Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Color Collaborative: December: Berry






Nandina shrub next to my back patio, August - December 2015

Nandina is a plant I'd never experienced before moving to New Mexico. Everywhere else I've lived is too cold, and maybe too wet, for nandina to thrive. But here in the high desert, nandina is ubiquitous in landscaping. It's hardy, colorful and low-maintenance. In some places, such as Texas, it's considered an invasive species. Birds spread the seeds over areas where they shouldn't grow. Nandina's strong underground stems are part of the problem too. However, it remains popular in many places. Some know it as "heavenly bamboo," which I think is a beautifully fanciful name. It's not really bamboo, though. It's actually an evergreen shrub, a relative of the barberry.

Nandina one of those plants you really want to watch, because it changes so dramatically over the growing season. It flowers in mid-summer, tiny pyramidal white buds that become green berries. The berries grow all summer, eventually taking on a pinkish tinge in the fall, progressing to red by Christmas. The red berries remain all winter, perfect food for birds. By spring, there will be just a few dried, brownish berries left; soon the plant will flower again for a new season. The leaves are interesting; they may change color in the fall, or they may stay green all winter. It seems to depend on the plant, and it can vary even within an individual plant. I have one nandina that turns bold orange-red in fall, and one that stays glossy dark green. Both are lovely throughout the year, I think.

In spite of my acquired love for it, my early encounters with nandina were hardly auspicious. When my daughter was just learning to walk, she spied a clutch of fallen berries on the ground under one of our nandinas. Before I could stop her, she had stuffed them into her mouth. I panicked; a friend had told me that nandina contained a cyanide compound and was toxic to small animals! This might have included her. I made a frantic call to Poison Control, during which I was assured that the most serious record of poisoning involved a dog who had consumed several nandina branches and later threw up, but survived. My daughter showed no adverse signs after her berry snack, but I watched her very carefully around the nandinas after that.

Today, I've grown accustomed to these plants in my backyard. Whether I'm washing dishes or sitting at the table in the breakfast nook, I can see these shrubs with their lacy leaves, slender stems, white buds or changing berries. They're peaceful and just a bit exotic, a plant to enjoy year-round. I'm especially appreciative of nandina at Christmastime, when the berries are ripest - bright red, shiny and heavy on their stems. Each year, I wait avidly for this natural progression toward festive beauty in my own backyard.

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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
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, December 29, 2015

Three years


Today marks three years since my first post to this blog. It was another post-Christmas day when we were all at home together, when I was still enjoying the time off but craving a little structure and wanting to exercise my mind just a bit. I got all of that, and more. Blogging has brought so many positive changes to my life, this past year most of all. I've had the chance to do things I never imagined a few years ago, such as reviewing a crochet book, being featured in a magazine and attending local media events. I've had a lot of fun, but the most important results of blogging are the friendships I count myself lucky to have found, and the learning, sharing and growing with fellow writers, makers and observers of the world. Thank you for supporting me and for inspiring me.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Martha & Me - December

 

In December, Martha Stewart Living magazine featured "grown up" paper snowflakes, which you could make using printable templates from Martha's website (click here to see them). In the magazine, paper snowflakes decorate a wall above a festive holiday buffet table. At my house, they grace a window in our family room. They were fun to make, but not necessarily easy.


While Martha used a variety of fancy papers for her snowflakes, I used basic copier paper for mine, in both blue and white. The small Bears made snowflakes with me and I thought it would be best to stick with regular paper for ease of cutting. The templates could be scaled to fit your paper (some of Martha's snowflakes were huge), but I printed them as-is, and used them as more of a guide, sketching some of the shapes onto my paper. I did this for the same reason I chose regular copier paper: the designs were surprisingly complicated and the whole thing felt stressful within the first few minutes. I would say that we were inspired by Martha's snowflakes, as opposed to strictly adhering to her ideas.


The paper needs to be cut into a square before you begin; I just folded my copier paper diagonally and cut off the extra bit at one end (an old trick from my amateur origami days). Next, you fold the square diagonally twice, resulting in a triangular shape, then both sides of the triangle are folded toward the center (see Martha's site for details about the folding). At this point, you'd staple a template onto your folded paper and start cutting on the lines of the design. Since I didn't scale my templates to fit, I was basically copying the designs by hand, as they fit on the paper. I really liked drawing free-hand designs on my paper. You can't really go wrong with a snowflake; any cuts will result in an interesting design.


My snowflakes were far from perfect. If there's anything I've learned from my year with Martha, it's this: sometimes it's a very good idea to close your Martha magazine and focus on doing the best job you can do.



It's exciting to make a snowflake, isn't it? You can never be sure what it will look like until you unfold it. This one was surprisingly pretty.



Meanwhile, my elf brigade worked on their own snowflakes, made with more traditional techniques. It was one of the first days of the holiday break; they weren't feeling well and it was really cold outside. It was nice to get busy with snowflake production for an hour or so.


We taped our snowflakes to the window, as seen above, and it looks mighty wintry in the family room. I'm glad the three of us could make them together.

Our snowflakes are the final installment in my year with Martha. I can't believe I managed to try something new from her magazine every month for a year. I set this challenge for myself around this time last year, largely because I was feeling a bit uninspired in my cooking and crafting at the time. I love to do both, but sometimes it's hard to find the spark, you know? I began a subscription to Martha's magazine as a way to bring in some new ideas, and decided to try at least one new thing from each issue, and blog about it at the end of each month. Readers, you were so supportive! I really enjoyed this project and it was fun to read your thoughts and comments on my posts. Thank you! I hope you felt inspired to try new things too.

I thought I'd share a little retrospective of my Martha & Me project, if you're interested in checking out any of the things I tried along the way.


January - February - March



April - May - June



July - August - September



October - November - December


Martha can be a tough act to follow, as you probably already know. I felt intimidated at times, but I'm proud of myself for giving it a try. Some of my experiments were more successful than others. Some were truly wonderful, some were downright frustrating. But they all helped me learn something new and I'm really glad I stuck with my challenge.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Christmas heart








Hello! I hope you're settling in for a happy holiday with your loved ones. Here at Casa del Osos, we're ready to celebrate. The fridge is stocked and the presents are wrapped. There is a Big Snowstorm predicted for the weekend and we're definitely prepared to hunker. The past few days have been spent doing very little, which is exactly what I needed. I feel refreshed and relaxed and ready for the big day.

We're going to watch Elf in a few minutes. I'm thinking about making some popcorn. I've been crocheting a lot, keeping warm under Hensfoot as it grows. The small Bears are just a little manic about Santa coming in less than 33 hours (as per the latest update), and the Bear has been teaching himself to play this song on the guitar, just for me. It's one of my favorite songs, ever since high school. Now that's a Christmas present.

Thank you for your kind words on my last post. I try to be upbeat here, but sometimes it's important to offer some background. This is a happy place but it's a reflection of regular life too, which isn't picture-perfect. It makes me glad to know that you are thinking of me and my family. I'm so proud of our life together and I love sharing it with you.

A merry Christmas, full of warmth and love, to you from all of us! 

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Icily yours












Hello from one of the only places in the country with snow on the ground. We've had a very cold week, with ice and snow remaining from last weekend's storm. Our backyard, on the north side of the house, is in shade most of the day, so the snow can last a long time after it falls. There's still a little snow in the front yard too, and the houses across the street have lots of snow in their front yards. I love the way the Christmas lights look with some snow, like a real winter wonderland!

I'm so glad we've reached the holiday break, which began yesterday. It was a hard week. Everyone is getting sick (again), we had event after event to attend (fun, but exhausting), and the small Bears and I were involved in a minor car accident. Everyone is fine, and my car is too, but even so, it shakes you up. I'm not the most confident driver under the best of circumstances, so this makes me dread driving more than usual. But drive I must, I really don't have a choice on a typical day. So the break is very welcome from that standpoint too.

Really, it's just nice to have some time off. I've just come off a three-week bender (it feels like) of dealing with pharmacies, the insurance company and the LB's kidney specialist on a daily basis, trying to straighten out a medication-related situation. I feel resentful of the hurdles and hoops a patient (or his parent) must go through. I hate to complain - we have an excellent doctor and he's certainly not at fault - but it's just so difficult. Sometimes I feel like I'm screaming into the wind.

Christmas sometimes gets me down, to be honest. I try hard (maybe too hard) to make Christmas a special and happy time for my children. My own background doesn't include much of this; holidays were fraught times and my memories of them are not particularly positive. Unfortunately, some of the same difficulties are ongoing. Distance helps a lot, as does learning to gird myself against other people's choices. Each year, I struggle a bit with this; I don't want to bring any of it into my own home, but I also wish that it could have been different. It's a hard balance between the fixing and the longing. But I've come to look at it as a opportunity, a clean slate for making our own happy times now, a chance to remind myself that I've done important work. 

So I'm ready to relax and rest. I still need to buy all the food for holiday, aside from some things I already have in the freezer. No more shopping to do otherwise; now it's just the wrapping and plenty of it. My own gifts will be fairly spare this year - some crafting supplies, books, candles. I don't need much. None of us does, so we've kept it simple. We're just looking forward to our usual holiday pastimes - games, movies, hobbies, fires in the evenings, egg nog and cookies. I hope this weekend finds you relaxed and calm too.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Merry making


This weekend, I worked rather feverishly to finish crocheting facecloths for the small Bears' teachers. They aren't especially complicated, it's just that I left them a little too long and had a bit of panic when I realized that school lets out for the holiday break after Thursday, not Friday like I'd thought. Oops. I'd been planning to send the teacher gifts into school on Friday, so I had one fewer day to finish up. No problem, though. I'm staying cool as a cucumber this holiday season, remember? Yes. Luckily, the facecloths were fast and easy to make. I used patterns from Sarah's lovely blog, Ball Hank n' Skein. Sarah offers four simple and pretty washcloth patterns for free on her blog.


The cloth on the left, made with I Love This Cotton in Rosy, is crocheted in the Grit Stitch pattern. The cloth on the right, in I Love This Cotton's Taupe shade, is made with the Hdc Shell pattern. Both were easy patterns to work up, but like Sarah, I think the Hdc Shell is my favorite. I just like the grid-like design to the stitch pattern. I like the Grit Stitch too, though, especially the way the stitches seem to move diagonally across the design, and also seem to move in and out from front to back. "Grit" seems like a good name for it. I think both will be effective and comfortable to use. The taupe cloth is slightly larger than the pink one; I think I worked too loosely. It's about eleven inches square, while the pink one is about ten inches.


I bought each teacher a bar of fancy bath soap at HomeGoods, my favorite place to buy special toiletries (mostly for other people; I'm an Ivory Soap kind of gal myself). I tend to avoid specific scents (i.e., lavender or roses) when I give a toiletry gift. It's hard to know exactly what another person will like, isn't it? I think this one is a good choice; it's soft and light, just clean-smelling. I hope they'll like it as much as I do.


I tied each bar and facecloth with ribbon, and we'll put them into gift bags with handmade cards to deliver to the teachers on Thursday. Do you like to give handmade gifts to teachers? I really enjoy it. It's very popular here to collect money for teachers, but I prefer to make something most of the time. I used to be a teacher myself and my favorite gifts from students were the simple ones, handmade or baked or found.


In other news, I'm absolutely elated to say that I've finally reached a point in life where I can put delicate things on the tables in the living room, and not live in fear of having them bashed by toys, books, cups or whatever else a little person might decide to wield. I've been putting seasonal arrangements on the coffee table in the living room, keeping them low so that they don't interfere with conversation. I usually have some kind of runner on the coffee table to protect it (they haven't totally lost their roughneck ways); the current runner is a reversible patchwork one I sewed from fat-quarter bundles about 12 years ago, with one side autumnal and the other Christmassy. I have red taper candles in glass holders, with my centerpiece in the middle. I used my centerpiece for the first time last year and was really happy to take it out again for this holiday season. Would you like to see how I made my centerpiece? It was so easy. You can make one in a few minutes.


I started with a large glass plate, about 14 inches in diameter. You could use any kind of plate or platter; I happened to have this one from years ago, when I used it with an arrangement of pillar candles nestled into those flat glass marbles (another casualty of parenthood; who wants hundreds of marbles sitting two feet off the floor with a toddler in the house? You're just asking for trouble).


I used these items for my arrangement, all of which I found in the seasonal floral department at Hobby Lobby. From top left, in the order I used them: artificial pine boughs, sparkly artificial berry picks, natural pine cones (you could certainly hunt for these outdoors instead of buying them), and small glass ornament balls.


First, I put my pine boughs on the plate with their stems at the center. My boughs have flexible wire stems, which I shaped into hooks by bending them slightly. Then I hooked the stems onto each other, to help keep them from shifting outward when I put the other pieces on top.


Next, I poked my berry picks through the hooked stems of the boughs, making sure the picks lay flat on top.


I placed the pine cones on, around and under the boughs and picks, spreading them around somewhat evenly. I think I'd rather use smaller pine cones for this, but the selection was limited. I'll look around the neighborhood for small ones, such as from cypresses or spruces, to add to these big ones for next year.


Lastly, I scattered the glass ornament balls around the arrangement, tucking them in and around the other parts. (You may want to add the balls after you've already moved the plate to the table; they can easily roll off at this point. And don't forget to save the box your ornaments come in, so you can store them safely).


My centerpiece adds sparkle and shine to the coffee table. The best part? They've been looking at it with their eyes and not their hands. It's a Christmas miracle!
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