Friday, February 28, 2014

down the road

The progression of the mighty process of growing up is so gradual that it is almost imperceptible to parents battling on the front lines. The minutiae of day to day life masks it almost completely. Little changes are only noticed weeks and sometimes months after they happen, and often in their absence: a kid isn't crawling into your lap for a cuddle, he doesn't need help tying his shoes, his english paper is turned in without your edits. It hits you a bit too late that another milestone has been missed, and both of you are further along the road to adulthood than you had realized just last week.

With Primo in his senior year of high school, those moments are multiplied and magnified right now. Last night we went the local high school's musical. One of the leads was his good friend from elementary school. To see him up there commanding the performance, with his deep voice and stage presence, snapped me back to their days of skinny legs and unkempt hair, unsure manners and too-short pants, goofy smiles and sweet temperaments. How did it happen that high school is almost at an end for them, and they are already on the threshold of an entirely new stage of life?

Another one today, quick on the heels of last night. This weekend is the 4-H Teen Conference for our area of the state. For as many years as Primo has been attending, I have driven down with all the teen attendees from our club piled in the back of our car. This year though, Primo and his friend were deemed responsible enough to drive themselves and the rest of the club members. Watching the car pull away on route to pick up others and head down, without me to check on their accomodations and make sure they hung up their clothes when they got there, not to mention missing all the silliness in expectation of a weekend away from their parents, was more than a little heart-wrenching.

Though they did get lost on the way there, and arrived 45 minutes late. They may be travelling by themselves down the road of life more frequently these days, but it's a good reminder that they aren't always entirely sure of the direction.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

firmly cemented

In the way of all cats, Valentine is a crafty little thing.

To counteract the typical feline annoyances—running up and down the hallway at 2 am, walking on your face at 4 am, kitty litter grinding underfoot no matter how often the vacuum is run—she has launched a campaign to ensure the younger family members, in particular Secondo and Terzo, unconditionally love and adore her.

It has been very successful so far.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

costumes of downton abbey

Today was the press preview of the new Winterthur exhibit "Costumes of Downton Abbey."  With my father in tow as official photographer and Chris as tour guide extraodinaire, we made our way south through white-out conditions (snow isn't even worth mentioning anymore, we just get on with life) to Delaware and the Winterthur Museum.

I was extremely fortunate to attend as a representative of Interweave Press, because I'm writing an article about the exhibit for them, to be published in the fall. I was a little blown out of the water to be signing the guest sheet right after a representative from the Smithsonian Magazine.

The press briefing was chock-full of interesting information and tid-bits and perspective for my article, plus delicious food. Is delicious food a typical feature of press briefings? If so, I need to find a way to start attending more of them.

After the information session we made our way up to the gallery, not quite finished yet, to see the costumes. They are cleverly arranged by time of day—you make your way from early morning through the day to late evening. In addition to the three dresses pictured below, the exhibit includes pieces worn by all major characters, including the downstairs staff, plus information about the similarities and differences to life on an American country estate.

YES. I saw all three of these dresses IN PERSON.

Whether your interest is textiles, costuming, history or just plain Downton Abbey fan-dom, this exhibit is sure to satisfy. Lots of clever displays, great information, illustrative photos, and quotes from the show.

Me, with Mary and Matthew from the engagement!

Plus costumes. Did I mention the costumes? They are amazing up close, even more fascinating and detailed and interesting than you can catch on the screen. If you are anywhere near Delaware any time during the next nine months, and you love Downton Abbey, don't miss it.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

three for three

All three of my pattern proposals were accepted for the second edition of the Unofficial Downton Abbey Knits! This has been a week of yarn arriving for the patterns; yet more great surprises in the mail for me. Unfortunately I can't show the yarn but I can say that it is beautiful and I can't wait to work with it.

The deadline for all three pieces is April 15 so I will have to turn to them now. This was one of the big reasons I was pushing so hard to get the mystery shawl done and out of the way, but it didn't work out. Oh well. Maybe I can fit finishing the shawl into the cracks but it will probably end up in the "WIPs" (Works In Progress) pile, waiting until time becomes a bit more available. Thank goodness our taxes are already done, one less thing to worry about for that date.

More Downton Abbey, of a different sort, tomorrow... Stay tuned!

Monday, February 24, 2014

delayed gift-ification

In all the kerfluffle with unpacking the car and getting everyone fed late last night, I forgot about the intriguing package left in with our mail over the weekend.

It was a nice surprise to rediscover it on my desk tonight. The wrapping is a paper sewing pattern, with a homemade gift tag made from a Christmas card. Packaging after my own heart!

A wonderful little owl bag, my Yankee swap gift in my spinning group's exchange all the way back in mid-December. Its maker, my very creative friend C., hadn't finished it in time for the swap, so she took it back to work on the final details. I've missed the last two meetings so she must have dropped it off in resignation on the way home from Friday's get-together.

In the best way possible, I had forgotten all about it, so it was a double treat. What a great project bag it will make with that satin lining—it is the perfect size and depth for a sock.

Plus it is a match for the great iPhone case sent to me about a year ago by the lovely Mrs C. (a different C!), made by her kids on a rainy day for a church fundraiser.

All owled up, thanks to crafty friends!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

family gold

The Olympics end tonight, and it turns out that Ravellenics was a fail for me.  The shawl is not done: I ended up ripping out the whole border on Friday night because I was just not happy with it. The brown vest is not done. The colorwork mittens weren't even touched.

However, I did score a gold medal this past weekend in quality family time. The boys' Christmas present was a ski weekend. We stayed at Fiddle Lake Farm, a fantastic bed and breakfast near Elk Mountain in Pennsylvania.

Highly, highly recommended. Beautiful grounds, welcoming hosts, delicious food. The best part was a sledding hill, with sleds, tubes and a toboggan provided.

We all had a ball.

The focus of the weekend was, as you might imagine, skiing. I haven't skied in years, so I was happy to provide ground support for my little Brooklyn nephews, who were on skis for the first time. I think I climbed the bunny hill about eleventy million times to help them ski back down. It was a win-win because I desperately needed the exercise.

The whole skiing family is in this shot, except one little nephew, though you can't really tell! I do know that Primo is on the snowboard in the front.

So much for knitting in the ski lodge, but I wouldn't have traded a minute of it.

Saturday, February 22, 2014


Valentine has introduced Dusty to the pleasures of ornithology. He never even noticed the birds were out there before.

Friday, February 21, 2014


Secondo has embarked upon a science project venture, and it has been a bit rocky.

The first attempt was a bust. Only four seeds sprouted, out of 35 planted. This only seemed to prove that the seeds may have been a faulty batch, hardly the stuff upon which awards are bestowed.

Back to the beginning, with a different brand of seed.

The experiment has something to do with the effect of different fertilizers, and one of the fertilizers he ended up using was Fish Fertilizer.

If you have never smelled this stuff, imagine 1,000 decaying and putrifying fish. Liquified. Then condensed. Add a couple of batches of human vomit just to tune up the smell a bit.

I am sure that it is great for your plants, but I can attest that it is not so great for your nose. Did I mention the experiment is being done in our basement?

Last night I was summoned to the basement by an angry shout that could only mean one thing; he had made a mess, and I was expected to clean it up, because that's the way the world works when you are a fifteen year old boy. Our laundry is in our basement, and the folding table is next to the plant grow lights, and...


Fish fertilizer all over clean clothes, when he smacked the bottle against the folding table to dislodge a clog.

Despite my best attempts to clean it up, the nauseating odor of fish fertilizer still permeates the air. I get to spend plenty of time smelling it, too. Now I am worried that all my time down there has made my nose immune to the stench, and we are all going to be walking around smelling like a vomitorium, and we will have no idea. A scene straight out of Sponge Bob, and while Something Smells is one of my favorite episodes, I sure wish I wasn't living it.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

knitting club

Tonight was the fourth or so meeting of the new town knitting club, held in the second story of the old mill, just to the left of the "earth" sign.

It was packed, with almost twenty people there! My problem with knitting clubs is that I usually spend too much time clubbing and not enough time knitting, especially if I haven't seen some of the people in a while. I also forgot the golden rule of knitting-club knitting, which is bring something simple. Lace is no good. A garter stitch project is just about right.

Unfortunately, the project I grabbed was my mystery knit-a-long shawl. I think I am happy with the solution I worked out, with much agonizing. I decided to mimic the garter stitch rows in the previous clue, right at the turn of the second "elbow," before switching back to Color 1 for the rest of the border. Hopefully it is close enough to the other two-stripe motifs in the rest of the shawl that it looks like it belongs there.

So even though I have a solution (I think) to the problem of running out of yarn on my shawl, it was impossible to work on it with the level of concentration it demands. Tomorrow I have off from work, and even though I have a ton of errands, I am hopeful that I can hole up for a few hours in relative peace and quiet to finish the darn thing. I need to get at least one of my Ravellenic projects done, for a tiny sense of accomplishment.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

the problem with kittens

The problem with kittens is that before you know it, your iphone and camera are full of kitten pictures (not all taken by you) and your blog has devolved into a constant stream of kitten posts, because, well, there's all these pictures.

The only way a dog can get his picture taken these days, so he can make a fleeting appearance on the blog, is if he is coerced into being in the same frame as the kitten.

Not to mention the other problem with kittens, at least according to Dusty, is that they are shameless bed-stealers, even when their own bed is right there.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

apple pie morning

Woke up to the most astonishing grey-blue light (actual color in the photos, no white balance manipulation) and yet more of the white stuff. The flakes were so big they looked like feathers being shaken down out of the sky.

This was a lucky break for Secondo, because it was apple pie contest day at school today, and he got home way too late from a ski day yesterday to bake.

More snow = delayed school opening = just enough time to make an apple pie.

You know I don't toot my own horn that often where cooking is concerned, but I make one heck of a good apple pie. The recipe is "Mile High Apple Pie" from Farmhouse Cookbook by Susan Hermann Loomis. I can't reproduce it here for copyright reasons, but I can tell you two guaranteed-success secrets for a fantabulous apple pie:

  1. Use several varieties of cooking apples (and never Red Delicious) for a more complex texture and taste; and
  2. Scatter little dabs of butter, about one or two tablespoons worth, on your apple pie mixture before you put the top crust on, because everything is better with a little more butter.
Secondo managed to get a pie in and out of the oven in time, with maybe a little help from me in cleaning and cutting the apples. Another huge help was the pie crust compliments of Mr. Pillsbury Dough Boy.

Why an apple pie contest? Because it is National FFA Week, and that is just one of the events their high school chapter, led by Primo, dreamed up. Secondo's pie won in a landslide, and the favor-currying decoration on the top was just one of the reasons. It really is a tremendous recipe.

Our kitchen counter currently features a wide assortment of fruits and vegetables for the "Know Your Produce" contest tomorrow. It was supposed to be a corn-shucking contest, but my farm boy wasn't aware that whole corn is seasonal. For all he understands about growing food, he has been raised in a world where strawberries are readily available year-round. It's no surprise that he assumed corn on the cob was as well. The produce contest is a punt.

Monday, February 17, 2014

downhill crash

So close. I really thought that I would be able to post about finishing my mystery knit-a-long shawl today, despite the fact that Clue 5B proceeds about as quickly as paint drying. I made that choice over the more symmetrical lace Clue 5A because (1) I have been trying to choose the non-obvious choice for me all along and (2) I thought it would match up well with my previous choices. I was correct, it did, though as with all knitted-on edges, which are worked perpendicular to the previous rows, it took quite a bit longer.

Still and all, I was making good progress, and there is one less stitch every 12 rows, which means it's all downhill, faster and faster as you go along. And then....


Of the knitterly sort, in the form of not having enough yarn to finish the pattern as written. That small brown ball is all I have left, and the circular needle is holding a lot of stitches that still need to be worked.

It's not just short by a few yards. Nope, I am short by at least 75 yards, best as I can tell, which is very, very odd, considering that I had over 100 yards more than the pattern said I would need. And of course, this is a discontinued, hand-painted yarn that I bought years ago, so no chance of getting more.

Insert a big, giant ARGHHHH!!!!!! of frustration here. Even more so because I was very pleased with how the edging, and the shawl as whole, was turning out.

When I called my mother for some sympathy—she ripped her entire shawl out about two weeks ago because she was unhappy with the way her yarn choices were working out—she pointed out that many people were having the same problem with the pattern. Sure enough, a trip to Ravelry confirmed that I am in very good company, which was somewhat comforting. Even more comforting was a possible solution, presented by a fellow sufferer, which I spent this afternoon chewing over and does not involved ripping out the hours and hours of work that I have put into it so far.

Though when I left my project on the floor for a few minutes, someone else quickly volunteered for the "ripping it out" job.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Saturday, February 15, 2014

in her rightful spot

Didn't take Valentine long to figure it out. I sit down to knit, and she appears if by magic.

A quick cuddle and she assumes the position on my right side, which is most considerate of her not to displace the knitting on my lap. It makes knitting productively a bit tougher though. Not because she plays with the yarn or needles, but because I can't resist petting her while she purrs away.

Friday, February 14, 2014

ravellenics update

Happy Valentine's Day!

I am all over the Rule of Thirds.

One week into the Olympics, and I hoped to have big news of progress on all three project fronts but the sad truth is, I really haven't gotten much done at all. I still labor under the misbegotten impression that if I say something should happen, then magically it will be so. The fact that everything else will not stop in its tracks because I declare some stupid goal always tends to surprise me.

But there has been Olympic knitting going on! Did you catch the NBC footage of the Finnish snowboarding coach, Antii Koskinen, knitting at the top of the slope, just before one of his athletes was preparing for his run?

Apparently the entire team is working on a scarf to give to Team Finland for the Summer 2016 Olympics in Rio. What a great way to pass along some Olympic mojo.

Speaking of knitting mojo, here are my weekend plans.
  • Saturday: Knit.
  • Sunday: Knit some more.
  • Monday: Use my day off work, when the boys will be gone, to knit like crazy.
With any luck, this will result in at least one project finished.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

pax vobiscum

Geez, what a day. We woke up to lots of white everywhere, as predicted. School was cancelled last night for all three boys, so no need for alarm clocks and early morning packed lunches this morning.

With the prospect of a day off of work, and because it was a mess out there, I settled in for a bit of quiet knitting. That lasted all of five minutes. My boys are early risers even without the alarms.

Outside in formation, except for Terzo, who is still running a fever. We did the chores and cleaned six inches of snow up in record time thanks to the best (and most timely) Valentine's Day gift ever: a snow blower, compliments of my parents.

Primo on the snow blower, my husband in the plow truck,
clearing the patient parking lot.

My boys will be eternally grateful. I will be eternally grateful, especially once we don't have boys to help out anymore, a day that will be here before I know it.

I headed out to the office to field phone calls from patients. My husband told his office manager to stay home, rather than try and navigate the iffy roads. He only saw a few patients, but I got a ton of work done, plus a bit of knitting while I was on hold with insurance companies.

Now for a bit more knitting in front of the Olympics with my valentines and my Valentine. Peace be with you. Pax vobiscum. Regardless of what this stupid storm is called.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


I saw this on one of those stupid time-wasters on facebook the other day... OK, it's all a time-waster. But this one may come in handy.

I am continually struggling with getting pictures of my finished projects. Especially sweaters. When I find someone willing to take the picture, they cut off half the sweater. Or photograph me with my eyes closed. Or take the picture out of focus, or with a garbage can in the background, or my horribly wrinkly neck, or a multitude of other sins.

This tip allows you to take your own pictures, from far enough away that you are not limited to the lengths and contortions of your own arms.

You'll need a set of headphones with the built-in controls (the kind that come with your iPhone). Plug them into your iPhone or iPad, and prop the device up at a suitable level.

The plus on the headphones is your shutter button.

Choose the camera setting that allows you to see yourself, strike your best pose with the hand holding the headphones out of range, and shoot!

The reverse camera is much lower quality than the regular camera and gives a pretty grainy image, but it is better than nothing! At least you have something to put on your Ravelry project page. Obviously, I cannot guarantee that you will look any better than when an unsympathetic child takes the photo. The problem, of course, is that you have no one to blame but yourself.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

photography finale

Contrary to expectations, the photographer showed up for the second lesson, and the third (and last) tonight. Though I nearly didn't make it, because my day consisted of such fun as:

  1. Terzo coming down with the flu this morning;
  2. Finding out in the checkout line at Shoprite, after $100 worth of groceries were rung up, that Primo had "borrowed" my credit card and neglected to put it back in my wallet;
  3. Nearly losing a slightly-too-adventurous kitten outside in the cold; and
  4. Not having a car to drive, because my husband had a board of health meeting and the other vehicles are inaccessible due to mounds of snow and ice at this point.
Eileen took pity on me and drove out of her way to get me, and the photographer took pity on us both and waited to start the class until we got there, and even stayed late as we got carried away with the effects we were getting with night-time photography.

The subject was the old mill in town, which contains shops and hopefully, soon, a restaurant. It is a really neat building.

I was having a bit of trouble with the tripod I was using (inadequate photographer's trick: blame the equipment) so most of my pictures are slighly tilted, but I still got a couple of neat shots. You can see Eileen's tripod all the way to the right in the picture above.

A bit more focus on the church steeple in the background. I love that you can see the snow on the roof. 

So my class is done! We'll see if it makes any difference, but what is comes down to is me taking the time to play around more with the manual settings and not get so frustrated and switch back to the automatic ones. I do have a better handle on which settings affect which aspects of a shot gone wrong. Hopefully now I can use my knowledge for the power of better pictures.

Monday, February 10, 2014


If I didn't know better, I would think that NJ has been moved several hundred miles and is now part of the greater midwest.

A few weeks ago, the two inches of icy slippery snow that coated all surfaces this morning would have sent everyone into a tizzy. A delayed school opening, at the very least, would have been called for.

This morning it was just business as usual. Get out the ice scraper, get out the shovel, get out the plow. Ok, so maybe there is a bit more cursing in NJ than in the Midwest. But we are definitely resigned to our current fate.

The girls are certainly used to it and could care less as long as they are fed every day. They were happy to see me finally arrive with the grain bucket this morning, though a little later than their usual time because we were busy with snow removal duties.

The only good thing about all this snow is that it provides a handy cold storage solution for the problem of getting water to the back pasture.

Simply scoop into the heated water container when fresh and unsullied by dirty hooves. It will melt in no time.

Nine ewes are packed in there, bellying up to the hay bar!

Sunday, February 9, 2014


We spent most of today introducing Valentine to Dusty, and vice versa.

We found a metal end cap in the basement—see, honey, it does pay to never throw anything away— and it perfectly blocked the door so the two could see and smell each other, but not touch.

After hours of this, with Dusty's tail wagging the entire time and her tail finally staying at normal size when he visited her, we took down the gate. They were fine, though I couldn't manage any pictures of them because Dusty follows her around so closely that I can't get a clear shot. There has been no hissing or swipes with claws, so they seem to be okay so far.

Dusty isn't the only intrigued one. That's Primo visiting her in her bathroom—we put her in, or sometimes she puts herself in, when she gets overwhelmed all the newness. Primo has been an anti-cat voice for years, but seems he may have fallen for her charms. Who can resist a kitten?

Saturday, February 8, 2014


No, not a typo. My Valentine's Day present from my husband arrived a little early, and that has become her name.

See the heart on her side?

The surprise gift was revealed rather unexpectedly this morning, when the phone showed an unfamiliar number on caller ID. 

"I'm calling about the application you put in for a kitten?"

I nearly told them they must have the wrong number until my husband intercepted the phone with a sheepish look on his face.

It took a while for the shock to wear off, since my husband has sworn many, many times that we are done with cats. Terzo and Secondo have been begging for years, to little avail. About a month ago, they were joking that since Primo would be leaving for college soon, perhaps my husband would relent as a replacement for Primo. 

"But to really replace him, the cat would have to be grumpy. And hate us."

I pointed out that was not a good argument to convince their father of the merits of getting a cat.

When the news broke today, no one was more excited than Terzo, except possibly Secondo. Both of them came to help make sure she is the right cat. Both of them are in love.

Dusty is just downright confused. We have her in a bathroom for the next couple of days, to get her acclimated to us and get the two of them used to being in the same house together. I anticipate that Dusty will be spending a lot of time just like this, waiting to find out what is behind that door.