Sunday, September 29, 2013

crackerjack prizes

This month hasn't been good for a lot, except for mail. The mail has been absolutely phenomenal, thanks to Andrea Lyn Van Benschoten.

If you don't know who Andrea Lyn Van Benschoten is, then it is high time that you check out her blog, The Fiber Forum. Andrea is a fiber artist extraordinarie and her blog is full of all sorts of fiber related stuff. She does great book reviews.

Even better, she gives away the books to her readers once she is done reviewing them. She even pays the postage!

Contest rules can be found on her blog, or on her facebook page.

So what have I won? My first great prize was Vintage Design Workshop: Knitting Techniques for Modern Style by Geraldine Warner, at the beginning of the month.

This book's focus is translating vintage patterns for modern use. For someone whose vintage pattern collection looks like this (OK, you got me, this is only a fraction of my collection):

it will no doubt come in very handy. I can't wait until I finish my current project, which happens to be inspired by a vintage pattern, so I can really delve into it.

The second book, 150 Scandinavian Motifs: The Knitter's Directory by Mary Jane Mucklestone (that name is awesome on all sorts of levels) arrived yesterday. I should note that this book was released mid-August, and it is already in my hot little hands.

The organization and photographs of the beautiful classic designs promise to make it one of those books that are referenced again and again. (Come to think of it, guess that's why they call them reference books.) I am thrilled to have it join the collection on my workroom shelves.

What are you waiting for? Like Andrea's page, or follow her blog! Who knows what great prizes will find their way to your mailbox as a result.

Friday, September 27, 2013

finally fall

Seen from the back porch this morning, as the first morning sun hit the trees behind the house:

Even more spectacular color next to the house.

What is so magical about those first rays of sunshine? An hour later, the same trees were a pale shadow of their early-morning selves, barely hinting at these fiery hues.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

stringing beads

Boy, when a blogger says "post tomorrow" then she'd better do that post as promised or she takes all kinds of heat. Lesson learned. Next time I will say "in the next post." Whenever that may be will be implied.

So, onto the secret of how to string a bazillion beads! I am not using the term bazillion lightly. The metal-looking purse takes approximately 8,000 beads, despite its dimunitive finished size of 4½ by 3½ inches, and all of the beads have to be pre-strung on the silk cording before starting to knit.

Enter the answer to prayer bead stringer, or spinner—it goes by a variety of names, but the technology, such as it is, is the same.

A bead stringer can be purchased at most large crafting chains. It costs about $25, so it is the perfect item to use one of those coupons on. No matter what you spend, it is worth its weight in gold if you have to pre-string thousands of beads. Or hundreds. Or even 34.

In addition to the bead stringer, you will also need a J-hook. Buy a few extra, they are cheap and have a distressing tendency to get easily misplaced.

Pour an ample supply of beads into the bead stringer, place your hook in the bowl, and...

Never mind. Pictures don't do the process justice, so I made a video. Not particularly polished, because I was using my iPhone and filming myself without any help, but it should give you the general idea.

I made an error when giving the directions on the video. Make sure and thread your yarn or string into the slit at the bottom of the J-hook before you start adding the beads, because otherwise you might have trouble balancing the beads on that flimsy wire and getting the yarn through that tiny little orifice at the same time, and end up flinging the beads all over the floor when things take a wrong turn. I will leave it up to your imagination to figure out how I learned this, but the hard way is always a tough mistress.

Monday, September 23, 2013

dream job

I had a dream job earlier this year... and I couldn't say a peep about it. I was designing and knitting two items for The Unofficial Downton Abbey Knits, which was just released by Interweave. Huzzah!

If you go to today's blog entry for Knitting Daily, and scroll down, you will see my beaded purses. All that beading was quite a different skill set and tremendous fun, once I managed to find the right beads.

Excuse the crappy iPhone photos; I didn't take any better ones
before I shipped off the finished items.
The pictures on the Knitting Daily website are much nicer!

The first one, which looks and feels like chain mail, is an almost-exact duplicate of a pattern from 1912. Almost exact, because I discovered a large error in the pattern. The chain-mail effect is the result of stringing ever larger numbers of beads between knit stitches. All of my boys were fascinated by the feel of it, and the little one wants it to store "little things in, like maybe Legos" once it is returned to me.

Needless to say, he will not be getting it for those purposes. As a matter of fact, one of my friends has already called dibs on it. It is a surprisingly quick and easy knit, once you string all those beads. More on how I did that tomorrow.

The second one was inspired by a crocheted bead purse, also from 1912. The size was altered slightly so it can be used as a cell phone case; it was originally intended for opera glasses, but not too much demand for that these days. Whenever I do something remotely historical, I am caught in a bind. Make something that is a faithful recreation of a pattern? Or make something that would be useful to a non-reenacting member of contemporary society? Having two patterns chosen for the issue meant that I got to do one of each.

The green, purple and white colors were inspired by Sybil and Edith's interest in the suffragette movement; to learn why those particular colors are significant, you'll have to buy the magazine. Or just ask me the next time you see me. Or google it.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

a few hundred miles

Whoosh... I am in Ohio today, to attend the funeral of my great-aunt. I drove out with my father yesterday. Aunt L. was his aunt as well as his godmother. The last time he saw her, she whispered in his ear that she wanted orchids at her funeral. So he brought a beautiful purple spray from his greenhouse.

My dear Aunt P. (my father's sister) on the left, Aunt L. in the middle, 
my father on the right, a little over 15 years ago.
Hopefully Aunt P. will forgive me for posting it.

On one hand, I keep wondering when is this streak going to stop. On the other hand, I feel that I am exactly where I need to be right now, with beloved family that I don't get to see nearly often enough due to time and distance. The post-funeral luncheon, at a cousin's house as it always is, brought back memories of similar times with extended family so many years ago, when the pleasure of being with all those relatives made a young me giddy with excitement no matter what the occasion. Even with today's overlay of sadness, there was still a sweetness in reconnecting with everyone thanks to all those memories. Maybe that's why I am supposed to be here.

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Remember the garden that Secondo planted in a rush, and almost too late? It turns out that we were in such a hurry that we forgot a key component: newspapers to keep down the weeds. My friend Val uses paper feed sacks, an even better idea because they are thicker and larger. I will be saving ours this winter, because the poor garden now looks like this:

Yes, there is a garden in there, though only barely. On closer inspection though, lots of gems were apparent.

The tomatoes finally decided to ripen. Yay! Not enough to make sauce this year, but enough to give a bit of fresh flavor to the store-bought sauce tonight.

I was particularly excited about this discovery, because I had given up on them. This variety of cherry tomatoes, Super Sweet 100, is my very favorite. I will confess to pigging out on them while I continued the search.

Not one but two eggplant. I predict a batch of ratatouille in our near future.

Blackberries are the only thing that were produced in abundance this summer. Unusual for them to still be on the bush this late in the season. Maybe the cool weather in August? I have been enjoying them in my breakfast smoothy for weeks now.

A completely different find: this tiny purple feather in the chicken coop this morning. No, not an exotic breed of chicken, this is not a color generally found in nature... If you guessed Woundkote, you would be correct. One of our chickens suffered a leg injury back in June, and I applied liberal shots of the stuff to keep the wound clean and healing. Must have overshot a bit onto her feathers.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Not referring to impending deadlines. Those are just breathing down my neck, though I did make some serious progress the last couple of days.

Instead I am referring to these bracelets. If you are wearing one on your wrist, chances are you are well loved by an elementary school-aged child. The one I am sporting in the picture was made especially for Primo, because they are his school colors, but I borrowed it for good luck today to cheer him and Secondo on in their first cross country meet.

Completely gratuitious picture, but I am a proud mama and this is my blog

It is amazing how the popularity of these bracelets, made using a device called a Rainbow Loom, has exploded seemingly overnight, in a way that leaves one wishing she had come up with the idea herself, and dreaming of how the real innovator must be taking baths in money at this point. The little bands are reminiscent of those colored rubber bands that orthodontists use to make braces more appealing to the wearer. Come to think of it, that's probably where the idea originated.

What is fascinating is how it has been embraced by boys as well as girls, unusual for a crafting craze. (I have yet to know a boy who likes to make duct tape wallets, for example.) Terzo attending a slumber party two weeks ago and the boys were asked to "bring their looms"—necessitating an emergency trip to the local craft store to buy a loom, since we were unaware of the craze up until that point. What can I say, school hadn't started yet and we live on a farm-shaped island. Luckily, they were in stock.

To be fair, he hasn't stopped making bracelets since.

He asked me to help him figure out the instructions for a "starburst" pattern yesterday, and I quickly grew frustrated with the giant plastic crochet-like hook that comes with the kit. I grabbed a No. 5 metal crochet hook, which made it much easier for me to grab those little bands from one plastic peg and loop them around another peg as directed by the impossibly perky woman in the "how-to" video posted on, you guessed it, youtube.

"Wow!" exclaimed Terzo. "It's a good thing you have professional tools!"

Words cannot explain how thrilled I am that someone considers a hand-me-down crochet hook from my mother a professional tool. Now, back to the work for those deadlines, because I am a professional, dang it.

Friday, September 13, 2013

a clean break

In the midst of everything else this week, I manage to do this:

Since you probably don't have x-ray vision, it is a broken pinky finger on my right hand. Of course it involved sheep. And Dusty.

The good news is that Dusty didn't break his foot, which was another possible outcome.

The bad news is that the splint-and-bandage arrangement is driving me nuts.

For the record: yes, I can knit with it. But my gauge is all off, and so I end up taking the bandage off for an hour at a time to knit or write or cook dinner or anything else that needs doing in my life. Then my husband catches me and gives me heck and I put it back on until the next time I need to get something done.

I am hopeful that this break is more than just more bad luck. My fingers (well, not all of them, obviously) are crossed that this represents a symbolic break from the utter crap-fest that this summer has been, that it literally breaks the schneid that I have been under since the middle of July. I can't take much more, so perhaps this physical embodiment of the straw that broke the camel's back will do the trick.

I am willing to put the splint back on if someone can guarantee that will be the end result.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

too fast

Yesterday our dear friend Patty succumbed to cancer. Ten weeks, almost to the day, from diagnosis to death. So shockingly, brutally, horribly quick that we could barely wrap our minds around the reality before she was gone. When my father called me with the news yesterday afternoon, he had to repeat it three times, because although we knew she was close to the end, it wasn't possible that the end had actually come.

With Terzo at Christmas, 2006

It's hard to explain what Patty meant to our family, because she was, to the end, an exception to most rules. I first knew her as a youth group leader in our church when I was in 6th grade, over 30 years ago. She drove us to the Philadelphia International Airport when my family moved to London less than a year later. Both my brother and I recall the elaborate sugar eggs she gave us (because it was just before Easter)—a supremely impractical gift for an international flight and transcontinental move, but we treasured them for years. That summed up Patty to a tee: not always practical, but always there to help when you needed a hand, often with a gesture that showed just how special she thought you were.

Holding (and propping up) Secondo's sheep at a 4-H fair, 2007

Our family's friendship with her was cemented when she moved to England almost two years later, and she gradually became a part of our family. She always paid special attention to us kids, which was her particular talent. She even took me for a weekend jaunt to Paris when I was 16.

With Primo and Secondo, 2001

This continued with my children, who thought the sun rose and set on her. With her sister Chris, she took them on afternoon jaunts to tea at the Ritz-Carlton and art museums and a weekend jaunt to Williamsburg. She made a point of going to their sheep shows and soccer games and baseball games and road races and horse shows. She joked and talked and played with them at all family gatherings. She had long-running inside jokes with them: a Barry Manilow album that she and my eldest traded back and forth in elaborate gift-giving rituals (he even brought it when he visited her in the hospital); the nickname "Potty," bestowed by Secondo, after she was left stranded in my parents half-bath during a holiday game of hide and seek in which seeker Terzo lost interest.

Hamming it up in the barn for Secondo, 2009

It is hard to list all that she gave to our family, but one of the greatest gifts was her dedication to caring for our animals each year as we took a much-needed family vacation. It's not everyone that volunteers for such an arduous task, but she took it on with grace and kindness, even pulling Oreo the bunny back from the brink of death one year.

My favorite picture of her (she wouldn't be happy to hear it!), taken during sheep shearing 2011

As with all dear ones, the loss will continue to echo as traditional times we spent with her come and go. Holidays will be difficult. Sheep shearings and birthday celebrations and piano recitals will be difficult. The list alone shows how blessed our family was to have her in our lives.

Monday, September 9, 2013

a big first day of school

It's official. As of today, all the boys are back to school.

Not that I wanted to get rid of them or anything, but whew. Even if I now have the worry of Primo driving himself. We made Secondo take the bus so he understood the routine, but he will probably be in the car with his brother more often than not. Talk about eggs in a rusty basket. I'll have to try not to think about that too much.

Despite my relief at getting them packed back into a routine, I am more than a little sad that this is Primo's last first day of school picture. How is that possible? So to cheer myself up, here's his first back to school picture, taken on the steps of our awesome custom '50s ranch in Milford PA, when he was almost 4 years old. Fourteen years ago. Blink.

Shhh. Don't tell him I posted it. For the record, the tie was his idea, and he was extremely insistent on it. Interesting to note that he still wears polo shirts on the first day. That was quite a run for that tradition.

Friday, September 6, 2013

on top of everything else

This weekend is the Garden State Sheep Breeders Festival. Which means booth and breed display and all that jazz. I signed up months ago, then promptly didn't get my act together until last week.

This year I opted for the bare minimum. I wasn't even sure I was going to be able to pull off a booth but around Wednesday of this week, I started to delve into what I had and what I needed. Bottom line: I need a lot more, and everything I need (roving, items for kits, etc.) will be arriving early next week. It's typical timing for this summer of missed connections.

Our dining room table reflected the half-hearted effort, a far cry from my usual disaster zone, but I think my husband was relieved that it wasn't as bad as usual.

Though I did discover making a batch of felted soaps is a great way to lift your spirits. The fresh clean smell of soap? The symbolic washing your hands of your problems? Lots and lots of cheery suds and colorful wool? Whatever it was, it worked wonders yesterday.

I headed up early this afternoon to try and get myself organized. Thanks to Robin yet again, the breed display is set and ready to go. All that's missing is some sheep. The victims volunteer breed representatives, Lambykins and Lucy, are in the barn and none too happy about it, but it will make early-morning loading a lot easier. I hope to get them quickly settled tomorrow morning so I can concentrate on finishing up the booth.

The booth is largely done, just needs some final adjustments. Val always has the booth to the left of me, and we make a "living room" between our two booths where we can hang out with any friends that stop by. Earlier this week I was worried that I wouldn't even make it up there. Now I can't wait. The weather is supposed to be lovely. I always enjoy these weekends of talking sheep and wool and enjoying the fruits of all our hard work, and I think this weekend especially will be a most-needed respite from this summer.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

a little first day of school

Because nothing is better (or potenially more embarrasing, if properly deployed later in life) than a first day of school picture. Off he goes to fourth grade, a little nervous because his teacher had both of his brothers.

Only one back to school so far. The other two don't start their county high school until next Monday. Sanity, hang in there...

They did have to go to cross country practice in the afternoon. At 3 pm, I noticed that Dusty had assumed his waiting-for-the-school-bus position. Three pm was when Secondo used to disembark. Amazing that he remembered—I didn't until he reminded me. Wonder how long it will take him to reset his clock?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

is it fall yet?

The best just keeps getting better. This has been a summer of personal missteps and tonight was no exception. A 4-H meeting ended with a very upset son (and rightfully so) as I tried to be a leader over a mother. Excellent possibility that I failed at both.

Being a leader's kids is a tough role at the best of times for my kids. I say I do it for them, but sometimes it ends up backfiring on them. On all of us, quite honestly. Which begs the question (one that my husband asks on a regular basis): why am I doing this, anyway?

And it's probably not one I should be asking at the moment. Too much else going on, too little emotional reserve to deal with anything, let alone minor (or perhaps major, for a mom anyway) philosophical questions.

So I am left with apologizing, once again, and hoping that the change of seasons will work some kind of miracle around here. Something has to give.