Friday, September 30, 2011

Maple Leaf Motif

I'm still playing around with the outside-in concept of crochet motifs, and here's the latest iteration: a quick, fun little maple leaf. Mine measures about 5 1/2" across and was made with a size N hook and some leftover super-chunky yarn. (Leftover from what, you ask? Why, the next pattern, of course. All will be revealed in tomorrow's post.)

This motif would make a cute adornment for a fall gift. And I happen to know it looks great on the ends of an autumn scarf...

Any yarn should work, with the appropriate size hook.

LOOSELY chain 7. Do not turn.

Working in back loops only, single crochet in
next chain from hook, hdc, double crochet,
double crochet. First lobe made. (You will
have 2 chains hanging off the end of the first lobe.
They'll get used later.)

Loosely chain 5...

And repeat above steps to make next lobe
(sc, hdc, dc, dc - all in back loops only).
Make 3 more lobes for a total of 5. They will
look like a little strip of bunting.
Chain 2. Do not turn.

See the holes between each lobe? That's where
your hook will be going.

Yarn over, and insert hook into first hole...

Pull yarn through, then yarn over and pull through
2 loops on hook. You will have 2 loops left.

Repeat with next 3 holes. Now you should have
6 loops on your hook. Insert hook into 1st chain
(way over there on the left)...

Yarn over, and gently pull yarn through all loops on hook.
We have a leaf!

Chain as many stitches as you like to make a stem.
I wove the starting yarn up through my chain.
If you start with a long enough tail you can
double it up with your working yarn and chain
with both strands. (Now she tells us!)

Happy autumn.

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Damp Fall Morning

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The weeping ash drops
   golden tears that mingle with
      the grey autumn rain.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Murder in the 250th Degree; or, How to Kill a Perfectly Good Tomato

It started with a pile of tomatoes on the counter. I'd been happily eating them fresh every day, but all that acid and vitamin C was beginning to take a toll on the Micawber intestinal tract. What to do?

A brainwave. Oven-dried tomatoes! I envisioned quantities of brightly-coloured tomato nuggets, tenderly packed in jars of herbed oil, or, possibly, stored in freezer bags for winter-long enjoyment.

The Internet was full of good advice. I chose Martha Stewart's recipe - surely someone so acquainted with Good Things would know best how to roast a tomato. (Of course she writes all those recipes herself, as surely as the Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch on Hallowe'en.)

Martha's technique couldn't be simpler: slice tomatoes into 1/4" slices; sprinkle with sugar, herbs, salt and pepper, and bake at 250º "until juices have stopped running, edges are shriveled, and pieces have shrunken slightly", anywhere from 1 1/2 to 6 hours. (I simplified the recipe still further by using only salt.)

Here are the tomatoes on the cutting board, succulent and delicious:

Here are the tomatoes on the baking sheet, salted and glistening in scarlet glory:

Into the oven they went. The house soon filled with the rich smell of cooking tomatoes.

But wait - I forgot to mention the secret ingredient. In order to properly murder a tomato, one must crochet whilst the vermilion fruit bakes. And not only crochet, but set oneself a particularly knotty design problem which will absorb all one's mental energy until suddenly one realizes one has not checked the tomatoes in the last hour or so.

Here are the tomatoes on the rack, crispy beyond recognition:

I killed them.

The few that weren't burnt to a cinder were so salty as to be nearly inedible.

Next time I'll just make some sauce.

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Damp Grey Ride and the Three Great Things

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Scarlet leaves on a barbed-wire gate
Cloudy aster dusting the verge
Grumble and growl of thunder in the east

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Today's ride was necessarily short - squeezed in between a morning of solid rain and an afternoon of thunderstorms - and punctuated by a nagging cough which I HOPE will soon be gone. Temperatures were in the 50s and the skies were cloudy and grey. Tights and jacket are de rigueur on a day like this.

Since autumn is irrevocably here, I can stop dreading it and start enjoying it, while appreciating the relics of summer - a solitary clump of Queen Anne's Lace which has somehow survived the near-frost; lilac hedges still lush and leafy green; the last of summer's sunshiny flowers, heliopsis and goldenrod, which are fast disappearing from the landscape.

Around town a few sugar maples have already turned gold and red; just outside of town I see this vine draped over a small tree. Virginia creeper?

I love the yellow and the cool blue-green leaves in this next shot.

Faded barn against a grey sky.

I have to stop and get a picture of this grapevine on a barbed-wire gate. Such a beautiful colour. I wonder where that driveway leads?

As I take this close-up, I hear the faraway crump of thunder in the east. I hope it holds off until I get home.

Bright red asparagus seeds hanging like ornaments. The silvery twigs on the left contribute to the Christmas-y feel.

Look at the glorious lavender aster. I never noticed until today that the centers turn rose-coloured.

A cloud of aster with glimpses of red leaves behind.

The corn is nearly dry, but the grass is still green and lush.

The thunder is getting louder and closer. Time to stop taking pictures and head home, or we may have a crispy cyclist on our hands.

Around the bend, one last shot of the lowering skies, then all out for home. The rain started soon after, but I had just a few miles left and barely got wet.

When I got back, Mr. M asked me, "What could you take pictures of on a day like this?"  "Little things," I replied. The world is still full of beauty, even on a dark cloudy day.

A good ride, though short.

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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Changing of the Seasons

I have not the decorating gene - which means that our furniture rarely gets rearranged, and our décor stays more or less the same for years on end. (My attitude is, if you like something, why change it?) Considering the annual income, this is probably a good thing.

But I do like to change out some of my mini wall quilts to reflect the changing seasons. So today I said goodbye to this patriotic little number, which goes up in June and stays up until the September equinox...

...and replaced it with this goldy-brown and leafy wall hanging:

In the porch, a flowery, spring-and-summer-toned mini quilt...

...was taken down and sent back into the closet for its long winter sleep, to make way for this flannelly folk bunny quiltlet.

I could have cleaned the windows today, but this was much more fun.

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Little OCD?

Aristotle said, "All human actions have one or more of these seven causes: chance, nature, compulsions, habit, reason, passion, desire."

I think that for each of us there's at least one thing - be it a craft, a practice, a job in the home or in the marketplace - about which we take excessive care, the abuse or neglect of which by others we find painful to watch. Something we're willing to spend time on and polish until it meets our standards.

(I can't seem to find a word that exactly fits my meaning. Nature, compulsion, and passion all play into it, as does obsession, but none of these describes it perfectly. So, for lack of a better term, I will call it a passion.)

My passion is for words. Language is important to me. The right words in the right order, the mot juste, the neatly turned phrase, are somehow deeply satisfying. I may be a slacker (actually I am a slacker) in many areas - housework, exercise, consistently healthy cooking and eating, keeping in touch with distant family members - but when it comes to words, to language and grammar, I am diligent without trying, often without thinking. It is, indeed, a kind of compulsion.

Words, to me, have individual personalities whose beauty or ugliness extends to their very appearance on the page. Some words are lovely to speak and to see: violet; apple; maiden; apricot. Some are pleasantly exotic - amethyst; silver; mystic; rainbow. Some words are ugly in sound and meaning and look: execrate; vituperate.

Perhaps because of my lingual obsession, I tend to be a literalist. I understand that hyperbole and metaphor exist (and sometimes indulge in them myself), but, in the main, I say exactly what I mean and try to mean exactly what I say. And I tend toward the silly assumption that others want to do the same.

This can and does drive said others crazy - notably Mr. M, who's very fond of what he calls "looking at the big picture". (To me it seems more like sloppy speech.) Poor husband of a word-wrangling wife, how he hates being pinned down to a precise expression of his meaning. He'd much rather keep his communication vague and fuzzy, all the while hoping for the best (which, now that I think about it, rather describes my approach to housework).

Of course Mr. M has his own passions, the greatest of which is probably the proper building and maintenance of bicycles. A frame built on bad geometrical principles, or a poorly-tuned bicycle, are as exasperating to him as a poorly-constructed sentence or misplaced apostrophe are to me.

I suppose that in a perfect world, our passions, or talents, would become our vocations - in short, we'd all get paid for doing what we naturally do best. As it is, we must satisfy ourselves where we can, by living up to our own standards - and remembering that what's important to one may be less so to another. (Although nothing can excuse a misplaced apostrophe.)

What's your passion?

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Notable Colds in the Works of Miss Austen

Sent home early from work to nurse my cold, I sit in the rocking chair after lunch, fighting off the urge to sleep (why does it seem so shameful to sleep in the afternoon?) and reading Catharine, a fragment by the excellent and esteemed Miss Jane Austen.

Imagine my horror when I come across this statement from the excitable Mrs. Peterson/Percival: "It is unknown how many people have died in consequence of catching Cold! I do not believe there is a disorder in the World except Smallpox which does not spring from it."

Oh dear. Just when I thought the sinuses were clearing and the cough lessening. I think of Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility, who catches "a cold so violent ... as ... would force itself by increasing ailments on the concern of everybody, and the notice of herself." She is "heavy and feverish, with a pain in her limbs, a cough and a sore throat...." Within days, Marianne is on the brink of death. (Happily she survives.)

I comfort myself with the words of Mrs. Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, upon being informed of her daughter Jane's catching a cold: "People do not die of little trifling colds."

The Misses Bingley (of P&P) detest colds as much as any: "The sisters ... repeated three or four times how much they were grieved, how shocking it was to have a bad cold, and how excessively they disliked being ill themselves."

Poor Harriet Smith of Emma is obliged to miss the Westons' Christmas dinner party due to a bad cold: "Emma called on her ... and found her doom already signed with regard to Randalls. She was very feverish and had a bad sore throat ...."

Jane Fairfax (also of Emma) is liable to shocking colds and is constantly watched over by her friends lest she strain her throat by too much singing, or make herself ill by walking in the rain. This from the abhominable Mrs. Elton: "My dear Jane, what is this I hear? Going to the post-office in the rain! ... You sad girl, how could you do such a thing?" And this from kind Mrs. Weston: "Miss Fairfax, you must not run such risks. Liable as you have been to severe colds, indeed you ought to be particularly careful...."

Being myself rather feverish and low, I can recall no other colds in Miss Austen's works (though I have a vague idea that delicate Fanny Price of Mansfield Park may have had one or two). I decide to lie down - just for a bit, I tell myself. Several hours later, I awake feeling much better. Tired Nature's sweet restorer has once again come up trumps. (Sorry, but I couldn't come up with an Austenian quote on sleep.)

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Simple Pleasures: Holding a Baby

Just returned from several days out of state visiting a dear niece and nephew-in-law and their beautiful children.

Souvenirs? The first cold of the season (thanks to Little E, who brought it home from school and generously if unintentionally shared it with the rest of us). And some wonderful photos of small great-nieces and a very small great-nephew.

Favourite activity? Holding Little A. What a happy little, cuddly little sweetheart he is.

A very good way to spend the time.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Frost Warning ~ a Lament

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                    Mournful the day
when first the dreaded socks from out the drawer
are ta'en to clothe my naked toes. O June!
O happy sandalled August and July!
O blessèd months of barefoot bliss, by cold
September winds displaced, farewell. Farewell.
Sweet summer warmth, farewell.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Simple Pleasures: Farmstand Veggies

If you can't grown your own vegetables, the next best thing is to buy them directly from someone who does.  Since I only planted tomatoes this year (and one forlorn eggplant which did not live up to expectations), I'm happily relying on the little vegetable stand down the road to supplement our summer menu.

Here's a picture of today's haul:

Onions, summer squash, bell peppers, a jalapeño, and just-picked sweet corn.


Locally grown.

Life is good.

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Warm and Showery Ride with the Three Great Things

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Butterflies dancing over rain-washed roads
Curious cattle with questioning eyes
Comradely waves from two Harley riders

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After last weekend's cold spell, the weather has warmed up again. Temperatures are summery, and only the angle of the sun betrays the dying year. The thermometer reads 84º.

As I pump up Iris's tires, Mr. M calls out, "20% chance of light showers!" I'm not concerned. It hasn't rained all day.

No sooner do I turn the first corner than fat drops of rain begin plopping on my back and bouncing off the road. A large grey cloud is looming up. For about ten miles, the showers come and go, then the sky above me clears as the clouds pass on into the east. (But rather like King Charles's head, they manage to work themselves into most of my pictures.)

Asters are popping up everywhere. These beauties, of palest lavender, are growing just outside town at the edge of a marsh.

See what I mean about the clouds?

I pass a large patch of flat-topped goldenrod...

...but most of the fields are lined with the more traditional kind.

The county mowers have been out, and all the roadsides are littered with these sad little seed heads.

I see quite a few of these birdhouses at the edges of fields. I'm not sure what type of bird they're designed to accomodate.

I wonder how long that stone has been there? It's cradled pretty snugly between those four trees.

Stormy clouds behind tornado-blasted pines - a perfect setting for Heathcliff or some other gloomy-browed Victorian anti-hero.

And still more dramatic clouds. I love the contrast between the grey and white. This road is very popular with motorcyclists, and at the bottom of the hill I am passed by two friendly Harley riders who give me the traditional motorcyclist's wave - hand out and down at an angle.

I see these cattle in a field and stop to take a picture. Being the curious creatures they are, they crowd up to the fence to give me the once-over. I couldn't have posed them better if I had tried.

I meant to take a picture of the drying corn, but those clouds will keep hogging the limelight.

Some miles later, I cross a bridge over this lovely chuckling stream. It's so hard to capture the charm of moving water in a picture.

I love this barn. I don't know why. Every time I pass it I want to take its picture - so today I do.

Huge old oak standing solitary guard over the soybean fields, which are beginning to take on their Packer colours of green and yellow.

And around the corner, a wild apple tree I never noticed before, loaded with ripening fruit.

Amtrak was on schedule today (there it is, flying through the center of the picture, going too fast for me to get a good shot). I love being passed by trains. It makes me ride faster.

One last cloud picture. I see a giant (in profile) with rather nice hair, large fluffy eyebrows, and a pronounced chin and lower lip. Smoke is coming out of his mouth as he flies with outstretched wing-like arm.

Time to put away the camera and finish the last five miles. I'm starving, and there's pizza dough rising at home, waiting to be introduced to some fresh tomatoes, zucchini and mozzarella.

A very nice ride followed by an even nicer supper.

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