Sunday, December 31, 2017

Happy New Year

Hello! Happy New Year. I hope you have had a good holiday season with your loved ones. We had a nice one here, with all the usual traditions, including lots of Christmas movies, fancy food treats and evening fires. We've also been working on clearing out some old things to make way for new ones, which is something I always enjoy. Carloads have been taken to the thrift shop and there are new spaces in the garage and office that I thought I'd never see. It's a great feeling. Tonight we'll have our usual small New Year's Eve celebration here at home, just the four of us (we wouldn't dream of going out driving around here, no way). I think we'll watch movies and I have some party food planned instead of a normal dinner, which I'm sure everyone will enjoy. Tomorrow, we'll take down the Christmas tree and the outdoor lights, and we'll get ourselves in gear for the return to school on Wednesday.

Aside from all of that, life here has been a little difficult lately. The Bear has been having some health problems and, after months of tests and visits to doctors, has finally been diagnosed with a chronic medical condition. I'd rather not share much now, but maybe I will eventually. For now, I'll just say it isn't anything to panic about, but he will need to manage his condition indefinitely. The good news is that it can be stabilized with medication. It's a lot to get used to, and we've had some hard days getting everything straightened out, harder still for having to happen at holiday time, but the important thing is that he will get the care he needs to be healthy.

I thought dealing with bureaucracy over the LB's health issues was hard; boy, was I in for a surprise when I realized that due to federal law, I can do much less to help my husband than I can my child. As an adult, he has to do everything himself. I understand why this is, but it sure would be easier if I could talk to insurance and drug people too. But no, they won't let me do very much. In any case, I'm proud of him for handling it himself, and I'll support him here at home even if I can't be the one playing phone tag, chasing down documentation or submitting claims. And I have to hand it to the drug company for helping him enroll in a coverage program to make his shockingly expensive prescription much more affordable.

So, I haven't felt like blogging much lately, with all of this going on and the holidays at the same time. I'm sorry to be weeks behind on others' blogs and I hope everyone is well. I think I'll suspend the Winter Project Link Party. I apologize for any inconvenience or disappointment, but I would prefer not to have the commitment right now. I hope you'll understand. I plan to continue sharing projects as I complete them, of course.

I'm almost finished crocheting the stash-busting granny blanket I started in November, though I didn't get nearly as much work done over the holiday break as I'd hoped. I'm sure I can finish in January, though. Too bad this winter has been so warm where I am; we haven't even needed Maybelle on the bed yet! I'm pretty disappointed about that, but what can you do? I have a new lightweight quilt set for the warmer months and maybe we'll use Maybelle with that in the spring and fall. The new comforter I have on the bed for the winter (I've gone a little crazy bedding shopping lately) is plenty warm all by itself! At least we're saving on the gas bill.

I wish you a Happy New Year, my friends, and all the best in 2018. Enjoy and be safe. Back soon. xoxo

Friday, December 15, 2017

Settling in

Hello! It's our first day of the school break and the small Bears and I are relaxing at home. The past week was a little crazy, but not too bad. We had music and dance performances and our annual school art show, plus all the prep and shuttling that go along with these events. But we're finished now, and we're ready to settle in for our break. We don't have many plans - we'll stay close to home for the most part, but maybe take a day trip here and there. I still have gift-wrapping to do, but there's plenty of time. I'm really looking forward to watching our Christmas movies and just generally chilling. It's so nice not to have anything you have to do, or places you must be, for a little while.

It's cold out now and we may finally get some snow. We had a couple hours of flurries one day last week, which was pretty to watch. I hope we get "real" snow soon; we never get all that much here, but even a little dusting is nice. Plenty cold, though, and the nights have been very cold and clear. The days are sunny and chilly, which is my favorite. I'm so glad it's winter. It's not always so delightful to me, but after such a weirdly warm autumn it feels nice to be having seasonally-appropriate weather again. I'm always looking for the weather to match the calendar. To me, it feels right, even though winter in the high desert can be challenging. I go through a lot of moisturizer. We buy Aveeno lotion in bulk! Ever since I started getting serious about facial moisturizer a couple of years ago, I've noticed a big difference. If you can smile without feeling your face crack, you're doing okay.

I didn't have as much time as usual for cookie-baking this year, but I did manage to bake three types. I donated a large portion of them to the school for a fundraiser (they package up assortments of donated cookies and sell them at the aforementioned art show), and I'll send some more into the Bear's work with him next week. There won't be many left at home, which is fine with me. I love cookies, don't get me wrong, but I love other holiday goodies - like cheeses - even more, so I'd rather leave room for them.

The plate in the photo above shows the three styles of cookies I made. From the top: Nestle Mint Chocolate Delights (using the Toll House Winter mint-and-dark-chocolate chip mixture); Spritz Cookies (from the Land O'Lakes butter website), and finally, oatmeal cookies with white chocolate chips and dried cranberries (I used the basic cookie recipe on the back of my canister of oats, and added white chocolate chips and cranberries to give them a more festive look, though these additions ended up being hard to see in the finished cookies).

I make the chocolate-mint cookies every year because we really enjoy them and the batch is pretty huge. The oatmeal cookies came to me when I was looking for another large-batch recipe. And the spritz cookies are all about my eagerness to use the new cookie press I was given for my birthday last month. I've been so excited to try it, and it was everything I hoped it would be! Spritz cookies are fun to make. The press took a little getting used to, but I figured it out. The most important advice I can offer, after making something like seven dozen tiny cookies in an afternoon, is to keep everything cold. I stuck my dough in the fridge as soon as it started seeming too mushy, and I put my baking sheets in the fridge to cool off (after they were almost down to room temperature; I wouldn't do this with a hot sheet) between batches. This helped to keep the dough from spreading when I placed it on the sheets.

I can't wait to make those cookies again next year (or maybe sooner; my kit includes other seasonal press inserts like a butterfly and a flower). I was really on a roll once I got the hang of it. I even had to turn away the US Census worker who rang the doorbell that afternoon to administer my monthly survey (I mentioned here a few months ago that I participate in a long-term household study for the Census). I couldn't leave the kitchen long enough to talk to him and he's not usually inclined to come into the house. He called me later in the day and asked the questions over the phone. He was very understanding; like he said, cookies just have to take precedence sometimes.

Have a good weekend! I hope you're feeling calm and collected. Around here, we're looking forward to having a fire in the fireplace (we had our first of the season last weekend and it was just lovely). I'm looking forward to reading, crochet and maybe continuing a cross-stitch project I briefly started and soon abandoned back in the summer. Otherwise, it's just getting into the spirit and recharging after a busy few weeks. I hope you're doing the same, or soon will be.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Decked out

Hello! How is the holiday season treating you? Things are running pretty smoothly over here so far. I'm not feeling too much stress, which is kind of unusual for me at this time of year. I finished my Christmas shopping earlier than ever before, and that helps a lot. I still have to wrap everything, but I'll do it in the evenings over the next couple of weeks. We decorated the Christmas tree and put up the outdoor lights and all the other indoor decorations over the weekend. I'm enjoying having the tree up. I've always liked the feeling of being at home with the Christmas tree all lit up, even in the middle of the day. In fact, I turn on the lights first thing in the morning. The lights are on a switch in the foyer and I walk right to it when I come out of the bedroom (it's about ten paces, my house is small). By New Year's, I'll be itching to get everything packed away but right now, I'm all about maximizing holiday enjoyment.

On that note, I plan to bake cookies over the next few days. I will donate most of them to next week's school bake-sale fundraiser, and probably take some to a friend's party on Sunday afternoon. I usually bake about four different kinds of cookies and will try to do that this year too. I hope to try my new cookie press - a birthday present - to make a large batch of spritz cookies. I've never tried making them before so I've been looking at recipes. I'm excited about all the different ways to decorate them with colored sugars, sprinkles, candied fruits,'s all so pretty. I've been thinking about Christmas dinner too; we'll have a spiral-sliced ham as usual, but I'm still deciding on side dishes and dessert.

It took me a bit to get excited about the holidays, but I'm finally starting to feel it now. The weather has been so warm and dry, it just didn't feel like winter until this week. Now it's freezing cold and we have a little bit of snow on the mountain for the first time. It helped some to go to the mall last week and see the decorations while the Bear and I finished up our shopping and made a return. And now the small Bears have started their chocolate Advent calendars, which lends a festive moment to every day.

Yesterday, I went to Trader Joe's and saw a few things I'll go back for closer to Christmas, for festive meals and snacking. I don't want to buy them too soon because then we'll just eat them all. I did buy a really cool amaryllis bulb. The bulb is dipped in wax and you don't have to water it. You don't even need a pot. I did put it on a saucer to protect my kitchen tablecloth, just in case the red wax rubs off or bleeds. Otherwise, it's really neat! The flowers will be red, which is my favorite amaryllis color. I may buy a poinsettia soon; I don't buy them every year but Smith's has the rose-pink ones I really like.

This weekend, I have a crafty project to work on, to help the LB's teacher. The school has its annual art show next week, just before school finishes for the holidays, and she needs name cards for the display tables. She knows I like to make stuff, so she always sends things home for me to put together. I get to work with pretty papers and glue, which suits me just fine. I've been crocheting a lot in between all the activities and that stashbuster I shared in my link party post is really coming along!

I've been reading in bed at night. We bought ourselves new bedding in the Black Friday online sales and now have a much warmer comforter and two new sets of sheets. I kept saying I was going to buy a white or cream cover to put on the old duvet, but when we seriously started to discuss it, we realized we didn't want to deal with white, and what we really needed was a warmer blanket, so we bought a linen comforter set. It's a pale duck-egg blue color, not white. It's very snuggly and warm, looks great in the room (very pulled-together and grown-up), and matches my Maybelle blanket beautifully, so I'm happy. I can't stay out of my bed now! Everybody wins, haha.

This post ended up being newsier and maybe choppier than I'd planned, but that's just life. I hope you have a good weekend! Enjoy your holiday prep and all the fun and festive times, and remember to breathe - everything is going to be just great.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Winter Project Link Party

Welcome to December's Winter Project Link Party! I hope you'll want to join me in sharing your current winter projects (or recent finishes) and cheering each other on to progress. This month, I'm sharing a stash-buster I started right after I finished Maybelle in November. I couldn't have predicted it, but I actually felt the itch to crochet again almost immediately. I had lots of I Love This Yarn worsted-weight acrylic in my stash from previous blankets and I had been wanting to clear it out for a while. I decided to make a blanket for the living room! I could really use a new one in there; the ones I have were made when I started crocheting in earnest about six or seven years ago. I like them, but I'm tired of them, and besides, they're both a bit small for our needs. I want to make one large blanket, and if I have enough yarn left over, I might make a smaller throw too. For this first blanket, I chose to make large solid-colored granny squares joined in cream, really simple and graphic; back to basics, really.

Here is what I've done so far. These squares are about 12 inches apiece, so the blanket is growing very quickly. Each has eleven rounds (including the cream-colored joining round), made on an I/9 hook. My plan calls for thirty squares total (arranged 5 by 6), which will give me a blanket about 5 by 6 feet before adding a border. I think this will be plenty big enough, but I can always add more squares if needed. I really like this blanket so far. The colors are great because they're all my favorites that I've stocked up on over the years, and I love the look of solid-colored granny squares; they allow texture to be as important as color.

I'm literally joining as I go, one square at a time, which I've never done before. Normally, I make all the squares first, and then have a big joining event at the end. I felt like changing my approach this time, though. These squares are simple and fast to join, and since they're so large, the blanket takes shape right away, which has been really satisfying. I love having a blanket grow down my lap as I work on it, but that can take some time. This blanket is an instant grower. I try to make an hour or so in my day for crochet and I'm usually successful, even if the hour is broken up in small parts here and there, or even if I have to crochet while giving spelling dictation or drilling in math facts. These squares are perfect for my crochet-time allotment because I can typically make and join one square in about an hour's time.

I'm trying a new technique for the squares, which is pretty exciting. I came across a square pattern on a blog called knitpurlhook, which taught me some new things that make granny squares way easier, especially if you're making them in just one color. I'd always turned my squares with each round to avoid getting a "twist" in the work, but this blogger's technique has you joining the rounds in a corner, and only adding one chain in each corner, which keeps the work straight. And you don't have to cut the yarn and start again on another side. It's a great technique, I recommend it highly. This blanket is really filling the bill for me right now, with holiday nuttiness ramping up. There's nothing like a simple, nearly-mindless project to give you a little peace and relaxation. Watching your stash dwindle is a pretty good feeling too.


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