Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Color Collaborative: February: Storm

It's nearly always sunny and dry here in the high desert. They say we have about 300 sunny days per year. Almost every day is beautiful, even during extremes of temperature. It can be brutally cold in winter and oppressively hot in summer, but almost always, there are clear blue skies and bright sun. At the risk of sounding ungrateful, I get bored with beautiful skies. After long stretches of clear weather, I long for a stormy day, and I'm not alone: people here love rainy days and some will even take the day off from work to enjoy them. I think there's a sense that we need to savor rare opportunities to stay indoors - puttering around the house, lazing in bed or in front of the TV. When it's dark and damp for a change, we want to embrace the gloom.

Changeable weather is exciting to me. We have a weather station in our backyard, with a digital receiver mounted in the family room. I check it numerous times every day because I find weather interesting. But I have another useful gauge in the form of the mountain a couple of miles from our home. I always call it "the mountain," but it does have a real name, the Sandia Peak, and we live in its shadow. I write about it often, and photograph it a lot too. We are fortunate to have an excellent view of the mountain, from both inside and outside the house. It changes with the weather, as storms move through the area. Storms happen year-round, each season bringing distinct weather patterns, along with distinct mountain vistas. I've grown to appreciate all of them. The mountain itself is the one constant: dark and imposing, gray with blackish tracings of distant pines. The sky, the foliage at lower elevations, the clouds as they roil over the peaks - all of these change with the season and within an individual storm. It's a stunning show, one I watch avidly through east-facing windows, a cup of tea in hand.


During a snowstorm, the sky is bright white, with thick clouds between us and the mountain, obscuring it from view. This photo was taken in late afternoon, in December, just as a storm began making its way over the peaks, down the mountain faces and into the foothills. The sky was tinged lavender-pink as the sun set, the last weak rays of the sun reflecting on the higher clouds. The storm clouds stood out against the sky, deepening gray as they slowly spilled over the mountain. The mountain took on a rosy cast too, for just a few moments, as the sun sank lower in the west. I watched as the colors faded, pale tones darkening quickly - lavender and mauve at first, then violet, indigo, midnight blue, the mountain fading to graphite-gray. Night came and the storm settled in.


A spring storm is fickle. Often, the clouds roll in early in the day, becoming darker and heavier throughout the afternoon. If it's windy, there may also be dust in the air. It seems promising; the air smells damp and you know it's raining somewhere because you can hear crows distantly calling in that way they do when rain starts. This photo was taken in early spring, near the end of March, when trees were coming into flower. I stood in the raised planter bed to take this photo over the garden wall, looking east across neighbors' yards. An apple tree was blooming two yards over behind a steel chimney, delicate white blossom against dark stone. The other tree was budding, you can just see the dark red of the branch tips. The sky became darker as I watched, and eventually a little rain fell - just a few fat drops which raised a dusty scent from our concrete patio. The sky remained gray but changeable - an afternoon of low clouds and shifting light. I sat in the backyard while my children played, one eye on the sky.


Early June is hot, dry and still. But the end of the month brings change: the monsoon arrives, continuing through July and August, bringing frequent afternoon thunderstorms. The mountain is our barometer when a summer storm moves in. The sky darkens as clouds descend over the peaks, starkly white against the blackening sky. The clouds fill in between us and the mountain as rain moves in from the foothills. Sheets of water, dull and gray, pour from the sky. The first drops hit the north side of our house, splashing against the windows. Sometimes hail comes first, ping-ping-ping-ing on windows and skylights if the stones are small. If they're large, it sounds like golf balls hurled at the house. Our flat roof overflows, water sluicing through the canales and pooling in the grass. The arroyo runs with churning black water, debris caught in sudden rapids. I look forward to the monsoon every year. The promise of gray afternoons is exciting and I act accordingly - lighting candles, baking, sewing, reading, crocheting, always with a cup of tea. There is a delicious sense of hunkering. It feels cozy, but also sort of forbidden (hunkering in summer?) - and I love it.


In early October, we usually have our first taste of winter. There will be rain down here, but it will typically be snowing over the peaks. The storm may last for a few hours or a few days, but it always ends the same way: the clouds lift to reveal snow at high elevation, which lasts only a day or so, as seasonable temperatures return. Afternoons are warm through the month of October, but the nights are cold and deciduous trees begin changing quickly, turning from green to orange and gold. Along the arroyo, there are cottonwoods, sycamores, apple and plum trees, locusts and Chinese pistache, along with cypress and juniper. The changing trees glow against the dark gray of the mountain, which will begin to develop patches of golden-brown too, as stands of aspens at high elevation begin changing to their signature yellow. The trees along the arroyo shine bright on the darkest autumn days, sunshine in a storm.

The mountain provides an ongoing show, changing through the day as well as through each season of the year. I can almost use it as a calendar: there will be occasional white on the peaks by the middle of October, patches of ochre on the highest slopes by the end of the month. Springtime means blowing dust, a gritty veil between us and the mountain. Summer brings dark afternoon skies, white lightning, steel-gray curtains of rain sweeping across the foothills. In winter, snow and rock reflect a spectrum of pink at sunset, giving the mountain its Spanish name - Sandia means "watermelon." It's hard to ignore the mountain. Five years in this house and I'm still not used to the changing vista, which almost feels like a living entity. I find myself staring out at it; when I watch TV, my eyes slide up to the window to watch the mountain instead. It's an important facet of life here, helping to mark time. It's never the same and it's always the same. As I write, it's happening again: the sky turning from blue to gray, white clouds seeping over the peaks, crisp brown leaves swirling through our courtyard. Another storm is on its way.


 Don't forget to visit the other Color Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts, including two from February's guest bloggers, just click on the links below:

Annie at knitsofacto       Gillian at Tales from a happy house. 
    Sandra at Cherry Heart  
 Claire at Above the River
Jennifer at thistlebear

What is The Color Collaborative?
All creative bloggers make stuff, gather stuff, shape stuff, and share stuff. Mostly they work on their own, but what happens when a group of them work together? Is a creative collaboration greater than the sum of its parts? We think so and we hope you will too. We'll each be offering our own monthly take on a color related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about color in new ways.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Pompoms and pots

I love the look of brightly-colored pompom garlands. I've seen them on blogs and all over Etsy and Pinterest. I wanted one of my own, to decorate the shelf above my desk. I'm still working on making this space my own, ever since buying the desk and rearranging our home office back in September, and it's coming together nicely (more on this soon). I had been looking for a way to add a little more color to my corner of the office and a pompom garland seemed like a good way to do this - simple and bright, inexpensive and easy to make.

I bought several bags of 3/4-inch pompoms at Hobby Lobby, in a variety of colors - a large bag containing a mixture of pink, green, yellow, red, black, white, brown and light blue, and smaller bags containing orange, turquoise and purple. I wanted to have a good assortment of colors and they were so cheap - about $5 total for all four bags. I only used about one-quarter of my pompoms for this garland, so I can definitely make more (I'm thinking about making one for the GB's bedroom too). I wanted my garland to drape along the shelf, so I used a flexible measuring tape to determine how long the garland needed to be in order to hang nicely; the shelf is small and 40 inches does the trick. I cut a double-length of white sewing thread to this measurement, threaded it through a largish sewing needle and knotted the ends many times, to make a good "stopper" for the first pompom.

As I threaded each pompom, I moved it all the way down to the end. I put the needle straight through the solid middle part of each pompom. I strung my pompoms randomly, not in any particular color order, but I tried to pay attention to how colors looked next to each other. I also used the dark colors - black and brown - somewhat sparingly. I wanted to keep the look very bright and cheerful. The colors photographed brighter than they actually are; the red and orange are not nearly this fiery in real life. When I got to the needle end of the thread, I tied another big knot and cut the ends close to the last pompom. Then I moved them around a little to space them nicely.

My garland was ready for installation. I used thumbtacks, the flat brass kind, to affix it to my shelf. I used three tacks, one at each end and one in the center, to achieve the drapey look I wanted. I'm really happy with it! At first, I felt like I should have used smaller pompoms, like maybe these were too big and fluffy, but it's growing on me. It's festive and it really brightens up my little corner. The desk is white, the walls are white, the shelf is white - it's a lot of white. My garland breaks up the white and brings color and cheer.

Cute, right? I like it very much.

In other creative news, I did some planting with the small Bears this afternoon. Every spring, I plant some sort of seeds with them, usually wildflower seeds in the backyard, in an effort to teach them about the plant growth cycle. Our wildflower seeds are almost always a disappointment; a shaker-can of fifty different types of seeds usually yields growth from about three different types, and the amount of water needed to make anything grow is appalling - shameful, even. I've grown weary of shameful gardening. I decided this year to limit our seed-planting to small pots, to be started indoors. Well, we will plant sunflower seeds in the backyard later this spring, but those are pretty tried-and-true - I can usually make them work. I do like the process of growing from seed, though, and I wanted to continue that with them; there's so much to observe and it's a good learning experience.

I picked up these adorable painted tin pots, almost like little buckets, in a recent thrifting excursion. I paid 69 cents for each pot. They have plastic linings, with drainage space at the bottoms. I thought they were pretty nice. I picked up the seed packets at Home Depot last week. I was so glad to see them there because I had tried to buy some in the grocery store a few days earlier and the floral lady there said they wouldn't get any until April! That seems awfully late to me. I chose basil and chives, because they grow fairly quickly and this family would eat both of them - provided they grow well, of course.

Each small Bear took a pot and made finger-divots in the dirt (I'd filled the pots earlier with help from the LB, who is developing some mean trowel skills).

Seeds were added...

(Mildly) dirty little paws were examined...

The pots were watered by able young hands...

With hopeful hearts, we placed the pots in a sunny windowsill. When the seeds begin to sprout, we will make observations and write things down. I'll take photos too. I keep my camera in the kitchen, where we spend so much of our time, doing stuff-of-life stuff. Hopefully, in a couple of months, this will include eating foods prepared with our very own chives and basil. I'll happily photograph the pasta sauce, or the pizza, or the scrambled eggs, made with herbs we grew ourselves. Oh, that glorious future meal - I can already see myself making it! But first, we watch and wait.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Garden Saturday

After music classes this morning, we went to the Botanic Garden in the Albuquerque BioPark. This is one of my favorite attractions in our city and I take the small Bears there frequently in nice weather. It's a lovely place to walk around. Today, they held an event I really wanted to check out, the Winter Wool Festival, which took place in the Heritage Farm area of the Botanic Garden. The Heritage Farm is my favorite part of the garden, so when I heard that they'd be holding a wool festival there, I was excited.

The wool festival was interesting. There were only a few exhibitions but they were fascinating to watch, and the demonstrators were knowledgeable and friendly. We watched a drop-spindle demonstration, which I enjoyed a lot. I've watched spinners working at the wheel quite a bit (my mother-in-law spins this way) but had never really seen a drop-spindle in action. The spindles themselves were beautiful, hand-carved and made from varied woods. We also watched a fiber-dyeing demonstration. I learned a lot from the dyers; they had lots of books to share and they were eager to discuss their craft. I think they were working with indigo while we were there. I loved looking at their dyed wool samples, especially the over-dyed types. I've never tried dyeing before but I think I would enjoy it.

There were also knitting and weaving demonstrations going on, and lots of chances to look at interesting natural fibers. I saw someone I recognized from a Ravelry group for locals; I introduced myself and we chatted a bit, which was fun. She has a dyeing business herself and I admire her work. It was a nice event. It all made me want to try using natural fibers more in my own work. I've been hesitant to invest much money in yarn, thinking I should wait until I was "serious" about yarn crafts, but I think I've proven myself. Nobody else was saying this, just me. I think there's real wool in my future.

We spent lots of time in the garden, just strolling around and enjoying warm sun and early garden-growth. We looked at the G (garden)-scale electric train display for a good long while; we all love this. I can really lose myself looking at the little model buildings and figures - people with luggage, dogs riding on the backs of cabooses, cars and gasoline pumps and flower boxes in tiny windows. We spent much of our time in the Heritage Farm. This is a recreated 1930's homestead of the type which once flourished along the Rio Grande. It's a working farm, with fruit orchards, a vineyard, farmyard animals and a wonderful recreated period farmhouse. I love taking the small Bears there for a walk and a little learning. We also walked through the Japanese garden, another family favorite, and watched people throw bread crumbs to the koi. We'd eaten our own sack lunch earlier, while watching a folk-music trio perform in the Heritage Farm. All we had left was a clementine, and no, we do not throw clementines to the koi, little people of mine.

It was a beautiful day for a family outing. We've finally reached the point where nobody really needs a nap anymore; at five, the GB does still have a "rest" after lunch most days, but it's not a necessity. We can get out and do more now that they are older. It's liberating. Now we're home; there are K'Nex all over the family room and the GB is getting an lap-harp lesson from her daddy. We have bread in the bread machine; later on, the Bear and I will have fresh bread with our date-night tomato soup (the fancy refrigerated kind from Costco). I've got a hot cup of tea and new library books. Saturday has been kind to us.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Where you find it

They say gold is where you find it. I'm finding it here, there and everywhere - in my silly/serious children, in budding trees and early flowers, in good food and in creative pursuits, in warming sun and in the dirt. I hope you're finding it too.
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