Monday, April 27, 2009

Fly on The Wall

First, a bit about the chocolate bash. The concept is, loosely, "a Tupperware party, but with chocolate". It's Dove Chocolate Discoveries. A hostess (me) invites a bunch of friends and a 'chocolatier', in this case Linda, brings chocolate. There is sampling, ordering, and just general fun. And, since it's my house, there was an "after party". But more on that in a minute.
Although I don't have pictures, because I forgot my camera for hours, in attendance were Malea (see her stuff THIS weekend at Twist Fair!), Dena, Mary, Linda, Jacinda, GL, Katy-with-Lindsey The Bat Wrangler, Kristen, Mary Alice, Sara, Rue...and if there's anyone I missed, I apologize. It was kind of hectic in here for a little while, but a lot of fun with good friends and good food and a little bit of the grape. And the potato.
First, Jacinda won the game. She made 49 words from the word chocolate. This is a big score for homeschoolers everywhere, in my oh so humble opinion.We sampled chocolate things, and some people ordered chocolate things. There were chocolate martinis, and chocolate trifle, and chocolate cupcakes, and chocolate macaroons. Linda did a splendid job.
As the evening wore on some folks headed home, and others stayed behind. Dazee recovered from her long day of Divadom.We got the Grill Master into the game, cooking up chocolate chicken two ways; one spicy, one not so much.Kristen got "the wrong one". Totally not my fault. I swear it didn't seem hot to me. And this was on top of Mervin making a hole in her foot with his evil claws...Poor woman will never come back between cat assaults and spicy chicken.
Rue was happy, and so were Barb and Jacinda. We toasted the Springdelle Farm lambs in honor of the other Barb who could not be with us because ewes, like people-moms, do things in their own good time. We toasted chocolate. We toasted.The sun went down and the stars came out.
Eventually I brought out a lamp, so we could see who we were talking to.Mary Alice was very impressed that we have stars here. Rue used to be, but now she has stars at her house.I hope we can do this again soon. I am planning already.
This week I've been working on a One-Skein project that seemed to defy me. It wasn't the planning or the writing. It was the knitting. I just wasn't committed, which is sad. I adore the yarn, love the colorway and love the project. Sometimes I just get snotty about "work" knitting and become obsessed with non-work, like potholders or socks for Gene or baby things.But today I managed to complete this, which you can't see yet. The yarn is Schaefer Anne in the colorway Elizabeth Zimmerman, which I adore (both yarn and colorway!). The project, if it does not appear where I hope it will, will eventually make a reappearance here. Dazee continues to recover from her wild weekendand so does Mel.If I am honest, I must say that this has much less to do with the weekend and much more to do with the heat which has been oddly high for April in Massachusetts since Saturday. A cold front is coming in this evening, and I am very glad. The heat has had some good benefits. The daffodils, of which there are many here, have all come out.Some have also gone away a bit faster than usual, but are lovely while they are here. We walked across the road this evening to look at an oddity in a tree that turned out to be nothing more than a growth. I love walking over there because it gives me different perspective on my own space.And I get to spend time with the barn.One good strong storm, and I think it would fall right over. It's been there for a long, long time.But time has a way of changing things, even barns.It's not really good for much more than having it's picture taken anymore. But sometimes I can feel it's history, and imagine the lowing of the milk cows who once inhabited it. The cupola has fallen in. The dairy has collapsed. But the post and beam main structure defies age and gravity, and carries on.
We came home to discover that someone had managed to get into the garden.Just one someone, and happily not as destructive as he might have been, as he stayed in the garlic box near the fence. Woe to him if he gets into the asparagus, or the peas. I assisted him to make a better choice of location.
The chocolate party, however, had nothing on today's Big Event. In a stellar display of genius, I decided to redecorate my kitchen.With chocolate. What do you think? Tres chic, no?
2T Hershey's cocoa powder + 2 tsp Agave nectar + reheated leftover coffee + ice cubes + five pounds of "duh." = beverage FAIL. I am pretty sure there's chocolate in my ears still.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Weekend, Home and Away.

I had such plans for the weekend. I am always amazed at how things turn around on me. First I got the mudroom ready for chicks.Dazee helped. Camera=Dazee. Sigh. Then we headed for Greenfield to attend the Greenfield Green Fair at the Franklin County Fairgrounds. I still dream of solar panels, just like I have since I was 10. Give us time...research, tax credits, maybe a little lessening of the cost of equipment. That'd help.
While I am waiting for solar panels and an off-grid lifestyle complete with SunFrost fridge, I bought some stuff to amuse me. There was a table selling Equal Exchange snacks - I got cranberries and pecans, and a chocolate bar for Gene (milk chocolate. ptooey!)Katy directed me to the Cheshire Gardens table where I TOTALLY SCORED their chili pepper mustard. It's really, really nice. I love it, and they're a mere fifteen minutes from here. We chatted with Traci who was selling her wares with some other local crafters. And of vital important I purchased Recycleze diapers for the future. Don't ask me why we do this, but someday Girl may spawn and when she does it'd be a lot easier if I had a collection in place. Super Cool Grandmother gives Super Cool Cloth All-In-Ones. Just wait. She wasn't here to buy one for herself, so I bought two; one on her behalf.By the way, I should interject here that my children wore old-fashioned pre-folds with pins and rubber pants. We didn't have this coolness.
We spent some time talking with Spartan of Co-op Power. Mr. W. then spent hours calculating potential savings of membership if he combines the discount on heating oil (which we use comparably little of, only a few hundred gallons a year) and potential savings on that solar system that I dream of.
Then we trotted to my mother's apartment to deliver a sewing machine table, chair, sewing machine and various associated gadgetry. She'd been given a Sears Kenmore portable machine a while back, and I brought it into the house Friday intending to oil it and get it working. That is until I discovered that it is missing parts available only from Sears, and only at a premium. So, Hello Kitty to the rescue! I knew buying that machine wasn't nearly as crazy as it seemed at the time. Now Hello Kitty lives at The Arbors, and mother is merrily sewing away. We headed home, but Mr. W. suddenly decided he wanted Mexican (What was I supposed to say? "No, no, honey. Stop. Don't take me to Mesa for lunch. Bad, bad man."!?).
Saturday evening we discussed plans for Sunday - remove center dividing wall of chicken house to make more floor space. The divider was for the turkeys, who are long gone. Assess the bee hive and determine what we need. Chill out on the deck.
Sunday dawned a bit colder than I wanted it to be. My fingers were cold, and I hate working with cold fingers; I also don't like gloves. We went to the garage to assess the hive situation. We talked about Getting the Bees, our fears about what to do, would we figure it out, would we kill them all, could we handle this. I generally reason that it can't possibly be as hard as keeping infants alive, and since I've proven I can do that, what's a few chicks, bees, whatever else you want to throw at me. Heck, I can even breed fish and keep lizards alive and that's not easy doings. I complained that we'd missed two classes already, and probably would miss more if we didn't get on it and make ourselves go. Mr. W. agreed that we needed to do something, find out more, before we slaughtered the poor nuc. There was a lot of sighing. Mr. W. set to work cleaning the hive off and contemplating paint colors. I headed for the chicken house to do my worst. I love demo work. Isn't this just gross?This is the dividing wall with the nest boxes on it. There was a sloped cover over the nest boxes to keep hens from roosting up there. Once the cover came off I discovered 5 years worth of dust and smut. Chickens' feathers make dust, the shavings make dust, there is dust in the air, the grain makes dust. I pulled the roosts out of the way after unscrewing them (see, this whole thing was put together with the intention of easy disassembly)and started on the wall. When we put this wall up it was done entirely with wood screws and was supposed to be mostly modular so that we could rip it down without difficulty. Except the base plate. See, 5 years plus cheap screws plus chicken poop = rust. Rust = stripped screws. Every. single. one. So while the studs came away nicely, and I got the top of the wall detached, the base wasn't going anywhere. What I had was a floppy disaster of an 8' wide x 8' tall wall. So really, there was no way to get it out as intended in one piece. Gene came down and offered the use of his reciprocal saw, but I was still determined in my mind that this could come out, in one piece, with no more than a driver (around here it's called "The Zippy Driver", the cordless drill/driver is, and right next to duct tape and the compound miter saw it's my favorite tool) and maybe snips for the chicken wire at the top if it needed it. No 100 foot extension cord, no big tools. Pigheaded? Nawp. Not me.
I had just finished removing the wall (Should I tell you how it ended? Ok. Not too badly. The wall came out in two pieces, the base plate got a little extra attention from a wrecking bar and the whole thing was conducted without any more electricity than that contained in the battery pack of the driver, which was my intention.) and was sitting on the floor of the filthy chicken house contemplating 'furniture' placement when Mr. W. approached with my cell phone. "You're gonna say this is karma, or meant to be, or whatever it is you say, but listen to this message." and handed me the phone. It was Jacinda (no blog, doesn't even knit, but we let it go because she's been around for 20+ years) letting us know that there was a bee class, today, on how to install package bees into a new hive. She and Greg were going, and did we want to come along? I looked at my watch. I called her, and we made plans to meet there which gave me a super generous 20 minutes to shower, change, and find lunch. While I was on the phone with her, one desperate hen came back into the house. Lots and lots of noises were made about the condition of the space, the changes I'd made which were obviously not to her liking, the odd (and temporary) location of the nest boxes. So distressed was she that she initially tried to lay her egg IN MY LAP.I convinced her that this was not a good plan. Gene helped me get the nest box into a more appropriate location and she tottered in and skeptically settled down to business.
We made it to the bee yard in perfect time.(Interesting to note, for upcycling/recycling/reclaiming fans: the wood used to build that wall I removed has been around for 20 years, or more. Some was reclaimed from a project Gene and I did a million years ago on my trailer in NH. Some was reclaimed from cabinets we pulled out of our old house in Northfield. All of it had screws removed, and it's been returned to the reuse pile in our garage meaning it will likely see use in the future as roosts for birds, more animal housing, who knows. But we pulled the red 2x3 studs out of NH when Meg was barely out of diapers, and the icky brown stained ones were put into our last house by the parents of kids I went to elementary school with, and I think that's pretty cool, frankly.)
Back to the bees...our bees - or I should say Girl's bees - are coming from Warm Colors Apiary which is pretty local to us, about twenty minutes or so. Warm Colors also has a great educational program for people new to bees and beekeeping. Sunday was a "package bees" pickup day. This means that boxes of bees were brought up here from Georgia by Dan Conlan for sale to local beekeepers, or potential beekeepers. This is the same method used to ship bees via the USPS. Bees come in a package which contains about 3 pounds of bees, a queen in a special cage, and enough sugar water to sustain them on their journey.These are bee packages in the shade awaiting pick-up. There were lots of bees.
Sunday's class was to show people how to get their hive started; how to introdce their package bees into a new hive.These are two hives in the Warm Colors bee yard. I love that they paint them up. I've been reading and apparently it's helpful if you've got more than one colony in a yard if the hive colors are varied. The bees can more easily recognize their own home and have less tendency to "drift", or end up in the wrong hive. Each colored section is called a super. They come in different sizes; deep, medium and shallow. Simply put, the lower supers are where the bees make more bees, keep house, and store a bit of grub and is also where the queen resides. Honey supers are added above, and a screen is used to keep the queen out of the honey supers. The honey supers are what the beekeeper gets.
Even junior beekeepers need to don their protective gear!Tiny bee suits. Why knew?!Dan dumping the bees into the lower hive body, a deep super. I love that they really are just dumped in. At first they are a big pile, but very quickly they spread out and cover the surface of the hive.At this point there's a lot of bees in the air. Some even stop off and visit.3 pounds is a lot of bees, by the way...After a remarkably short time, the bees settle down and figure out where they are supposed to be. Some sit on the hive top and fan the air vigorously with their wings, sending out a pheromone signal to their sisters that their queen is HERE, not over there.We had an awesome time at the bee yard. We signed up for the rest of the classes, got some supplies we needed and in general feel very prepared to be Bee Grandparents. In fact, I kind of want to be a Bee Mommy now.
Eventually Mr. W. reminded me that we needed to start supper and finish what we'd started earlier in the day. I came home to discover that some adaptation, albeit reluctant adaptation, had taken place. They are comfortable enough to lay me a couple of eggs, anyway.This is the new improved house, much more open, although the only one who'll really believe that is Girl. The shed is 10x12, and the area the birds have is about 8x12'. 2' is reserved for storage of their feed, and to keep them from leaving the building every time I enter. They've got six nest boxes, although I am going to add 3 more on top of the ones they've got. Their feeder is still hanging in it's proper place, and the waterer hasn't moved. Really, they have nothing to protest, but at bedtime they did anyway.
Chickens are not fans of change. But then...LOOK!! SPRING is really HERE! Gene pulled the straw off and found ASPARAGUS! I adore asparagus. I cannot wait for a few spears - but only a very few. This is the first full year they've been in, so we can't take a lot. But I can be patient. There's time yet!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Conversation Earlier Today

MMO: "I am stopping at River Valley. I think I am going to see if they have any strawberries yet."
Mr.W: "Why?"
MMO: "Because I want them."
Mr. W: "Waaaant them???" (drawn out operative, implication that 'want' is insufficient reason to buy)
MMO: "What does that mean?"
Mr. W: "Well. You don't need them. We have frozen ones from last year. You just want them."
pause. I am processing.
Mr W: "But...since you're there anyway, can you get me some bananas? I want them for breakfast."
MMO: "Want? So. You don't need them?"
Mr. W. "Well, yes. I need them for my breakfast."
MMO: "We have oats. Rice. Wheat Berries. Cold cereal. So you don't need them. We have a lot of breakfast foods at home already. You want them."
pause. (he is processing? maybe he'll get it.)
Mr. W: "What's your point?"

That's where I quit. I hope he stops for bananas on the way home.

There were no strawberries. But I got Chamomile Mead (which will be interesting as I've only had their Liquid Sunshine) and Pioneer Valley Vineyard Cayuga which is now available there as well. The meadery gets their honey, most of it, from the same place where our bees are coming from, Warm Colors Apiary. Last weekend we assembled the dog kennel to keep the bears out of the hive. Mr. W and I both fully expect to come out some morning to find a very well fed bear locked in a dog kennel with a trashed hive. But we'll see. Chicks come next week, if all goes according to plan. I am very excited. FIFTY new babies!!

No knitting I can show. I'm working on work stuff. Oh wait. How about Wyatt's Baby Surprise with Handy Assistant? I forgot to get a picture of his cabled set - I made a hat to go with. No buttons and not seamed yet. It needs socks and a hat. The yarn is Schaefer Nichole which I am thoroughly in love with. I mean in love. Soft, spongey, squashy washable happiness. Love, love, love. Love. Really.I also love the simple complexity of the BSJ. That's nowhere near as backwards as it sounds. When it comes to this jacket it is truly complex, but simple. It just happens, but you can't read ahead, or you'll spoil the ending. A lot of EZ is like that.
I wandered around a little and found things to look at just now. Chickens, of course, meandering in parts of the yard they haven't seen much of. It's warm here, finally, 70 and partly cloudly so they're getting around a bit more. Gadding really.
I discovered that the snow peas have popped up, although the old fashioned kind are taking a bit longer. That's ok. I like edible pods best anyway.
Chickens like anything green and growing. Fence is a good thing.Daffodils are just everywhere here, which I love. At our old house naturalizing them was a joke. Growing them was a joke. Our soil was too high to be fertile silt, and more resembled "great former beach of monster lake". Sand, sand and more sand. No nutrient value whatever. Here, we grow rocks. But I can build up, and conquer. And the daffodils seem to like the challenge.
And spinach and chard in the cold frame. Look closer. It's there!AHH, SPRING!!!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Winner! Winner!! Winner...s?

Today I announce the WINNERS (yes, winners!) in my Lexie Barnes' Sew What Bags giveaway.
But first a brief prattle...I love this time of year. Last night I needed to transplant some of the leggier of my young charges into larger pots with more growing room.I brought wine. And organic potting soil, and little green cups salvaged from the dump in Northfield a few years ago. It's now "illegal" to remove things from the dump. This is not a topic that makes me happy. Scavenging, salvaging...recycling? Why not? What about back in the day when I was a single dumpster diving mother? Any clue how much money I was able to save? How thin of a shoestring we lived on? All because of upcycling, recycling, and scavenging. Baugh. Anyway, that could turn into a heck of a rant, so I shall move on. I have a particular love of the baby herbs which I run my hand over every morning and evening in part to strengthen their stems, but really so I can sniff them. Tomatoes are in big pots now, and some squashes as well. And then the temperature plunged to 23 overnight. But in time, spring will truly come.
And when it does, some lucky people are going to be all ready with new knitting totes that they made themselves! I decided that instead of robbing my stash this was an excellent reason to go fabric shopping. I found fabric for one bag. Then another. And another.I could have gone on, but was afraid Mr. Wonderful would have a seizure if I shopped too heavily, so I limited it to three bags worth of cloth. But I only have one book (unless you count my copy, which you just ain't getting!) So, I decided to change things up a bit. Two runners up will each receive enough fabric to make the tote on page 87, and one Grand Prize Winner will get Lexie's (signed!) book AND some fabric. Objections? I didn't think so. But there's a catch. I really want to see what you guys come up with. If you make a bag from Lexie's book, and I do hope you will, please post it in her Flickr group created just for this purpose. So with that in mind, allow me to introduce our two runner's up:

Lyndy, who said "Sewing was my first love. I took up knitting because I needed something portable when my son started sports. I love making bags, and your "patterns are guidelines" comment is SOOO true for me too."
Glad to hear it Lyndy. If I could convince the world that patterns are guidelines I'd be a happy woman indeed. Follow them to a T if you want to, but if you think something should be changed, don't be afraid to change it!


KSee, who said "I too made some of my kids clothes when they were very young. My son would wear out his knees (before it was fashionable) I know the book would help me finish up some felted bags and dust off the sewing machine."
Well get dusting, because you've got some sewing to do, KSee!

and now...drumroll please.....
Our Grand Prize Winner
"WOW!!!! Thank you for introducing me to Lexie Barnes! wouldn't this make the most perfect spring bag? I think Lexie now has a new follower!
P.S. I love your blog AND your book!
Well, thank you Vanessa, any lover of my book and blog and a Lexie convert is a friend of mine! Enjoy your winnings, and please do let us know how you get on with them!
I'll be busy with my own little pile, because three bags is never enough when it comes to fabric. I found myself some remnants, and some not so much...and I had to have 2/3 yard of that chicken fabric from the giveaway pile...and then there were the bees...Time to get that machine cranking!
Congratulations to our winners, and thank you all for playing!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

As Much Fun as Knitting? I Think So.

***NOTE In response to queries all over the place today I am making the following announcement: This is NOT, repeat NOT an April Fool prank! When I posted this I didn't even know it was April first. I really WILL give away book and fabric, and Lexie really IS opening her retail shop this weekend! YAY!!!!****

This morning over breakfast I got to spend some quality time with something new. And I was so excited about the contents that I came right here to share. My coffee isn't even gone yet, AND I forgot my vitamins.

It's not a big secret on this blog that I am a bit of a lexie barnes freak. If you don't believe me, google "melissaknits lexie" and the first hits that come up are me blogging about, tweeting, commenting on other blogs, or just generally lusting over Lexie bags. I most recently succumbed to a new Lady B (since I only had one) and a backpack in two of my favorite fabrics, Diablo and Pacifica. I cherish my laptop bag. I adore my Darling. I prize my Lady B's. I dote on the minis. It is true to say I love them all. When my husband hears me "squee" about new Lexie fabrics, he cringes a little. And for the record, I don't squee much. They're that cool.

It's also not a big secret, although maybe a bit of one here, that I sew. Not as much now as in my old life since there's less time and my focus has changed. But I sew. I've sewn commercially, professionally, privately and personally. My kids wore things I made for them, my friends kids wore things I made for them, strangers paid me and they got stuff I sewed too. It's safe to say that if knitting had not come along when it did, I would still be easiest found parked in front of my sewing machine or serger or cutting table, surrounded by pieces on their way to becoming things. From garments to toys to costumes to (my favorite project of all time) the plastic windows of my father's old snowblower cover, I've just about sewn it all. The fabric stash in this house is topped only by the yarn stash.

It's also not a secret at ALL that I rarely read directions, and refer to patterns as "guidelines". When I do actually read something I modify, change, alter and build or rebuild to suit. So if you brought together Lexie, sewing, and free thinking all together in one place, it'd probably be a lot like happiness, right?

Guess what?
It's not just a book with basic patterns for how to make bags, although that would be awesome.
It's also not just a bunch of loose ideas that you get to muddle through.
It's not even just another sewing book.
It's way more.

You could be a total novice, a complete non-sewer, and this book would teach you enough skills and terminology to last a lifetime.If you're new to sewing, begin at the beginning. Read and learn. If you're an experienced home sewer, jump in and pick a pattern. If you're like me, be inspired. Design your own. Grab your Pekingese dog pull out the fabric you bought last year and start measuring.For those of you who are local and familiar (or unfamiliar, in fact especially if you're unfamiliar!) with lexie barnes bags, there is a VERY special event this weekend marking the opening of her new shop in South Deerfield. Promised are giveaways, discounted bags (!!!), and snacks from my favorite cafe, Woodstar in Northampton (home of the infamous gluten free lemon cupcake, and the most yummy mocha!). Stop by, say hi to Lexie for me (I will be teaching a class on home food preservation in Holyoke and may not make it back up the valley in time to attend, although my fingers are crossed!), buy a bag (or six.), have a snack, and celebrate the talented Ms. Barnes and all of her accomplishments; mother, bag and fabric designer extraordinaire, and published author all in one package.

Now, here's one last wee thing. I've decided to give away a copy of the book (maybe even signed if I can track down the author, which shouldn't prove too difficult) and enough fabric from my stash to make the Tool Tote on page 87. In order to enter, you need to comment below (you MUST enter your email address or Ravelry name in order for me to find you!) by midnight on Saturday April 11th. What are you waiting for?