Sunday, May 21, 2017
This time of year, I love to spend time in the yard in early evening. I do my watering and weeding then because it's cooler and also because I just really like being outside in the evening. It's quiet. The crazy after-dinner portion of the day is over. It's a nice time to recharge a bit. The hens are usually with me; the babies are almost as big as Betty now and that's saying something. They all appear to be female, which is a relief after last time around with Ginger I. I think we could have eggs again by the end of summer, which I'm very excited about. Good eggs are so expensive in the store. I can't wait to have my own "free" (well...) ones right in the backyard again.
My plants are doing well. My barrel of geraniums has done great so far. They're growing quickly and putting on a lot of flower heads. But the celosias I planted in my Talavera planter didn't make it. I did my best to give them plenty of sun, since they want a lot - 6+ hours per day of full exposure - but I ran into a different problem with them, an unforeseen one. The planter has poor drainage - just one big hole in the bottom - and I actually managed to drown plants for the first time ever. I love that planter so much, but I just can't win with it. My plants either scorch in the sun or, shockingly, languish in wetness. Maybe I could put an established potted plant inside the planter and see how that does. Last-ditch, I know, but I really love this planted and I need something to survive in it.
Our week was so hard, oh my goodness. The small Bears got over their cold from last weekend just in time to go back to school and perform in their class plays. They both did such a good job. Everyone did; I was so impressed with these children. Every kid did great. We went back to school two evenings in a row for each of their plays, making the days pretty hectic, and we were all exhausted by the end of the week. Then the latest axe fell and the GB was sick again, much worse than last time. There was some kind of virus tearing through her class all week and kids were falling fast. One poor little guy vomited all over the reading circle rug. I heard the gruesome tale from about six different goggle-eyed children at pick-up.
I wasn't surprised when the GB came down with the illness everyone else has, but it's been a rough one. I've been back in the house all weekend with her, while she rests on the couch. It's not all bad: I've been crocheting a lot (my Maybelle squares are coming along really fast lately). I've been organizing closets and storage bins now that I've switched winter clothes for summer ones. I even did a little baking. The main thing is to keep her resting so she can be well for her super-mega-major dance recital this coming Friday. There's also a dress rehearsal on Wednesday night. Oh, and this is the last week of school; there's a talent show, a games day, a pizza party and a classroom-cleaning day. Get well, little lady!
I've also been keeping busy planning the summer's activities. Our summer break is sooooo flippin' long and it just drags on if we don't keep busy. The LB will continue his private guitar lessons through the summer, and the GB will take summer ballet. They'll both take swimming lessons and we'll swim during open times too. I've signed the LB up for numerous "tween" events at the library (the GB isn't quite old enough to participate officially, but the librarians almost always allow anyone to join in who wants to, which is very nice). We'll also attend movie showings at the library and as many all-ages activities as we can fit in. There's always something interesting going on. I've booked two camping weekends as well, one in June and one in July. Meanwhile, we have plotted our summer math and reading homeschool, and each child has chosen some recipes for mostly-independent cooking. There will be plenty of downtime, of course. I don't want to overschedule them (or me!), but we do need to keep some structure. It's more fun, and the days fly by. Future-me will want to take now-me out for a congratulatory beverage. Now I'm just hoping for a good monsoon this year! Perfect summer.
I hope life is going swimmingly for you these days! Thank you for your lovely comments lately. I'm sorry to have been so absent from blogland recently. It's been hard to find time for blogging but that should improve, what with all the free time I'll soon be enjoying. Have a good week, my friends.
Monday, May 15, 2017
Mother's Day was very nice, in spite of the fact that both of my children were sick with colds all weekend. They gave me a lovely day, though, and I enjoyed it very much. To be honest, it was kind of awesome to stay home all weekend, given how busy we've been lately - and how busy will be this week and next before school finishes for summer. I went out on Saturday morning for groceries; otherwise, we hung out at home. On Saturday afternoon, I baked a cheesecake (the super-easy recipe I like to call Lazybones Cheesecake) as a Mother's Day dessert. The Bear and I had Chinese takeout for dinner on Saturday for our at-home date. The small Bears went to bed by 7 because they felt poorly, so we had a nice, long evening of MST3K on Netflix (have you seen the new episodes? They're pretty good!). And Sunday was a lovely Mother's Day for me.
They made my favorite breakfast, an everything bagel with cream cheese, lox and tomato. This is my usual Mother's Day breakfast. Lox is a very special treat for me, and they always remember. So delicious.
The Bear made me a hazelnut latte with Torani syrup and milk foamed with an immersion blender. Also delicious.
They gave me some lovely presents. The Bear replaced my old pruning snippers with a new pair. The old pair could barely cut anything, plus I'd been holding them closed with a rubber band because the strap broke. The GB made me an embroidered card (see the first photo in this post) and the LB made me a beautiful necklace in school. He used a flat glass marble fused to polymer clay to make a pretty background you can see through the glass. He wrote a very sweet message in a card too.
I took my new snippers outside to try them on the roses. They work beautifully, so sharp and neat. They're exactly what I've been needing for happier gardening.
The afternoon progressed in a mostly non-photo-worthy way, including laundry, cleaning and straightening up. Yes, I know it was Mother's Day, but there was plenty to do. I made a quick sauce from frozen raspberries to eat with our cheesecake. For dinner, I roasted a chicken, which we ate with mashed potatoes, and broccoli slaw that I made with apple, walnuts and Craisins.
Later, I watched Call the Midwife and had a small slice of cheesecake with raspberry sauce. Perfect! It came out well and it capped off a day of really good food. My family made such a nice day for me. I'm so thankful for them. I hope you had a lovely Mother's Day as well.
Thursday, May 11, 2017
A couple of weeks ago, I was rooting around in the pantry while making my grocery-shopping list. I noticed that I was getting low on jam. I did have three unopened jars of peanut butter, though. That was heartening. We'll be able to survive a Peanut-Pocalypse with that kind of supply. I had just one jar of jam left - raspberry, made last summer. That was my favorite homemade jam so far. I really want to make more, but it will probably be a few weeks before raspberries are in great supply.
I decided to watch the grocery-store circulars (I get them in a handy bundle with my mail on Tuesdays) for good fruit sales. The first good sale to come along happened to be on blueberries, so I bought eight half-pints on my next shopping trip. I was excited! I'd never made blueberry jam before, and in fact, I don't think I'd even eaten it, aside from jam made with a blend of berries. But we all love blueberries, and they really looked nice when I checked them out in the store, so blueberry it was. I was in need of lids, so I ordered some more (check out this great deal I found on Amazon - the four-pack is really economical) and soon, I was jammin'.
Eight half-pints was more than I needed, but it was such a good price and we can always find a home for fruit around here. My recipe called for four cups of mashed fruit, or 1 1/2 quarts of whole berries. This equaled about six half-pint containers of berries, give or take; I think my fruit actually measured closer to five cups after it had been mashed. (I followed the recipe that came with my powdered pectin).
I was a little surprised at how the berries looked when I crushed them with my trusty potato masher. The colors were awful, all mucky green and brown. The berry skins were a little hard to break through, but enough mashing and they went down eventually.
As mentioned, I used powdered pectin in my jam, adding it to the crushed berries before beginning to heat them. I used pectin last summer with my raspberry jam and it worked so beautifully. I used to think it was cheating to add pectin, because you can make jam without it. You can use some ratio of ripe fruit to under-ripe fruit, or combine high-pectin fruits with low-pectin ones. I've done this with some success, but I find it complicated. So I gave myself permission to use pectin and I'll never look back. Jam-making feels foolproof now.
My recipe said I'd get four to five half-pints of jam, but I actually got almost six and a half! That was a nice surprise. The partial jar was for eating right away, as usual. The rest of the jars were processed in a hot-water bath for safe storage and later use.
Here's how I made my jam, including notes on my own preferred methods. There are many ways to do it, but these are my own personal jammy ways. I hope you'll find them helpful.
1 1/2 quarts whole berries or 4 cups crushed berries
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon butter or margarine (to reduce foaming)
1 package powdered pectin
4 cups granulated sugar
Prepare jars, lids and bands. I like to wash everything in hot, soapy water. Then, I place the jars on a baking sheet in a 250-degree oven, to sterilize and heat them, while the jam cooks. My lids and bands go into a medium saucepan filled with water to cover them, which I bring to a boil and leave to simmer on the stove while I work.
Wash and sort the berries. Crush them in a large pot (I use a potato masher). Stir in lemon juice, butter and pectin. Measure the sugar into a bowl and set it aside.
Heat berry mixture over high heat until it comes to a full rolling boil. Stir in sugar all at once and bring back to a full rolling boil. Cook at a full boil for exactly one minute, then take the pot off the heat. Skim off any foam with a spoon.
Quickly ladle jam into hot jars, filling to within 1/8 inch of the top. Wipe the rims with a damp paper towel, then add the lids and bands. Screw on the bands "fingertip-tight," then process them if you so desire. The jars should seal on their own after they come out of the bath. You may need to screw down the bands a little tighter as the jars cool.
(I follow US Department of Agriculture guidelines for canning jams and jellies, a helpful PDF for which can be found here. I don't have a formal canner, but I make a pretty good canning bath in a stockpot lined on the bottom with a dishtowel. I fill it about halfway with water and bring it to a boil. Then I place the jars in the pot, which displaces the water enough to cover them by a couple of inches. If necessary, I use a big ladle to remove some of the water so it doesn't overflow on the boil. I always add ten minutes to my processing time because I live at high altitude (approximately 5,500 feet above sea level). Elevation matters in canning. Ball and Kerr have some reference charts on this subject right here, if you're interested).
I think raspberry jam is probably still my favorite, especially of the kinds I've made myself, but this blueberry jam is really good too. In a way, it reminds me of cranberry sauce, but not as tart. It was really good on buttered toast. And look at the color! It's nothing like that early, mashed muck in the pot. Pretty, pretty. We all like it a lot and now I've got something fresh and new to go with all that peanut butter.
Sunday, May 7, 2017
Hello! Happy Sunday. I'm finally sitting down, feet up, with my laptop and a glass of water, after a morning of bedding-changing, cleaning, yardwork and jam-making. It's very warm outside, which is a big change from last weekend, when it snowed! Ah, springtime in New Mexico. It's like the proverbial box of chocolates.
This week was crazy with all kinds of kids' activities as well as medical appointments for the LB, pertaining to his chronic kidney disease. He's doing great, thankfully. We had a little hiccup on Monday when we went to the blood lab and realized that his favorite phlebotomist, the guy who makes blood draws bearable by talking about football and junk food, had retired since the last time we needed bloodwork. We didn't know he was going to retire, we just assumed he'd always be there. Poor LB. I felt badly for him, but he did okay. He's a tough one. I wish I were so tough; there were more arguments to be had with pharmacies and insurance people this week, enough to make me run screaming up the street. I won't bore you, dear reader, I'm just exhausted by it all.
May is always such a busy month for us. School will finish for the summer break just before Memorial Day weekend (the last weekend in May). In the meantime, we have plays and recitals and parties galore. The LB is working hard on his upcoming performance as Dr. Craven in The Secret Garden. He has a real lab coat, a purse that looks a little like a doctors' bag, and a 50-year-old stethoscope that we keep in the garage for some reason. He's working on not smiling so much while he plays this fairly evil-minded character.
The GB will play the Wicked Witch of the West in her class play, and she'll also perform in her dance school's massive biennial recital show, held in a local concert hall. She had professional portraits taken in her beautiful costume last week. Yesterday, she had her guitar recital, which was fantastic. There were five kids, all of them about eight or nine years old, and all very talented. She did two solo songs, a flamenco-style piece called "Farucca," and also "Iron Man," by the esteemed Mr. Osbourne. After the recital, we walked across the street for pizza, her choice for lunch.
As for me, I'm just trying to keep it all straight and show up on time. I really want to be blogging more often than I've had time for lately. I'm crocheting as much as I can, and I'm looking forward to getting back to a small cross-stitch project I started weeks ago. I enjoyed my jam-making very much this morning; I made blueberry jam for the first time. It was easy and made lovely jam. I'll tell you more about it soon. Life is good but I won't lie; I'm ready for the end of the month when it's all behind us. I'm so looking forward to it. The Bear and I will celebrate fifteen years of marriage on May 25, and we're planning to spend Memorial Day weekend alone at home while the small Bears stay with their grandparents. We'll eat out and do some shopping and driving around, but mostly just stay home and relax. We did this for our anniversary last year and it was better than any weekend away we've ever had. We both love to be at home, so now we celebrate our marriage by staying home together.
What's going on with you in May? I hope your month is off to a beautiful, happy start.
Sunday, April 30, 2017
I feel so good about crochet right now. I'm crocheting every day and it's all wonderful again. My renewed enthusiasm is all due to Maybelle squares. My recent crochet apathy has gone out the window. I really can't believe how much better I feel! It's like a whole new crafty world when you love what you're doing. I'm sure many of you can attest to this as well: a good project, much like a good book, draws you in and excites you. You don't want to put it down. You can stay immersed for hours without a break. That's how I'm feeling these past few weeks about Maybelle squares. This is the right project for me, at last. I've been waiting for ages to be able to say it.
Actually, I'm feeling a serious shift in my mood since I started this project. I was feeling pretty down lately, which is not all that unusual for me, but I was feeling a bit aimless too. I find that having a project gives me a lot of energy and helps me overcome other negative feelings and situations I may be dealing with. Now that I'm working on something again, I feel that sense of purpose and accomplishment. So it's more than just love of yarn and hook - important though they are - motivating me here. That's been a big improvement in my life lately, just like when I started intentional creative work five or six years ago, learning more about crochet, setting my mind to making a big blanket - which turned into many blankets, a fun, rewarding blogging presence, and a strengthened passion for hearth and home. I feel my best when I'm busy, and one of the best ways to be busy, for me, is to be making.
My squares will be made with nine center colors of Stylecraft Special DK, on a G/6 hook, and all will be edged in the same color, Grey. There will be 169 squares, to make a large square blanket that is 13 by 13 squares. Joined, this will give me a blanket of about 90 by 90 inches before crocheting a border. I want this blanket to be pretty huge because it will serve as a top layer on our queen-sized bed during the cold months. I've now completed squares in two of the center colors, Raspberry and Sage. They've been bundled with a strand of yarn and they sit in a grocery bag near my desk. Inelegant, yes, but these are pretty big stacks of squares and they can't just float around the room. Each of these stacks is about six inches tall by six inches wide. They're like fluffy little Nerf balls.
One thing I really like about this motif is that while they are flowers, they aren't particularly feminine. If anything, they're geometric. I really like the symmetry of them and the repetitiousness, both in the creation of them and in the way they look when they're complete. I've realized that they remind of the Tudor rose emblem. Do you see it too?
Now, I'm working with Parma Violet. I really like the way these look. I feared that this palest of violets would blend right into the Grey, but there's just enough contrast. They look soft and light.
I've been making about two squares every day lately. They take about half an hour for me to crochet from start to finish, so they fit nicely into certain "down" times of the day, like when I'm finished with my morning housework but it's too early to do the school pickup, or when I've just put something in the oven for dinner. If I can, I time it to my two daily cups of tea for that perfect sip-and-hook experience.
My crochet mojo has been so strong that I've started a crocheted end-of-year gift for the GB's teacher. This is the One-Skein Chevron Scarf by Dina Stelly (Ravelry link), which I've made many times before. It's a delightful, easy pattern which works up quickly and makes a nice gift. I'm using Caron Simply Soft (which is absolutely perfect for this project, a dream to work with, and so soft and silky crocheted up) in Victorian Rose. It's nice to have another chance to make this scarf, especially for someone as lovely as she.
What are you working on right now? Do you have the crafty mojo in you?
Thursday, April 27, 2017
On Tuesday, we were in and out of storms all day long. As you know, I am a pluviophile (love that word!), or a person who really, really likes rain. Tuesday's weather was a nice change of pace from the sunny, warm weather we've had here for weeks. February, March and April were all fairly dry and the temperatures were mostly above average, day after day. Don't get me wrong - I love beautiful weather too. However, I find it gets kind of boring to have nothing but. So when the weather turns stormy, I'm really happy. I find myself going outside just to look at everything while it's wet, because it really does look different. I especially love to see water on the flowers and leaves. Raindrops on roses, and all that.
It was lovely. There was steady rain all morning, then things got more exciting in the afternoon with occasional thunderstorms. In the morning, I stayed home and crocheted, while watching Heir Hunters on Netflix, to which I'm a bit addicted at the moment. It's fascinating. I wonder if it's hard to become a probate researcher...I think I'd be good at it. I'd certainly enjoy being nosy for a purpose. I'm working on my crocheted Maybelle squares right now and loving them so much. I'm making a lot of progress. I think we could be using this blanket by next winter! I don't want to rush but they're so pleasant to make, they almost crochet themselves. It feels so good to have a project I love again. I went so long without a good crochet adventure. Last year without crochet was surprisingly frustrating, though I did complete three large cross-stitch projects. I enjoyed them a lot but I really missed crochet. A rainy morning for quiet crochet was just the ticket after a hectic and stressful couple of weeks.
The weather on Tuesday reminded me a lot of the lake-effect storms we had when we lived near Lake Ontario. The rain seemed to come in bands, much like lake-effect snow, interspersed with periods of broken clouds and bright sun. We had two separate thunderstorms, with lightning and small hail, in the afternoon and evening. The sky turned dark and the wind howled. Both storms lasted just a few minutes but they were thrilling. The small Bears and I stopped what we were doing and watched from inside the house. After the first storm, we spent some time in the backyard and let the hens out. It was chilly outside, damp and windy, but the sky was pretty.
Before we knew it, the weather turned again and we went back inside. I started dinner - Chicken Pot Pie Soup, an easy favorite we don't have very often but oh so perfect for a stormy day. I sat down with a magazine under the family room skylight just to listen to the raindrops and tiny hail hit the glass. Our soup was delicious. After dinner, I sat looking out the sliding-glass door at rain-soaked flowers, hummingbirds dipping and darting, and the last few raindrops splashing into patio puddles.
Have you ever had Chicken Pot Pie Soup? I got this recipe from a friend years ago, one of those concoctions that uses canned condensed soup as a base with lots of fresh ingredients added. I try to cook most meals from scratch, but sometimes this soup is just the thing. It's especially good with a biscuit or bread roll on top, just like a pot pie.
Chicken Pot Pie Soup
2 small boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon olive or other oil
Dried herb poultry seasoning (or dried sage and/or marjoram)
1 cup sliced carrot
1 cup sliced celery
1 cup diced potato
1 can (10.5 oz) condensed cream of chicken soup*
1 can (10.5 oz) condensed cream of celery soup*
2 soup cans water
1 soup can milk
1 cup frozen peas
On medium heat, brown the chicken in oil in a large stockpot that has a lid, seasoning with pepper and poultry herbs to taste. Remove the chicken to a plate.
Add the carrot, celery and potato to the pot. Cook them for 5 minutes until they're just starting to become tender. Remove the vegetables from the pot.
Put both soups into the pot, adding cans of water and milk. Whisk the soup and liquid until well-blended and add the chicken and vegetables back into the pot, stirring to combine.
Bring the soup to a boil. Reduce heat and let the soup simmer with the lid tilted, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes until the vegetables are cooked and the soup is thickened a bit. Stir the frozen peas into the soup about five minutes before serving. Enjoy!
*I prefer Campbell's Healthy Request varieties of cream soups, for lower sodium and fat.
Monday, April 24, 2017
Hello! It feels like I haven't blogged in a really long time. I've been away from my computer for days. We had a nice Easter, as I hope you did as well, but the following week was pretty challenging as the Bear recovered from his surgery. We went back to the hospital for follow-up appointments and he worked from home a bit, but mostly needed to rest and get better. I was trying to juggle a lot of different things on my own. We both slept poorly at night because he was uncomfortable and keeping me awake. He's doing much better this week and has returned to work and we're both sleeping better, so things are looking up. Thank you for your kind words and get-well wishes, they mean a lot to both of us.
This weekend, we tackled some outdoor jobs, which was actually very invigorating. He felt well enough to work for a couple of hours and I was just so glad to be outdoors and getting stuff done. All the perennials are blooming now and it's just lovely to be outside. This time of year is definitely one to savor; the temperatures are usually perfect and the sun isn't too terribly strong yet. In a few weeks, yard work will be a brutal endeavor, but not just yet. I spent an hour or so on Saturday morning weeding the front yard and pulling out volunteer shoots of Russian sage, which pop up all over the yard. Sunday was for the backyard and all four of us worked on getting things ready for the growing season. It's all finished now and I'm really excited to see what unfolds.
I planted my annuals, finally. I was itching for weeks to do this, but I held back. I might have done it a bit too early as it is, since the forecast is calling for lows in the upper thirties by the end of this week, but as long as the temperature stays above freezing, I think it will be okay. Anyway, I've really refined my annuals game over the past few years, after planting too much in the past, and now I'm down to just my half-barrel and this small Talavera planter, and I feel hopeful that I can have good annuals all summer long.
Last year, I planted beautiful lavender-and-yellow violas in the Talavera pot but they couldn't handle much sun and they died by early June. This year, I deliberately chose plants that want long periods of direct sun. I really love this planter and I want something to survive in it! I chose two small celosia plants, a pink and an orange. Celosia thrives with 6 or more hours of full sun, and I'm only hoping that New Mexico-strength sun has been accounted for. It's a small, lightweight pot, so I can always move it into shade if it seems like they've had enough.
In the barrel, I planted five geraniums. I have had geraniums in the barrel for years, but I've always added other plants, such as lobelia or verbena, for color and design, but I don't think I'll bother with anything but geraniums anymore. I ended up pulling four out of six verbenas last year because they were too crowded. The back of the barrel is in partial shade so things don't grow as well there. So just geraniums now. I planted them closer to the front of the barrel to give them more sun exposure. I know they'll do well here and I'm glad I resisted the temptation to fill up the barrel with other things that will only look nice for a little while. It's a terrible feeling to throw away plants, isn't it? All that water wasted. I tried to go with a theme with my flowers this year, sticking with pinks and oranges. I thought it would be nice with the new house paint. The barrel has two fuchsia geraniums on the left, a peachy-pink in the middle and two orange ones at the right. I was thinking about kind of a wave through the colors, which works in my head, but we'll see.
Less beautifully, we planted our vegetable containers too. I don't remember exactly what is in which container at the moment, but they include two kinds of tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and yellow squash. They'll live here on the west wall of the yard, near the chicken coop, where they'll get good but not terribly intense sun.
Other things are planted in the side yard, along the house. We have two kinds of grapes back here and they're doing really well. We also have an outrageous amount of tarragon back here that I'm always looking for ways to use. Annual-wise, we plant tomatoes and herbs over here. We have a large planter with basil, chives and thyme this year. We try different herbs every year, but there is always basil.
This post is mostly about the back yard but I am so excited about this Spanish lavender we planted in the front about eighteen months ago. We planted an English lavender at the same time, to replace a big, old one which had died. Neither new lavender did much in their first spring, last year, but this year the Spanish has bloomed so nicely! The new English has buds (as does the other old one we still have) so I think it will flower soon too. The front yard smells better and better every time I go outside!
Back to the back...I bought a new patio umbrella this spring. It's from Target and I took advantage of a big patio sale with an extra discount coupon code. Our old umbrella was in sorry shape and I really wanted a bigger one anyway, so it was a good time to grab a new one while they were cheaper. I chose a neutral color to blend with the house and let the flower colors stand out. It's just lovely. We've eaten lunch out there almost every day for the past couple of weeks. I also sprung for a concrete base for the umbrella. I've never had one before; I always took the old umbrella down and put it away on the porch to keep it from blowing away. It turns out you don't have to do that if you have a base! Duh. I don't know why I never thought of buying one but it makes a big difference.
And check this out - the new umbrella tilts! I know, this is probably really old "technology" but the old one didn't have this feature and I was constantly moving the umbrella around and sticking it back into the table at different angles to block the sun. But not anymore, now that I've leapt so proudly into the um...twentieth century.
Look what I found while I was gardening! We're not sure where the nest is, but we all marveled at the idea of a baby robin who was small enough to hatch from that little hole. And we all agreed that baby birds and teeny eggs are some of the nicest things about springtime.
I just wanted to say hello and welcome to new readers and followers! I've noticed several new commenters lately and I am really glad you're here. I hope you'll enjoy following along with our homey adventures.
I've had some questions about the Winter Project Link Party lately and I thought I'd address them here; the party will resume in October, provided there is interest among my readers. I will ask about interest toward the end of summer, probably in August, just to see whether people wish to participate again. It only takes a few to have a nice link party. I hope that if you're interested now, you'll keep my party in mind come the fall. I'd love to have you!