Monday, December 21, 2009

One Last Holiday Thing (and One Free Pattern)

Last minute holiday stuff is coming up all around me, and it's making me think fast about last minute gift ideas for family and friends. I figured I'd share my musings with you in case you too are at a loss. Parts of my list could be for knitters and others, but mostly for knitters of course, because I am one and so am very biased in knitterly favor.

Audio Books
This depends on your giftee, but in general I find audio books to be well-received. I myself have a few around and some were sent to me for review purposes. I most recently dove into a review copy of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society with gusto, and really enjoyed it. Disarmingly homey, this is the story of the correspondence and relationship that forms between columnist and author Juliet Ashton and members of a rather unique book group. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society is formed spontaneously as an alibi to protect the members from arrest by Nazis during the occupation of Guernsey. Presented as a series of letters between members, artfully read by multiple voices, I found this a compelling listen. Following Juliet's process from slight to intense interest in this band of club members was entrancing.
I also received The Girl Who Played With Fire to review. Having not had the benefit of reading (or hearing) The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I had concerns that I might be missing enough critical information to make this a complicated listen. I had nothing to fear. I was instantly captivated by this thrilling tale of criminal activity and investigation, and by the main character Lisabeth Salander. I found myself rapidly caught up in the story, and sense that if it had been the "real" book I might have found myself curled in my chair long past bedtime, pages turning one after the other, unable to put it down.

Webs Gift Cards
Or a receipt for the one that you ordered online. I always think that the size of the gift card should be commensurate with how late you are in purchasing it. In other words if you don't manage to shop until Christmas Eve - or worse, online on Christmas morning, then the value of the card should be at least double what you would have spent if you'd planned better. Trust me, this will make you feel MUCH better about the whole thing. Would I lie? If you get your gift card in person at the store, amp it up a notch by tacking on a pair of really nice needles, a set of fancy stitch markers, or any of the myriad of other knitting notions we knitters just can't live without. Webs store staff is more than able to assist you in finding just the right thing!

Something Knitted
If you are a knitter, and you've got a toddler or small child in need of a personal but hurry-up gift, knit something and make it their own. Shopping out in public this weekend I ran across multiple examples in different shops of adorable knitted hats and mittens for kids that really were super simple, just embellished and customized into painful cuteness. Here as an example we have the basic knitted hat and mittens:
Yawn? Boring? Dull, right? Well, help it out a little. Knit your own and embellish the daylights out of it. If you're really pressed for time, you could even buy a set at your local department store and cover them with scrap-ball embellishments. This hat and mittens were knit in one day, and embellished the next morning. Super simple and super fast and VERY fun. The hat pattern is below.

Yarn: Cascade 220 Superwash colors Chocolate, Magenta, and Pink Ice are shown, but you can use any three colors of a worsted weight yarn that will get the correct gauge.
Needles: For me, a Clover 48" circular, US 4, but you should swatch and use whatever needles get you the proper gauge!
Gauge: 5 sts/inch in stockinette stitch
Notions: Clover (or other, this just reflects my bias toward a favored multi-tasker) locking ring stitch markers (8 of them), tapestry needle, imagination.
Finished size: about 16 inches in circumference.

The finished hat will fit a toddler, from about age 2 to about age 5, depending on the size of the kid in question. It may fit a 11 year old, if a bit snugly, as mine did (I just slapped it on one to see). It's snug on me, but I'd wear it, and my head is about 20 inches around. PLEASE feel free to adapt, modify, make bigger or smaller by adjusting gauge, or number of rounds knit, or casting on an extra inch or two's worth of stitches, or what-have you. This is a really basic pattern, and it assumes the knitter has a basic skill set of simple decreases and circular knitting techniques, or knows where to get information on the same.

Toasty Warm Toddler Hat With Ear Flaps Begging for Embellishment:

Cast on 80 stitches – Divide and join for working in the round. (This will vary based on the type needles you choose for your project. I used one long circular, so I divided the hat in two sets of 40 stitches. You could easily substitute dpn if desired, dividing the stitches based on the number of needles in play – for example 20 stitches on each needle if you’re using 5, or 26-28-26 if you’re using 4 and so on. Really all that matters is that you've got 80 stitches and they're joined for working in the round somehow. You could use one 16” circular and not divide at all. Choices, choices!)

Work in garter stitch for 1.25” (knit one round, purl one round; alternate these two rounds until desired length is achieved). Change to stockinette stitch and work until the hat measures 5” from cast on edge to needles. Knit one more round, placing markers after each set of ten stitches.

Crown decreases: Decreases will be in the 8 sections of ten stitches each that you've just made with your stitch markers.
Round 1:*K8, K2tog, repeat from * to beginning of round.
Round 2 and all even rounds until round 14: Knit.
Round 3: *K7, K2tog, repeat from * to beginning of round.
Round 5: *K6, K2tog, repeat from * to beginning of round.
Round 7: *K5, K2tog, repeat from * to beginning of round.
Round 9: *K4, K2tog, repeat from * to beginning of round.
Round 11: *K3, K2tog, repeat from * to beginning of round.
Round 13: *K2, K2tog, repeat from * to beginning of round.
Round 14: *K1, K2tog, repeat from * to beginning of round.
Round 15: *K2tog, repeat from * to beginning of round. 8 stitches should remain.

Cut yarn leaving a 6" tail. Thread yarn tail onto tapestry needle, and pull through all live stitches, pulling to close top of hat. Take yarn to inside of hat and run in end. Run in end of yarn at center back of hat (the tail where you cast on).

Earflaps: These can be left off if you're in a really big hurry. I am just a sucker for ear flaps.
With right side facing, beginning at center back of hat, count across 10 stitches, pick up and knit 16, skip next 28 stitches, and use a second yarn to pick up and knit 16 more stitches. These two sets of 16 stitches form the foundation of the earflaps. I worked mine at the same time, but you can easily slip one set of picked up and knit stitches to a stitch holder and work them separately, or just don’t pick them up until you’ve finished the first ear flap. More choices!!

The earflaps are worked back and forth in rows.
Keeping first and last 2 stitches in garter stitch and the center 12 stitches in stockinette stitch, work 7 rows on all 16 stitches. Now begin decreasing to shape flaps:
Next (RS) row: k2, k2tog, k to last 4 sts, ssk, k2 (14 sts)
Next 3 rows: k2, keep center 10 sts in st st, k2.
Next (RS) row: k2, k2tog, k to last 4 sts, ssk, k2 (12)
Next (WS) row: K2, p2tog, p to last 4 sts, p2tog tbl, k2(10)
Next (RS) row: k2, k2tog, k to last 4 sts, ssk, k2 (8)
Next (WS) row: K2, p2tog, p to last 4 sts, p2tog tbl, k2(6)
Next (RS) row: K1, K2tog, ssk, K1. (4)
Knit two rows on these 4 stitches, then bind off.

I made the ties using 12 strands of yarn, 4 of each color, about 20 inches long. I braided them together and attached them. You can do the same, or knit I-cord, or crochet a chain and work single crochet along it...whatever works for you!

Now comes the fun. Embellish. I've shown you two options here, but there's a million. Simple or complicated, it's up to you. You could use felt scraps to cut out shapes - think trucks, airplanes, snowmen, lollipops, the sky is the limit, and stitch them into place. Or crochet shapes and sew them on. Embroider flowers. Go simple. Go crazy. ANYTHING!! Now find a cold kid, and your work here is, as they say, done!


st - stitches
st st - stockingette stitch
gs - garter stitch
k2tog - knit 2 together
p2tog - purl 2 together
ssk - slip, slip, knit

For tutorials that teach a wide range of knitting skills, check out Knitting Help. This is an amazing website with a huge amount of information available to knitters!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

We Fish Ewe a Mare Egrets Moose Panda Hippo Gnu Deer

Since I am such a stellar blogger the past few months, I thought I'd do one now in case I don't get back here until after Christmas and New Year!
I knit something for a pattern, which is something like a miracle lately. But then it's Christmastime.These are called Dresden Green Socks (so far, although the company who owns the pattern could change their minds and cal them something completely different). I did them for Clover-USA to help promote their long circulars, of which I am a fan. Anyone who's taken a class with me knows how smitten I am with Clover's locking ring stitch markers and their bent-foot seaming needles. I also like using their circs. Although a stainless girl most of the time, I occasionally venture into wood or bamboo. I've got their circs in 47" lengths down to a US0. They've stood up to my abuse unbelievably well for a wooden needle, and I am impressed. I did a little bit in the new book that reviewed needles, and I wish now that I'd had some of these on hand when I did so that I could have added them to the mix, because really they've made me very happy. I think the pattern will be available at TNNA, but I am not 100 percent certain of that.
I just put them first so you'd know that yes, I do still knit. In fact I have a few other things floating around here that I can't share. It's Christmas, people. My family reads my blog. So if I were knitting for someone and I put it here, well. Then you'd all know about it, and so would they. That doesn't work for me.
So we'll flip to holiday decor and memories now. I've been musing a lot on my kids when they were small. I think it started with this - which they've tried to wrest from my maternal grasp for years now.
Made with a half a sheet of poster board, crepe and construction paper, some wool, a bead, a pipe cleaner, and a bit of tin foil and glitter, it's probably the dearest part of Christmas for me. I love taking it out of the bin, finding a safe place for it, and staring at it all season long. I remember when we made it, their chubby baby hands struggling with scissors and glue caps, laughing, spotting my house with glitter that remained like warm memories for months after. The first year they were proud of it. The second year the glow began to fade. By the third, fourth and fifth year they were actively attempting to hide it. It's now, I'd guess, about 18 years old. So much changes in 18 years.
When I was 18, I had a baby. And he grew. He grew and he grew. And he became a man. Now, at 23, he's a father. It's the cyclical nature, the way things come around and go around, about life that always awes me. The baby becomes the woman becomes the mother, and hands her child to him, he who was the baby such a long and such a short time ago.For now she's the baby, Miss April is. And here, just two years ago, I announced her birth. Two very short years.Last night as I was going to bed I retrieved my cell phone to pop it on the charger and I found a message from that baby. She said "Goodnight, Omie! I love you, Omie! Goodbye, Omie!" Two years. She grew and she grew, until she became a toddler. I can't wait to see who she becomes. But a part of me sometimes wishes she were still the little bundle I cuddled 2 years ago. And sometimes I wish he were the bundle I cuddled 23 years ago, and Girl were the bundle I cuddled 21 years ago. But they aren't, can't be, never will be again. That's good. I think. Yes, it's good.
Lots of things grow around here. For example, chicken eggs grow. Sometimes dramatically. In the eleven years I've kept birds I have never had an egg this big.Three inches long from stem to stern, with two big yolks inside, as if she'd been saving up, and maybe she had been. This came out of my older Americauna hen. She's reverted to type and is laying proper sized eggs now, but for three days we got eggs progressively larger until this one popped out. Imagine that, from human perspective - that's like giving birth to one of those crazy 18 pounders, every day, for three days in a row. Yowza.
This weekend the birds will move into their new digs.But don't call it a chicken house, at least not near Mr. Wonderful. This, my friends and faithful readers, is a Solar Barn in which non-pooping chickens may be allowed to stay. He's put them on notice. No pooping in the solar barn. You keep telling them, honey. I know they hear you, and of course will obey.
The tree is kind of odd this year. Well, not odd exactly, but not the typical MMO et al type of tree. Every few years I get theme-y. I had more planned for this tree theme, but haven't gotten it done. So we go with these guyssheep from Malea's Pottery pasture, simple gold balls, and white lights. That's it. And I love it.I love the simplicity of it.
And so I give you my wish for your Christmas. May your holiday be filled with simple pleasures and heartwarming treasures (both old, of crepe and glitter, and new, of flesh and bone and ringlets), and love and laughter and joy and peace.
Merry Christmas

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Recent Knitting, A Recipe, and A Promise of More to Come

I've decided that random blogging is the only way to go here. The level of commitment required to maintain a blog at the pace of an entry a week or an entry a day or whatever is just too much for me. So, this time it's ten days? Eleven? But that's ok, I hope. It has to be really. Things have been flying by so that when I have "down time" I spend it doing something very mindless. Blogging, sorry guys, requires organization of thought and of image that I just don't have the energy for. I think the Lyme thing taught me, if nothing else, that "No" is an ok word to say. So I am here, sporadic, distracted. But that's just who I am and how I roll. No apologies. (Ignore me. I am so, so sorry that I am such a blogger slacker. SO sorry. But I am making my peace with it).
I have been knitting. I made a Brambling for April.The sleeve caps as written needed a bit of tweaking - a warning to those who might want to knit this adorable little cardigan - whether this is a result of my yarn choice, row gauge differences, or just a little boo-boo in the matters not. I "did the math" based on my row gauge and re-wrote the sleeve cap. If you're knitting this for your beloved girl-child, be sure to check your row gauge and be aware that changes may need to be made.
I started a Raven for Aidan, and it is adorable already.I modified it so that I could work the body in the round; more mods will be forthcoming I am sure. Both of these patterns are from Rowan's Story Book of Little Knits. In both instances the yarn is Berroco Comfort, subbed for the intended yarn.
I finished my swatches for Knitter's Review Retreat class, and then arrived in Williamstown just before dinnertime without them.They were exactly where I'd left them when I'd wandered around the house saying "I know I am forgetting something. What am I forgetting?". My options were to drive the 3 hours home and back again to get the swatches thereby missing dinner, or eviscerate the finished sample bag project and use those swatches for demonstration. I chose the latter, and stayed for dinner. More about KRR later, and how much you wish you were there, and how much I hope I can go back again.
I started a sweater out of Lorna's Laces Swirl DK (currently at Webs as a close out, get it while you can, it's really perfect for what it ended up becoming!) - this was not close to what I intended to do with this yarn.(Still unblocked, because some changes need to be made) In fact even as I cast on I was not sure where I was going with it, but then I found myself making a top-down raglan baby-sized sweater, and then a shawl collar appeared. Then I found, yesterday while shopping with Kristen, the perfect buttons. So now I HAVE to take out the sleeves and make them wider. if the buttons were less adorable, the too-skinny sleeve would not bother me as much. But now, well, proportionally they have to be changed! This is the hazard of patternless knitting I think. I don't even really have measurements, it's al by eye and proportion and what I remember of round soft small bodies. Not a note taken, not a baby measured. But it looks like it'll fit one anyway, maybe in the 6 month range of things. Since there's no intended recipient, who knows?
I made two monkeys, we little funky ones although a bit sullen from a lack of face, from the leftovers from two pair of socks.The yarn is Blue Moon Fiber Arts STR heavyweight in Blue Brick Wall and....I Dunno. It was a mill-end. We have the kit which I bought for Girl at Sock Summit. I fell for the idea of wee monkeys and if she does not hurry up and get to work on the big one, I may have to make it myself as they are ADORABLE. I assume they will grace the tops of Christmas gifts for two certain small people this year. Well, once they have faces. Right now they just looked peeved.
I made a pair of Distraction Mittens out of the leftovers from the KRR swatches. I don't have a pattern for this either, I just cast on and started knitting and when the cuffs were a certain size I put them on my wrists and said "Huh. Mittens" and it went from there. Eventually, there were mittens that fit, oddly enough, me. I cal them distraction mittens because I needed one at the moment I cast them on, and they did their job admirably. The yarn is Valley Yarns Northampton, the color is Bright Pink, and the pattern could, I supposed, be written up is you're interested. It could also be sized to fit more than just me. But I'd need a sample knitter for that.
I started a pair of socks in Valley Yarns Franklin on Clover needles - more about this later.The pattern is simple and lacy and leafy which is a perfect compliment to the colorway. I love Gail's colors. You can get them at Webs, or you can find colors Webs doesn't have at Etsy. You just can't go wrong.
Every year Mr. Wonderful's employer gives out turkeys on the Thursday before Thanksgiving. We had no room in the freezer so he popped it into the fridge. I came home from Knitter's Review Retreat to find a thawed bird waiting for me. It was a commercial bird and had one of those pop-up "thermometer" things. I never use them, but for some reason this time I did this time. I put him (or her) into my big roaster, stuffed the thing with aromatics (onion, leek, carrot, parsley), wrapped tinfoil tightly over the top, and walked away from the slow (300 degree) oven. This is not how I generally cook a turkey. I most often brine them for 24 hours and pay attention to the cooking process, handy probe thermometer at the ready, everyone aware that dinner will be "when it's done" and a clock will not be watched. I had no attachment to this bird, however, so low and slow worked for me. I assumed that the little poppy thing would let me know when it was done. The smell of roasting turkey filled the house, and all was well. For a very long time. Hours and hours. More hours than seemed right, really. It looked very done to me, and yet the poppy thing did not pop. I was being horribly negligent. I got sick of checking. I walked away. At about 6pm I opened the oven and discovered that not only had the poppy thing finally popped, but the bird was so done as to be falling apart before my eyes. Every single joint disintegrated when I poked at it with a table fork. And it was swimming in what appeared to be a half gallon or so of liquid. This, I think, is the disclaimer on the package that says "some water added"? Regardless, he tasted pretty good. For days. Monday. Tuesday. Wednesday. Two people+one good-sized turkey=piles of leftovers. I made stock to freeze. I bagged meat for the freezer. And still it lingered, the plastic storage box stuffed with sliced turkey. It felt endless, that pile of meat. At long last we managed to empty the thing, with the last 1/2 cup of shreds going to Boo (old and blind has it's privileges). And then we went to my mother in law's for dinner Thursday and had...more turkey. Yesterday I went to the freezer and grabbed the first thing that came to hand - anything but turkey - I pulled out a whole chicken. And sighed. More poultry? But then I did this:

MMO's Slow Cooker Tired of Turkey Thai Chicken

3 qt crock pot
7-8 hours on low (reduce cooking time to 4-5 hours if using a thawed bird)

Into the pot place:
Small whole roasting chicken (I used one of my own, about 3 lbs he was, and still frozen when he went in)
1 leek, white and some green, chopped
3/4 cup of chopped carrots, unpeeled (if organic). Don't waste the micro nutrients! if they're conventional, peel them. Who knows what's on them.

In a medium sized mixing bowl combine the following:
1/2 cup Peanut Butter & Co. The Heat is On peanut butter
1/4 cup soy sauce
2T ketchup
2T Sriracha sauce (optional. The fam felt that this could have been left out, but then they are wimps. I like it hot.)
2T red current jelly
2 tsp Thai fish sauce

Mix well. Add 1 1/2 cup of water and stir until blended. Pour over chicken and vegetables in the crock pot. Cover and cook on low until the meat falls from the bone. Serve over brown rice. Yum.

If you try it, let me know how it worked for you. Curious am I about these things - will they work for other people? Ketchup and current jelly? What was I thinking? Or WAS I thinking? Most recipes I make are out of my head. Sometimes they get repeated, sometimes I forget to write them down, sometimes I don't measure a thing and have no clue. A lot like my knitting, really...

Knitter: "Oh...that's cute! Where can I get the pattern?"
Me: "Uhhh. Ummmm. Uh. Mmm. Uh...."

The barn grows, sometimes exponentially, at other times so slowly I want to kick and scream.There is a loft. No kidding, a LOFT. For storing brooder lamps and hay and shavings and waterers and feeders not currently in use. Now my thoughts run to ducks and heritage turkeys. I think there's room, if I do it right. A small spot for ducks, a bigger one for turkeys. Everyone on range during the day, locked in at night. An avian dream come true. I used to have a cockatoo and a small parrot. I love birds. Having birds that don't just fly around the house and poop on the carpet and chew the window trim and scream at 2am* (Goffin's, yes, really they do. I think they're the only psittacine known for screaming in the dark) has been a blessing, and I don't use that word lightly. They fill multiple purposes here. They feed me, entertain me, make me get up in the morning - the dogs do that, too. Having had some kind of fowl present for more than ten years, I just can't imagine life any other way.
I mean really. How could you resist this?Checking out the new digs. Their endless curiosity, so charming to me, is not endearing them to the contractor however, and they've been pretty much banned from the barn during construction. Soon they can move in, bags and baggage and maybe an egg or two.
Now the promise, I put it down here in the hopes that no one will see it so if I fail it'll be all good...I am going to try to blog about Knitter's Review Retreat and a few other FO's and such, and I will if anyone's interested, size and write up the mittens and share them (for a nominal fee, maybe $3?). I promise. Honest. Really, I do.

*I adored my 'Too and was heartbroken when she died. She was charming, companionable, adorable, gregarious and at times downright cuddly - and we have the pictures to prove it. She was free-flying in our house, so wandered from room to room with us, ate meals with us and was always a part of our flock. I don't, as a rule, approve of parrots as pets. I think they belong in the wild whenever possible. This bird was a rescue. She'd been wild-caught, probably illegally imported, then failed to breed when mated by her human captors to another Goffin's 'Too. As neither of the "pair" was ever DNA sexed, it's possible that they were same-gender and incapable of producing anything but clear eggs. Her "failure" to produce meant that the people who imported her had no further use for her and she was pawned off on the first available home and ultimately she ended up with me. I had her twice. First, prior to my divorce when her "mate" and she still shared a cage and before I'd read about parrots and behavior - she eventually killed her "mate", a total fail on my part, two cages would have saved "him" - and the second time after I had gotten back on my feet and she was able to return to me. At that point I did a lot of research. She had a giant Macaw-sized cage (which I still have), tons of stimulus, a play gym made from pvc pipe that rolled from room to room, lots of attention and love and an educated handler. I swear she remembered me. There was crying on my end and snuggling on hers, with her head in my neck and her wings spread out across me in some kind of hug. I miss her and the birds in my yard soften that a little. And yes she screamed in the middle of the night, and after some reading of Goffin's specific literature I found out that some can have night terrors. She was more or less quiet during the day; a little loud if she felt ignored, or playfully vocal in the early morning or evening which is normal for birds, or if we were dancing. If you've never danced with a cockatoo, I highly recommend it. But sometimes in the dead of night and for no apparent reason she would scream like a house afire, covered or uncovered, loved or not. Just something anyone considering parrot-as-pet should be aware of, along with "needs LOTS of stimulation, LOTS of destructable toys, a safe space for sleeping, and LOTS of good food, supplements, water, attention, affection, love, and time". And if you leave out ANYTHING on that list I guarantee you'll get more screaming, biting, feather-plucking and misery than you thought possible from a silly old bird, and it will be entirely of your own doing and you will have no one to blame but yourself.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Distracted Much?

That's me all over. Focus, focus, focus...DISTRACTED! Focus, focus, focus...DISTRACTED! Have you see Up? (If you haven't, you should) If you have, you remember the dogs? "SQUIRREL!"? That's me. Little known fact. Or maybe a well known one. Regardless, I can lose focus or flip and switch focus faster than anyone I know.

What was I saying?

Yes, distracted I have been. So much so that I lost touch with you blog readers for a very long time again - weeks even! And I had so much to say about so many things. Like Webs new interchangable bamboo needles. I love them. You should have some. We should ALL have some. What I love: size range, quality, adorable silk case, add-ons now available including more sizes! I've been through a few sets of interchangables; most ended up on eBay, and my kid got my Denise needles. These are keepers.

I wanted to talk about Kristin Nicholas' book Colorful Stitchery that I got in my swag bag from Twist Fair this weekend. It makes me want to pull out my embroidery needles and spend some time playing and creating and having fun making cards or pillows or stuffed animals.

I also want to talk about Potter Craft's 400 Knitting Stitches that I received as a review copy (so, dear stinking government entity that has nothing better to do than chase bloggers around, a book the publisher provided to me gratis, but am going to say nice things about anyway because I LIKE it, not because it was free, so there.). I'm a big fan of stitch dictionaries, and have a collection of the same. I have a particular fondness for the old Mon Tricot ones that I find on eBay or in the discard piles of deceased relatives. This book, an import is well done; all of the swatches are presented in a natural color so the stitches patterns are easily visible; there's no attempt to liven things up with multiple yarns and colors which is the smartest thing anyone doing one of these stitch dictionaries can, in my opinion, do. Uniformity of yarn for swatches may seem "boring" to publishers, but the ones knitters love the best are those that are uniform in their presentation; where someone's realized that less is more, that a single solid color that photographs well allows the knitter to really see what the pattern is supposed to be doing. If you're dipping your toe into the world of stitch dictionaries, this is a good jumping off point. It won't be all you ever need, but it'll make you pretty happy and keep you occupied for quite a good while.

I also want to DO things I've been meaning to do, some for years, that I just never get around to. I want to finish my husband's Dale pullover that I started in 2006. I want to knit BW's Learn to Knit Afghan, not because I want to learn to knit but because I think I need to do this. Also EZ's Almanac, which I start and stop and dip in and out of from time to time. I've probably done four or five months. And all these projects, these endless projects I've got here. On and on, piles and piles, and stacks and stacks. UFO's, things not even on needles yet.

And I want to spin, and finish this hooked rug I bought this weekend already on a frame and nearly complete and just in need of love since it's former owner apparently shuffled of this mortal coil, leaving the poor thing hanging in midair (literally), and I want to weave some dishtowels for myself because Mr. Wonderful is dawdling on them. I want to...

I want to learn to weld, and take a photography class and some fine art classes. I want to get a degree in everything or nothing at all. I want to learn how to ballroom dance, and take a country line dancing class. I want to learn to speak three languages (German, Spanish and Italian). I want to have solar panels enough to keep my lights burning all year round, and I want to replace my flush toilets with composting ones. I want to gather enough poultry processing equipment to not have to hire someone to process my birds, and I want to raise a lamb for market. I want to go back to the gun club and learn to shoot better, and I want to take up archery, too.

There's a man in my life who in 42 years never once made me feel like I couldn't do all of the above, and more. When I got into scrapes and people said I should know better his response was often "Well, no one told her she couldn't." I should have that made into a t-shirt, or maybe a tattoo. No one told me I couldn't. No one's telling me I can't. So, on we grow.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


This morning's sky. Lovely. And a promise. No review today, unless you consider a recap of the last few weeks of my life a review. I guess technically that is a review. But let's pretend it's not.
First, the knitting. I finished some things, or added to some things underway.This is a collection of baby socks that I occasionally pick up when I am at odds or unsure of what to begin next. They are made from the leftovers of socks I've knitted previously. I've decided to start taking pictures of them when there's a bunch and add it to the ongoing project I keep tabs on at Ravelry.
Just before Rhinebeck I decided to knit myself something for the predicted cold out of the qiviut I bought last year.I decided on Ice Queen from Knitty, and I adore it!The beads sit there like water droplets. The pattern is simple and worked up fast, making it a supreme gift idea (hmmm...and Webs has all that Misti Alpaca Lace in the warehouse, and beads right next door).
I also knit up a pair of Sweet Fern Mitts from The Knitter's Book of Wool.There is some errata in the first printing of this book,, so be sure to check here if you decide to knit a pair. The yarn is Foxfire Fiber Cormo Silk Alpaca. The color I use here is not available on the website, but the yarn is just amazing in any color! Luscious. I adore them, regardless, and recommend you give them a knit. Fast and warm and seasonally perfect! I also knitted a hat that more or less matches by using a 2:2 rib and Clara's cable pattern.I also finished two pair of socks, both in STR Heavyweight, one for Gene and one for Selina (who-is-engaged-to-our-oldest-kid-hallelujah)Selina's are Blue Brick Wall.Gene's are a mill end I grabbed at Sock Summit.
By far the biggest news around here involves my birds, their future, energy independence and our future, and the answer I get to give from now on when someone says "So you live on a farm?" Up until now I've always said "No, not really." That's about the change. Bee hives and 30+ birds with plans to breed them, plus a barn that should be up by Thanksgiving makes me think that it's time to call ourselves a farm. If everything goes according to plan, please God, next spring or summer we will cover the roof of the new barn with solar panels, so that not only our water is heated by the sun, but our computers, fridge, dvd player, etc are all powered by the sun as well. I think I've said here before that this is a fond lifelong dream, to transition from fossil fuel to sun or wind. The farm is a dream as well. I always thought a farm was in my future, I just lost hope for a while. For now, there will be chickens, and lots of them. Out of the birds we grew this spring, we carefully selected four boys to continue on and help us breed up a bigger flock come next year of both layers and meat birds. I'll introduce them to you now - they have no names yet, only personalities:FIrst, The Bully. A Cuckoo Maran who has only one real wife, but given his size will be allowed to help me build meat birds from some of the other hens. He's got an attitude, and goes after other cockerels.
Next is The Wimp. He's a Blue Jersey Giant, although more Splash in appearance. He's only got one true mate as well, but we'll mix him with some of the bigger hens for meat birds as well. He's the boy the Maran goes after the most often, and he screams like a girl when he's caught.
Then there's The Jock. A Black Dorking cockerel, also with only one real wife. He's smart as a whip, fast on his feet, predator saavy at a young age. He never sits still.And last but not least, The One Who Slides By. I am not sure why. I can't figure out if the other boys don't know he's a boy or what, but somehow he manages to not get into fights, not mix it up with the other boys. He's a Black Australorp and he's got a bunch of wives.
My eternal thanks to Sandhill Preservation who have once again outdone themselves with these birds. Although I've been largely unmoved by the Rhode Island Reds - and this is due in large part to a deep RIR bias I developed in the first year of our chicken growing adventure - all of the other breeds that came in our box have proven to be amazing. I feel so good about these birds. If you're thinking about chickens and live in a place where you can grow out cockerels, I can't recommend Sandhill enough. Al their chicks are straight run, which means boys and girls. I believe a rooster is good for hens, and everyone who has birds should, if they possibly can, have a boy around the place. I also think chicken sexing (yes, there is such a thing) is pretty inhumane, and not something I personally choose to support. I'd rather grow them out, make my choices, and put the boys I am not keeping in my freezer. It feels better to me that my boys are used for something, not just killed at hatch for having the wrong chromosome. Anyway...
Come spring we'll play mix and match, breed up some "true" chicks from the three who've only got one wife a piece, and some "mixed" chicks for meat. We are now, in my heart, officially a poultry farm. The state won't believe that until we do a lot of paperwork and sell $1,000 worth of eggs and honey. I can wait. It's enough to have it in my heart. It makes me so happy, so very happy to see this coming to fruition.
Now, don't tell Mr. Wonderful, but I have another little plan in mind. Just a small thing, really. Not a big deal. I thought a couple of these, maybe 2 of these and one of these to watch over them. This may take more time. But no worries. I can be patient. If I can wait 42 years for a farm and 34 for solar, I can wait a couple more for sheep!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

(Another) Book Review: More Big Girl Knits

In which we discuss "More Big Girl Knits", and if you go all the way to the end we reveal more about our self than we might otherwise, but this is a soapbox issue for us, so on we go! As always, and since the FTC is now apparently officially watching (don't get me started on that one), the books I review herein are, unless otherwise stated, provided to me free, usually by the publisher. I do not review books I do not like, and receive more books than you see here. If I like it, you'll know (I feel like I just said this recently...hmm...when was that?).

The fashion industry assumes that the average American woman is a size 8, with measurements as follows: 35-inch bust, a 27-inch waist, and 37.5-inch hip. But adult American women ages 36 to 45 actually average 41-34-43. Fashion magazines, clothing catalogs, retail stores and most knitting pattern books seem oblivious to the obvious - American women are curvy. We're round, soft, wobbly and comfortable. We eat, we love, we laugh; we want to enjoy and embrace life to the fullest, and are not afraid to take on all that it has to offer. Unfortunately many of us do it in shapeless tunics with matchy leggings because the rest of the world has failed to recognize what we already know - big is beautiful, and women with shape need cute clothes, too.

It starts in the mirror. Authors Amy Singer and Jillian Moreno advise us to take stock, look at ourselves in the mirror, and learn to "Look with love and tell the critical voices to shut the hell up". I couldn't agree more. Who and what you are today is who and what you are. You're not a size tag, not a number, not a measurement. You're a real woman with value and brains and beauty and wisdom that the size of your jeans does not reflect. Get over it. Most of us are round, and we're really very lovely.

"More Big Girl Knits" is just what it says it is. Stuffed with "25 designs full of color and texture for curvy women", this book aims at a market we all know is out there, in fact it's the majority market, a market that deserves equal time and treatment.

Most big girl clothes tend to be either too shapely, revealing maybe a bit more than we'd like, or clinging in all the wrong places, or just plain old not fitting. "More Big Girl Knits" gives you the tools you need to make sure your finished sweater fits YOU, just the way it should. Advice is given for different body types which helps you choose styles and cuts that fit and flatter you. That advice alone is worth the price of admission. Take the ideas in this book on the road on your next shopping trip, and see if you don't benefit from the authors' practical tips on accenting the bits you want to show off. Proper measuring technique, deciding on your desired ease and choosing a size, knowing your curves, finding yarn and colors that flatter you - it's all here. There's also an exceptionally handy yardage chart included so you know how much yarn you'll genereally need based on gauge and garment type. Excellent!

None of these designs has a size clocking in at less than a 40" bust measurement. Most begin in the low 40"'s, and some go up to the 60" range. There is, indeed, something in this book for every curvy girl. There are shawls and scarves with proportions that flatter bigger bodies. There's even socks designed to accommodate more shapely calves and ankles - notably Indian Summer Socks designed my Sivia Harding, which feature beads and an adorable folded cuff.They're delightful to look at, especially given the season! But what's really important here are the sweaters.

The sweaters really get the job done. From the Bountiful Bohus by Chrissy Gardiner, a Bohus inspired cardigan in rich warm brown, to the cozy dress-it-up, dress-it-down Hot Cocoa by Jordana Paige and the slip-stitch charm of Pastille by Kristie Porter, there's something here for every knitter and every big girl.

This stunning "Susie Hoodie", designed by Mandy Moore is among my favorites.Presented in sizes ranging from 44" to 60", there's a size here for every big girl. This is a delightfully cabled cardigan, made more so by the addition of a shaped back that draws the eye down and gives length to the body.
This sweater looks comfy, but not shapeless and lumpy. The yarn is Tahki Donegal Tweed Homespun.Makes me want to go for a walk in the leaves.

Sweetly sexy, the Orange Smoothie tank by Libby Baker is the perfect thing for summer. You know those days when the idea of clothing is too much to bear? (Apparently I am not the only one who feels this way, since the intro for this one says "It's hot and you can't go outside naked.").This is the perfect topper. The surplice front makes this extremely flattering for women to whom nature generously provided an ample cleavage.Simple but eye-catching and comfortably breathable, knitted in Dalegarn Svale. Hey, wait. I've got three bags of that here somewhere...hmmm!

There's so much more here - the Slipstream Pullover which uses a bit of sparkly to accent cuffs, hem and neckline; the Plain Vanilla Pullover you can customize to fit your shape to perfection; the bi-color Modular Spiral Jacket that uses blocks of color to define your shape, the Twisted Pullover that makes use of vertical lines to best advantage, the No-Gap Wrap, another garment that uses a v-neckline to flatter mature bust lines; the Cable Love jacket that...well I could go on and on. The point is that no matter what you're looking for, if you're a big girl, you'll find it in here.

Some of us don't embrace the shape we're in. We feel guilt, shame and revulsion at our own image. That's sad. We're driven by a culture that promotes unrealistic beauty standards, and makes us think that if we're not a size 0 we have no value or appeal. We allow the media and culture to pump that mindset into our daughters, making them shamed by their own curves, afraid to have that piece of birthday cake, refusing food, becoming anorexic or bulemic in record numbers at insanely young ages, or just hiding out under tent-sized t's and baggy pants. For most of my life I've struggled with weight issues and body image. At 17 I weighed 76 pounds. My periods stopped, my hair fell out. But I was thin! I thought if I lost enough weight my man-attracting curves would go away. I was anorexic and I was killing myself.

After my babies were born I struggled with self-esteem and body image - babies made my already generous bust line explode. I've done it all; diet and exercise, just diet, just exercise. I've counted calories, worried endlessly about fitting into a number. I am SO over it now. Life is much too short to worry about this crap. The size that fits is the one I need. The food I eat is what I'm hungry for. My blood pressure is low, my cholesterol is too. My resting pulse is around 60 beats per minute. I'm fine, just as I am. Don't like it? Don't look!

Should we eat healthier? Yes, we certainly should. Should we get up and go for a walk, run, swim or bike ride? You bet. Should we allow ourselves to be shamed into hiding out under sad, sorry outfits, cringing at ourselves in family photos, running and hiding from the truth of who we are? NO. It all begins with loving yourself as you are.

ALL of yourself. Start now. Please.

Monday, October 12, 2009

She Had Me at 'Imagine': A Review of The Knitter's Book of Wool

"Imagine if all the wine in the world - red and white alike - were mixed together and sold as generic 'wine'." -Clara Parkes, The Knitter's Book of Wool

I should preface this review with a disclosure, or more accurately three disclosures. First, the links embedded in this post link you to my Amazon store, which means that if you buy through that link I make a small percentage of your purchase. This goes for all of the books in my store, not just the knitting ones, so feel free to shop around. Second, I am holding in my hands books sent to me free of charge for the purposes of review. And last, as if making a dime and getting free books weren't enough, I've also worked for Clara, teaching at her Knitter's Review Retreat last year and again this year. That said, if I don't like something, you won't see it here even if it's free as a bird and the company in question is charming me with all manner of delights. I won't recommend things I can't stand behind. I also won't rip something to shreds here. If I think something isn't what it should be I may share that information with the people who asked for the review, but not you. Now that I've gotten that out of the way, let's proceed to my review of The Knitter's Book of Wool.

Let me say that this woman knows more about wool than I knew about my children, and I knew my children pretty well when they were small. The information she presents is approachable and applicable to all of the wool arts. We all can benefit from the information within the pages of this book.

I received a sound education in the first 20 or so pages alone, and the information I gleaned was so compelling I just kept on reading. Long past "lights out" pages were turning and my pencil was scritch-scratching away. There is enough information to make you a whiz at wool but not so much that you feel like it's finals week. Clara's comfortable, easy writing style make this a wonderful read for interested fiber folk. As with The Knitter's Book of Yarn, this book had me underlining bits of information that I believe strongly will make me a better knitter, spinner and teacher. In chapter one, What is Wool?, we learn about the structure of wool fibers from scales to crimp and back again. We learn why wool does what it does, and why not all wool is created equal. Chapter two, From Pasture to Pullover, follows the processing of that wool into the yarns we use every day. Skirting, scouring, spinning and dyeing are all outlined here. Knowing what happens to wool from sheep to skein helps us as knitters to evaluate wisely our yarn investments. The chapter ends with an excellent "Wool 101"; a series of quick tips for yarn evaluation. As in The Knitter's Book of Yarn, Clara empowers us to make better yarn choices by learning to be yarn whisperers. We move from wool processing into the wool providers. In Meet the Breeds we learn about the animals that provide our most commonly used wools; what makes them different from one another, how wools are chosen for use, and what the intended function of the wool fibers are. General information on each wool category is presented, followed by specifics about each breed within that category. It's enough information to last a lifetime. A handy list of facts for each breed is given, with data about the fineness, staple length, crimp, luster and suitability of the finished yarn for your intended project. This is very much a spinner's book as well. The final wool-tech chapter, Plays Well With Others, explains how wools can be blended either with one another or with other non-wool and non-animal fibers to create yarns perfect for every use. Luster, halo and warm weather comfort are all touched on. Different fiber types are discussed giving knitters insight into why a specific fiber helps wool to work it's magic on our projects. Just when you think you've gotten every dime you spent out of this book, you discover more - patterns that, as Clara says, "...let you experience everything wool has to offer..." And folks, she's not just saying that! The pattern section begins with a Shakespeare quote: "Joy's soul lies in the doing". I agree, and the range of projects is both expansive and joyful! There are enough patterns in this book to keep any knitter happily busy for a very long time. On my first quick skim through the book, my eyes were drawn to Sandi Rosner's Bella Baby Ensemble, Clara's Sweet Fern Mitts, Sivia Harding's exquisite Tibetan Clouds Beaded Stole and Pam Allen's Comfy Cardigan. The list goes on. There's an adorable family of pullovers; The Three Bears; Mama, Papa and Baby Bear, each knitted in a different yarn yet singing sweetly enough together for the family Christmas photo (get knitting - there's always next year!). Four additional sweater patterns round out the group. Heads and hands are covered with two hat patterns and two hand covering patterns. A trio of sock patterns are presented, and a host of five knit shawls, scarves and stoles. Finally a knitted bag and pillow cover finish off this brilliantly compiled collection of highly knittable items.

Finally, a comprehensive resource list, including hints on washing wool and (dare I say it) moth prevention, helps you find the yarns used in the book. A detailed glossary as well as a list of wool processors, a recommended reading list, designer bios and author acknowledgments round out the book.

In closing, let me say that this book is well worth the investment, as was it's predecessor. Let's hope Clara continues to bring us the best of the best of useful knowledge about the animals and fibers that grace our lives and bring us that joy the Bard talks about above.Now if you'll excuse me, I sense a project needing to be knit...but where to begin? I think we'll start with Fern Leaf Mitts, just in time for Rhinebeck. Or maybe a Baby Bear pullover for Aidan. Although April would be lovely in that little wrap cardigan of Sandi's...stash raid!!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Stupidity, Thy Name is MMO

How hard can it, be, really, to steal honey from bees? Bravely we went to the hive, late but not too-too late. We put on the confuser board, and 24 hours later we retrieved "our" honey. They think it's theirs, which is a nice idea, but since I'm the one buying the hive parts and making the sugar syrup in cold weather, I have a different opinion. Share and share alike, I say. Some for me, and enough for them for winter. After a phone call or two we found a beekeeper very local to me who had an extractor he was more than happy to lend. I drove off to retrieve it, coming home with the extractor and a bonus - two whole fleeces from two sheep by the names of Emily and Olive. They're lovely black things. They'll never win a ribbon, but for a good serviceable worsted weight yarn, they're perfect. Eventually they'll be carded and spun in the grease I think, in keeping with my plans for their futures. I may blend them. But I digress. About the bees, and how I can be so painfully stupid it results in disaster.
Mr. Wonderful made sure the extractor was on a stable base of pallets, just as our new bee friend had advised. We set up the extractor in the garage. Alone yesterday and a bit bored, I excitedly began uncapping my whole 4 frames of honey. Good, the local beekeeper said, for a first year. Twelve pounds or so of fresh honey, he thought, would be the yield. I put the uncapped frames in the extractor and began to crank. This was when I saw the yellow jacket, but I thought nothing of it. The extractor came apart, and I stopped to fix it. A bumble bee wandered in. Still unfazed, and utterly too excited, I cranked on. When the extractor came apart a second time, I paused as I began to fix it, aware of a subtle but loud hum. Nay, a buzz. In fact, a buzz that seemed to be intensifying in both urgency and volume. Well, fool, I thought. The garage door is open. I closed the door and resumed my cranking, ignoring the 30 or so bees intent on getting "my" honey. The buzz got louder. Much louder. The extractor failed a third time, and as I raised my head I realized that I was in a large cloud of bees. We don't use the word swarm.
These images were taken about 3 hours after the initial arrival of the bees to reclaim their larder.
A swarm is a specific thing and has to do with bees leaving home for good, and is not a word that should be applied to any old gathering of hungry, active bees who've just hit pay-dirt in the form of a free meal. No conversion necessary, just grab the honey and take it home and store it for winter. What could be better, if you're a bee? These bees smelled honey, and they wanted it. But I'd shut the garage door. How could the numbers be increasing? I called Mr. Wonderful as I yanked the frames from the extractor, ducking and dodging as I went, grabbing the cappings and anything else with honey on it that I could reasonable and safely get my hands on, dumping it all into a covered bin. By now the air was thick with bees.
"Did you close the window?" he said. I turned and saw the window wide open, bees pouring in like rain. Opening the garage door to affect my escape, I discovered a waiting mob intent on entry.
I raced to the house with my covered bin of honey products. Some bees followed me, and spent over an hour at the front door of my house waiting for entry. Others discovered that the solar guys had left the basement door open, and gained entry that way. The extractor and it's contents were a total loss. There was simply nothing I could do to get them off of it, to get it away from them. Moving the glass bowl that had been placed beneath the extractor to catch the honey was impossible - then honey would just flow onto the floor and we'd never be able to clean it up. Closing the gate on the extractor was impossible. They covered any and every surface on which honey could be sniffed out. Watching from outside of the garage, I saw bees dying, hundreds, coated in honey to thick to allow flight. At one point the bowl was nearly full of bees.Some just got their toes wet, drank their fill and headed for the hive. Others stuck deep in it, drowning in the wealth of their own labors. The idea that they are "just bees" was impossible to seat in my mind. They were dying, thousands of them, and it was my fault. Stupidity and inexperience led to disaster. Eventually I was able to get the bowl full of dead and dying bees out from under the extractor and throw a towel over to to protect the remainder from their own eager industry. I covered the extractor as well. There was nothing I could do about the gate. They just were not going to give up.
Mr. Wonderful came home to a garage full of bees. Over the course of the evening as the temperature dropped he swept away the dead, and encouraged the live to move on. When I came home from work we moved most of the extractor into the basement bathroom, a very enclosed and generally bee-proof space. This morning I extracted the remaining honey from the uncapped frames.
It's beautiful. It smells like summertime and wild things. I adore it.
The two jars I ended up with are not nearly what I could have had if I'd thought a bit longer about bees, pollen flow, and the survival instinct of the natural world.But I am happy with it. Fewer bees died than I originally thought would. I am hopeful that in the next weeks they can hatch enough bees to bring the hive to a strong level. Pray for sunshine!
Lesson learned. Lessons learned, really. I promised the bees that if they live through the winter, I'll do better next year. I hope they trust me.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Solar Monday, with a Recipe

Today is a wonderful day. Today I realize the beginning of a dream harbored since I was in fourth grade and learned about renewable energy.Today the first phase of Operation Go Solar or Go Home (I know, how original, right?) begins. By the end of this week, the hot water that flows into my sink will have been heated by the sun. The concept captivated me. Energy from the sun, the wind, the water. Even as a kid I understood that there was something wrong with fuel that hurt the planet as much as oil, coal and nuclear power do. I live near a nuclear power plant, and now that they are here I think we owe it to the planet and the future to use them and not walk away, leaving potential disaster and waste behind. But I certainly don't think we need more. I'm not a huge fan of water power either, although as a child it was drilled into us that hydroelectric was the way of the future. Of course the propaganda for a local hydro plant had, I am sure, nothing to do with that. The river which used to freeze over every year near my home town doesn't any more. To deny the relationship between these two plants and that fact is to bury your head in the sand. The environmental impact of the two plants is also documented.The fish have to have help to get from place to place in the form of fish ladders, and some species have disappeared from these waters altogether. I know that solar and wind come with their own bugaboos; making panels and wind turbines involves chemicals and processes that are less than earth-friendly. But once they're up they rely on nothing more than sun or wind to make power. That, to me, makes sense. I let the sun dry my clothes. Why not let it heat my water, or power my laptop? After years of debate and decision making we've finally started a process that I hope and pray will end in energy independence for this household. Our heat will come from the trees around us. Our lights will be powered by solar panels, and our water will be heated the same way. Eventually I hope my car will be electric, and powered by the panels that will one day power my dvd player and my washing machine.Yes, I cried when I took this. Yes, it's that important to me. Important enough that I will sacrifice to make this happen. I wish it was that important to the whole world.
Last week we got our 1/4 cow for the year. We eat vegetarian for most of the week, but no one here is ready to give up their meat. Trouble is, the disturbing nature of the meat industry has led me to believe strongly that our meat should be as non-conformist as possible. That usually also means expensive, and so we eat less - or more accurately, we now consume a more rational amount of protein from animals. This year's contribution/sacrifice comes from a cow known as Montana, whom I've known since calf-hood. I know where they live, what they eat, how they're cared for. I've talked about this here before, so I don't need to go all soap-boxy on you now. Suffice to say this is a cow I can feel good about. So good that we had beef twice this week; rather of a rarity. The first event was on Tuesday when the meat arrived. After picking it up I became obsessed with the idea of having a steak, large, sirloin and right now, and so we did. Later in the week I had an odd craving for burgers. By then everything was frozen, but my craving wasn't willing to wait for slow thawing. I turned to my microwave, that trusty pal of mine. Everything went well for the first bit; most of the burger was thawed and I began to make patties, popping the remainder back in to finish thawing. I was in a hurry to get to the grilling part, so just pushed any old number on the 'weight defrost' button. I think I selected 32 pounds or something close to it and went on with my making of patties, oblivious. Great choice for 3/4 of a pound of ground beef, right? So here's my solution for 3/4 of a pound of excessively defrosted (read cooked...) ground beef. I call it:
The Impatient Carnivore's Burger Soup

1 tsp kosher salt
6 cranks coarsely ground black pepper
2 tsp Herbes de Provence (use our own or my super secret recipe follows)
1/2 tsp bay leaf
2 beef bouillon cubes
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopper
1 green pepper chopped
4-5 medium sized carrots, scrubbed and roughly chopped
6 cloves of garlic minced
1 can diced tomatoes
2 cans vegetable broth
2-3 T high-temp tolerant oil of choice (I like peanut)
1/2-3/4 pound of crumbled accidentally-overcooked-while-defrosting-in-the-microwave ground beef, preferably from a cow you knew personally. Can substitute 1/2 -3/4 lb of plain old ground beef.

If you don't use accidentally cooked beef, start by cooking it up. In a large, high sided skillet add 1T oil. Heat until hot, then add hamburger, stirring often, until cooked through. Remove from heat and drain in colander to remove fat. Make sure beef is crumbled. Set aside.

If you screwed up and killed the stuff in the microwave, just drain it and crumble it and set aside.

In a heavy bottomed stock pot pour 2 T oil. Heat on high until almost smoking. Add salt, onion, carrot and peppers. Stir to prevent sticking, reduce heat just enough to keep it from burning. Cook, stirring often, 4-5 minutes or until onion is soft and translucent. Add minced garlic, pepper, Herbes de Provence, and bay leaf. Cook 2-3 minutes on medium high heat. Add vegetable broth, tomatoes with their juices, drained and crumbled ground beef. Reduce temperature until soup is simmering. Cook until carrots are almost tender (I like mine to have a bit of crunch). Serve in Malea's soup bowls with a handful of leftover tortilla chips from the weekend.

Yummy, really! If you give it a try, let me know how it works for you. I really love it and so does Girl. Mr. Wonderful doesn't get any until dinner. Girl and I just couldn't resist, it smelled so good we had to have it for lunch!

MMO's Herbes de Provence, which is sort of an amalgam of a variety of recipes:
2 T each: Rosemary, Basil, Thyme, Savory, Fennel Seed
1 T Lavender
Place all in spice jar, shake well to combine.