Wednesday, April 30, 2014

At sunset



Late April, my backyard.

After I've put my daughter to bed, I go out to the backyard and wander. It's pleasant in the evenings now and I go out barefoot. The patios are still warm from afternoon sun, the grass is growing soft and green again. I pick up stray balls and bats, take the patio umbrella out of the table in case the wind comes up, park bicycles more neatly under the porch roof. Soon, I'll have potted plants to water. The light changes minute by minute as the sun sinks lower in the west. The green things get darker while the mountain lights up pink as its namesake, the watermelon. The chickens settle into the coop as the sun fades. They converse contentedly, using their brand-new clucking sounds. I'm contented too, savoring the cool, new grass under my feet, thinking about the new growing season, the end of the school year, the beginning of the long summer break. There will be beautiful sunsets for months to come, but these are my favorite ones; it's novel to be outdoors in the evening, in light and warmer weather, smelling the neighbors' barbecue grills, knowing my children will both soon be tucked up inside, outdoors-tired again from their play in the afternoon.  Eventually, I go inside. There is a reading boy to tuck in now; first, we compare our shadows, lengthening on the garden wall. Then the house is quiet. I have my yarn and hook and a stack of library books. My heart is full with my day, the patterns and routines which make up this life I lead, this home which isn't perfect but suits us fine, the family I share it with, the mountain I can almost reach out and touch, the sinking sun and the painted sky.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Patchwork therapy

I've gotten into the habit of keeping a bag of cut fabric squares in my desk drawer. When I get a new fabric, I cut a few squares with my 2.5-inch template. This is especially quick and easy to do with jelly roll strips because they are already 2.5 inches wide. Zip-zip-zip through a few of them with my rotary cutter and I have a pile of squares for the bag. It's instant patchwork anytime. Sometimes I take them out just to play with them.

I was having a hard day last week - nothing serious, just an accumulation of everyday stress. I felt a strong urge to sew, to pick and mix from my bag of squares. I wanted to sew straight lines - simple and almost mindless. I wanted to look at bright colors. I wanted to create something eclectic. It was a beautiful afternoon and I sat at the kitchen table with my sewing machine, the sliding door open to the back patio, where the children were riding their bikes. With the door open, I could hear them talking and laughing and I could smell the pyracantha and photinia blossoms on the breeze. The window straight ahead of me, at the end of the breakfast nook, was filled with early honeysuckle blooms.

I sewed short, straight lines - five strips of twenty squares each, repetitive and soothing. The strips looked random and eclectic, just like I wanted. I think it might become a table runner. I draped the strips over the back of a kitchen chair as I finished piecing them. They glowed there, lit from behind by sun through the sliding door. They were cheerful. I felt accomplished. My children were happy. There was afternoon sunlight, pretty calico, fresh air and the laughter of my own two small Bears. I felt better and better.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Ten random things

Inspired by Annie

I love to do the laundry. Clean, fresh laundry makes me very happy, and I like all of the associated tasks: sorting, folding, putting it away. Even buying laundry detergent or dryer sheets gives me a little thrill.

I almost bought an issue of Mollie Makes this morning; picked it up and thumbed through it and everything. But I can't make myself buy an $8 magazine, even if it does come with a craft kit and even if I do recognize several people in it from stalking perusing crafty blogs all the livelong day.

I once had a job in a gas station, where they sold that cheap fake "cappuccino" from a machine. They told me I could have any drink I wanted for free while I worked, and I went straight for the cappuccino because it seemed so fancy. I drank cup after cup, and by the end of my first shift, my hands were shaking so much I couldn't operate the cash register. I drank Sprite after that.

I can't play any musical instruments. I never really wanted to, which raises a lot of eyebrows for some reason. It just never appealed to me. But I do like to sing. I can even belt it out occasionally.

If I had to pick a pet peeve, it's gainsaying, especially as it pertains to negative experiences. Really, if you have to always be the one who has been through the very worst life has to offer, then you win. You've got it worst of all. Congratulations, you miserable creature.

I'm currently obsessed with Law & Order, ever since I discovered it had been added to the streaming content on Netflix. I watch an episode or two most nights. Detective Sergeant Max Greevey is my secret boyfriend.

Before I joined the blogging world and started winning giveaways, I'd won exactly two games of chance in my whole life: a radio call-in competition where I won a pair of tickets to see the Quad City DJ's perform off-season at a ski resort (they are famous for this terrible song), and a raffle held by the Students for Environmental Awareness club in my high school, where I won a basket containing shampoo, conditioner and a bar of soap.

I have, however, won every spelling bee I have ever participated in, so there.

I've never lived with a cat. I've hardly even touched a cat. I have nothing against cats, I just haven't had much contact with them. I like to watch them, though.

I'm looking at my refrigerator right now, and I see, on top: a basket holding a bag of potato chips and a bag of pretzel sticks, a set of garden nippers, a potato ricer. On the side facing me: a calendar, free by mail from Betty Crocker, the April page featuring "mini rainbow whoopie pies"; two different digital timers; a photo of a relative and his wife and dog; two medical appointment reminder notes for my son; a coupon for $5 off toilet paper at Target; a coupon for $1 off a sandwich at a sub shop I don't like; a grocery-list notepad I forgot I had; a magnet which looks like a Band-Aid, with the phone number for our preferred Urgent Care facility; a magnet which looks like a space shuttle designed by my husband's employer sometime in the 1990's; a lanyard held by a magnetic clip. And that's just the top and one side.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Color Collaborative: April: Tradition

Every year, for as long as I can remember, Good Friday is for dyeing Easter eggs. This is when we did it when I was a child and I've carried the same tradition into adulthood. Before we had our children, the Bear and I dyed eggs together. The small Bears joined us as soon as they were old enough. Both of our children were September babies, and each was six to seven months old for his or her first Easter. I put them in the bouncer seat on the kitchen table so that they could "watch" us dye the eggs. By their second Easters, they could help out a little. Now, at five and eight, they're old pros. They wear their art smocks, just as I wore one of my father's old shirts backwards to protect my clothes. They're fastidious with their eggs. They're nearly bursting out of their skin for most of the day on Good Friday, so eager are they to dye eggs in the afternoon, just like me when I was little.

In our family, we dyed our eggs with the same Paas kit every single year; this was before you could buy all the varieties they have today. I've seen glitter eggs, neon eggs, swirly eggs, even "tie-dyed" eggs, all from store-bought kits. But when I was a kid, there was just the basic kit with six colors: blue, red, yellow, green, orange and purple. The colors were clear and very bright - vaguely lurid, even. This is the same kit I buy today. You have to use hard-boiled white eggs for this, of course, and we look for the cleanest, whitest ones in the store. No cracks, no markings, minimal lumps and bumps. When dyed, they will be as perfectly bright and smooth as candy-filled plastic eggs hidden in new spring grass.

There is ceremony in preparing the dyes. We use our everyday stoneware soup bowls for the dye baths. The dye tablets, in their tiny plastic packets, look dull and dark. There is little hint of the bright colors they'll produce when mixed with white vinegar and water. Thousands of tiny bubbles rise as the tablet dissolves and the dye is released in clouds of intensifying color - brick-red to vibrant scarlet, greenish-gray to deep cerulean, peachy-tan to sunny golden-orange. The longer you let the bowls rest, the better. And don't forget to chop the tablets with the tip of a stainless-steel spoon. Every Good Friday, I wonder if this will be the year when the glaze on my Pfaltzgraff gives out, when the dyes will seep under the glossy finish and penetrate the pottery underneath. Every Good Friday, I am relieved to find that the glaze came through: my bowls will remain dye-free for another year.

It's a family time. We're hard at work, making our eggs festive, each of us assigned a set number of eggs to dye. My father and my husband share a passion for dyeing each egg with multiple colors, immersing each end of the egg in different dyes. The first year the Bear dyed eggs with my family, before we were married, they bonded over this. They both like to draw on their eggs with white crayon before dyeing too, to create a dye-resist effect.

I like my eggs to be one solid color. I leave my eggs in the dye bowl for as long as possible, spooning dye solution over them again and again. People get annoyed when you hog a dye bowl. But I like my eggs to look like jewels: bold, rich colors, dark and deep like amethysts, rubies and emeralds.

Eggs like these are the ones I remember, the ones we dyed as a family on Good Friday after a meatless dinner. These were the colors still clinging to my fingers on Easter morning as I pawed through my Easter basket, trying out the pearly pink nail polish or donning the necklace of plastic beads left by the Easter Bunny; the colors under my nails as I searched the green cellophane Easter grass for jellybeans and foil-covered chocolate eggs. Later, there were dangly earrings, or perfume; one year, a glass vial of Love's Baby Soft with a roll-on applicator. I didn't always have a new dress or shoes for Easter. But I did have a beribboned wicker basket with trinkets and candy inside. And I always had a belly full of sugar by the time I arrived at Mass, decked out in the new jewelry, maybe already wearing the new nail polish or the perfume.

Easter dinner, then as now, features our dyed eggs. We eat our eggs plain, sprinkled with salt and pepper, the whites palely tinged with pastel colors. My mother made deviled eggs, her own recipe, which I didn't appreciate as a child. I hated mustard and I thought pickle relish should only go on hot dogs. Eventually, I learned to enjoy them. Today, I set my Easter table with a pretty egg at each place, to be eaten with our dinner. The eggs make the holiday for me, simple as they are. They're as much a part of the meal as the ham, or the asparagus. We peel our eggs at the table, dye again staining our fingertips. Our egg tradition is important, as are the memories we're making. My children, too, will remember rainbow eggs, candy-induced bellyaches and a whiff of vinegar in the air.


 Don't forget to visit the other Color Collaborative blogs for more of this month's posts. Just click on the links below: 

Annie at Knitsofacto 
Sandra at Cherry Heart 

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, April 21, 2014

Pretty things

Hello! I hope you had a lovely Easter weekend. We enjoyed ours very much. We had relaxing time together at home, as well as a fun event with friends. Today, it's back to the normal routine. I've been straightening up the house and putting away holiday stuff. I breathed a sigh of relief when I managed to get strawberry stains out of a vintage tablecloth. Easter dessert had nearly taken its toll. This is the first of the final five weeks of the school year for us, can you believe it? I feel like I just sent them back, last August. This coming year, both will be going to the same school! How did it happen? I have to admit, my head is spinning a little bit. It will be good, though. We're ready.

Did you have good weather on Easter? We did. I think it had a lot to do with Easter's lateness this year; I hardly remember an Easter so late into April. Our weather was quite bad on Saturday, rainy and cool, but Sunday was splendid. We spent a lot of time outside (well, maybe not me so much, I had a lot of cooking to do, but I did get out a little). It felt like summer, with temperatures around 80 degrees. I actually said to the Bear that this is what it would be like to have Easter in the summer - bikes, bubbles, shorts and sunhats. I had such a good week. Our spring break chilled me thoroughly. I did so little but I did take lots of photos over the week, trying to capture the springiness of right now, seeking out the pretty, peaceful things around me.

Our irises are just starting to bloom. I don't love them the way I love my tulips, as I've discussed before. But they are very pretty and there are so very many of them. We'd had a quarter-inch of rain the night before I took this photo. That's a lot of rain for us. Everything looked so fresh and clean, the colors brighter, the edges crisper somehow. I don't get to see this very often and it sort of alarms me when it happens. It's like looking at everything through a magnifying glass - one which enhances every possible quality.

The roses of Sharon, growing on either side of our bedroom's door to the back patio, have their leaves now and had also collected raindrops that morning. The sight of rain on these leaves was beautiful to me, as was the sun shining weakly through the new greenness.

Our pyracantha hedge is just getting its flower buds. I didn't have any experience with pyracantha before we bought this house. It's really a strange plant. Our hedge runs the length of the back wall surrounding our property, providing some measure of security from the arroyo (large municipal drainage canal) behind us; the pyracantha boasts inch-long thorns on its brambly branches. If you don't know pyracantha, I assure you it's quite evil. But it's pretty too; these buds will become small clusters of white flowers, which will eventually become bright orange berries in the fall. Pyracantha is strange, but changeable and colorful. It's an interesting plant to have.

Somewhat guiltily, I admit that Betty is still my favorite chicken. She's a Barred Rock and I really love the way her feathers look. She's still as sweet and skittish as she was as a new chick, and she's fast - she zooms around the yard like the Road Runner (the Loony Toons one, not my local guys) when she gets free. The kids seem to prefer Ginger (unsettlingly huge Buff Orpington at the rear of this photo), with Penny as a close second, but I love that purty Betty.

Is there anything better than a brand-new box of crayons? The Easter Bunny brought one for each of the small Bears. Neither has ever had the 64-count package before, so it was an exciting moment. I searched through the GB's box to see whether they still include my favorite crayon - cornflower blue - and they do! It made my day. It felt really good to find that crayon and see that it still looks just the way I remembered it. As soon as they let me try their new crayons, I'm going to draw something fabulously cornflower blue.

I don't know how much longer I'll have egg hunts in pajamas in the backyard on Easter morning, but I promise that I'm savoring every moment while I can. And this boy is so kind to his sister, letting her find most of the eggs, almost always resisting the urge to outrun, shove or otherwise hinder her progress. *sniff*

I finally found vintage sheets worth a darn at the my favorite thrift shop. YES! I was so excited. They're 70's-era, I'd guess, but I don't know much about this area at all. I just really liked the colors and the fact that they're in very good condition. This is a set of two standard pillowcases, for which I paid $1.69. For the pair! I think that seems kind of low. Not that I'm complaining, you see. They had a matching flat full-size sheet too, but it was not in good shape. I only bought the pillowcases, which felt sort of like stealing them at that price.

I bought this skirt there too, on a different visit (I go there a lot). The skirt was $2.99, which was also a pretty good deal because it looks like it was hardly ever worn. It's made of gauze, with a drawstring waist. The strings have little copper bells attached to the ends. I love clothes like this. I mostly wear a Mom Uniform of jeans and t-shirts these days, but I didn't always. There was a time when I was vaguely cool. Well, I thought so at the time. I went to music festivals, participated in mosh pits, and wore weird fair-trade clothing items. Woven belts from Peru! Patchwork dresses from Tibet! This skirt is from India. I have a mom-ish black tank top which will look good with it, I think. In any case, it will cover my bra, so there has been at least one improvement.

I've also picked up some mismatched china on other recent trips to the same store. They're all small saucer-sized plates. The one on the left with reddish roses is sort of Corelle-like, that vitreous, semi-translucent material. It probably isn't old at all, but I like that it looks old. The one on the upper right is vintage Fire King! I'd never seen any in a thrift shop before and I snatched it up when I saw it. The flowers are wearing off a bit, but it's in good shape otherwise. The blue-rimmed saucer has no markings at all, but it was cheap and I think it's beautiful with the gold-leaf scrolled design. I'm using that one on my dresser to hold my bobby pins and hair elastics when I take them out at night.

Lately, I've had a fire under me about the circles for my flowers-in-the-snow blanket. I've got 51 of them now! Seriously. I couldn't believe it at first when I laid them out yesterday to count them. I really enjoy making them; the color combinations can be challenging to come up with but with so many yarns in my palette, I can usually make a good match. A few are a little questionable, yes, but I like most of them. My plan is to have this blanket ready for Christmas this year. It's for the GB, to keep on her bed just like the granny stripe I made for her brother last year. I have plans to sew a duvet cover for her in a couple of years. I want to use pretty vintage sheets for it, rosy-floral and feminine. I have visions of this blanket folded at the foot of her bed with this future duvet cover, and a mismatched pillowcase for the sham. Or a patchwork one...crocheted garlands and fabric bunting on the wall above, where I already have her name spelled out in painted wooden letters...fantasy decorating makes me so happy.

Lastly, I was bursting with delight when I had a peek in speed-demon GB's bicycle basket last week. We bought her a boys' bike at a consignment sale about a year ago. It's red and black with hornet decals all over it, so I felt duty-bound to girl it up for her. I bought a dainty basket, with pastel stripes and a big plastic flower affixed to the front, as well as a little bell for the handlebars. She collects things on bike rides, sometimes putting one of her dolls in the basket for a little ride. This day, she was carrying her Disney Princess gardening gloves from home, a curly wood shaving from the garage, a pine cone from down the street, and a seed pod from one of our mimosa trees. Later, a chicken feather was added. I asked her about her collection and she said, "Oh, it's just some things I like." Simple as that.
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