Tuesday, September 28, 2010


My mom and I signed up a few months ago for a somewhat-local fibre retreat. We had tried to go to in 2008 but a family obligation intervened. Signing up a few months ago seemed like a really good idea ... but as the weekend approached, the reality (and guilt) of leaving my poor husband holding the bag for the entire weekend really started to weigh on me. As it stands, the two of us barely cope on a daily basis using a tag-team approach.

Don't get me wrong, I desperately needed the time away. My children have not depended on me this completely since they were toddlers. Being on a high school sports team while attending a different school will do that to a teenage boy.

Long story short, the payment for the weekend was non-refundable and I went. Of course it was completely wonderful and I was inspired and awed, as I always am when hanging around talented artistic people, and as a bonus thoroughly enjoyed the time with my mother.

My first class was in Estonian knitting with Merike Saarniit. She was a great instructor with an incredible amount of knowledge to share.

Merike demonstrates a stitch 
while Jocelyn, Lisa & Diane look on.

The stitches and techniques learned were very different from anything I have tried so far. Merike made us (well, me at least) think about knitting and the use of color and texture in an entirely new way.

My mom checks out the pile o' inspiration
Merike brought with her; each one
was more beautiful than the last

It was just the right level of challenging, so that although I was pooped after six intense hours of knitting, I felt a great sense of accomplishment. Plus I have a start on what I think will become a winter running headband. Luckily the yarn I grabbed to take with me is superwash wool so it can take some washing abuse.


My mom and I were with Merike the next day as well (we didn't plan that, but we did enjoy her teaching, so it was all good), learning about microwave dyeing.

Merike puts our efforts in to cook...

This is not a technique I use -- most everything I do is kettle-dyed -- so it was again great fun to experiment and play around, this time with color.

Lots of experiments hanging out to dry!

Yesterday needs its own blog post, and I will try to get to that tale before another week passes. Let's just say that it involved a trip to Connecticut to pick up sheep... in the pouring rain, with horrible traffic... apparently it has been so long since it rained in these parts, that everyone has forgotten how to drive in wet weather.

The upshot of all my shirking-of-mom-duties is that today was picture day for the first graders, and our son went to school dressed like this:


Yeah. Classy. I am crossing my fingers that he wasn't in the first row for the class picture, and hoping for the best.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

gone roving

My husband would be the first to tell you: I have quite a few things on the needles right now. They litter the entire first floor of the house, the car, and of course my work room with their unfinished neediness. All of them are stalled for one reason or another: too much math needed, too tiny stitches, too many mistakes to fix, too little yarn to finish, too many stitches to pick up, too ugly yarn, too complicated pattern, too boring for words...

I seem to be in whiny-toddler knitting mode these days. And just like a toddler, I needed some instant gratification. A little short-term project that I could actually finish all by myself. Something so easy that even a -- well, toddler -- could do it and have it turn out OK.

For the fiber festival, I had overdyed some too-bright green roving with a blue to produce, in my mind, a  simply gorgeous colorway. Of course, not one bag of it sold at the fiber festival last weekend, but that did not dim my love for it.

Poking around on another knitting mission (the not-enough-yarn one) I came across a pattern for a messenger bag knit out of roving. Roving is the stage that a sheep's fleece is in post-washing and carding, and pre-yarn. This pattern did not require me to spin the roving before using it, and so was deeply attractive to my two-year-old mindset.

Per the instructions, I divided it into little strips and rolled them into balls, ready to go. I think they look amazingly yummy in their basket like that -- made me love the colorway all the more!


I dragged out my hot pink size 17 needles, and cast on. I will tell you right now that casting on was the hardest part of this project.

See how Hard I Am Concentrating? That should give you an idea.

Once I actually got moving along and used to the feel of the thick roving in my hands instead of thin yarn, it really started to roll along. Size 17 needles and a row that is only thirty stitches long will do that to a project.

I made quite a few modifications to the pattern and if you care, details are on Ravelry. Despite my futzing around, the bag fulfilled all requirements.

It was quick (less than 24 hours, even with having to frog a bit to get it how I wanted it).

It allowed me to use some gorgeous wool from our sheep, so now when people ask if this was made of wool from our sheep, I can finally say YES.

And if I do say so myself, it is completely and totally gorgeous.

Now that my inner two-year-old has been appeased, time to get back to all those unfinished frustrating projects, with renewed hope that I can actually produce something satisfactory.

Friday, September 17, 2010

food on friday finale

I think this will be it for the food on Friday posts for a while. Things are incredibly crazy around here with three different school schedules (elementary, middle and high school, the latter of which is a 40 minute drive away); two soccer teams and two cross country teams (Secondo is doing both); piano lessons; all the work I am behind on thanks to summer; and blah blah blah whine whine whine.

Until we find a rhythm, the blog will probably be a bit out of sync as well.

But I wanted to make sure that I provided a little wrap-up on our summer local eating experiment. To kick the whole thing off, I read The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Eating Local per Linda's suggestion. The book was the perfect jumpstart to get me thinking about our food and its journey to our plates. My experiment -- five miles only for fruits and veggies for three months -- was obviously a bit easier than the one detailed in the book, but it strengthened my resolve. Hey, if those people could go without wheat, then Terzo could certainly make it without fake baby carrots.

While I was reading the book, I was somewhat astounded at the tension the diet put on the authors' relationship. I didn't quite get it, until one day in August -- long past our lettuce plants' life -- when my LSH brought a bag of pre-cut lettuce home from the supermarket because he wanted a break from cucumber salads. I, admittedly, lost it. I went so far as to spurn the lettuce, stewing the entire time, and then retreated to my workroom to watch Jane Eyre and meditate on the probability that Mrs. Rochester did not go mad because of any sort of genetic predisposition to mental illness. She went mad because she stood in the hot sun, during a drought, watering the garden every dang morning and then Mr. Rochester went out and bought bagged lettuce.

Then I kind of understood why a year of this sort of diet could take a bit of a toll on interpersonal relationships.

The other thing I noted -- in awe -- while reading the book was what an amazing cook James was, and that it would probably have been impossible to carry out the 100 mile diet without that kind of talent. As you know from reading my food on Friday posts, that is not the kind of talent with which I am blessed. The gene passed me right on over, and went onto my brothers instead.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the farmstand.

I became a better cook. And as a completed unexpected corollary, my family became better eaters. Oddly enough, all these restrictions meant that we stepped out of our comfort zones and started to experiment.

I got used to the "OK, we have a cucumber, two zucchini, some basil and some potatoes; what can I make out of that?" school of cooking. I astounded myself with what I managed to turn out, and how good the vast majority of it was. It would be lying to say that my family was 100% thrilled, but all the time we spent at farmstands picking out the wares seemed to resign them to actually eating the produce available. They knew there wasn't anything else.

Tonight's dinner was a perfect example. The drought and the approaching cool weather have taken a natural toll on our garden, and it is now full of decay and dust. I managed to scavenge a few last veggies for dinner tonight. A far cry from a few months ago!

I put the two best tomatoes aside for a salad, and commenced to dicing up the rest. I had one last zucchini, which was picked about a week ago, and that went into the pan first with some dried chopped onion, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.

Chopped up the tiny runt peppers pretty fine and added them in too, along with a bit of water, some sea salt and a touch of white wine.

At this point my middle son, a fairly picky lad, came in and asked me what smelled so good. Unheard of before this summer.

I chopped up the scrawny tomatoes -- didn't even bother skinning them -- and dumped them in. Added a little more water.

Decided to take a pass on the eggplant. Even I had to admit that it was too seedy and bitter.

Let the concoction cook for a while.

Gave the kids a vote. Eat some ratatouille (which was essentially what I had made) on the side of a pasta-n-sauce dish, or have a chunky garden-style tomato sauce? They voted for the chunky, so I dumped in a cheap can of store bought. (No home-canned sauce for us this year. We lost most of our plants when we went on vacation. See watering every day in the hot sun, above.)

Put on a lid and let it simmer for 45 minutes. Took off lid to heaven. Used a hand-held mixer blade to mush up the zucchini a bit because I don't have one of those potato masher thingees. Necessity, she is a mother.

It was absolutely scrumptious. And it was also absolutely the kind of thing that I could not have pulled off before this summer, for the simple reason that I hadn't tried. The interesting thing about this diet was that we used far, far more of our garden's production than we ever had before. Very little went to waste, and that required a certain amount of creativity and risk-taking on my part. Guess I just had to be pushed to do it.

We are pretty much done at this point, though I still find myself planning boys' lunchbox fruit around what is available at the local stand, and a few butternut and spaghetti squash need to be harvested from the garden. On the whole I would declare it a success, though I am not sure my family would agree.

However, I am not asking them. That's another thing I learned this summer.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

still here

Despite all appearances to the contrary, I am still around. Let's see, what's happened in the last week that has kept me from a blog post?

There was a farm booth at the local fiber festival. It went really well and was a lot of fun.

Yes, I am living with a teenage goofball.
He jumped into the shot just before I pressed the shutter.

There was a breed display at the same festival. It went really well too.

Look at the left of the photo; first place!

At the moment, half of the inventory from the festival is still sitting in our living room and the other half is still in the cab of the truck.

Because the morning after I got home, the younger two finally went off to school.

We had to take their pictures in shifts -- no more group first day shots!
Their buses come one hour apart, so as one is leaving,
we are waking the next shift up. It is now a three hour process.

People were asking me last week if I was homeschooling them, that's how late this school year start was. Not that I have anything against homeschooling them, but it just so happens that I was really eager to get them the heck out of the house, as I had another large project due today. I have been picking away at this project for weeks now, but the final part really required the peace and quiet only possible when the house is kid-free.

The deadline was today, and I made it -- despite the fact that I was kid-free for only one day, because Primo has been home sick since then.

If everyone could keep their fingers crossed on the disposition of this project, that would be awesome. I can't talk about it just yet, but I will give you a tiny little hint:

And that's all I'll say about that.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

crafting chaos

Another fiber festival is looming on the immediate horizon, which means we have collectively descended into the 4th or so circle of hell here.

Pins are being needlefelted (though I can take no credit for the ghost and pumpkin pins, they are Secondo's creations):

Stitch markers are being wired (again with help from Secondo, who was thrilled to get a promotion to the assembly line, and Terzo, who now has the fine motor skills to thread the beads on the wires):

Row counters are being strung: 

Cards are being assembled:

Yarn is being dyed:

Roving is being packaged:

...all on or around our dining room table. It's the only time it seems to get used but that's no consolation for the madness. Five more days, then it will be all over and the table can return to its lonely state of isolation.

At the same time, Primo is off to high school. Today was his first day. Here is his first day of school picture, per Amy's request, just before he caught the bus:

That's right, that's the sunrise you can see behind his silhouette. Come daylight savings in November, we are going to have to start carrying a Coleman lantern to get him to the end of the driveway at that time in the morning.

His brothers weren't even up to take the traditional picture with him -- and besides, they don't start school until next week. My sanity will probably not make it that long... but here's a better picture of Primo to tide you over.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: how can I possibly have a kid in high school? My mind cannot seem to process the fact.