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Archive for November, 2010


Mmmm….Turkey!

Dear Ellen,

dsc01584.JPGdsc01548.JPGimg_5097.JPGI’m glad to hear you had such a good time on your Thanksgiving. We also had a wonderful Thanksgiving.  We drove to Brooklyn in time to set the table.  Marie and Heidi made a wonderful meal that opened us up to some different choices on T-Day.  img_5096.JPGWe actually got Dale to eat some brussels sprouts without hiding them in his napkin…and he had to admit that they weren’t bad.  Personally, I gobbled them up — roasted and tossed with a great balsamic vinaigrette.  I opened my mind to creamed pearl onions — and I loved them.  dsc01539.JPGI really didn’t think I’d enjoy them much and don’t recall I’ve ever had them.  The turkey was super yummy — Heidi put herb butter under it’s skin and roasted it perfectly.  The sweet potato puree and mashed potatoes were awesome.  The girls even put out some dinner of the Meow Mix variety for the neighborhood strays.

dsc01582.JPGimg_5114.JPGOf course, the best part was being there with our daughters.  We played board games and watched movies and I helped Marie with the little hat she’s been knitting for her friend’s soon-to-be-born baby.  dsc01554.JPGimg_5119.JPGWe discovered that she’s not a fan of kitchener stitch…what a surprise.  I pretty much did that bit for her as it won’t be a long time (so she expects) that she’ll need it again, so why not.  All it needed by the time we left was a little bit of blocking.  Cute!

dsc01546.JPGthanksgiving-in-brooklyn-2010.JPGdsc01540.JPGThe cats wanted to help with all knitting too.  They were highly amusing.  Dale enjoyed being around them, but still says I can’t have one in the townhouse.  At least I know the farm will have kitties!

dsc01583.JPGWe had a great time and remembered you and yours while drinking heavily when we raised our many toasts.  We did spend the night, so drinking was not a problem!  We also got a surprise call from Allen that next morning.  He’s above the surface — in Bahrain for a few days for some work and some liberty.  It was very good to hear his voice.

dsc01592.JPGOn our way home we passed through Quarryville to check out progress on the house.  It is really amazing how quickly things are now moving.  Within a few more weeks, we’ll see walls.  img_5130.JPGdsc01593.JPGimg_5126.JPGRight now you can see the outline of most of the foundation.  The screened porch, wrap around porch and garage will have poured footings vice a basement underneath, but you can imagine how the house will rise up out of this hole.  They should put in the first deck this week…and pour the floor of the basement if it stays reasonably warm.  img_5125.JPGThey’ve already put in the culverts and will be working on stabilizing the driveway as well.  I’ll be heading out on business, so won’t be able to go up for a few weeks.  By the next time I see it, it should look like a house!

Stay warm!

Love, Jan

The Land Down Under

Dear Ellen,

dsc01254.JPGI know you have enjoyed Australia in your travels.  I now know why.  My trip down under came up suddenly and I was complaining about how these last minute deals seem to always get dumped on me and then I caught myself…”wait a minute — you’re going to get to go to Australia, for crying out loud!”   I quit my whining and made the trip and have brought back many good memories.

dsc01461.JPGThe conference itself was well worth the long travel and my host, Peter, was quite gracious.  He’s become a good friend over the last couple of years as we’ve been working together on some satellite and communications agreements between the U.S. and Australia.  He does, however, seem part of the international plot to cause me to overeat and to drink far too much fine Shiraz.  dsc01292.JPGdsc01296.JPGPeter took us around town and drove us out to where we could see wild red kangaroos and one of the most intense rainbows I’ve ever seen…and took us to dinner almost every night.  He also saw us off with a farewell lunch at the wardroom mess at dsc01453.JPGdsc01457.JPGHer Majesty’s Australian Station (HMAS) Harman, the home of Australian Signaleering — or communicating — you know, the radio operators.  The wardroom is named for Marion Stevens, one of the first 14 women in the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service.  She got her training at Harman and worked here…and did dsc01458.JPGdsc01454.JPGneedlework.  They’ve preserved some of that heritage by preserving and displaying some of her pieces.  I loved the fact that these were highlighted in wardroom — usually a high testosterone locale. Marion went on to rise to the rank of Chief Petty Officer and then was commissioned.  Eventually she returned to Harman and helped restore it and run it.

dsc01272.JPGI found more needlework at the National War Memorial.  And this time it was knitting!  This sweater was knit by Sister Eileen Callaghan while held prisoner by the Japanese during WWII.  You can see that she made do with what she had available.  I love that she took care to add cabling and do set in sleeves.  I wonder what she used for needles?  It was a great day to visit the memorial…the day before Remembrance Day (we know it as dsc01256.JPGVeteran’s day).  The names of those who died in battle are engraved along the walls.  Poppies are left every year by the people who still keep each name in their memories.  On Remembrance Day we were at the Australian Joint Headquarters in Russell where we were honored to be part of their ceremonies.

dsc01237.JPGdsc01226.JPGdsc01239.JPGI did a good bit of walking about near the hotel — was fortunate that it was close to the Commonwealth Gardens…lots to see and explore while trying to figure out what time zone I was in.  It was really beautiful…saw budgies and swans and beautiful flowers (it’s late spring there, you know!) and got in a stop at the National Museum.  dsc01285.JPGUnfortunately, no picture taking in the museum, but I bought a few postcards of the aboriginal art.  Fascinating stuff.  You could take pictures outside with the sculptures at the National Gallery…don’t we make quite the pear?

dsc01356.JPGOne afternoon we made a quick trip to the small, but very nice, Canberra Zoo.

I enjoyed the meerkats (he’s tipping over!!),

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dsc01388.JPGthe peacocks (what a GREAT colorway!),

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dsc01381.JPGthe dingoes* (I think Max must be part dingo),

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dsc01420.JPGthe little penguins (signage noted that they are, indeed, “little penguins”),

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dsc01401.JPGthe lounging grey kangaroos (they spell gray wrong),

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dsc01397.JPGthe Tasmanian Devil (who was not very devilish),

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dsc01426.JPGthe koala (who seemed pretty bored by tourists…can you blame him?),

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dsc01336.JPGdsc01337.JPGdsc01338.JPGand the bears (sniffing each other’s butts, sniffing each other’s scat, sniffing themselves — man they sniff a lot!).  But I have to admit that my biggest kick was getting my picture taken with the wombat.  He was asleep…not dead (we did see him scratch himself).  dsc01418.JPGdsc01442.JPGGiven that I’ve got about a dozen pictures of myself** with the wombat that used to be on display in the Natural History Museum, this was a far more lively photo partner than I usually get out of a wombat.

dsc01287.JPGdsc01288.JPGdsc01489.JPGDuring our travels around the city, we noticed that not only do the Australians drive on the wrong side of the road, but they also boldly rip off U.S. corporate identities don’t get company names and logos quite right.  Actually, they’re as amused by the “similarities” as we are.

dsc01493.JPGWe ended the trip with a night in Sydney so we could be near the airport for our early morning flight.  That was great as it gave us a chance to go downtown and dine with a view of the opera house.  My meal included “skippy” — yes, I had kangaroo.  It was tasty.  Peter presented me with a boomerang before we left…to make sure I’ll return.  That won’t be a hard sell!

Love, Jan

*The dingoes took the baby.
**Since our honeymoon, when Dale took the first picture of me with the wombat, we’ve recreated the picture on every return trip possible.  Sadly that wombat became a bit to threadbare (okay, decomposed, if you must!) and is no longer on display.  I sent Dale an e-mail telling him I saw the wombat at the zoo.  His response?  “Did you get your picture taken with him?”  Aren’t traditions fun!

KNITSKI

dsc01499.JPGI’m frequently amused by the various vanity plates out there.  When I saw this one I was puzzled…is the driver a knitter of Polish descent?…or do they knit while skiing?  I would think the latter would be rather dangerous.  Given they are straddling lanes, perhaps they are knitting while driving.

(Truth in advertising…I took the picture as they were changing lanes!)

Quiet before the storm…

Dear Jan,

This was the weekend that I was going to get 82% of the holiday preparations done – plan the menus, start the baking, get the base housecleaning done, shop for most of the gifts.  Instead, Wilson and I enjoyed the quiet.  I knit, I cleaned up my stash, we went to a movie.  Maybe today we’ll get a few things done, but really I want to hold onto the peacefulness.

117.jpgAnd laugh as the kiddens try to figure out how to get the birdy through the glass.  (Brave goldfinch, eh?  Click to embiggen and see him.)

I hope you had a wonderful time with Heidi and Marie and were able to enjoy some of the weekend.  Thanks for keeping the world safe.

Love,

Ellen

The universe is abundant…

Dear Jan,

Whenever we’d hit a glitch in a youth event, back in the days when I was acting as youth advisor at many UU teen conferences, my co-advisor, Lucky, would always say “Don’t worry.  The universe is abundant.”  She was always right, and it always worked out.  Perhaps differently than planned, but always in a good way.

I still harken to that quote when things get tough, but more often these days I am just plain grateful for the abundance that is breaking out all over for Wilson and me.  I just got off the phone with K & J.  They are happy, celebrating the holiday with B and his parents and residency friends, cooking together, laughing together.  I don’t think anything makes me happier than knowing my daughters are happy.

It is K’s first family Thanksgiving to host, and we agreed it was good she start with B’s family so it is really truly hers, not hers with me looking over her shoulder.  (You know I’d try not to.  You know I’d fail.)  I know it will be wonderful, despite the 15 lb heritage free-range turkey she’d ordered turning out to be 26 lbs and crowding everything else out of the oven.  I was able to contribute by suggesting she break into her buddy’s apartment across the street to bake the other side dishes.

Cooking and baking are happening here, of course, as we prepare to head to Becky and Michael’s for the big meal.  There will be 6 of us, so we need 3 pies.  And 5 vegetable sides, in addition to the potatoes and turkey that Becky and Michael are prepping.

Pies have gotten more interesting since Becky was diagnosed as having celiac disease.  The store-bought gluten-free (GF) crust I bought last year was, quite honestly, awful.  Undeterred, I set out to discover a decent crust.

114.jpg25.jpgI bought 3 GF baking mixes, two from a small local firm that were intended to be bread mixes, one with almond flour and one without, and one that was intended to be a general baking mix, sold by a large company who shall remain nameless because I happen to work for them.  I made up mini batches of crust last night (much careful weighing of small amounts), following Alton Brown’s recipe and method from I’m Only Here for More Food.

35.jpgResults –  nutless bread mix gave a flaky, flavorful crust, bread mix with nuts was far too oily and fell to bits, and the general purpose mix was tasty but not pie crust-like.  It would make awesome crackers, though, perhaps with a bit less fat.  (The fat, by the way, included lard.  I was pulling out all the stops to make a decent crust here.  All I have to say is lard tastes really good.)  All were too salty – I really should have used unsalted butter, or a higher lard ratio. (When in doubt, add more lard.)  Sweet fillings should modulate that, so I’m not too worried and pressed forward this morning with the nutless bread mix.

42.jpg52.jpg62.jpg72.jpg8.jpg9.jpgWorking with this crust is dicey – it isn’t very cohesive before baking.  I used the method Alton describes in his book for handling delicate crusts, which was so slick I’ll describe it here.  Follow the pictures.  Roll out between sheets of parchment (Alton uses a plastic bag).  Lay the crust, parchment and all, on top of a pie pan, centering it.  Place another  pie tin on top, push down and snug everything up, then flip.  Remove the first pie tin, peel off the paper, and replace tin.  Flip again, remove the 2nd tin and the other paper and voila – you have a crust-lined pan.

132.jpg115.jpg121.jpgI used this crust to make a pecan (shown) and a pumpkin pie.  I’ll report back on whether the crowd thinks it was successful or not.  The last pie was cherry cat, made with real cats (on quality control duty).  It looked prettier baked, but I forgot to capture that before packing up to head to Becky’s, which we will do in a few minutes.  Edited Friday morning to add: the pies were a big hit. 

10.jpgI’ll leave you to your feasting with a shot of the Solstice a.k.a. Thanksgiving cactus, now in full bloom.  Happy Thanksgiving to all of our readers, and may the universe always be abundant for you.

Love,

Ellen

P.S.  In the abundance that we celebrate on this day, we are reminded to give back what we can.  One of the tasks for the remainder of the weekend is sending contributions to causes we love – among them Heifer International, UNICEF, Doctors without Borders, HRC, Nature Conservancy and many more.  I encourage all to give what they can to the charities that speak to their hearts, that we may help those weaker than ourselves.

P.P.S.  A disclaimer – the opinions expressed in the blog post about lard are solely my own and do not represent the opinions of my employer, undisclosed though they may be.

Bitty knitty for a bitty baby…

Dear Jan,

I had time to knit a matching cap for the cashmere mitts I worked up a while back.  Edith was born 4 weeks early so the shower was delayed.  She is doing wonderfully well so we are going to get to meet her in early December.

113.jpgDetails and in review:  My Practical Cashmere set is a heavily revised version of Paulina Chin’s Baby Hat and Mittens set.  Somehow I removed the rib she had between the cables and added more cables all around the mitts. I knit it in Pura Bella Yarns Pure Mongolian Cashmere, which I previously demonstrated will go through machine washing and drying, picking up some additional halo and softness but otherwise without change.  The photo shows the set after this process.

WARNING:  Swatch and test wash/dry first if you try another brand of cashmere.  If the manufacturer got funny and slipped some of another fiber in there, shame on them, but worse is that it could change this marvelous property.  A baby mitt or sock is an excellent swatch to try this on – if it works, just knit up another and you have a gift for the next babe on your list.  If it doesn’t, not much yarn is lost.

211.jpgAs long as we’re admiring practical beauty, here are my beans for the week.  Snowcap beans from Rancho Gordo, my bean dealer.  They cooked up fast and starchy and very mild in flavor, an excellent carrier for other flavors and very toothsome, too.

Hey, with Thanksgiving coming on Thursday, it’s practically the four day weekend already!  Now that is really luxury.

I hope you have a soft and fuzzy week,

Love,

Ellen

Restocking the Project Basket

Dear Ellen,

dsc01520-1.JPGIt’s hard to believe that a few weeks ago I thought I was going to finish up my TGIF and my Woodland Vines and be without a project to work on.  Ha!  I still haven’t finished either one of them!  And I’ve gone on to start plenty more.  The TGIF looks pretty much the same as the last time it was shown.  I’m still screwing around with the buttons.  I redid the button band and am much happier with it, and I thought I found the perfect buttons.  They’re large antique bakelite in a muddled green color that sets off the color of the yarn remarkably well.  The problem is that they’re shank buttons…and heavy…too heavy for knitted fabric.  I’ve screwed around with them and figured out a way to mount foam discs on the back to provide stability by sinking the shank into the disc.  That didn’t help their weight though.  With four of those mommas on one side it was pulling all lop-sided.  SO…I took off the top button and closed the buttonholes.  I had six buttons to start with, so that meant I had three to put over the bottom three buttonholes on the other side.   So now they’re decorative buttons.  I’ll place some kind of an I-cord or sash closure on it after I figure it out.  And then I’ll get a picture of it…for now you’ll have to look at the photo I included of progress on the Woodland Vines.  It’s about 70% done.

dsc01523.JPGdsc01524.JPGAs to those other projects.  I’ve got two more pairs of socks going.  One pair is for Dale.  Each one takes a long time because he has size 13 feet.  They’re a simple, but enjoyable knit.  The yarn is a nice merino-cashmere blend, so what’s not to like?  The other pair are the ones I’m making out of that Noro sock yarn I whined about a week ago.  I finished the first one, but am finding it hard to motivate myself to cast on the second one.  I’ll get to it though.

dsc01527.JPGI also started a simple lace scarf based on an Estonian lace stitch pattern in an alpaca lace weight that I bought at the Estes Park Fiber Festival about 2 years ago.  It’s really lovely to knit and the reason I got tempted into buying the lace weight yesterday.  I cast on enroute to Australia — the little project bag has aboriginal designs on it and was purchased at the National Museum in Canberra.  dsc01530.JPGWhile in Canberra I bought a sweater’s worth of lovely Australian sourced and milled blue faced leister.  To make it a truly Australian sweater I cast on Fiona Ellis’ Cables and I-Cord Sweater from the Australian knitting magazine Australian Knitting.  (They are very innovative with their titles.)  I don’t plan on doing the I-Cord part though.  And I’m knitting it seamlessly in the round vice in pieces.  It’s bottom up.  I’m about  3-4 inches into it.

dsc01526.JPGI’ve also knit up almost a ball of Knitpicks Risata in a serial swatch to try out stitch patterns for a sweater for Dale.  I included a bit of stockinette to check gauge.  I showed it to Dale to see which fabric he might like.  You guessed it.  He wants the stockinette.  Oh well, please the customer, right? I chose the Risata because Dale wanted cotton.  I convinced him that a blend of cotton and wool would be better.  It has some polymide and elastic in it too.  Knits pretty nicely, so it will be good brainless knitting — and a lot of it.

dsc01525.JPGdsc01515.JPGI’ve finished the swatches for Master Knitter Level I.  Well I have finished the knitting.  I still have to block them.  I also have to write my essay and knit the color work project, but I think there’s a reasonable chance I can finish in 2010.

dsc01518.JPGdsc01517.JPGAnd finally, I have two projects I have to get onto the needles if I’m to finish them in time for their gifting destinations.  One is a headband made out of bulky weight yarn to copy one with which the Chief Petty Officer in our office fell in love.  It should only take an hour or two and maybe another to make a flower to embellish it.  I’ll make it out of the purple yarn.  The burnt orange is for a newsboy style cap for my flag writer as a farewell gift.  She’s transferring in a month, so that one gets priority.

dsc01534.JPGI did finish a project.  It’s a simple little neck warmer out of the leftover sock yarn that I had used to test knit your Hat for Warm Necks and my Scrap Babies preemie hat.  I’ve worn it all day to keep my swollen neck* warm.  It lives up to its purpose.  So, in all these weeks I finish one tiny project…and now have 3 sweaters, another to come and a few smaller projects to keep me off the streets. I guess I don’t have to worry about running out of things to knit after all.

Love, Jan

*Sinusitis and strep throat have joined forces to enlarge my lymph glands.

I Have a New Friend…and a Big Hole in the Ground!

Dear Ellen,

dsc01509.JPGimg_5063.JPGimg_5047.JPGWe had an exciting weekend up in this neck of the woods.  Although we held the ceremonial groundbreaking last week, the real groundbreaking was this past Thursday.  We got up early on Saturday and headed to Fair Winds to check on our hole in the ground.  img_5048.JPGimg_5066.JPGLet me tell you…it is a BIG hole!  We walked all around it and down into it.  There are big piles of dirt around the edge…top soil in one pile and subsoil in several other big piles.  And piles of rocks and stones near the culverts where the driveway crosses the dry-bed creek.

img_5086.JPGimg_5082.JPGimg_5077.JPGAfter we spent time really soaking it in and then spending a few minutes with the site foreman placing our septic field, we got back on road headed for the Howard County Fairgrounds for the Maryland Alpacas and Fleece Festival.  We attended two seminars — “Preparing to Bring Your Alpaca Home” and “Getting Started in Alpaca.”  I was surprised by how many questions Dale asked.  He seems to be gaining a lot of interest.  I’d like to figure out if we really want to do this.  A big piece of that decision will be arming ourselves with as much information about caring for a herd as we can.  As charming as they are, I realize that there will be a lot of work involved.  After the seminars we wandered around the barns patting their img_5089.JPGimg_5083.JPGfuzzy heads and necks and talking to owners.  We’ve now got a list of farms to go visit and we made a lot of furry friends.  Dale thinks the Suri alpaca look like they have dreadlocks.  The cria are SO adorable.  dsc01512.JPGdsc01519.JPGI did some market research by buying some yarn made of 4 plies, each from a different alpaca in a different shade.  This technically doesn’t break my yarn diet…it’s research after all.  img_5091.JPGI did buy one other skein of lettuce colored lace weight…again, no diet violation — what diet doesn’t allow lettuce?  At the end of the day we ended up coming home with an alpaca of our own.  He’s still nameless though.  Readers?  Any ideas??

Love, Jan

Spin cycle…

Dear Jan,

18.jpg110.jpg24.jpgI seem to have handspun yarn in all stages right now.  I continue to make good progress on my Eyelet Cardi, which I have named In Honor of Pele after mistaking a photo of my skeins laid out for a shot of hardened lava from the Hawaii trip.  This is turning out to be just the kind of sproingy but crunchy yarn and fabric that signals everyday wear to me.  Not in the not-formal sense, but in the want-to-wear-it-every-day sense.

19.jpg15.jpg16.jpgAnd I plyed up those singles I finished spinning before taking off for Hawaii, with a  nice yield of 378 yards of fingering weight.  Definitely a pair of socks worth here (maybe that nice pair you just knit, if the pattern is getting written?).

17.jpgAs soon as a bobbin was free, I started choosing my next roving and selected the scarlet and grey (and black and white) merino/silk blend you brought me from New Zealand.  During a lovely crank* yesterday, I got one third of it spun up.  And another third slipped through my fingers this morning, it is that easy to spin.  That sliver**?  Like buttah, I tell you.

34.jpg111.jpg141.jpg131.jpgThe kittens don’t care much about this.  Bags are far more interesting***, or inspecting swatches for Master Knitter Level II, or even sleeping on sister.  Best is being held in arms, one more reason I am having a hard time getting any housework done these days.

112.jpgWhile the kittens were playing, two new fleeces somehow got into the back of my car.  Two new and very big fleeces (over 20 lbs total).  I’ll tell that story later.

The cycle starts anew.

Love,

Ellen

*Crank: a gathering of antique sock enthusiasts.  Cool machines, but I haven’t gone down that particular rabbit hole yet.  I’m far too deep in the spinning rabbit hole.  But one women cranked out 5, yes 5, pairs of socks today, so it does make one think.

**Sliver: washed and carded wool drawn into a continuous length.  Often used for roving.  I think there is a slight difference in meaning, but I’ve forgotten it.  This fiber was labeled by the manufacturer as sliver, so that’s what I’m calling it.

*** Immediately after this photo I clipped the handles off the bag.  They looked like an accident waiting to happen.

Is there ever enough Dr. Yarn?

Dear Jan,

Dr. Yarn has provided us with his monthly missive on knitterly topics.  For November, we consider sufficiency of fiber and how to ensure it.

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14.jpgThis question comes from an alert reader in Barrow, Alaska. “When writing a pattern how do you figure how much yarn you will need?”

Answer:

This problem has bothered knitters for a long time.  Luckily, there is now a computer program that gives the answer quickly.  The program may be purchased at www.yarnstorie.com for $29.95 plus $9.95 handling and shipping, $14.95 if you don’t want it handled before shipping.

This price is a good buy as the software package includes practice patterns and some tag-end yarn for practice.  The program is interactive so you must answer some questions.

The first question is “ Do you really wish to do this?”  If you answer “yes”, the program puts you in a new menu and asks further questions, for example:

  • How big is the pattern? (List number of pages)
  • What size needles do you own?
  • Do you have a color preference?
  • Do you knit in August?
  • Do you often add three or more sweaters over Thanksgiving weekend to your Christmas knitting list?
  • Do you have a day job too?
  • How many vacation days do you have ahead?
  • Do you often find yourself knitting faster to be sure you have enough yarn?
  • How many pairs of socks do you have that don’t quite match?
  • Does it bother you to use remnants?
  • How many 20-yard remnants do you have?

And finally, you must attach a picture of the bag of yarn you intend to use.  Then you scan the pattern in and in a few seconds the yarn weight, color, and length in meters comes on the screen.
Print this out, take it to the yarn shop and buy all the yarn they have in the color and texture you wanted in the first place. You will still likely be a skein short.

It does seem an expensive way to do it—but hey, what else can you do with your tax refund?
Dr. Yarn

P.S.  From the photo accompanying this post, you can readily observe that on rare occasion, it is possible to have too much yarn.