Monday, August 31, 2015

Not quite autumn

I've spent the last few days fighting a serious head cold with all the trimmings - sore throat, headache, drippy nose, low-grade fever and general achiness. My children brought it home from school the week before last. Already, they were sick in the second week of the school year. I was annoyed, and even more so when I contracted the stupid thing myself. I hate to be sick. I can't really rest or take care of myself, it's not like life stops just because Mom is feeling poorly. At least I could rest more over the weekend, with the Bear at home. I sat on the couch a lot, in and out of blankets as my body dictated. It was the first time I'd worn a blanket while awake in a couple of months and it made me feel excited, in spite of my hacking cough and burning throat.

It was the whole idea that it's almost blanket season. It really made me happy. I love this time of year, when we're just on the cusp of fall. I don't feel this way at the beginning of any of the other seasons, except maybe winter, when I feel I'm getting ready for something potentially fierce, probably at least uncomfortable. But when fall is just getting started, there's a special thrill. It feels like life is becoming organized again. We're back in school, we're planning, checking things off our lists. The heat is finally waning, dulled around the edges. The sun is angled and shadows lengthen by the day. I look forward each year to taking my fall clothes out again, wearing something that isn't loose and shapeless. My summer wardrobe is a joke; it consists of about eight t-shirts and four pairs of shorts. I never bother investing much in summer clothes; it doesn't make me feel better. I'd rather wear a nightgown all day than get dressed nicely only to sweat. I've recently gone through my fall and winter stuff and upgraded a few things, so now I'm even more eager.

For this week, since I consider September first to be FALL, equinox be damned: I bought a new tea-light holder at World Market a few weeks ago, and I plan to buy a new scented jar candle for fall, maybe tomorrow. I need to change my garden flag in the courtyard, from strawberries to autumn leaves. I will switch to my dark purple phone case, having used a pale aqua one since March. I may dust off my hairdryer, unused since April or May, and actually impart some kind of style to this hair of mine. I will make well-child appointments with the pediatrician for both of my September babies. I started my winter crochet project yesterday. I may bake a pie. Heck, I just might bake some apples, and a pie.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Martha & Me - August

This month, I tried another recipe for my Martha & Me challenge - Peach Pie Crumble Bars, from the July/August issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine (click the link to see the recipe on Martha's site). I had hoped to try something else too, but August was a busy month and to be honest, this issue of the magazine was a bit lean on interesting ideas. In July, I had made Strawberry Shortcake Sundaes, which we all loved, and I think they were the most interesting recipe in this issue. But these peach pie crumble bars looked really good too and I liked that they used just a few ingredients and a very simple technique.

Do you love peaches as much as I do? I try to eat one every day during the summer. Peaches, along with strawberries and watermelon, are my must-have fruits in the summer. I've always loved them, but never more than during both of my pregnancies, which both reached their third trimester in the summer. Then, I was an unstoppable fruit-gobbler. Fruit was the only thing I can really say I craved in pregnancy. It could be much worse, I know. Anyway, summertime = fruit for me, pregnant or otherwise, and peaches are at their best in August, so I looked forward to trying this recipe then.

These bars are meant to combine the best parts of eating peach pie. You have a lightly-sweet pastry crust on the bottom, then a layer of peaches prepared in the usual pie-filling style, with a sandy, crumbly topping made from the same dough used in the bottom layer. The dough is fast to make; just cream together butter and sugar, then beat in flour and coarse salt until the mixture is like coarse crumbs. Then press most of it into a parchment-lined square baking pan and reserve the rest for later. Easy-peasy.

The recipe called for 1 1/4 pounds of peaches, or 3 1/2 cups of cut-up fruit. I find these types of measurements really confusing when working with fruits or vegetables in a recipe. I'm not good at estimating the weight of a thing just by holding it in my hand, nor do I really know how much a typical example of a food should weigh. I used my digital kitchen scale to figure out that I needed 3 large peaches plus a little more; I had an overripe one that I used part of, then slurped the rest down the hatch (omgsoooogood).

The peach filling is prepared just as for a regular pie. Dice the peaches, combine in a bowl with flour, sugar, lemon juice and salt (I left the salt out of the filling because I'd used salted butter - it's the only kind I keep on hand - in the pastry. It seemed like too much salt, and later, when reading the comments on the online version of the recipe, I saw complaints about saltiness. I'm glad I didn't use any salt in this step). After mixing, the peach mixture is spooned evenly over the pastry base in the pan.

Finally, the reserved pastry mixture is crumbled over the peach layer. You literally just pick up handfuls of pastry and squeeze them to make big crumbly chunks and spread them evenly over the pan. I enjoyed this part, though I have to admit that it reminded me of the horrors of Moon Sand, which I'd banned from my home almost as soon as I'd unwittingly purchased it as the earnest first-time mother of a toddler. At least this would taste better than Moon Sand (don't ask).

The bars smelled amaaaaazing while they baked! Oh my. It was a thick, concentrated, nectar-like sweet-peach scent. Like a scratch-n-sniff peach sticker! I think the smell was stronger than regular peach pie because the fruit was more exposed as it baked. We were all going nuts while it was in the oven, pretty much salivating all over the kitchen. It had to cool for a while before I could slice it, or even pull it out of the pan, using the parchment sides as "handles"; I could see and feel the whole thing buckling and I was afraid it would fall apart. So I left it for a couple of hours, until it was barely warm, before removing it. Then I let it cool a few minutes longer on a cutting board, then I sliced it into sixteen bars with a big chef's knife.

Everyone clamored for a bar as soon as they were ready to eat. They were fantastic. The bottom crust was crisp, with a flavor and texture similar to a shortbread cookie. The fruit was moist, pinky-gold, sweet and a little gooey, and the crumble topping was streusel-like, soft and crunchy at the same time. I loved the saltiness, actually; that's one of my favorite things about a real pie, the salty-fatty pastry crust, especially the crisp, brown edge-of-the-edge. These bars did not last long around here; everyone liked them a lot. Martha suggests doing the same recipe with other fruits, such as berries or apples, depending on what is in season. I will definitely try other variations, starting with apples in a few weeks. This recipe is going in the easy-baking rotation for sure.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Color Collaborative: August: Dress

The loveliest dresses I own are vintage christening gowns, handed down through my husband's family. I married into a family who keeps everything, and I've been entrusted with the preservation of many beautiful and interesting family heirlooms. A few years ago, my collection grew by two items, a christening gown from each of my in-laws' side of the family, and while it was too late to use them for my own children, I'm happy to store the gowns in my cedar chest for safekeeping.

The gown on the left comes from my father-in-law's family. He wore it, as did his older brother and their father (and their father's siblings). It was probably made around 1912 for the first baby, Helen. Bill, my husband's grandfather, would have worn it around 1915. The gown on the right belonged to my mother-in-law, who would have worn it around 1945. Both gowns are made of creamy, lightest-weight cotton, soft and translucent. I think they were both ivory-colored to begin with and have yellowed only slightly. Both are almost impossibly small, and when I look at them, it's hard to imagine the people I know now wearing them as babies. There is something surreal about baby clothes, I think; everyone starts little and everyone grows. Even larger-than-life personalities were babies once.

Christening gowns are traditionally made of white or cream fabrics, often embellished with embroidery or lace. Different Christian denominations may have their own styles and the styles also change with the times. The gowns I have are simple but elegant. The newer one has embroidered flowers and cut-work on the yoke and along the bottom edge. It has long sleeves, which I think means it was designed to be worn on its own, as the full baptismal outfit, possibly with a bonnet. Both gowns were made in the first half of the twentieth century and were worn by babies from Protestant families. In reading about traditional christening garb, these two gowns seem to be exemplars for their time and the churches in which they were worn.

I love to examine the differences between them. The older gown is sleeveless, with a deep opening in the back. I think it was meant to be worn over other clothing, possibly another gown with sleeves. I believe this one is an example of a "slip dress," worn by both boys and girls for baptism.

There is fine detail work on both gowns. You can see that this was an important event in a family's life. Time and care have gone into making them beautiful and special. The older gown is particularly impressive, with a wide hand-crocheted border all around the bottom edge. As a crocheter myself, I'm in awe of the meticulousness of the work. The crochet border is soft and smooth and does not make the skirt heavy at all. It's a beautiful work of art and clearly the product of a very talented crocheter.

Like any other fashion, christening gowns change with the times. When I was baptized, in a Catholic church in the 1970's, I wore a gown made of pure white satin, long and flowing, bedecked with ornate lace and worn with a satin bonnet and lacy over-garment, like a cape (I was baptized on Christmas Eve and it was cold). My gown was very pretty in its own way, almost bridal in character. Today's christening gowns often seem to hearken back to the simpler ones of yesteryear, at least those that I have experience with. There are basic elements you will always see, though: white or cream color, some embellishment, a crisp daintiness meant to signify that this tiny person in the gown is fresh and new, cleansed of sin and ready to be taken into the flock.

For the sake of interest, this is a photo of Bill (left) and Helen when they were about two and four years old, respectively. It was taken around 1916. Note the pure white outfits on them. Only their high buttoned shoes are black, and they pose so prettily for the photographer. I try to imagine my own children dressed this way and it isn't easy. I have serious envy for Helen's white dress in this photo. Looking closely at it, I think the edging may be Battenberg lace, one of my favorite kinds. There's nothing like a sweet white dress on a little one.


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 
Sarah at mitenska
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.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Yarn Along

I'm almost finished with my scarf! I have a few rows left to do in the rose color, then I think I will join the ends to make a cowl. Nothing is set in stone but that's the way I'm leaning right now. I'm starting to think about my annual cold-weather crochet project. For the past several years, I have started a new blanket in September. I think I'll do the same this year, since I'm still hoping to replace our last ancient, ragged afghan in the family room; I want to have four nice, new blankets, one for each of us. I also have some ideas about a new afghan for our bed, using hexagons. I started making a few of them back in the spring and lost interest, but I've been thinking about trying again with a different pattern. It's hard to choose! I have plenty of yarn already for whatever I pick (a seriously burgeoning stash for the first time ever), it's just a matter of deciding. I'll probably go with the family-room afghan. Do you ever have trouble deciding what to make? I think it comes from my reluctance to have too many projects on the go at once. I do love my seasonal blanket projects, it's tradition for me now. How do you choose your projects?

I'm still reading Summer World and enjoying it. I'm in no hurry to finish it, since I want to keep it fresh for when the LB reads it later in the school year. I really should just buy a copy for myself, but haven't gotten around to it yet. I was back at the library the other day and picked up a few more books, because I need stacks of them around me always, and borrowed this novel, The Love She Left Behind by Amanda Coe. It's engaging but pretty dark. The plot revolves around the adult children of a woman who left them to be with a man when they were young. Struggles ensued. I think I'll finish it, but then I might need a large dose of Summer World (birds! flowers!)  to perk up again.

Joining in with Ginny's Yarn Along

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Guitar girl

This big girl had her first official guitar lesson this morning, at the University of New Mexico. We've had both children involved in music programs there for several years. The LB takes his guitar lessons there too. They are lucky to have instruction at home too; the Bear plays the guitar himself and he helps them with what they learn in class. Miss GB has been waiting for her chance, learning a little bit here and there on her brother's three-quarter-size guitar, which is too large for her. A couple of weeks ago, she got her very own half-size guitar and she has hardly put it down. It's almost comical to see her with it, because it's nearly as big as she is, especially when she wears it in its case on her back. She thinks she looks like a beetle. I think she looks like a very determined little girl and I'm proud of her. I think she'll be great - my talented, tenacious little bug. Soon our guitarist duo will be a trio.

I've been so busy these past few days that I've barely had a chance to sit down! Whew. I love being back in the routine and having places to go and things to do, but it takes some getting used to when you go from virtually nothing going on to virtually everything all at once!  I really do thrive on it, though. I feel energized when I'm busy. I love this time of year, too; the changes all start happening at once. We've had some chilly mornings already, even though the afternoons are still baking-hot most days. But there are tinges of yellow in some of the trees, the berries are reddening on the bushes and the chrysanthemums have tiny buds! The chile roasters are back. Soon it will be scarf weather, my favorite of all. This week, I bought a new cardigan/jacket to wear in the in-between season coming up, before I need a real coat. It's still August, but I hear autumn knocking softly on my front door.

Have a good weekend, my friends. Not too much planned for us, I think we need a little downtime. But there's an at-home soup-and-salad date tonight, yay! We've been watching Parks & Recreation on Netflix lately. This show is hilarious! How did I miss it when it was still on TV? I have a new bag of library books too, plus there's my scarf to work on. I see a fair amount of lounging in my future. And cheesecake! Yes. I froze the Bear's leftover cheesecake after we celebrated last weekend, because he was going to Florida for work and I knew I'd eat it all while he was gone, so I put it in the freezer until he came back. Now it seems like bonus cheesecake.

PS - the GB's silver flower shoes (in this post) are from Target.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Yarn Along

I'm almost finished with my woolen scarf. I've added a section in a rose color; it will be the last section because this scarf is getting really long. I'm still deciding whether to join the ends. I'm enjoying this project so much. I've used the pattern to make numerous scarves as gifts but this is the first time I've used it to make something for myself. It's just nice to work on. I like to crochet a simple, rhythmic ripple design, oh, yes I do.

I've just begun reading Bernd Heinrich's Summer World: A Season of Bounty. The LB will be reading it in school this year and I'm reading it myself to get ahead. I'd listened to Heinrich's Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival in audiobook format a couple of years ago. I found it fascinating and learned a lot. I really loved that book. So far, Summer World seems just as good. Heinrich studies the seasonal adaptations of living things and tells their stories in an unexpectedly gripping way. The secret lives of plants and animals!

Joining in with Ginny's Yarn Along

Monday, August 17, 2015

Ninety more birthdays

That's how many the GB hopes her father has: ninety more birthdays, because the one he had yesterday was so much fun. We kicked off birthday season in our house. We celebrated with the Bear's parents, first opening presents at home, then going out for dinner. We came home and ate the cheesecake I'd made on Saturday. He usually asks for one of two dessert items on  his birthday, instead of a regular birthday cake. Some years, he wants tiramisu, other years he wants cheesecake. This was a cheesecake year. I made my lazybones cheesecake recipe, procured from the internet many moons ago. I was baking this same recipe the day of the Great Blackout of 2003! We lived in the northeast then. I had just put it into the oven when the power went out. It stayed out for hours and I had to throw the cheesecake away. No such calamity this year; the power stayed on just fine. I served the cheesecake with a frozen cherry-berry medley; he wanted berries but it's getting late enough in the season that I had trouble finding nice ones in the store! No biggie, the frozen berries thawed nicely and they were the perfect slightly-tart accompaniment to the cheesecake.

I think there were a few things that made the GB love her daddy's birthday so much, in addition to the general fun and excitement of a birthday celebration (do you know what I mean? I always like birthdays, even when they're someone else's; I love that both of my kids feel this way too. They even act excited for each other's birthday. Long may that last!). One thing she loved was trying Nutella for the first time. I'd bought a jar for the Bear as a special treat. It's one food we simply CANNOT have in our house. We love it, but....just no. We'd be made of Nutella otherwise. Needless to say, she loved Nutella. I might have to lock it up.

Both small Bears also loved seeing some old toys come out of their storage places in the garage. Actually, I loved it too. The Bear and his dad were talking about old toys that his dad liked as a kid, and knowing that we had some of them stored away at our house, they decided to take them out and have a look. They were awesome! The articulated animal figures were the best part, I thought; they are really old, having belonged to my husband's grandfather when he was a child. There were also lots of toy soldiers and cowboys and Indians, and wooden building blocks that link together, like an early version of Lego. We had a ball checking them out, then we had the kids scrub their hands like crazy in case of lead. We're paranoid like that, but these toys are really cool and I'm glad we took them out for a little bit.

After cake, I was roaming around looking at the wreckage in the family room when I noticed that there was a triple rainbow between us and the mountain. Seriously! My photos don't do it any justice, but we were able to see three distinct spectra. We all stood outside with our eyes glued to the sky until they went away. Just another day at a blogger's house, right? Ha. Staring at the sky, on a lovely damp evening with my favorite people. I hope he has at least ninety more birthdays. He'd make it into the Guinness Book! I'd be so incredibly old but I'd be so proud of him.

Lazybones Cheesecake

1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
1/3 cup melted butter 
1 1/2 lbs. cream cheese
14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Mix crumbs and butter in a bowl, pour into a deep-dish pie plate. Press crumb mixture into the bottom of the plate and slightly up the sides.

Beat cream cheese (with an electric mixer) until fluffy.  Add condensed milk and beat until smooth. Mix in eggs and vanilla. Pour cheese mixture into pie crust.

Bake for 1 hour. Turn off the oven and prop open the oven door, leaving cake in the oven for additional hour. Allow it to cool at room temperature, then place it in the refrigerator for at least six hours to chill.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Back to school

Off they went on Thursday morning, my first-grader and my fourth-grader, back to school for a brand-new year. They were in good spirits, excited and just slightly nervous, ready to see their friends and teachers. They woke up early and did all their morning tasks quickly. There was a flurry of activity and then there was some time to sit and wait; it was too early to leave for school. Daddy was taking them; he drops them off on his way to work. There were hugs and kisses and last-minute reminders and instructions and then it was time to go.

I had four hours to myself, the longest stretch I've had alone since the summer began. I made beds, started some laundry, cleaned up the kitchen and did a little pruning in the backyard. It was already hot outside; I was sweaty in no time. I decided to take the rest of the morning for myself. I turned on the radio and made some tea. Then I sat at the kitchen table and tried to work out one of my vintage potholder patterns (I'd ordered some #3 crochet thread last week, in the hopes that it would be easier to work with than the finer stuff). I made progress; it was easier this time.

I sat and relaxed and lost myself in my work and The John Tesh Show on the radio. The difficult summer faded away and before long, I realized that I missed those two little people an awful lot. I picked them up and brought them home for lunch and started our afternoon of homeschool. We sharpened some pencils. We organized backpacks. We dove into the new workbooks, crisp and clean. We started fresh.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Yarn Along

This week, I'm still working on my scarf. I've moved on to a new color, a creamy winter white. I'm enjoying working with wool. It's not as scratchy as I always assumed it would be. It even feels soft on my face and neck (I test it often). The scarf is about six feet long already but I think I'll add one more section of color. I can't wait to wear it. I've been clearing out my closet and dresser drawers lately, trying to streamline my wardrobe. I have a lot of scarves and have been weeding through them as well. I think it will be nice to keep the ones I've made, or have been made for me, and send some of the others on. This will give me an excellent reason to make a few more for myself too. I already have a general plan in mind for at least one more. I like having an assortment; it's often warm enough here in the winter, due to the sun, that I can just throw on a scarf with a sweater, no coat needed.

I'm reading the final book in Jennifer Worth's series, Call the Midwife: Farewell to the East End. I finished Shadows of the Workhouse over the weekend. That was a very sad book but I'm glad I read it; I like to know what other people have experienced. This last book is my favorite so far of the three, I think. I really like reading about pregnancy and birth. I had difficult experiences myself, and sometimes find it hard emotionally to read about certain aspects, but in general I'm very interested in the work of midwives, and most of these stories do have happy endings. I have to say that one thing I love about this book is the cover, especially the photo from Chummy's wedding. I haven't read about her wedding yet but I'm really looking forward to it. I like all the midwives, but Chummy is my favorite.

Joining in with Ginny's Yarn Along

Monday, August 10, 2015

The tail end

We've reached the last week of summer break. Actually, it's just a partial week because school starts on Thursday. These last few days will be spent getting ready for the first days of school, including meetings with the teachers for me on Wednesday. The small Bears have had haircuts, everyone's shoes fit, backpacks have been loaded with labeled folders and notebooks, school lunch-making supplies have been laid in.

It was a good summer, but also a weird one. It felt like June was the only real "break" month we had, due to the LB's surgery in early July, and subsequent recovery. He is doing much better now, basically back to normal but still on restricted activity until his surgical stents are removed sometime in September. I've struggled a bit with the whole thing, as you've probably noticed. I hated seeing him in pain, and limited in his activities, and being at home together for weeks was trying too. I love to be at home, never want to be anywhere else, really. But I've never done well with long stretches of idle, unorganized time (which is what summer break has felt like to me since I was a child myself), and the medical situation really enhanced my difficulties this summer. I understood that it was what he needed, and I am grateful for the time and opportunity to provide it for him. I didn't have to get back to a job and I didn't need to secure childcare or in-home medical help. I was able to care for him all by myself, and I had the time to do it. I am thankful. I am also relieved to be moving past it and back into the structure of normal life.

Over the past couple of weeks, with the LB doing better and needing less from me, I've tried to be busier at home and it has felt better. I've been making and doing more again and it feels good.

I made these appliqued aprons, birthday gifts for two of my nieces, who live in New York. The aprons are pre-made ones from Hobby Lobby; I used Heat N Bond fusible fabric to affix the letters and hearts to the aprons, then did some simple embroidery around the shapes. The letters have vertical stitches all around them, the hearts have tiny X's. I also sent them a children's cookbook. I so enjoy making things for children.

Homeschool work has continued through the summer, as health has allowed. We try to incorporate art and music as much as possible, in addition to more academic work. Here, I'd been supervising the small Bears in drawing and painting a box of peaches we had on the kitchen counter.

The monsoon continues. We've had some very good storms and lots of rain. Sometimes the storms are downright scary, with heavy rain, loud thunder and startlingly bright lightning. My backyard planter has become a wild jungle.

Ah, but I never tire of the drama of a serious thunderstorm.

During stormy days, and on some of the really intensely hot, sunny ones too, the small Bears have been playing in a fort they built from boxes and blankets. We've had it sitting in the family room for weeks, as they make improvements and change the configurations.

Very little in life makes them happier than a good play fort.

I've been cooking All The Things lately, both by myself and with help.

We made granola as a family, using a recipe from Alton Brown. Oh my goodness, this granola is awesome. I was eating it by the handful; it didn't last long.

I made what I think was my best lasagna yet. It was loaded with spinach, zucchini and carrots, with fresh basil on top. I'm still using that basil plant I bought about three months ago. I can't believe I've kept it alive this long. I've used basil in virtually everything this summer.

Last Friday, we had a load of firewood delivered. This is a half-cord of mixed woods - cedar, juniper and pinon. This load should last us a couple of winters, since we don't have fires all that frequently. Between the Bear and I, we got it all moved to the side yard and stacked in about 45 minutes. We worked like machines. We were so hot and dirty. But those fires will be well worth it.

The Bear and I went out for dinner by ourselves this weekend, just to Flying Star Cafe, a local diner, nothing too fancy. But it was our first meal out, alone, in more than two months (the Bear's parents stayed with the children). After our hard summer, it was just perfect. I was so happy to be out with him. We had dinner (grilled veggie panini for me, fish tacos for him, shared order of onion rings) and dessert (two slices of cake to share) with coffee. We stayed out until 8:30, people. It was terrific.

I'll leave you with this sobering reminder that autumn is just around the corner. These are pyracantha berries in our backyard. They're just starting to get an orange tinge here and there. Right now they're in the early stages of their transition from green to orange. By October, they'll look like a constellation of tiny persimmons.


I know summer break is still in full swing in a lot of places, even though it's just about over where we are; I hope you're having a nice time. I'd also like to say thanks, again. I'm very thankful for your supportive and encouraging comments, and surprises in the mail (I'm looking at you, Gillian and Ingrid) over the past few weeks. I appreciate knowing you're out there thinking about us, and that you enjoy coming back here to see what we've been doing. Have a good week, friends.
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