Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hey! A book review

Despite the name of this blog, I don't often write about what I'm reading. Sometimes it's because I'm employing the "grab and go" method at the library, which can yield some interesting book choices. For example, I just finished what can only be called a romance novel, set in Amish Pennsylvania, with a mystery. But the romance stunk, the mystery literally was never solved, and it was wooden in concept and execution. Fortunately I read very quickly so I could indulge myself and finish it.

I can't knit on the mitten welt while I read, but I can read out loud to a child while I spin, if it's a book I'm familiar with, so that's been a help.

There is a book I chose for my usual library sprint reason, which is liking either the title or the cover. On this one, I liked both.
This one grabbed me right from the beginning, partly because it started with the last three stanzas of a poem that sang. True confession time: I'm a long-term English major who doesn't like poetry. It always felt like a dirty secret in school -- who doesn't like poetry -- but I didn't.

Now that I don't have to like it, there are sometimes poems that fly under my radar and just work. I may actually look up more of this poet's work.

So anyhow, this book shouldn't be the kind I liked. It deals with unbelievable pain, geographic dislocation, environmental change and pressure, a fracturing family, and did I mention pain? And it was, in fact, difficult to read.

But it reminded me what art is sometimes -- the transforming of pain into lucent beauty. So if you are looking for a read that is so beautifully crafted that the painful subject is worthwhile, check out this one.

I also got honey from my friend's underperforming hive today. We decided that they're underachiever bees, but we did meet her neighbor who is keeping five top bar hives just down the street. So that was a sweetness above and beyond finally rewarding her patience with honey.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


Summer feels well and truly gone.

I know that Labor Day is a traditional "end of summer" marker for most people, but we don't really notice that. It's more subtle. We'll not stop doing things like swimming at the lakes -- homeschooling means that we can get wet any time the temperature cooperates. (The children have a very different idea of what that temperature is than I do.)

It's just that the pace has changed. I sat down with my calendar and penciled in all of the commitments that I knew of so far -- and odds are good that I'm missing a few. I've even tried to start using my Yahoo! calendar as email reminders might actually prompt me to get to the paper calendar and confirm. I hate it when my distractability causes me to go to an event at the wrong time or place, or worse, miss it completely. It doesn't help that August and September are the birthday months around here -- what is it, holiday celebrations or something? So I have to remember all of the attendant activities around those, which lately include intricate cards made of duct tape. Not by me, fortunately.

I'm wrapping up old classes -- two out of three are graded and "in the can," and I've set up for my new ones which begin next week, so there has been a lot of caretaking and preparing. I'm trying to remember to knit, and to sit at the spinning wheel and feel the thinness of the yarn I'm making flow across my fingers. Some days I have to actually say out loud, "This is not wasting time. Making yarn is important, as important as washing dishes, at least." Guess who's fighting her worthiness demons lately?

We also had my nephews overnight this past week. That is a big couple of days of activity -- two more children, stair-stepped in with mine, agewise, and close enough to jostle for precedence like siblings.

The bill is coming due for some of us.

Thing 1 or the nephews brought home some sort of cold virus last week. My eldest deals with things by being quiet and taking care of herself, and strewing the house with tissues (eeeeewwww). I may resort to taping bags to her wrists so she always has a place to put them. I know she's working on it, though, because when reminded, she either uses a bag or gathers swiftly.

I'm not catching a cold, even though my nose and head beg to differ. I'm feeling okay, so maybe it is a mild form that I have some sort of immunity to. This morning was a really strong, swift set of sprints. Something must be going well, because I had two good 3.5 mile runs this week, and the last interval today felt as though I was being pulled toward the end of that sycamore "tunnel" I run down, or as though I was a subway car on a track. Quite a rush.

The other kids seem okay, just maybe a little under the weather.

But Thing 4 only has three years' worth of immune responses under her belt. I knew she was sick, because she sounds like an aging starlet who's smoked for years, and because when we played puppies today, she asked to be taken to the vet. Unlike the puppy named Sandy, having her nails trimmed isn't going to fix her today.

This afternoon, we were lying on the couch since we'd done most of the big work today demanded, and she was flopping around and sounding very unhappy. She also felt cold, and wanted a sweater, then a blanket.

I'm not the fastest-thinking mother in the world, but it finally dawned on me -- I felt her forehead. She's running enough of a fever to feel badly. Reminds me of the time we threw a big party and Thing 2 was so sick that she would wander out from our bedroom to the party room, then fall asleep on one of us, and we'd put her back in bed, and an hour and a half later, she'd repeat the performance. I think she slept about 20 hours that day.

The laptop screen shielded her face from my view when it dawned on me that she wasn't moving so much and had stopped "talking."

I hope this sleep restored her and the fever and she can work together to build a good immune response for other colds.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Spreading joy through goofiness

People smiled at me today. While I was biking home from my errand, picking up tissues for the sick noses in the house and some hair conditioner, I collected grins from people all along my route.

Come to think of it, those "smiles" started when I carried my purchases to the check-out line at the drug store. Actually, they started when I dropped some of what I was carrying but couldn't see to pick the items up because I had a stack of tissue boxes balanced between my bike helmet and my chin.

Then they increased -- to the point of actual laughter -- when, eschewing a bag (who needs more plastic bags?), I carried my purchases out to the bike trailer. Hey! That guy was laughing at me!

Oh well, trying to do my environmental bit is worth being laughed at, I suppose. But now that I think of it, without hair conditioner, my long, in-need-of-a-cut-badly hair sort of Bozos out of my bike helmet.

Maybe those folks weren't technically smiling at me.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Hot Hot Hot

I don't know why it comes as a shock every single year, but after our lovely cool summer with morning fog and afternoon sun, followed by perfect, breezy evenings, the heat starts creeping up in late summer, peaking in September/October. If the level of flopping around and moaning means anything, we're just not used to this. Or prepared, apparently.*

My sister called yesterday, full of indignation. "It's going to be hot. Really hot. Let's go swimming."

The entire reason we buy passes for the regional parks is so we can swim as much as we want to, so it would seem that we have at least a faint consciousness that it's going to warm up. Yet I'm still shocked every year, and so is she. We went swimming anyhow.

Her friend threw the children high in the air:

They rolled in the incredibly dirty sand to warm up,

and Thing 1's hair did that crazy thing where it dries like hay.

I found that unbelievably funny.

It looks much nicer today.

Finally, I got to try the pieces of Cobblestone together near my sister and determine that they're probably going to work with a yoke to make an entire sweater. But I'm not taking them to park day today. It's just too hot to sit outdoors with a pound of tweedy wool in my lap.

I think I'll cast on for a second snail mitten instead. I may be confused, but I do acknowledge that it's going to get cold again. Just not soon enough.

*Fire season began early this year and is poised to be very bad, and very scary. Spare a prayer for those in harm's way and those who will be fighting the inevitable blazes.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Even when it's not what I would have done

It's important for me to be consciously thankful.

Thing 1 is very very cooperatively playing with her little sister so I can set up my new classes online. Schoolwork is done; folks are scattered around, and I'm sitting in my room and working. My focus isn't great -- I do better if I'm locked into a room in the library with few distractions outside the ones in my head -- but I can manage in this quiet, darkened space.

The two at home have been doing different kinds of things to play, from bouncing a ball, to reading, to tickling, to hide and seek, all outside of my area. Then I heard, "Let's play you chase me and try to catch me," and Thing 1 then zips past my bedroom, through the kitchen, through the little ones' bedroom, through the bathroom, and like a pair of young buffalo, they career through my "work space."

A moment of irritation -- this isn't what I had in mind, and I'm so not good at multitasking. And then I look at them and hear the hilarity. She's really trying to cooperate.

Plus, the thirteen year old wears out. Immediately after, I heard this exchange, "Let's play I lie on the floor and you be quiet."

Talking turkey

Last night, Thing 1, Eric and I got to try to plug up the gaps in the poultry retention system. The turkeys are much more committed to escape than the chickens ever were, maybe because they're tree-roosters. Maybe I should have paid much more attention to Esperanza's experiences. We haven't had any walkabouts since one hen wandered off a couple of years ago, but the turkeys got into a neighbor's garden and made enough of an impact that he wasn't thrilled.

We promised to get them under control, and thought we had.

Then we saw this last night:

They kept leaping to the top of the coop, wedging their snaky neck heads under the wire, and wandering about on top of the run roof.

Since the bees were nicely tucked up in bed, we could run all over the poultry yard, wiring together any gaps. I hope it helps. Thing 1's maniacal giggling did not help.

Later, I was bemoaning something -- my lost youth or beauty, and Eric wrapped me in his arms.

"I think you're wildly attractive," he said. "In fact, you've completely reset my type."

I looked at him. "Really?"

"Yes. Now I like them . . . sort of skinny, and kind of . . . brown."

"What was your type before?"


It's good to have standards, I suppose.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

I have not had too much of picking

Our "school year" has started. What it's looked like so far is a wonderful "bat overnight," where we camped out at a local regional park and talked about bats and made gliders to illustrate principles of flight and played with sticks and looked for bats and watched bats wheel and dive and listened to stories around a campfire and ate marshmallows and played with little siblings and the parents laughed and talked and went to get good coffee in the morning because, hey, if you're camping in a city known for good food, why not?

One of the nicest parts of the overnight was that some folks who weren't in the homeschooling group came -- some without kids, but with a kid-like substitute.

She was a hit.

And the first day of "book work" went okay -- spelling, math, reading lessons, and some history of the labor movement in the United States. Mother Jones, anyone? Guess who's interested in that? I'm so excited I can hardly function. Reminds me a little bit of my friend and her enthusiastic learning style. There are so many fascinating spots right around where we live where workers and employers clashed, often violently, to secure the rights my children take for granted. As a parent educator, I also get to interrogate my own understanding of history and current events and try very hard to move beyond less-helpful dualisms like "good/bad," or "noble/money-grubbing" and look at how power corrupts almost everyone who wields it, historically.

Of course, no late-summer day would be complete without a trip to get more blackberries. New friends came, and a lovely afternoon of wishing I had a harvest hover craft ensued. Fourteen cups of the lovelies are right now tucked into the downstairs chest freezer awaiting the alchemy of the jam pot.

In classic family style, I ignored the pain in one of my toes the entire afternoon. I must have hit it on something, I assumed. It wasn't until I'd gotten home and changed my clothes that I found the dagger-like blackberry thorn under my toenail. Hmmm. Maybe a high pain tolerance isn't always a good thing.

And since it's Tuesday, it's farmer's market, tea, and poetry day. I think I'll read this one, in honor of yesterday's harvest:

After Apple Picking

My long two-pointed ladder's sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there's a barrel that I didn't fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn't pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.
Essence of winter sleep is on the night,
The scent of apples: I am drowsing off.
I cannot rub the strangeness from my sight
I got from looking through a pane of glass
I skimmed this morning from the drinking trough
And held against the world of hoary grass.
It melted, and I let it fall and break.
But I was well
Upon my way to sleep before it fell,
And I could tell
What form my dreaming was about to take.
Magnified apples appear and disappear,
Stem end and blossom end,
And every fleck of russet showing clear.
My instep arch not only keeps the ache,
It keeps the pressure of a ladder-round.
I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend.

And I keep hearing from the cellar bin
The rumbling sound
Of load on load of apples coming in.
For I have had too much
Of apple-picking: I am overtired
Of the great harvest I myself desired.
There were ten thousand thousand fruit to touch,
Cherish in hand, lift down, and not let fall.
For all
That struck the earth,
No matter if not bruised or spiked with stubble,
Went surely to the cider-apple heap
As of no worth.
One can see what will trouble
This sleep of mine, whatever sleep it is.
Were he not gone,
The woodchuck could say whether it's like his
Long sleep, as I describe its coming on,
Or just some human sleep.

-- Robert Frost

It's going to be a good year.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Searing and Spinning

One of my favorite recipes is a version of Szechuan green beans. Fresh, plump green beans straight from the farmer's market, tossed into a hot cast iron pan slicked with sesame oil. After about half the beans show some sear marks, add a good bunch of chopped garlic. Salt to taste and finish searing. I like the fact that "burnt" means "pretty darn good" in this version -- I can be my usual distracted self and still have a dish fit to yum down.

Good hot, cold, and in-between. Once I took a bag of these to a movie for my snack and the folks around me seemed to think I was teasing them with the good garlicky smell. Or else they were annoyed that it was competing with their popcorn. I didn't ask, but I haven't done that again.

Oh, I feel as though I need to explain. The chicken I slaughtered wasn't done for any random reason. One of the new "hens" we got for laying purposes developed quite a set of wattles and an impressive crow, which he exercised all day long, from 5:30 or so in the morning until the sun went down.

No matter what my back yard looks like, I live in a pretty regulated city, so a rooster is Not Okay. I did try to find him another home, in a nearby, less-uptight city. Also I had folks who called sanctuaries and other things to see if they could place him. Alas, no one could or did in the time allotted, and I was seriously concerned that if we had a complaint called in, I might have to do some fancy explaining about the beehives and the other fowl. So his fate was sealed. I didn't enjoy it, as I said, but I did think it was part of being responsible.


In more-pleasant topics, this is what is on my wheel now, in "Lavender Frost" from Girlontherocks. I had thought "socks" when I saw this, but as I'm spinning it seems to want to be a laceweight two-ply. Can something lacey be in my future?

Heh. Probably not if I'm responsible for knitting it. I just got another class for next term. The bank account's going to be happy, but I bet I don't get quite as much time with the needles as I might otherwise. And you know, with all of the other things in my head, I'm probably not going to be all that composed and knitterly for a while. I'll stick to nice, stockinetty-type projects.

After I finish my sister's Cobblestone and the other snail mitten, of course.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Basking in reflected competence

I had a fun morning today because I went to a breakfast hosted by one of the City Councilmembers where Eric works. I kept snickering to myself that it was "Take Your Spouse To Work Day," and kept telling myself that possibly no one there knew how to make paired increases and decreases, but there were many interesting people there.

I also enjoyed listening to the speaker, who was the reason I went. He'll have some impact on our family, I think.

And the nicest part of the whole thing, besides the hanging out together, was hearing Eric very publicly praised and lauded. I mean, I know he does good work, and I know there are people there who know it, but it was a pretty loud, big deal.


'Cause, we only see him like this usually:

And in the morning, he just gives the sugar out:

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

I'm not good with percentages

But this sweater has to be over 50% done. I even started sleeve number two without stopping for another snail mitten. The first one went quickly, so I'm sort of inspired.

But whatever will I do when the pumpkins are all harvested? See the powdery mildew? It's only a matter of time.

I know! Variegated sage?

No, rosemary.

Oh, here's the best idea. I'll use someone too small as a model.

I'm also all about the tubes lately, as I have a fun little project out of handspun on the needles, but I don't want to show that one until I'm all done, really. It should make a nice picture show.

And we bought three turkeys yesterday, destined for the holiday table, and I killed my first chicken today. It wasn't a lot of fun, but it was doable and I don't really want to talk too much about it.

I need a nap, though.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Daily Graces

For the unasked-for cup of tea

For the strength to run and run even when it's hard

For a child who talks

and talks

and talks

For an easy bee retrieval (that cable thing was full of bees who walked nicely into the box over night)

For healthy active children

For allowing myself to set proper parenting boundaries

For friends who keep in touch

For the bounty of the earth

For my spouse dealing with a challenging work situation with strength and patience

For the painful reminder that I have to remember sun protection

For discovering that I can't dwell on my own concerns if I'm also praying, "May their heart be well" about everyone I know

For waking up and realizing "It was only a dream"

For the ability to carry dish water to the compost bins

For remembering to say "Yes!" to the children more times than "No"

For my sister being so dear to me

For a close-by emergency room

For getting to knit with handspun

. . . may I be consciously grateful.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

You'd think I'd remember

To wear sunblock! I thought it was earlier in the day; I didn't think it was going to take that long, but picking blackberries with my spouse while I was wearing a yoga tank top probably wasn't the smartest thing I've done in a long time.

My shoulders just smart. I hardly ever sunburn, so this is a shock as well as painful. I suppose that religiously wearing a rashguard shirt has actually worked, so this was a first exposure for this skin.

Picking was lots of fun, and I have knitting to show as soon as I get pictures up. I did, however, ruin the jam.

They can't all be home runs.

Friday, August 15, 2008


It's not quite as bad as a television reality show, but I'm still in my robe, still on my bed (I did muster the gumption to make it), and the kids are foraging for their own breakfast.

They were rotten at bedtime last night, and this morning I read both papers in bed, and got the opportunity to read editorials out loud to the mister. I love that. Then I decided to start working without moving and only got up to make tea. It could be worse. I could be blogging, or reading updates of soap operas, I guess.

I'm not going to ignore them all day. Just get my work done, jump rope, shower, and then I'll finish cleaning the house, inside and out, for our guests tonight. I'm so excited about seeing these folks. One of the guys is a spinner, so I hope to get some tips on spinning thicker singles. Seems as I get thin down, I lose the capacity for thick. Sigh.

No photos today, for obvious reasons.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Such a cozy room

The older I get, the more layers the world seems to have, or maybe I'm just more attuned to the "To see a world in a grain of sand" opportunities that exist. Graduate school, though a misinformed choice in many ways, made my generally cheery heart even more so. There are people to whom the minutiae of Victorian architecture or the poetry of Yeats or the history of agricultural sharecroppers in the post-Civil war U.S. South are utterly engaging. Utterly.

While I don't share those particular obsessions, I'm so glad that the universe has depths such as that for folks to tread. Can you imagine how awful it would be if there weren't the kind of lovely interlacements so that one bit of discovery leads to another and another and whoops hey, we're discussing High German versus low, closed-system back yard gardening and the fluidity of identity.

A long way 'round to saying that I am delighted to have avocations I can use to strive for excellence. There is always more to learn, better physical execution of each movement. Or maybe, I just learn slowly and have lots of room for improvement.

235 yards of two-ply Blue Faced Leicester from GirlontheRocks in the Sirius colorway. I'm not happy about how muddy the colors turned out. I think I'm going to have to concentrate on tweeds and tone-on-tone blends in the future. And on consistency, apparently.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Quite a Day

Another cruddy run this morning -- who knows what's what? And then I didn't quite get around to taking a shower. . . instead, I cajoled the younger Things into picking more blackberries with me. Well, I packed some toys for them (next time, I'm bringing heavy-duty snacks) and I picked while they jumped around. I could always shower later, I figured.

A harvest-hovercraft has been a fantasy of mine for a long, long time. Something you lie facedown upon, with a forehead support and arms free, to garden, weed, or in this case, pick berries, while it moves up or down, probably controlled by toe movements -- that's what I needed today. These berry bushes are high, and even with a stepstool, reaching up through very old, very brambly berries cost me in lacerations.

Speaking of lacerations? After I made a batch of way too runny jam/waffle topping (mmmmmm, blackberries and powdered sugar, anyone? Allison?), the bigger girls came home from sailing and I was just about to make lunch when the dining room erupted with screams. On my way to the bathroom following the screamer, I noticed that there was a swath of what appeared to be jam all over the floor -- in a droplet/spray pattern.

Hmm, is that jam on the floor? Nope, it was, in fact, blood, the blood of my only son. Seems he was using a butter knife in an unapproved way and laid open his index finger about 1/3 of the way around, right above a bendy spot.

Channeling my sister, I said, "Get in the car," and off we went to our friendly local hospital and its blessedly inactive emergency room. I had called our pediatrician's office to see if they'd like to suture it, but they were closed for lunch.

While it took longer than we'd hoped, and there were tears, he was a great patient through three different nerve block needles, followed by much cleaning and then three stitches. Now I have to keep him clean and dry (ha ha ha ha) for at least five days, and the stitches in for ten.

Many people in the emergency department commented on the, erm, lack of cleanliness he exhibited. Since I know some boys go through an anti-hygiene stage, I'm not usually bothered by it. When I realized that he also had mismatching socks on and had dried blackberry jam in his hair, I felt a little worse. At least I'd changed from running/berrying clothes into a Suburban Mom Secret Agent costume, so no one called any government agencies on me.

Eric came home as soon as he could, and he and I did the "hi, honey, I'm so glad you could come, bye, I'll take this one, you take those" talk. It was a real treat to have him home during the day, even if it was because of something rough. Besides, he's sunburned from yesterday and needed a rest.

So, I didn't cook tonight but treated us to wraps and soup from the local joint, and spent my "oughta be grading" time plying. Now I have this somewhat muddy-colored two ply to measure tomorrow. It's not really floating in outer space, that's just the effect of a dimly-lit room on flash photography:

And I still haven't showered and must grade some papers tonight. I am truly and fully blessed.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Glory Days

I think that this is a day I'll look back on for a long, long time and think, "Yep, just about perfect." The children were themselves enough, especially on the way home, and I lost a bit of my temper when I got accidentally soaked to the knees washing off carelessly-dropped grapes, to keep it from unrealistic perfection.

But really, introducing Eric to a beach we all love, and enjoying the wonders of low tide at the pools, and just watching the Things run around freely, was blessing upon blessing.

I even got to knit -- with pelicans!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

No duplicate

Not only because it has some unique, erm, "design features" which I hope to have learned enough to skip on number two, but because I haven't done the accent duplicate stitches in yellow yet.

(My favorite pumpkin is beginning to get orange.) And finally, a closeup of the lumpiest (unblocked) two-color work in my house:

Next I'm going to cast on for the first Cobblestone sleeve, and use finishing that as a goal before I cast on for mitten number two. I hope I don't forget the lessons I learned on this first one by then!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Good day in the oven

Fortunately right now it's cool enough that running the oven off and on all day only damages our bill -- the house remains chilly almost all the time. (Don't worry, those of you who are sweltering, we'll get ours during what you refer to as "Fall.")

Granola first thing this morning, followed by bread and hamburger buns. I always forget to make them and have to buy them. I figured if I were making bread, I might as well make small breads at the same time:

The oven rested while I rode my bike to the grocery store. One of the things I like is that I never know who I'm going to see when I go there. Today it was an old neighbor, and we did the "Must get together" talk, and I hope we follow up. I ache for friends around here. I've been trying very hard not to drive in my town. It's relatively flat, the weather is lovely (I wonder how my commitment is going to feel during the rainy season), and I keep thinking of what a nice place to live this is, and how much nicer it would be if it felt like some college towns I've lived in, where bikes were the default mode.

It's easier to shop without a person in the trailer, though.

After dinner (lasagne from the oven, of course) we had the final bakeage -- my new best friend, Trader Joe, sells frozen puff pastry. Nectarines and blueberries fresh from the farm, no added sugar, my trusty oven, and a dessert fit for -- well anyone who works hard all day, at least: