Sunday, July 23, 2017

Summer, this week

In our eighth week of summer break, our first sunflower bloomed. I thought this was a Mammoth, but it's some other kind. There are buds all along the stem. This is the only flower open so far, but it's so bright that my eye goes right to it when I look out the kitchen window.

All three of the young hens are now laying. We get at least two eggs every day, sometimes three. The small Bears say they know who has laid each egg, but I'm not so sure. The hens are doing great, though, and we're happy to have fresh eggs again.

The weather has definitely turned. We're deep in the monsoon now. I've been enjoying watching the storm clouds build every afternoon. We don't always get rain, but the clouds are very welcome.

Everything is blooming more nicely since we've had some rain. The Russian sage is purple again (it was looking very brown and dry for the past few weeks). It's attracting bees again too, which is always interesting to watch. These plants are just alive with bees.

The heavy rain washes out all kinds of interesting things, like this animal skeleton we came across on a walk. We think it might be a squirrel, or maybe a prairie dog.

We've played outside more since the cloudy afternoons started. It's more humid outside now, but usually less sunny, so it feels more pleasant on the whole. The hens get a lot of attention. Who needs a cat or a dog when you can carry around a big, fat hen?

We've had several rainbows, most of them too faint to photograph. This was our best one so far. It was actually a double rainbow for a little while. We're lucky to get so many rainbows.

This week, I crocheted nine Maybelle squares. Book-wise, I've been re-reading Nigella's How to Eat, which I borrowed from the library. I've read it several times before. I like to read it from cover to cover, like a non-fiction story. I love her writing about food but also just the way she says things. A cake recipe, for example, instructs you to stir the batter "robustly but not excitedly."

And speaking of cooking, Miss GB made Rice Krispie Treats almost entirely by herself this week. She's been cooking with me all summer and is becoming very adept in the kitchen. I'm very proud of her and I've really enjoyed having her near, my little cooking pal.


Have a good week! We're still three weeks out from school starting, but things have really wound down. This week will be the last library event and the end of the summer reading program. Swimming lessons are over now (both passed their level when lessons ended last week, and we'll go back for more next June). I'm waiting to hear from the teachers about requested school supplies so we can go and load up at Target. We'll go camping for a couple of days at the end of the week, so I'm starting to prepare for that. I hope you have fun things going on where you are! Thanks, as always, for reading and for the lovely comments you leave for me.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Big rain

On Monday afternoon, we had a whopper of a thunderstorm. It was completely crazy. I didn't even think we'd have rain that day, but around 4:30, the sky turned dark and the rain started, lightly at first but then it rained harder than I can remember for several years, and the rain fell for over an hour. Apparently, it was a very slow-moving storm and the heaviest cells were right over my neighborhood. That's one of the most interesting things about the monsoon season, actually; the rain can be very localized. You can have a serious storm in one place, and just a few miles away, nothing at all. It's hit or miss. So far this summer, our area was mostly miss.

The small Bears and I watched from the family room and kitchen. We have a better view from the back of our house in a storm; there are only two windows on the front of the house, and one is within the courtyard, which blocks a lot of the view. But from the back, we can watch the storm fill in between us and the mountain, and the backyard disappear under water, and rain lashing the henhouse and our neighbors' sheds and patio roofs. Water poured from the canales (drainage channels for our flat roof) and streamed down the windows. There was hail, briefly, and strong winds.

It was truly exhilarating. I sat under the skylight and listened. I absolutely love rain, as I keep telling you, and I look forward to monsoon season all year long. I've been starting to get antsy in the long summer break, feeling apprehensive about some changes slated to happen at school in the coming year, and, as usual, I was itching for the stormy part of summer to finally commence. I felt my anxiety melting away as I sat there, listening. I felt like things were being righted, concerns minimized. Of course, rain doesn't take away the aggravations of life, but it helps me pay less mind to them for a little while. Rain is one of my favorite forms of escapism.

We received about 1.7 inches of rain. A weather station in the city park two blocks north of here reported 1.8 inches. The arroyo rushed with churning, black water. When it was over, our yard was a mess. There were leaves everywhere, ripped from the trees by high wind and heavy rain. The roses were all but decimated. Straw from the henhouse was floating on ankle-deep water accumulated at the lowest point in the yard. The LB took the opportunity to play in the water, one of the few chances he's ever had. My children are city kids, and desert city kids at that. Standing water just isn't a thing here. I was glad he had the chance. He dragged a stick through the water, agitating dirt and straw, splashing unwitting hens through the mesh of their coop. I enjoyed watching him play; he seemed to find great joy in playing in his own giant backyard puddle. We have to sweep the patios this weekend, to rid them of debris left behind when the water receded during that night. But that's a small price to pay for one heck of an exciting storm event.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Summer, this week

In our seventh week of summer break...

We started a new session of swimming lessons at a different pool, an indoor one. We have gone swimming there before, but this is our first time taking lessons there. We switched because they have a diving pool and the LB was ready to take diving lessons (the GB can still take regular swimming lessons there too). He's doing great, but it was rather terrifying for me at first. Now, after a week, I'm mostly okay watching him plunge head-first into 14 feet of water...mostly. Oh dear.

All the summer activities are beginning to wind down. We went to the library to learn how to write in Egyptian-style hieroglyphics. They made bookmarks with their hieroglyphic names on them. Summer ballet has ended, and the library's summer reading program will end soon.

The small Bears saw their dentist for cleanings and x-rays.

I had my domestic day, which was totally reinvigorating. I'm so glad to know that others out there see the benefits in having a day at home.

I made five Maybelle squares this week. I finished a novel and am almost finished with an Ann Rule Crime Files book. I know, it's total trash, but I need that sometimes.

We had a really good cold chicken salad for dinner. I had leftover meat from a rotisserie chicken which I mixed with celery, chopped dill and mayonnaise. We ate it on bolillo rolls from the supermarket bakery. Easy and good. I love cold dinners in the summer.

I'm hoping for a good monsoon week. The storms have been pretty wimpy so far. Come on, gully-washer.

The Bear and I had a surprise evening out when the small Bears slept over with their grandparents last night. We did very exciting things: went to Starbucks, roamed around at World Market looking at foreign groceries, ate dinner at Pei Wei (where we got a free bowl of pad thai because they made a mistake with our order; the Bear has lunch for Monday in the bag), stopped at Flying Star and shared a slice of cake and sat on the patio until it was dark and starting to rain, came home and watched Can't Pay? We'll Take It Away! on Netflix. Only a trip to Hobby Lobby could have made this a better night. Ha.

Today, we're catching up with house stuff. I'm doing laundry. We'll grill steak for dinner and watch our Sunday PBS shows. Tomorrow, it's back to the pool and probably the library because I have books waiting on the holds shelf. I'm determined to crochet more this week, and maybe start my new cross-stitch project. I hope you have a good week ahead!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Domestic day

I woke up this morning with a strong urge to stay home. We've been so busy all summer, and this week has been no exception. Today would be the first day this week with an open afternoon - no guitar or ballet lessons, no library events, no appointments or commitments. We did have swimming lessons in the morning. But today dawned cloudy and cool at first, like a few days have lately (it's so refreshing and I'm savoring every one), and I felt like concentrating on home things after swimming lessons. I just needed to spend some time loving my home. We came back from the pool and I told my children, "We're staying home the rest of the day. We're enjoying time at home and we're not going back out again." They were surprisingly agreeable. Then I spent the rest of my day playing house. These are some of the home-loving things I did today...

I cut half of a seedless watermelon into bite-size pieces. I'm still amazed by seedless watermelons, even though I've been buying them for a few years. It's a wonderful advancement, but I have to admit that I sometimes miss seed-spitting contests...and seed-spitting fights.

I watered and pruned in the backyard and was so excited to see how big my sunflower buds are getting. I was disappointed not to have more of my seeds germinate, but the ones that did are looking good. I think this one is a Mammoth.

I straightened up our bedroom. My dresser had collected a few stray items and it was driving me a little crazy. I cleared them away and ahhh...I felt so much better.

Then I dusted inside the hutch - a job I don't particularly enjoy, but it all looks so much prettier when it's done.

After lunch, I sat with this week's book, Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan. I had just a few pages left and I was able to finish it. What a great book. She's one of my favorite newer novelists and I recommend her highly.  I'm really on a roll with the good novels lately.

Miss GB helped me put her ballet costumes into a new dress bag (I bought this one). She will have a new costume every other year, when her dance school holds its big recital. So far, she has two costumes. As long as she wants to continue dancing, there will be new costumes, so I wanted to find a nice way to store them. This bag has a five-inch side gusset, which should give us plenty of room as she progresses.

I started a load of wash (kids' comforters from their beds), and headed back to the kitchen. I'd told them we could bake something this week, and here we were on Thursday not having done it yet. We baked blondie bars from a Trader Joe's mix. These are so nice and easy - just add melted butter and an egg, bake for 30 minutes, slice into 16 squares. They're a nice, just-a-few-bites treat, just enough for a small tin.

In between washloads, I crocheted a little. I made two more Maybelle squares. Only sixty-six left to go! Not that I'm counting down, really, I love this project. But keeping count does help me see the progress. We watched some science videos on YouTube, via the Blu-Ray player, and soon it was time to make dinner. We had some leftover pulled pork on buns, with potatoes and corn. Then we cleaned up, started the long bedtime routine, and finally, the Bear and I are sitting down with glasses of water (hey, it's a weeknight) and Netflix. All in all, I had a very good domestic day. Sometimes, I just need to stay home and putter. I feel best when I'm at home and doing busy, homey things. It's not exciting and it sure isn't glamorous, but it sets everything straight in my head when I pause in the bustle and take care of the small things.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Summer, this week

In our sixth week of summer break, we saw the first hibiscus of the season, followed by many more! They were right on time, blooming as usual in the first week of July.

But the eggs were the biggest news. This week Ginger, our Buff Orpington hen, laid three small eggs. She is the first of the young hens to lay and we're very proud of her.

This is one of her eggs compared to a store-bought egg. Just tiny so far.

For a Fourth of July treat, I made one of my favorite festive recipes, a strawberry Poke Cake. You know me and my kitschy, old-fashioned desserts. I arranged blueberries on top in my best attempt at a star shape. It was hard! Some people thought my star looked like Patrick from Spongebob Squarepants. They liked the cake anyway.

Look at those lovely strawberry streaks! This is such a fun recipe. I make other variations sometimes too. My favorite is what I call Creamsicle cake - I use orange Jello! YUM.

On Saturday, we woke up to a cloudy sky for the first time in weeks. It was so pleasant to water and prune my backyard plants in the cool air. The sun was just peaking through the clouds when I finished. These July days bring much more interesting weather. Rain is predicted every day in the coming week.

My barrel of geraniums is just blowing me away right now. I'm so excited about them. I can see them through the sliding glass doors in the breakfast nook and they remind me that I really can grow flowering plants if I put my mind to it. I've finally got the hang of this.

I bought myself a few craft supplies. I've been on a supply diet, including yarn, for the past few months. I want to use what I have before I lay in much more of anything. But my cross-stitched butterfly inspired me to get back to stitching again, and I want to make a large design for my gallery wall. I bought a nice hoop and I treated myself to a set of good embroidery needles. I'm going to stitch this gorgeous floral heart design from Galaborn Patterns on Etsy. I've been saving the pattern for almost a year. I'm so excited to get started.

I'm still working on my lunches. My favorite lunch this week was a salad (some of the lettuce was from our own garden!) with tuna, cannellini beans, tomato and a few kalamata olives. I used bottled vinaigrette dressing. My salad was delicious and very filling, a grown-up's lunch.

School won't start for another month, but I bought new lunchboxes for the small Bears this week. They'd used the old ones since preschool and it was time to replace them. These are the ones they chose - plain blue for the now-big boy and colorful crayons for the still-little girl. You can see their personalities reflected in their lunchboxes.

I made five Maybelle squares this week. I wanted to make more, but I was engrossed in a book instead. Do you enjoy Anne Tyler's books? I find them to be hit-or-miss; some are amazing and some I just can't get into. I found an older one, The Amateur Marriage, at the library and it was just fantastic. I literally couldn't put it down - I was reading while I cooked, book in one hand, wooden spoon in the other. It was so insightful, and the characters were so intensely real. I was completely enthralled. For me, it was one of those books that comes along maybe every couple of years, and always leave me hoping I'll love a book that much again someday.


I hope you have a good week ahead, my friends! Thanks for your lovely comments lately. I'm glad you enjoy reading these posts about our summer days. I have to say that writing these posts has really helped me feel more at ease in the long summer break, both last year and this. It's helping me savor the time as well. Thank you for being supportive and kind. Thank you for continuing to read along with our adventures, I'm glad you're here.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

A stitched butterfly

Hello! I hope you've enjoyed a nice holiday celebration if there was one where you live. We had a quiet few days at home together, finishing some household repairs and yardwork, with some good relaxation too. The weather has been hot and sunny most days, but we're starting to get cloudy afternoons sometimes, which is a nice relief, and we've had a few storms too. This is probably my favorite part of the summer; the monsoon is just getting started, the later-summer plants (which I like best) are flowering, and the very bright morning sun is starting to wane a bit - enough to be just a little less intense when it comes into my bedroom windows early in the morning. We even have things to eat in our own backyard by this point in the summer; we made refrigerator pickles from our own cucumbers this week, we're getting a few cherry tomatoes every day and we're putting fresh herbs in everything. Yes, this is a very good part of the summer.

I've been trying hard to keep crafting through the summer, even on the busy days when we have lessons and library visits and activities. I'm really glad to have a crochet project with small parts right now; I can fit in a Maybelle square or two between outings. My squares are coming along quickly, which makes me very happy. I really think I can have this blanket finished by the time we need one on our bed when the weather turns cool. I'm even thinking ahead to my next blanket already. Can you believe it? After all that hemming and hawing for a year before landing on Maybelle, I'm already thinking about what to make next. I feel reinvigorated about crochet! It's a great feeling.

Last week, I felt like doing some needlework in between the Maybelles. For a while now, I'd been wanting to stitch something small, to be displayed in a 4-inch hoop, for my gallery wall in the family room. I planned to recycle a hoop that I already had hanging there as a frame for a piece of fabric I like. I'm falling out of love with my hoop-framed fabric lately, though. I still think it's a lovely look, but I was ready for a change, so I decided to stitch something instead. In my mind, I was picturing a colorful butterfly on black Aida, something that would be bright and cheerful, but small, like a tiny enameled plate. I'd stitched a small pink rose on black for this wall a few years ago, with a similar look in mind.

For several years, I've been looking for Perler (or Hama) bead designs on Pinterest, which can easily be turned into cross-stitch patterns (and vice versa!). The GB and I both enjoy using Perler beads and we make all kinds of designs with them. I pinned this butterfly design here, if you're interested in re-pinning. You're also welcome to peruse my Pinterest board for other embroidery designs and patterns, many of which can be used in both cross-stitch and Perler beading. I decided to make this butterfly because it would fit perfectly into a 4-inch hoop. I left off the daisy behind the butterfly; I felt the butterfly alone would be more dramatic against the black Aida cloth. I chose embroidery flosses from my stash, aiming for the same general colors as the design (I love the blues with pops of orange in the wings) but I wasn't fussy about exact shades. To create a physical pattern, I save the design to my computer and print it as a full page. Then I use my Staedtler pens to shade general areas for each color as a guide (my old-school printer doesn't do color, only black and white).

I was so happy to be stitching again. I hadn't stitched since just before Christmas, when I finished my Sweetiepie ABC's sampler for the GB. I was really starting to miss it. The butterfly didn't take long - I worked on it on and off for three or four days. I never thought I'd say this, but I really enjoy stitching on black. It takes some getting used to, but it's a fun little challenge for me. In the winter, I stitch sitting in the living room with the sunlight behind me, but in summer I need to sit under the skylight in the family room instead. It's amazing how different the light can be from one season to another.

The pattern shows the butterfly outline in black, but that obviously won't work on black cloth, so I outlined my butterfly with white. It was really an experiment, because I wasn't sure if it would look nice at all, but I was pleased with the effect. You can see in this photo how much difference it makes; the butterfly pops even more after outlining in white, I think.

I hung the butterfly in the same place where I had the hoop-framed fabric before. I would show you the whole wall, but this day, most things on the wall were crooked and I was too lazy to straighten them for a photo. I'm so happy with my butterfly. I just needed an update. It feels good to have something new, doesn't it? Even a tiny thing like a stitched butterfly can perk me right up. Now I feel inspired to stitch something jazzy for the opposite end of the gallery. I have a pattern in mind already: a big, colorful Polish-style cross-stitch design with flowers arranged in a heart shape. There will be lots more stitchy satisfaction in the near future for me!
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