Friday, March 29, 2013

The critter I hate to love

Betsy uncovered a rabbit nest in the asparagus bed last week. Even though I hate what those wascally wabbits do to my yard, I shooed the dog away and tried to put the nest back together again. I didn't see any evidence that momma returned, but a couple of days later...

... this little fella hopped across the yard, causing Finn to race from patio door to West Wing window and back again. Meanwhile, Betsy had cornered another under the bend of a downspout, where the patio meets the foundation. That poor thing had flattened itself against the concrete as much as possible. I was afraid Betsy had injured it, but once the dog was inside, the baby bunny hopped off in the opposite direction as its sibling.

I was hoping they had left the yard altogether, but last night, while picking up dog poop, I spotted this one next to one of the patio beds:

It kept perfectly still. Both Betsy and Finn were outside with me; neither detected it, even though Betsy passed within inches several times. Her nose must be losing its magic powers as she ages.

Today I spotted this big one on the patio - momma I presume. I tried to get a picture of her looking in the patio door, but was not quick enough. There is still a bit of snow left over and the grass is not really green yet, but she found something to nibble on.

Later I saw TWO adults in the backyard, hopefully not making more babies. Time to round up the poultry netting!

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

My favorite sweater

This is definitely the best sweater I have ever knit. It is as comfortable as an old sweatshirt but stylish. And it even looks good on me! I bought a long sleeved gray tee just to wear with it.

Pattern: Beaubourg by Julie Hoover
Yarn: Manos del Uruguay Maxmima, in M2014 colorway (pink)
Needles: US9
Modifications: none.

It is in reverse stockinette, with the seams on the outside. If that bothers you, you can always wear it inside out. And I found a way to make seaming less painful: locking stitch markers.

I purchased the pattern from an LYS, and it lacked some improvements and corrections. I contacted the company and they emailed me the errata PLUS after reading a comment I left on Ravely, the designer contacted me to make sure I got them. Wonderful!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Riding the Metro

That is the name of this sock pattern: Riding the Metro. These photos don't show the lace detail very well, but the front has an arrow-like design, while the back looks like tracks.

Pattern: Riding the Metro by Wendy Johnson (from Socks from the Toe Up)
Yarn: Shelridge Farm Soft Touch Heather in Charcoal
Needles: US1
Modifications: none

Last year I knit quite a few pairs of socks using the Yarn Harlot's "sock recipe" in order to learn to knit socks without a pattern. Those socks were knit from the top down. This year I am concentrating on learning to knit socks from the toe up. The advantage is, if you run short of yarn, you can make the tops shorter. I think they fit a bit better, too. These I did on two circular needles. The first sock took forever, but the second one was quicker. Even so, the next pair will NOT be a 24-row lace pattern - too much work!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Longest winter ever

More snow is predicted for tonight, but not as much as first feared. Still. Time to switch seasons, Mother Nature!

One book (in this case, on CD) that I forgot to mention in my previous post is Quiet, by Susan Cain. It is about introverts, of which I am one. In the first chapter, she offers up a quick set of 20 are-you-an-introvert questions. I answered not only "yes" to 18 of them, but "HELL YES!" Then she launches into the culture of extroversion, which explains why introversion and introspection have become so unpopular. I'm only a few chapters in, but so far, it is very interesting.

I moved the herb seedlings out to the plant rack in the garage, as they have reached the point of needing light. The peppers appear to be a lost cause, though. The seeds were part of the misplaced seed order from Seed Savers Exchange, and now I am wondering if they were overexposed to freezing temperatures or something before they reached me. I hope a few germinate, as they are a medium hot variety called "Candlelight" that I was really hoping to try.

Otherwise, I spent a good part of the day vacuuming in my bedroom, as I awoke at 5am to the sound of one dog barfing. In my hurry to shed some light on the situation, I broke the bedside lamp. Shards went everywhere, including into the sheets. At least the barfing noises were a false alarm. And I took advantage of the early rising to curl up on the couch with disk 1 of season 3 of "Downton Abbey".

Saturday, March 23, 2013

In limbo

This is the time of year when my activities start to turn outward, but the weather just won't cooperate. I saw a tweet the other day about how this spring was supposed to be warmer than usual, and the comments in response were along the lines of my thoughts: Yeah, right. Wouldn't it be nice to have a job where you could be wrong over half the time and not get fired?

In an effort to keep my indoor starts from getting leggy, I moved the plant rack out to the garage where it is cooler. The broccoli and lettuce that are out there are about an inch tall, and have been for several weeks. I assume they are creating massive root systems so when it comes time to transplant them, they will take off. My other starts, still in the house, are not being very cooperative. The herb seeds are kind of old, so it does not surprise me that they are not germinating with wild abandon, but the pepper seeds are brand new and should be up by now. I replanted the no-shows, but I am not holding my breath on these. Fortunately, the herbs that don't sprout may be replaced with nursery plants, and most of my pepper plants are being grown elsewhere, for delivery in May.

All my knitting seems to be in limbo as well. I have been knitting, don't get me wrong about that. It's just that nothing seems to be reaching a finished state.

Meanwhile, I have been reading. A book I just finished, The Black Box by Michael Connelly, represents the start of what I consider my summer reading. I love mysteries, and summer seems like a good time to indulge in them. It's a bit early to start, but what the heck.

Other books on the coffee table and nightstand:

  • One Man's Garden, by Henry Mitchell, is a collection of gardening essays that carry one through the year. Some are good, some not so good, some dated. Not sure I'll finish this one.
  • The Backyard Parables, by Margaret Roach, is a continuation of And I Shall Find Some Peace There. It too follows the gardening year. I just started it, anticipate much enjoyment.
  • Missing Out, by Adam Phillips, is short but a slog because of his writing style. The topic interests me primarily because it goes along with Winnicott's theory of the "good enough" mother: our lives are good enough just the way they are.
  • The Food Matters Cookbook, by Mark Bittmann, is a natural for someone with my predilections in the kitchen. Did you know you can microwave popcorn in a paper bag? Take one-quarter cup popcorn, two teaspoons high heat oil (like peanut or safflower), throw into a small brown paper bag and fold the top, and nuke. I will probably buy this book.
  • Save Your Hands!, by Lauriann Greene, is written for massage therapists. My massage therapist recommended it for my knitting hands. The exercises are simple and have helped a lot.
  • Bikram Yoga, by Bikram Choudhury, is a book on one style of yoga. Most yogis think their way is the best way, but Choudhury thinks his way is the only way. He has even patented the 28 poses that make up his brand and has been known to sue anyone who infringes. He may be a nut case and yogi to the stars, but I like the series of poses and will probably buy this book along with one on Yin yoga.

Since I can't garden and the knitting is going nowhere, maybe it would be a good weekend to buckle down and do my taxes. And start the onerous task of collecting association dues (I'm the treasurer). And watch Season 3, disk 1 of "Downton Abbey". My new mantra is a quote from the Earl of Grantham: "I have no right to be unhappy." Goes well with "Don't worry. Be happy."

Monday, March 18, 2013

When is this ever going to end?!?

After last spring's premature heat wave that ruined the entire crop of Michigan peaches, I don't mind the cold weather this March. But please, can we stop with the snow? And the oppressive gray skies? And the damp wind? Ugh. Ugh, ugh, ugh.

Since I cannot work on the yard, I might as well work on the house, a house that is too small for all my toys. I have been so looking forward to getting this cupboard/pantry, to expand the storage space in my kitchen.

It's from Furniture Crafts. It was on sale. It matches my other free-standing kitchen cupboard which was so full the waffle iron my dad gave me two years ago had been waiting patiently on the fireplace hearth.

Not only have the canners come in from the cold (garage), there is room for more!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Too much fun

Here in northwest Indiana, a lot of people spend their summer weekends at The Lake. There is not just one lake, but many lakes, surrounded by everything from tiny seasonal cottages to multi-million dollar mansions. Those with access to one of these lakes usually spend their time on jet skis and other loud motorized water vehicles, all in the name of fun.

Me? I'd rather hunker down in a 4-H building in the middle of nowhere to play with fiber.

I did just that last Friday, spending the day at the Jay County Fiber Fest and Spin In, in Portland (Indiana, not Oregon). I attended this fiber fest a few years ago, to learn spindling. Now that I know how to spin (sort of), I had to return, to take a class in blending fibers and another in spinning. (I figure spinning is like yoga - you can always learn something new from different instructors.)

In the fiber blending class, I learned that I like drum carding better than hand carding. I also hogged one of the drum carders, blending almost all the sample fibers provided by the material fee.

The colors did not come through in the photos below, but the fiber on the left is white with green angelica (fine tinsel) blended in, the one on the right a mixture of grays and pinks. Another sample is striped primary colors, but it is rather hideous.

I was like a kid in a candy store, with a bit of mad scientist thrown in. It is not often that I am totally engrossed with a single activity, but this was one of them. Oddly, not everyone in the class felt the same way. One woman even gave me all her fibers, insisting she would not use them, ever, even though she had plans to card fiber from her own animals.

Between classes, I spun up some of my samples. The unspun sample below turned into a luscious raspberry yarn.

Meanwhile, the weaving instructor tried to engage me in conversation. He needed no eye contact to rattle on, and eventually brought me a sample of alpaca to try. There are two kinds of alpaca, suri and huacaya. I had tried spindling suri before and found it frustrating to work with. This was huacaya and a dream to spin. Lovely cinnamon color, too.

The spinning class consisted mostly of new-new spinners, a couple of which were there against their will. One's husband had asked her if she wanted a spinning wheel, and when she said no, bought her one anyway. By the end of class, she was planning to sell it.

The other reluctant spinner had asked her husband for a loom, and since all fiber arts look alike to him, he bought her a wheel - made of PVC pipe and plywood.

The instructor brought along a few wheels for those without. The one on the left was dizzying to watch - all it needs is some op art decals to make observers keel over.

I was the most experienced spinner in the class, save one self-taught woman who brought a wheel and Franny, a service dog in training.

One thing I learned in this class was how to ply yarn from a center pull ball, much easier than plying off two bobbins, so I walked away with some actual yarn by the end of the day.

By the time I arrived home, I was dog tired, about as tired as Betsy after spending the day with my SO and his two cats.

The only purchases I made from vendors at the fest were some handmade soaps, hand-dyed sock yarn, and extra bobbins for the wheel. I actually knew some of the vendors, and one recognized me from my last trip there, so now Portland is feeling like home. Next fiber arts festival: Kendallville, aka Kendalltucky.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

It always snows in March...

... just not this much.

For a while, I thought the weather forecasters were joking about the storm, but no.

Fortunately, it is melting. In fact, right now it is 52 degrees out. Seriously, can spring be far behind?

Apparently not, as I started some seedlings. Last weekend it was broccoli and lettuce, this weekend peppers and herbs. The former have sprouted, so I moved them to the garage, where the plant rack now resides. I hope to forestall the rampant legginess I experienced last year.

I also tried out my pot maker, primarily because I was too lazy to rummage in the shed for plastic pots left over from last year.

So far, so good. We'll see how they hold up between now and transplant time.

I also repotted the Meyer lemon and geranium plants. And by "repotted" I mean took them out of their pots, trimmed their roots a bit, and put them back into the pot with some fresh potting soil. Neither of them need to be potted up.

And that coleus that was supposed to be the mother plant for all coleus plants this spring?

Not quite. It did not grow as much as I thought it would over the winter. Next fall I will take a cutting for each plant I want to grow in the front porch box.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Destashing the freezer

Knitters talk about their "stashes" of yarn, skeins of beauty or sale yarn or whatever that somehow fill up bins and closets (and sometimes entire rooms) over the years. Some knitters decide at some point to "destash", actually using up some of that yarn, frequently to simply make room for more yarn.

I found my freezer was suffering from a similar phenomenon. It is easy to get into the mindset of filling it up, but then it is important to shift gears and start eating some of that accumulated foodstuff. Unlike yarn, food won't stay good forever.

Over a year ago, I bought a quarter of a cow, an eighth of a hog, plus many chickens and salmon filets (cheaper in bulk). And then I kind of forgot about it, sort of like what I do with the money in my savings account. It is there for a rainy day, not for everyday consumption. Ditto for the accompanying soup stock, bulk fruit, bread stuffs, milk, etc. that found their way into the freezer.

But recently I have been making a concerted effort to use up that food before it gets so freezer burned that it has to be thrown out. This weekend's efforts are an example of that: frozen kabocha squash and vegetable stock became black bean and squash soup (accompanied by corn bread I froze a while back), and Italian sausage (last package) and garden tomatoes (last bag) and garlic and sweet peppers joined noodles from the cupboard for lasagna. Today more vegetable stock will help me use up the last of the Yukon gold potatoes (from the garage, not the freezer) when I make potato leek soup.

Next weekend I am picking up some more meat from my local grass-fed source: a pork loin for Easter (the leftovers will help me use up the frozen beets when I make red flannel hash), bacon, and a ham. After ordering meat in bulk, I discovered that I'd rather pay a little more and get just the cuts I want, as I am no longer much of a steak eater. And even though I host holiday gatherings and feed my SO at least once a week, most of the time it is just me, trying to plow through all that food on my own.

I am making some headway in destashing the freezer, as I can see light between the Ball jars and plastic containers. Just in time to start filling it back up with produce from the garden.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Real food

I like food, but I would not describe myself as a "foodie". I read the "Table for Two" restaurant reviews in the New Yorker, but I can't imagine eating some of what they describe. There is a new Salvadoran restaurant here downtown that I want to try, but not the cow's foot soup. And I'm not about to consume song birds while hiding my face under a napkin.

I like to cook from scratch. It occurred to me one day, while I was foraging for a snack, that my kitchen does not contain food per se, but ingredients. If I want something other than a handful of nuts or a piece of fruit, I have to make it. Most of the time, this is fine, but evenings when I am too tired or grumpy to bother, it can lead to some odd "meals".

I take Michael Pollen's commandment to eat real food, not food-like substances, to heart. So the news that the dairy industry wants to add Aspartame to milk without labeling it just felt so disingenuous and disheartening. Artificial sweeteners have been adversely implicated in many health issues, but to not even include it in ingredient lists makes food labels one big fat lie. (To comment on this petition, go here.)

I was so upset about this yesterday (and maybe my B-O-R-I-N-G job contributed to my feelings) that I contemplated going to law school just for the pleasure of doing battle on issues such as this one. I even went so far as to request information from the local law school that is scheduled to open here in the fall. They responded with a detailed description of their program. It sounds like a lot of work (at a time in my life when I don't want to work hard anymore) and involves a lot of face time, both in class and in the "real world" (when I don't care all that much for people in general these days) that the fire in my belly quickly died.

Meanwhile, I will continue with my herd share, at least until the state of Indiana takes that away, which they are trying to do, the rats. It is very discouraging that plain old ordinary, unprocessed, uncontaminated food is becoming more and more difficult to find, the rebirth of the organic movement notwithstanding. It makes my daydream of a mini-farm sound better all the time. Except for the hard work part.