Saturday, February 28, 2015

respect the suit

Every so often, teenage boys do something, in just enough of an amount, to convince you that it is all going to be OK. Spotty homework turn-in record, door-slamming temper tantrums, screaming matches behind the wheel, they are temporarily forgotten in the hope that the outcome of this whole parenting gig may be a positive after all.

Today was such a day.

In December, Secondo took it upon himself to volunteer as the assistant coach for Terzo's recreational basketball team. He's no angel; it's all calculated. He is trying to rack up volunteer hours for National Honor Society, failing to understand that a certain grade point average is the threshold requirement. Still, points for initiative. He has faithfully attended the vast majority of practices and games.

The coach couldn't make the last game, and asked Secondo if he would take over the coaching job for him. Secondo immediately decided that a suit was the only possible attire.

He went over plays with his father, he planned out his strategies and player rotations, he even wore his team t-shirt (which the coaches usually wear on the sidelines) as his undershirt, so as not to jinx himself.

He took some good-natured ribbing from the refs, who warned him up front that chair throwing was not allowed.

Then he coached his heart out. He gave pep talks and ran code plays. It was amazing to watch the younger boys respond, looking to him for direction. Though not so amazing really, because if there is anything that a pre-teen boy responds best to, it is a teenage boy giving him direction.

The team has been in a slump lately, but today they won. No doubt the basketball gods were smiling down on the suit. He needed this day. We needed this day. This sophomore year has been rough going, and it is days like this that help to keep a parent, and a kid, plodding along.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

no shearing for ewe

Thanks to the rams breaking into the ewe pasture, we have no idea who is bred and who isn't. Maybe no one. Maybe everyone (doubtful). But we are clueless either way.

I booked the shearer weeks ago for this Saturday, so we could get those heavy wool coats off and take a look at bellies and udders, and get pastures and pens reconfigured for new arrivals, if necessary. Plus, lambing when the ewe is not in full fleece is So. Much. Easier. For us, for the lambs, for the ewes.

But Mother Nature had other ideas.

"You're going to do what with our toasty warm wool coats?!!?"

The temps have not budged much out of the twenties almost all month—and that is the high for the day. The lows are in the single digits. As shearing day drew closer, and spring seemed ever further away, we finally caved. No way we could do it on our own timeline. The ewes would have had the shelter of the barn for the night, but even that seemed scant comfort given the brutal lows. The rams would still be out in a pasture, and though a shed is fine for them at the moment, without their wool, not so much.

Shearing date is now rescheduled for the end of March. At some point in the next few days, we will attempt an udder check and do our best with the results, whatever they may be. The sheep will get to keep what Mother Nature gave them to deal with this cold—truly, they have been barely bothered by it—and the rest of us will cope as best we can.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

snow fun

No inaugural "Six Ways to Short Row" class today. Given the forecast for snow arriving early afternoon, the shop owner and I made the call yesterday to postpone for two weeks. Thank goodness.

No Primo driving a carfull of teammates to a charity event tonight. He came home yesterday to pick up his car, and his father and I watched the developing snow with increasing dismay. His common sense prevailed. Thank goodness.

Which, once we did a first pass on plowing the driveway, left playing around with the new 100mm lens while the boys played around in the snow.

I have no idea why Secondo is terrorizing Terzo in all of these photos. 

Wait, yes I do.

Dusty does his best to break up the aggression in true English Shepherd/police dog fashion, but he doesn't get very far beyond voicing his objections. Vociferously.

It brought to mind their snow play six years ago, when Dusty was but a pup and they were quite a bit smaller... though Secondo was still terrorizing Terzo.

Maybe best to end on a nice peaceful shot of a snowy tree.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

princeton farmer's market

Today was the start of a new venue, the Princeton Farmer's Market. Held in the community room of the local library, right in the middle of town, it features an amazing line-up of farmers, bakers, beekeepers, etc. And me, plus Robin, my partner in crime business.

The new farm sign made its debut. I am a little disappointed in the new farm sign, mostly because of my inability to use a tape measure and understand just how freaking big a 2 ft x 6 ft sign is. We managed to make it work as a sort of full frontal for the table. Everyone knew where we were from as long as they could back up to read it from the other end of the room, or standing outside in the center of the adjacent plaza.

Robin and I are getting better at pulling these things together in a pleasing manner. Pleasing to us, at least.

God bless those hand-me-down grids. They came in handy yet again

Also thank the good Lord for an INSIDE event on this cold cold day. We knitted and chatted and visited with our vending neighbors, and even had a visit from my college freshman and his friend. Much warmth, and not just from wool, to combat the chill. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

unexpected holiday

What girl failed to realize that it was a federal holiday today and thus (courts being closed and all), she might have a day off from work?

This girl!

The full timers in the office forgot to tell me that they had decided to close today. Luckily I woke up this morning thinking that it might be a good idea to get confirmation either way about the office being open, clearly proof that my subconscious is looking out for me.

So what to do with an unexpected holiday, but mess around with wool all day? My parents came over yesterday, and while my father and Secondo prepared some delicious swiss steak, my mom and I experimented with the Artfelt paper that she took a class in at Vogue Knitting Live.

The idea of Artfelt is that you can produce a felt with less effort than needle or wet felting. The Artfelt product resembles interfacing, such as you would use in sewing. You lightly needlefelt the wool onto it, wet it, then wrap it in plastic, put it into pantyhose and toss it in the dryer. Once your desired level of felting is achieved, the Artfelt paper is dissolved using boiling water. 

Two of my experimental squares, ready for dunking. The Artfelt class recommended their merino combed top, and it does produce a lovely smooth product. Since Coopworth wool is the focus around here, I wanted to see how it worked. 

The answer: not too bad, but some further experimentation will be required.

I did manage to produce this lovely wool rose, which for some reason I have been dreaming about doing ever since my mother described the Artfelt product to me. I think it would make a lovely pin but the leaves are still wet, so it isn't sewn together yet.

The felting work continued with cat toys and soaps. I have a new gig starting this Thursday, at the Princeton Farmers' Market in the Princeton Library. Just once a month for three months, so it seems manageable, and I figure whatever doesn't sell there will be ready to go for Maryland at the beginning of May. 

The scent of Yardley soaps is now inextricably linked in my mind to fiber festival preparation. The soaps wrapped and ready to go into the bath...

And after some dunking and scrubbing.

Another snowstorm tomorrow means more time to get another batch done, though it is going to be hard getting them dried in time for the market on Thursday. The sun does such a good job! The oven is a poor substitute, and then it smells like soap the next few times I turn it on, not a great scent when getting ready to bake.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

six ways to short row

One knitting technique that has been exploding in use lately is short rows. Short rows create 3-D shaping in an otherwise flat knit fabric. Instead of working a row all the way from one side to the other, you stop at a set point, turn the work, and knit (or purl) back the other way; stop before the end again, turn and work the other way. These shorter (short) rows inserted in between longer rows create "puffs" of fabric, useful for cupping heels in socks or making room for busts in sweaters. 

They can also be used to create wedges. My "Going to Town Tam" design relies on short rows to make the pinwheel pattern on the top of the hat. 

More and more patterns, especially shawls, are thinking outside the box, using short row techniques to make beautiful shapes that swirl and curl around a wearer's shoulders, with creative use of colors and stitches to highlight the beauty of the yarns and designs.

When most knitters think short rows, they think "wrap and turn." But it turns out (I never can resist) that is just the tip of the iceberg. Short rows can be worked in quite a few ways, which led to a class based upon just that idea. So: "Six Ways to Short Row" will be debuting next Saturday, February 21 at Woolbearers in Mount Holly. Today was spent most productively, putting the finishing touches on the handouts and class structure.

German short row technique on the bottom, Japanese short rows right above it. Both are almost invisible. My favorite depends on the yarn and the project. In other words, it all depends, which is the point of the class. It's always good to have a range of weapons in your arsenal to be able to choose the best one for the challenge at hand.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015


I am a sucker for old ephemera. Hand-written notes in margins, testaments to people's daily lives, intrigue me beyond all reason. The everyday connection to someone long gone, who found certain matters important enough to carefully note, usually in pencil, have a hold over me that I cannot explain sufficiently except to say: if they took the time to write it down, then someone should care enough to keep it.

As part of my everyday job in estate administration, I spend a lot of time going through people's personal records, parsing out what the tax man needs to know. One of the estates I am working on at the moment is from a paper hoarder (clearly, a soul sister) with no surviving family, who couldn't bring herself to throw anything out. On Tuesday, we went through her papers, tossing so much flotsam and jetsam. Cancelled checks from the 1980s? Gone. Her dog's pedigrees from the 1960s? Also tossed.

But then we came across this. And I couldn't bring myself to put it in the dumpster.

It's provenance wasn't noted. It appears to be business records from the 1930s, but the business wasn't entirely clear, nor was the owner. Perhaps a restaurant/bar of some sort?

Expences (spelled with a 'c', now an obsolete spelling) and income carefully noted, day by day. August 1933. The clams, at $1.53, cost less than the beer and liquor. Tobacco appears to be the most expensive item.

My favorite part was the helpful information included on the fly leaves in the front. Need to know how much seed to plant per acre?

Got it. How about foreign money?

Perfect. I can never keep how many pence in a shilling straight. Now I have a handy reference. Plus, that section on "Business Law in Daily Use" would have saved me a lot of time in my Contracts class in law school. Most of it is still good law today.

Not to mention how many sheep it would take to fill a freight car, knowledge that should not be lost to the sands of time, though I am not sure I will ever need it, what with the train tracks around our town now converted to a "rails-to-trails" use. On second thought, 80 to 100 per car? That would be a pretty jammed freight car. Poor sheep. Maybe we should forget all about this.

The last purchase: whisky, on June 8, 1940. No clue as to why the journal ended on that date, and why it was kept for so many years after that. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

happy cat-iversary

Today is Valentine's cat-iversary. One year ago today, a very scared half-grown kitten/cat came home with us from the Toms' River Petsmart.

Her markings that suggested her name (in part) are still visible, as is her catlike sense of mischief and trouble-making. This maneuver in particular drives the dog around the bend.

So how does a cat celebrate the occasion in style? First, she was treated by her adoring owners to
a special meal of "flaked skipjack tuna in a delicate broth sauce."

Then she escaped through a faultily-latched door into the chill night air, forcing said adoring owners and their parents to tramp around in the cold, muddy dark for over an hour trying to track her down. She went missing at 9 pm. I MISSED DOWNTON ABBEY FOR THIS CAT. We did eventually find her, but not before all of us, cat included, were chilled to the bone.

You would think that a cat who had just been treated to tuna would have the sense to know a good thing when she's got it and stay put.

Luckily for her, we can't imagine a house without her anymore.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

google needlefelting

Imagine my surprise when I went to do a search online today, and this extraordinary google doodle popped up. Sorry, you'll have to click on the link to see it, because I don't want to violate any copyright by putting it directly on my page, but it's worth it, I promise!

(By way of background, "google doodles" are the artwork that grace the google home page from time to time, and incorporate the google name in a creative fashion. Sometimes they commemorate a historical event or holiday, sometimes they are interactive, always they are entertaining, at least to easily-amused me.)

First point in its favor: Laura Ingalls Wilder. I read her "Little House" books over and over again when I was younger, and have done so a couple times as an adult as well. If I had to trace my desire to be more self-sufficient, and viewpoint that life on a farm is a desired life goal, to any particular source, her books would have to be at the top of the list.

Second point, and I didn't entirely trust my eyes: are those dolls needlefelted? As explained in this step-by-step blog post, they sure enough are. Even the "amber waves of grain" effect is done with a clever use of dyed wool roving. Amazing that needlefelting has become mainstream enough to appear in a google doodle! The figures and finished project are beautiful work, so hats off to the creators.

The doodle prompted me to pull out my favorite needlefelted figure, made by a talented teenager and purchased a few years back at Garden State Sheep Breeders Festival. It reminds me of a sweet and special time in my life, as my boys are getting bigger and bigger and certainly out of my arms. Unfortunately Valentine, with her unnatural attraction to wool of all kinds, kept pulling it down to play with, so I had it hidden from her view. I have cautiously placed it back where I can see it, with fingers crossed that it will escape her diabolical notice.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

starter cables

Tonight was the inaugural cable knitting class. By way of reminder, this is what the cabled project looked like, a headband that I hope to get up on Ravelry soon:

This was my first time teaching a skills class, All my previous teaching experience has been with project classes, focused on the production of a specific project by the end of the class. All of the projects have resulted in the students learning a skill or two, but this time was slightly different because I needed a handout. 

Thank goodnesss for Stitch Mastery, a program that produces beautiful knitting charts with minimal effort. I made the investment last year and it paid off in spades when it came to this class. I can't compare it to any other charting program but it wins head and shoulders above the excel spreadsheets I was struggling with before that. Stitch Mastery has an impressive array of knitting symbols; so far, I haven't found one that I have needed and it hasn't had in its library. It is as easy as point and drop the symbol onto the chart. As you add each symbol, it automatically creates a key of each symbol used, along with line-by-line written instructions.

So after all that work and preparation, guess how many students? If you guessed one, you would be correct! I blame the brutal cold we are experiencing but I am not complaining. It was the perfect size to test the handout and class timing. With one person, it worked just fine, if not a little fast because, well, one person. She was very pleased with her ability to cable by the end and I bet she'll have a headband to wear this weekend. Cables are the perfect advanced beginner skill, because their effect is all out of proportion to their difficulty. Hopefully next time a few more will turn up so the class can be tested in a bigger group. But on the whole: success!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

super bowl leftovers

While I could care less about the actual sporting event, Super Bowl Sunday was a food bonanza for me personally. My husband took care of making sure that they provisions were just right, picking up subs and hot wings in preparation. (I did my part. I got Doritos.) So everyone was happy and appropriately fed and cheering on the event while I got a little work done and watched Downton Abbey.

My husband was surprised, nay even shocked, that PBS would screen a new Downton Abbey episode on that most holiest of TV watching days. I drew him this helpful Venn diagram to illustrate the point that, if they didn't show a new episode, a small but significant population would have shown up to their local PBS station brandishing torches and pitchforks. 

You would think my husband, of all people, would appreciate the point that not every member of the United States population wants to watch the Super Bowl.

The bounty of food-that-was-not-my-responsibility kept giving into the next day, when the boys and I enjoyed leftover subs for lunch and then again for dinner. No complaints from them and definitely no complaints from me. I will happily eat cold cereal if it means I don't have to cook dinner, especially on a work day.

Tonight found me contemplating the remaining S.B. leftovers: about 30 hot wings. Any longtime blog follower knows that I take the challenge of using up leftover food in my fridge as a personal call to arms. So thanks to my friend Mr. Google, I decided to make Buffalo Wings Pizza.

I started with pizza dough from Shoprite because I was working all day and forgot to put the dough into the bread maker.

Even the leftover blue cheese dip/dressing can be used on this, as the "sauce." I had to supplement with a little ranch dressing to "ice" the entire dough but blue cheese dressing could also be used for the entire thing.

Fifteen itty-bitty wings are a giant pain in the butt to pick clean, which is my objection to the dang things in the first place. So much work for so little return. My thumb nail is still burning from the hot sauce more or less permanently wedged underneath.

Luckily a little goes a long way. About a cup of chicken was enough to cover the pizza, and I also added a few tablespoons of chopped red onion.

This pizza requires a little more than plain mozzarella, so I did a more or less equal combo of cheddar cheese and mozzarella, except I misjudged the amounts and it wasn't quite equal on the second pizza.

The end result, with Dusty ever hopeful in the background. No Buffalo Wing Pizza for you, my friend.

It's the leftovers that still keep on giving, because the boys will be taking it in their lunch tomorrow, so no need to make sandwiches at dark o'clock in the morning. Super Bowl Sunday is good for one thing, at least from my perspective, and I am going to miss it now that it's all gone.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

super bowl science

Another month, another 4-H meeting. I enjoy these kids, I truly do, and I have wonderful co-leaders, but perhaps I am getting just the teensiest tinesiest bit burned out. Or maybe I just have too many other things on my plate at the moment to muster the requisite energy and enthusiasm at a sustainable level. 

Yesterday's job: come up with an activity for today's meeting. Sometimes we have them planned out months in advance (i.e., every meeting so far this year, until this month) and sometimes we are scrambling at the last minute (i.e., it's only a matter of time until we run out of steam).

One of my co-leaders had suggested, a while back, the experiment with carnations and food dye, as a good way to teach/demonstrate/reinforce the principles of capillary action and transpiration in plants. We have kids ranging in age from 4th through 11th grade so activities that can be appreciated on several levels work best. If we tied into that most national of holidays, Super Bowl, by offering different color food dyes so the kids could vote for their winning team via colored flower, then it seemed close enough. 

Of course, no white carnations for my last-minute-planning rear end. I had to drop back and punt with white mums but luckily they were in keeping with the theme.

By starting the project at the beginning of the meeting instead of our traditional activity time nearer the end, we could watch the colors as the developed throughout the meeting and talk about whether the length of stem and color made a difference. For the record: yes (shorter was predictably much faster) and yes (blue was the quickest, yellow the slowest).

Looks like we will be rooting for the Patriots tonight, though that blue-green in the front does strongly suggest Seahawks blue-green. Not at all what my Patriots-loving youngest son intended, but it seems we also proved the vagaries of Mother Nature.