sluggish, but no time to stop . . .

Posted on 22 CommentsPosted in food and garden, projects

this past week i’ve been moving very slowly; traveling and allergies are taking their toll on my energy levels. not that i can afford to rest a whole lot or anything; it’s more that i’ve been steadily eating away at email and catch-up chores in a sort of foggy circle. ugh.

i’m hoping that in the coming week, i’ll feel more revitalized as good home cooking and resumed outdoor activity take effect and the accompanying endorphins kick in.

one thing that definitely helps is having access to the yard again—touching base with outdoor air and real plants throughout the day is completely refreshing and keeps me grounded. it’s SO nice to revisit the garden and see what’s happened since i last checked in—there are new plants, flowers, and lots of growth to inspect out there.

i ended up with so much blog fodder today that i decided to split it into two posts—a mostly-gardening post today and a mostly-knitting post tomorrow. not that there’s been a whole lot of public knitting i can show you, but general wool activities are taking place as i unpack and settle in again.

it’s been a stupendous year for flowers in our yard—after seven years of planting things and waiting for them to mature, many of our flowering shrubs and perennials have busted out in full bloom.

the hundreds of bulbs david planted and the trees he pruned are responding with fuller, more interesting displays. the right mix of weather so far this year has brought it all together; june is the time when everything still feels fresh and juicy and the heat of a long summer has yet to take its toll.

even my struggling hedgerow of hydrangeas are looking up this year—they are covered in buds for the first time in several years and are fuller and greener than in the recent past; maybe we’re over the hump . . .

the yucca is bigger and fuller than ever before and the hydrangeas as well; after last year’s paltry showing, they are making up for it with dozens of beautiful mops from pink to lavender to blue (we also have a red one that it about to bloom).

this bee balm is new this year, gifted to us by anne c. when she thinned her garden a few weeks ago.

she told me i might want to keep it contained, so i put it in a barrel planter that sits out back near the vegetable garden. the blooms are just the quirky, funny kind i love

with their seussian hats, so attractive hummingbirds, hee-hee.
and i love the color—it’s perfect next to the bright yellow day lilies that are strung along the back of the garage.

behind the house, where it’s shady and damp most of the time, we created a woodland garden a few years ago and planted a variety of hostas and shade plants that have filled in completely now—i’m really pleased with the astilbe, a fairly new addition in several colors that has made itself quite at home there in a short time.

this is a quiet sanctuary that i visit several times a day throughout the year, to sit and observe whatever is happening at the moment—david even built a concrete bench near the back door for this very purpose.

right now, the hostas are beginning to bloom; every different type of hosta has a different flower (some are even fragrant), but the bees love each and every one of them and the yard will soon be filled with a constant symphonic drone as they fill themselves to bursting on bellful after bellful of nectar.

patchouli plants are a little temperamental, but they love our yard, apparently. each year i buy a couple, stick them in the ground and let them go—they just love the mix of damp, shade, and heat we have on offer. whenever i work out there, i can smell the oil as it heats up and comes to the surface on a hot day (i love patchouli, do i have to even say it?). this year i stuck the plant in a sunnier spot than usual; a pot near the back door, where surprisingly, it’s doing even better. i thought i might have to move it to keep the sun off, but maybe not . . . it’s quadrupled in size in a very short time.

even our so-called “orchard” is doing very well this year—albeit, by our rather low standards. our fruit trees are a constant source of amusement to us, in fact, and any sign that they may make an actual apple or peach delights us.

planted years before we arrived on the scene, they were put in spots throughout the yard that are classic examples of where NOT to plant fruit trees—deep, shady corners where the sun can’t penetrate and where tall, heavy trees form a tight canopy overhead. the peach tree shown above has been nothing more than a stripling of a thing since i first laid eyes on it; it’s almost hilarious.

and yet this year,

by some freak of nature, it has fruit (a little spotty, yes, but i do not judge when it comes to miracles). i almost dismissed it completely the other night when david came in and said we “had peaches” and didn’t elaborate much. i thought he meant the ones in the fruit bowl in the kitchen (which are really nectarines). then i thought about it the next day and went outside to look at the tree—sure enough, it has several new fruits.
you could knock me over with a feather.

meanwhile, on the other end of the property, shoved in a dark corner right near the garage under a neighbor’s maple tree (eye roll), our apple tree, not to be outdone, is looking mighty fruity itself. a good pruning in the early spring seems to have done it a world of good and now it is dotted all over with nice-looking apples. which i know will be tasty, because we had one last year and it whet my appetite for more.

we probably should have thinned it a bit once it set bud (as suggested by an astute reader), but we didn’t; we’ll see how that works out. if we get more than three apples total, we will have doubled our production for the second year running and that’s good enough for me, haha.

yesterday dawned bright and sunny and i owed the vegetable patch some attention. david was good to take care of everything while i was gone, but there are certain things i know how to do, that he doesn’t (yet).

everything needed a thinning and transplanting and i set to work first on pruning the tomato plants. i got several emails asking me about how to do it and really, explaining it is awfully difficult over email, so i refer anyone who wants to know to this webpage, where i got my information; i think they do a GREAT job explaining the hows and whys of thinning, complete with pictures and drawings (MUCH better than i can do).

i’m not at all an expert at this; i just tried out the techniques that the article talked about. if your plants are established and very healthy, you probably couldn’t kill them at this stage of the game by pruning.

i can, however, share with you my before and after pics so you can get a sense of the results you are aiming for. here is a leafy plant before, with lots of extra branches, many of which will not bear fruit.

i don’t know how to explain it, but you can just tell when the branch will be barren—it doesn’t look the same as ones that are likely to flower and fruit; it seems to have “ended” its growth while other ones look like they will continually sprout more flower clusters.

anyway, this plant already exhibits signs of forming damp, shady havens of deep foliage where bugs and fungus (AKA, blight) just LOVE to make their homes.

using the pruning techniques from the article, i cut away the unnecessary foliage so the flowering branches had plenty of air circulation and light exposure. i got rid of all the lower branches first—no need to offer bugs and slugs a leg up onto the plant.

here’s another before photo of a cherry tomato plant, which has a more vining habit

in this case, i wanted to preserve some of the non-essential branches that were clinging to the fence behind—the plant will need that support later, so as long as they are working somehow, it’s ok if they stay.

and here’s one more before photo of an heirloom plant with more erratic foliage—it had sucker sprouts coming up from the ground already and lots of sucker branches sprouting between the shoulders of other branches.

i cut all of that away and kept the flowering and fruiting branches—still a pretty shape, but with more room for breezes to blow in and prevent damp spots where fungus and aphid nests form.

i’m hoping this may reverse my usual luck with heirloom tomatoes, where i get big, beautiful plants and virtually no fruit . . .

right now, the plants look happy and seem to have survived really well—they are all upright and perky. i’ll reassess in a couple of weeks to check on things; if i need to prune more at that time, i will. i certainly don’t want a replay of last year’s killer tomato plants.

the picture i keep in my mind is of my friend kris’s tomato plants—they looked like puny, pathetic charlie brown plants, all curled over at the top of their thin, straggly selves—except for the fact that they were bent over by the weight of the biggest, most healthy, plentiful, and beautiful tomatoes i’d ever seen. more tomatoes than plant?? priceless.

after i finished up the tomatoes (it didn’t take long at all, actually), i got to work on the seed bed. all the plants i’d seeded in were of a good size for thinning and transplanting, where applicable (you can see i have some spotty areas in some rows—i admit, i used seeds that were from last year and even from the year before (note to self: order all fresh seeds for 2011).

this took a lot longer, but is so worth it—fewer plants that have the space they need to spread out will yield better.

the okra transplants looked a little droopy just after i moved them, but they are looking more perky now and i’m pretty sure they’ll take hold in their new spots.

some of the thinnings i transplanted to empty spots and others went into a bath, once i got back in the house, where they cleaned up nicely and will make an ultra-tender addition to the quiche i promised david for supper today, along with these couple of fingerling zucchini i’ve been dying to pick.

lastly, i weeded and primped the so-far successful new asparagus bed—every single root has resulted in a plant and i’m hoping that next year they will all come back (jody m., do you see the parsley lining the front of the bed?? i put the basil in back, too, but it didn’t grow)

today, i’m working inside (obviously) for a while at my desk and in the kitchen; later we’ll get outdoors for a nice long bike ride. no garden work today; there are things i could do but it’s important to play, too . . .

the post- post

Posted on 18 CommentsPosted in book reviews/events, yarn and dyeing

i look forward to the twice-yearly trip to TNNA as an opportunity to spend time with good friends and colleagues, meet new people and make contacts in person, and of course, to peruse new yarn and accessory offerings.

and some times, i actually accomplish all that, heh.
this year was one of those times—there was an air of excitement in the convention hall, even though the crowds were noticeably smaller; exhibitors were showing their best stuff in terms of booth displays and new products and everyone seemed to be carrying a positive attitude with them as they walked the aisles.

and i came home with a variety of goodies in my namaste shopping bag to share with you (it is so kind of this company to provide these bright, lightweight bags to carry samples in, thank you!).

this year, linda joined me on sunday to walk the show floor and get a sense of the industry as represented here (sorry for the bad pic linda, but that badge looks cute on you!). as you know, linda (AKA, saint knitspot) has been helping me out with all sorts of business odds and ends, email, scheduling and the like.

and wow, can she work a room, who knew??
she can really chat up a vendor, you should see it. i tend to be shy and tongue-tied with strangers and she’s so completely different than me, in a good way; together, we are a well-oiled machine, haha.

anyway, you probably want to know what-all we saw in our travels . . . let me back up for a minute and talk about saturday first. cookie, janel and i got a bit of a late start because we talked until 5 am that morning and couldn’t face leaving the room at an early hour. once we got some lunch under our belts, we were ready to face the day.

though the ravelry ice cream social on friday night was a huge hit with guests and fans, i think we all agree that the talk of the show was ysolda’s booth, a whimsical, park-like island of fun in the middle of the fray.

it was actually a bit of a black hole, there at the end of aisle 100; once we entered, we sorta didn’t leave for a long, loong time.

the photo booth was the best thing there and i visited several times with different partners, where we donned ysolda sweaters or hats and took a picture

cake and tea were served each day at 3 pm

replete with sumptuous sweets for everyone

finally we shook ourselves free and awake and realized we had a lot more ground to cover before day’s end. i was definitely NOT going to bring linda here until the end of sunday, heh.

a highlight—i finally got to meet connie chang chinchio in person; i’m a huge fan of her work. i’m afraid i gushed a bit, but how could i not? we had a nice chat about designing and running a business and i hope i get to keep up with her as time goes on (haha, if i didn’t make too much of a dent in my reputation).

once back in the reality of the show, i kept my eyes open for new knitterly things i thought everyone would be interested in.

yarn market news is known for the gorgeous covers of their monthly magazine and to celebrate their 5th anniversary, they are marketing sets of cards featuring highlights from the cover series. look for these in yarn shops that carry unusual gift items.

brett, from laurel hill needles took some time to introduce me to his collection of beautiful wood needles for all crafts and then gave me a set of DPNs to try out at home, the silky-smooth wood and slender, tapered points make for a fine tool that will soon become a favorite, i think. larger needles are made with a unique triangular shaft that is more easily tapered to a fine point; i tried those site and enjoyed the way they felt and worked.

the knit kit people are at it again with a new red design that hopefully, will have a needle gauge incorporated into the back lid. i love my knit kit set (and so does my 5-year-old nephew) and am looking forward to this new version.

amy butler was in the house to promote her partnership with rowan in producing a line of new knitting yarns as well as a beautiful new book.

i don’t make a point of trying to get yarn samples at TNNA because i know most exhibitors are focusing on writing orders with shops and need samples to give to owners. but sometimes as i browse the booths, yarnies want to share the love and i’m more than happy to bring you a glimpse of what’s new . . .

form one of my favorite suppliers, the fibre company, an absolutely delectable new signature blend—savannah (sorry, no link available yet). this lofty, light-as-a-feather sport yarn is a yummy mix of wool/cotton/linen/soya that i went back several times to fondle in the kelbourne woolens booth. fortunately, courtney and kate are very understanding of this sort of compulsion . . .

the ever enthusiastic laura nelkin from schaefer yarns nabbed us as we entered the show to lure us to the big yarn cubes in their booth and show us a thing or two.

i came away with an usual red skein ( i think its colorway tatiana proskouriakoff) of heather, a silk/wool/nylon blend that can be knit into socks or other accessories.

in fact, one of the recent samples karolyn knit to add to the trunk show is a new obstacles wrap in heather, colorway elena piscopia

the fabric is lush and along with the rich color, shows off the deep texture of the stitch pattern quite well; it feels cuddly and soft, yet will resist pilling to stay lovely for years.

a new schaefer silk/merino blend is audrey, which is a soft singles in fingering weight, just right to knit a cozy fall wrap, such as cluaranach, hypoteneuse, or birnum wood.

and then there is silk alone . . .

schaefer andrea, colorway barbara mcclintock, with its glamorous sheen and soft hand is just what we look toward for summer knitting—it can be taken out on the hottest of days for a little knitting in the shade with a cool drink.

at the briggs and little booth, i got a chance to speak with the rep a bit about their well-known and welll-loved yarns, and received a sample of the heritage worsted. i love this kind of sturdy, new england-ey yarn; david tells me that arans are going to be “big” this fall (david forecasting fashion trends just cracks me up, but you know, he’s usually right on—remember the sweater he requested last christmas?).

at the end of sunday, we circled back to ysolda’s booth so linda could experience the “happening” and we could get a photo booth shot of the two of us. while we were there, the dyers from abstract fiber tempted me into their booth with a gorgeous array of hand-dyed goods. i got to see lace, sock, and worsted yarns in several fiber blends.

susan, jasmine and i talked about a few things that really caught my attention (like the BFL, mmm). jasmine’s going to send a few samples when they finally land at home from their travels. but susan ran after me to press this skein of hepburn merino/silk lace in my hands before i left—in the beautiful iris colorway. it really IS this intense in person . . . isn’t it sensational?

at the end of sunday, we treated ourselves to a selection of jeni’s ice creams before hitting the road home—we deserved it. linda got the lavender and a couple of other ones and i got vanilla, brown butter almond, and coffee. next time, i’m getting the lavender for sure.

while not exactly a day off or anything, it was still a big treat to see the show together and spend time talking during the ride home. we got lots of ideas from this TNNA and if half of them become reality, we’ll be doing well.

underwater

Posted on 30 CommentsPosted in designing, food and garden, lace/shawls, projects

i don’t know about you, but we’ve had a LOT of rain lately—i mean every day, for what feels like weeks. it’s great for the garden to a point; just look at all that GREEN, haha. it’s almost comical. and we don’t have to water, so that’s good.

but then there are mushrooms and weeds that are cropping up in the garden and everywhere else; i’m not sure that’s a good sign . . . i doubt these are tasty, or even edible, but i’m going to try to find out, because we have a ton of them.

i have a date with my garden for saturday—it needs a lot of attention and i wasn’t here for two weeks to give it. on the other hand, it seems to have benefited somewhat from me not being here to fret over it.

some carrots finally came up and now i see there are enough of them to keep cultivating.

the tomatoes are once again growing lush and full—i’ll need to prune them well on saturday to keep them in check a bit.

they are flowering like crazy and putting out fruit that looks beautiful, yay.

peppers too; even the hot ones in the planting boxes have fruit now. i love fresh hot peppers; they are so much tastier than store-bought.

and i finally have okra seedlings—i followed the suggestion on the seed packet to soak them before planting and this time they all seem to have germinated (plus, all that rain probably did a lot more for them than the dry, hot weather we had after the first planting).

my second seeding of green beans was also a success and now i have a row of lush bean plants; i love them! i think i’ll plant some more in the space that’ll be left over when the rapini is gone

that’s it at the front of this photo—growing like weeds; it should be ready to flower very soon. at that point, i’ll pick it all and put it up in the freezer. we love it, but it isn’t something we need a ton of. as you can see, the other greens are all doing well; everything is big enough to do a good thinning so they can all have the space they need.

i made eggs with swiss chard for lunch the other day and it was deLISH; the greens were tender and velvety in the soft eggs and . . . well, you get the picture. there will be plenty more of those lunches this summer.

in fact, we had a few good meals with cookie and janel using ingredients from the garden. we made pasta with fish and loads of fresh basil and oregano. not exactly a vegetable meal, but it was doubly good with the fresh herbs.

the squash are just a few days too young to throw into this dish with the rest, but by the weekend, we should have several fingerlings we can eat

(and judging by its progress toward maturity, by next week i may be making a fool of myself all along the block, trying to get rid of it, heh).

i think janel really enjoyed her first visit here (cookie is a veteran); we celebrated her birthday with strawberry shortcake and had a relaxing two days of talking, planning, and knitting with david on hand to keep things lively (haha). it was lovely and we both miss them already (they left yesterday to teach at knitters connection).

i wish we’d had more garden produce to eat, but the flowering things made up for that—lilies, yucca, hydrangeas, and wild flowers are all busting out this week.

i don’t have much knitting to show you today; all my knitting time the last couple for days was spent on a secret project and on writing up the pattern for the shawlette. in fact, my desk looks like a tornado hit it—papers everywhere. i’ve done a ton of knitting in the last couple of weeks, but no pattern writing, so i need to catch up. if i had a mortgage on my desk work, it would be underwater at this point.

i did however, do some blocking yesterday morning, while our guests slept in a bit (don’t get me started on how early i’ve been waking up lately, after just a few hours sleep; what’s UP with that??)

this is another sample of the new shawlette that i knit in briar rose sea pearl. the first prototype in the gold sunsilk yarn is a size i love for a scarf,

but it took much less than the full 400 yards available and i wanted to see how it would be if i made it a little bigger to take better advantage of the yardage in the full skein.

i didn’t have any more of the silk yarn, so i went to my stash for something similar and thought this sea pearl would be nice (a light bamboo blend would also be great; kim will be test knitting it in her pandora sock).

i LOVE the yarn and the colorway, but i’m afraid i still like the smaller shawlette better for the scarf size

(no worries—there will be several sizes; i simply wanted to decide on how big the smallest scarf should be). the other sizes will be incrementally bigger, based on the mini.

once i had that blocked out, i was good to go for the pattern writing and i stayed at my desk well past midnight, getting the bulk of it done (i can knit on the road, but i can’t do all of the ancillary stuff that i need for the pattern). i’ll finish it up today and send it to ronni for proofing and to my good friend kim for test knitting.

the rest of my knitting time for the next two weeks is a bit tied up in secret projects, but i do have the baby blanket and scarf to work on as well, so we’ll have some goodies to look at here and there. i’ll try to make the garden as entertaining as possible.

i also have a LOAD of news, yarn, and goodies from TNNA to show you—there’s enough to fill a whole post, so i’ll be preparing that for friday.

and that’s all i have for now—i think i said something about finishing up a shawlette pattern, so i better get cracking.

in the meantime, here’s a shot of my pink astilbe; isn’t it pretty?

homey

Posted on 20 CommentsPosted in book reviews/events, designing, lace/shawls, projects, spinning and fiber

oh, it’s good to be home, where i slept in my own bed last night and woke up to the sounds of birds and leaves rustling, instead of a hushed hotel atmosphere.

i have tons of things to share, starting from where i left you thursday morning, but i have to make it sort-of quick today; the surprise i hinted at in my last post did indeed come home with me and will be needing my attention soon.

but first, let me catch you up on some of the places i’ve been, yarns i’ve drooled over, and knitting that has progressed.

last thursday, lynne drove me to toronto for my gig at the purple purl and we had a little time beforehand to stop in at lettuce knit, another local yarn shop favorite i have long wanted to visit.

this adorable shop is bright and welcoming, with a delectable selection of pretty yarns, bags, and accessories (i missed seeing the beautiful enameled stitch markers at the counter before i checked out, darn it)

laura was in the house to show us around and help along an imminent yarn accident or two . . .

i found a skein of tanis laceweight in a color scheme i don’t have on hand. love. since we were to see laura in a couple of days at TNNA, we made it a short visit this time, but i definitely want to go back.

then it was on to the purple purl, where miko and jennifer were hosting a two-day teaching event. the shop is rich and warm with yarns of all types and colors

a busy coffee and sweets counter, loungy seating and lots of laughing knitters—it’s a real community hotspot

the shop has huge front windows that create a fishbowl effect, making it feel as of you are just an arm’s length from the street activity

i loved the feeling of being privy to the hustle bustle outside while cozily knitting or browsing yarns inside

they have a whole wall of yarns from tanis fiber arts, as well as numerable other brands, on shelves that extend to the ceiling and all around the perimeter.

jen and miko are on hand to help you find just the right temptations, heh.

i set up[ the trunk show in the afternoon so everyone could take breaks form their knitting to examine the pieces and ask questions; it’s always interesting for people to see the piece in person—they have so much more depth and detail than our camera can really show.

even i had some time to knit and worked along on the pink baby blanket. this shop is the best place to get knitting done—a great meetup destination with friends; you should go . . .

i actually got quite a bit done on this piece during the two days i was in toronto and traveling home. so much in fact, that i opted not to take it to TNNA for fear it would be too cumbersome

i’m on the second second; it’s getting noticeably big now, yay. everyone loves the way it feels—the fearless fibers MCN luxury certainly earns it name with yarn fondlers. and the color! i don’t know if i could’ve gotten through this last dreary week of weather without it.

anyway, back to the purple purl—we had an evening lace class and then the next day, a sweater fitness class, which was held in the art gallery next door to the shop

several participants decided to knit a sprössling sweater after seeing mine, which was a tremendous compliment. i think it went swimmingly well and everyone was so nice and so much fun; i hope i can visit again.

i flew out on thursday night and got home around midnight, where i visited with david for a couple of hours before falling into bed. the next morning i got up, rotated some stuff from the big suitcase to an overnight bag, and we took off for columbus and the TNNA trade show. i was so grateful that david came along—he drove and i knitted while we listened to a book. it was sheer heaven.

i brought along plenty of small projects, but decided to cast on for a new one in the car—a second run of the little shawlette i knit in sunshine yarns sunsilk last week.

i wanted to try it out in a larger size to see how much yarn it takes (or at least, that’s what i told myself, haha). i wish i’d had more of the sunsilk—i absolutely adored knitting with it—but since i didn’t, i found some briar rose sea pearl in my stash and decided to go with that.

once i got it on the needles, i pretty much ignored all my other projects all weekend. why?

well, this one is so easy to knit and tote along, i didn’t need the chart at all and it was flying along so quickly that i decided to just keep going. i knit on it during the evenings while we talked, and in the car on the way home and by the time i went to bed last night

i pretty much had a finished shawl. i’ll put the final touches on it in class today and then block it before the next post.

the sea pearl worked a treat in lieu of the original yarn with that beautiful stitch definition and sheen. i used the same needle size as i did for the original sunsilk yarn, and it worked great, but i could also have used a needle one size bigger for a slightly looser fabric.

the color is a knockout—a mysterious gray with watery blushes of other colors throughout. very, very dressy.

so remember i was saying i’d bring home a surprise on sunday?? well i did—and now i think i’ll turn my attention to it

cookie and janel are here! i’m so happy they’re visiting me in between TNNA and knitters connection. we’ve been talking all night and sampling goodies form the garden for meals. i love these guys . . .

and my class is arriving in just a few minutes too, so i need to close now.
i have lots, LOTS more to share, including amazing garden photos, but i’ll have to keep you waiting a little.

.to make up for it, how about some flowers?

not enough? want some more?

i can’t help being proud of our hydrangeas this year—they are stupendous.