Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Inside the Tunnel

During my working life I thought of that period between New Year's Day and Easter as "the tunnel": that time of year when there were no holidays to break up the time and we all went to work and came home in the dark. Now that I am retired I don't have to come and go in the dark, but the cold grey of winter still feels like a tunnel. For the last few years winter has been hard here and seems longer than ever. I think time has made my feet unable to warm themselves. 
Seed catalogs have started to come to the door, making summer seem just a little bit closer.  I don't have a good place for indoor seed starting at the moment. Sometimes ambition gets the better of good sense and I think I could get some grow lights and set up a table in the basement, but I know I don't (yet) have the devotion to make that happen. Still, the catalogs are here with their alluring pictures and descriptions of things which are irresistible but will fail to thrive under my negligence, or which will be unsuitable for our climate or for the exposure in the place where they must grow. One of my friends is buying a house this winter after several years of renting and we can consider our gardening follies together. 

I was supposed to have a new patio door installed today, but one of the installers called out with a strep throat. Rescheduling will be difficult because I will be out of town for a few days at the end of the month visiting my children in Oklahoma City. The disappointment is considerable, but I imagine the installer is more disappointed in the missing day's work, even though the temperatures are not ideal. We are also adding a railing to our porch. Shana fell down two days running and torqued her knee. little ice patches were the proximate cause, but not having a railing to grab did not help. As with many things about our house, the front porch was added later and is not to code. In order to have a licensed person add the railing he also has to add the proper size barrier around the outside of the porch. You are supposed to have a 36" barrier, and we have a bench that is more like 24" surrounding the porch. Off with the bench, on with a railing in its place. Everything is more complicated than it originally looks so it costs more and takes longer. 

My knitting this week has consisted of fiddling around, mostly. One button wrap in a bulky stockinette, one pair of mittens, and 3/4s of a sock for myself. The Little Woman questioned how much need I had for another pair of mittens. Not only is this the ONLY pair of mittens I have (I have one pair convertible, 5 fingerless and one pair of utility gloves!) but also I just wanted them. So there!

We have our lottery ticket for the current billion dollar Powerball drawing. Hopefully we will not be like the restaurant employees who thought they won only to find out later that they were comparing their numbers to the results of a past drawing (after several of them quit their jobs). What a heartbreaker.

Primaries are coming up - don't forget to vote! I will be voting for Bernie is the Primary, but whoever the Democratic candidate turns out to be, that person will have my vote.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Progress towards 2015 Goals and 2016 Plans

Progress on 2015 goals:
Lobster trap floats on Macmillan Pier

During 2015 I lost 15 pounds and regained 10. Still ahead for the year, but a rather sorry showing. Back on Weight Watchers for me! I have already started that. I did not ride or paddle nearly enough, and Mitzi did not get a daily walk. I did some swimming, which I did not include in my goals but which surely counts as exercise. I not only finished the sweater in progress last January, but also knit another. The lace shawl I wanted to knit has been cast on, but is only about 10 inches square. I did not try entrelac at all. I did try needle felting, and made Vivian a needle felted gift.  I am not satisfied with my reading, although I probably read more than last year. I can't have posted here weekly - I can see less than 52 posts are up. Another goal missed. I did post daily on Twitter and probably at least weekly on Instagram. Better than nothing. Tumblr was a bust. Clearly 365 is not my Tumblr jam. Another theme will be selected. I did volunteer at MSPCA, but will be doing something different this year. The coffee dates I wanted to plan to increase how often I see friends were not weekly but not absent either. More follow up needed here. In the garden some goals were achieved and some not so much. I did get another flower bed well started, but my veggies did not do all that well. 

Goals for 2016: 
Matching Fleece

Improved weight management and fitness is on the menu again. Official numbers: three gym visits per week, one kayaking trip per week all summer, swimming every time I go to the beach, Cycling twice per week.

In knitting I want to finish the lace shawl, Shana's vest, a crochet cactus garden for Shana, a poncho for myself, and at least three pair of mittens. I still want to try entrelac or brioche stitch, and I will include it although I may not actually get to it. I will make at least another needle felted object.

I want to get a weekly post up here on the blog, and at least one weekly post on Tumblr. I think I will post pictures on Mitzi there. I have to have a specific theme for Tumblr for that little side project to work.

My volunteer gig this year will be two shifts in the office of Waquoit Congregational Church. Shana volunteered me, but I am willing to do it, particularly for a better connection with the other church members. I still need to call my other seldom seen friends for coffee dates. I have some free time to do it and I need to broaden and deepen my friend base. This year I will also join the Mashpee Women's Club and sign up for a book club therein. That will also improve progress towards reading goals.

good behavior
This year I will not put in another flower bed. I am going to turn over a portion of my veggie garden to flowers and double down on the veggie crops that do well for me. Collards, herbs and tomatoes for sure, string beans and carrots seem to do OK. I will move some of the plants from my entry bed to areas where their surprising and inappropriate size will be a better fit (I'm looking at YOU, miscanthus chinesis!). This will involve enlarging the bed at the front of the house a little - running it around the corner enough for the miscanthus and one or two substantial shrubs to give a better balance to the northwest corner of the foundation plantings. Even though the bed will be a little bigger I will not be planting anything fussy or expensive. I'll finish my delightful bottle tree, after giving it the winter to be sure it will hold up for me, and install a bird house in the northeast corner bed. I will improve the amount of time spent weeding the beds I already have instead of lounging about watching the Today Show. I'd like to add another bird bath as well. In order to improve my edging performance I need to either improve my wrapping skills or track down one of those aftermarket items that does not need refilling. I hate rewinding the edger string with a white hot passion. One of my friends is buying a house this spring, and I can exorcise any desires for new beds on her place. And maybe pass on some of my more vigorous devils!
On 6A

My out of left field goal for this year is to learn to play the ukulele. There are plenty of tutorials on YouTube to choose from, and with only a few cords I think I would enjoy it. We have an instrument already.

This list of goals seems manageable and a little ambitious, so we'll see how I do. In the meantime here's a video worth seeing. It's in Russian, and the subtitles are a delightful diversion in themselves.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Back From My Break

I went to Colorado for Christmas this year to spend it with my mother and brother. It was good to see them in person instead of online and over the phone (landline - we're old school plus I do so like a good connection!). We had a lot of fun together, and ate everything that could not escape fast enough. On thing - my brother and I went to see Star Wars, which was (my own opinion) just adequate. Clearly it was a set up for future Disney sequels and lacked development and story. A sales vehicle for toys and other associated merchandise. Fun to watch, but ultimately unsatisfying.

I was fortunate enough to have a direct flight both ways and to have missed out on the horrid delays caused by all the bad weather all over the country. With family in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Kansas and Georgia I had plenty to worry about. So far Cape Cod has not seen much in the way of weather. the little bits of snow and freezing rain we have had has been no inconvenience. Our only complaint is that it's been rainy and drizzly much of the time, but since we have been running a rain deficit all year I am happy to see it. There's not much a gardener can do for large trees if the rain does not come.

My Christmas gifts were uniformly delightful. They were thoughtful or amusing and not so extravagant that I felt embarrassed by luxury. I did get a super nice new tablet and case, but as my old one is about 5 years old and just about used to death we would have gone out to buy one soon anyway. Mom gave me cash, which I promptly dragged her into to Denver to spend.

The one thing I wanted to do in the Denver area besides visit with family was to drop in at Fancy Tiger Crafts. I was introduced to their story via the Woolful podcast, and started following them on Instagram. Their house brand yarn, Heirloom, is all romney wool, grown milled and dyed in the United States. I had a chance to try it because In the Loop in Plainville Massachusetts stocks it. It's rustic and sheepy, and knits up beautifully. I was eager enough to see the store in person to annoy my mother with a daily announcement of my plans to go there with her. She was a good enough sport to go in spite of it being in a part of Denver she had never visited before. It's what you might call an up and coming neighborhood: formerly pretty industrial and leaning towards hipster style.

The store itself is pretty and full of color and light. One side is yard goods and patterns including a wonderful color range of beautiful wool felt, the other yarn, with am emphasis on beautiful colors. In the back it's fiber for spinning or needle felting (for which they have the most adorable kits). A big bookshelf with a nice variety of offerings sits next to the cash wrap/fabric measuring area. I didn't buy anything fancy. What I needed was bout 1200 yards of chunky wool, and since Cascade was on sale at 30% off (!) I found what I needed in Cascade Eco in a beautiful auburn heather that should combine well with other knit accessories already in my wardrobe. I got a little packet of brights for my needle felting; what I have at home is all natural colors and I needed a little something for detail. I picked up a book about knitting and a lovely set of hooks in various sizes for fixing my knitting mistakes. I am really happy with my purchases. The staff there is young, peppy and very helpful. If you get a chance drop in.

I am settling in for my selfish knitting part of the year now. I still have the button wrap on the needles not quite half finished. It will be done soon - bulky yarn and mostly stockinette. Probably I will have yarn left over for mittens and maybe even a cozy hat. Next up Shana's vest, then the poncho which will be my Rhinebeck Sweater, a sport weight Hunter Hammerstein, and a big lace weight shawl for me, interspersed with sock knitting. I'm hoping to have enough yarn for some kind of a cowl to go with the poncho. I have about 300 extra yards, so there is a chance. I am not planning a sweater this year. The lace weight shawl will be my "hard" project.

I'll have to check out last year's goals and compare them to what I have actually been able to do. I think I will have fallen short on a few things. As always!

Friday, December 18, 2015

At Last.

Holy Cow, it's been a long time since I posted. I kept seeing the title of my last post show up in comments and thought there was surely something wrong because I never go that long without posting. Shows what I know.

I've been knitting heavily since my last post, and nearly all I made were Christmas gifts. I think I made nineteen this year, including one crochet project and one needle felted item. nearly all were small in terms of yardage used, but many were fiddly knits that took time. I did finish on time, with plenty of time for shipping, but next year I should really rethink the gross number of knitted gifts! This is pretty much as many as I can manage, and I had to take off a couple of days near the end because of sore hands. I don't like to start earlier than July for gifts, but maybe... For wrapping I had a fair amount of ribbon but no fancy prefab bows, so I used my extra time making pom poms and origami package decorations, plus embellishments cut out from Christmas cards I received last year. Because there is no such thing as too much to do. Because I have lost my mind.

I thought my first project after the holiday portion of the knitting was done might be a vest I promised Shana, but because I am going out of town next week I have decided to start that after I get home from Denver. I want to be sure of a good fit, and that will be more likely if I have the recipient close by. I have had a few more custom requests from a certain family member, but they are pretty small items (boot toppers, neck warmers) which I can squeeze in before or during the vest.  I probably have yarn for boot toppers in my stash right now, and maybe even something suitable for a neck warmer. Right now I am concentrating on a few little items for myself, especially things I want for the coming winter. I have done a super bulky hat and cowl for myself with yarn I bought at Rhinebeck - each took one evening including winding the yarn into balls. Just a palate cleanser to prepare for my winter selfish knitting. Next up are four projects, three of which are already on the needles: A sport weight rectangular shawl from Hunter Hammerstein's new book (not cast on yet, but may be tonight), a plain sock with yarn Sami gave me for my birthday two years ago, a square lace shawl, and a button wrap of a rather improvised design using yarn of uncertain provenance. That yarn is from sheep owned by an erstwhile neighbor of a lady in my Monday knitting group. She likes a soft and elegant yarn; this yarn is quite rustic. It's a lot like Fancy Tiger's Heritage, but a little tighter spun and bulky weight, with a little variation in the dye. Very sheepy, scratchy in the ball but not bad after washing. I did a proper swatch including washing for this one, and weighed it out to see what kind of yardage I have. It will make a cozy and rustic shawl.

Of projects for which I have purchased yarn - three, plus a pattern for which I need 1300 yards of bulky yarn in a single color, and which is destined to be my Rhinebeck "sweater" . It's really a poncho. The new year has not started yet and I may have already bit off more than I can chew.

Anyway, some Holiday Cheer:

Monday, October 19, 2015

My Rhinebeck Weekend

After years of planning (and even more years of wishing) I finally got to go to the New York State Sheep and Wool Festival, usually referred to by knitters as "Rhinebeck" because the Dutchess County Fairgrounds that hosts the festival is in Rhinebeck New York. I generally describe it to non-knitters as Woodstock for Knitters, which makes people think it must be really niche, but their average attendance over the two day run is 30,000 people, mainly women, and mainly knitters and crocheters. The festival features all sorts of fiber animals, from llamas to angora rabbits, and every use of fiber animals from lace shawls to lamb sausages. It doesn't hurt a bit that the festival takes place in the stunning Hudson River Valley where fall color is peaking and the weather is generally crisp and cool. There was actually a bit of snow there during the weekend.

Mohair Goats
Sea Colors Yarn
The raw numbers of attendees are impressive of course, but Rhinebeck's importance in knit culture is not just in the numbers. I don't think the importance of this and other regional festivals in the rising interest in single breed yarns can be overstated. The concentration of enthusiasts makes it possible for farms specializing in rare breeds, organic dyes, natural colored fibers, and other specialty products to find a ready market for their wares. Local farms sell raw fleeces, and yarns that may be spun and processed at the farm or at small regional mills. There are mule spun yarns, something that a very few mills can produce, and handspun yarns, yarns dyed in seawater or unusual fiber combinations. These are not yarns produced in commercial quantities. Some are otherwise available only online, or at one or two local yarn shops. Some of the hand dyed yarns really require selection in person as the variation from skein to skein is substantial. Without the regional festivals no one would know enough about the products to seek them out. Vendors of fiber tools find a ready market there as well. Buttons, spinning tools and processing tools are sold there. There are also classes, book signings; sheep dog and shearing demonstrations draw crowds. Vendors of buttons and project bags who generally sell mainly on Etsy have the opportunity to get their wares in front of a large group of buyers who will be able to order with confidence online after getting a hands on introduction to the products. Some yarn stores had booths. Although the stores were selling some commercially made yarns there was a big demand for their products too - not every yarn is sold at every store and this is a great opportunity to take advantage of a selection of yarns and tools not available in your area. This year there were over 260 vendors. The fact that sales were brisk can be judged by the fact that there were long lines at nearly every booth all day.

Fiber Enthusiasts
The best part for the attendees is enjoying a weekend of knit culture. There is the tradition of the "Rhinebeck Sweater" - a garment knit to debut at the festival. Because patterns go in and out of style there is usually a particular sweater that appears in many iterations and versions in any given year. There are also many one of a kind sweaters to enjoy. Knitters stop each other to compliment the wearers' lovely garments and accessories, discuss the quality and oddities of the patterns and yarn used, and make friends. I noticed a large number of shawls on display, many more than there were scarves. Cables and other textured stitches adorned many hats. There are some hats whose patterns will soon be in my library based on how great they looked "on the hoof". Knitters of all ages interact as equals over the shared obsession that will bring thousands to a fiber festival. Many make it a girls' weekend and share hotel rooms for a weekend yarn party.

I've wanted to go for years. I had not lived near enough before to make the trip feasible (although I visited with a knitter from the UK in the coffee line!), but as soon as I started planning to move to the East Coast it became a possibility to consider. A local friend and I made plans a bit over a year ago to make it happen. I did not want to try staying in the area for my first trip (hotel costs are huge), but several local yarn stores in the region sponsor bus day trips and that's what we chose to do. We took the bus from Webs, a wonderful yarn store in western Massachusetts. We drove in the day before, shopped at Webs, and down the street at Northampton Wools, a lovely shop just down the street from our chosen lunch spot. We stayed the night a few blocks away and the next day we were on the bus at 7:00 am & on the road to Rhinebeck.

My haul. That's a tote bag made of a chicken chow bag, not a bag of chicken chow!
Wanda and I had separately pored over the vendor list, visited the vendor websites, and made our list of booths to visit. Our lists were oddly similar, so we shopped in roughly the same buildings most of the time, although we did not make the same purchases. We were both mainly interested in  purchasing yarns from smaller farms and spinneries that are not widely available, and investigating commercial yarns that are not sold in our area. Once you have seen and felt a brand of yarn you have a better idea what to expect if you order on line. My purchases mostly reflected what I had intended for the weekend, including some for gifts and a sweater vest I promised to knit for Shana. Good thing I had a budget and a plan firmly in mind! I've been buying very little yarn for more than a year with an eye to buying something special at Rhinebeck.

Mohair goat - the goat obsession continues unabated

The number of booths and yarns was a bit overwhelming for a first time visitor, and Sunday I spent hours looking over pictures posted by others who attended. While the fairgrounds is not large, the booths are numerous and filled with loads of diverse products. Going back to others' pictures reinforces what I saw and extended the experience. I'll be going back to some of the pictures again for sure. My initial review - well worth the trip. We had a blast!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Feel the Bern

It's long, but if you can't get to a rally maybe you'll want to hear the whole thing. He's not getting as much media coverage as Hilary Clinton's emails, but supporters are turning out in droves.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Notes From Flyover Country

Ann's Chicken Fry House
I currently live on Cape Cod, but I was born in Ohio, moved around the south and southern plains for a while, then lived in Oklahoma City for thirty-four years. I was not my ideal place for me to live; its politics are miles from my liberal Democratic roots, and my marriage was not recognized there until the issue was forced by a Supreme Court decision. Still, there is much to love out there in the southern plains, and I miss some things a lot. I still have family there, for one thing.

I was listening today to a podcast by some people I like and respect - chefs and friends of chefs who live in Los Angeles. People who might go to (really) a special event consisting of an entire tasting menu of Okonomiyaki (Japanese cabbage pancakes) because they are interested in the chef. I'm not mentioning the podcast because I like it and the authors. I will listen again, and it's my own fault because the theme song gives away the hipness of their tastes: a drum solo like the one prominently featured in "Birdman" last year. So hip they can't see over their own pelvises (Thank you Douglas Adams). The topic today was chain restaurants, and a remark was made that it was a revelation when traveling across America that there was nothing they could eat. That went all over me, to use the vernacular of flyover country. Granted the middle of the country is not as screamingly chic as either coast, but there is no excuse for that attitude. For one (small) thing, since moving to Massachusetts I find that it's hard to come up with some of the (food) necessities of life: decent tortillas, biscuits and gravy, fried chicken, soul food, Mexican pastries, south Asian groceries, breakfast cut pork chops, grits, properly cooked hash browns or fried potatoes, chilis, properly cooked barbecue,  you get the picture. I have also dined at many fine restaurants and smaller places in the middle of the country where the food was perfectly cooked with skill and love. If the only place they went to eat was Denny's it's not the fault of the towns they passed through; it was their own fault.

I don't live there anymore, but it offended me to think that one could cut down a whole part of the country based on whether or not they were able to provide for the taste buds of a spoiled and lazy picky eater.

Proper biscuits & gravy