A Bit of Whimsy

Sometimes you just need something that makes you smile and adds a bit of color and brightness to your day.

When the Summer 2021 issue of Interweave Crochet arrived in the mail, the Citrus Grove Placemats fit the bill entirely. They were bright, and cheery, and fun, and a little bit playful. I thought they’d be the perfect summertime make. So I went online and ordered the crochet thread before I could talk myself out of it.

I was hoping Classic 10 would be thicker versus thinner crochet thread; I was wrong. But I figured if I bumped up the thread size, my placemats would be gigantic, and I already had the supplies. So I forged onward.

While the original design was shown in four different colorways, I chose to make them all in the orange/peach color. I would have preferred light orange rather than peach, but sometimes you have to work with what’s available. Orange tending towards rust is an accent color all through the house, and I thought a true orange might be fun for summer.

This was my first foray into the corner-to-corner crochet technique. It’s not my favorite to work, but I do like the way it turns out. Each of the placemat designs was charted. I took a picture, enlarged it, and printed it out. Then I used a clipboard and a pen to mark off each row. I found it was easy to get lost with out this visual tool.

Corner-to-corner can make very detailed patterns. I was also intrigued by the texture it creates with just one color. It was all the color changes that challenged me.

On the first placemat, I chose to use bobbins to hold the different color threads–again, I’m not a fan. All the tangles drove me crazy. Each color change requires one bobbin to be hooked and and another to be unhooked. And I continually had to decide which bobbin to use, which one was closest, how far was too far? I just had too many questions when all I wanted to do was crochet.

After the first one, I decided to carry the colors on the back side of the fabric and use as needed. This worked better with fewer tangles partially because I only had three colors going at once rather than multiple bobbins of each color. One thing to remember with this technique is not to pull the threads too tightly. If your threads are too tight on the back, they’ll distort the final fabric. In the end, I came up with the best option for me. I put one cone on a yarn holder, one cone on my lap, and then put the white on a bobbin since it used the least amount of thread. This kept tangles to a minimum and let me watch the pattern emerge with fewer struggles.

While I still have a number of threads to work in, I’m pleased with how these turned out. I’m toying with the idea of adding a white felt backing to stabilize the fabric and hide all those threads. For now, I’m enjoying a little added color.

What have you been working on this summer? Trying anything new?

A Yellow Kind of Day

I sent the MR out to the orchard to pick the last of the yellow plums—those I couldn’t reach on tippy toe. And then I went down to the garden to see what was ready.

I was excited to see cabbage and Brussels sprouts doing well and picked a handful of yellow bush beans. Checking my three squash plants, I discovered a few lemon cucumbers. I can’t wait to try them.

I picked one apple; our trees didn’t do well this year. And the MR found a single purple plum that didn’t get the memo about wearing yellow. He’s propped up the limbs on the Rescue Pear. It’s loaded with fruit. And I’m hoping we will be enjoying them this fall rather than the wildlife as in years past.

We’re enjoying a day of rain after more than 50 days without.

How is your August? Is your garden overflowing?

Summer Blooms

I came home from a walk recently to find flower stalks splayed across the grass.

I don’t know if it was Cocoa hunting bunnies or deer munching through the beds, but something had torn up the gladiolus.

I went out with my shears and started gathering a bouquet. here’s a little of what I found.

While they’re not as pretty as flowers, these pears look beautiful to me.

And a flowering pomegranate could mean good things are in store.

Hope your life is filled with happy surprises.

Even Disappointments Have a Bright Spot

Once upon a time me and the MR got married. We had two special girls and time marched on. Sweet Miss married the Fella. Baby Girl graduated from college in the middle of Covid and decided it was time for grad school abroad.

So in January BG headed off to Belfast. Yes it was a long time, yes we would miss her, but we had plans. We would all visit in the middle of summer.

Covid has its own plans. The UK is closed to Americans. But BG is doing well. We have August and September wide open. We still have time to visit before classes start up again.

And since I’m home, I’ve been able to pick blueberries, and currants, and plums. The peas are going great guns, and I’ve harvested shallots and lettuce.

I’ve volunteered at our church’s VBS and met great people—young and old (over 4-years-old).

I have blueberries to pick and jam to make.

Every disappointment comes with its silver lining. BG finishes up in December, but I’m hoping we’ll be able to visit before then. I don’t want to ever go a year without seeing my girls.

It all works out in the end.

What does your summer look like?

How has Covid changed you plans?

Behind Closed Doors

I mentioned we’d been on vacation in San Diego recently. Have you ever visited a spot that is just so different from home?

It’s the same country, the same coast, how different can it be? Well, we live in a forest surrounded by trees. Before this we’ve lived in neighborhoods with big front lawns and children everywhere. That is not Bird Rock at all.

It was fun, and eclectic, and cute, with amazing views of the sea and roads winding in all directions. And it didn’t have lawns; it had doors. Doors that made me want to peak inside. Doors that spoke of mystery and charm. Some were welcoming and some were cold, but each reflected the house behind it.

So here are just a few of the doors we wandered past in our rambles. Perhaps they will intrigue you, too.

Hope you had a happy 4th.

Living Vicariously

Me and the MR were down in San Diego a few weeks ago. We had a mini family reunion with Sweet Miss and the Fella and Mee Mee and Papa.

It was fun to get away. We had a beautiful view of the ocean. Sweet Miss and I went on a kayaking adventure through sea caves, and later in the week we explored tide pools and climbed on rocks.

On the first morning, while the Fella was mountain biking, Sweet Miss suggested we all go check out a nearby place that served smoothies and acai bowls.

We were in the neighborhood of Bird Rock, between San Diego and La Jolla, with great walking options and tons of quirky homes.

All along the sidewalks of Bird Rock, elaborately decorated benches offered a place to rest or view the ocean.

Contrary to popular belief, this post has nothing to do with smoothies or breakfast for that matter. Breakfast was good, and we enjoyed sitting out on the sunny patio waiting for our order. But what really caught my eye was the flowers I saw on the way to the store across the street after breakfast.

These blooms are big, beautiful, and unabashedly gorgeous.

Aren’t these just amazing? When I took a second look, I was surprised to see, these weren’t just beauties, these were practical beauties. I love that combo. And who doesn’t want kiwis lining their retaining wall?

I was so excited. I mean if kiwis can grow on the side of the street in California, surely with a little effort, they can grow on the crazy vines by the tennis court.

I had hopes. Look at my beautiful male and female blossoms.

I knew this would be the year that kiwi berries magically appeared, after years of water, fertilizing, pruning, and waiting. When I was weeding the other day, the MR did his best to spread around pollen. It was really going to happen. And yes, if you’re wondering, these are hardy kiwis–a little less showy and a little smaller than their fancy cousin, but I don’t have the great weather that you get in California.

And then the vacation was over. We came home to empty vines. I don’t know if they didn’t get pollinated and dropped off or if the birds that squawk and fly off when I enter the garden are the problem. Either way, there’s always next year, and I have hope. Until then, I’ll pretend those gorgeous kiwis on the side of the road are mine.

Are you waiting for that bush to bloom? that tree to grow? How patient have you been?

Sometimes Ya Gotta Roll with It

Back in March, I was all excited about my garden and starting seeds. I thought my over-wintered cole crops might produce an early spring harvest. Everything was going to be sunshine and rainbows.

Ok, so it’s western Washington, I knew sunshine was iffy. What about the rest you ask? It’s been a mixed bag. While I had a healthy supply of broccoli for about a month, I did finally pull out the storm-ravaged plants that had stopped producing. As for the brussel sprouts and cabbage, when they started bolting, I cut them off at the base, too. But before I tossed them in the compost pile, I decided to nibble on a leaf to see if it passed muster. They tasted great, so I wound up with some for coleslaw and a bag for smoothies. I’ll admit, I did really want a beautiful round head of cabbage.

All may not be lost. I’ve put in a few transplants I picked up, and remember how I cut off my failed crops at the base? Well, they’ve started to sprout new growth. You can look at that as a bad thing, since I’ve already planted new vegetables around them, or you can say I’m getting a second chance. I’m just going roll with it for the moment.

And now, let’s talk about those seeds I started. Well, the idea of mixing seed starter soil and worm castings may seem smart in theory. You have better moisture retention and more biological matter. But I know my worms, I should have seen this one coming. They have a hard time digesting tomato and squash seeds. My tray of lettuce seedlings was filled with some unnamed squash. It could have been cucumber or watermelon, but my bet was on butternut squash–knowing our eating habits. The thing is, squash has a notoriously wandering eye and will cross-pollinate with anything. That being said, I decided not to give these seedlings a premium spot in my walled garden and planted them along the driveway.

I don’t know if it was lack of water or simply animals, but I don’t think any of them have made it.

I did learn something recently, potato leaves are poisonous. That’s probably why they do so well in the garden annex. I have a few starts from last year pushing up along with some blue and red potatoes I picked up at the hardware store. When I was there, I saw some shallots and thought I’d give growing them a try. Shallots tend to be pricey, and experts always recommend growing expensive vegetables to save money in the long run. I was expecting an onion-like sprout, but these are so much more fun. I do like fun surprises.

On a happy note, two of my kiwi vines are growing like crazy. Me and the MR thought the third one had died, but I’ve seen new growth in the last few weeks. When I thought it was dead, I took a close look at the tag and saw that it was a female. That’s especially good news, since I know I bought two females and a male, so I’m hoping for fruit this year. I know, I know, I’ve said the same thing for the last two years. I’m hanging onto hope.

We’re also looking forward to some good crops in the orchard. Trees were blooming at the right time, and no late storms or frosts. The strawberries, currants, and pears were covered in blooms, I’m crossing my fingers.

I’ve got my pea trellises up and have a spot for the bean towers. I saved a few bean seeds from last year to try. Apparently, seeds from a particular spot will grow even better in that microclimate. I know what my dad meant when he said farming’s a gamble.

Our local farmer’s market opens this week, it’s probably a good thing we don’t have to rely on my garden and orchard to provide. I ran across a few containers of our blueberries in the freezer this week. It does make me smile; there’s something to be said about the pride of growing your own food. When company visits, I’m planning on apple pie from our orchard.

How are things in your garden? Direct seed? Transplants? Grow your own? Enquiring minds want to know.

It All Works Out in the End

With spring just around the corner, I’ve been thinking about my garden. It’s had a lot more attention this year than in many of the past. No outings, no travel, no work, so I sign up for seed summits, and garden summits, and make all sorts of plans.

Last fall, I was disappointed with the cole crops I’d planted in late August. (I mentioned how excited I was about them in A Bear Ate My Pears.) When I had all sorts of trouble finding transplants in the garden centers, perhaps I should have caught a clue. August was too late for my daydreams of eating brussel sprouts from our own garden for Thanksgiving. I blamed it on the beans that provided too much shade, or the kiwi vines that blocked the light. Maybe it was the slugs. Oh Kim, sometimes it’s just poor planning on your part.

The cabbage is starting to get bigger, dare I say head up? the brussel sprouts remain the same size as when I planted them, and the broccoli, oh the broccoli… It looks horrible; showing signs of wind, rain, snow, and storm, but I’m continuing to pick a bag full of florets each week. I have to beware of the slugs, but it’s fun to be able to pick enough for a salad or a bit for broccoli stir-fry.

For now, my winter crops will remain in place. I moved all of the cabbage to the inside of the fence. Something tried to tear it out early on when it was in the garden annex, but it seems to be staggering along in the confines of the main garden. I also noticed a proliferation of holes on some of my plants, so I surrounded each head with a scattering of crushed egg shells. I’ve been keeping shells in a bag under the sink and crushed them up last week. My bag didn’t remain intact with all the bashing, and the MR pointed out I’d left a few shells on the counter, so I was quick to sprinkle them before he took care of the bag for me.

Maybe with a bit of warmer weather I’ll have an early crop of cabbage and brussels sprouts rather than a fall harvest. Cross your fingers, and wish me luck.

Even though we’ve had our share of cold and gray days that don’t lend themselves to gardening, I received a fun gift for Christmas from the Fella’s dad that’s perfect for winter months. He sent us a sprout growing kit from Hamama. It took me a few weeks to decide to try it. I mean weird little blocks of coir grow into something I willingly eat? Well, I was hesitant, but oh my goodness, this is amazing, and fun, and healthy. Me and the MR have been enjoying green smoothies in the mornings–think heavy on the greens, light on berries, with a dose of chia seeds for a fiber boost. Our first harvest of lovely broccoli sprouts were a welcome addition to our morning routine.

It was pretty gloomy while I was growing them, so I decided they needed a little more time to reach their perfect height. If you push out the harvest, remember to make sure they don’t dry out. When mine wilted, a little water perked them back up in no time. I was pleased with our first harvest and have the second in the works.

I’m not as on task as some, but I do have tomato seeds and lettuce planted. The waiting part is always the hardest. In one of my gardening summits, a presenter mentioned that worm castings and coconut coir were his favorite seed starting medium. Well, I have plenty of worm castings, and the MR had bought some coconut coir, so I made some extra special seed starter mix. I’m not sure what that guy was talking about; I wound up with a very lumpy, coarse mix. Perhaps the block of coir wasn’t as fine as I needed. Anyways, I made another trip to the store and picked up some seed starter mix. Then not to totally give up on the idea, I added some worm castings, fished out as many worms as I could, and used that for my seeds. I guess we’ll wait and see how that turns out.

I’ve also decided to try a spot near the windows on the floor for my seed starting. In the past the MR installed automatic switches on the lights of the buffet, so I could ensure 16 hours of light. And then I read about heating pads for the seeds. Well, our floors are heated, they get light from the windows. It could be the perfect match. Another wait and see moment.

For the tomatoes, I have a recent find to try out. We love snacking on cherry tomatoes, sitting on the deck, and watching the sunset. The heat on the deck seems to give our tomatoes an extra boost, but we’ve had disagreements on how much to water the plants, and we have to be extra careful not to overfill so a stream of muddy water isn’t running across the light gray deck. Anyways, I was listening to an interview with a famous knitter and author, Clara Parkes, and she started talking about tomatoes and gardening–No. She started talking about items made from wool byproducts that help small sheep farms. Next thing I know, I’m ordering wool pellets from Wild Valley Farms. These pellets are 100 percent wool. They are a natural fertilizer, improve the soil, and reduce watering. Maybe they’ll even help keep our deck pristine. I am looking forward to the sweet fruits of my labor.

In other outside news, the MR has been building more paths. He ran out of pavers last spring, and his order to finish up the job didn’t arrive till late fall. We’ve had a string of sunny days that are perfect for this kind of work–dry and not too hot. It’s a big job, but they’re turning out great. They’re turning out so good in fact, that the MR has expanded his original vision and is making a path next to the well room. It’s going to be wonderful. Our Portland kids are borrowing the tile saw, so the MR still has some bits and pieces to go. But isn’t it lovely? Now when the well breaks down in the middle of winter, we won’t have to slog through the mud trying to get to the well room with the plumber. (You can check out other lovely paths built by my guy in Catching Up.)

What’s going on at your house? Are you in the gardening/planning/landscaping mode?

In other news, Baby Girl is spending a year a continent and an ocean away from her family. We miss her, and want to wish her a very happy birthday! I’m thankful to merchants in Northern Ireland who are helping her feel loved.

Sometimes I miss having my baby at home. Happy Birthday BG!

More Pillow Talk

Necessity is the mother of invention. The MR was visiting his parents last month, and I was tired of the pillows on the couch.

Back when I made the pillows three years ago, I bought more than one choice of fabric. That’s the joys of ordering online; sometimes its the perfect color, and sometimes it’s not. Well, my second choice back then has become my first choice now.

Cutting out simple square, sewing them together, and adding an invisible zipper to one side gave me two new pillow covers lickety-split. The marry well with the aboriginal pillow cover I picked up in Australia a few years ago.

A little success motivated me to tackle a project that has been stalled for a few years ago. In one of those catalogs that comes in the mail, I’d seen a beautiful pillow cover. It was off-white with a bit of embroidery off to one side. I loved it. And then I saw the price tag; I didn’t $156 love it. That’s when I picked up some yarn in a lovely natural, and used tunisian crochet to make a pillow top.

The next step was to add the embroidery. What if I got it wrong? What if the thread got snagged? What if the main fabric got all bunchy and looked horrible? I had a million reasons to just let it sit. Well, with the MR gone and time on my hands, I went for it. Somehow in the last few years, I had lost the picture of my inspiration pillow. Maybe that was all for the best. I just winged it and am oh-so happy with how it turned out. I sewed the embroidered front to a plain gray back and decided to sew the turning spot closed rather than deal with zippers, and matching crocheted fabric to woven fabric. It adds a little freshness to our leather easy chair.

And then there was the fabric I’d bought before Christmas when Spoonflower was having a sale. Somehow the colors just didn’t seem right. The fabric seemed a little lightweight for a pillow cover. Would it be OK? I know; I’m just full of angst. Well, I had some batting from the short time I dabbled in quilting, so I decided to quilt the fabric to the batting and make a more substantial pillow cover with added depth. It’s still a little on the bright side, but four pillows from what I had on hand was a great way to spend the weekend.

Then with pillows on the brain, I was scrolling online and came across a pair of cowhide pillow covers that look great on the chairs by the windows, and they pick up the rest of the cowhide accents in the room.

And finally with new pillows scattered about, I finished a decorative blanket in some lovely Noro yarn that I’d set aside when the kids were visiting at Christmas. Their puppy, Hoagie, has a thing for knitted items, and I didn’t want to put him to the test. (The design is Leaf Afghan by Anna Stoklosa, available on Ravelry or in the book Noro Knit Blankets.) It adds a bright and cozy look to the chaise.

It’s funny how fabric that seemed all wrong at the time comes back and is just the thing. I’m glad I let my perfection go and wound up with some pillow that brighten up the great room.

How are you freshening up your living space? Hope you had a Happy Valentine’s Day.

There’s Beauty in the Gray

February has arrived, and the new year quickly marches on. I’ve been in the doldrums lately. Our Portland kids left after Christmas, and Baby Girl has moved to Belfast for a year, Seattle had nearly 9 inches of rain in January, vaccines are coming, but our age group is supposed to just stay home and wait.

I’m tired of the uncertainty; I’m tired of the stress; I’m tired of the worry.

The midday gloom of February.

It’s times like these I’ve got to focus on all the good things that have happened over the last year.

Baby Girl wouldn’t have spent the last nine months at home. We wouldn’t have plodded through endless best pictures, sewn dresses, and cooked along with Yotam Ottolenghi–thank you Masterclass. We’d have played less cards, enjoyed less laughter, and had less fun.

Sweet Miss’ and The Fella might not have gotten a puppy so soon if she hadn’t been laid off for two months. Then we’d never have met Hoagie.

Her school might not have expanded to include kindergarten, and she might not have found her calling teaching a great bunch of kids.

With our travels canceled or postponed, we’ve been able to take on and hire out a few projects. The MR’s stairs are beautiful. After having the water tested over the summer, this fall he had a new filtration system put in that will help soften the water. That may or may not be the reason I had to load 800 pounds of salt into the back of my car and then into the garage. The delivery man wasn’t supposed to touch the merchandise, but he took pity on me. He probably realized he’d be here all day if he had me do it by myself. We also had the soffit patched. It’s rather frightening to see men walking around above the french doors in the Dining room–at least it wasn’t me.

When your spending lots of time at home, all those little things that bug you get replaced or fixed. The barstools that came with the house have vanished to be replaced with swivel ones that mimic the dining room chairs.

Our undersized footstool has been replaced with a larger version.

Move the bar to the side to see the before & after.
Just look at that tufting.

The MR has been writing a program and spending lots of time on the computer. We now have a desk that adjusts in height and a new desk chair arrived this week. Not only does the desk have four custom height positions, it’s also on wheels, so when the sun blazes in, in the morning, you can simply wheel the desk to the side.

I’ve listened to summits on gardening, healthy living, and healthy eating. VogueKnitting in Seattle was cancelled, so I’ve been able to virtually attend four classes and two lectures and still have a credit.

I’ve had lots of time for knitting, crocheting, sewing, designing, and learning. But this post is long enough. I’ll save that for another day.

And to add a little brightness to your life. Here’s our grand doggy all decked out for February. He gave us a custom calendar for Christmas.

Hoping you see the bright side in the everyday.