Monday, January 31, 2011

All the fingers

But as of yet no thumbs.

With blocking, they'll be the same size, I assume. If I stay up after book club tonight (we're reading Kicked, Bitten and Scratched, a book I heartily recommend) and knit, I might get the thumbs done and perhaps the duplicate stitching.

Probably not.

However, since I knit about four total mittens this month, and almost have a pair done, I'm counting it good. Last night I began charting my next pair, and I can't wait to cast on for those.

Friday, January 28, 2011

I'd have worn them if they were done

Homeschoolers get to chaperone almost every field trip. This is big fun. Today was a marine preserve for tidepooling! Hooray!!

For a woman with, let's say, issues, about the coastline here, it was a pretty low-key day, safety-wise. This despite the official notices:

We saw many critters:

Who knew hermit crabs went in for the Southwestern jewelery look?

These lovely anemones get their green from algae which continues to photosynthesize inside of them.

Color inspiration was everywhere. Do you think the hermit crabs evaluate their potential houses on aesthetic grounds?

Mossy chitin.

After all of our research, and identifying creatures, and talking about tidal zones and why the rocks on the way to the coast were tipped to the side (hint: we're on a tidal plate), the real learning might have been social. How long can you play "Let's lasso each other" before someone gets hurt?

It was a bit chilly, though. If I had finished the mittens today, instead of just taking them along for a ride in the car, I might have worn them. Think I'll finish before the month is up? Yeah, I wonder too.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Eric always tells me, "In knitting you can just unravel your mistakes; in woodworking, that wood is gone if you mess it up."

Turns out that's not the only difference.

If you mess up in woodworking, you can partially amputate one of your joints. We have about six weeks before we find out if he gets to keep that finger tip. . .

Friday, January 21, 2011

Golden lady

The weather out here reminds me of how I feel about naturally curly hair: of course everyone wants it, but making a big deal of it is terribly boastful. Just appreciate it and deal with any inner-smug yourself. It's just beautiful -- sunny and not too warm, but nothing like Chicago's -21! It feels like spring. Spring means bees. So finally, I made time to get into the beehive today! No smoke, since it was a quick "Hi, howareya?" visit. For my own happiness, the first hive was my boomer.02 hive, or the one which has a queen who's the daughter of my best queen ever. They're such nice, mellow bees I figured they'd be a nice start to the year's beekeeping. They're still in some shade, but were foraging as though their lives depended on it. At first, all I saw was capped honey -- not too much, but enough so that I'm confident that they made it through the winter just fine.

After I lifted a few frames, I saw brood. A good sign, that, because without a queen you don't get babies. "It would be funny," I thought, "if I saw the queen." I neither had my marking pen nor my camera, so I figured it would be par for the course.

Next frame?

There she is, bold as brass. I kept this frame out for a long time because I ended up yelling for Ellie to find my pen and the camera. Pen was nowhere to be seen, alas (this will teach me the perils of disorganization -- or not) but the kids brought the camera out. My nephew even got a look at her majesty.

That wasn't the only wonder of the day, though. As I kept watching her walking around, seemingly unconcerned, she was the total opposite of what's called a "running queen." She just kept going about her business. Here she is sticking her head in a cell:

And then, if I'm not mistaken, laying an egg!

I could hardly believe my luck! I never thought I'd see that. Whoopie! In celebration, I dusted the hive with powdered sugar to help them fight any Varroa destructor mites just like Kristin does. I didn't see any mites, but then, I didn't do a count either. I know there were ants bothering the second hive, so I was being preventative.

Then, on to the next bunch. Here's a side by side comparison. There are definite differences between the two. Both are feral stock, but the left hand one (the first hive) has to have a queen with primarily Italian strains. They're golden, mellow, and make a lot of babies and a lot of honey. The right hand ones are probably primarily Russian or German. More black than the Italians, they're supposed to be cold hardy and mite-resistant. Since I'm not worried about cold, and I'm not thrilled with their slight grumpiness and low numbers, my plan is to eventually find and depose that queen and replace her with a new one from the first hive. I may just have to raise up new queens from that first hive in general. I'd like three hives again this summer, and I do like that first queen.

This hive had fewer bees on top, also. The population just isn't as robust, even though they have the sunnier spot. They're also more bothered with ants. Just a weaker hive overall.

They do have a functioning queen, though, so that's good.

Not that I saw her (that would be quite a day) but the evidence is clear, with those lovely brood floating in jelly. They got a sugar dusting too, plus ant-stopping sticky stuff on the stand. I'll just end up splitting that hive and importing new eggs and larvae from the good hive to raise up queens. Maybe next month!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Distant Cousins

This summer, I had the incredible privilege of meeting and being hosted by my grandfather's cousins' grandchildren. In Sicily. My biggest regret was not being fluent enough to speak a lot with them -- we did a lot of drawing. It's astonishing how much people can convey without a lot of common language.

So, although distant, we were definitely related.

Which, really, is all I can say about these mittens.

Same yarn, same needles, same knitter. . . very different sizes. Perhaps it was the random handspunness of the yarn (which doesn't speak much for my spinning) but it more likely is due to counting errors. I had planned to rely on Magical Blocking, but I think I'm just going to suck it up and knit another one. At the rate I'm going, I'm going to have finished three mittens this month and still not have a pair!

When I say my children "read the newspaper daily" in my homeschooling diary, I'm not always very detailed as to what, exactly, they're reading.

I do, however, draw their attention to stories they might like, such as a recent one about Mt. Etna erupting in Catania, across the island from our cousins, but generally I'm okay with them not reading every horrific daily headline. The comics are generally current-event enough.

Mikey continues to learn what he is allowed and not allowed to do.

Sigh. He's redirectable, thank goodness.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Just thinking

When I told my Counseling Psychology PhD supervisor that I was dropping out of graduate school to be a farmer, she said, "You'll be bored." I found that insulting, and I knew much less then about farming than I do now. The arrogant dismissal of something based, I assume, on ignorance, seemed very counter to what I was being taught as a counseling professional. You see, most academics look down on people who use any other part of their body beyond the gray matter to make a living, in my experience. And farming? Dirty, low-paid work.

Although my farm is tiny, hardly a farm at all, it's still a microcosm of what it means to help the soil and all of the systems in a garden work to bring food out of the ground. I open a beehive, and the whole story of that colony is laid out in front of me, although I have yet to learn how to observe carefully enough to see it all.

I'm not bored.

Frustrated, yes, anxious, sometimes, but not ever bored. In fact, one psychological concept I learned about in graduate school, "flow" by Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi, best describes what I experience out there.

It is, however, dirty and relatively low-paid.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Not quite up to cuff

My first year at college, my sister and I wrote letters to each other. A lot. We had to keep each other up on stuff, and it was just nice to get letters. Then I moved back home for a while, and we didn't have to write to each other. Through various moves, we wrote, or called, and during one particularly fruitful period, we wrote and called. I have boxes of letters from her just sitting around. Now that we get to see each other in person, we don't write much more than the occasional card. I'd rather have the face to face memories, really. However, I still am fortunate to have a couple of friends to whom (and one from whom) letters go pretty regularly.

My kids may not have this, so much.

Hours on the phone, hours IMing, but scented bundles tied up with ribbons? Let's hope they do, at least some. Besides, we love our postal carrier. I'm sure he would appreciate some good handwritten mail to deliver.

He would not, however, appreciate this mitten, cast on to have something simpler to knit out and about, so much.

The cuff is a little short on Eric, who doesn't have unusually long hands. So far, it's a woman's mitten. I like the way the darker handspun looks as though it has black stripes in it, and how the thumb cap-stripe matches up with the body. Completely unplanned.

On the checkerboardy side, the singles effect really shows up -- the stitches have a straight line marching up the mitten.

I've cast on, at least, for the second mitten and its green stripe on the cuff is moving along. I'm tempted to knit it longer, but I think these are going to have to be a shorter pair, in the interest of getting back to finishing the snail mitten

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

He's no Good Dog, Carl

But he hasn't eaten (or even tasted) the baby yet.

In fact, he appears to be nobly taking on the position of Loyal Family Retainer. Ha.

All the two-legged ones got to hold the baby.

She even smiled some!

Thanks to all of the help, I got a nice chunk done on a couple of mittens. Is it wrong to rejoice when the baby sleeps so I can knit? No, probably not. The jury is still out on using her as a work in progress photo prop, though. For the record, her mother cracked up when I showed her this picture.

After frogging, restarting, then counting and tinking back carefully, the snail mitten is now at the correct amount of stitches and heading along fine. The handspun mitt now has even more knitting than in that picture, because after making dinner, I figured out charts for both front and back and am rollicking along. The somewhat uneven thickness is a challenge -- thin spots disappear in colorwork -- but I'm just breathing through it. Warm. Fuzzy. Stash-busting. These are the things to think of. If I knit a matching hat, maybe I'll put it away for a gift set. But that is in fact Crazy Talk. No need to get ahead of anything.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Focus, focus

The folks who wonder how I get so much done ought to see me the past week. Starting work up again after a break has thrown me for another loop -- by now, I feel like my own ride at the fair.

Anyhow, it appears clear that daily blogging might be out of my reach. I'm not going to let myself off many hooks, though; I always assume that if I tried harder, was more organized, I'd finally get everything done.

But I'd have to stay home a bit more to do so. Tuesdays are now my offical Bad Day (I think most homeschoolers have at least one), during which I must feed, school, amuse, hug, and drive four children three different places, then produce a dinner. Then I have to grade papers if I have a class in which nineteen students managed to turn in essays of various competency levels.

But tonight? Tonight I also had to go to my beekeeper association meeting. January is the dues-paying month, and I wanted to see if the new slate of officers meant a new way of doing things.

Alas, no. During the portion of the meeting I stayed for, I knit this:

Handspun singles of some indeterminate wool. I must have bought it years ago at a fiber festival. Looks nicer than I remember it looking, and it will make a handsome pair of mittens. Originally I'd planned to make child mittens, but they'll grow. The kids, that is, not the mittens.

This one's nearly grown:

Generally I like seeing fellow beekeepers at the meeting. Sometimes I get a new bit of information about the bees. But when the new officers did not move the surprise speaker (a city official who had some news about our meeting space) along after every single relevant bit of information in the presentation had receded far, far into the distance, I realized I would rather be home, even if it meant wrangling bedtime and grading papers.

I wondered if I were just unusually impatient and/or touchy. But disorganized meetings, kids who have to sit and read to eat, even if they have just gotten out of bed and dear lord, it's nearly noon and we have to go places and they haven't yet scooped the cat box and yes, thank you, I would enjoy help finding all of the overdue library books, just make me want to cry. It's not that I think I'm an Important Busy Person, it's just that life is so full of good stuff to do and my brain makes meandering conversation in a business setting maddening. I'm pretty good with friends, I hope. I like to focus on a person and talk, and listen, and hang out. A friend said the other day, "You always seem so stressed, but you don't feel like you're rushing me." And I was truly, truly glad.

I think I have so much to do all the time just to keep things this side of Child Protective Services, and yet I'd like to be doing some more of the things I want to do and in order to maybe, just maybe, have a chance to do that before they all grow up and leave the house, they have to toe the line, darn it.

There's always tomorrow.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Just a pet, not a kid

Many thoughts competed for this blog post, and the title one isn't one I planned to go into. I love my pets, love them bunches. But ever since having kids, I've done the, in my opinion, normal shift. Kids first, then pets. Even though they sometimes look like little people, they're not. I also have no kid pictures today. Just the way it went. So I can't prove that they're different, photographically.

For one thing, they're generally less trouble, but my children rarely chew furniture. On the other hand, I just heard a son return yelling before he got through the door. Sigh. I think he's hungry.

He's hungry because instead of putting the (already cooked) dinner on the table, I took ten minutes at the wheel. Then it stretched to twenty because I took the time to make a teensy fairy swatch:

Looks like one of the cats, sort of:

Now I'm all excited about spinning it up, then skeining and I bet fulling the snot out of it so it won't drift. It's so pretty I want maximum yardage, so no plying.

Off to feed the beasties.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Add one, subtract one and get one done

What could my kids be looking for

yesterday, in the cold, on the beach?

Elephant seals!

Everyone knows a family who lives somewhere great but doesn't take advantage of their opportunities, right? Generally, we're that family. Fortunately, I have much more organized friends, and every year, they trundle down the coast to one of the very very few places that elephant seals come ashore to pup.

Imagine only spending a few months a year on land, and the rest hunting and swimming in very cold water. Walking near them was cold enough, thank you very much. They are awesomely big up close. They said it was safe, but I couldn't get a good picture of my next-oldest child; she was staying very close to the rest because she was wary of these huge pinnipeds.

Speaking of enormous mammals, Mikey got to play with his neighbor, Star, today.

She's so much faster than he is that it's mostly a chase, and eventually he gives up and just watches, making halfhearted feints as she careers around him. He enjoys it mightily. He does most things mightily, come to think of it.

I'm mightily glad to be nearly done (save the thumb) of mitten the first, aka the second.

The real first is now poised to become the second. Hooray for looser tension. It fits less like a glove and more like a comfy mitt. Still, it is a little daunting to be right back where I started, more or less. Oh well, if one has to stay in place, having one warm hand is something.

When I just couldn't face the thought of starting more colorwork tonight, as it got later and later at my friend's knit night, I decided that I could definitely face winding a plying ball. Turns out that laceweight baby camel and silk makes for a slow-winding ball, but a pretty one:

Alas and alack, the "wobble" on my Bosworth mini spindle turned out to be due to a rather substantial crack in the whorl, just at the base of the central "throat":

I guess we're going to try to clamp and glue it. I love this spindle. In fact, I have a huge bunch of baby camel and silk roving rooting for it to pull through.

Tomorrow is certainly enough time to worry about it.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

What's with the snacks?

I am a fairly good cook (tonight's dinner and frequently undercooked broccoli excepted). Nearly every evening, however, at least one child declares the meal "inedible." Generally, I'm a "more for me!" kind of gal, and besides, there's always that old standby:


A mother who loves food can hope, though, that some day, her averagely-adventurous eating children will say, "This is terrific. You give us the best meals!" right?

At the end of the penultimate ferny thing on the mitten, I realized that I had really goofed way, way back near some antennae on one snail.

For about five minutes, ripping seemed like the right thing to do, then I tried duplicate stitching, at which I am no whiz. It's still visible, but I don't think I'm up for ripping another mitten that much. I'm so close to finishing, and I think that I'll just wear them and not worry.

Of course, I could always change my mind later. What do you think? Rip and redo? Finish this one and start the next, and then decide? Argh.


Should have known right away something was up when I went out to check the chickens this morning.

It hadn't seemed too cold when I went out front to get the paper and wave goodbye to Eric as he pedaled to work.

But the frost fairies had been hard at work -- only in the beds in more open areas. The back ones get some kind of shadow from the neighbor's trees, and those closest to the house are in a temperature shadow from it, apparently.

The peppers in the front bed (which I somehow forgot to cover) appear so far to have come through unscathed. It's almost time to cut them back, I think, although they're still bearing very slowly. The "fog" in front of them is clouds of steam from Mikey's breath. He loves cold weather, and sadly for him, I don't. Since he loves me most, he's inside more than his pelt would choose. He is, however, a very happy gardening companion.

Beauty as a reward for braving a cold nose:

Four eggs today, bringing the year's total to nine.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

So much fun I had to do it again

As our littlest one would say, "Of course I want to play Sorry again. It's so much fun!" (So we do, as often as we can.)

Which is how I felt tonight about spinning. My wheel stays idle for months and then I remember that I love this.

As I noted, I love it more without the brightest yellow bits. Sometimes I wonder if I have very strange reactions to colors, because I'm pretty much all about single-color yarns, although I love colorwork. Oh well, unless I'm going to start dyeing or get a drum carder, I'm not going to worry about it.

Worrying about aging has become something of a hobby for me, though. Currently, I'm annoyed that I have something I consider a serious Old Lady problem. One of my heels has cracked in the dry weather:

Nothing like slathering coconut oil on a foot before bed to make me feel the miles. . .


Every single time I walked past my wonderful, abundant, takes-what's-dished-out-and-keeps-producing lime tree for the past month, I've felt guilty. "Got to make marmalade," I'd mutter to myself, and then not do it.

Thank goodness for friends with agendas. I have one, and marmalade was on her agenda. She brought blood oranges, enthusiasm, sugar, and a willingness to do a fast dish turnaround. I brought limes and canning kettles.

We only made something like 7 or 8 pints of each type and didn't reduce lime mountain

too much.

If you look close, there's an intrepid mountaineer:

I'm going to have to give some limes away. I'm not preserving many, I don't think, although I might make another batch or two of the marmalade. I like it, although I'm not eating any sugar right now, it would make dynamite gifts (or cookie filling).

Denise came over with her little one. Remember newborn fuzzy ears? She is certainly as delicious as any marmalade.