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Archive for the ‘Nature’

Remember Me???

Dear Ellen,

Sorry it has been so long since I’ve posted.  As you know, I’ve been a tad busy.  So, here’s your quick catch up!

All the way back in April (as you obviously know) I had a wonderful, wonderful time visiting your workplace and meeting and speaking so many of your colleagues and co-workers.  So many good memories and ideas from that visit!  The Navy let me hang around for a few more days so I could do some outreach for them — speaking to a number of groups in academia and youth development.  (My favorite was the time I spent with about 60 3rd-8th graders talking about women in technology.  Ten year-olds really keep you on your toes!!) 

susannas-beaded-mitts.JPGIt was great that the trip included Yarnover weekend.  Vendors, classes with Chris Bylsma, Mary Scott Huff and Susanna Hansson, and of course, time with you meant for fantastic fun!  (For our readers, no, the picture on the lower left is not one of us.)  I loved the chance to visit StephenBe’s and to enjoy the sensory overload that is his world.

dsc04536.JPGAnd then, right after I returned to the DC area, I had the chance to take a class with Brenda Dayne of the Cast-On podcast.  She is as lovely as you would expect from her podcast.  I thoroughly enjoyed having the chance to get to know her a bit — witty, smart, funny and engaging.  She’d fit right in to any group that you and I put together, that’s for sure.

dsc04587.JPGThe class project was the Mrs. Beeton wristers.  I went against recommendations on my accent yarn choice (purchased at Yarnover!), but I’m very happy with it.  Future versions should include a modification to accomodate the lack of elasticity in the Seduce (rayon, linen, silk and nylon blend).  The minor problem is that without the “sproing” the knitted ruffle works up to a depth that is a bit too long.  It hides the inner ruffle knitted out of the main yarn, a superwash merino sock yarn.  I do love the contrast in texture though…even more so than for the versions of Mrs. Beeton worked with the recommended yarn types.  The simple fix will be to modify the ruffle pattern to lose just a few rows and that will be very easy.

may-20121.JPGThings are definitely popping up all over the farm these days. That gazebo I mentioned is firmly situated across from the house — bedding plants to come.  And I’ve got fairy ring mushrooms, knock out roses, peas, melons, corn, wildflowers, onions and spinach coming along very nicely!

may-2012.JPGOur tenants are doing well too.  I thought the chickadee had abandoned her nest in the birdhouse and opened it to make sure.  Surprise!  She was right there.  I quickly snapped a picture and closed it back up.  She didn’t twitch a bit and the next day was still sitting her clutch.  I was relieved I hadn’t frightened her by the rude intrusion.  The eggs above our front windows have hatched (see the tail sticking out?) and the babies are making a mess of things.  (That’s okay, we know how to use a scrub brush.)  And the purple finch who nested in the holly bush just outside our back door has laid a nice little trio of beautiful blue eggs with little black speckles.  I caught this photo while she was out taking advantage of the bird feeders.

dsc04573.JPGI’ve put some time in at the spinning wheel and now have 3 very full bobbins of alpaca/tussah silk singles.  I’ll be doing some trial plying of these to see how I want to finish them.  I’m hoping two-ply will yield a heavy sock weight or light DK. 

briar-rose.JPGThe alpaca fleece that I ordered from Morro Fleece Works arrived this past Saturday and it is incredibly lush!  I was so glad I had an extra bobbin at the ready and on Sunday I sat down and spun up about 4 1/2 ounces.  Like buttah!  The roving drafted like an absolute dream — the closest to the zen of spinning that I think I’ve experienced.  It’s a semi-worsted spin with a lot of energy.  I want to test out how a highly spun and highly plied alpaca behaves in a fabric.  I love this color and this fleece so much that I’d really like to use it for the Knitmore SPAKAL, but am smart enough to know I need to figure out the lack of elasticity issue before I knit an entire sweater out of it!  (By the way, I’m seriously considering Mishke by Julie Weisenberger.  Yes, she seems to have both of our attentions!

dsc04527.JPGBefore I say goodbye, I want to share the helmet liner I knit for my trusted assistant.  He is heading off to Afghanistan for a year to command an Air Force communications squadron over there.  I wanted him to stay warm, a small token of my appreciation for all the hard work he did for me over the last few years.  He loved it…can you see the smile?  His last day is tomorrow.  We’ll all be sorry to see him go.  Good luck, Mike!

That’s it — next post will be sooner and shorter.  I promise!

Love, Jan

Things I Like…

Dear Ellen,

Although I did not have a 3 lb. mile chocolate rabbit for Easter, the day was filled with many of my favorite things.

april-2012.jpgAs you’ve likely noted, I’ve been on a birdwatching bent of late, and I was treated to a good deal of entertainment by our feathered friends.  The cardinal was particularly stunning. 

fooling-around.JPGI finished up the fronts to Fooling Around on April Fool’s Day.  I decided to get them and the back to blocking while I work on the sleeves.  I’m hoping to have this sweater ready in time for Yarnover.  If I keep having to tink and rip, that may be a problem.  It’s really not a difficult pattern, but I seem to be knitting with half a brain as of late.

dsc04484.JPGA recent addition to my repertoire is roasted seaweed.  I have really become fond of kale chips and when I tried these I realized they were easily as tasty, just as healthy, and completely free of risk that I might be making kale charcoal.  (Yes, the curse of the burnt rolls seems to extend to kale chips, at least in my case.)  At 60 calories in an entire package, these fit in my diet plans very nicely.  They are a bit high in sodium, but my blood pressure is low, my consumption of water is high, and I don’t eat a whole package in one seating.

And my favoritest thing of all?  Well, you could have guessed it, I’m sure.

dsc04478.JPGLove, Jan

Nuts! No Bunnies for Easter.

collages3.jpg…but plenty of squirrels.  I hope you notice that we are a full service squirrel restaurant, ensuring plenty to drink with those dry seeds.  I have now installed new squirrel baffles, we’ll see if they’re actually baffled by them.

Finished, Almost Finished and Just Begun

Dear Ellen,

dsc04464.JPGI finished up two projects this weekend.  Pipeliner’s Journey only required weaving in of ends and some final photos.  Dale was my photographer and he usually shoots about 12 shots for every one that meets my peculiar demands that both the project and the model be shown off to their best advantage.  I should have let him keep shooting!  I do suppose it’s fair to say that it is a valid representation of both subjects.

dsc04459.JPGI also finished the i-cord edging and added a two button and loop closure on Ann’s Big Heart.   Alison’s shawl patterns are quite nice as they really do stay put on your shoulders and have a feminine, but not overly frilly look (you know I don’t do well with too girly stuff).  I added the closure as I expect Ann may be wearing this in situations where she may be leaning back against pillows and that could be a challenge for even the most shoulder hugging of shawls.  The other shawls in Wrapped In Comfort are longer– again, I thought this more suitable a length for the purpose.  I wore it for a while while working around the house in just a tee-shirt.  It was the perfect bit of warmth to keep me comfortable.

dsc04467.JPGAnd I have one more project nearing completion.  All I have to do is sew on one last sleeve, finish the side seam, add the crotch snaps, sew on shoulder buttons, add a short ribbed collar and complete some simple backstitched line embroidery on the front.  I’m very pleased with how this came out, it’s for the son of one of my former assistants.  The baby was born in January, but this is the 6-12 month size, so I am confident it will reach him in plenty of time for a lot of wear.  It’s made out of Debbie Bliss Eco Baby,  a predominantly cotton yarn as they live in Hawaii — and ergo the name, Aloha Onesie.  It’s based on the Ducky Onesie pattern in the Vintage Baby Knits book.

march-20123.jpgThe farm kept us busy this weekend.  Our flowering plants are coming along quite nicely and as usual I enjoyed the birds at our feeders.  However, we are now on the hunt for some way to prevent the squirrels from devastating the sunflower seed supply that doesn’t obliterate the possibility for good photos.  A cage around the feeders would work, but the obscuration of view kind of defeats the purpose.  Dale is evaluating the possibility of inverted pie pans.  I am contacting Navy friends to find a supply of discarded rat guards.

dsc04438.JPGI am pleased to report that my raised beds are now populated with brussels sprouts, early cabbage, romaine lettuce, various leaf lettuces, butter lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli and early tomatoes.  We’ll see how many are around after a week of exposure — I’m mostly concerned about the deer, not the temperatures.  These have all been hardened outside for the last two weeks, so the weather should not be a problem.

dsc04447.JPGIf all the deer were willing to leave exchanges, I’d likely be less phased by the prospect of sharing our bounty with them.  We found this little down payment from the buck that lives in our woods.  Dale spent another hour searching for its mate.  (The other antler, not a doe — besides, this guy is polygamist, he’s got three does!)  I had a notion that I’d like to make buttons and toggles from any antlers we might find, but now that we have one, I don’t know if I can bear carving it up.

I’ve got 24 minutes before I’m expected to be ready to pile into the car and head back to Alexandria…at least we are almost down to less than 3 months before I will be here full time.  I can hardly wait!!

Love, Jan

Jeepers Peepers

Dear Ellen,

march-20122.JPGNature was in full roar at the farm this weekend.  At least it was as loud as a roar.  The birds were flitting about in pairs cheeping and peeping and tweeting all over the place.  And at night the peepers joined in with their songs.  It was delightful!

march-20121.JPGWe spent some time on flora while the fauna was cavorting.  Dale finished building two raised beds for me and got a load of mushroom mulch to mix in with the topsoil in the boxes and to spread over the rest of the garden.  Man, oh man, that stuff is rich!  I expect good results from it — of course, I’ll have to get some plants and seeds in there first!

march-2012.JPGI did get violas and primroses planted here and there around the house.  They joined in with the rhododendrons, crocuses and daffodils to add some lovely color.  Spring is definitely here.











And doesn’t Dale look great in Manly?  He’s very pleased with the outcome — he even said he kind of wish winter would have one last go so he could wear it a bit.  At least it will be waiting for next fall!

Love, Jan

I would have planted peas for St. Paddy’s day…

Dear Jan,

Remember how Mom used to try to get peas and potatoes planted for St. Patrick’s Day?  Well, I thought I might do that this year as it has been unusually warm and the frost is out of the ground, but I think I missed my chance.  They are a cool weather crop, and it is already in the 80’s here in Minnesota.  Heck, the Iditarod isn’t even quite over (as I write this, three mushers and their teams remain on the trail) and we are wearing shorts in Minnetonka.  I, for one, am a little scared of carbon dioxide.

My concerns haven’t stopped me from enjoying the warmth.  We headed down to the U of MN Landscape Arboretum for a day of hiking with our friends Gary and Sharon.  Not expecting much beyond bare limbs and leftover leaves from last fall, we were delighted by the variety of buds in a state of rapid expansion.  Flowers won’t be far behind (the maples are already in bloom).


We were delighted to have a mourning cloak butterfly join us, though he quickly left when another of his own species fluttered by.  I know what they have on their mind!


Even nicer was spotting a male bluebird…


…and then his mate.  We saw them flutter in and out of a bluebird house, so I know what is on their mind, too!


We did see some snow in piles in deep shade and there is still ice in the lakes, and plenty of snowdrops.  They look so simple from above, but tip up their blossom and it is a lovely, complex bloom.


I don’t think I’ve ever hiked in a T-shirt to see snowdrops.


We got home in time for me to finish my Iknitarod project while there were still four mushers who had yet to make it to Nome.  I made the Knit Vested and Stylish vest,  a free Red Heart pattern.


I don’t like to bash free patterns, because, after all, they are free, but this was a case of you get what you pay for.  The pattern left many details out – I could figure my way around them, but a less experienced knitter may have had trouble.  Things like specifying what decreases and increases to use, how to make them symmetrical (and in a worsted weight, it would have been noticeable if you didn’t make them symmetrical), poor description of mitering the points, no description of how to pick up the right number of stitches…  and on and on.  The design had weaknesses, too.  For one, the attached back belt is done in garter of worsted weight yarn, pretty clunky if you ask me.  I wasn’t going to live with that.

img_0864.JPGInstead, I made a 2-ply yarn from the 4-ply Cascade 220 used for the vest.  First, I reversed the final twist on my wheel until the plies were no longer twisted together.   This took a few tries to get it right – I simply pulled the yarn off the bobbin and wound it on my hand then ran it back into the wheel with the appropriate twist to adjust until it was perfect.

I then separated the plies, running two to a bobbin winder and wrapping two on my hand.


Next, figure out how much twist to put back in and get a reasonably balanced yarn.  How to discover the right twist?  Water – it releases the set twist of the fiber and lets it relax to where it wants to be.


The damp two ply next to some that had not gotten a bath gives me guidance on how much twist to put back into the two ply yarn.


I plied it on my wheel, and then knit these little bits right off the bobbin.  That was convenient, as it let me put a bit more twist in as needed.


I was quite happy with the weight and look of the little belt.  That extra effort almost always pays off!


A day in the sun, the last push to finish the vest, and even some spinning leaves me ready to make the effort to get to bed early.  I hope your day was as full and productive as mine was!



Deer Me

Dear Ellen,

This weekend was designated a non-achievement weekend.  I did do a few things like mending some pants for Dale and making soup for the coming week, but otherwise I pretty much enjoyed doing nothing.  I got Manly blocked (just missing toggles and loops!), but I was so lackadaisical I didn’t even take a picture.

deer-3_11_12.JPGEnjoy this one from Dale — these guys were grazing in the upper end of the pasture when he went out this morning.

Love, Jan

Whew! I Need a Breather!

Dear Ellen,

So many good things and so much great fun in the last few weeks.  I’ve hit the point where all I want is a weekend without any plans.  I guess that will come one day — and then I’ll miss all the activity.

dsc04231.JPGIt was so wonderful to have you, Wilson and Karen join us at the engagement party.  Allen was very grateful too.  He and Libby are so happy together.  Planning for the fall wedding will start soon.

img_5895.JPGWork had piled up in my absence, so the return to DC wasn’t fun.  Dale took off for the farm Friday afternoon and I followed on the train later that night.  Jim and Chris joined us at the farm for Friday night and Saturday morning — it was so good to see them.  We enjoyed some wine Friday night and lunch at the Central Market on Saturday.  After they left we did shopping and I rather collapsed in front of the TV.  I did get a few things done here on Sunday — some rose pruning and garden clean up, food prep for the coming week and some knitting.  I also refilled the bird feeders much to the appreciation of this little guy.

dsc04392.JPGManly progresses — sleeves are now joined to the body and I’m working on the yoke.

dsc04391.JPGAnd I had finished Pipeliner’s Journey earlier in the week and got it blocked out today.  I’m pleased with both.

That’s it for now…I’m so behind in so much I just can’t take more time!

Love, Jan

Lamb Season

Dear Ellen,

dsc04195.JPGOh, I so wish I had photos to share of the little lambies at one of the farms near us.  We went out hiking today on a converted railway — good hike and lots of lovely scenery, but we knew we had only covered about a tenth of the trail.  We went driving to see where the other trail heads were and in the process passed a farm with so much cute sproinginess going on one could hardly stand it.  I had hope to take a picture or two on our way back, but evidently food is in the barn and our return trip was around feeding time.

dsc04189.JPGWhile walking around our own property, I found that nature is doing a bit of her own plying.  It’s a bit unfortunate though — these aggressive vines are killing a lot of the trees.  We go through the woods severing them from their root stock and freeing the trees from being strangled.  It is pretty impressive as an example of large gauge 2-ply though!




img_5866.JPGThis week’s star avian visitor was a yellow-shafted northern flicker, who graced us with his presence as an exception to policy as this variety of woodpecker rarely goes to feeders.  He couldn’t resist the suet.

dsc04196.JPGdsc04197.JPGAnd I’ve been knitting away on Pipeliner’s Journey and Ann’s Big Heart.  On the former I am not getting the length I expected — no wonder, my garter stitch is evidently much tighter than gauge…and who checks gauge for shawls??  Oh well, easy to add some rows to make sure it’s long enough.  If it looks like I’ll run out of yarn, I’ll just order more.  If the dye lots don’t match, I’ll just use the new yarn for the border only. I finished the knitting and blocking of the latter.  Very pretty lace pattern and the shawl is easy to wear.  I’m debating doing a simple i-cord edging on the two fronts and around the collar.  I think that would finish it off nicely.  Then, despite the fact that it lies so easily around the neck, I’d add a large hook and eye closure.  If Ann wears this in a hospital bed, I think having it fastened would be convenient.

The three day weekend was gone in a flash.  At least I only have three work days this week — I’ll be picking Allen up at the airport on Friday and it’s the engagement party on Saturday!  Looking forward to seeing you then!

Love, Jan

Downy or Hairy?

Dear Ellen,

img_5819.JPGDo you like your peckers downy or hairy?  Sorry, upon reading my opening line, I realize it sounds way to much like the language of our spam commenters, but to be clear, I am talking about woodpeckers.  I believe this lovely bird is a hairy one.  The two are remarkably similar with differences only in their beaks and outer tail feathers as far as I can tell.  If those are black bars/spots on her outer tail feathers (yes, I can tell she’s a female — no red patch on the back of the head), then I’m wrong, she’s a downy.  But I would expect to see the black spots a bit better and her beak is far more chisel-like than I saw on the pictures of the downy.  Tough call.  I’ll let you know after I post this over in the “Knitting Pipeline” group on Ravelry.  Paula’s an expert.

dsc04161.JPGI’ve made good progress on Manly.  I have almost reached the “joining of sleeves” point in the body entirely with the first skein of Eco+ — was very pleased to see how far it went.  I started the next skein, but realizing I’d need sleeves to join soon, decided to work on those before I continued on the body.  I’ve got one ready to go and am about a third of the way up the second.  I’d be there in no time if I hadn’t picked up two new projects that I need to crack out quickly.

dsc04160.JPGThe first of these is a helmet liner using that fabu pattern, Gusseted Helmet Liner from TwinSet Designs.  I’m sure your familiar with it.  (By the way, when I created my project on Ravelry for this, I became your 200th project.  Do I get a prize?  Oh wait, I already got one — that lovely Columbia roving and fun, fun gifts from China.  I am particularly partial to the finger flashlight.  Thanks!) I’m making this for a buddy who deploys in a few weeks. I found out he still only has the government issue crappy acrylic helmet liner and asked him if he’d like a good one. He was thrilled when I said I’d make him one.  I’m making great progress, but am not thrilled with the stretchiness of my cast on — believe I will finish the helmet liner and then try to pick up stitches near the cast on, pick the cast on out and then bind off using Jeny’s Surprisingly Stretchy Cast Off.  Also, instead of doing a provisional cast on for the resumption of knitting in the round after the neckstand, I used two circs as the base and did a figure eight cast on to yield two lines of live stitches — one line oriented up and the other down. It worked great. When I go back to do the ribbing around the face opening I’ll simply pick up the stitches on the sides of the neck stand and be in business.

dsc04163.JPGThe next one will be a shawl for my friend Ann.  You may recall that I designed Ann’s Cap for her when she first came down with ovarian cancer.  She’s been in remission for a few years now, but her last scan showed that it’s back.  Surgery is Monday.  I’d like to be able to bring this shawl to her sometime week after next.   The pattern, from Wrapped in Comfort is perfect — named Bigfoot, I’m naming this project Ann’s Big Heart.  Her feet aren’t that big, but boy her heart is!  (I have been meaning to knit from Alison’s book for a while, but was not able to lay my hands on it.  It showed up a few weeks ago when I unpacked the last boxes from the move.) I’m doing it in Socrates — a yarn that has a very warm, very soft feel to it.

dsc04162.JPGFinally, I decided to join in on a KAL on the Knitting Pipeline boards.  Quince and Company picked up a pattern that Paula designed and it is lovely, called Piper’s Journey (click through to see a preview on their site).  I’m not a Piper, but I’ve so enjoyed her podcast and being a member of the Ravelry group, so I couldn’t say no.  Mine’s called Pipeliner’s Journey.  It will, however, have to wait till I finish the other priority projects.  As it’s not yet available (it should go on sale within the week), I may finish them up just in time.  I’m making mine in Quince and Company Chickadee in the glacier colorway.

Spinning continues too…am through the 4 oz. braid of silk and merino and I have a question.  What do you do when you can’t find the end of your single?  Mine somehow disappeared after it broke during the spinning process and now I fear surgery will be the only way to recover it.  As I’d like to ply next weekend, your advice will be valued!

Love, Jan