July 25, 2013

In over my head with knitting projects

The projects just keep piling up.  I don't mean for it to happen, but with all of the changes in our lives--moving, settling in, finding my way around, commuting to teach classes--my ability to realistically start new knitting projects that might make it to a bind off has pretty much gone down the drain.  Let's count the ATM (after the move) July projects that have been cast on but haven't even come close to being FOs:  two pair of socks (not on a hard deadline but would like to get those off the needles soon), one entrelac cowl (knit half-way and then frogged after I had to cancel the class due to my fractured finger), Peasant Shawl KAL with my mom (also not a hard deadline, but I should be nearly done with that by now and am not even close), and the latest cast-on, my Avonlea Hat (sample for an upcoming class I'm teaching in August).

Let's talk about the Avonlea Hat.  Hmmm.  It's a cute project, I'll give it that.  It's not, however, something that you can knit while anything else is going on around you.  At least, I can't.  It begins with a 3-inch ribbed band that is folded in half and then combined with a 3-needle bind-off (leaving you with your original stitch count instead of double).  This is a very easy thing to do, provided you have your wits about you when you cast on, follow the very clear and explicit directions, and use waste yarn instead of, like I did, the working yarn.  Yes, it took an HOUR to pick out the cast-on stitches so that I would have 140 live stitches for the 3-needle bind off.  An hour.  It was an exercise in patience that, if you've ever found yourself in the same situation with a bright multi-colored yarn, makes you feel afterward like somebody should be nominating you for sainthood.  The band is followed by a repeating lace pattern with short pattern repeats in each row for the lace; there are so many YOs and K2togs and ktbls in a single repeat that it's pretty darn easy to lose your place.  Thanks to the ever-present chorus of "mom. mom. mom. mom." around here, I've lost my place … again, and again, and again …

So after a little more than a week I am here:  a ribbed band and one 16-round lace repeat completed (plus the nine invisible rows because row 7 seems to have an issue and I re-knit rows 7-9 three times before I finally added a stitch to compensate for the missing one and got back on track).

I am hoping to finish this hat by the end of next week since it's the model for the class that I am teaching in August at the Monroe Art Guild.  When I dye yarn for the class, though, I am going to go with colors that are not in the fuscia range of the color wheel.  The yarn that I am using came from my stash.  It begged to beome this hat in the hank, but I think it was mistaken.  I think this Malabrigo Archangel colorway is a little too bright and maybe too much of a multi to show off the lace pattern, even after blocking.  Time will tell.

I have, however, recently fallen into two glorious consecutive hours of knitting time every Tuesday and Thursday evening since two of my kids have decided they need "lessons" (one for gymnastics and one for martial arts), so the ribbed socks are now half-way through the foot and the plain socks have two legs and a heel.  There might be hope for one FO between the two pair by the end of next week.  Hoping, hoping, hoping because I still have, oh, about 13 projects sitting in baskets around here besides those that I've mentioned that I cast on BTM (before the move) that might like a little attention.

July 12, 2013

It's ALWAYS time to knit socks!

Socks are truly the best portable knitting project on Earth.  They fit in a purse or bag so nicely that I carry my little sock project bags around in my purse even when I know that there will be no time to knit.  I've learned that, with a fractured index finger, socks are also easier to knit for me than anything else.  I think it's because the needle size and the thickness of the yarn is so minimal.

Anyway …  I'm working the heel on this pair.  I was doing so well on the other pair that I hated to put them down, but the yarn (from Misti Alpacas) has a high alpaca content and alpaca and velcro … well that's just asking for an ugly confrontation every time.  BFL is far more cooperative.  And even though I have come to loathe this colorway in this basic ribbed pattern, which I thought would grow on me if I gave it a chance but did not, I'm moving right along. The heels aren't bad, but that's not enough of a redeemer at this point.

In case you would also like to move right along on your own pair of two-at-a-time (magic loop) socks, I have finally gotten around to writing out the pattern that I just work in my head.  It's pretty basic, so don't have champagne and caviar expectations about it.  It will guide you to a nice pair of socks, though.  And it's free, which is really the most important thing.  Just click on the pattern title:  Ribbed Socks for Impatient Knitters.

Looks like we are in for a rainy evening around here, which is great on-the-porch-swing knitting weather.  I hope everyone finds a great spot to knit this weekend, even if you're not working on socks. You gotta' love the yarn you're with!

July 09, 2013

Peasant KAL

When I suggested to my mom a few weeks back that we knit a shawl pattern together--me in Georgia, she in Florida--as a mother/daughter kind of thing, I was not thinking that this would lead to a contest to see which of us would garner the title of "queen".  I'm starting today, even though, having broken down and having relented to the uber responsible adult in my brain, I went to the doctor and now have two key knitting fingers in traction instead of just the one.  My mom, however, on the sly premise that she just wanted to do a little swatch (aka the first few inches of the pattern), cheated like mothers are wont to do and started last week. Hmmm.

When I called to give her the news about my highly disengaged doctor who threw some x-rays down in front of me and said "It's not really broken. There's a little fracture and a piece of bone that has broken off and is floating around, but I don't really know what your problem is …", she giggled with glee at the idea that she would be finished with the shawl first and be knitting queen.  Wow. (Truth be told, I'd do the same thing to my daughter if she ever got past telling people that knitting is only for old people and that I, apparently, am old.)  So, you know what that means?  That means IT'S ON, SISTER!  Two fingers in a velcro strap of nonsense or not, IT'S ON! (And I mean that in a very kind, loving, and adoring way, of course.)

P.S. That piece of velcro probably cost $400 … They didn't show me the bill because they want to mail it to me so that I will get a big surprise in my mailbox next week.

In case you are wondering which shawl pattern we are doing and would also like to play along, it's the Fiesta Peasant Shawlette DK.  My mother is using a silk thick-thin DK blend from her stash that I picked up for her from a hand-dyer at SAFF a few years ago.  I'm going to ramp it up a bit and go with a worsted tweed wool from Knit Picks and US 10.5 needles instead of the US 9s that the pattern recommends--I actually swatched to see what I like better, and I'm going to go with the looser gaug.  Since I'm planning to wear it to work around the farm, there's really no point in breaking out the good stuff from the stash for this one. Because I subscribe to Fiesta's newsletter, this pattern was free on a Thursday a few weeks back.  Sooooooo … That brings my project investment in this KAL to $23.73 (including shipping). That's why we knit, isn't it?  Because there's nowhere but a thrift store that you could find a 100% wool tweed hand-knit worsted weight shawl for less than $24.  I will be warm AND chic and all the other farm chicks will be jealous.  Or maybe that will just be what I think to myself when I wear it.

I am, by the by, about 2 inches along at the time of the post.  That means I'll be done with this project … oh … tomorrow. LOL.  ;)

(Love you, mama!)

July 08, 2013


I think that I should add a considerable post script to my last blog post about the gardening and such.  I think that maybe I may have unintentionally caused some misconceptions or inspired some unrealistic expectations of self in others, especially lately.  So let me just say …

I have a stubborn streak that has been known to leave a path of destruction like a category 5 hurricane.  I am the first one up at 6:30 am every day in the summer months--5:30 am during the school year--and usually not in bed before 10 pm.  I am never not doing something. (I don't even drink my coffee in the morning without knitting, reading, or multi-tasking something.)  If my whole body is not in motion, then at least my hands are, broken or not.  I am usually so left-brained and in need of total order and organization that some days I make people with severe OCD look like amateurs.  And I have no inborn patient streak whatsoever.  None. Zero.  Zilch.  If I ask for help, I'm only going to ask once and then I am going to give you about 30 seconds to help me before I just do it myself without you and then chastise you for not helping me like I had asked.  (My husband usually just shakes his head and smiles when I get like that.)  I'm 5'6" and a size 4 dress-sized woman.  I am the type of woman who will choose not to train because I have knitting to do and then run a 10k for kicks (or the t-shirt) on a whim.

Here's what I'm getting at … The gardening/farming things that I may write about in this blog are not intended to inspire anyone to do what I am doing.  (I don't know what the purpose is other than a record of my life, I guess.) Nobody that I know does what I do to the extent that I do it.  Nobody I know gets up at 6:30 am to work her tail off in the mud for five or six hours 5 out of 7 days a week because it's a self-satisfying endeavor.  It's great to flip through the pages of a hobby farm magazine and say "Wow!  That's how I want to live my life!", but it's a totally different thing to actually get into the dirt and do it.  I've been in the dirt before.  This isn't my first rodeo.  I've been working up to a 50 x 100 garden for nearly seven years, and I'm still not working a garden that size.  I've been secretly planning and waiting to own my own farm since I was a very little kid in my grandma's garden.  I'm 41.

Farming is gross.  It's smelly.  It's nauseating.  It's sweaty. It's dehydrating.  It's full of the worst insect bites you've ever gotten (pirate bugs suck!) because country bugs don't blink an eye at bug spray.  It's sunburns (and wacky farmer's tans) and headaches and sore muscles each and every day.  It's you with chicken poop under your fingernails, in a place where there are no acrylic add-ons allowed. It's you with a broken finger hoeing the entire garden back into raised rows because a week of monsoon rain washed your dirt into the field. (Mother Nature does NOT have your back, by the way.) It's ZERO days off and no vacation in sight because who's going to feed all of those animals while you are gone?  It's 5 hours of hoeing and weeding and fertilizing and composting and watering and fixing the fence that the deer plowed through BEFORE you have to go in to make everyone lunch and do laundry, wash dishes, and do all that housework that has been patiently waiting for you because no one else is going to step up and do it for you, and then bake something or can something, and then make dinner.  It's a business that you are 100% committed to at all costs--and there are going to be ALL KINDS of costs that you didn't expect and couldn't foresee--all 24 hours of the day.  And if that's not enough to add a little reality to the idyllic picture in the magazine, then let me just go out on a limb and say that you don't see highly overweight people with health issues bending in half over 7-inch high rows, pulling weeds and pruning tomato stalks across an acre of land or even posing for the picture wearing work gloves and muck boots.  There's a physical reason for this.

Did I mention that you can't go into this without knowing how to operate power tools?  Or thinking that you'll just learn as you go because everybody makes mistakes?  The learning curve is steep, so watch your step.  Take, for instance, my chicken poop fertilizer plan.  Every other day I clean out the coop.  I've been putting the poop in a black plastic barrel, no lid.  I was thinking that it would be a quick way to get the poop into a compost tea form if I left off the lid and just let the barrel also collect rain water.  Yesterday morning I went back there and my light-weight barrel, which was half full, had magically become heavier than my entire body weight.  I lugged it into the wagon, drove it over to the garden, stuck a shovel in, and discovered that my plan had resulted in 100+ pounds of maggots and other assorted insect larvae. (Think barrel full of GIANT meal worms.)  It was enough to make a person vomit, and that's not even accounting for the smell.  So I had to lug it over to the compost bin, dump it out, cover it with Seven and straw, and hope that those suckers die before my house and garden become plagued by flies.  This could turn out to be a gigantic mistake.  I'll let you know in a day or two.

Anyway, if you are not already in I-could-run-a-10K-marathon-tomorrow physical shape, ladies, then maybe your dream needs to involve thinking about how much it's going to cost to buy the farm equipment and to hire a few farm hands to do the work for you because it's no dream worth trying to live if you have a massive heart attack on the second day while you were trying to put in a garden, old school.  Although this may hurt some feelings, I have to say that the man with one leg was right; it's A LOT of physical labor just to plant a garden that will supplement your family's grocery needs and most people are not cut out for it.  Did I say A LOT?  I meant MORE PHYSICAL EXERTION than you have ever experience in your ENTIRE LIFE. If the most exercise you get in a week is the exertion of cleaning the shower or carrying the groceries into the house, and that leaves you winded, then you shouldn't rush into doing anything old school on a farm, especially if your dream farm is a place that "just needs a little work".  There is no such thing as "just a little work".

Go out into the back yard and dig 16 post holes by yourself in the dry Georgia clay with a manual post-hole digger and no breaks for water or anything else (because there's going to be no time for lolly-gagging on the farm) in the July heat and then ask yourself "Can I get up and do this EVERY day for the rest of my life by myself?" because even if you have a partner in crime, one of you is going to outlive the other and what if you are stuck on the farm by yourself after having sunk your life savings into the place?  You'll be stuck on the farm alone.  I am a little bit crazier and a whole lot more willing to take that risk than every other 40-something and older woman that I know, and this place kicks my butt every day.  EVERY day. Dream big, but live in the real world.

I love my husband and eternally grateful for all of the hard work (and money) that he puts in around here to make this more-mine-than-his dream our permanent reality, but the future is uncertain.  I make sure that I learn how to operate the farm equipment in case I have to do it myself.  What if he goes out of town?  What if he breaks a leg?  What if he dies?  Somebody is going to have to drive the tractor and repair the barbed wire fence.  See what I'm saying?  If you are not the most independent woman that you know, maybe the full-blown farm plan should be something that you ease into slowly and deliberately with a plan B that involves several people who are willing to pitch in and help.  Start with getting a dog, then ramp it up to two, then three. Then maybe a couple of chickens the next year. I'm serious.

I am the most independent woman that I know. I love this new direction my life has taken, but it's my life and not a one-size-fits-all kind of life, either. I intend to live to be 126.  (Not pounds, years.)  I might even make it to 127.  I have it all planned out.

And that's my Dear Abbey farming advice addendum.

July 05, 2013

This is a test ...

Moving to this farm has turned out to be a test ... of my patience ... of my endurance ... of my physical strength ... of our bank account ... and of my will power not to just stop and scream at the sky "are you #$@&*#@ kidding me?!?"  Okay, well maybe I've failed that last one a few times ...
It has also been a test of my ability to live in chaos for an extended period of time while my family moves around me oblivious to the stacks of boxes and fixtures and tools. I'm Felix and I live with 4 Oscars (Odd Couple reference).

My mantra has become "There is no crying in farming.  Suck it up, sister!"  With that mantra I have repaired and replaced my garden fence so many times I've lost count (who knew I could dig 16 post holes in the Georgia clay and live to tell about it, twice?), I've suffered through bruises, blisters, a torn off toe nail, a hammer to the head--not intentionally, I assure you!--callouses, sore muscles, headaches, backaches, allergies, a sprained joint in my arch--who does that?  sprains their arch?!--and a VERY bored 9 year-old. 

However, I have a gorgeous front porch flower bed (despite the previous owners of this place who were TOTAL MORONS!  Who plants heavy garden cloth 12 inches below the soil plus 1000 pounds of pea gravel and thinks this plan will keep the weeds away?).  I've planted 3 lilac bushes, 2 echinacea, some flowers I can't remember the name of that look like red black-eyed susans, 120 iris, 16 gladiola, 7 blue angel hostas, 5 gorgeous tiger lilies (the only thing that I didn't throw in the trash from the original weed flower beds),

one rhododendron, a rosemary bush, some mint, some thai basil, 4 dahlias (2 might not survive the transplant, though) and 6 dragon wing begonias.  That's just the front flower bed, which has taken 5 weeks of almost daily effort to get in order. 

The garden is pretty swell, also. 

I got it in just in time for a second planting, so there are pole beans, zucchini, cukes, okra, tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, bell peppers, chili peppers, sage, lavender, bee balm, pineapple sage, a potato, and 45 transplanted strawberry plants.  I transplanted 3 blackberries and 2 raspberries today.  In about another week I'll put in a more beans, kale, acorn squash, and pumpkins.  And what is better than fireworks on the 4th of July?  Honey bought me 4 powder blue blueberry bushes yesterday that are 3 feet tall!  By the spring we will have our own little berry farm and orchard.  Can't beat that with a stick!

In the last week I put up 10.5 pints of blackberry jam, a smidge of blueberry syrup, and 8.5 quarts of spaghetti sauce.  What I didn't can, I froze.  Peaches are next if we can just get these trees next to the house to get with program.  This is what my "helper" dogs look like by noon on any given day that it isn't raining.  They are just worn out watching me work, though they do spend a goodly amount of time chasing the rats and rabbits in the field ... which begs the question "What the heck are those lazy cats living here for?"

So all of that is A LOT for one person to do and to survive... but the real test came this week.  It's not that there are no hair salons here, or places to get my toes done, or that the only grocery store seems to be the one with the person at the door who says "Welcome to Walmart" in a heavy Southern accent while someone else is out in the parking lot walking their pig--no joke, here's a picture of the 200 lb. pig from today's trip to Walmart.  It doesn't look that big, but my 9 year-old could have thrown a saddle on it! 

The test:  I'm pretty sure I've broken a KEY knitting finger. (pause for gasps and condolences)  Did I break it digging post holes?  Did I break it cleaning out the chicken coop?  Putting up walls?  Putting in floors?  Moving truck loads of stuff that I can't believe I didn't know we owned?  Chasing off wild dogs?  All good opportunities for injury (I'm sure that I have one to report for each of those occasions, actually), but no. No.  Fate has a sense of humor.

I seem to have broken my finger while wiping my hands on a dish towel.  Seriously.  I mean it.  I broke my finger doing the dishes.  Let this be a lesson to you, ladies. Get someone else to do the dangerous job of washing dishes.

No, I haven't gone to the doctor.  Going to the doctor for a broken finger is like going for a broken toe.  What are they going to say?  "Yup, it's broken. $600 please."  My son fractured his ankle pretty seriously last year.  They gave him a boot ($400) and an ankle brace ($600) and physical therapy ($3000).  We walked into Dick's Sporting Goods the day after they gave him the brace ... same brace ... $30.  I can splint my own finger, thanks.  Unfortunately, the metal finger splint plan (2 for $2.95 at Walmart!) did not work out. They make those splints with little stupid velcro straps that attach themselves to my working yarn like duct tape.  That middle finger yarn tensioner thing inspired several under-my-breath expletives and just didn't work out.

However, the homemade 25 cent version works like a charm! (I've since upgraded to a tongue depressor and waterproof tape because I am still doing the dishes ...)

With this broken finger I have worked my way nearly through the legs of two pair of socks and done a few inches on that Entrelac cowl.  If this is a test, I'm pretty sure I've passed.


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