Thursday, April 2, 2015

Gentle sign of Spring

Dear Mom,

They aren't as exciting as those first croci, or as obvious as the forsythia in bloom, but there is just something about pussy willow branches that make my heart sing.  

We had our first spring thunderstorm this morning and I came home from watercolor class to nap under a quilt while the heavy rains fell.

What I love is near at hand.
-Theodore Roethke


Saturday, March 21, 2015


Dear Mom,
The calendar says spring, and so does my front yard! Right on schedule, a few of the  100's of crocus bulbs I've scattered throughout the front lawn over the last few years started blooming on Tuesday.
 There are a few snowdrops, too, but they don't show up as well as those bright yellow croci.
Seeing those blooms gives me hope. 
I think we had more winter after the Groundhog saw his shadow than we had in the months before. It was wearing me down. 
However, the longer winter did give me more opportunities to wear a sweater and cardigan combination that I love. The dress is The Factory Dress from Merchant and Mills. I ordered my pattern from Purl Soho. This pattern went together like a dream and the dress fits exactly as I hoped it would. I splurged on some really nice wool from The French Seam. The pattern, fabric and I all got along fabulously. When a suitable spring/summer fabric presents itself at the shop, I will make another dress.
I then knit a cardigan to wear with the dress. The pattern is Tiramisu and I knit it with Shepherd's Wool,  color "Milk Chocolate". This is one of those colors that can look brown or grey, depending on what it is next to. The sweater knit up very quickly and the design is very easy to wear- a practical, pretty sweater. I've cast on for another in a cotton yarn.
Here is the combination, on me.

I found some sweater tights at Target that look nice and stay put. I had a pair of fleece-lined leggings - warm and comfy!- but they were sadly lacking in anything resembling elastic in the waistband! Of course this is something a person doesn't know until she wears them and I had a rather interesting day keeping my leggings up.  By the end of that day had some serious concerns that they would be around my ankles before I could walk from the shop to my car. I was thankful for the long coat I was wearing and imagined myself in the middle of the street with a puddle of leggings at my feet and white legs exposed. I did make it to the car- crotch at my knees. Since then, some reinforcing elastic has been added to what was an empty casing at the waistband of those leggings.
 I had to laugh a few days later when I opened up a new pair of tights.
 The label on these tights boasted a "comfort no-bind waistband". When I pulled them out of the package, the waistband was about the circumference of my thigh. Maybe smaller. (Actually the words 'small' and 'my thigh' do not belong in the same paragraph, but you get my meaning.) From one extreme to the other. The miracle of spandex allowed them to stretch enough to fit around the location formerly know as my waist, and at least I had no worries that this pair would be overcome by gravity.

It comes as a great surprise to me to find myself painting. I thoroughly enjoy the escape into watercolors  and look forward to the class every Thursday morning. I nevereverever thought I would be holding a paintbrush and making any Thing. I may even be spending more time with watercolor paints and brushes than I am with my knitting. This shocks me. And scares me just a little. I have piles of failed attempts, but I do want to share two things that turned out well enough that you won't need to play that kindergarten game where you ask the child to "tell me about this picture" because you have no idea what it is she painted.

I think part of the appeal to painting, for me, is the total escape.I am exploring a new world of things to learn. I feel No pressure to produce anything for anyone and feel an enormous thrill when something actually turns out. The escape is especially appreciated and the NEED for it is possibly explained when I take a step back- our Young Man celebrated his 21st birthday and our Young Lady has taken the SAT, ACT and is, as I write this, on a college visit with My Hero. Time marches on. As it should. I remind myself that All Shall Be Well and that God's plan is perfect. And my energies are better focused on creative pursuits than worrying about stuff. Maybe I felt the need to paint that fledgling robin for more reasons than the date on the calendar.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Study in Bartlett

Dear Mom,

Three weeks ago I started taking a watercolor class. I'd been playing around on my own and having fun pretending to be Susan Branch. Let me stop right here and say that painting, drawing and ART are not things I was ever good at, or even considered doing for fun. Bonnie Jo was always the artist of us kids. Anyway, here I am, 54 years old, and learning a new trick. And very surprised that this is the trick I am learning.

I am challenged. Completely outside my comfort zone. Stretching my brain. And having fun. I don't have any realistic aspirations to be a famous artist. Only imaginary ones.  I also don't consider myself very competitive, but I caught myself realizing that I didn't want to be the worst one in the class. It didn't take me long to go from "This will be fun! I have No Expectations!" to " uhoh. what if i can't do this." to "Oh Yes. You can and you will and you will Figure It Out. Dammit."

So last weekend I buckled down and practiced painting pears.

Maybe I am in denial about this competitive thing.

After the first class, Cindy, our teacher, sent us home with a picture of a pear to try painting. I painted a few pears. They were not very good.
There were more. These are the best ones. I am trying to learn "value".  About all I can say about these is that I am rather pleased with the stem on the pear on the far left.
 Clearly drawing is a whole 'nother issue, and one I probably shouldn't try tackling while I am pretending to be a watercolor artist, so on Saturday I traced a whole peck of pears and started painting and trying to get my "values" right.

I may have an obsessive compulsive disorder. A noncompetitive passive obsessive compulsive disorder. NCPOCD.

I painted seven pears on Saturday.

My Pear Period
February 2015

I experimented. I think I am getting better. Or I think they look better because the shapes are traced and uniform.
My teacher said I could graduate to pomegranates or apples or something. I decided to try cherries.
These are not quite right. I feel more cherries will be painted before I am satisfied. Those leaves are pitiful.
I also tried painting a cake. I think I will not be painting any more cakes for awhile.
Yesterday I started a series of tea cups.
I am telling you they are tea cups so you'll know what they are and not have to pretend.

And speaking of tea cups…
About a month ago I ordered a special tea trio from an etsy shop. It arrived yesterday, having travelled all the way from Ireland. I fell in love with this china pattern while watching Larkrise to Candleford.
Dorcas Lane has a hutch filled with Royal Doulton "Countess" china.

Look at the beautiful detail on the handle! Tea time just got even more special.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Victoria Sandwich Cake

Dear Mom,
A Victoria Sandwich cake is fresh out of the oven!

Won't you come and join me for tea?
I used This Recipe, but put the batter into two 6-inch cake pans and baked them at 375 for 25-30 minutes. For the filling I used the home-made strawberry jam which My Hero declared "too sweet", and rather than adding more sugar I blended the jam with a stick of butter. Worked and tasted just fine.
Keep Warm!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Enjoying Life's Detours

Dear Mom,
We left for our scheduled haircut appointments on Saturday morning, thinking we might stop for lunch on the way home.  A rare day with Nothing else planned. We had an entire sun shining Saturday before us. Before we knew it the shadows were getting long and it was time to be home, tucked in for the evening. The hours had flown by.
We discovered a new (to us) tea room and had a delicious lunch in a charming atmosphere,

surrounded by tea pots and anglophile delights.

Our Derbyshire chicken salad sandwiches were perfect with our pot of Prince of Wales tea

 and we strategically ordered two desserts to share: an orange scone (with clotted cream and lemon curd) and an almond-y tart that I can't remember the name of…. a Bakewell Tart maybe?… so we could taste both. I purchased the owner's Scone Recipe Book and baked blueberry scones on Saturday night. This afternoon I baked cranberry scones. The recipes in this book are easy to follow, with simple basic ingredients, and the recipes yield about 1/2 dozen scones- which is a nice amount to bake and enjoy. I managed to get 8 scones out of today's batch.

After lunch we strolled a couple of blocks to a favorite antique mall and browsed the afternoon away, hunting and finding treasures. I brought home some editions of Tom Swift for My Hero's collection, a set of six coaster-sized, crocheted doilies and two things I'd been keeping a look out for.
The first is a lowly old potato masher. I had My Hero hang it on the side of the cabinet next to the sink. It now functions as a very capable dish towel hanger.

And the second "treasure" is a very old, somewhat beat up but still in working order, scale. For a long while now I've thought a scale would be an interesting "something" on my kitchen island. This one had a handsome face and was the right price. I laid a crocheted doily on it, a domed plate on top of that and my scones have a keeping place.

I think a small flower pot with ivy or herbs would look nice balanced on the scale, too. The little checked tin next to the scale was a previous antiquing find. It is an old lunch box with a previous owner's name scratched into the lid. We use it to hold Olive's dog biscuits.

 “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” 
― William Morris

Our Saturday together and lunch last Thursday in the warm home of a new friend/kindred spirit have gone a long way to re-awaken, affirm, and invigorate my love of home and home-making, the importance of hospitality and the joy in life's simple pleasures.

“The true secret of happiness lies in the taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.” 
― William Morris

 “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 
― Maya Angelou


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Less time deciding =

Dear Mom,
It came to me as a revelation last weekend, I don't know what inspired the thought, but I realized I've spent too much time trying to be someone I am not. Maybe we all do this.  Trying to be better is a good thing, but comparing and contrasting and denying is such a waste of time. And wasting time is a SIN in my book. So there. I am guilty of wasting time struggling to be someone other than me. Am I having a mid-life/mid-winter/Japanese tidying crisis ?
I have a desire to simplify things (who doesn't?!) I am making peace with the knowledge that some things are the way they are because that is exactly the way they are supposed to be and darn it just step back and be happy. I am never going to live on a farm or in the woods and have willowy long skinny legs. I realized that longing for those things means I am not fully appreciating this house and my neighborhood and my  legs that work- even if they are short and…. sturdy.
I guess it took almost 54 years to give myself permission. Or I am just worn out tired.
I am happy wearing blue jeans and white shirts. With cardigan sweaters and shawls. Every day. I don't want to waste time thinking about what to wear. I like that look and it is comfortable. Less time deciding = more time for good stuff.
And aprons. I want to wear aprons. Aprons over my white shirts and under my cardigans and shawls. I just sewed the cutest dang apron and I might where it Out In Public. I'll need aprons to keep my white shirts white.

When I type the word SEW in reference to this apron I want to laugh out loud. Because all there is to sew are the shoulder seams. Then it is fancied up with some trim which was easier than turning raw edges under and sewing them down. And then I added a pocket. That first skirt I sewed in 7th grade home-ec was harder than this apron.
I found this pattern where everybody is finding good things these days, on Pinterest.
I followed the link to this web page:

 I downloaded the pattern and it printed out onto 14 pieces of paper which were then taped together, following a grid.
Now that I know this pattern is a keeper, I need to either laminate the thing or transfer it to pattern paper if the paper I have is wide enough.

I purchased this fabric with plans to make a top, but that never happened. I decided the fabric wanted to be an apron instead. About 1 1/3 yards of fabric, which I folded width-wise, is enough for this pattern. I used a fat quarter for the pocket. It took just under 6 yards of trim, with enough left to add a little lace to the pocket.
Quick and easy.  The Sewing was faster and easier than finding the trim and waiting for someone to wait on me at Hancock Fabrics last night.

Elle looks so pretty, modeling the apron, doesn't she?  Sadly, she cannot hold that wooden spoon as a prop, so we tucked it into the pocket.  (P.S. That pocket is awesome. The next apron will have a buttonhole sewn into the apron underneath the pocket so I can run my earbud wires under the apron and into the pocket to plug into my iPod.)
And here is what I look like in the apron, but I won't be showing you the back because my rear axle is not quite so petite as Elle's. Not comparing! Not contrasting! Not denying!  If I didn't have that caboose, I'd bruise myself every time I sat down to weave. I'm trying to eat right and exercise my way to a truce.

Enough about aprons. I have been on a hat knitting marathon. I am trying to tweak and perfect a hat idea and I have about one.  more.  hat.  in me before I wave the white flag.  I now have 4 hats of various shapes and sizes. The last one, the one I just finished 2 nights ago, thinking it was going to be the final pattern? Yeah. Well let's just say one should pay attention to the yarn she grabs out of her stash because gauge does matter and this hat….. the hat I thought was going to be the answer to a more elastic cast-on edge and proper fit? Way Too Big Hat. Like I said- I think I have one more hat in me.  This whole thing started as a way to use leftover skeins of yarn. Well. I did accomplish that. In fact, I've been so successful in using up those leftovers that I will be buying yarn to make what I hope is the last variation on this theme.
These hats are drying on a variety of vases and candlesticks.
Way Too Big Hat would not fit in the picture is not pictured.
This is the Mama, Papa, Baby bear of hats: 1. a long slouchy too tight hat,
2. a too loose hat and 3. a slightly too tight, much too short hat.
Will the next hat be Just Right?
Time to go cast on.
Be ready to try on another hat.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Happy New Year

Dear Mom,
First this happened:

On December 4th, Olive had surgery on both elbows. We are now over halfway through her 8 weeks of restricted activity. We've become much too familiar with and very good at elbow surgeries and recoveries and pain pill schedules. I am happy to report that Olive is doing very well. She wore The Donut of Despair only until the sutures were removed. Had she needed it through Christmas I would have put red bows on it and disguised it as a wreath. I hope we never need that thing again (and according to the vets, there is no reason to think we will), but it was worth every penny and much friendlier than the Cone of Shame. We give the ProCollar two thumbs and four paws up.

Then this:
My Most Favorite Little Boy saw the moose and called it a Reindeer!

And then a WHOLE LOTTA this:

And then before I could get Christmas put away, there has been way too much of this:
My Hero brought it home (and by IT I don't mean the Lysol) and I took him to the doctor. Technically NotTheFlu, (no fever), and too late for Tamiflu,- and let me interrupt my story right here and say that pretty much you need to get into the doctor to get that Tamiflu prescription about 3 minutes after you start thinking that maybe you might be getting sick, because 48 hours later is too late- the physician's assistant reassured me that the rest of the family was probably safe since we'd been living with him and had all remained symptom free and Tamiflu is in such short supply that they don't prescribe it as a preventive for the people living with The Influenza. You do see where this is going, don't you? 
Fast forward 2 days. My Hero feels back to normal. 
I do not. Happy New Year.
I decide to make the most of it and indulge myself in a day in bed, with hot tea, and knitting, and books, and Downton Abbey on my iPad. It was almost a vacation.
I woke the next morning feeling really good. Patting myself on the back for kicking it to the curb, and toasting the power of Emergen-C with my fresh pot of tea that morning, I showered and dressed and had a pleasant day. Turns out this NotTheFlu bug is a tricky devil. I woke up in the middle of the night aching all over. I could feel my toe nails and my hair hurt. This next day in bed was not quite as fun as that first day. 
Yesterday I was well enough to round up the troops and finally get Christmas put away while there were still needles left on the tree. And then I needed a nap so I could fix dinner. And then another nap so I could  stay up for Downton Abbey.
The worst of it is behind me. I hope. And we've managed to keep NotTheFlu contained to just the two of us, although I am holding my breath on that one.
While convalescing, I read two very different books. Each inspiring and intimidating in their own way. The first- Bread & Wine is inspiring and amusing and scattered with recipes and realistic entertaining advice. I am not as free spirited as the author but I did like it that she admits to things like a dirty house and fights with her pants. The second book- The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is good for inspiring a person to clear out the clutter, and was worth it for the folding clothes lesson, but it is not a book for making a person me feel good about her hobbies. Let's just say that reading Susan Branch's Happy New Year post did wonders for making me feel like I might be normal.  

I did go on a KonMari folding spree when I had the strength to get out of bed.  
Look at this drawer! 
And seriously would you look at that empty space! That is an empty space in. my. top. drawer! The beauty of this method- the author has named it the KonMari method, a combination of her first and last names- is that I can see all my shirts and can take any one without disturbing the others.  
Such was my inspiration that I went on to do the sweaters in my closet.
Disclaimer: I did this on Friday. I spent Saturday and Sunday in my pajamas, basically, and Today is the first day I've needed anything out of the closet or that drawer. So far the system is working, but it has not really been tested yet. 

So what next? I've been working on a new hat pattern. It was moving along but body aches and charted fair isle are not good partners. I started this cardigan, but I know I am sick when I don't feel like knitting, and that is sort of what happened yesterday. 

Simplifying to make room for Happy Pursuits is my theme for 2015. With that in mind, this is the next book to have found me. 

I'm not far in and already know that I won't be taking anything even close to this extreme, but the author is funny and I have a feeling I can learn some valuable lessons. At the very least, her experiment is an interesting one to read about.

Be warm, be well.