Friday, December 28, 2012

a tale of 29 scarves

Upon reviewing my knitting this year, I realized the output numbers are a little low: I think it's all because of the 29 scarves. I keep forgetting that a day contains a limited number of hours, so taking up a few minutes to knit scarves subtracts from the overall total to knit something else.

But let me back up and explain about the scarves.

For some reason, all the way back in March, I decided it would be a good idea to knit a ton of those super-fast scarves that I had done for Primo's FFA club for our church's annual holiday boutique fundraiser. In a random calculation, 30 scarves seemed equivalent to a ton, so I stalked Michael's for sales on that particular yarn.

And then I commenced to knitting.

I knit and knit and knit those scarves. Remember my pile of vacation knitting?

The three scarves at the top of the pile were knit that week. Those scarves were somewhere around numbers 15 to 17. They are the perfect car-passenger knitting, because I can still pay attention to directions and landmarks and such. They are the perfect meeting and waiting-for-kids knitting, because the pattern is so easily memorized: it is the same row, over and over again, across 14 stitches. (The pattern is here in case you are interested.)

I didn't quite make it to 30. As you may have guessed, 29 (actually 29¾) was as far as I got.

Twenty scarves were purchased at the boutique, for personal use and holiday gifting. It was fun watching some of them—including the red one on the top of the basket above—make reappearances in church over the next few weeks.

That left 9¾ scarves.

Our church had adopted three families for Christmas this year, two with mothers and one with a grandmother. I picked out three of the remaining scarves and put them aside for the matriarchs. One of the mothers came to pick up the gifts and was able to chose the one she liked best. She was crying over the gift of a hand-knit scarf just for her; she had asked for nothing for herself, just her children. Humbling and rewarding all at the same time. How often do hand-knit gifts reduce someone to tears?

Down to 6¾ scarves.

A call went out on a knitters' group about three weeks ago, for gender-neutral color scarves to be given to people in Rockaway, Queens that were displaced by Hurricane Sandy. Usually scarves take too long for quick response, especially right before Christmas, but I happened to have three perfectly gender-neutral scarves in my possession! Off they went to New York.

Despite my poor math skills, I know for a fact that 3¾ scarves are up in my workroom.

They already have a home. I will finish up that last one, and off they will go to Primo's FFA Fundraiser in January. Despite all the other knitting on my plate at the moment, I will probably polish off the last few remaining skeins, because my inability to add extends to figuring out how many skeins of yarn I needed. (At one skein of yarn per scarf, it wasn't particularly complicated.)

Those 29¾ scarves definitely cut into my knitting output but... I don't think I would have had quite as much fun, or gotten quite as much satisfaction, from anything else that took 3000 yards of yarn to create.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

stocking stuffer

It may be obvious by now:

I didn't do any Christmas crafting this year. Not one single stitch.

I was so busy busy busy this fall, with the national sheep show, then various fiber events (knitting retreat, Brooklyn, Rhinebeck), then the 5K, that the time for starting came and went. In fact, the time for starting would have been right around when Sandy came to town. That definitely knocked Christmas projects right off the burner.

It turned out to be the right decision this year. I was able to use the time I normally would have devoted to frenetic crafting, to getting caught up in other areas of my life instead. Things like regularly cooking dinner for my family and getting a handle on the ironing and other non-exciting, but nevertheless unfortunately necessary, priorities.

It wasn't quite as fun or meaningful, pulling out my credit card instead of racing against the clock to produce warm woollens for my loved ones. But it was most definitely less stressful.

I did get one little project done that I wanted to share, however. I was hoping to get it up in time to help out another harried knitter, but even that failed this year. No matter! It will available for years to come, and quite honestly, if you have a quiet Christmas Eve scheduled then this could easily be pulled off before Christmas morning.

This pattern is a very small stocking, worked in the round, with the perfect dimensions to fit a gift card inside. Once you are done gifting, it works as an ornament. Or it can be the start of a holiday tradition: when I was growing up, we had a special hinged ornament ball on our tree, into which tiny gifts could be placed.

It is also a great way to use up yarn scraps. My version used some ancient handspun. The red color was Kool-Aid dyed for a 4-H project when Primo was in third grade (and he's a junior in high school now). The white is from very inconsistent singles spun out of goodness-knows-what, before I learned to label my yarn. I held it double to knit and it worked just fine.

You can find the pattern here. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2012

beading leaves

A quick tutorial on how I attached the leaf beads to my Woodland Shawl!

IMPORTANT NOTE: Use a provisional cast on to start your project. You will want the live stitches at both ends of the project when you are ready to finish it off by beading it. A provisional cast on will make a much smoother end than picking up the stitches.

For this project, I wanted the beads to sit vertically on the stitches. If I had just threaded them on the yarn, then moved them up into position as I knit, the leaves would have laid sideways. Since the leaves in the pattern were vertical, I wanted the leaf beads to be vertical as well. I did not want them to dangle off the ends of the shawl, as I was not going to fringe it and I was afraid that hanging beads would soon fall off.

The solution:

1. I decided to put a leaf bead at the top/bottom of each "full" leaf (i.e., the leaf pattern was complete, which applied to half of the leaves at each end of the shawl; if you look at the pattern, you can see that when you finish half the leaves, the other half of the leaves are in the middle of formation).

Knit every stitch on the row, until you get to the center of a full leaf. Slip the center stitch of the leaf purlwise (you will not be knitting that stitch on this row), and then put a small length of fishing line (about 8 inches) through that stitch.

2. Fold the fishing line in half, so the ends are together, and thread the bead onto the line.

3. Carefully pull the stitch through the bead. The holes on these beads were very small, and I wasn't sure the yarn would fit through, but that's the great thing about yarn (especially a fluffy single ply like this one): it compresses well.

4. Once the yarn is through, give it another gentle tug with the fishing line to make sure there is a needle-sized loop of yarn on the top of the bead.

5. Without knitting it, place that stitch onto the right hand needle...

6. ... and keep knitting until you come to the next stitch that needs a bead.

Repeat until the row is complete!

Purl the next row, all the way across, including the beaded stitches.

Because the yarn is carried behind the bead when the stitch is slipped, it provides a nice supportive structure on the back of the bead. In fact, you can barely see the bead on the wrong side, though this picture does show how the bead is located at the "top" of the full leaf.

Cast off knitwise on the next row.

The end result: a beautiful row of beads, that is an integral part of the fabric and quite securely attached.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

family leaves

This project has been a long time in the making. I decided to make a prayer shawl for my mother-in-law soon after her sister's funeral back in January. The pattern was easy. She has a framed quote, given to her by my sister-in-law, which says:
Our family is a circle of love and strength. With every birth and every union, the circle grows. Every joy shared adds more love. Every obstacle faced together makes the circle stronger.
The background is a tree, and leaves were on my mind to embody this artwork and its sentiments. Nikol Lohr's Woodland Shawl was perfect.

The yarn took a bit more trying, but at the end of February I found this beautiful MadTosh yarn at Loop in Philadelphia, colorway Magnolia Leaf.

The perfect embodiment of fall leaves. It was just a matter of knitting, and knitting, and knitting, after that.

I finally finished it up mid-summer, but then became stuck on how to do the beading. The shawl was intended to be a true sister shawl to the prayer shawl I had made many years ago for her sister. Her sister's shawl had ten beads on each side, so the wearer could use it to say a rosary if she chose.

The leaf-shaped beads I found were larger than the seed beads I am used to knitting with. The color and theme were too perfect not to use them, so I stewed for months over the best way to attach them to both ends. I finally made myself sit down during our power outage after Sandy, and work it out through trial and error.

I'll explain how I did the beading tomorrow!

Monday, December 17, 2012

an eggs-cess of eggs

As a child my family's menu consisted of two choices: take it, or leave it.
—Buddy Hackett

I had no idea that Buddy was related to me. As my kids will tell you, that is pretty much the menu around here every night.

We are actually suffering from a very happy problem these days: too many eggs.

When the egg container starts to look like this, it's a signal that I need to get rid of a bunch of eggs before disaster strikes. We hosted a family baking party yesterday, with the treats going to families displaced by Sandy. Unfortunately we still had a dozen plus eggs left over after the bake-fest.
That, plus some hand-me-down leftover ziti (gifted from a holiday party) could only mean one dish:

Pasta Frittata
2 T butter or olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 garlic gloves, minced
1-2 C leftover pasta (best with tomato sauce), cut into 1 in lengths
12 eggs, beaten
1 C grated parmesan
salt & pepper to taste

(If you wanted to make a smaller portion, just half the quantities of eggs, pasta, etc. and choose a medium-sized pan.)

Heat the butter or oil in your largest fry pan on medium-high heat. Make sure to tilt the pan so it coats about 1 inch up the side. 

Saute the onion for about 3 minutes, then add the garlic and saute for 1 more minute.

Add the pasta to the pan; reduce heat to medium. Stir into onions/garlic and heat for about 4-5 min. Arrange in level layer in pan.

While pasta is heating, combine eggs, cheese and salt & pepper in a separate bowl. Beat to combine. Add to pan and stir gently, then allow to cook for about 10 minutes. 

When sides are cooked and middle is firm when you shake the pan (there will be little volcanoes bubbling throughout frittata), the top will still be slightly liquid and uncooked. The next bit of brilliance is courtesy of my father: put it under the broiler, with the rack about halfway down in the oven, to finish cooking. Keep a close eye on it, and when the top turns a toasted brown and looks cooked, take it out.

Yum! Well, at least I think so. The boys initially rolled their eyes, because we have had this dish a fair amount as of late, thanks to productive chickens and random gifts of leftover pasta. But they all chowed it down with a side salad and multigrain bread to add a little non-protein nutrition. 

(Their exact quote: "Are you finished taking pictures now, so we can eat it?")

That leaves us with a half dozen eggs in the fridge, at least until tomorrow morning when we will be gifted with a few more. I wish we could preserve the egg-cess now, because with the winter coming and the hens getting older, we won't always have such bounty. We just have to enjoy it while it lasts.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

our town

I love our little town, never more so than nights like tonight when our volunteer firemen drive around the township, with Santa on board.

Lights flashing, music playing, sirens winding, they pass out candy canes and goodwill in equal measure.

A bittersweet night, with thoughts of a fellow small town that is mourning and grieving beyond all comprehension.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

quick holiday meal

The holiday crazies are upon us in earnest... only 12 shopping days until Christmas! I needed to make a serious dent in my list, and spent most of today whittling away at it. Meanwhile the boy activities don't quit—in fact, they are busier than ever—and tonight's dinner posed a particular challenge because I had to feed five people at three different times. I found this on the internet, revised it a little based on what I had in my pantry, and thought I would share it in case it could help you out as well.

Total prep time was about 15 minutes, baking time was 30 minutes. You could make it in the morning and throw it in the fridge, but you might need to bake it slightly longer as a result.

It's that time of year—no pictures with this one. Besides, my eldest son's review was "it really doesn't look that great, but it's delicious." So I figured pictures were superfluous. It's the perfect quick and somewhat nutritious holiday meal. OK, so not particularly nutritious, but at least they get some veggies in them.

stuffing (I used Pepperidge Farms, but whatever you have in your pantry should do)
1 can chicken broth
1 can cream of mushroom soup (or cream of chicken, or cheddar/broccoli...)
2 heads fresh broccoli (or 1 bag frozen)
1.5 lb chicken breasts
1/2 C milk (or whatever amount looks right; I just glugged it in)
4 T butter
1 T dried chopped onion
1/2 C chedder or mozzarella cheese (I used cheddar)
salt/pepper to taste

Start chicken breasts cooking. I put mine into a fry pan with water, white wine, a little chicken base and salt and pepper, but you could also grill them.

Clean broccoli (if fresh) and steam (I put mine into the microwave to cook).

Melt butter in separate saucepan, and then quickly fry dried onion in butter to hydrate (or if you have a better stocked kitchen, saute chopped onions and celery in the butter). Take pan off heat and add 4C stuffing and the can of chicken broth; cover and let sit while you finish up the rest. If you are using Stovetop, just follow the instructions on the box.

When chicken is fully cooked, cut into 1 in pieces and add to mixing bowl with broccoli, soup and milk; stir to combine. Spray casserole dish with cooking spray so you don't have an ungodly mess to clean up later and then pour this mixture in bottom. Top with stuffing and then sprinkle cheese on top.

Cook at 350 degrees F for about 30-40 minutes, until cheese is melted and chicken/broccoli mixture is bubbly.

Tell your kids to ignore how it looks and just try it. My littlest, pickiest eater had three helpings.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

brotherly love

Haven't said too much about Christmas crafting this year, mostly because I am doing very little of it. I have one little surprise up my sleeve, and I am just waiting for a sunny day to get good pictures, but other than that, things are very quiet on that front. I also managed to get not one, but two photo books done for the boys: last year, as is the tradition, plus 2007, to catch up a little.

A little holiday prep is happening... No tree yet, because it hasn't stopped raining long enough for them to dry out. Plus the older two are working at a tree stand, and it is mighty difficult to get everyone together during daylight hours.

I am grateful that I have boys with such a good work ethic, but a bit melancholy that it is taking them away so much this season. My disappointment is nothing compared to Terzo's. In a taste of things to come, he is feeling quite abandoned.

I did grab all three long enough to get them interested in making cut-out cookies tonight, while waiting for my parents to come over for dinner. The dough had been sitting in the fridge for two days, since they lost interest in the project on Sunday, and I was afraid it was going to start growing undesirables.

Don't be fooled by the five seconds of harmony captured by the camera.

The middle one, amazingly enough given his rocky early years, is the only even keel these days. He patiently rolled and cut and decorated as the sturm and drang unfolded around him.

The picture was taken just after the littlest one cried (and tried to flounce off) because the older two were picking on him for his cookie cutting skills, and just before the big one took offense (and did flounce off for a while) because the little one smacked his hand for eating cookie dough.

I've learned to take five seconds of brotherly togetherness when it happens, because that's about all we get these days. Come next year, I will re-discover these pictures when I am putting together the album for 2012, and stick them in. Hopefully the flouncing will be forgotten by then, thanks to lack of documentation. Memories are a lot how you make them.

Monday, December 10, 2012

chicken saddle plans

For those of you who had questions about the details of a chicken saddle... Unfortunately I couldn't take better pictures of our saddles, because I loaned them out! I did find this excellent detailed pattern, however, and hopefully seeing the saddle off the chicken will be helpful.

I will note that the saddles we had were a denim fabric, did not have fusible interfacing, and were not folded in half like the pattern. If your problem is due to a rooster (ours was not), then I can see how a stronger fabric would be preferable.

Happy saddles!

Friday, December 7, 2012

chicken dressing

Being the leader of a 4-H livestock club means I get asked questions from time to time about various animal ailments. Sometimes I know the answer, sometimes I don't—but most of the time if I don't, I do at least know someone who may!

Such was the case with a problem that a new member mentioned yesterday. One of his chickens had lost the feathers on her back and was being pecked by the other hens as a result. The problem with chickens is once one of them has a red, bare spot, the others won't leave it alone. The term "hen-pecked" has a basis in truth, though it usually doesn't apply to their behavior towards roosters, but instead other hens!

We had the same problem last year, and we had tried all kinds of anti-peck ointments with little positive result. Luckily my friend Robin, who is a chicken expert, happened to see them one day and told me what I needed was chicken saddles.

Yes. That is quite an image that comes to mind. But they aren't what you think.

Chicken saddles are little shaped pieces of fabric, designed to cover the back of the chicken in between the wings. A little piece of elastic is attached to each side of the fabric. The elastic goes around the base of the wing (a surprisingly narrow attachment) and attaches with a snap to hold the fabric in place. They are also called chicken aprons, which I think they more closely resemble, except they sit on the chicken's back.

Very stylish, non?

The saddles worked like a charm. When we took them off a couple of months later, the back feathers had grown in nice and healthy. We haven't had the same problem since, knock on wood.

Unfortunately, the woman who made the beautiful saddles is no longer accepting new orders! If I had known that, I am not sure I would have lent them out. As you can see, they are works of art, and she chose the designs specifically with our farm in mind.

So now when you hear the words "chicken dressing," a whole new image will spring to mind!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012


Going through photos from this year to put together the annual holiday letter and came across this gem from July.

Big cousins looking out for little cousins, and little cousins looking up to big cousins.

Monday, December 3, 2012

car elf

A beautiful sunrise through thick fog this morning...

It called for a quick picture (quick! before the sun gets up too far and ruins it!) but I had one problem: my car was in the frame and I was in my pjs and bare feet.

Actually, no problem after all, because now I have a car elf, aka Primo, who was up and dressed for school. I dispatched my car elf to move the car out of the way, I got the shot, he put it back and even returned the keys to their rightful spot.

Ha ha ha! Just kidding about that last one.

I have discovered that a car elf is all kinds of useful. In addition to getting his own butt to work and girlfriend's house and cross country practice, a car elf can take his brothers to their piano lessons, stop at the store for milk, and pick up pizza for dinner.

The only problem is that a car elf doesn't limit himself to service of his mother's driving needs, and more's the pity. The car elf also decided he was driving himself to school today, for the first time, in that thick soupy fog.

That, plus the fact that the car elf has a girlfriend to drive around with unsupervised, is enough to make any mother rethink the advantages of the situation. The loss of sleep may outweigh any perceived benefits.