Wednesday, February 29, 2012

february bookstand

I actually have a new-to-me physical bookstand to celebrate this month! I was having a bit of an issue, because I kept picking up books at various sales and having them handed down or gifted to me—and then I would place them in one of the piles, or start a new pile. My LSH suggested that one solution would be to stop buying used books, but that's just crazy talk, even if the wall on my side of the bed did look like this:

And my poor nightstand was in even more trouble:

Obviously I couldn't really see what I had. From time to time a pile would fall over and I would think "Oh! I forgot I had this book! This looks really good!" but then I would restack the pile and forget about it all over again.

It has been my experience that a good bookshelf is hard to find. I finally came across this one at a antique store in Quakertown, and picked it up when I went to get the finished pelts. It needed a little TLC.

An afternoon outside with a little wood refinishing creme and touch up marker did some of the work, but it really came into its own once I filled it up with books.

So onto the ones that I actually read this month! Only one from my actual bookstand but at least I am reducing the backlog a little. Curiously enough, all of the books are memoirs, in which the author's relationship (or lack thereof) with her mother and/or stepmother figure prominently. My monthly reading seems to gravitate to a theme without my consciously intending one.

Half Broke Horses, by Jeannette Walls
Highly recommend. I had read this when it was first published, and borrowed the audio book for our trip to and from Lake Placid as I knew the tale was suitable for younger ears. The boys, especially Secondo, enjoyed it. Lilly Casey Smith is a fascinating character and the book provides a great insight into living conditions in the Southwest in the first half of the twentieth century.

The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls
Highly recommend. I had read (and been shocked by) this book about the author's unorthodox and austere childhood. Half Broke Horses is the story of the author's grandmother, and I always meant to re-read The Glass Castle in light of the backstory provided in Half Broke Horses (published second); I decided to strike while the memory of the audio book was still warm. The actions of Walls' parents remain inexcusable, but her mother's behavior makes more sense when viewed against her upbringing. Lilly Casey Smith was a tough, practical woman; unfortunately, that practicality became twisted in odd ways in her daughter Rosemary (Walls' mother).

Yarn: Remembering the Way Home, by Kyoko Mori
Highly recommend. Mori is a lyrical author, and I enjoyed the way she tied together her relationship with fiber arts to her own life story—from her childhood inability to knit mittens, taught in preparation for wife and motherhood in Japan, to her use of spinning and weaving to provide a social framework for her in her adopted country.

Falling Leaves: the Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter, by Adeline Yen Mah
Recommend. A moving tale of a woman finding her place in the world with very little help from her family and awful mistreatment from her stepmother (no Disney character had a patch on this woman!), set against the backdrop of twentieth-century Chinese history.

Goal for next month: two books from the bookshelf, though I am not sure what I will do if I manage to empty it out entirely.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

acer cardigan

I started this sweater just after the Christmas madness, and finished it up with a concentrated effort today to meet my end-of-February deadline.

In addition to misplacing the sleeves for a bit, I faced other challenges with this sweater, most notably the set-in sleeve construction, but I managed to work my way through with minimal problems.

I am well pleased with how it turned out. Maybe I will even get a little use out of it before spring is officially upon us. All the sunshine fooled me today. I laid the sweater outside to dry in a bit of wishful thinking, but it was still damp when I put it on for modelling purposes. It will have to finish the drying process compliments of the wonders of central heating.

(The photos were taken by Secondo, after a bit of arm-twisting and reminders not to get a pickup truck or garbage can in the background. I was very pleased when I saw the results!)

Monday, February 27, 2012

summer's last gasp

I knew our tastes from last summer were nearing an end when I brought up this last bag of frozen blueberries a couple of weeks ago:

Sure enough, a few raids by my youngest son, who eats frozen blueberries by the bowlful, and I found this sad little remnant on the counter two days ago:

Note to self: freeze a few more flats next year, so we have a chance of making it to almost-June and restocking again.

I searched the freezers in vain for an overlooked bag, with no luck, but I did happen upon this bag of treasure:

My smart friend Marta had shared her trick: she freezes rinsed plum tomatoes whole, and then just blanches/defrosts them at the same time in boiling water before adding them to sauces or other dishes to lend a hint of summer flavor. These ended up being the only tomatoes we managed to preserve in any form, as our plants failed long before it was time to harvest for tomato sauce.

As is often the way with a different routine, I completely forgot we had put aside these tomatoes. Now we have a last little bit of summer's flavor to tide us over these next few months!

Friday, February 24, 2012

winter sports

It was so warm here yesterday—in the sixties—that it was hard to believe that a short week ago, we were in Lake Placid, doing some of this:

And watching a heck of a lot of this:

We had gone this weekend specifically to watch the two-person bobsled World Championships; we saw quite a few Olympians. It was great fun hiking up the mountain to the starting point, listening to all the different languages and screaming like heck for every team as they took off:

Of course we had to do this on the Olympic 400m oval in the center of town, right in front of the high school:

Three of us even tried out this, on frozen Lake Mirror—a surprisingly smooth ride, though a bit pungent:

But my favorite was this one:

Light snow was falling as we tromped on trails at Paul Smith's College on rented snowshoes. It was completely magical, and a lovely way to finish up our weekend away.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

laying to rest

The member of the family most profoundly affected by Charlie's death was Dusty. His normal shadow personality has been amplified; he is beyond clingy at the moment. It's understandable, as he met Charlie when he was 12 weeks old and didn't spend much time apart from him since then. We suspected that it was even harder on him since he hadn't had a chance to see Charlie's body. From his perspective, Charlie had simply vanished.

So when the vet called yesterday to see if we wanted to bury the body, instead of sending it to be cremated, the choice was easy, if for no other reason than to offer Dusty the chance for some sort of understanding on the matter. (We were also very glad that Charlie could return in the end to the farm he had loved.) The boys willingly dug a neat and substantial hole in a little glen after school yesterday, and my LSH and I picked him up this morning from the vet's office.

Dusty took his time sniffing and examining the body. From time to time he would come to my LSH or me for reassurance, but he returned several times and we could almost see the wheels turning as he worked his way through the experience. When he was finished, we used the hand-sewn fabric bag so thoughtfully given to us by the vet, and tucked his John Deere collar, which he had worn for so many years, in with him. Charlie was always happy to have his collar put back on if it was taken off for any reason, as if he appreciated that it stamped him as belonging to us. It seemed right that it stayed with him.

Out in the sun this morning, while my LSH and I filled in the hole with the birds chattering away and a light breeze whispering through the still-bare branches, I thought about what an apt phrase "laid to rest" is. There is something cathartic and calming about the process—it has more than a whiff of the primal about it, and it must speak to some deep-seated need for us to bring a life full circle. Even in digging the hole, the boys seemed to take comfort in the act of preparing a final resting place; they had taken great care with the job.

How apt, on Ash Wednesday of all days, to reflect: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

Monday, February 20, 2012


When we first moved out here to the country (such as it exists in NJ), I was unnerved by the relative isolation and quiet. From a small town where we could reach out our dining room window and almost touch our neighbor's house, it was quite a change to not even be able to see a neighbor's house from ours. I lasted two months and then insisted that we needed another set of ears around. Specifically, we needed a dog.

To this point in our marriage, we had been cat people, which suited a more transient and citified lifestyle. Now, we were in dog country. My mother-in-law had a lab that we were fond of; I was partial to the idea of a rescue; and my LSH wanted a female, preferably black. We started scouring for black female labs, but I came across a face that caught my eye: a male golden retriever/Brittany spaniel cross, somewhere between three and five years old.

My LSH was bemused. "Really? That dog? That has to be one of the ugliest dogs I've ever seen!"

Primo, then age 6, saw the picture differently. "That's it. That's our dog." We pointed out that we wouldn't know until we visited him at the rescue, but he was undeterred. "Nope! I know he's our dog."

When we went to the kennel and they let Charlie out to meet us, he ran right to our side and sat down as if he knew as well. The fosters were surprised; they claimed he hadn't had that reaction to anyone else. True or not, he came home with us. He marched right up to the front door as if he already lived in the place.

Primo reading to Charlie, 2003

Secondo & Charlie, 2004

As with all dogs, Charlie had his pros and cons. He was an inveterate garbage hound, and until his hips weakened, a committed counter surfer as well. He was a terrible leash puller, and broke Primo's finger before Primo learned that you never, ever, wrap a dog's leash around your hand. He did not tolerate strange dogs anywhere near the farm, much to the disappointment of people who wanted to bring their dogs to visit and run around.

Raiding the tomato sauce leftovers, 2006

But he was a good and loyal dog to our family. He never wandered off the farm. Once he was here, it was home. He did a regular patrol of the perimeter, every night, to make sure that no undesirables got the wrong idea. He was a great front door alarm, if perhaps a little too enthusiastic, but unfailingly kind to friends and family, especially kids, though he would steal food out of their hands if they were a little too inattentive.

At Terzo's high chair, 2004

For reasons unknown, he decided I was his person. Until he could no longer negotiate the stairs, he slept under or next to my side of the bed. He pined for me when I was gone, waiting near the front window until I returned. If I was out working in poor weather, he stayed out with me, at least in his younger days. Wherever I was in the house, he was close by. He hated when I cleaned as he had to keep moving around; he was much happier when I was sitting in one place working on some project or another.

Snoozing while I spun, 2005

We got Dusty a little over three years ago, because it seemed that Charlie was approaching the end of his days. He had lost interest in his food and other joys, but he rallied after Dusty arrived. His contempt for Dusty—though he was never outright mean to Dusty, Dusty kowtowed to Charlie as the alpha dog—revived his interest in food and toys, if for no other reason than to keep them away from Dusty. They eventually enjoyed a companionship of sorts, and relied on each other in subtle ways.

Dusty's arrival in 2008;
Charlie was NOT amused

This past year, though, Charlie had been more markedly slowing down. His back hips were getting weaker, and he had trouble getting up and down stairs. His breathing had become more labored due to incurable laryngeal paralysis, and he spent most of his time dozing the hours away. His eyesight and hearing were obviously dimmer. He still greeted his meals with great enthusiasm, however, and sounded the alarm every time Dusty alerted him to someone at the door. We knew his time was growing short, but he hadn't given us any definitive sign that it was up.

Christmas Day 2011;
still interested in what Santa left in his stocking

We departed for a long weekend this past Thursday evening. On Friday afternoon, I received a frantic call from our friend Val, who was graciously pet-sitting. Charlie had collapsed outside shortly after she let him out that afternoon. She was stunned, as he was his usual self that morning. She managed to get him into her truck and to our wonderful vet, but it was obvious to all: he was at the point of no return, and it was time to let him go.

I will always regret that I wasn't there with him, to tell him what a good dog he had been to us. Rest in peace, my devoted friend.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

before and after

This is such a wonderful result, I had to share. We had purchased this chair at an auction about 15 years ago, for $35 if memory serves. The reason for the cost was obvious.

We hauled it around with as we moved to four different houses. Every time we moved it, my LSH would question why we were paying to move trash, and I kept pointing to the woodwork and insisting that it had potential.

About a month ago, we finally got rid of the puppy-chewed couch and loveseat set in our living room. (I am still mourning the loveseat, as it was the perfect knitting spot, but that's another matter.) We replaced them with a single couch, which left a bit of hole. We dragged the old armchair up from the basement, and sent it back to the furniture store with the deliverymen.

The transformation was amazing.

The wood turned out to be mahogany. The restoration man estimated the age of the chair at about 100 years old, give or take a decade. If anyone reading this has any more information about its age or style, we would love to hear it! All we know is that it is at least 15 years old, and we are very pleased with the end result.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

it's elementary

My LSH recently unearthed this hat in our front hall closet, and Terzo took immediate possession of it.

He has taken such a shine to it that he begged to wear it to school today. You have to wonder how many second graders show up in deerstalkers.

Unusual headgear seems to run in the family these days. His middle brother has not stopped wearing his ushanka since the moment it received it as a 13th birthday present (by request):

I found the wool coat on deep, deep discount in the pre-spring clearance. It makes quite the statement with the hat!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

creativity, run amok

The multitude of FFA scarves and the shawlette I just finished reminded me of the value of having deadlines for knitted projects. A deadline provides just the right amount of dedication, focus, and drive to actually get things completed in a somewhat timely fashion, instead of working on things for months at a time while pinwheeling from project to project.

With this in mind, I decided to concentrate on finishing a wool cardigan I have been knitting, while it is still chilly enough to wear it comfortably—i.e., before the end of February. I wanted to work out the final decreases at the tops of the sleeves during my peaceful early morning knitting time on Sunday morning...

But then I couldn't find the sleeves.

Sleeves are very deceptive little buggers. You finish the body of the sweater and pat yourself on the back for being at least 75% done with the darn thing, or so it seems. All that's left is the sleeves! They're just little tubes! I guess it has something to do with the perspective of where human eyes are located on our heads, but arms are a lot longer and wider around than they appear to be. This means sleeves are a heck of a lot of boring knitting, just when you are ready to be done and wearing the sweater. My mother gave me the great advice to knit them at the same time, so you are sure they match up no matter what and you don't have a second sleeve to do once you wrestle your way through the first.

So the fact that I couldn't find two sleeves that were so very close to being done set off a muted panic. I searched and searched and searched my work room. Unfortunately, my work room looked like this:

I had obvious problems with locating anything, let alone a set of sleeves, in there. It represented months and months of giving free rein to creativity and general sloppiness, resulting in a logjam of ideas and projects and inspiration and laziness.

Yesterday I dedicated a couple of hours to get it straightened out. The results were impressive, though most effort basically involved picking things up off the floor and shoving them into various containers and shelves against the walls:

Terzo said that it is now so clear in there, he couldn't think.

As for the sleeves, which can be seen hanging on the back of the rocking chair, already blocked and waiting to be seamed?

I found them in my office, on a completely different floor of the house, of course. I may be able to organize my work space, but there seems to be little hope for my cluttered brain.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

when I knit

I have an ongoing debate with my aunt concerning when I can possibly get all this knitting done. She is firmly convinced that I must knit in my sleep at night, as that is the only possible explanation. She intends to grill my LSH about it the next time she sees him, because she doesn't believe my protestations that I am a girl who needs her full forty winks.

I was pleasantly surprised on my progress on the green shawlette I just made, however. It seemed to be finished in record time, and got me thinking about when I had actually knit it. When I sat down to work it out, it was pretty instructive (and pretty typical):

1. I cast on Monday afternoon during Terzo's baseball evaluations. I cannot believe it is time to start baseball already, but that's how the darn sport goes.

2. I continued Monday evening while the family watched Monty Python's Holy Grail, in between explaining some of the jokes to Terzo.

3. I made great progress Tuesday morning during my most productive knitting time: early in the morning. I love that time, just after getting Primo on the bus and before I have to wake Secondo up. It's dark and quiet and peaceful. Knitting with the dogs at my feet and no one else astir is the perfect nourishment for the soul.

4. I knit a few rows during the day, while talking to a few people on the phone. (Chances are, if you are on the phone with me, I am knitting. No worries. I am still paying perfect attention to you, unless I happen to drop a stitch.)

5. I worked on it a little bit Tuesday evening while waiting (and waiting, and waiting) for Primo's event to start during the sectional meet for Winter Track. I ended up tinking most of it back, though, as the setting wasn't really conducive to knitting lace, even very simple lace.

6. More progress early Wednesday morning...

7. Knit during Secondo's piano lesson Wednesday evening...

8. Finished and cast off early Thursday morning.

There you have it, Aunt P. As exciting as a shopping list, but a testament to wresting time away from the mundane time wasters in life and literally making something out of it. And no need to lose sleep, either!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

yankee fiber finish

Remember this most excellent fiber I received a month ago in my spinner's group Yankee swap?

I managed to spin it up during the snow storm two Saturdays ago. My set-up couldn't be beat:

While my LSH took the boys sledding and face-wrecking, I watched the movie Arranged (highly, highly recommend) and spun to my heart's content. (Yes, he is awesome, but he is also glad that he didn't have to watch the movie with me.) I finished plying it later that night while we finally saw True Grit.

It took me a little while to figure out to make out of the resulting yarn, which totaled about 175 yards due to rusty spinning skills. I finally realized that a pattern I had in my Ravelry queue for some time would work, and I cast on Monday afternoon, with the goal of finishing it by this Friday. I was the hostess for the group this month, and I wanted to show the gifter my results. Unfortunately she couldn't make it due to illness! Marilyn, I hope you are feeling better soon.

I am embarrassed to admit that this was only the second time that I knit a project from yarn I spun, and boy, was it instructive. Every time I came to a spot of thickness where I hadn't drafted properly, I cursed my poor form, especially as I drew close to the end of the pattern and realized that I wasn't going to have enough yarn to finish. (I cut the pattern short with six lines to go. It didn't make any difference to the pattern and I think I actually prefer it this way, so all's well that ends well, but note to future self: draft more consistently!)

In the end though, I am very happy with the project for several reasons. The fiber didn't marinate in my stash for forever and a day; I managed to produce a scarfette I really like; the colors are ones that I wouldn't have grabbed—though I love them; and best of all: I'll think of Marilyn every time I wear it.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

keeper scarf

There was one completed scarf that wasn't in that pile on the front hall table.

See the pink and purple scarf he is knitting in this picture? He had made it for one of his girl cousins, with the intention of making a second for the other cousin. Then his aunt had a third girl cousin and he threw in the towel on the whole project.

It was not his first scarf. His first scarf was a learner's special, full of mystery holes and undulating width to give it interest. His littlest brother, the intended recipient, didn't care and was happy to wear it, even before the ends were woven in.

It was his second scarf, which he made for a 4-H presentation on "Ways to Make Cloth" when he was in 4th grade. He knit a scarf, wove a scarf, and wet-felted a scarf. It was quite a bit of effort for a 4th grader! I can't bring myself to throw any of these presentation boards away, so I finally found the scarf, still draped on that particular board with the other two.

I thought about sending it in, but I just couldn't do it. It probably wouldn't have sold anyway, but that wasn't the point. I'll pack it back away for him to decide on the eventual recipient himself. Hard as it is for me to think about, it just may be a girl of his own.

Monday, February 6, 2012

scarf factory

I spent the last week knitting my little fingers to the bone for Primo's FFA chapter. Final count: 7 scarves, plus one that I had knit up for a sample some time ago and no longer had a need for. The pile on the front hallway table was quite impressive by the end:

Of course the name of the game was super bulky yarn on super big needles, because there is no other way to churn out scarves that quickly. Four of the eight were a quick pattern that showcased the yarn well, I thought.

I am not usually a fan of this type of yarn but I couldn't argue with three hours per scarf, and I did like the end result.

The others were a hodge-podge. One was made with a very thick yarn that unfortunately required two skeins for the length of a scarf, but produced a really nice thick fabric.

As Primo pointed out to his FFA club, however, at the $10 price they plan to charge per scarf, the cost of the yarn wasn't covered if you had to use more than one skein. (He was highly indignant about this. I didn't even get into the whole "cost of your time" argument, because as far as a teenager is concerned, they have so much of it to spare, it stretches out limitless to the horizon.)

One was made with an orphaned ball of bulky alpaca yarn that I had in my stash.

I loved this pattern, and it was another three hour or so effort, from start to finish. I used the same rib pattern for the black scarf, and just left off the ruffles at the end.

Another stash yarn: a hank of handspun that I had made several years ago. I had no plans for it, and it was just laying in a basket, so it may as well find a home somewhere else.

I doubt anyone will buy it, however—it is a little scratchy, and a little short, and a little unusual in color. The pattern was for a cowl, but mine didn't end up quite the same. I added the button to add a little interest and give a way of securing it. It has a shank with a smaller button on the end, so it buttons through the scarf in reverse and can be moved around to suit the wearer.

The last one, modeled by the ever-patient Secondo, was knit side to side some time ago.

And Primo's scarf? Well, this weekend he had: a 4-H project; work; a date with the girlfriend; the county winter track meet; a 4-H meeting; and of course the Superbowl. (In other words, the usual, with the exception of the Superbowl.)

It's a work in progress, on its way to school this morning. He plans to knit it while manning the sale table. Should generate some interest in their wares, at least!

Thursday, February 2, 2012


The music teacher in our elementary school is a notorious teller of bad jokes. We knew we were in for it when Terzo announced he had attended a concert with Mr. S. today. Terzo still has a bit of a tough time with jokes, for several reasons, so we have learned to take it with a grain of salt when he starts in with one. Like tonight.

He asked us: "How do you get off an elephant?"

(insert obvious answers, all obviously wrong)

His answer: "You don't get off an elephant, you get off a duck."

(insert complete puzzlement here)

His explanation: "Because the elephant is too high! So the duck flies you to the ground."

I knew there was something I wasn't getting, but I could not figure it out without the help of the innernets. Perhaps you are cleverer than I, so you might have worked out that the joke is missing one critical word (which in the way of such things, makes all the difference):

Actual Joke Question: "How do you get down off an elephant?"

Actual Joke Answer: "You don't get down off an elephant, you get down off a duck."

And now you understand the challenges of Terzo's joke telling.

While I was looking up why in fact this was a joke, I came across a page of jokes that I started telling at the dinner table, to much hilarity (when we weren't explaining them to Terzo). Some prime examples:

Q: What do you call a fish with no eyes?

A: A fsh.


Q: Where did Napoleon keep his armies?

A: In his sleevies.


Q: What's orange and sounds like a parrot?

A: A carrot.


Q: Why was the sand wet?

A: The seaweed. (A particular boy favorite, once deconstructed.)


Q: What did the fish say when it hit a wall?

A: Dam.


By far my favorite however—I am not ashamed to admit that I laughed until I cried—

Q: What is brown and sticky?

A: A stick.

And now you understand the challenges of my sense of humor.