Sunday, August 31, 2014

Manageable Annuals - August

I'm going to come clean right at the start - I wasn't going to write this post. I hemmed and hawed over it all week, deciding that it wasn't going to happen. As recently as twenty minutes ago, I wasn't going to write it. My barrel of annuals is struggling as we say goodbye to August and I'm a little ashamed of myself. Things were going fairly well until school started in the second week of the month and then I lost track of time and didn't take care of them as meticulously as I did all summer, when I had nothing but time. I wasn't going to write about it anymore because I was annoyed with myself. But then I decided I needed to finish what I'd started in May, by sharing the progress, or regression, of my annuals because I did learn a lot this summer.

August 7

The first two weeks of August were very dry, it seemed like the monsoon had given up on us. I continued watering every day but the plants began a rapid decline during this time. First the verbenas starting wilting and they didn't grow any more flower heads. Then the lobelia became completely choked and only a few living tendrils were left. There was a big hole in the middle of the barrel where I'd pulled out a dead petunia in July, and I think the open space helped the whole arrangment dry out more quickly after watering.

The geraniums continued to do well, I'll say that much. They're much hardier than I think I'd realized before and I am impressed with the way they seem to be outliving everything else. Though the petunias did seem to bounce back a little during this time.

August 19

I wish I could say that the dying verbena in front was a result of cold nights but it was still hot here and we'd even been getting more rain by this point. No, this was a result of busy-ness and inattention to my plants. The whole planter bed behind the barrel began to look like a jungle by this point too; I didn't have time to devote to weeding anymore. I'd been doing that in the early mornings but since school started, my mornings were packed with other things. I don't want to make excuses, I could have carved out more time for gardening but I didn't. I preferred to do other things, like shopping and cleaning, while I had some time apart from small people. Gardening, in containers or otherwise, seemed less pressing by this point.

I did keep watering, and the barrel was still benefiting from the drip-hose that runs whenever our sprinkler system does. And those geraniums just keep trucking; I haven't even kept up with dead-heading them as much as I probably should have done, but they don't seem to mind. They're unstoppable.

August 28

I can't believe I'm sharing this photo. Can you see what's missing here? It's the verbenas. They gave up the ghost and I ripped them out. They were actually crispy. Weirdly, the petunias seem to have come back to life in a big way lately, though they have become leggy. I think they finally have a chance to thrive now that the caterpillars of yore are making nuisances of themselves as moths somewhere. I know the soil looks very dry in this photo and you may be thinking, " wonder," but I watered right after I took this photo, I swear.

I'd ripped out the lobelia by this point too. It was scraggly and no longer flowering. But those geraniums, look at them go. I can't kill them, despite my very best efforts. And to be fair, there are still-living (but barely) verbenas around the back side, which you can't really see here. I was not surprised that the lobelia bit the dust, since I've never had success with them in several years of attempts, but I really thought the verbena would be hardier. I've seen it growing in much harsher conditions than the ones I'd subjected them to here, or so I thought. The geraniums keep going, though. Like the cockroaches, they may outlive us all.

What I've Learned

Next year, I'm going to plant mostly geraniums. I will also look at other plants, maybe non-flowering ones like coleus or "spike" plants, to put in with them. I've had moderate success with plants like those before. Geraniums seem to be able to withstand fairly bad care, so they seem like a good choice for me, especially for after school has started. Our school situation keeps me very busy and that has to be a consideration by August.

I'm going to plant fewer things. I'd tried something I read in a Sunset gardening book years ago, where they suggested planting lots of annuals in a pot for a ready-made lush look. But maybe I didn't know enough about the kinds of plants, or the eventual sizes of plants at maturity - something wasn't right here. The lobelia was dwarfed by everything else by July, and those ivy geraniums were spilling over a lot. I think the total plant loss this summer was three petunias, three lobelias and two verbenas. I didn't save my receipt, but I'm pretty sure the geraniums were the cheapest plants of the bunch and they did better than anything else. So I will definitely stick with them in the future. I have some reading to do.

I don't think I'll continue this series into September. By the end of the month the nights will probably be quite cold and there could even be frost, though it's usually a bit too early. Either way, I don't see the plants thriving so I'll end it here. I'm glad I kept track. I think I've learned a lot.

If you've been following along with my progress, thank you for reading and for the advice you've offered in the comments. I've appreciated it and will be referring to them in the future. I'm sort of glad to be wrapping up gardening season, I have to say. I've learned so much and become much more comfortable with high-desert gardening than I was a few years ago, but I'm still a beginner. I was good at planting when I lived in the east! But now I find it a bit stressful, to be honest. I've grown children, inside my body and out! I should be able to grow a few little plants. That's my mentality sometimes anyway. I know it's silly, gardening is an art like any other. I'll just keep trying.

Friday, August 29, 2014

A visit to Chile Traditions


To me, fall is the best time of year where I live. The monsoon fizzles out, but the weather is cooling down gradually. It's more comfortable to be outside. The sky during these months is beautiful. Oh, it's heartbreaking: dark blue, clear and open. You feel like it could draw you right up, envelop you in a cerulean cloak. Everywhere you look, there is a new burst of color: pyracantha studded with orange berries, locusts and cottonwoods newly tinged with gold, chamisa blooming sunshine-yellow. And the cooler weather is so welcome after the long, hot summer. I can't wait to wear my new brown ankle boots this year, to pile on scarves and a slouchy hat. Fall is my extra-super favorite.

In New Mexico, autumn begins in late August with the arrival of Hatch chiles in our grocery stores and at roadside stands. Hatch chiles are important to our state's economy and the chile is our official state vegetable. New Mexican cuisine makes heavy use of chiles in stews and sauces, and you can get chopped, roasted green chile on your burger in any fast-food outlet. This time of year, you can smell roasting chiles on the breeze, as chile vendors often roast them on site for customers. People also roast them at home, on barbecue grills. It's a spicy, smoky smell and it's everywhere. Roasting chile might as well be the official state scent.

This morning, I had several hours alone while the children were in school. I'm enjoying my new routine very much and making the most of my time, let me tell you. I was mostly shopping for party supplies - we've got a little girl turning six next weekend. A Frozen-themed party is planned. In Target, there was a little girl singing "Let It Go" while I shopped. It's a mania! Anyway, afterward I stopped off to see my favorite chile vendor, Chile Traditions, who operate a late-summer roadside stand in addition to their brick-and-mortar store nearby. I wanted to buy a new ristra, a decoration made from strung-together red chiles. I've always had one on the front of the house, near the front door. Ristras are a sign of welcome here in the Southwest. I buy a new one every couple of years, once the previous one has begun to dry out and fall apart. I love the look of them; at Chile Traditions, you can buy them in two sizes and different colors - all red or green, or mixed shades of red, yellow and green in one ristra. I chose a new all-red one, with large peppers. My old one was red too, but made of lots of tiny peppers. I felt like a change.

While I was there, I asked the manager if I could take some photos around the site, to share on my blog. He didn't mind, and I was soon snapping away. Chile Traditions' roadside stand is comprised of two big trailers where supplies are kept, with attached tents for displaying the chiles and making transactions. There's a sort of corral in front of the trailers where the roasters are kept; these are giant black metal contraptions outfitted with gas fires to roast the chiles. The workers load the chiles right into the metal drum and turn it to keep the chiles moving over the fire. It's hot work and there's a fair amount of smoke. The scent of the chiles is intense if you're standing close by; your eyes might start to water. The customer buys the chiles first, then they're roasted and returned to the customer in a big plastic bag, to be taken home and prepared. This is a huge task, one I don't enjoy - every pepper has to be peeled, the burnt outer layer of skin removed by hand (latex gloves are a must; don't touch your eyes!). The bag will have a lot of juice in the bottom and it drips everywhere. But every year, people buy 40, 50, 100 pounds of chiles and they get to work peeling and chopping and freezing - a whole year's supply of roasted chiles to hand whenever they want them (you can buy frozen ones all year in most food stores, but many people think it just isn't the same).

Usually, I just buy a few chiles and roast them on the grill at home. I'm not a big chile-eater, but I'll take a little here and there if it's not too hot. Chiles can be really spicy. I wanted to buy just six chiles today - the "medium" variety - mostly for the Bear to eat over the next few weeks. The manager very kindly included the chiles for free with my ristra purchase. He did that last time I bought a ristra too. I am certain I will always buy my ristras from him. I took my new ristra and my chiles to the car (you park in a dirt lot behind the trailers) and drove to my kids' school, hot sun on my face, the scent of roasting chiles still in my nose, my dusty, cherry-red ristra on the passenger-side floor. Have I mentioned how much I love living in this quirky place, with its beautiful skies and peculiar cultural staples? Oh, but I really do.

Chile Traditions roadside stand is located in Albuquerque's Northeast Heights, at the corner of Montgomery and Wyoming Boulevards. Their shop is just around the corner on Montgomery, in La Mirada shopping center.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Color Collaborative: August: Collection

Once there was a boy who lived in a tough neighborhood in Brooklyn. He had a Beatle haircut and wore Beatle boots, with brass tacks in the soles to make a clicking sound when he walked down the street. He looked a little like Paul McCartney, actually. He spent a lot of time away from home, where there was sometimes trouble. He eventually found trouble on the street too, and was "recruited" into the Boy Scouts, which helped him straighten out. He didn't really want trouble anyway; he was a quiet, thoughtful boy who loved to read and write. He also loved to collect things. He often picked up interesting items he found on the streets, sidewalks and beaches near his home, storing them in a Hellmann's Mayonnaise jar in his bedroom.

He wasn't picky about the things he collected; he liked variety. He kept it up, filling the jar by the time he was a shaggy-haired, hippie-ish college student. By then, he'd moved out of the city to a small town on the Hudson River. He was the first in his family to go to college. Eventually they moved up there too.

He walked along the river, collecting pottery shards and glass beads left behind by people who lived there long before his time, probably the Dutch and English settlers who first arrived in the seventeenth century. He collected contemporary bits too, like campaign and protest buttons and bottle caps.

His collection became quite eclectic. Some things he saved were unidentifiable, even to him, like the green-painted lumps of clay which looked like pieces of a ball split in half. Others were easily recognized, then and now - Spirograph is a toy you can still buy today, Heineken will probably always be available.

He liked gadgets and components, bits and pieces that looked like they went somewhere, even if he wasn't sure where they'd go. He liked political and religious statements too - signs of the times in which he lived. He graduated from high school two months after Martin Luther King was killed, and the same month Robert Kennedy was. His brother came home from Vietnam severely wounded shortly after that. He did not have to go to war, for which he was grateful.

He went to Woodstock. He became a Christian. He finished college, cut his hair, got a job, got married and had children. His eldest daughter was the most like him - in looks as well as personality. He stored his Hellmann's jar in the record cabinet when she was a child. She was always free to peruse this cabinet, loving the albums' cover art as she did. She also loved looking through the jar. The items inside were fascinating - she made up stories in her head about the pottery shards, the buttons and beads, the sundry keys to unknown doors, trunks and suitcases. There was a certain smell too - old and dusty like time itself. For an contemplative child, this was story-writing heaven.

She got a little older and one day he gave her the jar. She tried to protest but he said, "I want you to have it because I know you appreciate it." She kept the jar on a shelf in her bedroom until she moved out. Now she keeps it in the cabinet under her nightstand. It still smells exactly the same inside the jar. She has added a few things herself, and displays a few bits in a printer's tray. She doesn't see her father often but she loves to talk to him. She cherishes the jar and other important gifts he gave her - a curiosity about bygone times, a passion for old things and a flair for the imaginative.


 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 Annie Cholewa 
Sandra at Cherry Heart 
CJ at Above the River

and August's guest poster, Caroline at scraps of us
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, August 25, 2014

Little matryoshka dress

I've been pondering crochet-and-fabric dresses for awhile. It really started last fall when I was finishing the GB's Mina Dress. This is a crocheted dress designed by the talented Alicia Paulson, for sale on Ravelry and in her shop. I liked this dress, though I had trouble with the lower bodice and skirt portions because I didn't understand the instructions at first. But I loved creating the yoke and upper bodice of the dress. I liked the shaping process. I also liked the way it fit the GB, especially because it created sort of a cap-sleeve effect on her upper arms. I wanted to try a dress with a crocheted bodice and fabric skirt next; I'd seen several on Ravelry and I liked the look. I tried one pattern, the Beautiful Red Dress from The Green Dragonfly blog. I called my version Tulip Dress because the fabric I used had funky, geometric tulip shapes on it. That dress was not a success. The bodice and straps were too large for the GB and I left the skirt fabric much too long. We've put it away and we'll try to wear it when she's bigger. But I wasn't done; I still thought about this kind of dress a lot and decided to try crocheting a bodice like the one on the Mina Dress, combined with a more carefully-designed fabric skirt. I made it just recently, in my new-found sewing time since school started.

I started with the crocheted bodice. I took inspiration from the Mina dress's yoke and bodice, adding stitches to accommodate the GB's size. I used I Love This Cotton yarn in Ivory. This yarn is a worsted weight but I sized down to an H hook to keep the stitches fairly tight, since cotton can stretch. I crocheted several rows beyond the yoke to lengthen it, continuing straight and leaving the back open. Later, I crocheted the back pieces together from the bottom to about halfway up, to leave a roomy head-opening, and added a button loop and a small button.

I made the skirt with a piece of fabric that was 42 inches wide (the whole width of the yard not including the selvages) by about 24 inches long, knowing I'd need to cut it shorter later on. (The fabric is Little Matryoshka by Riley Blake). I sewed a zigzag stitch all the way around the short sides and the top edge of the fabric to help prevent unraveling (one could also serge the edges but I don't have a serger). Then I sewed the short edges together with a 1/2-inch seam to make a tube, ironing open the seam. Next, I sewed a long basting stitch around the top edge and pulled the bobbin thread to gather the fabric. Then I turned the bodice inside out and put it inside the gathered edge of the skirt with the seam at one side, pinning it in place all the way around. I hand-stitched the skirt to the bodice with doubled thread, making sure the stitches went through the bottom row of crochet stitches (they were virtually invisible done this way with white thread).

After I finished hand-stitching, I trimmed off the top of the fabric a bit, especially under the armholes. This neatened it and made it more comfortable for the GB to wear, though I did go back and reinforce the side seam with a few hand-stitches after cutting. Then I turned the dress right side-out and had her try it on.

At this point, I also added a length of brown grosgrain ribbon as a sort of sash or belt. The dress was a little loose, especially under the arms. She didn't mind (I don't think she has developed many concerns about modesty yet, which is probably a good thing), and there's room for a shirt underneath. I'd been thinking about adding a ribbon embellishment anyway and this was extra motivation. I used a safety pin to thread one end of the ribbon through the crochet stitches all the way around, leaving long tails at the center back. I threaded the ribbon evenly, skipping three stitches and threading under two stitches. I liked the addition of the ribbon; it cinched the dress in just a bit, giving a little more shape.

I think the ribbon dresses it up. I love ribbon. Any excuse to put ribbon on a thing, I'm there.

While she had the dress on, I pinned the hem. I wanted the dress to be longish, so that it can be worn for awhile, and also I just really like the look of longer dresses on little ones, think sort of a tea-length. I think it gives them an old-fashioned look. I trimmed off about two inches and then made the hem by folding the bottom up half an inch and then another full inch, and machine-sewing it all the way around with small stitches. The finished skirt length is about 21 inches, after accounting for the gathered seam where it's sewn to the bodice. This length works well for the GB but she is small for her age; I think the skirt length is easy to modify as needed.

Oh, Bearita. She looks very nice in her dress and it fits her well, much better than the ill-fated Tulip Dress did. She says it's comfortable and cool, which is good because it's still hot here. I went with cotton yarn to keep it cool to wear, but I do worry that the bodice will stretch too much. If I do it again, I might use a blend with acrylic. I'm also contemplating a winter version with a wool bodice and heavier skirt, maybe a woven wool plaid fabric. Hmm...Christmas dress? For now, I'm pacing myself with this first successful crochet-bodice creation. She wore it to school last week. I'm happy with it and I'm glad I persisted. And as always, I love to make unique things for her to wear.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Simple, happy things

It's Friday! We've had a great week. We're settling into our new routines, with two weeks under our belts. It's going better than I'd expected. Both small Bears love their teachers and are adjusting well. Homeschool time in the afternoons went better this week; we're getting lots done and we've had plenty of time to play too. My mornings are very productive; I've been able to shop, clean, organize (I bought more yarn bins, it was getting desperate) and spend some quiet time alone in the house - something I've craved for a while. Yes, I think I like this new chapter in my life.

I've been paying more attention to the little things lately. I don't know if it's the buoyant mood I'm in due to the return to routines, or the time I'm able to spend with my own thoughts, or the slight change in the weather as we cruise toward fall. Maybe it's some of each. All I know is that I feel good these days. Life is full and busy but not unpleasantly so. It's that nice level of busy, the purposeful kind. Not running ragged, just getting things done and being up.

Just now, I am...

Picking the apples from our backyard tree. I keep this bowl on the kitchen counter and everyone helps him or herself.

Peeling apples all the time. There's a lot you can do with apples, such as...

Baking an apple crisp. It's my own improvised recipe, slightly lower in sugar and butter, but with all the juice you don't even miss them. Apples are awesome.

Watching my children work with their hands. He's learning to use a lucet, she's becoming more dexterous all the time.

Hatching a crafty plot of my own (more to come soon...)

Discovering double-yolk eggs (we're almost certain that they're coming from Penny, who mostly lays a big egg every other day, whereas Betty lays a smaller one daily).

Admiring a birthday gift to myself (to put away until November), a vintage 1940's crocheted doily wall-hanging I found on Etsy. It will work well in my strawberry-themed kitchen.

Making soups for dinner again, now that it's not so hot anymore. This one was chicken and rice.

Rejoicing because my favorite hand soap is back in the store, after being out of stock for months.

Relishing the return of Private Fridays (today was our first one since May). We lingered over coffee, browsed a thrift store and a rock-and-mineral shop and had a leisurely lunch, all on a cool, rainy morning that felt like fall. I love having time with my old Bear again.

Enjoying the early mornings, especially as the season changes. The sunrises and sunsets have been gorgeous lately. The Bear took this photo on our street as he left for work the other day.

Posing for a new family photo on the Bear's birthday. Me and my three lovely Bears.


Thank you for the wonderful comments on my Ice Cream Flowers blanket. I'm really proud of it. I feel like I could crochet anything now. It's amazing what a complex project can do for your confidence. And you're all so kind, I was blushing reading what you wrote about it. Thanks. And welcome, new readers and followers. I'm so glad you're here.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Ice Cream Flowers

Some projects feel nearly perfect. The pattern is simple and soothing, the components easy to create and quick to pile up, stacks of them flying off the hook every time you sit down to work. There are few hiccups, and fewer feelings of frustration or boredom. For me, the GB's flowers-in-the-snow blanket has been this kind of project. I adored making this blanket, not least because I was making it for my adored little girl. But I loved it for itself too - it was a happy project - colorful, creative and made with new techniques.

Back in February, when I was choosing my color palette and starting to make my first few circles (of a total of 192), it occurred to me that the colors had an ice cream-like quality to them. I made my first circle on a snowy morning, which was really only a coincidence. As I made more circles, the ice cream appearance took hold even more and I began calling my blanket Ice Cream Flowers. I usually name my blankets, if only in my head, because I feel like it gives them more personality. If you're going to spend a lot of time with a blanket, you might as well be on casual terms with it. This blanket took me just about six months from start to finish, making it my longest-lived crochet project yet.

This blanket is intended mostly for use on the GB's bed, folded at the foot or pulled up over her quilt in cold weather. I don't mind if she plays with it or carries it out to the couch. I realize that it's a fairly delicate blanket, being made with a lacy, open joining method. But I'm willing to take chances with it. She's getting older and, hopefully, more careful with delicate things, and I'm of the general belief that blankets are meant to be used. The blanket is a gift for her sixth birthday, which is in a couple of weeks. She hasn't received it yet. She stood nearby, watching with a mix of curiosity and impatience when I photographed the blanket on her bed the other day. She knows it's for her and she wants it now. But I know she can wait and I hope she'll enjoy it when it's hers for good.

To make this blanket, I used Solveig Grimstad's Flowers in the Snow pattern from her blog, Sols(tr)ikke. I followed both her circles pattern and her join-as-you-go pattern, to join the circles and create squared-off edges at the same time. Both parts of the pattern were simple to follow. Solveig helpfully rewrote her original Norwegian pattern, which was very popular, for English-readers. I first saw this blanket about two years ago when I was new to Ravelry, and I "favorited" it and put it away in my mental "someday" project queue, thinking it would be a very long time before I felt confident enough to try it out. I have always loved the look of granny squares and enjoyed making them once I became serious about crochet a few years ago. I love that there are so many variations on the basic theme with granny squares and round designs have become my favorite.

The only part of this project I didn't love was creating the border, not because it was difficult to do but because I couldn't decide what I wanted. I did the same basic border as Solveig did, up through the second edging round (first, a round of US double-crochet in white, then a round of US single-crochet in light blue, with extra stitches in the corners). Solveig created an outer edging, in white, of small chain-4 loops anchored with single-crochet stitches on her blanket, which I liked and did on mine too. But I wasn't happy with it. I felt it looked a bit ragged on my blanket and I frogged it. Then I tried a round of scallops all the way around but it looked too heavy and floppy compared with the lacy look of the joins. So I frogged that too. See what I mean? The border just didn't come easily to me. In the end, I went around with single-crochet in every stitch, with two chains in the corners to make them a little bit pointy. I like this a lot. It allows the squares to shine and it doesn't weigh down the laciness. It's simple and clean.

Photographing the entire blanket was tricky. It's big, and I couldn't get up high enough to capture the whole thing. The Bear stepped in with his monopod (basically a big stick you can mount the camera onto and hold overhead to photograph something below). This worked great. I wanted an overhead shot because it's such a dramatic blanket. Each of my circles is different. A few might use the same colors but not in the same order. And that joining method is really stunning, I think. I love the way it looks like stars in the centers where four squares are joined. The joining method was not difficult, really, but it did take some practice. There are a few places where I grabbed the wrong loop, but not very many and I feel pretty good about my work. I love the effect of the colors and I hope it's evident why I think of this blanket as Ice Cream Flowers (in the snow): I see sherbets here, fruity yogurt pops, chocolate and caramel and dulce de leche.

I used to be truly afraid to try a project like this, thinking I'd just make a mess of it. But it was time to try and I'm so glad I did. It wasn't difficult, though it would have been a year or two ago. My skills have come a long way. It never ceases to surprise me, when I finish a project, just how good it feels to be able to do things. I know how easy it can be to forget, in the hubbub of daily life when you're raising young kids and maintaining a home, that you've got creativity inside. I'm happy to have learned to make room for it in my life. I'm happy, too, to make pretty things for my daughter. She gladly accepts my creations (there have been a few duds, but she's usually polite about them). I'll be happy to teach her to make them eventually too. I want her to know how much I love to make things for her, to decorate her room and, well, her. I also hope to show her that it feels good to surround yourself with things you love and find to be beautiful, and even better when you can make them yourself.

I made this blanket with DK- or "baby"-weight yarns in numerous colors, probably too many to list here. They are primarily from the Stylecraft Special DK line, but there are also several yarns from Lion Brand Baby Soft, King Cole Pricewise and Yarn Bee Baby Bee. I think there are about 25 yarn colors among the circles (this is a fantastic stash-busting project; tiny amounts of yarn create lots of variety in the circles). I chose soft, dusty colors, including grays and browns, to make the blanket look sort of vintage/classic, as well as feminine. I did not keep track of how often I used each color, nor did I try to use them equally. I just popped all my yarn in a big basket and chose colors as I felt like using them, though I did generally try to keep each circle visually appealing by using colors which worked well together. The white yarn is Stylecraft Special DK in White, and the blue in the edging is Stylecraft Special DK in Cloud Blue.

Some stats on this blanket:
192 three-round flower circles, arranged 12 by 16
Hook: G/6 (4.00mm) Susan Bates Silvalume
Size: About 48 inches by 60 inches, including border
Weight: About 1200 grams total (used about 600 grams of White)
Started early February 2014, finished early August 2014
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