Monday, December 27, 2010

an unexpected gift

Yesterday was Boxing Day. Its origins are British, and based around the tradition of giving gifts to servants and others less fortunate.

We managed to celebrate the day appropriately. Instead of a family gathering -– the fourth in three days –- we were stuck at home instead, compliments of an epic blizzard. In stark contrast to our usually over-scheduled and over-managed lives, we were unable to do a darn thing about it, either.

Don’t get me wrong. We are blessed to overflowing with family and friends, wonderful people all. But what a gift to be able to sit and relax and just enjoy a day with meandering nothingness. A day to play recently-presented board games, and wonder lazily at the falling snow while using the gale-force winds as an excuse not to shovel – why bother?

As with any enjoyable thing this time of year though, the price tag was a heavy one, right up there with inflated credit card bills, expanded waistlines and overwrought children. The approximately two feet of snow that met our gaze this morning was devilishly difficult to deal with. It stuck to our shovels and front loader bucket. It blew in our faces and across the already-cleared patches. It iced up as soon as we uncovered that last little layer.

And the wind. Oh my, that wind. It had its own strong convictions about where it wanted the snow. It sculpted moonscapes and desertscapes with peaked hills and valleys, and bare patches just as a reminder. We put the snow over here, it decided it wanted the snow over there, and rearranged accordingly.

We had already cleared this part of the driveway!

The two older boys volunteered early in the morning for the heroic – there is no other word for it – task of feeding animals and livestock. They battled their way to the barn and the back pastures through drifts of snow that were over three feet deep. The feed buckets could not be found, so they improvised solutions to make sure everyone got fed. They filled hay bunkers, and trod passages to the water buckets so thirsty animals could get a drink. When I went out six hours later to check on the sheep, none of their hard work could be seen and the stock tanks were lost to view. I broke a path again, but the sheep did not seem inclined to try. I can’t say I blame them. They have food, they have shelter and they can eat the snow if they get desperate.

I don’t think we have ever, in our almost nine years in this house, dealt with a more terrible storm. My muscles ache, my toes still haven't quite warmed up, the floor is littered with damp outdoor gear and puddles of melted snow but still... it was worth it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

my mother told me never to swear

I realized that I left you all hanging after the last post, with visions dancing in your heads of me in the top of a pine tree somewhere, chucking gingerbread at random passersby and muttering under my breath about all the Who's down in Whoville.

In fact, this season has been relatively stress-free. The bulk of the shopping was done the first weekend in December, the Christmas photo/letters were finished the following weekend, the house is more or less decorated, gifts are wrapped, so on and so forth, and it's all thanks to this particular Christmas elf:

... who no doubt read my last post with fear and trembling in his heart. Who said blogging was a waste of time?

This of course left me with only one option: create stress entirely of my own making.

Now, I had sworn this Christmas season: No Christmas Crafting. Not one stitch. I was taking a year off from the stress and strain of trying to meet deadlines with my fingers sprained from the effort.

But then my littlest one, whom we all know I am powerless to resist, asked me to knit him an elf hat, to cement his new position in the household as chief elf. How could I say no to a specific knitted-item request? And such an easy one, too! It's not as if he asked me to knit a fair isle sweater. A few days later, I managed to churn out this:

Meathead Hat in Universal Yarns Classic Chunky

And it was so easy and so quick that we were off to the races. How could I leave his brothers out? They might think I no longer loved them, what with no hand-crafted gift under the tree. After searching for just the right items and discretely inquiring as to whether a certain 12-year-old boy would wear a hat that looked like a dead fish (he says he will; he'd better...), the current count is as follows:

One pair of fingerless gloves, the better to text people with (from a WWII-era booklet, Knitted Comforts for Soldiers adapted here);

Another Meathead Hat for my little nephew. How could I not make two more of them, with pop-top mittens to match, because the hat was so easy and quick?  Still to be done is a complementary, slightly smaller set in red for his little brother (although the mittens are already finished);

Said dead fish hat -- no picture, because it is drying out from it's first bath as I type; and

Gulp. This will be a pair of fingerless mitts by Thursday morning, for a certain first-grade teacher (again, nothing I would not do for that boy, plus this is a really special teacher).

To paraphrase the immortal words of the Blues Brothers... It's 72 hours to Christmas, I've got a full set of double pointed needles, half a pot of coffee, multiple items still left to finish, and I'm grossly underestimating the time I have available.

Knit it.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

the tyranny of christmas

I'll be the first to admit: I don't deal too well with this season. But truly, does anyone, really? It is custom-made to drive us collectively around the bend. The pressure to produce the perfect: tree, gifts, decorations (inside and out), wrapping, cookies, parties, phototastic events, cards... the list goes on and on.

And over and under it all: the non-stop drumbeat of buy, buy, buy, buy, buy.

No wonder my family spends the entire four weeks of Advent eyeing me as if I am a pressure cooker with my little steamvalve rattling away, just wondering when I am going to blow in spectacular and messy fashion. I think it's all about the entertainment value once I eventually erupt. The other option is enduring the Christmas marathon of house to family to church to family to house with one mother of a backache, probably due to holding on tight to all that pressure.

I know I'm not alone in this, despite everything that every possible source leads me to believe about the absolute fulfillment inherent in putting together the "perfect" holiday extravaganza, guaranteed to put stars in my kids' eyes and everlasting memories in their hearts. I have to keep reminding myself that I am not a bad mother because I don't buy 100% into the B.S. illusion.

This is not to say that I don't enjoy Christmas. I do. I just need to vent about it every so often to keep it in perspective. I try to do it out of the hearing of my family, but I don't always succeed.

However, last Sunday in church, we sang a hymn that gave me my Charlie Brown Christmas moment for this year:

People look east, the time is near
of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
Trim the hearth and set the table.
People look east, and sing today --
Love, the Guest, is on the way.

That's what this is all about! Preparing our houses, our gifts, ourselves, as a manifestation of love. (Well, in the case of the garbagemen and newspaper carrier, maybe more along the lines of my heartfelt appreciation, but you get the drift.) Your own religious views may be vary, but no matter what they are, if you celebrate the holiday, I humbly submit that this pretty well sums up what it should be all about.

So I am trying to do just that, remind myself that Love, the Guest, is on the way. Not get too torqued about having the decorations just so. In fact, so far, they have been pretty much single-handedly put up by this Christmas elf:

who accomplished most of it by himself, on his own initiative, while I was ferrying his brother to an orthodontist appointment. (Geez, no wonder my Christmas cheer is lacking -- it is direct proportion to the amount of time I have.) He did a great job so far and is somewhat disappointed by my lack of followup, but I will be working on that this weekend...

All to show how much I love him.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

steeped in history

One of the many, many reasons for the lack of regular blog posts of late is my almost complete and total immersion in all things 19th century. I have been reading books such as this:


And watching movies like this:

And otherwise casting myself backwards in time. Turns out my middle son has been doing the same, in preparation for a trip to see Dicken's A Christmas Carol at a local theater. We had a chat about our findings today. Any time spent reading up on the day-to-day details of life in those times serves to show you, right quick, that we have it a heck of a lot easier. The lack of child labor laws alone put the fear of history into him.

Our furnace went on the fritz today. Luckily it was a very minor issue, and soon rectified. But while we waited for the repairman to show up, and the temp in the house kept dropping, it reminded me what a big deal central heating is. When it hit 60 degrees I felt like I should be able to see my breath. We keep it at a steady 65 degrees in here in the winter during the day, so it should not have felt like THAT big of a difference, but clearly I am very firmly ensconced in the lap of mod cons.

In other words -- I am a wimp.

I started to think about what it would mean to be dependent on a fire or two -- if you were lucky -- to keep you warm in a house that was ill-insulated to begin with. Suddenly, articles of attire such as knee warmers (fitted from thigh to calf), caps meant to be worn indoors, voluminous shawls and arm gauntlets (worn under sleeves, from palm to elbow) made a heck of a lot more sense. Even with all those layers, it must have been difficult to keep your fingers moving to knit up even more woolen comfort in an ongoing, nonstop attempt to keep the cold at bay.

I might have to make myself a pair of knee warmers, though they were apparently only worn by old people. Well, if the knee warmer fits... I am already past the average Victorian life span, though I can't imagine that I could easily put my knee warmers on under my jeans -- much more room under those huge dresses for such things.

That's another thing, those huge dresses... perfectly lovely, but what a chore it must have been to drag those around everywhere you had to go!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

november sweater

Holy crow, two posts in two days... how long has it been since that happened? (No words from the peanut gallery, please, I know it has been months.)

Speaking of months, how long has it been since I finished a sweater? April, if anyone is counting, but I finally have another entry!

OK, OK, so it's a vest but I maintain that it still counts as a sweater, even without the sleeves.

It should have been a really quick, easy, painless knit but for some reason, my brain transformed it into a zombie project. I dropped stitches multiple times (hard to pick up in this brioche stitch pattern), ripped it out, made it too big, ripped it out, made it too small, ripped it out, seamed the two fronts together (durrr)... The original pattern called for sleeves but I couldn't face working on it any longer. I cast off and called it a day!

And it is wonderfully smooshy and warm and I have worn it every day since I wove in the ends on Sunday. The peanut gallery here in the house hasn't chimed in on that yet but I have been surprised by the restraint.

(In case you were wondering why the pictures are slightly out of focus and off-center, they were taken by my six-year-old photography assistant and he had a bit of technical difficulty with the camera. I think you can get the general idea, though.)

Onto December... as if!

Monday, November 29, 2010

magic gardens, revisited

Despite all appearances to the contrary, I am still here. I am also very busy but with things that I can't share just yet. These things are very exciting and engaging me in creative ways that are really stretching my brain, which is wonderful... but when it comes time to put together a blog post the end of the day, I opt for collapsing on the couch instead. No great photo ops there.

This past weekend, though, I actually got off my couch and have some pictures to share! Today's set focuses on the act of creating art, something I have been doing a fair amount of thinking about lately. We revisited Isaiah Zagar's Magic Gardens on our trip to Philadelphia over the weekend -- seems to be turning into an annual pilgrimage.

These pictures were taken in the outside portion of the installation.

It is hard to convey the work using conventional means; it defies mere textual description and photographic attempts to document its scale.

Instead it tends to resemble a lot of trash and random items jumbled together, which at its most basic level it is, but it is also a lot more than that.

You'll just have to visit and wonder at it for yourself.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Friday, November 12, 2010

not my season

From time to time, people ask me why I don't join this spinning guild, or that knitting group, or this choir, or that project, and here is my stock answer:

It is not my season for that right now.

Tonight was a perfect illustration. I am lucky enough to live in a pocket of the state with quite a few spinners living in a 15-mile radius of each other. Thanks to one particular dedicated soul, meetings happen every month, without fail, rotating among the spinners' homes. I love spending time with these women but I am sure, to them, it seems as if I blow them off on a regular basis. It's a wonder they still invite me.

I tried tonight, truly I did, but first I had to wash a smelly dog, who rolled in goodness-knows-what for the second time today.

(Not too much help from this quarter, the new Call of Duty game came out four days ago.)

Then I needed to get the cashew and peanut brittle weighed and packed up for the church boutique tomorrow... my LSH and I made five batches last night.

Luckily I had a helper, though as you can see from his face, the occasional piece did hit the floor. (I would just like to note for the record that we did not put those pieces in the bags for sale. He ate them.)

OK, all done. Now to take it to the church...

And field an emergency call from my poor LSH, who was running an entirely different set of errands. Secondo needed to be picked up from soccer practice.

Back home, eat dinner at 8:20 pm. We are on a European dinner schedule these days, the only way we can eat together as a family. Clean up the kitchen, throw in a load of laundry, sit down to check where the spin-in is taking place and...


That rotten dog is sitting behind me, and I obviously missed a particularly pungent spot. Back out to the hose we go.

Towel him off, check my watch and... oh blast. I've missed the spin-in again. Maybe next month?

I doubt it. Not my season right now, and that's OK. I could shake my fists -- futilely -- at the heavens.. or I can thank them for all the goodness and richness, with the possible exception of the smelly dog, of the entirely different season I am in.

Some day, before I know it, I will be left twiddling my thumbs on a Friday night. Until then, I hope everyone can forgive my absence.

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Today, my husband ran the NYC marathon.

It was amazing and inspiring and once-in-a-lifetime and I didn't even run it. But he did, and he finished in quite a respectable time. I am really, really, really proud of him, and also really sure that I will never do it myself.

His support crew -- me plus all three boys -- managed to run a little mini-marathon of our own (in the style of Rosie Ruiz) to see him three times.

Near the start of the race, in Brooklyn near my brother's house:

Photo compliments of my brother --
despite the appearance of Primo taking a picture,
the camera went on strike at that particular point

At the Manhattan side of the Queensboro bridge:

(He is not actually in that picture, so don't bother squinting;
it was so crowded and I was screaming so hard that
I neglected to take a picture when he went by.
Not that it would have been much better than this one.)

And then just before mile marker 25, in Central Park, as close as we could get to the finish line:

Taken by Primo, just as my LSH spotted the boys

This was his cheering support crew at the start of the race -- signage thanks to our current obsession with spray paint:

Here we are at the end, getting him back to Brooklyn where our car was parked:

My LSH wins the prize for looking the worst for wear, but it was truly no contest. Let's hope his post-race recovery is a little easier.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

halloween 2010

For your viewing pleasure:

The costumes this year, for those that chose to dress up, were a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich and a bunny.

They got quite a haul, as usual.

My mom and I made the bunny costume for Primo ten years ago, and Secondo wore it a few years back, so it seems it was worth the time investment.

As far as this year's costume goes, Secondo thought that getting to use spray paint was, hands down, the best part.

And Primo? He went as a grumpy fifteen year old boy.

That's not so much a costume as a constant state.

The pumpkin was left on the front porch by the Great Pumpkin, who visits us every year while we are out trick-or-treating. Unfortunately the Great Pumpkin suffered a carving-related mishap and had to come in for a quick two stitches in his finger this afternoon, a few hours before his pumpkin delivery.

No sign of any blood on the pumpkin, thank goodness.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

sunshine and lollipops and rainbows

Early one morning a few days ago, the phone rang and caller ID revealed it was my wonderful husband's cell phone. (In addition to all other reasons he is wonderful, a cell phone call from him that early in the morning means he is out doing the farm chores).

Now, a phone call while he is out doing chores can mean one of just a few things:
  1. please turn on the back faucet, I need to fill up a stock tank;
  2. did you remember to get cat food for the barn cats; 
  3. how many sheep are supposed to be in X pasture; or
  4. emergency, come quickly, a sheep is sick (or worse).

95% of the time, the reason for him calling is reason 1. Occasionally reason 2 is thrown in because I usually manage to get the cat food but unload it in odd places. However, my mind skips immediately, without fail, to reason 4, and my heart proceeds directly to my throat.

When he called the other morning, I was down in the basement doing laundry and Secondo answered the phone. My LSH could hear me thundering up the steps yelling "what's wrong? what's going on? what happened?" and so, simultaneously, he was saying "tell your mom it's OK! nothing's wrong! nothing happened!" because he knows all too well how my mind works.

What he wanted to tell us was to look outside, so we could see this out the front door:

And this out the back:

And while we're at it, the side as well (though none really do it justice, of course).

OK, so I lied about the lollipops.

Friday, October 22, 2010

rhinebeck the sequel

One of my pet peeves is when bloggers say that they will post pictures "tomorrow" and then they don't get back to it for, like, five days.

Drives me nuts.

So without further ado, here are more pictures of Rhinebeck in no particular order:

Awesome sheepy-specific sand sculpture at one entrance.

Judy Pascale teaching us Important Stuff on Friday.

I love watching set up on Friday night...

and early Saturday morning.
It feels as if the entire fairground is holding its breath --

for the onslaught.

Terzo was pleased by his blue ribbon
in the "junior" category.
(Photo may look familiar.)

Secondo was equally pleased --
and he was competing against adults.
The arrangement of needlefelted fruit & veggies
was entirely his idea and execution.

Fleece to shawl competition
(start with a raw fleece; carders card, spinners spin, weavers weave)
is always a pleasure to watch.

And look! I couldn't possibly miss Risa (for once!)
in this get-up, which she purchased the day before at a thrift shop
Thrift stores score again!

It being fall, pumpkins are carved,

and pumpkins are chucked.
The team in the front (from a high school engineering club)
is celebrating hitting the target twice in a row.

Time to go home.
Sheep queue up to be sheared as the festival ends.