Thursday, October 31, 2013

evolution of a halloween costume

This wasn't much of a year for Halloween costumes, unfortunately for my youngest. Too much else going on, with 5K races and college applications and high school adjustment issues. He ended up going as Harry Potter, in a wizard robe I made for his oldest brother about ten years ago. The year before he was born, and the last year I sewed a costume. No coincidence there.

He got to hang out with a friend and trick-or-treat all afternoon, which somewhat made up for his brothers not going out with him for the first time in his life. I can't think about that for too long, or I will really be depressed. He ended up with quite a bit of candy, and the Great Pumpkin paid a visit to our front porch with a hand-carved pumpkin, so he was happy enough.

Speaking of hand-sewn costumes, although I didn't get too many done for my kids, the ones I did get done—usually with my mother's assistance—are proof that the time investment can be well worth it. Unlike other costumes, those got worn over and over again.

Take the turtle costume I made for Primo, when he was two and I had all the time in the world with only one child on my hands.

It was recycled for his little brother, exactly three years later (when Secondo was two), as part of a dual "tortoise and the hare" costume. Yep, the rabbit was also hand-sewn.

Five years later, we had another turtle victim, but I note that the other costumes were purchased or borrowed. No sewing by this point.

Clearly, the reason why the turtle costume was so well used was because, at two years old, the wearers were easily forced into wearing it.

Then it was pressed into service for a sheep (also not able to protest, though the look in her eye speaks volumes), for a 4-H fair costume contest:

She was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Sheep.

It seemed like end for the turtle costume, but we managed to use it one last time, because it  is super-roomy in its construction so a toddler can wear a winter coat underneath...

Thanks to the wonders of stick-on felt, it was transformed into Plankton for a SpongeBob SquarePants theme at a church party. You can see it if you squint.

I think we are pretty much done with the turtle costume, much to everyone's relief. Unless I manage to get it on the dog...

Tuesday, October 29, 2013


I am doing my best to pull it back together after one heck of a weekend.

My usual position, bossing everyone around via bullhorn.

Saturday was our church's 5K race, which seems to be turning into an annual event. I am not really sure how I feel about this. For certain, I cannot think about the possibility of next year just yet. But I am proud to report that we raised over $12,000, to be divided evenly between our local food pantry, the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen, and the Hunger Fund of Episcopal Relief and Development.

Handknits galore, it was freezing!

My favorite picture of the day, me with my almost-18-year-old (how is that possible?!!?!?), who very kindly woke up early and worked very hard all day, in very good humor, to help out in multiple capacities. I am very proud of the man he is becoming, in case it isn't obvious.

The following day we had Patty's memorial service, at which I was honored to be asked to deliver the eulogy. It was very, very hard. Thanks to my brother's help with writing it, and my family's support, I got through it. Barely. But I made it.

And the past few days have been recovery. Is it possible to maintain that same level of productivity for days at a time? My experience has been: not. The best I could manage was simple family meals (but at least not pizza), clean sheets (on every bed), a few loads of laundry (but not nearly enough).

I have multiple projects that need my urgent attention. I have patterns that need to be published and patterns that need to be worked on. I have a book that needs to be read and reviewed. I have a kid (?) that is turning 18 (!!?!!!) tomorrow. I have another kid that is struggling in a few of his high school classes. And I have yet another kid (by far the most neglected) that needs a Halloween costume for Thursday, though I think I have talked him into a hand-me-down.

Forget all that. My focus has been comandeered by a yellow cabled cotton sweater that has been on the needles for over a year, that I may not even get the chance to wear in 2013. It's as if my mind has had enough with the useful, and can only deal with the completely impractical at the moment.

Friday, October 25, 2013

first frost

A million bazillion things to do with the race tomorrow, and the older boys' county cross country meet across the blasted county today, and "oh by the way, can you pick up my friend from the train station as we go past?" sorts of requests. I woke up in a panicked sweat this morning with the last minute to-do list looming over me, but then I went outside to do chores...

And the magic of a first fall frost hit me right between the eyes.

I had 20 minutes allocated for chores this morning, which basically means doing them at a dead run, but I couldn't resist pulling out my iphone at intervals to try and capture the magic.

I failed, of course. It's impossible to capture, even if you do have enough time and all the photographic power in the world.

Dandelions are transformed.

Dead leaves are transformed.

Everything glitters and shimmers, just for a moment, when the first light hits it but before the full beam of the sun melts it away.

Soon enough it will be commonplace and unremarkable, but for this morning, it was a definite shift of gears to start the day. Today, especially, it was much appreciated.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

still here, still busy

A few stressors have been overcome in the last 24 hours, with only a couple of major ones left for the month.

Primo got his first college application in last night, to his choice for an early action decision. Things get a bit easier after this point, because the main essay can be used for the rest of his applications and he has a little time until the next deadline of December 1. Whew.

We celebrated Secondo's birthday, with a lot of help. My mother-in-law made a delicious pot roast for him, and Joan's husband made him a fabulously rich chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting. He is now officially 15. Whoa.

All the help was necessary because my husband and I are up to our eyeballs planning a 5K race again, to take place this Saturday. It was a nail-bitingly slow start but things picked up very nicely in the last few weeks. Sponsors came through in a big way, runners have registered, t-shirts are printed, township and fire and first aid and police are on notice, and items are being crossed off lists on an hourly basis.

Our church is working its way through the United Nation's Millenium Development Goals. This year's theme is alleviating hunger, with the proceeds going to our local food pantry, a soup kitchen in Trenton, and global efforts to make food more accessible (Goal #1). Last year our goal was buying anti-malarial nets (Goal #6). I don't know if we will be able to hold out through all eight, but hopefully these efforts are a dent in the cause, no matter how tiny.

I'll leave you with a beautiful sunset while I get back to organizing race numbers.

Sunday, October 20, 2013


Contrary to Amy's suspicions, I didn't sneak off to Rhinebeck this morning. I was mighty tempted but I stayed put and went to church in the morning, and then compline at night. Compline is the traditional final service of the day. In monasteries, it often signals the beginning of the "great silence" until the next morning. It is a short, contemplative service, a nice way to draw the day to a peaceful, peace-filled end.

This is not a common service for our church; in fact, it is only an annual occurrence, celebrated on Harvest Sunday. I have missed it every year because it is always the same weekend as Rhinebeck.

Our church has an outdoor labyrinth, which was lit by luminaries for the service while the attendants held candles. The moon hung full and low over the nearby fields. My husband and I attended the service, dressed in woollens against the crisp fall chill, and then walked the labyrinth before heading into the church for hot apple cider and scones.

It was indescribably lovely. I think I am pretty much over missing Rhinebeck.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

where i am, and where i am not

For starters: I am not at Rhinebeck, aka the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival, aka the biggest fall fiber festival on the East Coast.

To put this in perspective, I have attended this event for ten years straight. I took Terzo when he was only six months old (don't judge me). I have camped with my parents in their trailer, at a nearby campground and at the fairgrounds, with and without kids. One memorable year, I camped by myself at the fairgrounds in my minivan. I have missed Secondo's birthday (don't judge me). I even worked it in around a wedding taking place the same weekend.

Why? Because it is a tremendously energizing and inspirational event for me, with all the work I do with sheep and wool and fiber. I come back from these events completely recharged, with my mind overflowing with new ideas. It is wonderful to see old friends (on a planned and random basis) and make new friends, all of whom have the same obsessions.

But this year, it was just too much. And unlike in previous years, when I would have stood on my head to make it happen, and driven everyone else around me crazy with the concessions they would have to make for me to make it happen—I simply decided I couldn't go.

This has not been without some regret on my part. OK, a LOT of regret on my part. As recently as last night, I was plotting last-minute strategies to get myself up there, even if for a few hours. But I reread my last post, and held strong. Even when I saw pictures that my friends were posting from Rhinebeck: I may have shed a tear or two, but I am still in New Jersey. At the moment. I can't swear to my whereabouts tomorrow.

So what I was doing today instead? Attending Terzo's soccer game. Helping (and helping and helping) Primo with the impending deadline for his first college application. Taking Secondo to a friend's house, who he doesn't see very often because they no longer attend the same school. All the things I talked about in my last post, basically.

Plus sheep.

All the busy-ness has meant that we haven't been at the farm long enough to get the sheep reorganized for breeding season. With the new ram from Maine, we had choices this year. I pulled out the pedigrees and production records this morning, and figured out a dating plan.

Clean jackets were sorted and ready to go. It reminded me of getting them ready for a wedding, or a least a special ceremony.

The rams were certainly hip to the program. As soon as we had them tied up in the chute next to the girls so we could put on the marking harnesses, they started to chat up the girls, who were not adverse to the attention.

Our boys get along very well, but at this point we had to make sure they couldn't come into contact with each other or there would have been blood. The ram lambs were moved out into the potholed pig pasture, unfortunately for the ram lambs, but we are short on securely-fenced pastures with four separate groups at the moment. They didn't seem to mind. Turns out there is more fresh grass in there than we thought.

The non-breeding ewe group got its own paddock as well. They seemed to be happy to be out of all the craziness going on in the back pastures.

Ugh, looking at this picture reminds me that this shed
HAS to be repainted before the winter.

The poor ewes left back there soon regretted their flirty behaviour at the fence. The rams wasted no time in chasing them around, and around, and around, which the ewes soon tired of. The ram is in the green jacket in the above photo, and you can see the ewes regarding him warily from the side of the shed and laying in exhaustion on the ground, awaiting his next (currently unwelcome) move.

Once the work was done, what else to do on a beautiful fall day?

Note the footgear, but if you are going to be playing football around a chicken coop, then it is probably an advisable choice.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

mary in a martha world

Donna had an excellent comment to my last post, and she is 100% correct. Why are we always so focused on being busy, busy, busy? Why does that need to define our lives as being productive ones? Why is being quiet and still seen as such a negative? We were told over two thousand years ago to stop moving, focus on the now, pay attention to the people in our lives and be the moment in which we find ourselves.

Excellent advice, and yet we continue to ignore it and focus on minutiae and busy-ness.

It is my humble opinion that iphones in particular have only contributed to this problem. Now don't get me wrong. I love my iphone. One could even say that I am addicted to the constant updating of information on my iphone, and one would not be the least bit incorrect. One might even have a secret camera that has noticed my terrible habit of checking my iphone for updates every. dang. minute. But it is a symptom of a much larger illness. We have so much power at our fingertips.

Have an idea for a business? Start your own, with your own social media campaign and slick self-designed advertising materials!

Need a website? Why not put together your own, with a shopping cart to sell the hand-crafted products made from organically-sourced materials?

Want to write a book? Simple! Just type it up and self-publish!

If you aren't doing these things, why not? They're so easy! Anyone can do them!

But we aren't harnessing this power to do what is important: Stop moving. Focus on the now. Pay attention to the people in our lives. Be in the moment in which we find ourselves.

Rather, the siren song is luring us to increase our burdens to back-breaking, anxiety-inducing proportions.

The result is the life I have been experiencing over the past ten days, where I have at least five things that need to be done in the next hour and I barely have time to stop and catch my breath, never mind knit or call a friend or make a nutritious meal for my family. At 3 pm today, I sat down in a chair, and started to worry. What was I missing? Why did I have time to sit in a chair?

After a few minutes of pondering, I couldn't come up with anything that desperately needed my attention in the next 15 minutes. I was completely still for about five minutes, savoring the moment. Then I pulled out a little knitting, and called a friend.

Yes, I took this photo with my iphone. 
The dang thing is completely indispensable.

Of course, as it turned out, I was forgetting something. But it was an awfully sweet 15 minutes. The iphone and e-mail and internet access and the rest of technology need to go in time out every so often to allow something else to be accomplished.

At the very worst, or perhaps the very best, that something might be to just take a breath and be still.

Monday, October 14, 2013


It has been one of those weeks where I feel like a boat on an ocean full of tidal waves, constantly on the verge of capsizing, and no matter what I do, I don't really get anyplace.

Maybe it's just the sheer volume of activities, more than normal even for me, that has had me feeling like I can barely keep my head above water. (Sorry for all these mixed metaphors but drowning seems to be the constant theme).

Let's see, last weekend, besides the wedding, I volunteered at a local basket auction on Saturday night, and spun all day in our local historic park on Sunday, in addition to organizing and running a 4-H meeting in the middle of that same afternoon. All this stupid activity can be traced to a persistent feeling that I must devote every waking hour to some cause or another so I am not perceived as being a boil on the backside of humanity. (Name that movie...) I really need to get over this feeling already.

Unlike last year, the day was absolutely lovely. I had a beautiful spot on the porch where I could observe Secondo interacting with anyone who had questions about our sheep. Oh yes, did I mention we were committed to bring our sheep to be on display all day? We probably should be committed. Or at least, my husband thinks I am a good candidate.

Monday was spent getting the boys ready to take off on Tuesday for a whirlwind trip to volunteer at the 4-H National Youth Science Day in Washington D.C. They were only gone 24 hours but it took up all manner more time than that, though they did have a great time.

Thursday evening was an event at Secondo's school, and Friday...

Well. Friday. Friday involved me taking photos of the entire boys cross-country high school team for a special top-secret gift for their coach, and then having them all over to my house for dinner. All 28 of them. Luckily, I had cooking help from a couple other moms. A table with five pounds of pasta plus rolls, salad and fruit, before the boys are unloosed on it, looks like this.

And after...

You will note that the vast majority of the salad remains. You can lead a teenage boy to good nutrition, but you can't make him eat it.

I should mention that during all this, I was doing my level best to get ready for the Kings County Fiber Festival in Brooklyn on Saturday, as in the day after the pasta party. I hope my boys have some sort of inkling as to the lengths I go, but we all know they don't. The weather forecast was dicey, right up until the hours before we were due to leave, but in the end, it was perfect.

Due to a last-minute cancellation, my poor parents were pressed into service yet again, despite suffering from jetlag due to coming back from France just the day before. BUT!! it was a great day, and in between all the busy-ness of customers, I enjoyed hanging out with them and the rest of our family who lives in Brooklyn. I couldn't have done it without them.

The next day was the 4-H petting zoo for our local fall festival, so two entirely different sheep were pressed into public service. Two lambs this time, Molly and Marigold. A day spent in a pen with people all around does quite a bit to calm a skittish lamb down. Those two were seasoned pros by the end. Even better, a local fiber artist happened by and went crazy over their fleeces. Both are reserved for next spring's shearing.

Unfortunately I don't have any pictures of the two of them, or of my kids with them, or really of anything much except this:

I suppose if you only get one picture, this one of Thumper and Marigold is good enough!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

october wedding

It was a lovely, lovely wedding.

The location, in New York's Hudson Valley at a former Catskills holiday resort, was spectacular, as you might expect this time of year.

I have always thought that October is a most particularly perfect month for a wedding. This one proved the point.

The groom's mother is Curt's office manager, Joan. She and her family did a lot of the work on the wedding and no detail went untended.

The decorations were a labor of love, perfectly appropriate for the occasion. The pumpkins, hay bales, cornstalks, mums, etc. were trucked up from our farming community, all grown by friends of the family. The flowers were arranged by another of Joan's friends and the bridesmaids (under direction of the friend), in mason jars. The jars were held securely in place by slabs of cedar, hand-cut by her husband Jimmy. Unfortunately he almost took off a finger with the band saw while cutting one of the last slabs, so he was enjoying the wedding with stitches in his finger.

Speaking of mason jars, the favors/table assignments were very clever. Hand-etched (by Joan) glass mugs with the wedding details. A little tag on the handle told each guest where they were seated.

And yes—much to my everlasting delight—the bride did end up wearing the bolero, and it looked lovely on her. The alpaca yarn stretched and stretched and stretched some more, as alpaca is wont to do. But the nip in the mountain air last night made alpaca a good choice after all, to provide warmth in spite of the delicate and airy pattern.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

under the wire

I got the bride's bolero done. Amazingly enough, it didn't involve me driving down the road this morning, chasing down Joan as she headed north to set up for the wedding. She had it yesterday afternoon.

The reworked center came out approximately 1000% better than the first attempt. No wonky yarn overs, a much neater seam, and a perfectly centered bead. The dropped stitches did me a favor.

No photos of the finished object, because I wrapped it in tissue paper and turned it over while the seams were still warm from pressing out. I may or may not get photos of it on the bride. The yarn I used is alpaca, which seemed perfectly reasonable back in February when I bought it, but is a bit warm for the mini-heat wave we are experiencing right now. October is always a roll of the dice, weather-wise. Either way, I got it done as promised.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


I have been working non-stop the last few days on a little bolero for Joan's future daughter-in-law to wear at her wedding. On Friday. Yes, this Friday.  I spotted this sign at a PA Bob Evans Restaurant last weekend and was very tempted, but I draw the line at exclamation points in my artwork. Also, it was $30, which seemed a bit steep for hanging the obvious on my wall.

I have had the yarn for this project since February. I did the swatch in March. Then I proceeded to stew about the construction for the next six months.

With time in obviously short supply, I bit the bullet and cast on last week. Those crystal beads in the bead stringing video were for this project; the edges are cast on as tiny picot-points, with a bead at each tip.

The issue was how to join the body pieces together. The original is knit in one piece, but due to the beaded cast on, that didn't work for me. The bride and groom have used a theme of leaves and trees, to the point that her dress has embossed leaves on it. I finally figured it out: a lace panel of leaves, worked perpendicular to the other pieces so it could be used to join them together while knitting it, with a couple of beads for embellishment. This panel will sit across the bride's shoulders and be the focal point of the bolero.

I finished the lace panel around 2 pm yesterday, and put the finished piece in to soak for blocking. When I pulled it out of the water, however, I found this:

In case you can't see the giant hole and all four dropped stitches, the safety pins I quickly grabbed to hold the stitches in place and keep them from unravelling further highlight the problem well.

The gasp of horror could be heard the next town over, I am sure. It was more like an anguished wail.

I blocked out the piece anyway, so I could get a better look. That reminded me how unhappy I was with the grafted seam in the middle of the back, and the misplaced yarn-overs that were driving me crazy with their unsymmetry, and an off-center bead. I know, you have no idea what I am talking about.

At that point, a good friend happened to call to chat. With that distraction, I started to pick it apart. All of the errors were on the same side, so at least only one part had to be re-knit. By the time we got off the phone 25 minutes later, I was back where I needed to be.

Now to knit it again. And graft it again. And block it again.

Then onto sewing the side seams, and finishing the edges of the sleeves. It has to be done today, because they are all going to to wedding location in the Hudson Valley tomorrow to finish the final preparations. We all know I will get it finished, but why I have to do this to myself every. darn. time. is a question for a different day. I certainly don't have time to think about it at the moment.