Monday, November 30, 2009

a year in review

I did it... I finished phase one of my boy-gift project. The photo album for 2005 came out really, really well, if I do say so myself, and I am pleased to have at least one year done and organized. I highly recommend Picaboo. I had trouble ordering the album due to the very high traffic on their site today, and a live person who actually lives and works in this country very patiently and kindly walked me through various fixes until I was able to complete the order. With humor! And friendliness! And did I mention patience?

The high volume of traffic was due to the fact that they were running a "buy one, get one free" promotion. This applied no matter how many you purchased. I was so fired up about getting four albums for the price of two (as well as getting one year under my belt) that I decided that I would try to whip out another one before the offer expired at midnight tonight. After all, I had figured out the program at this point, right? And I knew how to work it that much more quickly, right? Never mind that I estimate it took me about 25 hours to complete the first one. I am nothing if not completely delusional about time.

I went to upload the photos from last year -- because I discovered that it is hard to work too far back, and I was resolved to start each year as soon as it was finished, due to this memory problem I am having that only seems to be getting worse by the day. I quickly discovered, however, we had taken very few photos in 2008.

In fact, entire months had elapsed with only a minimal amount of shots. Of those, many consisted of photo-journals shot by Terzo as he walked around the house. A representative sample (from one day alone, and this is just a sample of that particular set):

IMG_3116 IMG_3127 IMG_3085 IMG_3080 IMG_3074
IMG_3078 IMG_3076 IMG_3105 IMG_3096 IMG_3391

The vast remainder were, unfortunately, taken by me -- but only to document certain events for this here blog. Turns out blogging is really, really bad in this regard. As fascinating as random pictures of knitting, sandwiches and sheep may be, they don't really lend themselves to creating a quality photo album chock-full of cherished family memories.

Who you gonna call in such dire circumstances?

Your family, of course. Thank goodness for my parents and sister-in-law faithfully snapping away at every piano recital, birthday party and family get-together. Right now, they are the only thing standing between me and photo album disaster. Not to mention that whole "mother of the year" award thing, and we all know how doomed I am on that particular account.

Friday, November 27, 2009

tally ho

Today was a red letter (or perhaps I should say yellow vest) day for Primo. Today Harry and he rode in a proper foxhunt. Well, I supposed technically speaking Primo was the only one that rode as Harry was in charge of carrying him.

I say it was a yellow vest day for Primo because his riding instructor was most insistent that he be wearing a canary yellow vest today as part of the required formal riding dress. Unfortunately she sprang this requirement on me with less than one week's notice. (She started out by asking Primo what colors of sweater vests he had in his wardrobe, to which he replied in a very cold tone, "I don't wear sweater vests.")

Guess where I came up with a yellow vest? That's right, my favorite store. It wasn't quite the right color -- more of a lemon, actually -- but, by God, it was a yellow vest that fit the kid, and the fact that it only cost $3 made it all the more perfect.

Here he is, modelling the yellow vest:


What's that you say? You can't see the yellow vest under his jacket? He was pretty pleased about that fact, although he did end up appreciating the extra layer given the chilly, windy weather. He will never, ever admit that the darn thing actually came in handy, while we all had the satisfaction of knowing that he was quite proper, even if no one could tell.

It actually was a cool thing to watch, at least at the beginning as they set out with the hounds.



After the initial excitement, though, it was a whole bunch of hurry up and wait. Actually, it was a whole bunch of take cell phone calls from the trainer about where they may possibly appear in the next ten minutes while driving over muddy unpaved roads in a more or less futile search for a random glimpse of them.

To give you an idea, here is the closest we got. Even this sighting was quite fortunate. I have helpfully marked out Primo and a hound for you. The only reason we knew it was our son was because he was on the tallest horse. That, and the fact that his vest was lemon yellow instead of the canary yellow that every one else was wearing.


We finally threw in the towel and headed back to the hunt club's headquarters to wait. Two and half hours after the hunt started, we saw the hounds coming down the road, a bit less enthusiastic than at the beginning.


Primo wasn't far behind.


You may not be able to see it, but that tight little grin on his face means -- in the world of a fourteen year old boy -- that he had really good time and he can't wait to go out again. I've gotten quite proficient at these sorts of translations lately.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

happy turkey day

Best thanksgiving wishes to all. I hope you have many things about which to be thankful; I know I do.

Enjoy your turkey dinner!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

new obsession

I know it will come as a complete and total shock to my friends, family and readers, but I have a dirty little secret. (Well, apparently one of many, as yesterday's post demonstrated.) I am easily obsessed. Once I get ahold of a new one, whoa Nelly. All bets are off until I get it out of my system.

Today's obsession? This.

Every year, I try to make something for my kids for Christmas. Far from making my holidaze more stressful, I have found that it actually serves as a much-needed pressure valve and puts some meaning (for me) back into this overly-commercialized extravaganza. I usually sew or knit something simple. They have been highly appreciative of my simple efforts: think John Deere flannel sleep pants, Giants pillow shams, knit balaclavas. But this year, I am all out of handcrafted ideas.

Thank goodness I came up with another one today. I am going to make them photo albums using Picaboo. Right now our photos are either (1) in a box in the attic (pre-digital camera) or (2) in a folder on my computer (post-digital camera). My goal is to get them into photo albums, with a copy for each kid so they have their own when they (sob!!!!) leave home. I am so behind on photo albums that I calculate it will take me about 10 years to catch up, even if I do two years per Christmas.

Picaboo came highly recommended by a friend, who had used it to make a vacation album, and so far I agree with her. It is scrapbooking for people who can't be bothered with fancy paper, scissors and stickers. I can't seem to stop... I keep thinking "just one more set of pages"...

Sound familiar, knitters? In my defense, the Infinity Scarf is almost done. Now, if I can just tear myself away from the photo album to cast off.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

ode to my favorite store

Thrift store, how do I love thee?

Let me count the ways.

You provide me with five new (to me) pairs of pants in my size,
In brands that I like,
For $42.
And lo, though I will eventually get sheep poop and dog mud on each and every pair,
I will not overly mind.
For I can always return the tired, the stained, the holey to you,
And you will provide me with a wide selection of new (to me) pairs
While saving me from the horrors of the dressing room mirror,
And the mall parking lot.

Monday, November 23, 2009

let the holiday knitting commence

It's that time of year again... the time of year when thoughts turn to hand-crafted gifts for everyone on my list, maybe even two per person, because how can I give just the scarf when I know a hat pattern that would go perfectly with it? I am trying to maintain some level of sanity, but given the fact that I still have over a month until the big day (technically speaking) I am not doing so well.

First up: 5th Avenue Infinity Scarf, out of Jaggerspun Superlamb (a washable merino) in Curry.


I had to alter the pattern a bit, because 241 stitches is just a bit too long, especially for the petite recipient it is intended for. Once I cut back to 201 stitches and got the darn stitch pattern established, it is flying along. I am over halfway done. I had planned to finish it by tonight but that won't be happening. Let the holiday delusions begin while we are at it!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

delivery truck

I love old farm wagons and trucks, especially delivery vehicles. You don't see them very often, at least not in our neck of the woods, but every once in a while they show up at farm fairs. There is a wonderfully unique example at the George Washington Carver exhibit: a wagon he took around to local farmers in the south to explain good farming practices, such as the use of manure and legumes to replenish the soil -- I didn't know he was a father of organic farming practices. Scroll down a little on the link above and you can see a picture of it.

Today I transformed my plain-jane minivan into a farm delivery truck. One of our lamb customers, who is also a dear friend from our days in Pennsylvania, buys a whole lamb's worth of meat every year from us. Several members of her family are allergic to poultry and so no turkey for them! Unfortunately I didn't take a picture of the crown roast they will be eating for Thanksgiving -- it was truly a thing of beauty; my kids were hugely disappointed in me; you know your kids have a very different frame of mind when they complain that you neglected to show them a particular cut of meat -- before I packed all the various butcher-paper packages up into boxes lined with ice packs, wrapped them all in a comforter, and drove with the AC on to meet her halfway between our house and hers.

Besides her invaluable support of our little farming venture, I also appreciate the fact that this arrangement gives us at least one chance every year to see each other in person and have a cup of coffee together. The same function had to have been served by the old delivery vehicles as well -- a chance to get off the farm and visit with other people, not to mention the deep satisfaction produced by seeing the fruits of your labor provide sustenance to others.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

women vs skins

After last year's sheepskin debacle, I was firmly convinced that there was absolutely no way that I was undertaking that chore again. The resulting pelts did turn out to be quite beautiful; they sold fairly quickly; they were well appreciated by the people who bought them (and by my brother, who received one as gift). But still... no way.

Famous last words, of course.

As I was loading the sheep on the trailer, I noticed that all three had absolutely stunning fleeces. I couldn't do it. I couldn't bear to throw them away. So when I dropped them off at the butcher, I asked them to save the skins, but to absolutely make sure to cut the legs off first. (They thought this was pretty funny. Butcher humor.)

Unluckily for me, I didn't realize that another 4-H family had an appointment with the butcher the same day (because given the night I had, and the trouble we had hooking our trailer to the truck due to a broken trailer jack, I would have gladly paid them to haul ours down there as well and save me the trouble). Luckily for me, the other dad recognized our sheep when he dropped theirs off. Their kids had insisted they save the skins this year, so we made a deal: they would pick up all the meat from the butcher, and I would take the skins to the tannery.

The meat arrived yesterday, and we all realized that we had no room in our respective freezers for the pelts, so we would have to defrost them immediately. It was at this point that the husband announced that he was going to work that night (he is a long-distance truck driver) and so he would not be around to perform the cleaning chores when the skins defrosted. Time is of the essence when this happens: the skins must be cleaned, salted and delivered to the tannery within the next 24 hours.

And, oh yeah, my LSH had to go to work earlier than usual this morning.

So guess who got stuck with the job? That's right, the women. I have to give Norma props. She initially tried to back out last night with some excuse about her daughter and a dental appointment, but I told her she wasn't getting out of it that easily. When the rubber hit the road this morning, however, she took to it much more quickly than I did last year and got right down to business with the knife and scissors. We chatted companionably away while we cleaned, scraped and cut; I can only imagine that we looked like some tale right out of greek mythology to the uninitiated observer. In short order we had all five skins cleaned, salted, and bagged to go.


I considered titling this post "girls vs skins" but it really didn't fit the circumstances. No way could girls have pulled this one off. What's that song? "We can bring home the sheepskins, clean them out in the yard." Or something like that.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

things that are pleasing me mightily

Every so often, there are just those little things in your life that please you beyond all measure, certainly more than such little things have a right to do. I am a firm believer that paying attention to these little things, and letting them do their work, is the key to being just a bit happier as you go about your business.

A prime example: EZPass Express Lanes. They are a wonder. Leaving aside all that "do we have to pay tolls, our tolls are so high, the government is so corrupt, blah blah blah" (because there is really nothing to be positively gained by going down that particular road), is there anything better than whizzing under those metal contraptions, not even having to slow down, as the money is deducted from your account?

As I said, more pleasure than such little things have a right to confer.

Another example: my new tapestry needle. As predicted, I misplace it and then panic about misplacing it on a regular basis. But once I locate it and use it: Oh Joy! It is so beautiful. It is so easy to thread no matter how bulky the yarn. It does its job so well.


Here it is doing its job on my new fingerless gloves, that I crafted Out of My Head! in just a Few Short Hours! that use up Just the Right Amount of Leftover Yarn!

DSCN1809 DSCN1810

(For the record, the yarn is Lamb's Pride Bulky in Wild Violet. I will try to get the pattern written up and posted when I get a chance. I am thinking it would be a great pattern for someone using double pointed needles for the first time.)

So what was your little thing today?

Monday, November 16, 2009

broccoli cole slaw

This post is for Peg, who requested this information approximately five months ago. I am all about the timely response.

This recipe is one of the most complimented, and most requested, that I have in my (admittedly limited) repertoire. I ask people what I can bring to a shindig, they ask me to bring this.

Start with two packages of Mann's Broccoli Slaw, which you can find in the produce aisle (although it can be a bit tricky to get on the weekend, especially during the summer).


Add one cup of unsalted sunflower seeds.


Lightly toast one cup of slivered almonds (the toasting is one of the keys to the flavor, but be careful: they burn quickly!). After cooling, add to the bowl.


Break apart the ramen noodles in two packages of beef flavor. I like to pound them to release a little pent-up frustration, but try not to pound too hard or you will end up with (1) powdered ramen noodles and/or (2) ramen noodles shooting out the end of the package.


Add the ramen noodles to the mix, setting aside the flavor packets.


In a separate bowl, whisk together the contents of the flavor packets, 1/2 C sugar (I try to cut this down from time to time in the interest of health but my family immediately flags me), 1/3 C apple cider vinegar and 2/3 C olive oil.


Pour over the mixture and stir well, making sure everything gets well coated. You can refrigerate at this point, or serve immediately.


Options: a handful of dried cranberries, thinly-sliced green onions (though perhaps not with the cranberries), adding dressing just before serving (I like it to soak into the noodles a little bit, but if you prefer crispy noodles, this is the way to go).

It's that easy; at this point, both my older boys can make it on their own. (We are asked to bring it all the time!) Just don't bother making it if you are coming to a party or potluck with me, because I am probably already bringing it.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

magic garden

Today we ignored a leaky pipe in the basement (and few resulting puddles) and the chores that are always hanging about, and snuck outta Dodge for a bit. My LSH has been working like a dog given how sick everyone is at the moment -- and I am not just talking about my kids. He needed to get away.

So we hightailed it down to Philly, and had a dim sum lunch in Chinatown, and went to the Academy of Natural Sciences (which we had not been to before; the boys were suitably shocked) and then in the quest for a Philly cheesesteak, we came upon the Magic Garden on South Street in Philly. Make sure to click on the link and watch the slideshow for a bit. The place is unlike anything I have ever seen. The artist, Isaiah Zagar, has created this amazing giant mosiac in an empty lot, with more tunnels and twists and turns than you can imagine. It took him 14 years to complete, and incorporates bits of tile and glass, bottles, statues, bicycle tires, and other found objects. We all walked around and around and around it again, because it was so rich in detail that you couldn't take it in all at once. Our mouths hung open at the thought of all the work that had gone into it. Primo wondered aloud "Where would you even start?"

We never did get the cheesesteak as the lines were ridiculously long, but no one complained. That garden had given us plenty of food for thought. Take the time to search it out the next time you find yourself in Philly. You won't be disappointed, and you may even be inspired.

Friday, November 13, 2009

end of story

The last time I left you, I had a mess of cashew something-or-another on my candy-cooling board and a lot more to make before the church bazaar tomorrow. (Let the record reflect that I DID NOT VOLUNTEER for this duty. I was asked by the parish priest. And who can say no in those circumstances?)

I know that my candy-making issues won't cause anyone to lose sleep while awaiting the outcome, but I have to take a moment to give a shout out to my LSH. I'll be the first to admit it: he is the true brittle-making expert in the house, and he came to my rescue, yet again.

While I was dragging a very grumpy teenage boy to yet another high school tour last night, my LSH and his minions were busy making brittle. I came home to find all three batches were done and ready for packaging. Here's what the brittle should look like (he was so efficient that I didn't have a chance to take a picture while it was spread out on the candy stone):


Good enough to eat, right? Unlike Wednesday's disaster.

One more thing off the list, at least for the moment. I have full confidence that ten more things will take its place before I can blink.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

take note

If you need to make cashew brittle for the church bazaar this Saturday, and your closest grocery store is out of the red bottle Karo syrup, and only has this on the shelf:


EVEN IF you are kinda feeling weak and shaky because you have just completed your first day of catch-up errands after being under the weather for so long, which included a trip to the Department of Motor Vehicles with your LSH's pickup truck, because he doesn't pay attention to such things as inspection sticker deadlines and the inspection was four months overdue and the truck held up the entire works while a group of DMV workers did Special Tests to see if they would pass it or not (they did, but you were A Spectacle nonetheless); and

EVEN IF you have an impatient teenage boy at home waiting to be ferried to his orthodontist appointment so he can have a prayer of getting those braces off before he is old enough to drive said pickup truck (two more years, but at the rate his teeth are moving, it will be a race to the finish); and

EVEN IF you justify the purchase of the wrong kind of syrup by thinking that you are doing the bazaar-customers a favor by buying the "healthy" syrup even though you know, deep down in your heart, that it may be OK for pecan pies and such but it probably will not be OK for such fiddly things as candy-making;


Because your candy will come out looking like this (which is not a good thing):


and you will be stuck going to Walmart to get the good stuff in a rush tomorrow after serving your stint as kindergarten helper mom, while praying that you still have time to get all those batches made and packaged up in time for Saturday.

Monday, November 9, 2009

airing out

I'm here, I swear, but this is really the first day that I have felt up to doing anything besides lying in bed feeling sorry for myself. Thanks to the beautiful weather, I spent all day with the windows open and the fans running, trying to serve an eviction notice on all the germs squatting in this house long past their welcome.

One of the hardest things these past few days has been to force myself to just take it easy, to tackle only what needed my attention and let the other things go. This has been somewhat of a challenge. I had my beginners knitting class on Saturday morning: I managed to make it through that, but my mind was on the fuzzy side and I am afraid that I sounded like an idiot to my students, thanks to several mathematical errors and misstatements. I was scheduled to attend an all-day workshop on Sunday, but I was forced to cancel: I didn't know how I would drive the hour there and back, let alone pay attention in any meaningful way for six hours straight. That one hurt, as I had been looking forward to the workshop for two months now.

The Yarn Harlot recently posted about motherly self-sacrifice in her usual inimitable way. When I wasn't passed out, I pondered about the same sort of sacrifice that goes on even when we are sick. Our default mode seems to be "I'm not that sick; sure I can still do that laundry/attend that soccer game/(insert task here)." Why do we find it so difficult to admit weakness and just announce (not ask or plead or beg, mind you, just ANNOUNCE) that we are feeling a bit weak and shaky, and need to rest, for our own good?

It should go without saying that it's for the good of others, as well, but for some reason that's the hardest part for me to remember in this whole equation.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

coming up

After that midnight cleaning marathon, you knew what was coming next, right? Really, it seems there was no avoiding it. I spent last night making trips from the bathroom to the couch, so I didn't wake up anyone except the dogs who chivalrously kept me company but tripped me up a few times in my haste.

I finally dropped off at 4 am... dragged myself up to my own bed at 7 am when everyone else came down... and then woke up out of a sound sleep, realizing that I probably/maybe/possibly/just can't remember either way failed to put vinegar in the dye bath of the yarn I dyed yesterday afternoon, before I was swamped by a tide of nausea.

For those of you who don't dye, the acid provided by the vinegar is a key ingredient to making the dye stick to the wool. A quick test sniff by my sons couldn't detect its presence so back into a vinegar bath the yarn went.

Thank goodness for my subconscious. The rest of my body isn't really holding up its end of the bargain at this point.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

yet more germs

Primo is under some sort of germy black cloud.

Two weeks ago, he had bronchitis.

Last week, he had the flu.

Late last night/early this morning, he came down with a spectacular case of gastroenteritis. In layman's terms, the pukes (and the other end too). At 1 am, my LSH and I found ourselves washing walls and shampooing the carpet, so sick was the kid. I have never seen the likes of it. He managed to avoid hitting his bed, but I had to use a stepstool to clean off the walls of his bedroom, and even then I could barely reach some spots. Luckily -- or unluckily, depending on how you look at it -- he had eaten spinach for dinner, and so it made it a bit easier to see, if not to clean up.

And of course, this morning we had an appointment with the butcher. Now, as those of you who raise livestock know, getting an appointment with a good butcher is only slightly less difficult than getting a papal audience. You wait weeks for your day. If you miss it, you can guarantee that you will be waiting weeks more -- and with deer season starting soon, make that months.

Forget the mother of the year award, yet again. Any points I may have earned with my midnight cleanup job were promptly lost as I left a sick kid to fend for himself for a couple of hours while I hauled sheep.

I am starting to feel as if there is not enough Lysol in the world.