaraderie I've found in the blogging community. I've made friends and I've learned a lot about many different kinds of crafts and artistic pursuits. My blog has become a source of comfort and happiness in my life, a place to write down my feelings, record beautiful sights and keep track of my days, however loosely. But blogging is a funny situation. I've read many people's ruminations on what a blog should be like, how much to share, whether we should write for ourselves or an audience. I'm still figuring it out. I try not to be negative here, but it happens sometimes - like the last time I posted. I was having a hard day and the subsequent two weren't so good either. And yet, I think blogs would be strange, unnatural places if we never shared anything but the happiest sentiments or experiences. I'm grateful when people say my blog is "real" - I personally think it's the highest praise a blogger can hope for.

Friendship has been the most unexpected outcome of blogging for me. It surprises me because I'm one of those people who has a few very good friends, as opposed to a wide social circle. I'm closer to people I've known since kindergarten than I am to almost anyone I've met as an adult. I don't meet many people who care about the same things I do, which makes me sad sometimes. But in blogging, I come across them all the time. I don't know exactly why this is; maybe maintaining a blog - writing thoughtfully, nurturing photography skills, sharing step-by-step how to cook or craft - attracts people with a certain set of values. Whatever the reason, I am so thankful for the kind people I have met and how they seem to know me, even without having all the details.

I've lately been the recipient* of several generous gestures of friendship from people I've met in the blogging community and I'd like to share them now.

Before Christmas, Jill from I Should Have Listened to My Mother had a giveaway. I was the lucky winner of this very generous Christmas-themed gift. Many of these items were a surprise; I think I knew I could win a fat quarter of Christmas fabric and a carved slate ornament. I was very excited when Jill notified me to say that I had won her giveaway. When I received my package in the mail, all the way from the UK, I was happy to find all these other goodies inside too. Jill sent a lovely hand-written card, toffee-fudge hot chocolate mix, a cookie-decoration kit, a small Santa-shaped tin of jellybeans and a small package of Lindor truffles (which happen to be one of my favorite treats). This was such a thoughtful giveaway prize and my whole family enjoyed opening the package and looking through the contents. We put the ornament on our tree right away and we look forward to using it every year. Thank you, Jill.

Also just before Christmas, I received a surprise package from Janine, of the blog Simple Things. Janine also lives in the UK. We have become friends through blogging and I was the winner of her Carry It Forward giveaway this summer. Janine sent me a package to thank me for being supportive of her blog. I was so touched by this. I didn't expect it, of course, but it made me so happy to know that I've affected her that way. I'm so thankful for Janine's thoughtful gift to my family. She sent crafty Christmas things for us to play with. There are styrofoam shapes, stars and reindeer, to paint or decorate in any number of ways. There are lots of stickers, Christmassy clips and a folding paper snowflake decoration. We had fun painting some of the foam shapes and we've saved some to work on next year too. The stickers will go on our kids' daily sticker charts at Christmas next year. Thank you so much, Janine.

Just after Christmas, I received another surprise package from the UK, this time from Leanne of Today's Stuff. I have felt for a long time that Leanne and I have a special bond. We seem to think about things in a similar way and I enjoy her very honest, matter-of-fact writing style. Leanne sent me a package of beautiful items and I was so touched by her thoughtfulness - she really does seem to know me because she sent things I would have made a beeline for if given the chance to choose them for myself. She sent me two tea towels, one with a beautiful matryoshka design and the other with a lovely sewing motif in a line-drawing style, complete with bunting. She also sent a lovely stitched fabric badge with a teacup, and two beautiful greeting cards - and chocolate for my children. I have to say that I was a bit overcome when opening this package and reading Leanne's note to me; I'm amazed at how well she knows me.

Here's a closer look at the tea towels and the teacup badge. They are absolutely beautiful and I love them all. I will use each item with pride and affection. Thank you so much, Leanne.

Also just after the holidays, I received a package from Hawaii, containing this beautiful little bracelet. It was made by Jayne of Bead Crumbs. Jayne is a very talented beader and jewelry maker. She has been very supportive of my blog and was one of my first followers too. Jayne had made some bracelets, like the one above, using tiny clay roses and leather. She offered them to her readers as a gift and I asked for one. I wanted to save it for when the Girl Bear gets a little older. It came in a pretty pink mesh bag with ribbon ties. The GB did see it when I opened the package but she doesn't know yet that it's for her. It's still too big for her now and I've put it away for safekeeping, but in a few years it will fit, and I'll be reminded of Jayne's kindness and generosity whenever I see it. Thank you, Jayne.

Finally, I received an incredible package from Linda of Chalky's World. This gift was meant to be a way of thanking me for having helped Linda with some blog-setup tasks when she made some changes recently. She said she wanted to thank me for helping, and I was sure anything she sent would be lovely, but I have to say I was completely taken aback by her generosity when the gift arrived. I was actually crying by the time I finished opening each small package in the envelope. Linda is another friend who knows me very well and I was so touched by this. She sent a beautiful embroidered pillow cover with crocheted trim, stationery, strawberry-themed items (I adore strawberries), a bookmark with my name on it, a beautiful pair of knitted fingerless gloves, and even gifts for each of my children.

Each item was individually wrapped, some with this darling matryoskha paper. There were dotty ribbons and twine and prettily-printed brown paper with French wording.

Linda sent each of my children a wrapped package with a lovely note attached. She sent the GB a little zippered plush bear purse, which she loves. She also sent them both stickers, and small packets of tissues, which they have placed in their schoolbags. The LB received an eraser from Japan, with the same Shinkansen train-related theme as his stickers. We're working on a thank-you letter for Linda from all three of us but we did want to share that he has been very interested in the Shinkansen train and Japan in general. To help him learn more, we've been in touch with a relative who lives and teaches English in Japan. Via Skype, he helped the LB learn to write and speak his name in Japanese. The writing has made slow progress but he's already a master at the spoken version!

Linda's fingerless gloves are just gorgeous. I've been wearing them all the time. They are soft and warm, and they fit perfectly. I love the little shell buttons she sewed on. They're pretty and delicate. I am honored to have such a beautiful handmade gift from a good friend. I should also say that Linda wrote me a lovely, long note, which had me a little emotional too. I admire Linda in so many ways - as a mother and wife, as well as in our shared history as teachers - and I am very grateful for her friendship and generosity. Thank you so much, Linda.

And thank you to all of my blogging friends for your friendship and support. I'm so glad to be part of this community.

*If you've been reading my blog for awhile, you know how much I adore receiving mail. I have shared photos of foreign postage and postmarks in the past, and I did photograph them all this time too, but I decided to hold the photos back. Some had personal info in the margins and didn't crop nicely. I didn't want to bore anyone either. Trust me - packages from the UK, and from Hawaii (my first ever!), brought all of the usual excitement.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Odds and ends

Monday is being rather unkind so far. The LB woke up with a fever of nearly 104 degrees, with complaints of a sore throat. He doesn't have school on Mondays anyway, but he would definitely have stayed home if he did. The GB's school is closed for Martin Luther King Day, so they're both here all day. I think she may be symptomatic soon too, based on the slightly woozy look in her eyes. It's a loll-and-watch-TV kind of day. We're in the family room watching PBS. They clamored to watch Dinosaur Train, to my dismay. Give me Sesame Street or even Thomas the Tank Engine any day, but I give Dinosaur Train a big thumbs-down.

I'm still bouncing back after some dental work I had on Friday. Avert your eyes if you're sensitive to discussions of dental work. I am in the process of getting my first crown. The tooth had an old silver filling which had cracked and was "leaking" underneath, causing new decay. Gross, huh? My dentist showed me a picture of the decay, which she took with a little wand-style camera after she pulled the old silver filling out. There wasn't much tooth left to begin with, but what remained looked like a pebble. Then she took more away to remove the new decay and I hardly had any tooth at all. Oh, the endless drilling. She took impressions for my shiny new crown and sent me on my way with a weird rubbery temporary molar glued in (and some Fixodent to glue in back in if it falls out). I have to go back for the crown next week. I'm not happy about this turn of events. I take very good care of my teeth and now I'm going to have a porcelain molar. Stupid silver filling. My mouth was swollen all weekend, making it difficult to drink from a cup, and I can't stop "chomping" on this fake rubber molar. It's on top and I keep wanting to drive my lower canine tooth into it. It's maddening, and uncomfortable. To be more precise, It's like having a wad of days-old, chewed Bazooka jammed into a tender place in my upper jaw.

The Bear and I have been watching the new season of Downton Abbey and we're just not feeling it anymore. This season is crazy! If you aren't caught up, don't read this paragraph. What the heck happened to Tom? Did Edna drug him? And in that era, would he really have spilled his guts to a woman about this debacle, as he did with Mrs. Hughes? And how can Bates possibly believe that Anna merely fell and hit her head? Although, he did seem to be questioning things toward the end of last night's episode. I have a lot of opinions, as you can see. So let's talk about other things I've been up to lately...

I'm getting started on a new crochet project. This is going to be a gift for my in-laws, who moved to a new house here in Albuquerque before they went back to New Zealand in November (they divide their time between NZ and here). I'm making them a throw for their living room, using the Vintage Crocheted Throw pattern from Churchmouse Yarns and Teas, which I came across on Ravelry. I love the look of it; it's another variation on the ripple, but I like the pointiness of the design. It's an easy one too, though I haven't actually done much yet. I've just got a few rows so far. This is the yarn I'm using. All of it is Caron Simply Soft, which is one of my preferred acrylic yarns. My in-laws have a very earthy color scheme in their home, so I went with soft tones. In the bottom row, there is Persimmon, Off-White and Light Country Peach. The upper row contains Light Sage and Bone. I like these colors, though I have toyed with adding a very light blue. I probably won't do it, though; sometimes I can't stop adding new colors once I start and I'd prefer to keep this color scheme simple.

I've been working on the wall above our family room couch, trying to come up with a pleasing arrangement around our family portraits. I made two embroidery-hoop frames with fabrics - a blue mosaic-type design with orange and green, which I shared in my recent hoop tutorial, and a simple pale gray with white polka dots. There is a glare on all the glass in this photo, and all the frames are crooked, but I've also added some framed art postcards from my collection. I'll probably add a few more things over time. I really like the big Scrabble tile decoration, which I found at Hobby Lobby (it was half-price the day I bought it!). It just so happens that there are four of us and that's how many points an H is worth in Scrabble.

My current reading material is a bit light and fluffy. I really want to sink into a big, delicious novel such as The Goldfinch, which everyone is reading at the moment. But the library has about ninety zillion holds on its copies. I've been enjoying these books, though. Under One Roof: Lessons I Learned from a Tough Old Woman in a Little Old House is a true story. The author is a construction foreman involved with a shopping mall-development project; he was in charge of notifying homeowners that their houses will be razed to make room for the shopping mall. Then he met Edith, who refused to yield to the developers' demands. It's both a sad story and a happy one. I'm also reading Tina's Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary, which is a graphic novel. I think it's aimed at young adult readers, but it's adorable and very engaging. Tina is an Indian-American teenager who is learning about Sartre and existentialism in school. She has to keep a diary on the subject for a school project. The book is very funny, full of wry observations about her life. It's sort of like Daria meets Catcher in the Rye.

Future coop location?

I've also taken a huge technological step. I've been using our Nook e-reader. The Bear bought it months ago when we had some gift cards we needed to use. He really likes it, but I've been hesitant - worried, even. Like many people, I love holding a book, turning the pages, breathing in the book-smell, trying to decipher notes left by previous readers - all of those book-life things you can't get with an e-reader. Do you know that scene in Back to the Future, when Marty McFly crashes into the 50's farm family's barn, and they're terrified because he looks like the alien in the son's comic book? Well, the e-reader was my HazMat suit-wearing, Van Halen-listening guy in a plutonium-powered DeLorean -  I was afraid of the future. Then a few weeks ago, we began to seriously discuss a topic we'd mused on for years: chicken-keeping. We'd like to get a pair of hens, maybe this spring. I wanted to read as much as possible first, of course, and the library's best resources are mostly electronic. So I steeled myself and borrowed three of them. I really disliked it at first, but I'm adjusting. I really want chickens. We have a good space for a small coop near the apple tree. If you've got any chicken tips, lay them on me, please.

So there you go - hooks, books, Nooks and chooks. A big hello and welcome to new readers and followers! I'm so glad you're here. And thank you so much to all who comment and offer insights and support. I'm very flattered by your comments on my apple tree post - me, writing a book! Wow, that would be wonderful. Kind of a lifelong fondest wish, really, and part of why I blog. I love having a space to write. A few have commented on my new blog header, and I appreciate your kind words. My talented husband made it for me. I'd wanted to lighten up that space on my blog for a long time; the photos headers just seemed weighty to me. The graphics are from a set of vector art we purchased online very inexpensively and he made the header in Inkscape (he added the tiny pink heart himself, at my request). I had the new header waiting in the wings, feeling shy about making the change, but I had a surge of boldness this weekend and I'm glad.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

About a tree

Before pruning

After pruning

This week, we had our apple tree professionally pruned. Three arborists came to the house on Wednesday afternoon. They brought all manner of saws and a gigantic wood-chipper on wheels, which they parked in the street in front of our house. They didn't take a lot off the tree, but you can definitely see a difference. I asked them to leave the biggest pieces for us to add to our firewood pile; to my surprise, they chopped and even stacked it for me. They swept the patio under the tree and even chipped some plum tree branches we'd pruned ourselves last week. These men were veritable dynamos of tree maintenance.

I've been worried about this tree. It's probably about as old as the house, which was built in 1980. It's very old for an apple tree. We think it grows Golden Delicious apples. Its apples are small and tart, and have been prolific in previous years. We eat them straight from the tree; with the fruit, we also make pies, applesauce and fruit leather each fall.

This year was the first with a meager apple harvest. We had a feeling this would happen; there was a late freeze in the spring, and very few blossoms. We knew there were also some dead branches which needed to come down. The tree had begun to grow too far over the roof as well, mostly over our bedroom at the back of the house. In fall, we'd listen to apples dropping onto the roof above our heads, which was pleasant. But they would accumulate up there, then clog the canales during heavy rainstorms. I was truly sad to have so few apples this year. I love to feed my family from our own tree. It feels pure and clean - I happily take self-sufficiency wherever I can get it. But the apples this year were sparse, and the ones which did grow were misshapen and even smaller than usual. I didn't make anything with our own apples this fall. I felt this keenly.

In early August, we first contacted the tree service and they sent one of their experts to our home to perform an evaluation. He felt that the tree probably didn't have much time left, a few years at most. But his prognosis wasn't all that negative; he suggested a very good pruning and a change in our watering habits (actually using less water than we had been). He said fruit trees all over the city had done poorly this year because of the aforementioned late freeze, and that pruning the dead buds would help. He told me to call in January and that's what I did. We feel hopeful, now that the work is done. It may soon be curtains for our apple tree, but this was the right thing to do. We won't plant a new apple tree here, it's actually not the best location for one. If it does die, we plan to replace it with a Chinese pistache, which does well in our climate and is beautiful, with vibrant fall color.

We would miss the apple tree very much, though. It has been an important part of our lives here. It gives wonderful shade. It's tall and graceful - or it was before the branches began to die. The small Bears have always enjoyed playing under the tree. We moved here when the LB was almost four years old, the GB about 10 months. Our first week here, I set up their wading pool on the patio under the tree. It was July, with temperatures in the 90's most days. I sat near the pool while they played in dappled sunlight. We were so happy to be in this roomy house in a pretty neighborhood. We used our new backyard every afternoon, in that time-warping space between naps and dinner. I soon realized that the wading pool needed to be moved to the other backyard patio, far from the apple tree, which was shedding debris into the water. I was disappointed; it's very sunny over there, which felt much less idyllic. It still does, even now, as I sit squinting and sweating in relentless sun while they play in their current (much larger, sturdier plastic) pool in summer. But they still want to play under the tree when they aren't swimming, and I'm really glad.

We spend a lot of time on blankets near the tree, especially in spring and fall, when there are fresh breezes and the ground is cool. The tree shades most of the backyard in afternoon, when the sun has moved to the west. We go outside when we're finished with our homeschool work; we laze, read books and talk. We watch contrails streak across a deep blue sky. We watch our anemometer spin as the wind comes up. The tree is alive with activity: leaf-shadows dance, hummingbirds hover, bees drowsily buzz. We observe our tree in every season; we know its patterns. We feel lucky to have a fruit tree in a climate which isn't always hospitable to them. We hope our tree has lots of time, but we know we may have to say goodbye soon. We're glad to have known our tree.

And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in everything. 

                                                               - William Shakespeare, As You Like It
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