Friday, August 29, 2014

moments like these

Contrary to appearances, I haven't been sitting by the window mourning the absence of one of my children. Actually, we have been in touch more the last week than the previous month, mostly due to him running into issues here and there that required either assistance (bank account suspended) or input (locked himself out of his room).

No, if Monday taught me anything, it drive home with a sledgehammer that these days are fleeting and it's critical to pay attention to the important things and not all the flotsam and jetsam crap. So Wednesday was spent here, with my younger two plus friends and relations:

And Thursday was spent here, with my husband as well:

Today I had to work in my husband's office. Our car has been in the shop all week. When we picked it up last night, Terzo got in the car, spied a paper on the floor, and said, "Oh yeah! I forgot! I was supposed to go to the middle school to practice opening my locker with the combination this week. Can we do that? I don't know how to open a locker! I don't even know how to find my locker!"

This was the last day to do it.

Now, we all know that if it had been my first born, I would have already accomplished the task this week, all planned out in advance with a special lunch included. No way could I tell this kid it was impossible, because I was tied to the phone in his dad's office all day. 

We shut the office down for an hour. It wasn't exactly a planned special event complete with lunch...

But at the end of it, he knew the location of his locker, the combination, and how to use it.

Mission accomplished, even if the bar was practically on the ground. I ignored all the moms there with special decorations to outfit the inside of the lockers. He can get into the dang thing! In keeping with the rest of the week, I am maintaining focus on what really matters.

Monday, August 25, 2014

to my college freshman

"I am getting these shoes. What do you think?"

We are on a shopping trip with your grandmother, who wants to buy you and your brothers each a new pair of shoes for the school year. I know she wants to do this with you, a special time to share, so I have deliberately stayed out of the way. I stepped into the store for just a moment to see how it is going.

"Nice," I answer.

"You don't like them," you snap, and start to return the box to the shelf.

"No, I do," I protest. "They're good. Get them if they are what you want." I excuse myself again, and return to my post outside the store.

We have been engaged in this uncomfortable dance for some time, you and I. I want to protect you from the harder edges of the world; you want me to stop obscuring the view, plus pay for a better seat. My attempts at conversation prompt you to beat a hasty retreat to the solitude of your bedroom, though you emerge from time to time to demand answers to unknowable questions: How many good shirts should you take? Where are all your black socks? Will you need more compression shorts for football practice?

If I have an opinion, I don't know what I am talking about. If I admit I don't know (because honestly, I barely know how to play football, let alone what equipment may be required), you get upset at my perceived lack of responsiveness.

You woke up very early this morning, your last morning at home before you left for college today, unable to sleep from excitement or nerves or a combination of both. I was finishing a baby hat for your boss's new daughter, reflecting on how it had been both a lifetime and a blink of an eye since your head was that tiny. I tried, and failed, once again to communicate my love and fear and happiness and worry for you. It came out as a lecture, my default mode these days. You rolled your eyes, told me I had no idea what I was talking about, stomped out of the room, then took my advice anyway.

I reminded myself again how nervous and irritable and scared I was when I left for college. I realized I am feeling just about the same with you about to go.

Calm descended as the hour approached for you to leave. The process became more of a collaboration and less of a battle. You worked away on various last-minute tasks while I poured my heart into a letter to you, full of everything that I have tried, and mostly failed, to say in the last hours and days and months and years. The letter is waiting for you to find in one of your boxes, whenever you unpack once you move to your permanent dorm.

We spent a few last hours together as a family, then we left you all alone, because you moved onto the campus early for football camp and your assigned roommate hadn't arrived yet. The excitement and the nerves were both still evident, but mostly just excitement.

I am excited for you. I am happy for you. Of course, I am a little worried about you, because that has always been and will always be my job. And I will be missing the heck out of you until we see you next weekend.

Preschool project, complete with fingerprints, that hangs on my office wall.
The sentiment has never been truer than today.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

big news on the barn

Due to fair and vacation and other pressing engagements, the barn project has been on a bit of a hiatus for the month of August. But yesterday, Secondo, Terzo, my father and I made some significant progress.

And today, I am thrilled to report that another side, including the dreaded peak and tricky door, is FINISHED!!!

We made significant progress on the third side, too, so all that is left is the dreaded peak and tricky door on that side. We estimate two, maybe three, more days should do it. So thrilling to have the end in sight.

Birds-eye view of the dog, waiting patiently, as ever, for us to finish this project already.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

cooker karma

The younger boys and I haven't had too much adventure this summer. Secondo is usually working or at cross country practice, and any spare minute I get at home, I am frantically trying (and failing) to catch up with the backlog of work. A few days ago, I had some errands to run, so we decided to combine it with a few fun things as well.

First up: the thrift store. The adventure bar is set very low around here. We haven't been in ages, and we used to get there at least every other month. Secondo was on a work clothes mission, and I was trying to find supplies for my farm booth. My particular goal was a turkey roaster oven, the kind with the temperature control that works like a giant crock pot. My crock pot bit the dust just before Maryland, and it was way too small anyway. Too much work for too little result! I have one on loan from Robin but even that one was a little restricted. I needed to pull out the big guns.

Amazingly enough: this one was on the shelf, in excellent condition with every part present. It didn't appear that it had ever been used. The price was a problem though. $25 for a used one? I may as well buy one new! I walked away for a minute, to think about it, but started to second-guess myself almost immediately. I am forever penny-wise and pound-foolish. What I needed was on the shelf. Why not just buy it?

I walked back and started to pick it up, then heard an employee behind me.

"Looks like someone beat you to it."

I turned, and found him talking to an older woman next to him. She looked disappointed. "It's the price, you see. I was just asking someone if they could lower it a bit, because the one just broke at the group home where I work, and we don't have any stoves to cook on."

I know when I'm beat. Any wool that I would have tried to dye in that cooker would have immediately discolored and felted to boot. I handed it over, with a smile. Always good to be gracious in defeat.

The next morning, I took a quick look on Craigslist. Two older local listings popped up, one for $10 and one for $20. I e-mailed them both, to see if either was available. The $10 got back to me immediately and I made arrangements to pick it up later that day. Soon after, an e-mail came through from the owner of the $20 cooker. She was leaving town for three weeks, but if I could wait until her return, she would sell it to me for $15.

And that's how I ended up with two used cookers for the price of one. Cooker karma.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

cat obsession

Valentine is a funny little cat. She doesn't like to be held or cuddled too much, and she has very definite ideas about how much is too much. My husband and Secondo are her clear favorites and she seeks out, and tolerates, attention from them more than anyone else.

She is not too fond of the dog, especially because he has taken it upon himself to enforce the rules of the house as he perceives them, i.e., no scratching on the furniture and no cats on the table. She does love to bat at his tail as he goes by, which he pretends to ignore.

She is fascinated by but terrified of the rabbit. I will have to get a picture of them together sometime, with her seeking out contact but backing away from him at the same time. They got into a cage match in his digs in the basement a few weeks ago after she jumped in. We weren't sure at first who was the victor, but now we know: it was clearly Oreo.

She loves carrying around things in her mouth, especially things she brings up from the basement. Fleece, roving, my bras, socks... everything is fair game.

This represents a few of her favorite things, all together: wool cat toys, dryer balls, and the knee-highs I use to make them. She brings each of these things up on a regular basis. When I started production recently for the fiber festivals this fall? Her idea of nirvana, because now she could bring all three up at the same time if I leave them unattended. One night she was so persistent in bringing them up to our room that I had to go downstairs at 3 am to lock them all away in a tin where she couldn't get to them.

But her very, very favorite thing? Lamb jackets.

Unfortunately I have not been able to capture her on camera with one. She is pretending to ignore this one which she just deposited it in the middle of the room. Dusty would like to point out that he had nothing to do with it.

They are clean, at least according to our human standards, but they must have an irresistible lamby scent still about them because she finds them wherever I hide them and drags them upstairs. Her favorite maneuver is to bring them into our bed at 2 am, growling and mewling the entire time, and drop it on the pillow between us. I will admit that the first time she dropped a large, dark, fuzzy thing in the middle of our bed, I freaked out a little. I feel this was more than a little justified but my husband is still chuckling.

Edited to add: the minute I hit "publish" on this post, she meowed behind me, and I turned to find her dragging a lamb jacket into the middle of the room. I grabbed my iphone and hit the camera button, but it was too late... She was already claiming ignorance of how it got there.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

with help like this

Blocking has become a difficult business around here, ever since mid-February or so...

Pins tend not to stay where they were placed. I am lucky if the piece manages to dry before she gets to work.

She usually spits them out next to where she removes them, but not always. One or two are usually carried down the hall to be placed where they have the maximum likelihood of being stepped on.

Some pins are tougher to remove than others. I should be grateful for the help.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

road trip results

One thing road trips are good for, apart from spending quality time in your car cooped up with other annoyed people, is finishing long-marinating projects, especially if you have someone who drives while you knit. I am thrilled to report that my Follow Your Arrow shawl, that I started on January 13, is finally done!!  The last stitch was bound off on the way back from Cleveland, where the four-generation picture was taken. The ends were woven in and clipped early on Sunday, and I had the time to block it today.

Sorry for the less than artistic photo but it's pretty amazing I got it blocked tonight and I'm not going to ask too much more of my brain.

This one was a real booger due to my running out of yarn so close to the end of the last clue. I just realized that I never blogged about ripping out the entire border, because the striping solution I first tried didn't look quite right, and I knew that its half-assed-ness, plus a mistake I made when slipping the yarn (holding it in back instead of in front) would bug me the rest of my natural born days if I ever did manage to finish the shawl. Ripping it back allowed me to weigh the yarn, to discover that I had over 200 yards of brown yarn going into the final clue. It should have been enough. Oh well.

It was one of those projects that required the fortitude of angels because so much of that blasted knitted-on border had to be knit a second time, and I found it incredibly tedious the first time. Not sure why I didn't choose the other clue when I had it all ripped back, but my approach for each clue was to choose my anti-clue, i.e., the clue I normally would not have chosen, and certainly a clue that bored me so blind, I had to knit it twice, fit into that category. At least I am very happy with the solution of knitting the "fan" parts of the border in the other color, and best of all, this gave me enough brown yarn to finish this time. The rest of the shawl—I'm not sure. The jury is still out. Maybe I just need a little distance.

Monday, August 11, 2014

jiggety jog

We are back from a quick jaunt out to Ohio, though any trip that has to travel along the PA turnpike from end to end cannot possibly be described as quick. Or a jaunt, for that matter. That road takes all the jaunt out of a person.

We started off with a day at the Sweetest Place on Earth, Hershey Park. Yes, we live within throwing distance of another big amusement park, but Hershey has a special place in our hearts.

We had the added bonus of sharing it with some of our favorite people on earth. Rides are that much more fun with cousins, especially when you get to be the big guy. He won't hold my hand any more, but he happily did for his younger cousins who idolize him.

We have been there enough times that we didn't mind taking turns providing babysitting services instead of going on rides. About five minutes after this picture was taken, the baby decided that her fist wasn't doing the trick and proceeded to wail so loudly and determinedly for her mother that my husband nearly chased down a roller coaster car to hand her off.

After Hershey, off to Ohio to see my aunts and great-aunt and assorted cousins, since we were already part of the way there. We missed a few, but we managed to pack quite a lot of family visiting into two days, thanks mostly to my aunts who took us around.

Our visit happened to coincide with a rib fest right by our hotel, which made my older sons very, very happy.

This is my favorite picture from the trip: four generations in one shot. As an added bonus, I am the tallest person in the picture!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

in honor of world cat day

One does not simply fail to honor world cat day on one's blog if one has a cat to honor.

Friday, August 8, 2014

dog days of summer

The sheep agree that if it is anyone's fault, it is the dog's.

But the shade of a willow tree always helps.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

fortunate fairgoers

Our 4-H county is very lucky to have Howell Living History Farm as part of its park system. Intended to recreate a farm in the period 1890 to 1910, it serves as a step back in time. The long entrance lane is the perfect gateway to make the transition from modern life into history. Even technology senses the change; cell phone coverage is spotty at best.

This has been the site of our 4-H fair for the past seven years. No carnival rides, no commercial vendors, just the 4-H kids, their projects, and the unique assets of this beautiful place. Kids from other counties are in awe of the luck of our kids.

I looked up at one point during the fair and this magnificent team of oxen was strolling by on the path near our tent, pulling a cart. It might have as easily been a steam-driven tractor, or a team of horses pulling a hay cart. It's that amazing of a place.

Monday, August 4, 2014

laissez fair

As you may have surmised from previous posts, I was a little anxious about fair this year. Last year was a stone-cold disaster, with me ending up in the hospital on Saturday night. Previous fairs usually included some sort of stress-induced crisis.

Before this year even started, I decided: Not This Year. Or it would most certainly be the last.

Instead it was laissez fair all the way. I attempted to adopt a completely laid-back attitude, which is not really my normal state of being, to see if that would make any difference. Kids didn't want to do something? Then it wouldn't get done (within reason; they still had to take sheep up there). I didn't want to do something? Then it wouldn't happen (again within reason; I still had to go).

And I am happy to report that, for the most part, this worked out really, really well. That, and my husband was a rock star in the supportive father and spouse role.

It all started on Friday afternoon, when the kids got the truck and trailer loaded up in record time and were ready to leave—and I wasn't. I let it, and them, go without me.

Historic, and bittersweet, moment, watching them pull out all on their own, because I have always taken them up, but it was the best move I made all weekend. By the time I got up there a couple of hours later, the sheep were unloaded and penned, the tack area was set up just the way they wanted it, including floral decorations, and I barely had to lift a finger. What the heck have I been doing all these years?

It continued that night. Due to the predicted heavy rain, I decreed that I couldn't be responsible for eight kids in tents. (I take responsibility for several kids whose parents don't want to camp out. It's one of those things I have resigned myself to, because they are my kids' friends and it makes my kids happy to have them there, and they are super kids who don't give me a moment's trouble—it's just a lot of responsibility.) One of the kids' parents brought up their camper so they could all stay there, instead of everyone missing out on the fun and going home for the night.

I opted out of the camper and into my truck. It was quiet, smell-free, cozy and dry, though admittedly slightly cramped. I refrained from getting involved, not even to offer a whisper of an opinion, on how they could arrange themselves best in the camper. They worked it out, and they lived with it.

The fair continued in this vein. And everyone, me included, had a spectacular time. It's a wonder how simple things can be when I simply let go.

Pies were eaten in the most gloriously messy way, the only way to eat a pie at fair (amazing, not a lot has changed in four years, except for all the growing up; they still took first and second in that contest).

Sheep were costumed: he was a "Grad-ewe-ate with his Sheepskin." Never saw that as a potential use of my graduation garb when I finished college. He came second to a brilliant "Frozen"-themed entry: "Let it Goat," an admitted pandering to the crowd but a most excellent costume. We knew were were beaten the moment we saw it.

Sheep were also shown, and a Grand Champion Wool Ram ribbon was won, among others.

Terzo knew it was one of the last with his big brother. I wasn't the only one feeling the bittersweet vibe.

A friend recently said it best, of a particular task, that she wanted to be "fulfilled, not stressed." That's how this past weekend ended up, and I couldn't have hoped for a better conclusion.