Sunday, August 31, 2014

Doorways of Saratoga

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Saratoga Springs, New York:  Home of the Embellished and Ornate Doorway.  Even though I felt like a stalking paparazzo, I couldn’t stop myself sidling up the front steps of every tax lawyer and cigar shop and synagogue and studying the furbelows on their doors.  Where I come from [The Midwest, U.S.A.] a door is a thing that keeps the snow from piling up in your kitchen and the neighbors’ dogs from coming in.  Nobody there (or here, either) would imagine a fanciful doorway like these late-19th century stunners anymore. Arches and marble pillars and richly detailed carvings cost extra, and what practical, fourth-generation farmer spends a nickel he doesn’t have to spend?  Who puts a stained-glass window in the lawnmower shed?  (Well, I would, and you might, too, but city planners would probably not sign off on it anymore for a public building).  So much to gawk at, just strolling around.  A city built for Victorian-age tourists.  We ate gyros in hidden side-street cafes, sipped sulfurous water from antique, spring-fed fountains, bought coffee that tasted hand-crafted.  Walked for miles.  We slept like logs. 

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Of course I found a yarn shop.

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That’s two huge skeins of Great Adirondack Merino, fingering weight, in [perfect, perfect] “clay”.  This is the color of my dreams.  There are over 2,000 yards here, ohmygoodness.  I don’t know what to make, but the search will be great fun.  I think I want a long, fine-gauge cardigan, maybe 3/4 sleeves, for fall.  What would you make with this? 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Turbulent

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One turbulent day last week, I went up to the lake.  The wind was tearing the water into whitecaps and pulling at my skirt and scarf, misting my hair.  I love this kind of day.  It makes me feel a little bit hearty. Rosy-cheeked and tough and merry, like Heidi on the Alm with Peter and the goats.  I look at all that gray, the weathered, rounded stones, and the wind-scoured rocky shore and my muddy bare feet and my chapped nose and whipping hair and feel kind of wild and wonderful. 
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I think we’re mostly done with summer here in the North.  It is cool and cloudy and windy, and the sky keeps churning and threatening.  The garden is a jungle.  At dusk, I hear distant geese, making their way.  It feels like it’s time for this quilt. 
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Wouldn’t it be great if it would stay lit from within like that, stained-glass all the way to the finish?  I don’t know why I haven’t left a quilt top unfinished, and used it as a curtain. 

By the way, thank you ALL, so much, for commiserating with me last week.  It is good to be here with you, and I am so grateful.  :)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Lady Kina

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August is kind of bittersweet here in my neighborhood.  For one thing, the weather just becomes completely perfect.  The sky looks like a Maxfield Parrish.  Warm sun, and cool, cozy nights, and a dribble of rain for the garden, and then the sun breaks golden through the puffy purple clouds again, ahh.  It’s so beautiful, I want to wear a gauzy white dress and play on a swing made of flower vines.  But then, it is the end of summer, and I do cry about that a little.  Cold weather is coming again soon, and I am hardly recovered from the last time.  Also, my boy has gone away back to college, and his room is (sob) spotless, but completely empty of him, which I can hardly stand.   I should just close the door and imagine he is in there, sleeping like a bear, surrounded by chip bags and Chinese food containers and empty Peace Tea cans.  Letting them grow up and go away is so, so, so hard.

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And so I knit.  Here is my Lady Kina, all finished.  This, I think, is the perfect little sweater pattern, totally free, and easy as pie to knit and to wear, which is about all I can handle right now.  I think a red one next, to wear over a long gray dress.  Right?  I can see this sweater all kinds of ways.  You could keep going with the sleeves, or make it long, like a duster—a wardrobe staple, for sure.  There will be another, maybe many more, in my future.

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I used four skeins of Berroco Vintage, in some kind of heathery harvest gold color, and knit the whole thing on a US 7, mostly while watching old movies on Netflix and getting huge crushes (again) on Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart.  

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How fast it all goes by.  How is it that I am middle-aged already?  How can my little children, who were just born the other day, be grown up?  How is it August, and summer is ending, when I feel like I’ve just crawled up out of my den and into the sunlight? 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Black yarn tests my patience

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Because there is a terrific divide between the things I want to make (floor-length granny square skirts, multi-color fair isle dresses in fingering weight, ruffle-edged fuchsia alpaca coats) and the things I want to wear (plain, neutral cardigans) I am knitting a plain cardigan with black yarn in spite of its dullness, and because I am forty-six years old and my eyes don’t telescope anymore, I can only work on this in broad daylight, and with all my efforts concentrated, and even then, I still have to squint to see what I’m doing. 

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It doesn’t help at all that this pattern is one of those “just make the right front the same as the left front, but reverse the shaping” designs, which I know they [Vogue Knitting] are doing to save space and the kindly designer never, ever wrote something that lame as an instruction, but which I can’t help finding supremely annoying.  What’s worse, this pattern also has the dreaded triple AT THE SAME TIME, where you have to decrease occasionally at the waist, and occasionally at the neckline, and occasionally at the armhole, all at different intervals, and you just have to keep all that in your head, while figuring simultaneously that knit means purl and WS is RS and left is right, or at least you have to draw out a bunch of diagrams that look like Bugs Bunny’s plans for building a time machine.  This black cardigan is somehow both deadly boring and also crazy-making, which is my least favorite kind of project.  But it’ll look great when I wear it, so I persevere.  I am no good at following a pattern, because really, I just think it’s so much easier to make up something as I go, and it’s a lot more fun, too.  Memo for next time.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Adventures in fermentation, or, Cabbage is the New Glitter

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My old friend Chris is an organic farmer, and everything she does inspires me.  We got to talking about fermentation the other day, about how sauerkraut is just cabbage, salt, and time—all of which I already had lying around the house, and you know how that is—so I decided to give it a whirl and see if I could make my own.  I assembled my ingredients:  cabbage, salt, carrots (she said I could), kombucha (to ensure happy fermentation—The Girl Who Married a Bear said I could) and an unopened bottle of cheap merlot (for me, when it all went sideways).  I cored and sliced up the cabbage, put it in a big bowl, liberally salted it, and then used the merlot as a bashing tool, to pound the cabbage into wilted and watery submission.  I grated the carrots into it, and then packed it, along with the juice made by pounding, into two half-gallon canning jars, and added the kombucha as a brine, to cover.  It didn’t quite, so [here’s my first mistake] I figured a splash of Bragg Apple Cider Vinegar--which in my experience so far has improved literally everything else in life--wouldn’t hurt either, so I put some of that in there, too. (You seasoned fermenters out there are already slapping your foreheads, aren’t you?)  I covered the jars loosely, set them in a warm spot, and waited for the delicious, baby diaper-ish aroma to begin bubbling forth.  Two days later, it smelled like coleslaw that had been sitting on the kitchen counter for two days; it did not smell stinky, like it should.  A peruse of the blogs easily showed me my vinegar error, so last night at about ten o’clock, as I was about to go to bed, I thought to tidy up the kitchen a little, and [here’s my second mistake] I dumped it down the drain.

You can’t put a whole head of cabbage, no matter how well-pounded, down your kitchen sink without running into a few snags.  So the cabbage (naturally) clogged up the pipes, and the sink began spewing things.  I hopped around in a small panic, hoisting previously clean objects up out of the rising brown water, and the doctor opened the cupboard to see what was the matter, and there was cabbage and dirty water sprayed over every single item and surface.  Of course, I started laughing.  What you absolutely need in times like these is a good-natured husband, and thank goodness I have one, because he sat down on the floor in a fresh puddle of decomposing vegetables and began tinkering with the sink works, and—I swear to god this is true—started whistling.  I was bent over in hysterics, wiping my eyes and saying, “Haha, I am so, haha, so, SO sooooorry!” which came out like a squeal, and he’s down there with his head in the cupboard, holding a bucket underneath the exploded drain and singing “Always Look on the Bright Side of Your Life”, and I laughed, and laughed, and laughed.  And opened the merlot.  My son came home, into the middle of this melee, said, “It looks like somebody killed a pig and dragged it into the woods” which I think might be a quote from Huckleberry Finn, which made me scream again, and I tried to say, “I put a cabbage down the disposal and the sink broke” but it sounded too funny so it just came out like “Ahhhheeeeehahahahaha!”  and he shook his head and went to take a shower. 

After an hour or so of snaking drains and increasingly muddy trips up and down the basement steps, the comedy began to wear thin, and I sulked, and apologized without laughing, and amused myself with Pinterest.  He’d say, “It’s okay” and  “It wasn’t your fault” [it totally was, I love him so much] and “Whoops, there’s cabbage in my putty” to make me laugh again.  Finally, it was all fixed, and I filled my mop bucket with my beloved radish-scented Mrs. Meyer’s, and cleaned everything up.  He made chamomile tea, for both of us.  He said, “Cabbage is the new glitter.”  By the way, this is a love story. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Rose crafting

 

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This very fragrant rose grows like a boss beside my back door.  No amount of pruning deters its vigorously clawing growth, and from inside each blossom you can hear the murmurings of a furious and territorial bumblebee.  The stems are encased in millions of venomous needles.  You can hack at this rosebush, to try and create a safe path of egress, but you will not defeat it, and just for laughs, it will grab your hat as you make your feeble attempt.  I might consider moving it, but for that I’d need a suit of chain mail.  This rosebush is large and in charge.  It smells great though.  Inspired by The Girl Who Married a Bear, I decided to see if I could harness some of this, its one good quality, so I put on long sleeves and my most serious pair of leather work gloves and took my life into my own hands in order to harvest a jar full of the incredible, richly scented petals.  The bees were extremely annoyed, I can tell you.  Once safely indoors, I poured sweet almond oil over the petals to cover them, put a lid on it, and set the jar in a sunny window, where it will steep for a week or so, making the oil a rosy pink infusion of fragrant loveliness.  I will strain the petals out, bottle it, dab it upon and massage it into my wrinkly face over the next few months, and I’m sure I’ll be passing for [insert name of somebody young, famous, and beautiful here, because I am so unhip I can’t think of anybody—is Lindsay Lohan still young?]

Also, I am cleaning the garage like a mad freak.  No spider-filled corner is safe from my broom, no mildewy box uninspected.  I have found no evidence (thank goodness!) of the snake, who, it appears, has hightailed it.  I am organizing the screwdrivers.  I hung a lace curtain in the window, so I don’t have to see the extension ladder from the yard anymore.  Making it pretty, wherever I can.  It’s been kind of compelling and, dare I say, fun?  I do not know what’s come over me.  My mother will be so proud/confused.  Actually, I think it has something to do with a general sense of upheaval and my need to impose order somewhere, anywhere.  Both kids (and the cat) are moving out in the next few weeks, and my mind reels with trying to imagine a quiet, clean, post-nuclear-family life. If I can’t boss them around anymore, I’m turning my attention to the dust bunnies. The teensy cozy things cottage will suddenly seem huge, and echoing.  

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Patchwork

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Oh, this is fun.  I had no idea I could spend so much time happily sorting big piles of small fabric scraps out of one basket and into another; cutting them up with scissors, then stitching them back together with a needle and thread.  When all these scraps began to pile up, way back when, I just did not know.  Why did I wait so long?  Oh, bliss. 

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This is probably an immense project; a full-size quilt, hand-pieced from 2” squares, but it doesn’t seem daunting at all.  It seems gentle.  It is tremendously comforting, simple, peaceful.  It seems like something that will be there for me as long as I need it, and because scraps reproduce at a rate not explainable by science, there will always be another, and another, and another scrap quilt.  

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I think this is what makes me love a Big Project, and why I start so many of them—too many, sometimes—I think I just want to have it there, always, waiting for me when I need it.  Be there for me, be steady in times of turmoil.  Everybody’s life is so chock full of (mostly happy) chaos, just the everyday mayhem of family life, so noisy and so hectic, the dirty dishes and piles of wet towels and tumbleweeds of animal hair and trying to feed and placate and comfort and support all my people, this endless work of mothering, and the way I feel like flinging myself protectively between them and their next potentially bad decision, and how it takes me forever to learn that they do not want me to do that, and how much time I spend trying to quell my creeping irritation over their deep devotion to their phones, and (pant, pant) I am frankly on the hunt for peace where I can find it.  My own lack of willingness to engage in confrontation has cost me victory in many a debate, but I am ever in search of peace.   I lay down my arms and sew little squares together.

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Assemble my tools, curl up in a sunny corner, breathe deeply, gently.  Make a quilt.