Friday, October 30, 2009

Looking on the Bright Side . . .

Some weeks are fun and some weeks are productive and some weeks are full of the fabulous moments you will remember when you are old and gray and can't really remember anything else.  This week was not. This week was kind of a stinker and I spent most of it taking temperatures and administering medicine and fetching cups of juice. One by one, my kids got sick with some suspiciously flu-like illness.  This makes sense because they were all scheduled (finally, I might add, and yes, Dear, you were right: I should have scheduled  sooner) to get their flu shots on Thursday. And what better way to prepare for the flu shot than to actually have the flu? By the time that El Husbando got sick as well, I was convinced I was part of some secret reality show (Survivor: Influenza) and I was ready to pack up my knitting and sneak off to the nearest hotel (well, no; probably one a lot farther away) for some R&R.  But I didn't.  Instead, I spent the week in my office failing entirely to get my work done and watching a lot of PBS Kids.

All of this makes for a snoozer of a blog, so instead I'm revisiting a couple of the more pleasant events of this Fall.

Part I:  In Which Matty Conquers The Devil's Potato Tractor

Matty's nursery school takes a fall trip to the potato farm.  He went with us when his big brother took the trip and I thought he was ready for it, if lacking a little in enthusiasm.  The morning of  the trip, I thought I would get him a little wound up so he could fully appreciate all the fun he was about to have.
"It will be great," I told him.  "There will be pumpkins and goats and horses and we'll go on a wagon pulled by a  . . ."
"NO!!" cut in my husband . . . a moment too late as I finished with "tractor!"
"AAAAUUUGGGHHH!" explained the three year old.
I had forgotten. The little man does not care for tractors. They are loud and smelly and some of them go BANG when you turn them off.  Plus, he can tell that they are all coming to get him.  Clearly they are the Devil's playthings and Matty wants nothing to do with them.  Whenever El Husbando  mows the lawn, the poor child bursts into tears and locks himself in the house.  So this was not the best way to get him excited for the trip.

First, he refused to put his clothes on.  Then he refused to eat breakfast.  After I threw the clothes and the breakfast in the car, he refused to get into his seat and when we got there he refused to come out of the car.  When he did agree to come out, it was expressly stipulated that he would go only as far as the pretty red tent, where he could see there were some very safe apples and pumpkins. He did like the spiffy orange potato-collecting bags his teacher was handing out, right up until she said "Hey Matty, want to come see the tractor?" No, he explained, he really wanted to stay by the nice red tent.  Only it sounded a lot more like "AAAAAAUUUUGGGGHHHH!"

Peer pressure did nothing to help.  If his fool classmates were willing to follow their parents on the Ride of Terror then that was too bad for them.  It took a Very Patient Potato Farmer -- who explained that he would stop the tractor any time Matty wanted him to-- and a Fed-Up Mommy to haul the small protester aboard and then we were off.  The only thing louder than the Devil Tractor was the sound of Matty screaming.  He spent the entire ride with his hands clamped firmly over his ears.  When we reached the potato field and the farmer turned off the tractor, the hands unclamped the ears and Matty hopped very happily down onto the field only to be confronted with . . .


The Devil's Potato Tractor.  Apparently the only thing worse than being pulled by one tractor is watching another tractor pull the way-cool potato picker.  Matthew didn't care that this thing could dig into the ground, shuffle potatoes up its conveyor belt, and poop them back onto the ground for us to pick up.  There was a tractor involved and he was not going to stand by and watch it do its dirty work. 


He closed his eyes and clamped his hands over his ears and retreated to (get this) the safety of the wagon pulled by the first tractor.  When all tractoring was done, he hopped down again and warily surveyed the pickings. Maintaining a safe distance from both tractors at all times, he scouted the potatoes . . .


lobbed a few into his spiffy orange potato bag . . .


and declared the adventure a success.


We topped off the morning with a quick visit to the pumpkin patch, then we petted the goats and fled before anyone could start up another tractor.


Part II: In Which I May Have Acquired More Fiber Than Was Strictly Necessary

I learned to spin last year and I really really really enjoy it, which is not the same as saying that I really really spin a lot.  But apparently I intend to spin a lot.  To be completely accurate, spinning is not the only hobby in which I have gotten a little ahead of myself.  I own a bunch of yarn, but most of it is attached to projects that I have in mind, and most of those are socks and scarves, for which a skein or two will do.  I have shelves full of books that I intend to read, but mostly I  borrow from the library so that when I fail to read them, the most I'll have spent is a small late fee. When I used to quilt (not really used to; I'll get back to it.  Right?) I had fabric on hand for at least half a dozen future projects.  So I get that there's a pattern of behavior here. But what gets me about spinning is that I buy the stuff with no clear goal in mind. The aimlessness of this kind of freaks me out, but not enough to keep me from buying more of the fluffy stuff.

A few weeks ago, my friend Deb and I made our pilgrimage to the New York Sheep & Wool Festival in Rhinebeck.  This is the absolute favorite coolest best worst kind of place for an aimless spinner to go.  It is a hefty trip: we get on the bus at 4:30 a.m. and don't get home until 11:30 p.m. and how can you not try to make the most of an event that requires that much travel?  It is our once-a-year full day away from our kids-- a grand total of 8 between the two of us-- and our responsibilities and how can you not spend a chunk of change in celebration of that kind of crazy freedom? And (here's the key) THERE'S SO MUCH STUFF!!!!!

So I bought  a bunch of it.

Here is my first purchase of the day, a trio of blues (2 ounces each) destined to become a three ply, though heaven only knows what I'm going to use it for.

Here is a later purchase, a big-ol' heap of some pretty colored wool with some shiny stuff mixed in.  No real plans for that either.


Here is some stuff from Spinner's Hill-- 8 ounces of totally random wool.  Normally, I buy it from my local spinning shop, so you might wonder why I would drive 5 hours to get some more, but the display was overwhelming and I was powerless to disobey its commands.


Which might also explain why I bought this little chunk of wool (4 ounces) from the same place.  The red is the deepest, richest, most seductive color you can imagine.  Nothing like the picture below.


Here is some fluff from Hope Spinnery in Maine.  I bought some last year and labeled it a mystery color.  It spun up into the most comforting shade of heathered green and so I just had to have more.  It was one of the few things I actually intended to buy this year, even though I have not knit the last batch and have no particular goal for this one.


Really, it's a good thing I bought a whole bunch of extra random wool.  Because I probably spin about 3 pounds of wool a year.  And before Rhinebeck, I only had 9 pounds of wool sitting around.  And now I have more than 11 pounds.  And it is vitally important to have that much wool in reserve because you never know when I might run into a few extra years of completely free time.

photo.jpg photo.jpg photo.jpg
(Spunky Eclectic, 4 oz BFL; Spinner's Hill, 4 oz BFL?; Spinner's Hill, 24 oz batt from heaven in colors that look just like autumn)

(Yes Sir, Yes Sir, Three bags full-- ~4 pounds washed corriedale fleece purchased from a fleece sale with no clear goal in mind--Surprise!)

Mystery fiber/HemlockCotswold (4? Ounces) Handmade in the Hills/HemlockDark brown alpaca RhinebeckBlue merino tencel (4 ounces) Delly's Delights @ RhinebeckCorriedale (4 ounces) from HemlockAlpaca (3 ounces) from Alpacatrax (rhinebeck)Cottonphoto.jpg
(myriad other bits of wool, 4 or 8 ounces each, still not spun from last year)

Wensleydale (4 ounces) Hemlock

But, that's not all.  While I was chucking pound after pound of fiber into my bags at Rhinebeck, I also made time to shop for yarn.  Below is a Zauberball.  This was a total impulse purchase (Fine.  It was even more of an impulse purchase than the rest of the stuff I got) and I'm still a little surprised that I shelled out $20 for it, but I loved the colors and I have already started a pair of socks with it.


And then there was the crowning moment of the festival.  At the end of the day, Deb and I took a second walk through the first building we had gone into in the morning.  In the morning, there had been a line so long at one of the booths that we couldn't even see what was there.  We were pretty sure that whatever the people were so excited about was long gone, but we stopped by to ask.  Toni at the booth for The Fold explained that they were selling Blue Moon Fiber Arts Socks that Rock yarn and that the reason people were so excited was that she was the only distributor on the east coast (I don't know when Illinois became the east coast, but that's not really important), so people didn't get to see the yarn in person too often.  I started blithering about how my husband had gotten me a Sheep to Shoe kit for my birthday.  Eight ounces of superwash wool from Blue Moon etc etc all waiting to be spun into sock yarn, only I really didn't want to mess with it until my spinning skills were a little better  . . .


and Generous Toni said "Why don't I give you a skein of it so you can see what it's like.  You go pick one out."  At which point all noise stopped coming out of my mouth and I stared at her in wonder.   So she turned to Deb and said "Are you with her?  Why don't you go pick one out too?"

So we giggled like a couple of idiots and went to pet the yarn.  It took us forever to choose (we were a little store-stupid by that time). We walked away with our skeins of the regular sock yarn for free, but to say thank you we each bought a skein of the mill ends.  El Husbando ridiculed me over this, but I still think that $14 is an unbeatable price for two skeins of really cool sock yarn. Can you even tell the difference?

photo.jpg photo.jpg

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Peppermint Pattie Goes Lawn Surfing

Here is El Husbando.  He is a man of dreams and ambition.  A man of plans and determination.  A man who would never let his desire to become a cowboy be stymied by the mere fact that WE HAVE NO HORSES OR COWS. 


Instead, we have rocks.  Periodically, we catch them and put them to work for us.  Here is El Husbando's most recent project:


It is not a holding pen for baby rocks.  It is, as you can clearly see, a fire pit. The rocks, large and small, were all organically grown and tamed by our own Rock Whisperer. They were  hand selected and arranged and rearranged and then re-rearranged to create the perfect pit.  They are the product of great labor and my husband takes knows each of them personally.

But sometimes the little rocks are not enough to fulfill the needs of a true artist.  What is needed is a Challenge.  An Everest to be scaled. ATitan to be battled.  A Moby Dick to be hunted.  What is needed, is a Peppermint Pattie.

Peppermint Pattie is the Rock Whisperer's personal Everest. She was discovered by the RW along the western border of our lands (sounds grand, doesn't it?  Really she was about 30 feet to the left of the driveway).  She was partly buried in the dirt, but the part sticking out was a perfect stone replica of the almighty mint candy itself. And all the RW could think was what a perfect seat Peppermint Pattie would make at the council fire. Unfortunately, PP is several hundred pounds of rock and it was not immediately clear how she would make it the quarter mile from the driveway to the fire pit.  Carried by hand? Nope. Pulled by lawn tractor?  Nope.  Levered out and rolled all the way home?  HAHAHAHAHAHA. 

But the Rock Whisperer is  a man of dreams and ambition, a man of plans and determination, and not a man to be defeated by a rock.  There may be no horses and no cattle, but the RW had a plan and the roundup was about to begin.

Meet the sled:


With a great deal of labor and a lot of rope, the RW did manage to lever PP out of the ground and on to the sled. 


The sled was then tied to the modern suburban substitute for the ranch horse, the minivan.


And off we went.  Above is Peppermint Pattie taking a little ride up the driveway.  Below is PP hauling @$$ across the lawn.


A ranch hand easing the mighty beast into her new home:


And the second in command showing poor Pattie who is boss:


Here is a dizzying picture of PP in her new digs. Considering that she spent the last bajillion years stuck in the ground at a 45 degree angle, this is probably a pretty accurate view of things from her perspective. The RW has taken good care of her, though.  She has been washed and polished and is now just waiting for us to find three more giant rocks to complete the seating.


In knitting news, here is the lovely Isabel showing off the latest in finished garments:


It is the Central Park Hoodie and it is DONE!!!  The only alteration I made to the pattern was to continue the back cable up the hood and over the top of the head.  Took a little fiddling, but I like it better than seeing a plain stockinette hood (and the hood seam, which was supposed to run across the top of the hood) blocking the back cable.  The sweater is extremely warm and it actually fits (me, not Isabel) and it is (did I mention this?) DONE!


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Healing Properties of Balloons

Monday's cookie-chocolate-all meals dessert  crisis has been resolved.  Unfortunately, the expedition to the grocery store--which is best treated like a battle-- was not without its casualties. Private Matthew DogSweater suffered a grievous wound to his right ring finger while attempting to down enemy signage in the produce section. Major Mommy failed to appreciate the full extent of the injury until several of the dogs on the sweater were decorated in blood, at which point medical supplies were requisitioned from the field hospital in Aisle 2A and the wound was cleaned and dressed.    Unfortunately, no amount of "Magic Cream" (aka Neosporin) and BandAids could treat the emotional trauma induced by the event.  Sympathetic locals, unable to bear the wailing, were forced to administer pink balloons to the poor little soldier, which were found to be most efficacious.*  He is reported to be feeling much better now, and is almost certainly plotting his next "injury" in the hope of receiving more pink balloons.

On the domestic front, the family made the fall pilgrimage to pick apples a few weeks ago.  We were pleasantly surprised to find that the last of the season's raspberries and blueberries were also ready to be picked and pick we did.  We came home with two giant bags of apples (mainly honeycrisp, which are outrageously tasty but at $1.65/lb --only 30 cents cheaper than the market price-- sort of defeated any economic arguments for doing the picking ourselves), a basket of blueberries, and several baskets of raspberries.  It is suspected that several of the pickers consumed a full week's worth of fruit along the way and are now completely anti-oxidized.

In celebration of this unexpected bounty, we made 6 jars of raspberry jam (seeds removed; they just spoil the whole thing for me) and 6 jars of blueberry preserves.  Although we were afraid initially that the raspberry stuff would not gel past the syrup stage, within 48 hours the stuff had firmed up to a respectably spreadable condition, which we will try to remember about next year.  The world's best applesauce followed; it is the only time my poor deprived children get applesauce with sugar in it, so they really really appreciate it.  I do too.

After the berry farm, we headed to Lake Ontario.  The whole field trip had been recommended to us by some friends who had done the apple picking/lake shore combo the week before and raved about it so much that my husband pretty much insisted that we had to go too. And who should we meet at this remote lake shore park but the very same friends who had sent us there.  This might seem like a small thing, but the part of the lake we went to is over 30 miles away from home and, at the time we were there, was inhabited by a grand total of 8 other people. 

We did what we always do, which is throw rocks in the lake.  All of the other people at the lake were doing this too. Most of us go for the wonderfully smooth, flat, and slightly rounded stones that litter the lake shore.  They make really great skipping rocks and even if you don't skip them well, they break the surface of the water with a satisfying PLONK.  Some of us, however, fear that the lake level is getting a bit low and feel compelled to boost the water level by heaving in boulders that are bigger than our heads. 

What you can see in all three of these pictures is my very favorite thing about the lake:  that it seems to go on and on forever. It has the mood of the ocean without the saltiness and (in most places) without the stink.

In spinning news, there is no spinning news.  I'm totally doing the knitting thing right now, although I have been washing  more bits of my Corriedale fleece now and then. In knitting news, I have started seaming my Central Park Hoodie. I realize that this is a tactical error.  The hood is not done and the button (or non-button, in this case) band is also still to be done; adding the sleeves on at this point will just give me a lot more sweater to deal with while I am adding those last features.  But, the flimsiness of the unjoined pieces was starting to bug me.  I've been working on the sweater for a long time and I really want to see a sweater now, not a collection of pieces.  Plus, sometimes when things around you seem to be coming apart, you just need to have something that is coming together.

I'm far enough along in the sweater that I can imagine it will be done soon and that has started the brain gears working on the next project.  I went on a sock riff in the spring, which has been tamed in the sense that I no longer have a burning need to knit socks.  I still have some on the needles, but I'm thinking sweaters now. I have had the pattern for the Patons Must Have Cardigan for a while, and just last week I bought enough pink Patons Classic Wool to knit the whole thing.  And then along came the Old Way Gansey by Ann Budd, one of this week's freebies from Knitting Daily.  I am absolutely smitten, and if I had the yarn I would knit it immediately. Since I am already up to my ears in spinnable stuff, I think I'll consider Rhinebeck a grand opportunity to scout some independent yarn suppliers for the perfect yarn.  If I don't find it, I know I can use one of the yarn shop staples (Galway? NatureSpun?) for this sweater.  Or (and no, I'm not really this ambitious now that I think about it) maybe I'll spin the yarn for this.  Or not (and please try not to guffaw in my ear like that). I'm thinking (relatively) instant gratification here. Doesn't that idea just make you laugh when it comes to knitting a sweater?

*BTW: Many thanks to the Extremely Nice Lady at Wegmans who was kind enough to supply the balloon.  It did the job admirably.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Crisis is Looming . . .

1. It is Monday.

2. I stayed up too late last night and (surprise!) didn't want to get out of bed at 5:45 this morning. By the time I got up, it was too late to exercise, but still early enough that I could sweep, wash dishes, and fold laundry. Wheee.

3. My son went to pre-school in his Power Rangers costume. Those are not his real muscles.

4. There are no chocolate chip cookies in the house. Now what am I supposed to have for my breakfast dessert?

5. There is chocolate, but only one day's worth. If I eat it for my breakfast dessert, what will I have for my lunch dessert?

6. The car, which is 8 years old and will soon need to be held together with Scotch tape, has an engine light on. And a flattening tire. And it needs an oil change. Hopefully it will not fall apart before I pick my Power Ranger up from school. Later today I will have to take it to the shop so Friendly Todd can fix it for me first thing tomorrow.

7. I'm sure it will rain while I am walking home from dropping off the car. It is only 1.5 miles, though, so how wet can I get?

8. In order to leave the car with Friendly Todd, I will have to postpone my regular Tuesday grocery shopping trip until Wednesday. This means that there will not be any cookies or chocolate for tomorrow's breakfast dessert either.

9. I am also sure that it will rain when I walk to pick up the car on Tuesday. And the car will probably not be done on time, which makes sense because Tuesday is the day that is booked so solid with activities that it takes years of parent training and a special driver's license to make sure that all the right people are left in all the right places at all the right times. And that they have all the right stuff with them. And you have to remember to go back and get them when there are done.

10. There is coffee, but when I opened the coffee maker to add fresh ground coffee (well, not fresh in the sense that I ground it myself this morning, just fresh in the sense that it had not already been used), I found that there were already coffee grounds in there. Only, they were not so fresh. The last time I made coffee was Friday. Did I mention that it is Monday?

11. My husband wants a cow. The kind that lives in your barn and poops in your pasture and moos at you. We don't have a barn or a pasture, nor will we until my husband gets over the cow thing.

12. I would prefer sheep. But we have no barn and no pasture, nor will we until my husband gets over his cow thing.

13. My husband still wants a cow.

14. The fronts and back of the sweater I have been working on for the last month came out perfectly for the size 38. The sleeves that I knit last January came out perfectly for the size 48. I was knitting the size 40.

15. When I made the shopping list last week, I failed to account for the fact that the car would need to see Friendly Todd on my regular shopping day and now there isn't really much to make dinner with and we will be eating Scrounge for the next two nights while I wear a sweater that can only be put together if I defy the laws of physics. We won't notice it so much on Busy Tuesday, but I'm not sure I can handle it today what with it being Monday and there being no cookies.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Garden's Lament

This is my garden. From a distance, it doesn't look so bad.

But up close it is revealed to be a woefully neglected place.

It is overrun with weeds. Plants have collapsed like drunkards; they are untended, their fruits unharvested. Those that have not given up and vanished altogether might appear to have fallen off their supports, but the truth is that I am not sure I ever got around to putting them on their supports in the first place. I have been a lazy gardener.

I begin every year with such fine intentions. I will weed and dig earlier, select my plants wisely, and plant them on time. I love this part of gardening, where we go from quietly resting garden beds to a clean, raked, freshly planted garden. There is so much promise. So much belief in what the future will bring. My children help weed and rake and choose plants and we talk about what we'll do with our harvest. But in between the planting and the harvesting comes the part that stomps all over me every year. Weeding. Watering. Tending. Nurturing. The energy of spring and the promise of my garden are usually enough to carry me through the first round of weeding. But then come July and August, those awkward teenage months for the garden. My plants are not sweet young things any more and neither are their weeds, which have gone from minor nuisances manageable with a hoe to stubborn problems requiring hours with the garden fork. As the plants become bigger and wilder, I stay away for longer. It's too much responsibility. Then some of them start producing food and I'm OBLIGATED to do something with them. Pick the little buggers. Clean them and add them to dinner. Or preserve the little stinkers. I resent them for their claim on my time and energy. And then I feel guilty. I have neglected my poor little garden. Failed to fully seize the opportunity to produce wholesome food for my family. Failed to live up to my dreams for this year. I am afraid that my garden is not just a bunch of plants in the dirt, but an illustration of my flaws and failures.

This year was a particularly bad gardening year for me. After one round of aggressive weeding in June, I barely set foot in the garden for the rest of the summer. We ate a few cukes and tomatoes, but left most of them to rot in place. We picked a few eggplants and beans, but they sat on the kitchen counter waiting for me to cook them and finally ended up in the compost bin. The melons were ignored completely; we didn't taste even one of them. And once again I failed to trellis my peas early enough to keep them from being overtaken by the beans.

There are still a few bright spots. The sunflowers grew beautifully. The birds have eaten some of the seed, but there are still 5 or 6 flowers that haven't given up their seeds yet.

Although the peppers were nowhere near as abundant as last year, we do have some. This includes a bumper crop of hot peppers, although I can't imagine why I bought them since we never eat them.

Isabel opened a few of the bean pods. I have no idea what to do with the dried beans, but at least they are pretty.

The gardening season is pretty much over here, but I just can't bring myself to clean out the garden yet. I haven't decided whether this is optimism or plain laziness at work. The funny thing is that my favorite time is when we put the garden to bed. After all that rampant vegetation, the garden looks so peaceful when it is clean and raked and waiting for a new season. The chaos recedes and the promise begins to shine through again. I can look at it and believe that I will do better next year, just like I can look at my freshly bathed three-year old as he sleeps and believe that tomorrow I'll be a better mommy.