March 1, 2011

March Madness

When I woke up yesterday morning, it was freezing cold and raining. But not just raining. It sounded like someone was hovering outside the bedroom window, pelting it with ice shards. A specter, with this message: Guess what? It's still the bleak midwinter here in central PA, and you're wide awake at 5 am. The specter was right. Our yard was a giant, semi-frozen puddle of sludge. Snuffy would not go out, and Lucy stood in the rain, baffled by the thunder and shivering.

Oh, we got a puppy in August - she's 3/4 Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, 1/4 Cocker Spaniel. I had been pining for a long-haired dachshund whom I would name Mr. Peanut, but it was not to be. After reading this blog for a while, I was smitten. Our Lucy came from a local puppy mill breeder, but I feel okay about it. Pennsylvania hearts puppies now, because of new laws that say we can't stack 'em five high in wire cages anymore.

But I digress.

When I woke up this morning, the sun was shining brilliantly. I heard birds. The sky was so blue it made my teeth hurt. Timmy left the house in a bright green Springtime tie, which is a sure sign that change is coming. You couldn't design a more different day from yesterday if you tried. Last night we watched Factory Girl - ugh. But tonight? How about Meet Me in St. Louis? Or the Music Man? I half-expected a marching band to come down Allegheny Street. Happy March 1st!! It was that kind of day.

Today is Robert Lowell's birthday. I know this because I read it on the teeny tiny screen of my iPhone, courtesy of the Writers' Almanac, along with the facts of his life. The sudden change in weather seemed very fitting to me, because of his manic-depressive illness. His madness, to use the old term. I have always loved Lowell's poems, which manage to achieve compression and expansion all at once, the language and the emotion. They also make my teeth hurt, but in a good way.

Where am I going with all this?

Well, I also had one of the knitter's moments in which you cross from darkness into light. All winter, I've been knitting gray items. Some wrist warmers, a toddler sweater, an infinity scarf for myself. All grayish. At best, vaguely tan. But, as I was trolling around on Ravelry yesterday, I came across this. It seemed like a small moment of kismet, because I'm currently knitting another of Veera's designs, Golden Wheat, also to die for. Only mine is more Brownish Wheat. Generally, I'm not a shawl knitter. When I revealed this developing plan to Heather, she just said,"you love sock yarn." Which is true. But I never knit socks, because I always end up breaking those skinny needles, like Frankenstein or Jake LaMotta would, if either ever started knitting.

This shawl spoke to me. It said: Guess what? You have the yarn! Now, I don't have the called-for yarn, which would be the best of all possible scenarios. To be dumbstruck by a pattern and actually have the exact yarn in your stash? That has never happened to me. Has that ever happened to anyone?

Anyway, I remembered two skeins of madelinetosh sock yarn that have been buried under the heap of gray. Actually, the red was buried. The blue has been sitting on my dresser since December. The prospect of not having to launch an manic, exhaustive search for the perfect yarn nearly did me in. What more could I want - more kismet? The colorways are Thunderstorm and Tart.

July 2, 2010

iPhone Friday

I have mixed feelings about my iPhone. Like all things Mac, I love its nifty design and sleek surface, and the fact that it allows me to play Scrabble endlessly wherever I find myself. I love that I can record cryptic little messages for my ears only, like "two boxes of baking soda", or "dog toothpaste." However, I am hopelessly out of touch with the world of apps, to the point that my father took one look at my iPhone, gave a little laugh and said - boy, you really don't have any apps on this thing, do you? No, Mr. Who-wants-to-see-my-new-iPad, I guess I don't.

Also, since last Christmas, the volume button has been stuck in the down position, so the phone never rings. Or chimes when somebody's a-textin' me. I took it to the Bar and had the Geniuses put their heads together. One went to the back room, like a car salesman going to confer with his manager, (i.e., to have a smoke) and came back to tell me, sadly, that there was no way to fix it. I'd have to upgrade. This news caused Timmy's eyes to light up -- could he try to take it apart? No sir, you cannot.

Why, you ask? That would be fun for Timmy, and interesting to see the inner workings of the iPhone. At the very least, I could let Charlie run over it with his skateboard and make an awesome YouTube video.

Because the thing I love most about the iPhone is the camera. I am extremely camera-challenged, and feel very intimidated when people start talking about f/stop and shutter speed. The iPhone is the perfect camera - I am always pleasantly surprised by the photos I am able to take with it, and there is nothing to do but point and shoot. I think of the iPhone as a camera on which I occasionally make phone calls, and which frequently challenges me to a game of Scrabble.

Given the fact that my iPhone is currently at a wedding with Maudie, I thought I would leave you with a photo taken on my last visit to HP. My mom and I were particularly taken with this creepy doll, probably because she has two very similar creepy dolls and this one seemed to cry out for its landsmen. My dad, slightly repelled, wandered off, engrossed no doubt, in the latest app.

April 8, 2010

Just Us Chickens

I write to you today from the attic, where I am safely ensconced, away from the five 13- and 14- year olds who have taken over the first and second floors of my house. Maudie and two friends are having a Gilmore Girls Marathon (they're on Season 7, thank God) and Charlie and his friend are in his room, blasting death metal and chugging Monsters. I really like this friend of Charlie's because a) he's smart and funny, b) he can talk to adults, and c) recently he was grounded from drinking any Monster at all for two weeks, a punishment he endured with great aplomb. I guess really I should also like his mother for that one. So I do.

They had to come in, due to the rain, otherwise they'd be skateboarding. The girls would be outside "tanning" in bikinis, telling me not to worry, they're wearing sunscreen. Fair enough. I never really thought of myself as the Mother Hen type, but I do like to have a bunch of kids around, and I'd much rather have them here than elsewhere. I used to fear that I would become "an old hen with one chick", and I guess in some ways I am just that. One chick and one step-chick.

For a few years, I was really having a hard time with this tween to teen transition. I was sad to see them leave grade school, embrace technology, grow as tall and taller than me, get cell phones, and "develop", to use a creepy 70s-style health class term. For some reason, in the last six months or so, it's okay. Which is good, because it's not like I have a choice in the matter.

gartercardi for ez
Raveled here.

Also, they both rejected all hand knits during that period, which is probably a good thing in terms of their social lives, and as Heather would say, street cred. Maudie did ask for a slouchy hat last October, but she had Swine Flu at the time, so it may have been the fever talking. Conveniently, her baby sister Esmee is now almost two, and when I gave her this little sweater last month, she literally jumped up and down and immediately put it on. Has anyone every jumped up and down upon receiving a hand-knitted gift from you? It was the first time for me, but I really hope it happens again.

Oh, about the knitting. When my parents were here at Easter, my mom and I spent a lot of time knitting, laughing about knitting and most of all, reminiscing about knitters we have known. In the old days, before the Internet made it possible to befriend other knitters in far-flung locations, your knitting friends were local, i.e., the women you met sitting at the knitting table at your LYS. There was a kind of dance-with-him-what-brung-ya mentality -- find your pal at this table, or go without. Of course, this was hit or miss, but my mom did make many interesting and in some cases lifelong friends this way.

One such friend, Judy, was one of my favorites. She was totally fabulous, with a chic curly bob, pearl chokers and tons of cashmere sweaters. She took a trip to Paris every year with her girlfriends. She was like the cool, funky grandmother everyone wished they had. She was very funny and upfront and would often pull me aside and say things like, "Barbie (my mother's friends still call me that), since it's just us chickens, how do you really feel about living two blocks from your parents?"

Although she's gone now, I have in my possession a sweater she knitted maybe 20 years ago. It's a super-bulky cardigan in a rich grey-plum color with pockets and a belt. I think she made up the pattern as she went along. This garment succeeds in being functional, fashionable and does not, as many bulky knits tend to do, make the wearer look like the Sta-Puft Marshmallow Man. Judy also once spent an entire winter knitting a stash-busting striped scarf -- Dr. Who-style. I think the thing is about 10 feet long. That scarf is in my ex-husband's possession.

So, today, it's all good. This summer my chicks both turn 14. I leave you with pictures of them from Tom's and my wedding, almost six years ago.


March 26, 2010

Flash & Yearn

Hello again!

I was trying to go a whole year between blog posts, but I just couldn't do it. So here I am, thanks to some serious prodding from Timmy, and a gentle nudge from a gentle reader.

Anyway, a while back, when we still had Blockbuster Online, I was searching around for a good movie. The kind that makes you glad you have an online service, as opposed to the kind you let languish for three weeks in the bowl with the bananas. I can't remember the movie that caught my eye, but I do remember that it was categorized as one of many Obsessive Quests. As I browsed around, I realized that I was drawn to Obsessive Quests, in the much the same way I was drawn to Crumbling Marriages, Dying Young, and of course, Witnessing a Crime.

In my time, I have been witness to any number of Obsessive Quests: Ornamental Grasses, N-Scale Model Railroad, 5 Gum, Bakelite Cherries, Beaujolais Nouveau, Flipping Off All Extant Cement Mixers, just to name a few. Most poets, also, live for the Obsessive Quest. Do I even need to mention knitters and their obsessive quests? The Socks That Rock Booth at Rhinebeck comes to mind. Malabrigo, Pigeonroof, Sundara anyone?

Tea Leaves
First picture of Tea Leaves.

My most recent Obsessive Quest? The Tea Leaves Cardigan, hands down. I swatched. I calculated. I planned. This is possibly my favorite hand knit. Ever. Never mind the entirely cabled cardigan from Vogue Knitting I made (out of Maratona) in the 80s while watching Reds over and over again from a king-sized water bed. Goodbye, February Lady Sweater and all other viral knits! This pattern took hold of me like nothing else. And then it was done. I missed it so much, I made a toddler-sized garter yoke cardi in the same yarn. I thought of Berryman, and all those Dream Songs. I flashed and yearned.

I know Heather felt the same way. On a Wednesday, she texted me that she was only 2 inches below the armholes - complete with frowny face. Sunday morning? The text said -- it's blocking (smiley).

Last picture of O W L S.

Borne along by my Tea Leaves success, it was onward and upward to O W L S. My new love. I yearned for this sweater. Yes, I swatched. I planned, I knitted on, through Swine Flu, Thanksgiving and Christmas. And yet, it was big. The back poofed. I sewed on all 38 button eyes during the Super Bowl. The sleeves sagged. I blocked, I soaked, I threw it in the dryer. It still wasn't right. I frogged. Because, as we now know, knitting is ripping and ripping is knitting. My Quest seemed for naught.

But that's the nature of the Obsessive Quest -- dazzling highs and punishing lows. Probably the same is true of Marriage and Crime. It's Spring and so to my Quest. After weeks of stewing over it all, whining to anyone who will listen, and weighing the relative merits of size 36 vs 38, I'm ready. I've bought new yarn, printed out a fresh copy of the pattern and obsessively check the project gallery on Ravelry for newly finished sweaters. Because I really want that sweater. Hopefully, the second time's the charm.

August 19, 2009

Inch by Inch, Row by Row

When Maudie was a little girl, she loved that song. We listened to it and sang along with Peter Paul and Mary. A lot. We didn't have a garden then, but at least we had middle-aged hippies to sing to us about a garden.

One of the great things about living where we do is that although we are landlocked, our area is mostly rural. If we drive for about ten minutes, we're whizzing past Amish buggies and acres and acres of farmland.

I never really had a garden before I married Timmy. He's a natural gardener, dedicated and meticulous. He builds the raised beds, makes the compost, plans and plants, and is out there every day doing the work. I'm the cook and tentative canner, and I love preparing and eating what we grow. Last night I picked some green beans, and 15 minutes later we were eating them. We call these "Moosewood Moments", in homage to the tried-and-true hippie classic. This year we doubled the size of the garden. We've got kale that I hope we'll be eating until Thanksgiving, beets, carrots, cucumbers, corn, and for the first time, blackberries.

We've also got tomatoes in all shapes and sizes -- Roma, cherry, Pink Lady, Mr. Stripey. This morning we also learned we've also got Late Blight.

Last night I was reading Erin's post about her own garden, and I showed it to Timmy. He assured me that, no, we didn't have it. This morning he came back from walking the dog and told me, that yes, we do have it. What a bummer.

As for knitting, I've been working on Ishbel, my first-ever shawl. After months of turning up my nose at shawls (and secretly feeling intimidated by the lace), I finally cast on with some gorgeous Malabrigo Sock yarn in Abril. I'm now completely hooked. I love the concentration this kind of knitting requires, how you really feel the inch by inch and row by row of it. And then, after seeing it as groups of stitches, the finished product blooms into something amazing; proof that the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.

I leave you with some canning shots, a fun afternoon spent with Heather and my pal Peeper-lou making tasty, but not so crispy, pickles.

May 16, 2009

Five Minutes

I realize that I am perhaps the last known knit blogger to post about Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, but I am coming to terms with the fact that I am a late bloomer as well as a procrastinator. I can't say enough about this book.

The recipes are simple and elegant, and the bread is to die for. The basic recipe has four ingredients; that recipe alone is worth the price of the book. Earlier this week, I ventured into uncharted territory: enriched breads. First, plain brioche. Today: Chocolate Prune Brioche. Having just had the first slice, I can safely say that Chocolate + Prunes + Brioche = Heaven.

Knitting? Well, a little. Yesterday Heather and I spent a lovely afternoon knitting, lunching and chatting on the back porch. She's doing a fabulous springtime shawl; I'm about ready to seam the sleeves of the Top-Down Vine Lace Cardigan and pick up the collar. Yes, this sweater will be finished just in time to wear it for an hour next week in the early morning, and then pack it up for next fall.

Hmmmm. Rather than thinking of it as a sweater that never got finished for this winter, I'll think of it as early knitting for next fall.

March 25, 2009

Blocking for Dollars

I have finished Talia, but cannot show it off just yet. I thought it was blocked, but when I put it on this morning, I realized that it is not blocked enough. It grew very nicely length-wise and the lace opened beautifully. But the width. That's another story.

It goes around me, but with buttons actually buttoned, not so much. Sausage casing comes to mind. I could wear it open -- like Rhoda Morgenstern -- but this was not the look I was going for. It just dawned on me that maybe steam blocking might help with the width -- I'm keeping my fingers crossed. It also dawned on me that maybe there is something to that formula or theory that one should weight within ten pounds of one's high school graduation weight. I'm not keeping my fingers crossed for that one.

In the midst of this blocking problem, I also remembered that at Rochelle's shop, they had a finisher. You left the piece or pieces of knitting at the shop, and a week or two later you picked up the finished garment! It was sewn together, perfectly blocked, and fit like a dream! At least that's how I remember it. I never thought of the poor knitter, probably woefully underpaid and squinting under a bare bulb at her dining room table, all to do the grunt work on someone else's sweater.

The last time I asked a shop owner whether she had a finisher, she looked at me balefully and said, Well, I guess that would be me. Then there was an awkward pause. That was ten years ago. So, I've learned to sew and block, and even pick up stitches at the neckline, although it does scare me. I always imagine that having completed the bulk of the knitting, I will now somehow ruin the sweater with shoddy blocking and finishing.

Instead, I can show you two items that required zero blocking: a Tender Blankie for a friend's new baby, and a pair of red mittens for the big sister.