Category Archives: Gardening

Hydrangea season

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I told my dentist last week that I see hearts everywhere. 🙂

The hydrangeas in the front of the house are spectacular this year, such a vibrant blue. Two years ago I had cut them back too severely so that last summer we only got a couple blooms.

I have not heard a peep (i.e. received any mail) from O since we dropped him off at camp. He had told me not to expect anything because he doesn’t like handwriting letters (the camp doesn’t allow computers/e-mail), but his counselor assured me I’d get a couple letters anyway. I’m trying not to get antsy about it … as long as he’s having a good time, that’s all that really matters. Plus the camp does a great job updating their blog every night to let parents know what’s going on. I can tell from the activities they describe that O is most definitely enjoying himself. He’s not super athletic but he’s “sporty” and loves to run around and participate in physical activities/games. They had a “marathon” the other night where kids could run a course through the woods, and I can guarantee he was ALL over that.

I’m picking him up this Saturday. I can’t wait to see him and hear all about his adventures!

Crafting

Melody and I are becoming fast friends, maybe even BFFs! Last week I took one of those “get to know your new sewing machine” classes at the dealership where I bought her. A lot of the class was fairly basic–how to thread the machine, how to wind a bobbin, etc.–but I did learn a few tricks and became comfortable with some of the advanced functions on the machine. Like buttonholes…as I said to my husband last night, I will never get sick of watching Melody sew a buttonhole!!! What used to be an exercise in frustration is now a matter of letting her do 90% of the job…my only task is to move the fabric around and press buttons. It couldn’t be easier.

Kwik Sew 3421Kwik Sew 3421

This week I finished the Roman shade for the dormer window in our bedroom and a pair of swimming trunks (Kwik Sew 3421) for my husband. I’ll talk about the Roman shades in my next post as I need to take photos. Both were straightforward projects, except for sewing the power mesh lining on the trunks. So slippery and fiddly and tricky to work with, especially when joining elastic around the leg holes. Luckily that part of the suit isn’t public. I used a medium-weight cotton twill I bought on sale at JoAnn’s for the outer fabric; my husband does not like synthetics, so cotton it is. Today’s job is to purchase a navy cotton drawstring to finish them off. The pattern, like all Kwik Sew patterns, is easy to follow. The only thing I would do differently is use my own way of inserting elastic in the waistband casing (sewing up the casing except for a 2″ gap, threading the elastic through as one long piece, sewing the ends, then sewing up the gap). The KS way is to sew the elastic into a circle then wrap the casing around it to sew it into place. Too fiddly for me!

Now it’s time for some selfish sewing. Today’s project is preparing fabric (lavender twill) for a my own pair of shorts.

I’m just over 80% done on the Pebble Beach shawl, which should be finished over the weekend at the rate I’m going. Each row is over 400 stitches long, and there’s a picot bind-off.

At last week’s knitting group I got my yarn to knit a 12″ x 12″ block for a blanket we’re making for an ailing group member. We get our choice of stitch patterns and I’m pretty happy with the one I chose. As soon as the block looks like a block, I’ll snap a photo. My goal is to have the block complete by next Thursday’s meeting.

Sequence Knitting got an excellent review at Knitter’s Review. Now I am tempted by Susan Crawford’s vintage Shetland knitting project/book, which is being crowdfunded. She has reached her goal, but is still accepting funding. I could have the book in my hands before the holidays, but honestly, will I really get around to knitting Fair Isle before then? I don’t think so.

I missed our Forrest family reunion and my Aunt Pam’s interment up in Vermont this weekend–my back was giving me trouble, then the car started making funny noises–but I did get to talk to my cousin Sherry at some length Saturday night. She said she sent an enormous amount of Aunt Pam’s yarn home with my father for me to have. Wow, I was so touched! I’ll probably pick it up on Saturday when I get O from camp…she says there’s a lot of it, so maybe I’ll have to make two trips. My Aunt Pam was a spectacular craftswoman; not only a first-rate knitter, but she painted, did cross-stitch and crewel embroidery, and quilted … and other crafts/art endeavors, I’m sure! At some point I will show you some of the projects she did. They are truly beautiful.

 

Utilitarian, fashionable … or both?

Heart Pops Hat

Heart Pops Hat

Kelly Cardigan

Adding moisture to the air

New hygrometer

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Back garage, winter 2015

 

Greetings from snowy eastern Massachusetts!

I’ve been trying to up my game with my knitting this winter, although I was thinking about it this morning and wondering why. You see, I tend to knit a lot of utilitarian items: wooly socks, felted mittens, hats that can be easily spotted by drivers on the road, thick wooly sweaters…these are the types of garments I wear 95 percent of the time. However, I long for a wardrobe that’s stylish — I look at knitters like Leslie and the Rainey Sisters and think, “If only I thought a little more about fashion!” (Haa, just noticed that the Rainey Sisters knit the Heart Pops hat I talk about further on … guess I’m on the right trail!)

As I left the house this a.m., bundled up in simple wool socks, a reflective knit hat, and my bright red mittens–my first ham-handed attempt at felting, complete with wonky acrylic cuffs!–I came to the conclusion that it’s okay to be more of a utilitarian knitter. I’m happy with these items. They work for me and the life I lead here in New England. I’m just never going to be a wearer of delicate lace shawls or high-style cardigans. By the way, the hats above are from a free pattern I downloaded at WEBS called Heart Pops. I’ve been knitting these up in stray balls of yarn I’ve found around the house. I’m not a pink girl, but I’m really loving the pink and white version — so cute!

So all this thinking about fashion is why I chose to knit the Kelly Cardigan from Erica Knight in an effort to look a little bit more, in the words of Project Runway, “fashion forward.” It’s a simple cardigan design, but knitted in mohair/silk yarn, it’s luxurious … and warm! The yarn is Aloft from KnitPicks in the color “carbon.” I would have liked to knit this in Rowan Kidsilk Haze, but I’m sticking to my Yarn Diet in 2015 like white on rice. I’m happy with Aloft … the only part that’s fiddly with laceweight silk/mohair yarn held double is knitting the first row on the cast-on stitches. After that, it’s smooth sailing, unless one has to tink back or rip out stitches. Luckily that hasn’t been an issue for me as this pattern is simple and smooth sailing. You don’t even have to knit buttonholes (snaps are used), although I am going to sew on some jet and crystal ones for some additional pizzazz. I think I could get addicted to knitting with mohair/silk yarn — it’s like knitting a cloud!

The air here has been so dry. A couple weeks ago I was at my doctor getting an asthma check and she told me our interior humidity should be around 40%. We have a large humidifier upstairs, but nothing downstairs, where I spend most of my day. My husband bought a hygrometer, and yikes! Our humidity level was around 20%. So I borrowed a trick from my mother-in-law … when we used to ski out west where the air is even drier than it is here back east, she would fill pots with water and boil them on the stove to add moisture to the air. I go one step further and add cinnamon sticks, cloves, and leftover Meyer lemons. Mmm, our house smells so good! We all notice a big difference with the additional moisture. My skin isn’t as dry and flaky, and none of us have had any nosebleeds this winter. (I also leave bowls of water around the house near our heating vents … not sure if this helps but the water does seem to evaporate fairly quickly.)

Lastly, some photos of the snow in our side and backyards. We’re supposed to get 3 to 6 inches more this Friday. My son has not had a full week of school since the holidays. He may be making up time until July at the rate we’re going with this weather! The snow has not kept the cardinals away this winter … I’m seeing more of them at the feeders. They’re so pretty, but boy! they’re bossy! It’s hard to believe that in a little over a month it’ll be time to plant my peas. Will the snow be melted enough to do so?

TGIJ!

And yes! Spring is finally here in New England. 🙂 Some years I can start my garden in early May, but it was fairly cold here right up until Memorial Day. This week the temps are in the 70s and 80s, so maybe we’ll just go straight into summer … which is okay with me.

I decided a few weeks ago not to do a big garden this year. The biggest reason is my back, but since I’m planning to spend a lot of time in Connecticut this summer helping my parents out, having a garden adds more to-do items to my list. Instead, I asked O what he would really like to grow this year, and he said, “Watermelon!” Thus fully half of the fenced-in garden is dedicated to watermelon. I put in a few herbs (lavender, basil, rosemary), and then built a raised garden:

Raised garden bed

I basically followed the instructions I found on The Crafty Gemini (video was especially helpful). My husband let me borrow his electric power drill, and once I got the hang of drilling holes and screwing in the deck screws, putting the bed together was a piece of cake. The only difficult part of the operation was buying wood at Home Depot, where I was ignored and then talked down to, I suspect because of my chromosomal makeup. Time to look for a new place to buy lumber! Also, I want my own power drill. 🙂

This week O has been helping me fill this sucker with dirt and topsoil. I had hoped to get the soil to the top of the bed, but I think it’s good enough to grow kale and lettuce. Next summer I’m going to build a couple more beds using some scrap lumber.

Knitting

I finished my Mind the Gap socks a couple weeks ago. Nothing much to say about the pattern (btw, when does a pattern become your pattern? I’ve knit these plain vanilla socks so many times with a few personal tweaks that I don’t even need instructions.) The yarn was a pleasure to work with. I bought it through Trailing Cloud’s Etsy shop, thanks to Kristie’s post some months ago. I’m pleased I got the stripes to match on both socks, although I ran into orange striping while “kitchenering” one sock.

Mind the Gap socks

I had started on a plain vanilla cardigan last month, but today decided to rip it out and use the Cascade 220 yarn to knit Andi Satterlund’s Miette cardigan. I need more stylish sweaters, and Miette fits the bill. I also ordered some yarn through WEBS to knit another Kate Davies’ owl sweater for the fall and two skeins of hemp yarn for summer kerchiefs.

Weight

My weight did not budge in May despite my working out at the gym and zealously watching my food intake. That said, my pants are definitely getting looser. A couple weeks ago I bought a pair of size 8 jeans, which I thought I’d be able to fit into by the end of June. Well, I ended up fitting into them this weekend and wore them comfortably all day in Newport! So what I think is happening is that I’m burning fat and gaining muscle, which doesn’t change the number on the scale (muscle weighs more than fat) but muscle takes less room that fat, thus why I seem to feel smaller.

At any rate, I’m still heavier than I’d like to be — my body still has visible pockets of fat — so I’ve made some tweaks to my diet, instituted some new habits (drinking plenty of water!), and set a few goals for the month. Stay tuned …

Saying goodbye

My brother Matt finished out his year at the International Yacht Restoration School in Newport, RI, and is presently driving out west to Oregon to fight fires with the forest service. Here are some pictures of last weekend’s boat launch ceremony. Yes, that’s my crazy brother swimming in 58 degree water, towing his sailboat into harbor. Such a show off!

There was a woman next to us proclaiming loudly that people die jumping in the water like that. Not this guy!

John and Matt, IYRS, May 31, 2014

Matt is talking to John, who bought “Matt’s boat.” The sailboat will be moored at a local yacht club to be used by John’s children and grandchildren.

IYRS student boat launch, May 31, 2014

I loved the look of concentration on Matt’s face. He’s an excellent sailor!

Our dining room visitor

Last night I kept hearing rustling in our dining room. We have cats so I figured it was one of them chasing a dust bunny or licking a bag … one of my cats likes to lick plastic bags. Need to research that.

A little later, O and I were watching “Survivor.” During a commercial break, we both heard some loud rustling and scratching coming from the dining room. We looked up and saw this:

(Sorry for the crappy photo — O was pretty excited and jumping around. That’s my husband’s hand and bucket. He was urging our friend to jump in the bucket, not on the bucket. LOL!!!)

A flying squirrel! O and I both looked at each other and had the same reaction.

“Awwwwwwwwwwwwwww!”

Yeah, we’re nuts. Almost everyone who has heard this story says they would have run screaming from the house. O and I have such a deep love of animals and wildlife that I often wonder what our reaction would be if we discovered a cheetah sleeping on our couch. (“It’s our lucky day!”)

My second thought was how do we get him out of here without the cats seeing him? Weirdly enough, both cats were sleeping elsewhere and never came out to feed investigate. It took my husband about 20 minutes to get the squirrel off the curtain. First our visitor showed off a bit by flying from the drapes to the top of my ironing board back to the drapes and then flew to our hutch. Very impressive flying skills! Then he dropped the floor, ran through the kitchen, and out the back door, which I was holding open for him.

The next question was “How did he get in the house?” Our house is older and has lots of holes, nooks, and crannies, but up until now, we haven’t seen anything except for lots of mice and one mole in the basement over the winter. I looked around the dining room for awhile, spotted my rosemary plant, and it all clicked. A couple nights ago, I brought the big potted plant inside because we were supposed to have frost. The pot has a large self-watering reservoir underneath it, so our little friend must have had a nest in there. For the last few days the scent of rosemary filled our dining room, which struck me as a little strange because rosemary only smells when something rubs up against it to release the oils. Now we know why I was smelling rosemary.

I put the plant back out on our porch and my fingers are crossed our little visitor found his home again. I did some research and flying squirrels are an endangered species, so I’m pleased they’re living in our neighborhood.

Let’s just hope we don’t get more in our dining room.

Stinging nettles

Every spring I keep my eyes peeled for patches of stinging nettles but rarely have any luck finding them. We had a small patch in the side yard of our old house one year, but in following years the nettles never re-emerged. Now those of you who know stinging nettles as a noxious weed are thinking, “What on God’s green earth does this woman want with those dreadful plants?!?”

Why, I want them for dinner!

Several years ago I swooned over a some nettle soup I was served at a foraging dinner in Boston. First off, the color was lovely; you all know how I feel about green food. The soup happened to be delicious, too — it tasted slightly of spinach, and with a shaving of nutmeg and Parmesan cheese, the humble soup sent me to Nirvana. I could hardly believe the flavor came from a plant most people consider a nuisance, even though I’m well aware how delicious foraged foods can be.

Stinging nettles are easy to identify. They tend to grow in lush patches and their dark green serrated leaves look distinctive to me, but if you’re not sure, give the stem a light pinch and ow! Feel that nasty sting? A sure sign you’ve got yourself some nettles.

Last week I was biking over to Lexington and I noticed great patches of stinging nettles:

Autumn nettles

This ground was barren throughout the spring and summer, but now in late fall, it’s teeming with nettles. When I got home I did a quick Google search and learned that stinging nettles frequently emerge before winter, and that their tender young growth dies off with the first hard frost.

So yes, later that day I was back over in the patch with my scissors, gloves, and plastic bags. I picked enough nettles to make a huge batch of nettle pesto. Oliver, a picky eater, devoured it when swirled through a plate of pasta. I did not enlighten him that the green stuff did not come from my garden.

Does the pesto sting going down? Good question! Before using nettles in a recipe, you must blanch them in boiling salted water for a couple minutes to remove the stinging hairs/chemicals on the leaves and stems. Two minutes seems to do the trick, then I give them a cold water bath to keep the leaves bright green.

I don’t have a formal recipe for my stinging nettle pesto, but here’s a general guideline.

Ingredients:

One plastic bag filled with stinging nettles (including stems and leaves)

1/2 cup walnuts (or pine nuts — I avoid pine nuts since most originate in China and I avoid buying food from China)

2 cloves garlic, minced (more or less to taste)

2 ounces Parmesan cheese, crumbled

Extra virgin olive oil, about 1/2 cup

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Wear gloves to place the stinging nettles, stems and all, into the water. Cook for about two minutes, drain, and rinse with cold water. Now you can take your gloves off. Strip the nettle leaves off the stems; toss out stems. Squeeze water out of leaves and place them in a bowl of a food processor.

2. Add the nuts, garlic and cheese to the bowl and process. While the processor is running, slowly pour the olive oil through the feed tube and process until you have a pesto that meets your consistency requirements. (I like mine a little chunky — you might like yours smooth and silky, which may require lots more oil.) Add salt and pepper to taste. Go forth and serve!

 

 

November, November

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November is not my favorite month. After the autumn colors of October, it feels so stark and dreary to me. Even the word November sounds cold and lonely, maybe because it rhymes a bit like “woe” and “slow” and “snow.” I also struggle with seasonal affective disorder thanks to my northern European genes coupled with living in the northeastern U.S., and November is when it seems to hit me the hardest.

I have high hopes for this November, though. I’m focusing on all the wonderful things about the month. First, it’s my birthday month. I used to dislike celebrating my birthday, but the older I’m getting, the more I appreciate every year I have on earth. There’s still so much I want to do and see. Two years ago when my doctor told me I had cancer, the first thing I thought was, “But I still have so many things I want to knit!” Silly to say, but that thought pulled me through some dark moments, and today it guides me toward a more productive life day after day, whether knitting, writing, cooking, or traveling.

It’s also my son’s birthday month, and he LOVES his birthday. His enthusiasm is always contagious.

November delivers some great books and movies. This year it’s a new Bond film and Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln, and while it came out in October, I’m eager to see Ben Affleck’s film Argo. As for books, I have new releases from Barbara Kingsolver and Ian McEwan to enjoy.

All the great produce is gone from the supermarkets, but November has some food gems. I’m happy to see the nuggets of candied fruit for fruitcakes, large bins of mixed nuts, peeled chestnuts, bags of fresh cranberries, and tiny orange clementines piled high in the stores. O and I can begin looking for Candy Cane Joe-Joes at Trader Joe’s. And closer to Thanksgiving, one can start looking for stollen in the bake shops.

Unlike summer when it’s light out until 9 p.m., I don’t have to feel guilty about plopping myself down on the couch to knit an hour or so before bedtime. In the summer I spend my knitting time fretting about dozens of garden tasks I should be doing while it’s still light.

November is a month for slowing down, no permission needed. Taking a nap on a summer afternoon always feels so indolent to me, but during a chilly Saturday, tucked underneath a down comforter? No one raises an eyebrow.

Any other sweet spots in November?

I leave you with this picture of O and his best friend L from last night’s Halloween festivities. O went as a medieval ninja, and his friend is a scary book character whose name I can’t recall. I was very impressed with L’s costume, though. When O and I arrived at their house, his parents were madly tacking on strips of ripped fabric to his clothes. L had forgotten the costume he’d planned to wear at school, so this was improvised. I think they did a fantastic job! (P.S. I couldn’t stop giggling at the size of O’s feet. He’s at that age where his feet are humungous and his body hasn’t caught up.)

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It’s war

It’s me versus this guy:

 

Closeup groundhog

Make that “guys.” Me versus lots of groundhogs.

Here are some scenes from my garden:

Decimated squash to the left

To the left was my squash patch. Now only two chewed down plants remain.

What's left of my pepper plants

I thought my pepper plants would be safe … alas, the groundhogs saved them for their main course, after the kale, lettuce, peas, and radish …

It was kale

See? The kale is gone.

The last of my squash

Just two chewed down zucchini plants left in my container.

Tomatillo plant

My tomatillo plants were doing stunningly — until the bastards got them. That red you see on the leaves is cayenne pepper, but it isn’t stopping these iron-stomached thugs.

Tinkerbelle

Gratuitous cat picture. Tinkerbelle says, “I’m a lover, not a fighter.”

Seriously, I’m at my wits end. The next step is a groundhog-proof fence, but I have to wait till mid-July for that, when my brother arrives for a long visit. By then, my garden will be in shreds and the fence will only be good for my year-end crop of spinach, kale, and other cool-weather veggies. I’ve tried all kinds of deterrents: coyote pee, human hair, the aforementioned cayenne pepper, homemade tinctures of crushed mint and citrus oil sprayed around the perimeter, dirty cat litter, and the most desperate of all attempts, boy pee-pee, aged. (I paid my son .50 for every pint jar of pee he could produce. He drank a lot of water that week, I’ll tell you.)

Now, I grew up in Vermont and we had very effective ways of controlling garden varmints. But now I live in one of the most firearm-restrictive states in the U.S., with all sorts of laws and dire consequences for taking matters into my own hands. We can trap and release groundhogs, but only if we release them onto our own property. How ridiculous is that? Or we can kill them in the trap by drowning (which sounds horribly cruel) or shooting them as long as we have a special groundhog permit from the department of fish and game. But then I have to go through the rigmarole of buying a gun in Massachusetts and getting it properly licensed. Friends swear by dogs, but a dog for us is out of the question right now, not with two elderly special needs cats. I dislike killing critters, but when they’re destroying food that I count on to get us through the summer and into the winter — yes, I can tomatoes and use my garden to significantly reduce our food budget — I don’t have any qualms about humane execution.

Any suggestions beyond planting extra and letting the groundhogs have at it? Because I’ve done that and there’s nothing left.

Babies maybe!

I’ve been noticing a robin flapping and fluttering away whenever I get out of my car. I stuck my camera close to what looked like a nest in our holly bush and got this. I hope those cracks mean they’re hatching soon!

Have a nice weekend. 🙂

Happy May!

For some reason my blog got all screwed up and I couldn’t figure out what had gone wrong. I spent days on checking code, permissions, etc., but finally my web host figured it all out (not enough permissions on one directory) and now I’m back in business.

Woo hoo!

Here in the northeast we’ve had days and days of cold, gray, drizzly rain, the kind of cold, gray, drizzly rain that makes you want to curl up on the couch with an afghan, a cup of tea, and a good book. Or, in my case, knitting:

Socks, finished before the rain started. (Raveled here.)

I frogged the pullover I was knitting up with my Drumlin Farm yarn and cast on Topiary, a large shawl designed by Michele Wang for Brooklyn Tweed.

A top-down cardigan that’s turning out beautifully (I’ve got about 5″ to go on the body). I’m going to use some pewter buttons from an old moth-eaten cardigan.

And last, a pair of socks I need to finish by the 15th for a German World Cup fan. 🙂 (The quarters are just to hold the heel down, which was curling up.)

I’ve also been thrift shopping since I’ve decided my wardrobe needs a bit of refreshing.

This, a blue and green floral Bill Blass duster I picked up for a song at Savers. It’s not really my style, which is why I bought it. I need some style!

When it hasn’t been raining, my son and I have been on our bikes, checking out the many trails running through our town. We are soooo lucky to have the Reformatory Branch Rail Trail running right alongside our property. We can hop on our bikes and be on an adventure in less than 60 seconds. We love looking for wildlife (snakes especially!) and identifying wildflowers. Thanks to a new knitting podcast I’ve become addicted to (the Knitting Pipeline, “the knitting podcast with a Celtic flair”), I’ve figured out what all those white flowers are crowding the banks of the trail:

It’s garlic mustard, a noxious weed that will actually poison the soil in woods so that no other plants will grow there. Now that I know what it is, I see it everywhere … even in my own garden! On Earth Day, people actually go out in the woods and pull this stuff up, it’s that bad. Of course, the first thing I thought was, “Can I eat it?” You can, but the plant contains a measurable amount of cyanide, so I think I’ll pass and content myself with pulling it up and discarding it for now. Anyway, thank you Knitting Pipeline for the ecology lesson … even my 10-year-old knows what it looks like and eagerly helps me pull it up.

I hope wherever you are, you’re enjoying spring … rain and all!