Sunday, February 28, 2016

On a Sunday

There was a lot of work to do in the front yard today. Well, the front yard and the shop. The Bear replaced the wood reinforcement strips in the concrete walkway leading up to the house from the street. The old ones were rotted away, becoming a hazard because they tipped up from the walkway if you stepped on them just so; you could trip and fall over them. It was a big job, because the old wood strips had been placed right into the wet concrete, so chunks of concrete remained when the old wood was ripped out. We didn't know this would be the case, and it was disappointing. Much chisel-work ensued, followed by hand-planing of the new wood to fit snugly into the crevices. It was an all-day job. Not that I did very much of it; I was mostly on sweeping duty.

Meanwhile, the small Bears helped some, played some, rode their bikes up and down the street like speed demons some. It was a beautiful day, with alternating sun and clouds and a light breeze. This has been the nicest February I can remember. Aside from on-and-off snow showers one day this past week, every single day has been warm, sunny and pleasant. I really hope March does not come in like a lion to spoil everything.

In between working like a dog on the walkway, the Bear also smoked salmon for dinner. It was delicious. He really has his technique down pat: brine the salmon from about lunchtime, get the wood chips (apple this time) smoking by mid-afternoon, get the fish in by four o'clock. I baked potatoes and steamed asparagus, and we sat down right at six. The work clothes were in the washer by then, the backyard was cleared of toys and bikes, the front yard was finished and the walkway looked like a million bucks. A good day all around.

The plum trees had their first blossoms of the season today. I actually think I photographed the very first open flower. I was waiting for this day. I watched carefully. I said last Tuesday that we'd have blossoms within the week and I was right. I know these trees. There were more blossoms as the day went on; I checked every couple of hours. By dinner time, I counted fourteen, all on the south side of the easternmost tree, the one that gets the most sun and the least wind, precocious and lightly frothing as of this afternoon.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Color Collaborative: February: Metal

18th century pewter shop, image from

When I was a teenager, I had the chance to visit Colonial Williamsburg, a living history museum in Virginia. I loved it so much that the Bear and I went back on our honeymoon years later. It was just as good as I remembered and I really hope to visit again someday. One of my favorite things to see on both visits was the pewter collection. Pewter goods were important staples of colonial American life, with everything from dishes and cups to candlesticks and utensils made from this versatile metal. Pewter was a symbol of prosperity and a source of pride for many colonial households.

I was surprised to learn that pewter was in use long before the colonial era. It actually goes all the way back to the Bronze Age. There were pewter-making guilds in France by the 12th century, and in England by the 15th. This helped control the way different grades of pewter were used, usually having to do with whether they came into contact with food or drink. Pewter is a metal alloy comprised mostly of tin. It may also contain copper, antimony and bismuth. Historically, it often also contained lead. Pewter arrived in New England in the 1630's, and soon became very popular among the American colonists.

Pewter cup from Victoria and Albert Museum collection

Pewter articles are usually made by casting molten material in a mold, or by turning solid material on a lathe. American pewter is more rare than English because demand was very high in America, and pewtersmiths were often forced to melt down old pewter for recasting, or to repair broken pieces of old pewter to make new ones. Pewter was highly valuable; between 1720 and 1767, the value of pewter brought into America was greater than that of all silver, tinware and furniture imported during the same period! Three hundred tons of pewter came into the colonies during the 1760's alone. Porcelain (or "white ware") would soon take over the housewares market in the colonies, but for a few decades, pewter was all the rage.

Pewter goods from various sources

You can see why. It's durable and can be cast in intricate designs. It can be engraved or carved. The colors of pewter never go out of style, it seems. Stand in front of any paint-chip display and you'll see a wide range of gray-based shades that bring to mind the look of aged (or new) pewter articles. One of Benjamin Moore's most popular paint colors is Revere Pewter, a light silver-gray shade with a name straight out of colonial history. Pewter can be darkly tarnished or polished to a bright sheen. Its tones can be warm or cool, deep or pale.

Dress by; fabric swatches from

Pewter tones can be seen in home textiles, conveying a sense of depth and calm. I'd like it for couch upholstery, with brightly-colored accent pillows and a light-colored rug. It would be good for draperies too; I think the shantung material in the top fabric swatch would look very elegant on tall windows. Pewter is currently a popular shade in fashion as well, especially for bridesmaids' gowns and prom dresses. The color is everywhere, on bridal websites and Pinterest boards devoted to weddings. My bridesmaids wore the sugar-icing pastels popular at the turn of the millennium, but today I can see pewter tones on a bridal party; it's like black, but softer, more understated.

As metals go, I think pewter is more interesting than silver; the color is deeper and somewhat variegated, and it has a ruggedness that I appreciate. I think pewter may have been somewhat like the Tupperware of its time, but that's one of the things I like about it. Pewter is real household stuff, handsome and historic.

I learned a lot about pewter from Colonial Sense, the Website for All Things Colonial (it really is!).

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
CJ at Above the River
Sarah at mitenska will return next month
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, February 23, 2016


Thank you so much for your get-well wishes for the small Bears. They are mostly feeling better now. Still coughing hard, still a little pale and tired, but at least the fevers have broken. This was a whopper of an illness. I really hope you don't catch it. They had fevers for five straight days and fairly high ones at that. I thought for sure I'd be next but so far, so good. I feel a bit run down, but not sick. Maybe I was already immune to this one.

I continued my bustling busy-work all weekend - baking more, doing more laundry, stitching and crocheting, cleaning up around the kitchen and family room. If anything, I'm probably run down from all the housework I've been doing. I go into overdrive when people are sick. I don't even know why, really; I think it's a combination of stress, worry and boredom. I'm not good at idleness under the best of circumstances; illness in the house frays all my nerves.

We were able to get outside on Sunday; they rode their bikes on the patio in the backyard while the Bear and I tackled some garden cleanup. They helped too, pulling last year's detritus from the flowerbeds and piling it into bins. All winter, I've cringed a little every time I've looked out the kitchen window at the backyard; it got cold early this winter and stayed that way until recently and we weren't particularly motivated to clear up the beds before now, so we let everything wither naturally. It looks neat and tidy now, though, and it was a beautiful day for yard work. The view from the kitchen is much improved. The side yard, on the bedroom side of the house where we have grapevines and herbs, stacked firewood and the inevitable trash bins, will always look a little dicey. But it gets good sun and the stockade fencing hides an awful lot.

While we were inside for the past week, spring showed up. I couldn't believe how close to blooming the plum trees already are. I think we may have flowers within the week. The winter jasmine is blooming in full force right now. We pruned them severely a few weeks ago and they look healthier than ever. I love the flowers but the plants themselves are a pain in the neck, with their runners that root themselves straight down into the ground.

We planted two types of new lavenders in the fall and I'm eager to see what they'll do this year. Our big, old lavender finally gave up the ghost this past summer. I was sorry to see it go, but they don't last forever. I like the new ones; there's a Spanish and a French, I think. We had an English before. I didn't plant that one, the remarkable gardeners who sold us the house did (sometimes I wish they'd come with the house, they were that good). Oh, and my rosemary is blooming. It bloomed last year too. That was the first time I ever saw flowers on it; I like this new trend.

I'm not really that much of a gardener, truth be told. I like to work outside when the weather is nice, and I love being able to clip flowers from my own yard for display in the house. To that end, I've taught myself some basic pruning and maintenance techniques, to keep things growing and producing. In late spring and summer, I can count on my roses, Jupiter's beard, primrose, coreopsis and Shasta daisies to give me enough flowers to make a small kitchen-table bouquet, usually in a mason jar. In the fall, I swap primrose for chrysanthemums. It's enough; my flowers get me through the year pretty well. It's only in cold weather that I buy any, and then it's mostly tulips, and cheap bunches of daffodils in early spring.

We tested the sprinklers in the backyard yesterday. I think this is the first time in history that they have a) operated properly and b) not needed replacement parts. I was expecting more yelling and swearing, with maybe a tense trip to Lowe's for tiny plastic bits. But no - the sprinkler gods were smiling upon us this weekend. May they be so benevolent in dry, dusty June.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Getting through

When last I blogged, I was feeling my oats, having rested and relaxed for several days. Little did I know that by the very same evening, I'd be neck-deep again. Both small Bears were getting sick and the Bear was about to leave for the rest of the week for a business trip. The three of us have been home alone together all week. They have fevers and bad coughs and general miserableness. They're sharing a camp cot, brought in from the garage and set up in the family room, one at each end. They love to use the camp cot when they're sick. It's handy, actually; I know they're getting better when they start fighting over space on the cot.

I can't sit still when people are sick. I baked Magic Bars yesterday. I've been crocheting at an alarming clip (I got a weird second wind when I realized I was going to be trapped at home; Hensfoot is now within inches of being finished). I even did some more stitching on my kitchen sampler. Oh, and let's not forget the six loads of laundry, the bathroom-cleaning, the vacuuming and the patio-sweeping. I managed to finish a library book. I'm not sleeping much, what with all the coughing from their rooms down the hall, but hey, the house is spotless.

You should have seen me in the hospital with the LB last summer. He slept a lot (was often quite drugged, actually), so I had lots of time to putter around the room. I had my own bed, which I made to Army-like standards. I cleared the LB's bed table every couple of hours, removing opened saltine packets and straw wrappers, wiping up spills and organizing his books and games. Plus, I had real jobs to do, assigned by the nurses - round-the-clock catheter-draining, incision-checking, symptom-spotting, time-keeping. I barely sat down while we were there. I was exhausted, but as usual, keeping busy got me through. I would have felt like a caged tiger otherwise.

Now, we push through. They probably won't be back to school tomorrow, but the Bear will be home sometime in the afternoon and I will try to get out of the house for a bit once he has arrived. I'd like to do a few errands, and I wouldn't mind a walk. I've been getting out to the backyard every day, at least. It's beautiful outside right now! Unbelievably, somewhat eerily beautiful. The trees are budding and the tulips are pushing up. I'm hoping to plant some wildflower seeds in a few weeks. I don't think it's quite time yet. These warm days are really deceptive - it still gets quite cold at night (we're having close to 40-degree spreads between highs and lows right now), and I'm sure there will be cool days to come as well, maybe even snow.

Inside, I've been marveling at my amaryllis bulb, which has sent up a new shoot. I'd read about preserving amaryllis bulbs for future growth, and was skeptical, but decided to try it. I pruned the old leaves and left the bulb in its pot on the buffet in the dining room, where it gets decent light most of the day. About a week ago, I noticed that it's growing again! I really hope I can keep it going through another bloom.

I'm also enjoying the GB's fixed-up bedroom, certainly more than she is at the moment. I did some small things in there over the weekend, just to spruce it up a bit. We hadn't done anything in there since she turned three, when she left her crib. She had toddler-ish bedding, pictures and decorations, featuring owls, hedgehogs and birds. It was cute, but too young for her (and the bedding was wearing out). I bought some things on a visit to IKEA in Phoenix last winter, a duvet and cover set, and a cushion and cover, which she's using now. I also changed the pictures, to botanical prints from Gnosis Picture Archive, an Etsy shop. These small changes made a big difference, I think, and her Flowers in the Snow blanket looks very ladylike with her new bedding.

I'm far behind on blogs, and my Bloglovin' feed has been loading sporadically lately anyway, so I hope all is well in your corners of the world. I'm thinking about taking a book out to the patio for a little while before preparing a lunch of Lipton noodle soup and jelly crackers. They can knock on a window if they need me.

Take care and enjoy your weekend, friends.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Kitchen stitchin'

I've had a very relaxing few days. I did nothing much and it was wonderful. I have a big bag of new library books, which is one of the best things in the world to me. I worked on Hensfoot. I read a lot. I puttered around the kitchen. I did a little redecorating in my girl's bedroom. I spent some time outdoors, which I really needed; the weather has been unseasonably warm for days, like mid-spring instead of late winter.

We celebrated Valentine's Day with a special dinner for me and the Bear on Saturday night (we always have a kid-free late dinner on Saturdays, it's a tradition). I cooked my favorite recipe for oven-roasted shrimp scampi, from The City Cook, which we had with a kale salad and crusty bread, and mint-chip ice cream for dessert. On Sunday, we took the small Bears to a play, a children's performance based on the Frog and Toad books, then came home and grilled steak for dinner. We ate well and had fun this weekend. I feel very refreshed.

We're still on our school break for another day more. I think we may go to the park with a picnic lunch tomorrow (today was a bit too windy and actually a bit too cool, but I think tomorrow will be warmer again). The small Bears and I stayed home today. I had laundry to do. In between, I started working on a new project, a cross-stitch sampler this time. I haven't done any stitching in months, focusing on crochet instead, but I've had the urge lately to stitch.

Weirdly, I seem to get this urge at the same time most years; I even blogged about cross-stitch almost exactly a year ago today. It's a good time of year for cross-stitch, I guess; the sun streams into our south-facing living room window and I find it's the perfect place to sit for stitching. I think, too, that I'm usually at the tail-end of a big crochet project by this time in the winter. Hmm.

I'm working on the Retro Kitchen sampler from Stitchrovia (above is a photo of my printed pattern download). I purchased this pattern from Stitchrovia's Etsy shop several months ago, along with two smaller patterns for coffeepot (no longer available in the shop) and teapot designs. I'm planning to hang them all in my kitchen. I have sort of a retro thing happening in my kitchen, with my collection of vintage crocheted potholders, ceramic and tin strawberry-themed items and tiny cuckoo clock. (I wrote about my kitchen a few years ago, if you're interested in more details).

I adore my kitchen. It isn't perfect, but it's the nicest one I've ever had (honestly, I've had some real doozies, it doesn't take much to be better than most of them). It's open and bright, I have adequate storage and newish appliances; really, I can't complain. There isn't much handmade in my kitchen, though, and I want more of that. I'm still working on crocheted potholders (it's hard and I am just not very good at it). Cross-stitch will be a nice touch.

I don't have a color printer, just a black-and-white one, but I wanted to give you an idea of the way the design looks in color, so I took a photo of the shop listing on my laptop screen. Hopefully the internet police won't come and take me away. I love the colors in this design. My kitchen has a lot of red, green and blue. The design definitely has a retro look, some of it with a Scandinavian feel, reminiscent of the Cathrineholm Lotus pottery. I'm told there's also Hornsea pottery, from England, in the design. Vintage Pyrex, perhaps, or Fire King.

I made one color change, using a dark red for the center canister instead of orange as suggested (it looks red on the screen, but it's actually a bold orange). I wanted to have some red in the design, to go with my kitchen, so I put it front and center. That's what I stitched today.

One thing I really like in this design is the large areas stitched in one solid color. It might seem like it would be boring, stitching row after row in one shade with little variation to the count, but I actually find it very relaxing. It's easy to lose myself for hours with that kind of stitching. And I did, sitting in my chair with the warm sun behind me, the small Bears playing nearby and the radio on. The morning passed in a blur, and soon it was time to make lunch.

These are my flosses for all three designs (the retro kitchen, teapot and coffeepot). I really like these  colors; they're bright and cheerful and I think they go with the general feel of my kitchen. The flosses, and a big roll of 14-count Aida cloth in Ivory, were Christmas gifts from the Bear. I bought them, he put them in my stocking; it works for us. He tied the flosses in a white ribbon, like a pretty bouquet. I really enjoyed stitching today. I usually have to slow myself down when I cross-stitch, to make myself savor the work, and I will probably have to do it this time too, because it's just that good.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Tulips and tarts

Hello! Are you having a good week? It's been a busy one here, lots of schoolwork and activities. I'm looking forward to our mini-break next week. It's only a couple of days off, but I'm totally ready. We don't have plans. I just want to rest and relax, maybe hit up the library, do some crocheting and sewing, cook something fun for the Bear and me on Valentine's Day, work in the yard a little bit.

I bought my first bunch of tulips for the season last Friday, at Trader Joe's. Their selection was a little disappointing - mostly pale, creamy colors instead of the bright, splashy ones I prefer. I dug around in the buckets a little and came up with these white-edged dark pink ones, which are just perfect to me. I put them in my ceramic jug with strawberries painted on it, and I've spent the week moving them from one table to another, through the living room, dining room and kitchen, just admiring the way they look. We're having a sunny and warm stretch of weather right now, which is glorious and disconcerting at the same time - it's only February but we're outside in shirtsleeves! I never know what to do with myself when the weather doesn't match up to the date on the calendar. I suppose I should just enjoy it; we will be in February for quite a while longer, after all, and February isn't always this kind to us.

I have to tell you that I'm struggling a bit at the moment, with that old, familiar burned-out feeling. I'm looking forward to learning, and teaching, being fun again. These children work so hard, and they rarely complain, but I know they're feeling the stress too. You can see it so easily in a child. All work, no play, you know the rest...

Just look at these tulips, though. Oh, they have made me so happy. It's amazing what fresh flowers can do. These are reminding me that I'll have flowers in the yard before long; some of my own tulips are just starting to push up from the dirt. I noticed tiny cabbage-shaped buds at the base of my stonecrop this week, and the buds on my winter jasmines are just about ready to burst. I check constantly for their tiny, star-shaped yellow blossoms and I know I'll be rewarded any minute now. Spring will spring before we know it.

But first, we'll have one last wintertime celebration. I made some special Valentine's Day treats this morning, while I was home alone in my sunny kitchen, listening to John Tesh on the radio. These are Strawberry Cream Cheese Cookie Tarts from Betty Crocker (the recipe can be found here on the Betty Crocker website). There's plenty of time for you to make some before the big day o' love.

The recipe is also the featured recipe for February in the 2016 Betty Crocker calendar, of which I am a happy recipient. Do you get her calendar too? It's free, but they have limited numbers to give away. If you are registered to receive emails from the company, they'll offer a sign-up for the free calendar in the late fall every year. I think I've had one for about ten years going now. Each month has a different recipe and there are handy cards you can tear out as well. I've discovered several of our favorite recipes in the calendar over the years.

Like a lot of the calendar recipes, these tarts use some packaged ingredients. I try to make most things from scratch, baking and otherwise, but I don't mind a little help now and then. The tarts are made with sugar cookie mix, prepared as directed with butter, egg and water, then they are filled with a mixture of strawberry cream cheese, powdered sugar and milk. Finally, a little vanilla icing goes on top, along with Valentine's Day-themed candy sprinkles. I followed the recipe almost exactly, with a minor modification: I didn't buy the recommended aerosol icing with the interchangeable tips. Have you ever seen them? The can is tiny and it costs a fortune. No thanks. I used regular frosting and made my own decorator bag by cutting the corner off a sandwich Ziploc, which worked great.

The tart bottoms are made with a cute technique that I'm going to keep in mind for other seasonal treats. You take a 1-inch ball of cookie dough and flatten it inside the cup of a greased muffin tin, spreading it up the sides to make a cup shape. After baking, they're nice and sturdy, like shallow tart shells.

The cream cheese mixture is spooned into the shells after they are cooled (I think the filling is something I may change next time; I don't see any need for added sugar, or at least not quite so much of it).

Lastly, I piped some little frosting swirls on top of the tarts with my sandwich bag, and added a few shakes of these Valentine's Day nonpareil decors on top of the icing. I surprised the small Bears with the tarts when they came home from school today; they didn't know I would be making them. They were so excited to eat one after they had their lunch. Well, who wouldn't be; they're little candy-cookie-pies and they're delicious.


Thank you for your input on my soup post this week. I enjoyed reading about your preferred methods and recipes. Blogging never ceases to bring new information into my life. I hope you found something useful in my post as well.

Right now, I'm reading such an enjoyable book, When All the World Was Young: A Memoir, by Barbara Holland. The author grew up in a suburb of Washington, D.C. during the 1940's and writes about her childhood and adolescence in a very funny and subversive way. She always felt like an outsider, at home and at school, and writes honestly about this. If you like the writing of Bill Bryson, David Sedaris or Russell Baker, I think you'd enjoy this book.

Bad news: I think one of our resident road-runners was attacked by a hawk this week. It was really quite sad. I went out to the front yard and saw hundreds of feathers - both the downy body-type and the long tail kind, littering the xeriscaping. Clearly, a bird had lost some sort of battle. Later, I saw the female of the road-runner pair walking forlornly around the courtyard, looking all around and calling frantically. She was searching for her mate. I felt her pain keenly. I wished I could help her.

If you haven't joined in with my Winter Project Link Party for February, it isn't too late! The link-up will remain open until late Friday evening. Please join in if you haven't already, we'd love to have you.
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