Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Back to school

Hello! How are you? Today was the first day of the new school year! We were so ready. It was a good summer, but sort of a long one (they always are; summer break goes on for close to three months here), and I think everyone was ready to get back to the daily routines of the school year. This year, I sent back a fourth-grader and a seventh-grader, which is really kind of staggering when I think about it. I mean, seventh grade? Wasn't I just in seventh grade myself? It feels like yesterday. He will be thirteen next month, it's hard to believe. And my little GB will be ten, also next month, which is also amazing. They're growing up fast, which is bittersweet but mostly really good. I love having big kids. They get to do so many cool things, including - as of this summer - occasionally staying home together without a parent for very brief periods. I can't believe we've reached that milestone! They were ready. I was a nervous wreck the first time, but it's all good now.

I hadn't had any time alone all summer. I'm not even exaggerating. We were together literally all the time, the three of us. This is mostly a really good thing, don't get me wrong. But I don't think I had more than about an hour by myself since school ended in May, and I was more than ready to spend some quiet time alone in the house. I did a bunch of housework right away, to get it over with. I started a load of towels, cleaned up the kitchen, made my bed, folded and put away some laundry. Then I went outside and watered my barrel of geraniums (which have become massive) and took a look around the backyard. I noticed that the pyracantha berries are well on their way to changing over to their autumnal orange hue.

I came inside and showered, then I ate breakfast. Just raisin bran and tea, consumed in blissful silence.

Then I got my supplies together for a project I've been waiting to start. It's a birthday gift for the GB, and I can't very well crochet it while she's around and watching me, so I held off until they were back to school. I'm using Bernat Pop! self-striping cake yarn for this project. It's my first time using cake yarn, which I'd been wanting to do for a while. This colorway is called Blue Blaze, which I chose because she tells me her favorite color as of right now is seafoam green. This seems to come close, I think, and I know she likes periwinkles and teals as well.

This is what I'm making for her. She would really enjoy wearing a poncho, and the pattern is sized just right for her (though I think it could easily be scaled up or down). The pattern is printed on the ball band, but I first came across it here, as a free download, on the Yarnspirations site.

I settled in to watch The Staircase on Netflix (I'd wanted to watch it all summer, but like I said, I was never alone during the day and it's not for kids, plus the Bear doesn't share my enthusiasm for true crime, so I didn't have the chance to watch it at night either; it's good, by the way, strange but good). By the time I'd watched three episodes, I had a pretty good start to my poncho. It's a really easy pattern and it works up quickly; I should be able to finish it well before the GB's birthday in early September. I like working with the yarn too. And it's always fun to see what a self-striping yarn is going to do. I had a great morning! And they came home from school happy and excited, with talk of scavenger hunts and teachers in costume as historical figures (and books and tests, but not just yet - right now we're still floating on games and reunions with friends).

Here are the two scholars, by the way. He's taller than I am now. And she wanted to wear one of her summery dresses to school, which is fine with me because she's growing fast too. These huge, happy people. The first day was a success and I think it's going to be a great year.

Monday, August 6, 2018

A Granite scarf

What types of things do you find yourself making most often? This is something I've been thinking about lately. As a crafter, I usually find myself making things for my home, my daughter, friends or relatives, and myself, in that order. As a crocheter, I gravitate toward big projects - blankets, mainly - and I tend to think of myself as mostly a blanket-maker, though I enjoy branching out into home decor and wearable items, especially for gift-giving. I've been thinking that most wearable things I've made have been for girls and women, but there are plenty of things to crochet for male people when you look around. I've been doing that lately, as I'd like to make more things for the people in my life.

I went looking recently for ideas to make something for my dad, who has a birthday coming up. He's a man who has many different kinds of interests, a few of which really border on passions, so I've often tried to find books, games or music media to help with his collections on the topics he likes. I seem to have exhausted a couple of them lately through birthday and Father's Day presents; he's read all the books or owns all the CD's, you know how it is. So I decided to make him something instead. I thought about a scarf; he lives in a place with long, cold winters, and a scarf would be useful. And I owe him a scarf anyway. When I was still in college and living at home, I started crocheting a scarf for him and ran out of yarn before it was nearly long enough; I wasn't much of a crafter yet, but I liked the idea. That was about eighteen years ago, and it seemed like time to make it up to him. A do-over, if you will.

I searched Ravelry for something a little different, that would be nice for a man without being too bulky (I don't love crocheting with thick yarn, and he doesn't like bulky things). I came across The Granite Scarf from a blog called The Caped Crocheter (also found as a free Ravelry pattern here). It's categorized as a "men's scarf," but it would work for anyone. I loved the look of it and decided it was just what I wanted.

I really enjoyed making this scarf! I used yarn from my stash, a basic worsted acrylic yarn for softness and ease of care, and I just kept crocheting until it was gone (I had about two feet left when I stopped). The pattern utilizes a stitch I'd never tried before - the extended single crochet. Have you tried this? It makes such an interesting design. I hope you can see about how the stitches sort of reach down into the row beneath them, almost like the Larksfoot stitch pattern I used in a blanket I named Hensfoot a couple of years ago. Another interesting thing about this stitch is that it almost makes a double-layered fabric, sort of like a thermal weave. I think it will be warm, soft and comfortable to wear.

I considering adding fringes, after seeing some nice examples in the pattern projects, but I don't think he's really a fringes kind of guy, so I just did the ends as the pattern suggested. I like the neatness of them, just a row of regular SC with an additional row of slip stitches to finish off, just simple and clean.

Even though it feels a little thicker due to the stitch pattern, it's still flexible, with a nice drape. It's not necessarily "manly" (whatever that would even mean), which I appreciate. It's just simple and tailored, anyone could wear it. If you look through the projects on Ravelry for this scarf, you'll see that people have made it with all kinds of yarns, both masculine and feminine in style, and it looks great no matter what they've used.

I'm really glad I found this pattern. I've long had a go-to scarf for women in my life - the fantastic One-Skein Chevron Scarf, of which I've made about nine. But I haven't made very many scarves for men, so this beautiful, easy Granite Scarf will definitely become another go-to pattern in my library. I hope he likes his scarf and that he will be glad I finally followed through!

Granite Scarf
Yarn: I Love This Yarn worsted-weight acrylic in Navy
Hook: Clover Amour J/10 (6.00mm)
Size: 64 inches long by 6 inches wide
Made: August 2018

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Apricot appreciation

We've reached the last weeks of summer break here, and I've been enjoying a slower pace these last few days. While I really value having lots of things to do in the long summer break, so as to keep people busy and have reasons to get up and get out of the house most days, it's also nice to have some time to do very little - just puttering around the house and yard, like I'm mostly doing this week (with trips out for an oil change, procurement of school supplies, and a guitar lesson). Yesterday, I finished a crocheted scarf to be given as a gift, baked Magic Bars to send to work with the Bear, and made a small batch of apricot jam for the pantry. Oh, and I did four loads of laundry, but I never mind laundry.

The apricot jam was kind of a long process in the making, but very little actual work. See, a few weeks ago, the Bear Trio came across a burgeoning apricot tree hanging over the arroyo while they were on an evening walk. It was totally covered with fruit. They checked with the homeowners whose yard it's in (their property backs up to the arroyo likes ours does, with a wall to separate them from the open space) to ask if they could pick the fruit on the arroyo side. They received an enthusiastic yes! Like a lot of people, they are not game for climbing over the wall to pick the fruit on the back of the tree. So the Bears came home for several nights in a row with bags and bags of ripe apricots, more than we could eat before they went overripe (and believe me, we tried).

I decided to prep one bag's worth for jam-making, to go in the freezer until I had some jam jars freed up from my last batch. In the meantime, we enjoyed a surprise pint jar of homemade apricot jam on our doorstep one morning, courtesy of our neighbor Carrie, who attached a note to the jar: "So that's where all the apricots went!" Ha. She was picking them too. I wonder how many other people in the neighborhood were enjoying these delicious apricots. I'm so glad to live in the kind of neighborhood where people are like this; we've had lovely fruit every year we've lived here from some generous soul or another, and now jam too.

This batch of apricots equaled about three cups of fruit after prepping. I quartered each fruit, peeling each piece after quartering because it was easier to remove the peel from a smaller piece. Then I chopped the fruit into 1/4-inch pieces. I wasn't sure if I should chop them any smaller for freezing; I was concerned that they would break down too much when they thawed. In hindsight, I'd have gone slightly smaller, but it was hard to know.

I put all the chopped fruit in a zippered freezer bag and froze it flat. When it came time to make the jam, I thawed the apricots in their bag inside a plastic container in the fridge.

I decided to use my low-sugar pectin for this jam, as I did for a batch of strawberry jam that I made recently. I have a lot of Ball brand low-sugar pectin that I picked up for a song at the end of the last canning season and I really want to use it up. I liked the way that strawberry jam came out - plenty sweet but not overly so, with a beautiful set. I followed the directions for peach jam on the bottle of pectin; they didn't mention apricots but I'd say they're close enough to peaches.

I'm pleased to report that I'm getting really fast with jam now, especially since I'd already prepped this fruit for the freezer and only had to thaw it and get it into the pot with a few ingredients. I had three full jars and a nearly-full one made up and ready for the canning bath in about ten minutes. I felt like the Jam Master, let me tell you.

I had already tried Carrie's jam, so I had an idea of what mine might be like. Like Carrie's, it's absolutely delicious. The apricot flavor is strong; I think this may be more flavorful than most jams I've made, but I'm not sure why. I have to wonder if it's because the fruit is basically wild - the tree's owners don't do anything at all to it, they just let it flower and fruit naturally. My jam is sweet enough without being cloying. I'm actually beginning to love low-sugar pectin. I started using it just to finish it up, because it was taking up space in my pantry, but now I'm starting to really enjoy it - maybe even prefer it because I know the jam is a little healthier and because it doesn't use up pounds of sugar like traditional jam. I don't know if I will switch entirely, but it's great to know that this works and makes a good product. I loved making this jam, which was almost free, and has friendship and neighborly goodwill all tied in up in the process.

Low-Sugar Apricot Jam
makes about four half-pint jars

3 cups peeled, chopped apricots
1/3 cup water or fruit juice (I used water)
2 tablespoons powdered low-sugar pectin (I used Ball brand)
1 cup granulated sugar

Prepare jars, lids and bands as desired.

Mix apricots, water and pectin in a large saucepan. Stir thoroughly to dissolve pectin. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly until mixture reaches a full, rolling boil that cannot be stirred down.

Add sugar all at once, stirring thoroughly. Bring mixture back to a full, roiling boil. Allow to boil for exactly one minute. Remove from heat.

Ladle jam into prepared jars, wiping rims and adding lids quickly. Process jars as desired (I follow USDA Guidelines for safe home canning).
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