Thursday, May 31, 2012

Happy Trails

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Three great things about this morning's walk:

Hawks on the wing
Thistles in bud
Cloud-kissed mountain

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Just after 6 am, the air is cool and pure, with temps in the 40s. The sidewalk curves away from the hotel, down a street lined with more hotels and small businesses. I don't know where I'm going, but I know I won't get lost - the mountains and the busy highway nearby provide fixed points of reference.

A few blocks out, the road crosses a gravel trail. (One of the chief pleasures of Colorado - at least the parts I've visited: there's always a trail somewhere near.) This one meanders along a creek lined with birch, oak, maple, and cottonwood, among other trees. Wildflowers and grasses of all kinds are thick on either side. Good thing I brought my camera! : )

The sun, still low in the sky, shines charmingly through these birch leaves:

A rather gorgeous hawk, the first of two I see this morning, flies from treetop to treetop ahead of me.

Shadow shot!

I like this sign by the trail: "Keep It Clean ... 'Cause We're All Downstream".

 A wildflower new to me...

...very exotic-looking.

More unknown flowers about to burst into bloom:

Just one of the many thistles-in-waiting along the trail:

This mystery wildflower reminds me a bit of the wild phlox we have back home in Wisconsin:

In all the beautiful clear morning, a single cloud kisses the tip of one Rocky Mountain.

I'd love to keep going for miles, but I promised Mr. M I wouldn't be gone long. Time to turn back and hunt down some breakfast.

A very good Colorado walk.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Hither and Yon

I can't believe we're on the cusp of June. Where has the year gone? Old time is just a-flying. And speaking of flying, Mr. M and I will be leaving on a jet plane very soon, heading to Colorado for a dear nephew's wedding. (This is the nephew who took me to England - twice - and who also shares a birthday with me. He's pretty special.) While in Colorado, I will also have the inestimable pleasure of meeting a great blogging friend.

Since Colorado is halfway to California (and it's much cheaper to fly on from there than to make a separate trip) we're heading to the West Coast after the wedding. We'll see my dad, who's having minor surgery, and visit Mr. M's mom, who is slipping into dementia (sigh). I do sometimes wonder what it would be like to go to California just for fun. :)

So this space will be rather quiet for a week or two - but I'm sure there will be mountain pictures to post, and perhaps some ocean photos as well. Meanwhile I'll leave you with this picture of a special sunset:

A pink ribbon in the sky for the Goatmother,
and all who are battling breast cancer

Talk to you later!

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Fantasy Crafting

(Inspired by one of the suggested topics from
last month's Knitting and Blog Crochet Week)

Have you ever dreamed of having an entire day of crafting? (Heck, since we're dreaming, let's dream big - make it a week if you like). No obligations or appointments; no expectations to fulfil - just you and your yarn (or paper, or fabric, or beads, as the case may be).

I've dreamed of it, often. Here's how my day would pan out:

I would wake early, without benefit of alarm (a fantasy in itself), after a perfect night's sleep. My face would be dewy and glowing - no need to wash or make up - and my hair would fall silkily into place. (Still in the realms of fantasy here.) After slipping into something casual yet stylish (ha!), I'd float happily into the kitchen, where a pot of fresh tea would be waiting alongside a perfectly cooked breakfast. I don't know what the breakfast would be - whatever I was in the mood for at the time - but I do know it would involve eggs and some savoury part of a pig. And definitely pastry of some sort.

I'd eat in the porch, with a blue sky outside my windows, birds singing in the trees, and squirrels hopping across the lawn. No traffic noise would mar the sounds of the morning; all would be hushed and listening to nature's song.

Breakfast over, the dishes would fade mistily away, and yarn and hook would magically appear in their place. What kind of yarn? Silk yarn. Alpaca yarn. Fine cotton, wool, and every luscious combination of natural fibers known to woman. With a happy sigh, I'd choose one and start to crochet.

What would I make? Whatever I wanted. A design would grow - not without effort, but without any sense of urgency, or the feeling that I ought to be doing something else. Time would stand still while my hands and my hook investigated all the potential variations on a theme (which seems an inevitable part of the design process). And I'd be able to decide, without dithering, which of the many possible stitch combinations was best.

Fresh tea would appear at intervals throughout the day, along with perfect snacks and meals. Calories wouldn't matter, because in fantasy craft world crochet burns as many calories as cycling. (We have clearly exited the realm of fantasy and are now in an alternate universe.)

No phones would ring; no laundry would be waiting; no thoughts of cleaning would intrude on this period of creativity and peace.

Would I be alone all this time? I think so. Mr. M would be off on some ploy of his own, which would include comfortable meals at proper intervals - but meals not served by me, not today. (Perhaps my fantasy craft day has been preceded by a few days of intensive cooking, so there are plenty of things for Mr. M to take with him. Interesting that even in a fantasy world I think about feeding Mr. M.)

At the end of the day, I'd have worked out a handful of designs. I wouldn't have completed the objects themselves, just settled to my own satisfaction the way they should be tackled, so I'd have the making of them to look forward to. And, having spent the day on my own, I rather think I'd be missing Mr. M by this time and want to enjoy a good dinner with him. (A magical dinner, of course - appearing from nowhere and leaving no dirty dishes behind.)

The day would finish with a spectacular sunset, of which I'd take many beautiful pictures (for posting here), and about which I'd compose a perfect poem - one with no wasted words.

As long as I'm in fantasy land, I may as well dream up some dessert: a large slice of mud pie* would do me just fine, with one final cup of perfect tea. And so to bed.

What's your perfect craft day?


*Mud pie, as understood by me: a base of crushed Oreos mixed with melted butter, pressed into a pan and frozen, then topped with a layer of ice cream and frozen again. A goodly amount of fudge sauce is added as topping. The glorious whole is frozen once more, then sliced like a pie and consumed with delight.


After reading over this post, it occurs to me that many of the elements of this fantasy day are within my reach. I'll never wake up with perfect skin and hair; I'll probably never have the world of luxury yarn within my grasp; and magical meals have yet to appear in our lives. But I have plenty of food in the kitchen (including farm fresh eggs and local bacon); a bountiful supply of tea; a porch to sit in - with blue sky and birds and squirrels outside; I have baskets of yarn and oodles of hooks; and a husband whom I love (and who loves me). And, lactose-intolerance notwithstanding, I still enjoy the occasional slice of mud pie. Real life isn't so bad.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

First Pickings

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Small and tender, just
plucked from this year's lettuce patch:
a precious handful

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Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Hot and Windy Ride

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Grasses flowing in waves with the wind
Clouds of tiny asters rosy white
Personalized roadside assistance

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A hot and very windy day - temps in the 80s and windspeeds ranging from 20-37 miles per hour. This is the kind of wind that catches you sideways and tries to tip your bike over; that does its best to keep you from climbing any grade, however slight; that kicks up dirt in clouds from driveways and plowed fields, and blows it into your face and eyes. Only when your back is turned does a wind like this become your friend.

I've always wanted to circumvent the laws of physics, and discover how to plan a circular route that would give me a tailwind all the way around. No luck so far. :)

After last week's flat tire, Mr. M has loaned me the front wheel of his road bike for today's ride. (He's still tinkering with my front wheel and tire.) Although I don't usually carry a cell phone on my rides (plenty of houses around if I need to make a call), he wants me to carry one today, since I have no spare tire. "What are the chances of me getting a flat tire two weeks in a row?" I ask. But I humour him and take the phone anyway.

Dame's Rocket is still in evidence along many roadsides - here it is providing a colourful background to this white campion:

Across the road is an appealing farm scene. I like the freshly-plowed brown field and the white farm buildings in the distance.

Boy, is it hot today. Even the wind is warm. These Canada geese have the right idea, I think.

I see a farmer up ahead, spraying a field. My path will take me directly downwind of him. I don't really want to inhale whatever chemicals he's dispersing, so I try to hold my breath as I pass, but I can't hold it long enough. When I do inhale, the air tastes detergent-y. Ugh.

On a brighter note: the cow vetch is already blooming. A member of the pea family, it climbs up roadside grasses and produces these lovely purple blooms.

A few miles further on, I see some very tall plants that resemble cornstalks with red stems. I can't for the life of me remember their name, and can't find them in my wildflower book.

They're topped with these unusual greenish-reddish-yellowish blossoms.

I ride a few more miles, fighting the wind all the way. I climb a short hill, turn a corner, and then I hear a sudden POP-ssssshhhhhhh. The front tire deflates before my eyes.

(I shouldn't have made that remark about flat tire odds. I jinxed myself.)

Flat as a pancake

Good thing Mr. M talked me into taking a phone. I call him and explain what happened, and give him directions to my location. I tell him not to worry about fixing it - he can just pick me up.

Waiting for roadside assistance

It's incredibly hot just standing still, so I find a shady spot to wait, and think gratefully of going home to a cool house where I can spend the afternoon out of the wind and sun. I think of the iced tea I'll drink there. I mentally compose a few regretful sentences for my blog post in which I explain that my ride has been cut short by another flat tire. I take a picture of the tree overhead and think how shady the woods look.

Finally Mr. M pulls up. "I brought your front wheel," he says.

Dang. I'd really like to cut this ride short and go home, but now I feel that I ought to finish it. Mr. M kindly swaps out the wheels for me. I thank him, and we part ways.

Custom service

Thunderstorms are predicted for this afternoon, and the clouds are building up. (I wish they'd provide a bit more shade.)

The farther I go, the more I wonder why I didn't just ride home with Mr. M. Pride? Cussedness? I'm not sure but this wind is starting to feel like a personal affront. (Silly, I know.) Finally my route takes me out of the head- and cross-wind I've been battling for so long, and into a long stretch of road shaded by trees. What a relief.

My eye is caught by a clump of tiny asters. (Surely it's too early for these?) They're the palest shade of pink, and the bees seem to find them as attractive as I do.

I pass an intriguing little bit of wall, flanked by nettles and decorated with a wreath of wild berry vine. When I peer over the edge, I see that there's an old underpass running beneath the road.

Around the corner, a barn end peeks out from behind trees and vines.

Back in open country, with a tailwind now. It's wonderful to have the extra speed, but even hotter without the wind in my face. I approach what looks like a satellite dish in a field. (It turns out to be a giant reel of irrigation hose.)

My route turns again, back into the wind - which is more boisterous than ever. Never mind taking pictures - time to put my head down and just make tracks for home.

A few miles later, a spitting, intermittent rain begins to fall, and enough clouds amass overhead that the air cools appreciably. (Whew.) I snap a flying photo of my favourite willows as I pass:

Around a few more corners, I stop to snap these Golden Alexanders which are just beginning to bloom. (Isn't that a wonderful name for a flower?) A member of the carrot family, they're related to parsley, and often mistaken for wild parsnip, according to my wildflower book.

Here's a shot for Anne at andamento:

Almost home now, and I pass a stretch of ditch simply crammed with the tiny pink asters. I've never seen them here before - this year's early warm weather is bringing out all kinds of floral surprises.

And a bit further on, where the ditch fills with water, I see blue flag iris growing amidst fascinating jointed grass. (Rushes and flags - straight out of Laura Ingalls Wilder's On the Banks of Plum Creek.)

Just one mile to go - and one last flower to photograph. I have no idea what this can be. Do you? (The clusters are about 4" - 5" across and rather flat. The bushes are up to 8 feet tall.)

Mystery blossom

Finally, I'm home (sunburnt and a bit dehydrated, and wondering what on earth possessed me to stay out so long on such a hot and blastedly windy day). But a cool shower, a few quarts of liquid, some food, and a doze, help to restore the inner and outer woman. Mr. M thoughtfully reminds me to take some potassium and I realize again what a nice guy I'm married to.

A somewhat uncomfortable ride, but full of small beauties.

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Friday, May 18, 2012

Pennies & Lace Pillow, Part 4: Putting it all Together

Although this month's free pattern seems to be following in the footsteps of the "Rocky" movies - with new installments appearing ad infinitum - you may rest assured that this IS the final segment. (It's also less of a tutorial, and more of a photo documentary.)

And now, the exciting conclusion to the seemingly endless saga of ...

The Pennies & Lace Pillow

Here are my fabrics all stacked up: decorator fabric for the back of the pillow, stripes for the piping (click here for a tutorial on making your own piping), rosy for the front border, and plain muslin to go under the crochet. All the fabrics came from my stash.

(I would have liked to use the decorator fabric on the front of the pillow, but the fabric print was not square; try as I might, I couldn't figure out a symmetrical and attractive way to center the crochet on it.)

1/4" seams were used throughout.

The final size of the pillow was determined by the width of the decorator fabric. It was originally half a yard wide, but after washing and drying it measured a scant 15¾". So I cut a square that size from the decorator fabric for the pillow back. (I wanted a solid back, without any seams or joins.)

The P&L topper, after blocking, measured 10¼" square. I knew it had room to stretch a bit (and being cotton it probably would stretch), so I allowed an extra 1/4" all around which yielded a final measurement of 10¾" square for the topper. To this I added another 1/4" all around for seam allowances and cut my plain muslin 11¼" square.

This left me room for a 2¼" wide border (with seam allowances, 2¾" wide). I cut the pink strips 3" wide so as to have a bit of margin for error. (I knew I could trim them after attaching them to the muslin.)

Side pieces attached first (and seams pressed towards the outside):

Then top and bottom pieces attached and seams again pressed outward:

Then the edges were trimmed a bit, to square up the piece and make it the same size as the backing.

Time to pin the topper to the fabric. You can see that it's a bit small all the way around - just the way I wanted it.

I pinned the corners first, then the midpoints of each side of the square, then the quarterpoints (is that a word?). Rather than stretching the topper, this puckered the fabric - but I was pretty sure the topper would eventually relax.

With the needle just inside the topper's edge, I stitched the topper down, using matching thread, the lightest presser foot pressure, and a long stitch setting.

The stitching sank into the crochet and virtually disappeared. The top was still a bit puckery, but I was still betting on it relaxing later.

Time to apply the piping and assemble the pillow. Some intrepid souls do this in one fell swoop, sandwiching their layers together and stitching with impunity. I am not intrepid. I decided to baste my piping to the pillow top first.

The piping seam allowance was too wide, so I trimmed off about 1/4" (freehand, with scissors - perhaps I'm more intrepid than I realize)...

...then applied as per usual to the pillow top by matching edges and basting a scant 1/4" in. I didn't do any clipping at the corners, just rounded them gently.

At this point, a true piping purist would have: marked the spot where the beginning and end met, opened the piping, cut off the excess fabric on the bias (allowing extra for seams), cut the cording in the appropriate spot so there would be no overlap, butted the ends, then stitched the piping back together (on the bias) - thus forming an invisible join.

I am not a piping purist. I much prefer this quick-and-dirty, overlap-and-angle-off-the-edge method.

Good enough for me! (Can this the woman who puts invisible joins into all her crochet projects?)

Almost done now. The layers were pinned right sides together (AND I remembered to mark an opening for stuffing insertion), then the seam was sewn - on the flip side, so I could see the basting lines and keep my final stitches inside them.

And here's the pillow slip, turned right side out. Looks good to me! (I really like that decorator fabric, and still wish I could have figured out a symmetrical way to use it on the front of the pillow.)

Because the decorator fabric is loosely woven and has a tendency to fray, I turned the pillow slip wrong-side out again, and zigzagged around the edges. (I also zigzagged the decorator-fabric side of the opening, and stay-stitched 1/4" from the edge.)

Then the whole thing was turned right-side out for the last time, and stuffed. As the stuffing went in, the crochet piece relaxed and the fabric puckering disappeared.

The opening was pinned...

...then hand-stitched shut.

Invisible stitches!

The pillow now decorates our living room.

Proud moment: when one's husband walks into the living room within 24 hours of new pillow installation, and not only NOTICES the new pillow, but says (voluntarily), "Wow, that pillow looks really good." Extra points for Mr. M.


P.S. I haven't sewn a square cushion in years, so I forgot this helpful tip: the corners would be less assertively pointy if I had trimmed off about 1/4" from all corner edges, tapering in to meet the original edges. (I remembered this after I finished the pillow. Too late now. I'm not enough of a perfectionist to take the whole thing apart, trim the corners, and re-install the piping - so I'll just leave the corners the way they are. "Perky" is their motto.)

P.P.S. In the unlikely event you missed the first 3 posts for this project, here are some quick links:

Part 1: The Pennies & Lace Block
Part 2: Joining the Blocks
Part 3: The Border

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