Monday, March 31, 2014

Lady luck and me

I've had a streak of luck again lately with blog giveaways and I wanted to share my winnings and say thank you to the bloggers who hosted the generous giveaways. Please stop by their blogs and say hello. You'll love what you see. I'd also like to put my own readers on alert: watch this space because I have a little something up my own sleeve.

I won this beautiful handmade wool fairy doll in a giveaway on Elaina's blog, A little bit country. Elaina held her giveaway in conjunction with a friend, Emma, of Little Anahera. Emma makes these dolls in New Zealand, where she lives. When I won, I was asked what color I'd like my doll to be and I told them purple because that's my favorite color. The doll is made with several different shades of purple, and she holds a bouquet of wool flowers in shades of pink, purple and blue. I really love this doll. She is beautiful and delicate. I had originally planned to display her in the GB's room, but when I realized how detailed and fragile she is, I decided to put her in a safer spot instead. She's in our dining room hutch, where she can be seen through the glass windows and she looks very pretty among the dainty collectibles I keep inside. Thank you for my lovely little purple fairy, Emma and Elaina.

I won this watercolor painting in a giveaway on Jessica's blog, Jessie Lilac. Jessica is a very talented painter. She creates beautiful folk-art scenes of animals, plants and people. I really like her work because it's colorful and whimsical, with a touch of the ethereal too. I'm sorry this photo is a little funny but I was trying to capture the detail in Jessica's painting; the colors are beautifully shaded and there is a lot of fine detail in the cat figures and the flowers. In her giveaway, Jessica offered two paintings and asked her readers to choose the one they'd like to win. This one just called out to me. I love the colors and the sweet little green-striped cat with the big pink spotty one, it must be a mama cat and her kitten. As an enthusiast of all things affectionate and motherly, I just had to have this painting. Luckily, I was the winner and now it lives with me. I'm still looking for the perfect spot. This prize just might be destined for the GB's room because the colors would work perfectly in there. I think I will frame it nicely first. This is the first piece of real art I've ever owned and I'm really proud to have it. Thank you, Jessica.

This giveaway was a fantastic bounty of goodies. I won these items from Pam, at Virginia Retro. Pam is a collector of vintage table linens, dishware, glasses and other housewares. Her collections are incredible and she puts together fabulous tablescapes with her vintage pieces (I learned about tablescapes from her blog; I'd never heard of this term before but now I'm all about tablescapes here at home with my limited selection of pretty linens and table decor). I knew I'd be winning lots of interesting things in Pam's giveaway, and that there was a Saint Patrick's Day theme, but she sent even more than I'd expected. Pam included a beautiful embroidered tablecloth and napkin set with a grape motif, a very pretty vintage half-apron, vintage note cards and postcards (some of them written on and mailed long ago, so interesting!), an adorable hand-made Saint Patrick's decoration and other spring- and Easter-themed items like window gel-clings, a pretty handmade card with a note from Pam, a vintage potholder, a small Christmas cross-stitch kit, and gifts for my kids too, including a Beanie Baby rabbit, plastic stencils and books! I really enjoy seeing what Pam's been up to with her vintage-marketing excursions and her home decorating. This giveaway was very generous and I feel privileged to have some of Pam's thrifty and vintage finds. Thank you, Pam.

Once again, I feel grateful and honored to be part of this lovely blogging community. Thank you to my readers old and new for coming back to visit and for being supportive and friendly. I'm so glad I started blogging! To think that I once felt skeptical that anyone would read my blog at all, let alone keep coming back. I'm blowing kisses to you, my friends!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Saturday afternoon

It's spring and we're loving it! This afternoon was beautiful and we spent most of it outdoors. We did weeding and pruning in the front yard and played in the backyard when we were done. We introduced the chickens to their coop earlier this week and they've been spending most of the day in there, coming indoors to their brooder at night where it's warmer for them. Soon, they'll move out to the coop permanently. In the meantime, we've enjoyed watching them acclimate to the coop, and we let them walk around in the yard a little bit too. They're a great addition to our family. I have to admit that I'm eager to have them in the coop full-time now that they're bigger (and stinkier), but the process of raising them from chicks has been interesting and fun for all of us.

We sat on the patio for hours after we finished the yard work. This is where you'll find us on weekend afternoons, in all but the hottest and coldest weather. The small Bears play and the big one and I relax. He played the guitar and I crocheted, making a few more circles for the GB's blanket. He made us margaritas, our first of the spring season. It's one of our favorite warm-weather drinks. Some friends stopped by to borrow a tool and checked out the chickens. Their kids are a few years older than ours but they were just as excited about the birds. I made a lazy dinner of corn dogs and tater tots for the small Bears and later, after they went to bed, the Bear and I had a typical "date night" dinner of soup, olives and bread. Vanilla ice cream is still forthcoming. We're watching Top Gear on Netflix. I think I'll pick the next show when it's over. I have my eye on a documentary featuring my beloved Stevie Nicks.

Saturday afternoon is my favorite time of the whole week. We always get things done in the early part of the afternoon (the yard looks beautiful right now; seriously, we worked our butts off and it looks like professional gardeners were here). Then we kick back and relax. There's nowhere to go, nothing pressing to do. It's the one time in the week when I really feel like having a drink, so I usually do. We look forward to eating alone and watching a movie or TV shows later on. When the weather is good, we spend a lot of time in the yard. I don't want to be anywhere else on Saturday afternoon. I look forward to this time all week. My favorite place, my favorite people.

Our Margaritas

2 oz. Cointreau
1.5 oz. simple syrup
1.5 oz. tequila (we like Cuervo Gold)
2 oz. lime juice

Combine all ingredients in cocktail shaker with ice, shake vigorously and serve in salt-rimmed glasses. Above measurements are for one serving.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Color Collaborative: March: Bud

When I give people directions to our house, I do not tell them to look for the rusty, yellow-painted fire hydrant in front of our property, or the peach stucco fortress-like structure, inlaid with indigo-colored ceramic tiles, which houses our mailbox. No, I tell them to look for the three plum trees all in a row, planted in the xeriscaped strip of land between the sidewalk and the street. You can't miss our trees, whether you're approaching from east or west. If you've passed the three plum trees, you've passed right by our house. You will have to throw your car into reverse, or possibly backtrack on foot, but you'll never forget which house is ours.

We didn't know anything about plum trees when we bought our house. The realtor's listing had included, as features of the property, the terms "mature garden fruit trees" and "spring flowering trees." This was intriguing, and promising, verbiage. We were motivated by the idea of fruit and flowers. We watched videos about tree maintenance and consulted our expensive, locally-published desert gardening guides. We moved into the house in mid-July, after the trees had flowered. They were just starting to produce fruit then. They made tiny, mouth-twistingly sour plums, dark red in color, mostly pit with very little fruit. We picked them hopefully, filling a small plastic container with hard, jewel-like fruits. We nibbled them tentatively and spat them out on the sidewalk.

We watched our plum trees that first year. In fall, the leaves did not change color (much, anyway; they went from burgundy to a muddier reddish-brown). In early winter, as would be the norm every year thereafter, a strong windstorm stripped all the leaves in the space of one night. Most blew away, never to be seen again, but some gathered in the stones under the trees, others inside the planters at the base of the mailbox fortress. Then the trees stood bare for three months. All the while, we wondered what our trees would be like in spring.

Then the moment arrived: in early March, the tips of every branch suddenly became rounded and red. The tree was budding! The tree would flower. If there are buds, there will certainly be flowers. Well, usually. We've had late frosts and you know what that means. But it usually works just fine, the way nature intended: the tree buds, the tree flowers, the flowers are pollinated, fruits form. It's a simple rule and a reliable one. The plum blossoms start as tiny, hard red nubs, tightly closed and betraying little sign of the splendor within. They do not yet have a scent, and they will make your fingers red if you crush one between them.

You watch those little buds every day, getting bigger and starting to split, revealing pale pink insides. One morning, you go outside and some of those buds are open. The flowers are delicate, five-petaled like rounded stars, candy-pink with orange anthers. Even this early, when there are just a few flowers in scattered clumps - mostly on the eastern sides of the trees in our case because it's the side sheltered from the wind - there is a faint, sweet fragrance. At this stage, you have to be right under the trees to notice it but it's there, fragile and clean.

Soon, the trees fill up with flowers. That tree on the right is the westernmost tree and it takes the longest to bloom. Its buds wait patiently for warmer nights and calmer breezes before they open and the whole tree explodes with pink. Then all three are in bloom; for about three weeks, our home is heralded by clouds of pink blossom, the trees visible from both ends of the street.

On clear days, the pale pink blossoms are in vivid contrast to the sky. The sun shines through the petals and they seem to glow. The flowers also stand in contrast to the developing leaves of the plum tree, darkening red as they mature. Days like this are made for sitting at the top of the front yard, which slopes gently to the street, gazing contentedly at those lovely trees. Days like this bring the neighborhood walkers by, people who slow down a little when they get to the stretch where our trees are planted; you can see them inhaling and looking up through the branches briefly as they pass, pink petals falling around them. "Nice trees," say a few. "Thanks, I really love them," I'll reply.

On rare cloudy days, they look even more delicate somehow, as if they're worn down from the effort of performing so hard under the sun, from dazzling passersby and homeowners alike. Without back-lighting from the sun, both flowers and leaves seem darker. The clouds provide less contrast; the pink doesn't shine the way it does against cerulean skies. But the combination of pink and gray is beautiful too, reminding me of a Japanese kimono - pearl-gray silk emblazoned with fine sprays of rosy fruit-blossom.

A plum tree's glorious mantle belies its humble beginnings. The hard, red nubs it sends forth in early spring hold a magical secret - one I wait impatiently for every year, especially that first one when plum-tree ownership was still a mystery. I know the trees well now, but plum-blossom time has not lost its charm. I still feel a thrill when I notice those first buds at the tail-end of winter. I still check the tree daily - sometimes several times a day - waiting for those buds to finally spring forth into frothy pink blossom. I still stand under the trees, my family watching me with raised eyebrows, staring up into their branches, allowing myself to be enveloped by the scent and the color and the insistent buzzing of thirsty bees. I take photo after photo, hundreds of photos every March, documenting the transformation of these trees.

Oh, and those plums? I've gotten braver in recent years. I even tried making a plum crisp with them two years ago. It was disappointing. It needed more sugar - exponentially more than I used - but as a true romantic where all things homey are concerned, I was proud to say I'd cooked with my very own plums, which were grown on my very own locally-famous plum trees. And it all started with those tiny red buds.


 Don't forget to visit the other Colour Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts, including one from March's guest blogger, Sarah at Mitenska. Just click on the links below:

     Annie at Knitsofacto         
 Sandra at Cherry Heart    
Gillian at Tales from a Happy House 
CJ at Above the River
Sarah at Mitenska

What is The Colour 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 colour related theme, and hoping that in combination our ideas will encourage us, and perhaps you, to think about colour in new ways.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Monday randoms

* I am now a person who buys straw.
* It was too windy to go to the park this afternoon as planned.
* I had already prepared strawberries for the park, so we picnicked indoors.
* I baked a coffee cake. I don't much like coffee, but I loooove coffee cake.
* I made a birthday card for my brother-in-law, using my new alphabet ink stamps.
* The chickens are becoming real pets, even eating from our hands.
* The wind died down, the children went outside and I read my new Sunset - LOOK at that cover!
* We ate slow-cooker minestrone soup for dinner; easy, light and plentiful.
* Interesting remainder of playtime in the backyard.
* First apple blossoms of the season - our tree survived!
* Beautiful Sandia sunset as seen from our backyard.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Simple fairy wings

Miss GB is in her second year of "pre-ballet" class. We've enjoyed pre-ballet very much. This fall, she'll be considered a regular ballet student and we're looking forward to that too. In pre-ballet, one of the things we've both enjoyed most is the use of props or simple costumes in class, depending on the exercise being taught; the props are incorporated into the dances and movements. The teachers rotate the props seasonally too; they have various items for summer, Christmastime, Valentine's Day and more. A few weeks ago, as spring began to set in, the children began using pretty "fairy wings" made from floaty chiffon fabric. The wings clipped onto the backs of their leotards; attached elastic bands held them in place at the wrists. The wings seemed to be made from a long strip of fabric with a little stitching for structure. They didn't look difficult to make. The GB loved them so much, I decided to make one to play with at home. It was quick and easy, maybe 30 minutes from start to finish, and really inexpensive to make. If you have basic sewing skills, you can make one too. My how-to is picture-heavy in order to help explain what I did.

You'll need just a few simple supplies:

One yard of flowy fabric (organza and chiffon are good options)
Thread to match the fabric
1/4-inch elastic (enough for two wrist bands)
Ric-rac or other fancy trim, if desired
Safety pin or other child-safe device for attaching wings for use

I used shimmery organza fabric from Hobby Lobby; it's normally $4.99 per yard, but I applied my weekly 40% coupon, which reduced the price to about $3.20. For the fancy trim, I used some metallic silver ric-rac, which I bought on sale at 50% off, making it $1 per spool (I used about six inches of ric-rac from a 3-yard spool). I already had the sewing thread and elastic (and big safety pin) in my sewing supplies. I chose to use a large safety pin for attaching the wings to the GB's shirt whenever she wants to wear them; I keep it pinned through the wings when they're not in use. She needs help putting them on and taking them off, but it's a simple and cheap solution. You could also use a metal clip or even a large paperclip, though you might need to add a little loop to the back of the wings to make a clip work.

To save money on fabric, and because I wanted the wings to be long end-to-end but relatively narrow top-to-bottom, I cut the organza along the fold line that it came with from being wrapped on the bolt. My organza was 44 inches wide. By cutting on the fold line, I had two 22-inch-wide pieces that were one yard long apiece. This allowed the wings to be nice and flowy.

After cutting all the way across on the fold, pin the pieces together at one of their shorter ends. Then sew a straight seam right down that edge. I sewed mine with a 1/2-inch seam, to help prevent unraveling. Alternatively, you could do a rolled hem here, or serge the very edge (or sew a zig-zag stitch if you don't have a serger). You could also hem the long sides before sewing the short ones together. I didn't bother to do anything to the edges, but it's certainly an option if you're concerned about unraveling.

When you've sewn your seam, it's time to do some folding. Do you remember folding paper to make a fan? You'd fold the paper in narrow segments "over and under" until the whole sheet was incorporated. I did the same thing with the fabric here. Then I spread the folds out a little bit until the fabric laid basically flat, giving it a shingled effect. Then I pinned the folds into place from top to bottom. It doesn't need to be perfect; you're just giving the wings a place to attach to your little fairy's back, and creating gathers for flowy-ness at the same time.

After your folds are pinned into place, stitch them down with a straight seam through the middle from top to bottom. I went over both ends several times to reinforce the seam there.

This step is purely optional but if you want to make that folded seam area look a little neater, while adding a bit of pizzazz, you can stitch something pretty right over it. I used metallic silver ric-rac (just a small piece, about six inches in length), but you could use a little bit of ribbon or lace here too. I pinned it on, then changed my stitch function to the widest zig-zag stitch setting and zipped right across the ric-rac. I used the same pink thread and it's nearly invisible in the metallic weave of the ric-rac. I like the look; it neatened up the wings' seam and added some sparkle.

Next, measure your fairy's wrists and cut two pieces of elastic to the desired length. I made mine about 5 1/2 inches long; this would allow about 1/2 inch for stitching the ends together securely. I used a zig-zag stitch to sew the ends together; this is the stitch I like best for attaching elastic to itself. Then I attached an elastic band to each end of the wings. To do this, I folded the upper corner of the organza over and around the band a few times, sort of encasing the band inside the fabric. Then I stitched it down with a zig-zag stitch to fasten it.

The last step was attaching the safety pin. I put it through the top of the folded center area (the top being the edge of the wings you've sewn your wristbands onto). I pinned the wings onto the back of the GB's shirt and she put the wristbands on.

Work it, Girl Bear.

We're both happy with her fairy wings. I made them over a week ago and she has played with them almost every day. She loves to dance and most days, she'll spend awhile just dancing around the room in her own way. She likes to put the wings on sometimes now that she has them. She's not a dress-up-mad kind of girl, but she does like her play tutu, as well as her tiara and magic wand. Sometimes she's a ballerina, other times she's a fairy. These fairy wings were a good addition to that costume and she also likes to wear the wings by themselves. I like them too; they were simple and fun to make. Sewing for her always makes me happy.
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