Saturday, March 31, 2018

Happy Easter

Happy Easter from my family to yours! I hope you're having a lovely weekend with your loved ones.

These are just a few photos from our egg-dyeing this year. We love this tradition, it's an important part of our Easter holiday. I use the basic Paas egg-dye kit, the one they sell at Hobby Lobby. I like the basic colors best, just six bright colors that you mix up with vinegar and water. Sometimes I buy the more deluxe kits with nine or ten colors and more fancy stickers and all of that, but generally, I go for the simpler kit. I boiled 18 white store-bought eggs for dyeing. Between those, and our hens' eggs, plus the extra eggs I bought for our Easter morning breakfast casserole, we're going egg crazy here. Frittatas and omelets are on the menu for the coming week, and everyone is getting hard-boiled eggs in their lunchboxes!

Thanks for your supportive comments on my hexagon-joining tutorial. I'm relieved to know that it's understandable and that it may be helpful to someone out there. I'm having so much fun with these hexagons, I just have to tell you. It's just a little bit different from most things I've made, and the geometry of them is interesting; they're keeping my attention and I love working on them. I'm even enjoying bright, multi-colored crochet again; I'd been feeling bored, or maybe irritated, with that look for the past year or two, but lately, it's appealing to me again. It's all helping me to keep an open mind about my crochet. It's such a fulfilling hobby for me, and I'm enjoying the process of growing my skills and developing my tastes over time and with experience.

I have all the food I plan to cook tomorrow. The menu includes spiral ham, a potato side dish, asparagus, dinner rolls and a Marie Callender's coconut cream pie for dessert (I took the easy way out, yes I did). I'm looking forward to making the kids' Easter baskets tonight after they go to bed, and hiding some plastic eggs filled with jellybeans in the backyard. We do this every year, for them to find in the morning. They're getting big for it now, but they still enjoy it. I don't know how much longer we'll have an egg hunt, but I plan to keep making baskets for them indefinitely. Who doesn't love a basket of candy and fun trinkets? Nobody I know! I'll make them for our grandchildren someday too, and their parents if they still want one. I love Easter. What a lovely, happy holiday.

Have a wonderful celebration with your friends and family! Happy Easter and happy spring!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Join as you go, hexagon edition

Hey there! I hope you're having a good week. Our Spring Break is in progress now, and we're enjoying that very much. I've been crocheting up a storm; we've mostly stayed home and I've been able to get some much-needed rest and relaxation after a crazy few weeks. Yesterday was stormy and cold, which was perfect for staying in, eating soup and drinking tea, watching a movie and working on my blanket. Just wonderful. This morning, I went to the dentist for a check-up and cleaning (a good report, thankfully), and this afternoon, we'll go to the GB's ballet lesson. I was secretly hoping we'd get a week off, but they're staying open for classes during the break. Tomorrow, I'll go to the store for our Easter ham and white eggs for dyeing.

Today, I want to show you how I've been joining my hexagons. I've chosen to join them as I go, just because I really like to watch the progress as the blanket takes shape, and also because I don't enjoy sewing or crocheting them together later. Sewing motifs is particularly fraught for me; I never seem to be able to estimate the length of yarn I'll need to sew motifs together, and I end up with more ends to sew in. Crocheting them along the edges hurts my hands after a while. So JAYG works best for me. I looked for a tutorial on JAYG for hexagons, but I wasn't totally satisfied with what I found. This is how I've been doing it, which is not say it's my invention, just what is working well for me.

For the body of the hexagon, I'm following a basic six-round granny hexagon pattern from a blog called Novamade; Nova's hex pattern (click to see it) is simple and easy to follow. Following the pattern, I'm making one chain between clusters on the sides, but in the outer cream round, I've added a chain in the corners, for a total of two chains. This gives more space for joining at corners. I'm joining my hexagons in horizontal rows. As with any JAYG method, start by making the outer round on one hex, then join them one at a time in a strip, joining the left-hand side of each hex to the right-hand side of the one before.

Once you have the desired number of hexes joined in your first row strip, move on the next row. Hexagons will need to be arranged in a staggered way, like a honeycomb. You'll have long rows alternating with short rows. I'll show you how to make half-hexagons another time; these can be used to fill in the spaces along the sides created by the staggered rows. My blanket has eight hexes in the long rows and seven hexes in the short rows.

I'm going to show you how to join a motif to the ones above it, and if needed, the one to the left of it.

My instructions are in US terms:
double crochet = dc
slip stitch = sl st
chain = ch

Start with the right-hand corner above the straight edge. Chain 3, one double-crochet in the purple corner space, followed by one chain. (This would be the same way to add the first hexagon in a new long row; you'd just join it on this side and continue all the way around the hexagon to complete the border round. In a short row, you'd need to join both top angled sides).

Slip stitch into the corner space of the hexagon above, then make two more dc into the purple corner, to complete the corner clusters. Then sl st into the next ch above. Continue along the side of the hex being joined, making 2dc in each space and a sl st into each ch above, until you reach the next corner space.

This is actually where three corners will meet: the corner of the hex you're joining (purple), and two above it - one from the hex you've been joining to (red), as well as the one to the left of that hex (teal). Make 2dc in the purple corner.

Now sl st into both of the corner spaces above. I've numbered the spaces: first, do the right one (red), right above your hex being joined, then do the left one (teal). This is different from JAYG with squares, where you would join only to the square above and the square to the left, not the one diagonally above to the left. Do you know what I mean? Here, you're joining all three corners. Once you've sl st to both corners above, make 2dc into the purple corner. Then sl st into the ch space to the left of the teal hex's corner.

Continue down this side until you reach the next corner - 2dc in each space, sl st into the ch space above.

Just as you did at the previous three-way corner, sl st into the right (dark teal) corner, then the left (light teal) one, and then make 2dc into the purple corner. Sl st into the ch space above, and continue down the side (you're joining the left-hand straight side now), making 2dc into spaces and sl st into ch spaces above.

Now you've reached the lower corner of the left straight side, and you need to join this corner to the corner of the hex to the left. Make 2dc into the purple corner, followed by one ch.

Make a sl st into the ch space of the light teal corner, then 2dc into the purple corner. Don't sl st into the next space like you did before; now you're done joining this hex and you're going to crochet the rest of the round along the other three sides. Continue along the next side of your hex, making 2dc into each space with a ch between each 2dc cluster. For all of the remaining corners, add a ch in each, for a total of 2ch in each corner.

When you reach the original corner, sl st into the top of the ch3 from the first cluster, fasten off and weave in ends. Join the next hexagon in the same way, starting with the upper right-hand angled edge of the hexagon and continuing around all sides.

I hope this tutorial makes sense. Pattern-writing is not my forte, but I've been asked several times for tips on joining hexagons since I began sharing this blanket on my blog. I just want to help you visualize the method, but please feel free to ask questions or let me know if something is unclear. Joining hexes is really easy once you have the hang of it. Think of it this way: all you're doing is joining each side, and corner, that touches another hexagon. I've given a detailed description of joining hexes in the middle of a row, but end rows are even simpler: for the final hex in a long row, you'd start with the top point of the hex, since there's nothing to join the right side to. You'd be joining on just the top left angled side and the left straight side, continuing the border around the rest of the sides. Always make 2ch in the "free" corners so that there's space to join another hex, a half-hex, or add a blanket border.

Here's a simplified text version of what I just said, in case you'd find that helpful:

Start with right-hand corner above straight side.
In starting corner, ch3, 1dc, ch1. Sl st into corner above, 2dc into corner space, sl st into ch above.
First angled side: 2dc into next space, sl st into ch above, repeat until next corner.
Three-way corner: 2dc into next corner, sl st into corner space above (right corner), sl st into left corner, 2dc into joining corner, sl st into ch above.
Second angled side: 2dc into next space, sl st into ch above, repeat until next corner.
Three-way corner: 2dc into next corner, sl st into corner space above (right corner), sl st into left corner, 2dc into joining corner, sl st into ch above.
Straight side: 2dc into next space, sl st into ch above, repeat until next corner.
Next corner: 2dc into corner, ch1, sl st into corner to the left.
Remaining sides: 2dc into each space, ch1 between clusters, 2dc, ch2, 2dc in each remaining corner. Continue until starting corner, sl st into original ch3, fasten off and weave in ends.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Spring back

Hello! It's been a little while since I blogged, and I've been missing this space. It seemed like my feet never touched the ground for the past couple of weeks, what with another mild illness through the house, lots of school and work commitments, and a general sense of exhaustion and irritation leading up to our first school break since Christmastime. The weeks just seemed to drag on and on; gosh, it was really starting to feel stressful. But we're officially on Spring Break as of today, and so far, I've spent most of the day doing virtually nothing, which has been fantastic. I did sort some pajamas and other clothes for the children, as I'm in the process of changing their drawers over to warm-weather clothes. I also emptied the dishwasher, and straightened up my desk and my yarn bins in the office closet. But that's it - today is my day off. I only have to drive somebody somewhere once today, and it isn't until late afternoon. The weather is beautiful today and the small Bears have been outside since they finished breakfast. I'm reading and crocheting, mostly. Sometimes, mild lassitude is the only right answer.

Are you ready for Easter and/or Passover? I think I am. I've acquired the basket candy, and I have the other small trinkets ready. I know what I'll be cooking, but haven't bought any food yet; I'll do that toward the end of next week. We may have some guests for Easter dinner, unusual for us. I've invited my friend and her daughter, who is friends with the GB, to join us. I'm always happy to have extra people over for holiday meals. The coming week will see us mostly relaxing at home and getting the yard finished up for spring and summer. There are some sprinkler-system repairs to do, and plenty of pruning and raking. We've worked all winter on various things, but it's never done. I'm looking forward to spending time outside and taking walks and going to the park.

I'm enjoying spring-ish cooking lately. I made a really good frittata recently, a variation on my standard recipe involving a little meat, a little cheese, and whatever veggies are on hand. This one had some leftover salmon we'd smoked ourselves, with some onion, chopped dill, and little dollops of cream cheese. It was delicious! I make a lot of frittatas, especially in warmer weather. We have been getting about two eggs a day from the hens for the last few weeks, so I'm always looking for ways to use eggs in our meals. When I make a frittata, I use a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet. I brush the bottom and sides with a little olive oil. I saute the vegetables, whatever they are, in about a tablespoon of butter in the skillet, add the (pre-cooked) meat, then I pour in six lightly beaten eggs, letting the eggs cook a little on the stove top, until the edges are set. Then I put the skillet in a 375 degree oven for about 20 minutes, until the center of the frittata is set and the top is lightly browned. I don't like to use the broiler for frittatas; my broiler is hard to control and the frittata will burn on top before it's cooked through. So I experimented with oven-baking and this is what works for me. I use all different combinations of ingredients. Frittatas are good hot or cold, and are especially nice with some boiled baby potatoes and a green salad.

We also made granola recently. I was looking for a low-sugar, low-fat recipe and came across Nutty Granola by Ellie Krieger, which turned out so nicely. I have made a few of her recipes before and always liked them. I've mostly made things I've seen on her Create TV show, Ellie's Real Good Food; her Forbidden Rice Bowls have been a particular hit around here. I like her recipes because they're healthy without being boring, and she uses very basic, easy-to-find ingredients (on the Create show, you can tell a lot of them come from Trader Joe's, which is one of my two main places to buy groceries, so usually easy-peasy for me to get whatever she's using). The granola was so nice; there's just a small amount of maple syrup for sweetening and structure, so it's really nice on yogurt or as cereal with milk and fruit. And the recipe was so simple - the small Bears did most of it themselves.

I've been feeling very self-conscious about my eyebrows lately. Surely, you've noticed the trend toward heavy eyebrows over the past few years. I haven't thought about my eyebrows much since I was about fifteen years old, when I started tweezing them in the style of the time. That style is way over now, though, so for the past year, I've been letting my eyebrows grow in. It's so hard to resist the temptation to pluck them after what, almost 25 years of it! It's been almost as hard as when I resolved to quit biting my nails. I don't think I'll ever have the luxuriant eyebrows of today's fashionable people, though; they were never naturally thick to begin with, and I'm sure all the years of plucking hasn't helped. I did buy an eyebrow brush, which makes a huge difference. I'm so not interested in using makeup on them. I'll just keep resisting the tweezers and using my brush. I never dreamed I would spend so much time thinking about my eyebrows, noticing other people's eyebrows, watching videos about eyebrows. I'm actually really sick of eyebrows.

My hexagon crocheting continues. I've made - and joined - about half of the hexes I want for this blanket. I think I may put it on our bed when we start using our lighter-weight quilt soon. I'm sad to report that Maybelle has seen very little use, but I'm actually less disappointed about that than I thought I would be by the end of this winter. When I finished Maybelle in November, I expected to use it on the bed with our new comforter, which is very thick and warm (honestly a bit too warm on many nights during the mild winter we just had). Maybelle was more than we needed, warmth-wise, and also a bit difficult to use because it's so large. Maybe it would be better used as a family blanket; three of us can sit under it with room to spare. If the hex blanket turns out nicely, I might make that the bed blanket instead. Or I'll move them around as needed. Really, it's hard to go wrong. I still love Maybelle, and have a lot of good associations with it from the eight months I spend crocheting it, but it may not be right for its intended purpose after all. It's totally okay, though, because we'll always have a home for a big blanket.

I probably should start thinking about lunch for me and the outdoorspeople, so I'll let you go. I hope you have a great weekend, and hopefully good weather to enjoy where you are. I know how tired of snow you must be in some parts of the country, and maybe elsewhere too. May the sun shine and springtime weather take over very soon.

Friday, March 9, 2018

That Friday Feeling

Do you have it? I hope you do. We had a good week, especially now that the major school projects are all behind us. Only two more weeks until spring break - we really need it. Easter is just around the corner, which is exciting. I love Easter. After Easter is over, there will be about eight more weeks of school and all of a sudden, it will be summer. In the meantime, there's lots of new growth outdoors and the weather has been lovely this week. Everything is starting to bloom. I only took a few photos this week, but you can see it - there are buds on the olive tree, the plum blossoms are slowly but surely opening, and the bulb plants are getting going too.

Things I'm doing right now, in early March:

Listening: to the GB learn to play "Sunshine of Your Love" on the guitar

Wearing: a black floral blouse, jeans, pink tennis shoes (because I have to go out later)

Cooking: Nigella's Pasta Risotto with Peas and Pancetta for dinner tonight

Watching: Girls Incarcerated and Ugly Delicious, both on Netflix, and Taxi, on DVD

Reading: Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, From Cholera to Ebola and Beyond, which I know sounds really heavy and in no way uplifting, but it's very interesting. The Bear is currently listening to the audiobook during his commute; I don't have as much time for audiobooks, so I'm reading along and we're having a book group. Well, a book...pair

Making: six-round granny hexagons for a new blanket; I've just taught myself how to make a half-hexagon! That much closer to my crochet merit badge...

Smelling: my beautiful hyacinth; onion bits in the trash that need to go

Buying: short-sleeved t-shirts for my children; coloring-book greeting cards; face wash

Needing: to save more egg cartons now that the hens are in crazy laying mode

Wondering: if I can get away with the old Easter basket grass for one more year

Hope you have a great weekend! Enjoy whatever you're doing.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Hyacinths and hexagons

I am so glad I bought this potted hyacinth last week. I went in for daffodils but they didn't have any, so I went over to see what I could buy, and the potted bulbs looked great so I grabbed a hyacinth. I could tell it was going to be purple from the dark tone of the buds. The purple ones are my favorite, though I like the pink ones too. Within a couple of days, the first flowers were open and they've been blooming steadily since.

I'm keeping them on the kitchen table, where they're getting good sunlight for the first half of the day. I'd like to try planting the bulbs outside when they're finished blooming, but I'm still reading up on that. For now, I'm just so happy to have them in the kitchen. They smell wonderful! Yesterday, I was sitting in the family room, about fifteen feet away from them. We had the sliding doors off the kitchen open for fresh air because it was beautiful outside. The breeze was just right to send the hyacinths' scent into the family room. I was reading a book and when the scent first hit me, I stopped and looked up, just trying to get more. I felt like Toucan Sam.

The hexagons I recently began to crochet are coming along nicely. I'm really enjoying this! They work up quickly and they're easy to join. I'm making about three at a time before joining them row by row. I'm only on my second row, but you know what I mean. I often make every single motif in a blanket before joining them, but this time around I wanted a change of pace. It's fun to watch the blanket take shape this way. I did Big Gulp this way too, at least some of the time, and I liked it.

Maybe I'll finally get to the bottom of my stash. Well, that's probably a bit too optimistic. I think I will probably have enough for at least another throw-sized blanket when all is said and done.

It's so nice to have a project in my basket again. I plan to crochet this afternoon. I also have a loose plan for baking, maybe cookies. We haven't had cookies since Christmas. I've been falling down on my baking. But the Bear said he wanted to bring something to work this week for a meeting and I'm always happy to oblige when someone asks me to bake something. I have a new bag of library books too. Oh, it's hard to decide how to spend your time when you're a lady of leisure! Tee hee.

Surprise! There is precisely one open plum blossom as of this morning. It was unexpected because last night and today have been cold and windy. But it was lovely and warm all weekend, so the trees are responding. There are a few other buds close to blooming. I also have a grape hyacinth blooming in the planter at the base of my mailbox. I'm whispering...spring is just about here in my part of the world.
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