Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Halloween


Wishing you a very happy Halloween, from our haunted house to yours!

Love,
Thistle+Bears

Friday, October 27, 2017

The last drop











We spent our afternoons in the backyard this week, soaking up the sun and walking around barefoot, knowing that the weather would turn on Thursday night. And turn it did, becoming cold and windy after dinnertime, dropping into the low thirties by dawn. Today has been chilly but clear and sunny, my absolute favorite kind of weather. I savored it heartily, wearing a warm jacket whenever I was outdoors (the Bear and I ran errands all morning), and am now sitting in the family room watching the leaves (what is left of them after last night's wind) moving outside the windows. Tonight, there will probably be a hard freeze, the first of the season. I bought a large canister of hot cocoa mix, because I am nothing if not optimistic about the urgent need for extreme levels of coziness.

We're almost ready for Halloween. The costumes are ready to go. I'll be a cat (as usual), the Bear will wear his painstakingly crafted Mountain Man costume, and the children will make further use of their costumes from the springtime school plays, though we've added some things to make them more interesting. The LB was a doctor in his play, which we've transformed into "mad scientist" for increased spookiness (though the LB's doctor was an evil fellow and fairly scary himself). The GB is the Wicked Witch of the West, with new and improved components: green-and-black striped tights, clip-in purple and green hair extensions, and a light-up necklace. (Party City had a big discount and free shipping two weeks ago, I went a little crazy). Gosh, I love Halloween. I have a spooky dinner planned, which nobody will find scary since they're getting really big now, but I am pretty sure I'll still be serving the Bear spooky Halloween dinners when we're eighty. We'll carve pumpkins, hang hokey spider lights on the gate and make ourselves sick on candy corn until the bitter end.

Regular life: the flusher broke on the master bath toilet this week. I was tired of sticking my hand in the tank to lift the flapper, so we rigged up a pull-string, like an old-timey water closet. I think we bought the wrong flusher at Lowe's this morning. We're battling mice in the ceiling over our bedroom. I don't want to talk about it. My teeth are bugging me after my dental work last week. I'm waiting for two crowns to be made, impatiently because the temporaries um...bite. But: there's a lot to look forward to - this whole time of year is just the best, I think. I'm starting to look at Christmas shopping a little bit, and I have some holiday crafting to do. I'm almost done with Maybelle! Only 29 more squares to join! And none too soon, it's getting pretty cold back there at night.

Tonight, I'll be watching Stranger Things and drinking cocoa. I would have my customary stove popcorn, but alas, bum teeth. How about you? Any plans for the weekend, or for Halloween? Hope you have a good time, my friends.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Blackberry apple jam


Hello! Thank you for your kind comments and well-wishes on my most recent post. Life is slowly getting back to normal, as everyone recovers from the worst cold we've had in a while. It's amazing how life gets all out of sync when there is illness in the house; nothing goes as normal, does it? I missed a grocery-shopping trip and we were eating such weird things by the end of that week. Then there's all the extra work of getting back on track - laundry, bedding changes, cleaning and yard work. It's good to get caught up. This week, I'll be changing over the children's dresser drawers, I think; it should be quite cool by the weekend. Their warmer fleece jackets are ready and everyone has a hat handy just in case, but I doubt it will get quite that cold for another few weeks.

I'm backtracking a little bit today, to a jam recipe I made recently. I had spotted a really good sale on blackberries in my weekly grocery circulars and jumped at the chance to buy them, especially so late in the season. I had been hoping to make another batch of some-sort-of-berry jam before winter - when I plan to make a new batch of marmalade - and since I'd never tried jamming with blackberries before, this seemed like a great chance. Even with the sale, though, the berries were a bit pricey to use them alone, so I improvised a recipe using apples to stretch the berries. I had also been wanting to try using apples to reduce the sugar by a bit, for a slightly healthier and more interesting-tasting jam. I've done this before, with my own tiny homegrown plums a few years ago, and it worked well. I came across a few recipes for jam made with berries and apples, took what sounded good from each, and gave it a shot. Here's how it went...


Blackberry Apple Jam
makes about 6 half-pints 

8 cups fresh blackberries (about 4 cups mashed)
2 cups unpeeled, chopped apple (2-3 medium)
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 cups sugar
1 package powdered pectin

Prepare jars, lids and bands as desired. (I like to heat my jars in the oven, and my lids and bands in a simmering pot of water on the stove).

Mash the berries in a large bowl. Place the apples and lemon juice in a large pot and bring to a boil, simmering about five minutes until the apples start to soften.

Remove the pot from heat and stir in the berries, bring to a boil. Stir in sugar and pectin, return to boil. Cook at full rolling boil for five minutes.

Quickly ladle jam into prepared jars, add lids and screw on bands. Process jars as desired* (I follow USDA Guidelines for safe home canning).



I used Golden Delicious apples. It was the greenest apple I could find when I bought them, and they say green apples have more pectin. I left the apples unpeeled because there is a lot of pectin in the peel. This can help you use less sugar in the jam, which was one of my goals. I love sweet jam, of course, but I was looking for something different this time, more of a natural fruit spread where you could really taste the fruit. Chopping apples is easy enough, and the extra step of cooking them is not difficult either. I'm glad I cooked them before adding the berries because the apples might not have been tender enough.



My recipe made six half-pint jars of jam. We tried one jar soon after I made it. It's delicious, not too sweet, and the berry and apple flavors both come through very nicely. I like that the apples, and their peels, stayed somewhat intact, giving the jam a little bit of texture. The jam is not as firmly set as some of my jams have been, less gelatinous, which is actually nice - it's more of a chunky spread. I wasn't sure what I would get, but I would call this a success, not to mention an enjoyable experiment. The only thing I might change is the lemon juice - I think there was a little too much. I might replace half with water next time.

I had a lot of fun making this recipe because it tested my jam skills, which I'd say are still at the moderate-hobbyist level, but I'm learning more all the time. I really love to make jam. It's starting to feel like just another home-making task nowadays, actually, which I like (I'm quite an enthusiastic homemaker, for the most part). Every couple of months, it's time to make a new batch of jam again, a pleasant little routine I've added to my life.

*I'm aware that opinions vary on processing jams and other canned foods. I prefer to follow processing guidelines, but I hope that you will do whatever you're comfortable with if you happen to try any of my jam recipes.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Leaf and sky











Oh, glorious October! It seems like the whole world consists of nothing but brightly burnished trees and wide-open blue skies. Inside, the light is all changing angles and unexpectedly lit corners. Outside the back windows: golden locusts lining the north side of the arroyo as far as I can see, to where it bends under the road behind it. Outside the front window: golden olive tree glowing brighter throughout the day as the sun moves around it. The weather has been just about perfect; this is the nicest fall we've had in a few years. The afternoons are warm and bright, the nights properly chilly. We haven't had unnatural heat this fall, just pleasant warmth you can enjoy all the more because you can tell that it's fleeting. There isn't that no-end-in-sight feeling to the heat that we sometimes have, just a sense of needing to appreciate the nice days while they last, which is exactly how I want my autumn to feel.

Life has been a little difficult in general these past couple of weeks, in spite of the loveliness outdoors. There have been medical appointments with somewhat concerning news, an extracurricular activity scheduling change and a change at school to get used to, a not-unexpected but still very sad death in the extended family, and a miserable, lingering cold that we've all suffered through. We had fall break last week, but very little fun happened; we were all feeling too poorly. I barely left the house all week, preferring to take it easy on the couch or in bed, whenever I wasn't helping some other poor sick soul. Tomorrow, I'll be having some (minor) dental work and consequently, my anxiety is (irrationally) through the roof.

On the positive side, I've continued my run of unusually good library books, I found out that Amazon Prime carries both The Cosby Show and Roseanne in their streaming offerings (great for convalescing), and I've been able to make very good progress on Maybelle - I'm now more than halfway through joining the squares. I'm really excited about that. To celebrate my survival at the dentist, I plan to order Chinese food on Saturday night for our at-home date. I'm going to bake a pumpkin pie this weekend too. We have big plans for Halloween, it's all in the works!

Oh, and I bit the bullet and made a reservation for Thanksgiving dinner in a restaurant this year. YES. I wouldn't do this ordinarily, preferring to make the whole huge meal myself, but this year my birthday falls on Thanksgiving Day for the first time in eleven years (I was also born on the big day), and I'd rather not do all that work on my own birthday. I'm also just looking forward to doing something different for the holiday. My family doesn't mind either way. Sometimes you just have take what you want for yourself.

I have to get going now, need to pick up a library book before I pick up the children at school. I hope you're doing well and enjoying a fall break if you're having one where you are. Have a good weekend!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Permanent pumpkins


For the past couple of weeks, I've been crocheting some little pumpkins and squashes when I feel like a little break from Big Mama Maybelle, which is fun to work on but also a bit overwhelming at times. I mentioned these pumpkins recently; I decided to make them instead of buying mini pumpkins and squashes like I usually do in the fall to make a table display in my living room. The minis are so cute, and they come in so many surprising shapes, sizes and colors. I really love them. But I can't seem to keep them fresh for more than a week or so, and I always end up needing to buy more, which is a hassle and not especially economical.

I considered buying some realistic-looking plastic-covered foam pumpkins and squashes that I saw in a craft store, but then I thought of crocheting some instead! People (like my friend Gillian) crochet cute and realistic fruits and veggies all the time! So I went looking on Ravelry for ideas and came up with two very nice amugurumi patterns for pumpkins and squashes, sorted my yarns for the most autumnal colors possible, and got to work.


The pumpkins are made with a pattern called Amigurumi Pumpkins, designed by Mevlinn Gusick. This pattern comes with instructions for making pumpkins in three sizes; I made one of each. Aren't they cute? I just love them. The design is really clever; you crochet sort of a tall bag closed at the bottom, fill it with toy stuffing, and use decrease stitches to close up the other end. Then you run long stitches around the outside from top to bottom and pull them tight to create the segmented shape. You can make them squatter or taller depending on how you do the long stitches. I made stitches for eight segments on the medium and large pumpkins, but only six on the little cream-colored one, just in keeping with the sizes. It's really open-ended; the pumpkin shape comes through no matter what. The pattern also includes instructions for making different-sized stems, as well as leaves, which I didn't add (I thought they looked just fine, and a little more natural, without them).


I like the squashes too, but I felt a little less successful with them. They're made with a pattern from Lion Brand Yarn which is part of a larger bundle that you can use to crochet a whole "cornucopia" of harvest fruits and vegetables, including the horn itself! I'll admit right now that I'm very much an amigurumi beginner, and I'm not always good at following the patterns, even with an eagle-eye on my work and a stitch marker. This pattern is also challenging because it has you adding stuffing as you work, which I find difficult because the stuffing gets in my way. These squashes are supposed to have much longer, skinnier stems on them; mine ended up pretty short and chubby. But squashes are usually funny-looking in real life, aren't they? Mine are...unique. :)


My display is on the coffee table in our living room. I laid out a patchwork table runner that I sewed when we were newlyweds (it's reversible, made with two fat-quarter sets, the other side with Christmas fabrics; I'm sure you've seen both sides in my posts). The pumpkins and squashes are arranged on a large, decorative glass platter. I think it looks nice - bright, fun and seasonal. Everyone loves them; I keep finding a small girl rearranging them to her own liking, which is fine with me. Why crochet fun veggie toys if nobody is allowed to touch them? I'm glad I made them and I'm looking forward to using them again and again in the future, when my favorite season rolls around.

Permanent Pumpkins (and Steadfast Squashes)
Yarns: Stylecraft Special DK in Tomato, Khaki, Meadow, Gold, Mocha and Walnut; Baby Bee Sweet Delight (DK/baby weight) in Apricot Jam and Naked
Hook: Clover Amour G/6 (4.00mm)
Patterns: Amigurumi Pumpkins by Mevlinn Gusick; Squash by Lion Brand Yarn


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Have you joined in with my Winter Project Link Party yet? I hope you will join in with our first party of the season. Please add your link soon; the party ends on Saturday! There have been questions about what I mean when I ask for new posts. To clarify, I'd just like to keep the party fresh, and encourage support, by sharing current works in progress or very recent finishes. If you've just written a relevant post in the last few weeks before a link party, that's fine to add. You're welcome to add as many posts as you like in any month's party. Link parties will take place each month, October through March. I don't mean to be bossy, I just want the party to be fun and supportive for everyone. Thanks! And thank you to all who have joined in so far, I'm really glad to have you.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Winter Project Link Party


Welcome back to the Winter Project Link Party! This is my third annual link party and I really hope you will want to join in with sharing your current works-in-progress (and your current projects as your finish them!) over the next several months. I'm so excited to be back to the link party. I always try to have a project going through the winter months, and I have found that our link party really helps me stay focused on my projects as the seasons progress.

To join in with my party, please see the information at the bottom of this post. If you've joined in before, everything is about the same as in previous years. There is one new thing this year: I'd really like to make sure we're keeping our link party fresh by adding NEW posts. Please refrain from adding older posts from your blog. Otherwise, the party is simple and straightforward: show us what you're working on right now, get (and give) encouragement!

As for me, I'm now joining my Maybelle squares to make a big (erm, gigantic) blanket for our queen-sized bed. This blanket really is huge, but that's how we want it, for warmth on top of the duvet in the colder months. It should be about 90 by 90 inches square before adding a border, which at this point I am thinking will be pretty narrow. This blanket just won't need a lot of extra area by the time it's all joined together!




I'm enjoying the joining process so much. It's really soothing and relaxing, and it goes by really fast. I have found that I need to sit in the deeper, wider living room chairs instead of the smaller recliner in the family room, where I sat to crochet individual squares for many months. The blanket is getting so big that I need the extra space around me to keep the blanket on my lap, or pushed to one side of my lap, as I work on it.

I'm using the joining technique suggested in the Maybelle blanket tutorials written by Annette, of the blog My Rose Valley. Annette's Maybelle blanket design is lovely, simple and very easy to follow. I really like the way the joins look. My blanket is a little lumpy (as it shall stay, since there is no way I could ever block such a humongous piece of crochet), but you can just see the pretty, lacy central join, where four corners meet. I'm sure that when the blanket is stretched and smoothed over the bed, the lacy look will show up better. For now, I'm just happy to have an easy, intuitive join method to watch develop as I work.


This is all just so exciting to me! I was really beginning to despair about ever making this blanket when I remembered the Maybelle pattern. I love the flower design in this square, and I'm actually finding I like it even more with the additional round of gray in the joins. I think the colorful flower stands out even more nicely this way.



I've made a lot of blankets, but watching this one actually become a drape-able, fold-able piece of fabric has been especially exciting. I think I'm working a little more feverishly right now than I have in a long time - I'm just so eager to use this blanket on the bed. With any luck, I will NOT be working on this project all winter long!

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It's link-up time! Please read the link-up guidelines below. To keep it fresh, please add your project posts about current works in progress or very recent finishes. You can add as many posts as you like.

Be sure to link back to this post in your winter project post to help spread the word about this link party!

Grab a link party button (code is below) to display on your blog!

 
Thistlebear

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

This and that














Hello! Happy October. I love October, it's just the best around here. Balloon Fiesta starts this weekend. I've been looking everywhere for the little, happy things, to take my mind off the news. Everything is such a mess. Yesterday, I learned of the horrible news from Las Vegas when my children switched on the kitchen radio at breakfast, as normal. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I put down the container of cottage cheese I had in my hands and walked into another room to compose myself. Then I came back to the kitchen and switched to a no-talk station. I didn't check the internet until late in the afternoon, and then I learned that one of my favorite musicians had died.

Too much death, too much bad news. Too much of everything. I made vegetable-barley soup, baked chocolate-chip cookies, crocheted and watched old DVD's from the library. We learned about riding the rails during the Great Depression. We learned about animals on the African savanna. We talked about what we'd heard on the radio, since it clearly hadn't left their minds. We came to no conclusions. We're just going to do the best we can to treat people nicely, be fair and kind, and try to remember to be grateful for what we have. Then we talked some more about lions and trains because what else can you really say.

We've been busy with a big science presentation for school. There have been dentist's and doctor's appointments. We've been starting to feel the change of seasons, with a big multi-day storm last week that brought lots of rain, wind and colder temperatures. We've been enjoying the changes very much, me most of all. I sure love my autumnal weather. I've been joining my Maybelle blanket, reading a lot, cooking all my cool-weather favorites - soups, stews, frittatas, pasta sauce and roasted vegetables. I've been baking a bit, and I made jam too.

I've been reading a biography of Elizabeth of York (Henry VIII's mother). The Bear and I watched Ken Burns' The Vietnam War, which was amazing and sad and infuriating. I've also been watching something (streaming on Amazon Prime) that I never thought I'd get to see again: Unsolved Mysteries, my favorite TV show when I was roughly 12 to 15 years old. I never missed it. The Bear thinks it's cheesy, but I don't care. I've been cleaning a lot and changing the beds and dresser drawers over to cool-season stuff. We haven't had the furnace on yet, but it could happen any day now. Nights in the forties are now firmly in the forecast.

What's new with you? I hope you're well. I've been a bit behind on blogs lately. Will you be joining in with my Winter Project Link Party? I will be posting the sign-up this weekend, probably Saturday. There will be more info in my post. I hope to see you there! 
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