Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Crochet for cats

My dad recently adopted a cat, who came with the name Marbles. She's a mature shelter cat, from a home where the people could no longer care for her. My dad, who recently found himself pet-less for the first time in many years, has really enjoyed having Marbles around. I haven't met Marbles; my dad lives very far away and I don't see him often, but I hear nothing but happy news about their union. With his birthday coming up soon, I decided to try my hand at crocheting some cat toys to send to him for Marbles. A quick search on Ravelry comes up with a vast number of cat-toy patterns, everything from balls to food to little mice (which may also qualify as food). I thought it would be fun to make a few of the food designs, like a little smorgasbord for Marbles. The cat toy designs I chose are all by Melissa Trenado of Melissa's Crochet Patterns, including the Mini Cheeseburger, the Mini Hot Dog, and the Mini Donut (all of these are Ravelry links). They were fairly intricate to make, and not a little time-consuming (each took me most of an afternoon to complete), but they were fun too.

The cheeseburger was the first one that I made. It consists of two bun-halves, a patty and a slice of cheese. Very McDonalds, I think.

The hot dog may have been the most complicated of the three, and I think I used a little too much toy stuffing in the bun parts, but it looks chubby and cute. This one consists of two bun halves, a hot dog and mustard on top.

I think the donut is my favorite. It's made in two parts, the cake part and then a frosting layer to go on top of the cake. I really liked crocheting the frosting; it has pretty scalloped edges.

It's a bit hard to tell the size of these toys (I wish I had a cat handy), but here they are in relation to my hands. I think the hamburger and hot dog are about the same size, maybe three inches in their longest dimensions, while the donut is pretty tiny, about two inches in diameter.

Each toy is made of individual parts that get sewn together with long yarn tails, which was nice because it was easy to make strong joins. I liked the hot dog bun technique very much; basically, you make four ovals (two outer bun sides in tan and two inner sides in white), then stitch them together and stuff them lightly. All of the toys employ crochet-in-the-round and amigurumi techniques (aside from the cheese slice, which is just a basic square done in rows). The bun was interesting because it's oval-shaped (crochet-in-the-oval?), meaning you have to make stitches on both sides of your foundation row to start the oblong shape, instead of crocheting into a circle. Then you go around in circles afterward. I'd never done that before but I like it.

All of my cat toys are made with scraps of worsted-weight acrylic on a G/6 (4.00mm) Clover Amour hook. There's a mixture of brands, including Caron Simply Soft (the tan yarn used in all three) and I Love This Yarn (the cream yarn in all three, the gold in the cheese slice and the mustard, and the burgundy in the hot dog), and Stylecraft Special DK (in the sprinkles on the donut; I stitched them onto the frosting before attaching the frosting to the cake part of the donut). I also used a small amount of polyester toy stuffing in each cat toy. Catnip was suggested as part of the stuffing but I don't have any, so Miss Marbles will have to do without.

Do you make toys for pets? I'm really enjoying smaller crochet projects like these lately, after crocheting a barrage of blankets over the past few years. I don't really have pets to make toys for, aside from chickens, but I love the idea of making pet toys. Baby toys, too, just another reason I wish I'd been a better crocheter when my two were babies (all I could really crochet back then were big, flat, square or rectangle things - blankets, basically). Balls and hackey-sacks never get old, though, so I'm going to try my hand at those. Stuffed animals are always a hit, too. This food was really fun; there's something about making tiny versions of real things that just makes me happy, the same way dollhouses and their itty-bitty furnishings do. I think there may be some crocheted play food in my GB's future...I should probably replace that tiny donut she fell in love with (and tried to sneak off with) while it was here.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Eight things

Hello! Gosh, it's been a while since I had time to sit down and write a blog post. Life has been kind of nuts these past few weeks. Nothing bad, really, aside from the first cold of the school year (in an unwelcome twist, I was the sickest around here, pretty much laid up for about two days). We're settling into the school year and working through some changes, which has been challenging.

So what's new...the LB has graduated from his group guitar lesson after five years and is now taking private lessons with a really fantastic professional guitarist and music educator (he also took some of his group lessons under this same teacher). It's been a big change; we go to this man's house for the lesson once a week and the LB, who was used to fairly cursory practicing at home, is now required to practice at least 30 minutes a day. He did not take all that happily to this at first but is doing much better now. Miss GB continues her group guitar lessons and is back to ballet as well. Both children have had large school projects assigned immediately so we've been very busy juggling school and their activities. (I'm glad they only have one or two activities each. It's plenty. I don't think it's realistic not to do any activities, though; like everything else in life, balance is key). We've also had some major changes at school that we're getting used to.

I think everything will be just fine, but there's a lot of new stuff right now and I'm having a little trouble catching my breath. Needless to say, blogging has kind of gone out the window, both updating my own and reading others' blogs. I'm sorry about that, guys. I plan to keep blogging and will try my best to read and comment on others' blogs, because I really do love everything about the blogging life. I'm just busier than I used to be, especially at the moment.

Photography has fallen by the wayside lately too. I haven't taken many pictures lately, but as usual, I've tried to keep up with the major stuff, which is to say, the small, daily-life stuff - the kind of stuff that keeps me feeling grounded in the midst of the busy periods in life. Here are eight right-now things...

Our apples are ripened and ready to eat. I usually pick one for myself every time I go out to backyard. They're very good apples, even if they are small and often slightly blemished. I'm planning to try something new with them this fall - apple butter! I've never made it before but we love to eat it. I made jelly with our apples two years ago and it was good at first, but after only a few weeks in the jar it changed consistency and turned dark. It was unappetizing. So this year, in addition to the planned pies and crisps, as well as the inevitable applesauce and fruit leather when they get a little older, I'm going to attempt apple butter. I've been asked whether we spray our apple tree and the answer is no way! We don't use pesticides or weed killers anywhere in the yard.

I bought myself a new pair of shoes. They're just inexpensive faux-suede ballet flats but they're comfy and cute. I've never had red shoes before. These had silly little metal dangly things tied into the bows; I cut them off with a little pair of wire nippers and I like them even better now.

I also bought myself some vintage beaded necklaces from an Etsy shop called OldMemoreez. Courtney has some really cool and interesting vintage jewelry for sale. I chose these three necklaces (which are all long, by the way, each 24-30 inches), for their bright colors. The beads are plastic but they look and feel very much like old Bakelite beads; these were probably a lot less expensive but still cute and colorful.

If you follow me on Instagram (where I have also fallen off posting lately, oops), you've seen these crocheted goodies already. They're a hot dog and cheeseburger! I have one more to make, for a set of three. I'm keeping mum for now about why I'm making them, but they've been so much fun! I'll tell you more soon.

I haven't worked on my crocheted Choro top at all for weeks now. I was hoping to have it finished to wear this fall but it may not happen. Ah well, maybe for spring. I was finding it rather frustrating last I worked on it, but that's a good thing because I'm learning something new. I hope to have some progress to share soon, but in the meantime, it sits a bit forlornly on top of my sewing basket, on my desk.

I'm really enjoying homeschool with the LB lately. He's in fifth grade now and doing a lot of very interesting things. He is currently preparing a presentation on the Nineveh Flood Tablet, a clay writing about a portion of the Epic of Gilgamesh from ancient Mesopotamia; the Flood Tablet describes another version of the Biblical flood story. I've been helping him and learning a lot myself. I'm helping him with study skills too. And helping him learn to appreciate highlighters as much as I do - look at that baby, it can practically glow in the dark.

I started a new magazine subscription, to Real Simple. Have you ever read this magazine? It's so good. I'm on my second issue now. I'd gotten a really good offer (I think because I already subscribe to Martha Stewart Living). This one is full of very practical advice about so many subjects. I can always use advice. I love the style of it, pared-down and not full of glamorous models, just healthy, smart ideas for living, a magazine for grown-ups, I think.

We have had so many rainbows in the past few weeks. It's just incredible. I know I share a lot of rainbows here but they make me happy whenever we have them. And look at the bushes just right of center at the bottom of my photo - orange berries! Those are pyracanthas and the berries changing means fall is soon to be here. I can't wait. August has been a lovely month, weather-wise, though. Lots of rain and lots of rainbows, I really can't complain.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

His birthday

Yesterday was the Bear's birthday. We celebrated on Sunday with his parents, going out for dinner and then coming back here for dessert. He asked me to make tiramisu for his birthday cake. It's one of his favorite desserts and he often has it for his birthday. I enjoy making it (I've been using this recipe for years), even though it does require a trip to two stores I don't normally shop in - one for ladyfingers and one for mascarpone cheese. It's fancy but easy and he loves it, which is all that matters.

What does your family do for birthdays? Our family's birthday celebrations are always about the same: dinner out at the restaurant of the birthday celebrant's choice, with dessert and presents back at home. Everyone here loves everyone else's birthday almost as much as their own. The small Bears were reeeeally excited for Daddy's birthday and spent a lot of the evening bouncing through the house on their jumping balls (or "hop balls" as we call them here), with a lot of shrieking and laughter. They were powered by pasta and sugar, with a little rum too, so that may explain it. Or it was just infectious birthday glee. Some of each, I would suspect. Birthdays are the best. We've entered our family birthday season now and we're all excited.

I enjoyed reading your thoughts on the fall feeling that happens as soon as school starts, regardless of the calendar or the weather. I'm glad I'm not the only one who gets this feeling. It's just a relief to me, even when it's still hot outside, to have the routine and the structure to the days again. I also love the changes going on all around, in spite of the continued warmth, it seems. I've noticed just in the past week that the pyracantha berries are turning orange. That's one of the surest signs of autumn to me. Then there are the cooler evenings and mornings, which are definitely starting to happen here. And the angle and intensity of the sun - both changing quickly now. I know that when I can leave the blinds open on the west side of the house, where the children's bedrooms are, and not must mean we're on the downward side of summer.

The Bear and I just finished watching Stranger Things on Netflix. I know some of my blogging friends have watched it too. What did you think? We loved it. The eighties nostalgia was incredible, they did such a good job. The music, the clothes, the hairstyles, the housewares and toys. It was both scary and sad at times, but a very good story. The local representative of the US Department of Energy would like to assure you, however, that it was (probably) all make-believe. Don't worry (much), he says.

Thanks for your comments recently. I hope you're doing well. I'm sorry to say that I'm very far behind with blogs at the moment, life having suddenly become very busy in the past couple of weeks. This afternoon, the LB will be having his first private guitar lesson and we're looking forward to that. The GB will be back to group guitar lessons and ballet class soon. Evening school meetings start up for me soon too. It's crazy again and I love it. I hope you're having a good week, my friends.

Saturday, August 13, 2016


Hello! I feel like I'm resurfacing after a very busy week of back-to-school. I intended to step away from blogging for a few days, which turned into a whole week. The time flew, being packed with things to do and places to be. It's funny; as soon as school starts, it doesn't feel so much like summer anymore. Does anyone else have this? It's still quite hot outside but because I'm getting up earlier and also going to bed earlier, it seems like the days are both shorter and darker than they were just a week or two ago. Even the afternoons, which are still bright and sunny, seem a little less summery now that we're back to homeschooling. We never really stopped that, but summer afternoons were often reserved for outings to the library. I really don't mind, though; I like having a structure to the day, set times for various things. I feel settled, purposeful, intentional.

Homeschool is getting easier and harder at the same time - they're more independent but they're learning more challenging things. I think it will be a good year; the LB has a teacher we already know well, while the GB's is new to our school and seems organized and energetic. I'm enjoying some new highlighters that I picked up for myself in the back-to-school buying frenzy. I like using them to check math workbook pages. Well, really, I just love having fun things to write with. I also use various colored ink pens to edit essays and correct handwriting irregularities. The Bear and I both do a lot of this, but he prefers to use just one kind of pen, which is known as the G-POD, or Green Pen of Doom. The goal for everyone, of course, is to use it as little as possible.

I took these photos on one of my recent evening strolls around the backyard. Since the monsoon finally began at the end of July, I've been relishing the occasional storms and beautiful, dramatic sunsets (complete with rainbows) that we've had these past few weeks. It will be hot during the day for a while but not like it was. You can really feel fall nipping at our heels sometimes, especially in the evenings and early mornings. On two different nights this week after little rainstorms, I smelled wood smoke in the air. The first time, I thought it was my imagination, but the Bear smelled it too. The second time, I was sure. The slow but steady march toward autumn has begun.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Summer, this week

This was our tenth week of summer break. And our last full one before school starts in just a few days.

I picked up my new glasses. I'm adjusting to them, and I'm happy to say I am seeing better with them on. I have had glasses before but I never got used to them and stopped trying after a while. I have noticed some problems with my distance vision in the past couple of years, though, so I'm going to do better this time. I don't need to wear them all the time, only when my eyes are tired. Or I need some extra help seeing far away, like when I'm trying to read the tiny Netflix descriptive text from across the room. I like my glasses. They're gray in the front with purple on the sides. I almost got blue frames but I'm glad I went with these; they're more subtle and I do wear a lot of gray and black so they should go with everything.

We had some rain most days this past week. It was so nice to have cooler days and cloudy skies, even when it wasn't actually precipitating. Thursday night, we had over half an inch of rain! I've barely had to water plants this week, which has been a nice change. Not that I mind watering, really, but one less chore isn't a bad thing.

The cooler days were good for my cooking life. I've been desperately craving that feeling when you have a pot of soup simmering on the stove all afternoon, smelling heavenly while you go about your business. It wasn't exactly soup weather (upper 80's), but I couldn't resist so I made matzo ball soup the way my grandma taught me.  Yum! I love it so much. Roll on, fall, I've got a lot of soup to make.

When it wasn't raining, we spent a lot of time in the backyard. We can practically make a lunch of what's growing out there these days, between apples, cherry tomatoes and greens. Soon, we'll have cucumbers and zucchini too.

I heard from the other teacher (the GB's, who is a new hire) and was able to purchase the required school supplies for both kids. I spent a lot of money. Let's just say I could have bought these glasses AND the blue ones and had me a nice little glasses wardrobe.

I've had to put my crocheted top aside for now, while I work on some handmade birthday presents. Our family's birthday season has arrived; the Bear will celebrate his the week after next, with the GB's three weeks later. For one of her gifts, I bought some cotton yarns (I Love This Cotton from Hobby Lobby). They have some nice new colors lately. Clockwise from top: Rosebud, Mango, Curry, Aspyn, Royalty and Amethyst.

I finished reading How to Be a Tudor and have started How to Be a Victorian (both by Ruth Goodman). I also finally got my chance at a library copy of The Romanovs: 1613-1918 by Simon Sebag Montefiore, which is quite a tome. My current bedside reading pile is a hoot, between these books, Nick Offerman's Paddle Your Own Canoe, and Helter Skelter. All my boxes are ticked: history, comedic memoir, mass murder. Yup.

This week, I took the small Bears to Peter Piper Pizza (an arcade/pizza restaurant kind of place) to cash in some reading reward certificates they earned at school. The pizza is pretty dismal, but the games are fun. Miss GB tried a game where you have to guess whether a coin will fall heads or tails. She won the jackpot! Next thing we knew, the machine was spitting out 2,500 prize tickets. An employee brought us a shopping bag to put them in and they barely fit. The GB very kindly offered to split her tickets evenly with her brother and they both got some very nice (for an arcade) prizes in exchange for their tickets.

All in all, it was a good but quiet week and I don't have a lot else to share! Fine with me, quiet is good. Thank you for your lovely comments on my Voyage cross-stitched pirate ship. You're so sweet! I loved making it and I already miss working on it. Good thing I have at least 10 other designs I'd like to stitch eventually. I'll probably start the next one in a few weeks. In the meantime, there is crochet! I hope you're having a good weekend, lovely people.
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