Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Tour de Fleece...

...is speeding towards us! Are you ready? :)

Last July, I took part in Katherine Matthew's Tour de Fleece for the first time. (I specify because there is another Tour de Fleece challenge, which has a large following on Ravelry. Katherine's is not associated with that one.) I'd found out about it through Yarn Harlot's blog (I don't imagine she's going to do it this year since she's so busy with Sock Summit, but who knows?), and even though I was a very newbie spinner and only spun with a drop spindle, I decided to give it a go. My goals were two-fold: try to spin daily in order to better my virtually non-existent skills and to try and spin some small amount of yarn that I could actually use for something.

I know I did not spin every day. I did, however, spin yarn I was able to use in a garter stitch afghan project I'd just started using a lot of different yarns (a project that, a year later, is nowhere near done!). So, I consider my first TdF a limited success.

This year, I've got my wheel and my spinning skills have grown tremendously. So now I'm trying to think of what goal to set for myself this year. The TdF is pretty laid-back...aside from the date parameters (the same as the Tour de France race), the goal aspect of Katherine's TdF is pretty open.

My thought, at this point, is to try and spin down my fiber stash. That's not a very specific goal, I realize. I've got a few days to further refine that goal, though, so let me get back to you on it, 'kay? LOL I will likely either choose to spin all of the small quantity fiber I have around, or I may try and tackle one of the large lots of fiber I have that should yield a sweater's worth. We'll see.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The goings-on around here...

Let's start with this...

While I noted yesterday that there has been no significant knitting or spinning on which to report, and that is true (though I am still making slow progress on both my Plath cardi and my June charity hat...slow mainly because I have hardly touched them :::sigh:::), my giant Noro granny square is coming along nicely. It's been my default project of late. Granny square crocheting is so ridiculously mindless and relaxing for me. I'm just about at the end of my second ball of Silk Garden, and the square is about 14". I love looking at it. Because of the length of the color sections, and the fact that I was taught to turn the square over every time you start a new round (though I seem to remember someone else telling me that isn't necessary? I dunno...), it seems to me to almost have a subtle log cabin-esque look* to it since the same colors double back on themselves at the turns.

So that's been my big fiber accomplishment of late. My latest gardening accomplishment is this...

...my radish harvest! Radishes love moisture, and after all that rain we got a couple weeks ago, these buggers just plumped up like crazy. I've learned from past experience that if you leave them in the ground too long, they will split, and the ones that don't split get all woody, at which point they are not tasty. So I pulled almost all of the radishes earlier this week, a little more than two dozen. 

Honestly, we are not huge radish eaters here, so I'm not sure why I insist on planting them. Mostly, I like to look at them. LOL And they're easy to grow. And I have a fond memory from childhood of my family and I having come home from vacation one summer and my dad going out to the garden and pulling a bunch of radishes that had grown while we were gone. There's a picture somewhere of me holding that bunch of radishes...for whatever reason, that is a happy memory for me.

The flowers continue to bloom and look pretty, though they're doing that mostly on their own. I can hardly claim them as my accomplishment...

I am really loving the coral bells, now that they're blooming this year! They are so pretty and delicate! And I noticed yesterday that the other two clumps of them that were not previously flowering have begun to do so, so I guess they are coral bells too, after all! Good to know.

Can you stand another lily picture?

Well, tough luck if you can't, LOL, because I'm showing you one anyway! My lily corner is just bursting with dozens of these beautiful, orange blooms. I need to get out there and take a picture at some time other than when the full sun is on them, though. 

Last but not least, we enjoyed a visit from the grandson yesterday...

...I suppose he counts as my accomplishment once removed since I did give birth to his daddy! LOL He was so funny...he kept trying to figure out how he could put the balls into this sprinkler toy without getting his hair wet. He does not like to get his hair wet, he informed me several times. :}

Then he moved to the water guns. Look at that determination. See that precision. Hear that grandma shriek, "Noooooo! Not at my camera!!!" Thankfully, this gun doesn't have a very long range. Whew! ;)

*For those of you not into quilting, the Log Cabin pattern is a traditional quilt block pattern that plays light and dark colors off one another in various ways, depending on which Log Cabin variation you are following. The first Mason-Dixon knitting book has a pattern for a knitted version, which has always fascinated me, but I'm not sure I could do that much garter stitch without wanting to poke my eyes out. As for quilting in general, I am also fascinated by that craft. I have done a little quilting, and I wish I could bring myself to do more, but I don't seem to have the patience for it at this point in life. Maybe later down the road I'll try again. Interestingly, the main character in the book I just finished reading, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, is a quilter. And I have enjoyed the first several of Jennifer Chiaverini's Elm Creek Quilt novels. If you can't do it, might as well read about it! ;)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

No? Yes?

No, I did not get washed away in the great waters of the flooded yard.

Yes, I have been largely inert as of late. It is becoming a troubling habit.

No, I have no notable knitting or spinning updates to share. Sad.

Yes, I have spent way too much time on the computer lately, mostly Twittering and reading stuff on Facebook. But strangely, no blogging.

No, I do not know what that strange smell is around the vicinity of our recliner, but maybe if I spray some Lysol around it, it will go away?

Yes, I will post a real blog entry. Soon. Honest.

No, really. I will.

And lastly, YES! I would highly recommend adding Joshilyn Jackson's The Girl Who Stopped Swimming to your summer reading list. Just finished it tonight and it was excellent. (And if that doesn't convince you, does the fact that it made the NYT Bestseller's List influence you? How cool is that? Yeay, Joshilyn!) All of her books are excellent, each one better than the next. So, if you need more books to read, also pick up her first two, gods in Alabama and Between, Georgia. Just the right mix of captivating, disturbing and entertaining all rolled into one.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

And the rain crashed down on the roof*...

...and in the yard...

...and on the gardens...

...and on the highways...

...and in the creeks...

...and it really, really, really made a big mess of things tonight.

Note to rain: You can stop now. Anytime. Really.

This was our front yard earlier this evening**...

You didn't know we had our own private lake with waterfalls feeding into it? No? Neither did we.

And here was our side yard going down the hill to the back yard**...

What? You were also unaware that we have our own river with Class 5 rapids? Again, we were just as surprised about this as you are.

Um...we got some rain today. Yeah. Understatement.

At last report, our area got about 4" of rain throughout the evening. What a total, f***ing mess. Kevin just finished doing a whole lot of re-grading of our driveway and front hill, and as you can see in the first picture, it is pretty well trashed. And that river running down the back hill? It goes directly into the small garden. There was a nearly identical river running on the other side of the back yard, which went directly through the center of our big garden, pretty much wiping out everything that was growing in that swath. (Except the garlic, which was well-rooted and stood its ground.)

To say we are bummed is an understatement. Kevin is especially disheartened by all of the undoing of his hard work in the driveway and yard. The fact that our garden was doing better than it has in the last several years and is now probably more than 2/3 gone...well, that's adding insult to injury. I haven't even allowed myself to think about my salad garden. While the flooding wasn't right next to that area, the beds have to be so saturated that I can just picture my little plants swimming for their lives. :::sigh:::

I guess I'll get a better idea of the total damage tomorrow. Thankfully, though, our damage does seem to be limited to outside stuff, and other than the loss of the veggies, it is mostly cosmetic. A pain in the arse to deal with, to be sure, but it will not affect our quality of life.

There are plenty of other people in our local area who have not been so lucky. One of the main roads in our area is Rt. 130, a good stretch of which lies along a valley, and that area has sustained incredible flooding tonight. In fact, my beloved gym is apparently one of the casualties. I didn't go tonight, but I heard water was coming up through the drains (it is in the basement of a building very near to the creek) and the parking lot was a lake. It makes me heartsick to think about it. It makes me even more heartsick to think how many people's homes and businesses along that same corridor and in other lower-lying parts of the area have had the same thing happen. These are not well-to-do areas for the most part to begin with. It makes me so sad to realize people are losing important things, things that will affect their quality of life. Totally puts our muddy yard and mangled gardens into perspective.

Anyway, I'm praying tonight that the rain will stop soon (and that the rains forecasted for later this week might take a different route!), and that when the damage is assessed, it won't be as bad as it seems for everyone right now. 

Please think dry thoughts for us here in the eastern Pittsburgh area, would ya?

*I really wanted to link to the Eddie from Ohio song, "And the Rain Crashed Down" but for the life of me, I cannot figure out how to embed a song here on my blog. So I'll just encourage you to go look for it and listen to it. Very cool song.

**Sorry for the crappy photo quality. I took the pictures with my cell phone, and frankly, it was raining so hard it was difficult to get a clear picture with any camera. Trust me, I tried.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Knitting (and garden) update!

As promised...a knitting update, with not just one but two pictures!

First, my finished May charity hat...

...which, once again I made too big for an average head. And once again, I will hope it will find its way to some large-headed homeless person. Why I am having such hat-size issues lately is beyond me. Note to self: cast on fewer stitches for hats!!!

And my more exciting WIP, the start of a brown Plath cropped cardigan...

Ok, so the picture itself isn't all that exciting since it isn't too far along yet, but I really like it at this point. As I think I mentioned earlier, the DIC Shrug I was making for myself out of Summer Tweed got frogged. I really, really want to use that brown ST for something. It is a beautiful yarn, but it is so very wimpy soft that it just does not maintain stitch definition well if you try to knit it loosely. It might make a nice shawl, though. Anyway, I'm using Schulana Merino-Cotton 90 for this cardi, and so far it is working beautifully. Stay tuned for more updates. Eventually.

No other projects to update. Sad, huh? It's weird...I am in full-on summer mode, nothing major pressing on my schedule, so you'd think I'd be knitting up a storm, wouldn't you? I would think I'd be knitting up a storm! But for whatever reason, my knitting mojo is somewhat waning at the moment. It must be in summer mode, too. Sometimes I actually start to feel guilty about not knitting more, which is stupid. It's not like anyone is holding a gun to my head and saying, "Knit, woman!" I have to remind myself that this is an activity I love and enjoy...it should not stress me out. Like everything else in life, knitting energy ebbs and flows, I suppose. Right now, it's ebbing, but the flow will return.

Ok...on to the gardening portion of our blog! The lilies are coming! The lilies are coming!

The Stella D'Oro were the first to produce a bloom this year, and while this one is looking a little ragged, there are plenty of blooms coming on, so we'll see how they do.

Then there are the yellow and orange lilies (I do not know what variety this is...anyone know?). Their first four blooms opened today! (Two are in the back so you can't see them.)

Holy moly! Do you see all those buds?? Some of these plants are actually taller than me (I'm 5' 4"), and the weight of the buds is starting to pull them over, so I had to tie them up. Never had to do that before.
These are my most favorite of all summertime flowers. When I was a kid, my dad would stop along the road and cut some of the orange lilies that grew in droves on the banks around where we lived out in the country. I don't remember him every buying flowers for my mom, but every summer, he'd bring home lilies, and that is such a happy memory for me.

I even had orange lilies in my wedding bouquet for that reason...a little way to remember my dad since he wasn't there.

The dianthus have become loaded with flowers as well...

...I love their pretty pink hues.

The salad garden is coming along well, too. I will be picking the first of our lettuces and spinach this week, I believe...
The green leaf lettuce was clearly the germination winner, but the mesclun greens in the middle seems to be growing larger and more fully though it didn't have as high a rate of germination. The spinach...well...what came up looks good, but only about half of it germinated. I resewed to fill in the empty spots, and again only maybe half came up. Not sure what the deal is with that. Will have to research and see what might be missing from the soil that the spinach wants.

Most exciting, though, are my tomatoes...

I've got baby cherry tomatoes on my Sun Gold plants! There are five on this plant (one is too tiny to even see in the picture...it's itty bitty and so cute!) and two on the other plant. I really hope they do well because I LOVE these tomatoes. So sweet without the acidic bite of some tomatoes.

We've been eating green onions and radishes from the garden as well. The beets seem to be doing fine, though they won't be ready to pull for quite a while. The cukes continue to grow. Having planted them from seed, they probably won't be producing fruit for another month, I'd guess. The pepper plants I put in last week are healthy and thriving and one has flowers on it already.

My tomatillos??? Man, I should have taken a picture. They are HUGE! Millions of blooms on them. No sign of fruit, though. I was reading online today that tomatillos will supposedly not self-pollinate so you need at least two plants to get fruit. Guess it is a good thing I bought two instead of just one. It also looks like fruit won't happen until late summer. I may have to chop the plants back a bit, though, before the overshadow everything around them. Next year, I'll definitely plant them in a larger space.

Hm...from the content division of this post, it looks like maybe my knitting mojo has been overtaken by my gardening mojo...and I didn't even know I really possessed gardening mojo! LOL

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Where'd the week go?

Seriously! It was here a minute ago! Huh. 

Well...this was our second week of summer vacation, and much like the first, I seem to have gotten very little of importance accomplished. This trend must change. Soon. I'm just sayin'.

There was some knitting, of course (but no pictures of it yet because it is all uninteresting to look at right now), and the normal house stuff, and one day I really went all domestic and baked scones not once but twice (cinnamon chip scones in the morning, cheddar dill scones for dinner). And there was the gym...I even sparred two nights and the second night I kick-sparred for the first time. Boo-yah! That was fun! And it counts as something important! LOL

Oh, we had wildlife going on here this week! Can't remember if I mentioned that my bird feeders have been getting ransacked a lot, so I finally took them down. Kevin suspected a bear. I thought it was probably deer. Turns out, it was most likely this guy...

...here he is tearing apart our recycling on Monday night. It's bad enough to have a raccoon around, but to have an evil, laser-eyed raccoon...that's far worse, don't you think? About five minutes after he scurried off, an opossum showed up to mess with the recycling some more! Crazy!

But the raccoon had friends, and the whole bunch showed up on the front porch a little later the same night and helped themselves to the bag of bird food I hadn't put away...

Can you see all three of them? One is behind the bird food bag, the other is behind the post. They could have cared less that I was a mere three feet away (inside, safely behind the storm door), sticking my hand with the camera outside to take pictures. I've since removed the bird food from the porch and after one more night when they met with disappointment at the lack of a buffet, they don't seem to have returned.

Let's see...what else? Oh, Kevin and I celebrated our 16th anniversary on Friday! Sixteen years...it seems simultaneously like a long time and not very long at all, you know? We went out to dinner on Saturday night to mark the occasion. 

Then today was an active day. After church, the four of us headed out to Boyce Park for an orienteering event being put on by the Western Pennsylvania Orienteering Club which, before yesterday, I didn't even know existed. I also didn't know that this particular flavor of orienteering (as opposed to the orienteering my husband has done with the Boy Scouts) is actually a competitive sport in some parts of the world, like Norway. Who knew? Not me! 

Here's the hubby and the girlie at the beginning of our course. We did the beginner course. He's showing her how to use the map and compass...

The kids and I took turns navigating to the check points. I was the only one who got us off track and we had to backtrack to find a check point we'd missed. Here's Christopher punching our control card at one of the check points. They were all marked with those cool, triangular box things (which they referred to as flags).

Then here is photographic evidence that Kevin and I actually went out and did a recreational activity together, as it happens so infrequently. Our chosen forms of recreation just don't overlap all that much (me - concerts, the gym, knitting; him - tractors, tractors, tractors). LOL

And yes, Kevin's shirt says, "I do everything the voices (in my wife's head) tell me to." He said the lady who was at the register at Home Depot this afternoon was a little offended by the shirt and asked him if his wife knew he was wearing it. "She bought it for me!" he said. She was apparently not amused. LOL 

Later today, Kevin decided to give Emma grass-mowing lessons. She's driven tractors before, but she was totally freaking out over having to do it on our hill in the back yard. Granted, it feels more slopey than it really is when you're on the tractor, but there's no way the tractor is going to roll or anything. He finally persuaded her to give it a try, and she did pretty well...

...that's my girl! And those are our big gardens down below her. The main one is on the left there, with most of the veggies in it, and on the right, in a smaller patch, is where the potatoes, sweet potatoes and some peppers are planted. So far, everything seems to be doing well. I've been diligent about going down to check on stuff, and Kevin and the kids have been keeping after the weeds and such. My little salad garden has been yielding onions and radishes, and this week I should be able to pick the first of our lettuce and spinach! And one of my cherry tomato plants has three baby tomatoes on it already! I'm so excited. 

Ok, I promise the next post will have some knitting in it. Really. With at least one picture.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The afghan...

...she is finished!

I am so happy with how this project turned out...

I know I've mentioned this afghan a lot lately as I've been working on finishing it, but I'm not sure I've ever explained the whole story of it. So here it is, if you're interested.

Last July, one of my Ravelry groups decided to do an afghan square swap. There would be 12 people in each group, each person making one square for everyone else and one for themselves. There were enough interested people to fill three groups. I was in Group 2.

And so it began -- every two weeks, one square was due to be mailed off to the next person in your group, and they alternated between solids and multi-colors. The only universal parameters for the squares were that they had to made of worsted weight, machine-washable yarn and they had to be a finished size of 12"x12". Each person had the opportunity to request other specifics, within reason (such as colors, or if there was a certain fiber they preferred not to get, etc.). Otherwise, we were free to choose how we made the squares.

I was really fortunate that Group 2 had very few issues. (If you've ever done a swap, especially of this magnitude, you know that's not always a given!) We finished that original round of 12 squares in January. Then there came an option for anyone who wanted to make a bigger afghan -- 20 squares instead of 12 -- to sign up and be a part of an extended group. I joined that, and the process began again for the additional eight squares, and it wrapped up in early May. Once I had all of my squares, I started putting them together with the garter stitch borders. That part took a little less than a month. And now it is done!

I have to say, I've done several swaps -- knitting and otherwise -- that have been, well, flops. People flake, or they don't follow the rules, or they send you things you'd never use in your lifetime, etc. This afghan swap project? My experience with it was wonderful! Through both rounds, no complaints. (I credit Brittany for being a supreme swap organizer! She really kept everything running smoothly, as far as I could tell.) I was amazed at how much time and effort everyone put into their squares...there are some amazing works of art in my afghan!

Anyway, I am thrilled with my finished afghan. It's quirky and colorful and amazing. I love it's crazy colors, and the wide variety of designs. And I love that every time I curl up under it, I'll be covered by all of the creative energy of so many people! That's a gift in and of itself! Creative karma. Gotta love it. :)

Friday, June 5, 2009

So, it was the first week of summer vacation...

...and I acted accordingly and did as little as humanly possible other than relax and enjoy the fact that I am (mostly) free from a schedule-driven life for the next three months. Woohoo!

Still, it was not a week without highlights (though they are, regrettably, pictureless highlights), the biggest and happiest of which is the fact that I've reached the six-month mark of going to the gym for kickboxing and martial arts classes. And in those six months? I've lost 35.5 pounds! (Yes, that half a pound is important, so hush!) I'm tempted to think that 35.5 pounds isn't that much until I realize that my four-year-old grandson weighs 35 pounds, and he's a load to pick up and carry around. LOL 

Still, beyond the numbers, I feel wonderful. I haven't felt this good physically in...well...I'm not sure if I've ever felt this good. And the good thing is that I just want to keep on going. I love my gym, the place and the people. I love how the activity there continues to challenge me, even as I get a little better at it week by week. I love that I'm doing something I never would have imagined myself doing, let alone enjoying. Who knew it would take until I was 42 to finally find the my athletic calling, and it would be this? Life's funny.

My other highlight for the week is that I finally have all 20 squares of my swap afghan bordered together! Yeay! All that's left is the outside border, which I'm doing in the same block-length segments as the inside borders (this was not how I was originally going to do it, but it seems right now that I've reached this point). So, I've got two of the 18 outer borders done, and they are going quickly, so I'm really hoping I'll have this afghan completely done by the end of the weekend. And then I'll share a picture of it!

Ok...I guess those are my two highlights for the week. Tomorrow I'm going with the hubby and a couple friends to the Kenny Chesney concert at Heinz Field. I am so NOT a country music fan, but Kevin is, and it's the only live music I can get him to go to. I DO love me some loud, live music, and as country artists go, KC's music doesn't make me wretch, and, let's face it, he's kinda hot. Ahem. And there will be beer. :}

Happy weekend!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Mice and holes...

First the mice, because they're cute...

...catnip mice, made using Wendy's pattern. Very quick knit, excellent way to use up leftovers, and perfect for giving your favorite feline a little fun! I knit these two simultaneously, which always makes things go faster. (I really should learn how to do two socks at a time with magic loop!) My secret for stuffing these is putting the catnip inside a piece of old knee-high and tying it off with a little extra space (cutting off the extra length, because really, the mice only need two or three tablespoons of catnip to fill them) and stuffing the mouse with it. Despite knitting these at a very tight gauge, I can't imagine it holding in loose catnip without the extra barrier of the knee-high. These mice are for a friend's kitties, who I'll be meeting tomorrow. :)

Also on the knitting front, I finished my May charity hat today. I haven't added any more border to the afghan, though, because my hands were starting to protest all of that garter stitch, especially as the afghan is getting heavier to hold the bigger it gets...figured it would be good to give the hands a little rest. We knitters must learn to be kind to our hands, and taking a break from big projects by working on other things that use different weight yarn and different sized needles is one way to do that. (End public service announcement.)

And now for the holes...not mouse holes, but holes in my veggie plants!

Here is one of my otherwise healthy tomatillo plants (look at the blooms!), but do you see all those little white spots on the leaves? They're actually holes. These holes are also present in my tomatoes, radishes, beets, lettuces, cukes and several of my flowers. They don't seem to be killing the plants, but they look nasty. My online research into the issue leads me to believe it is a case of flea beetles, so now I'm trying to figure out the best way to deal with them. Sevin would probably be quickest, but I'm looking into some natural options too.

Otherwise, the salad garden looks pretty healthy!

Everything is growing at this point...the spinach and the herbs have been the slowest to get going, but the spinach is now finally starting to sprout its secondary leaves, which look much more spinach-like than the first ones, which just looked like grass. The radishes are going crazy. The onions are popping up by the inch as I watch, it seems. My cherry tomato plants are starting to develop little flowers (yeay!). The herbs? Well, they're being contrary. (I wonder if Mary, Mary was contrary because she was trying to grow stubborn herbs? Or maybe she had flea beetles eating her plants?*) Only small bits of the parsley and dill are up, and I'm not sure if the basil is actually up or not, or if those are just weeds I'm seeing. Thyme Time will tell. ;)

On the other side of the house, the flowers are doing their thing, too...

...two great big pink peony blossoms...

...and the dianthus is looking quite happy. We like happy plants.

*Ok, so I can't help but Google weird things today (like why a haymaker punch is called a haymaker, but that's a different story)...just when you think a nursery rhyme is just innocently contemplating flowers in a garden, you find this interpretation of it...well, ew! The Wikipedia entry for it offers some other interpretations, including additional Mary, Queen of Scots/Bloody Mary lore. Apparently Mary had more issues than flea beetles.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Life is good...

...you know? Sometimes you can't explain why, it just is. There are times when it dawns on me that I'm having a most excellent day. I want to take a deep breath and inhale all of the beauty and goodness and light and joy around me because I can't believe how good it is. I want to sing loudly with every song I hear. I want to laugh with my kids. I want to do everything I enjoy doing, all at the same time. I want to drink in the green of the trees and the blue of the sky and absorb the heat of the sun all the way to my core.

Today was one of those days. I felt inexplicably happy and thankful for my life. It is a good life. And even though I know that any number of variables in my life could turn on a dime and come crashing down around me, days like today give me hope that maybe, even in the face of trauma or tragedy, I'd still be able to say, "Life is good," because as much as it might seem otherwise, I know it isn't the circumstances that make it so. It's the One who made it all, and he never turns or changes.

Life is good. :)

So is this recipe for Whole Wheat Banana Nut Bread I made today. We had one sad, black-ish banana in the basket, and I suddenly found myself craving banana nut bread last night. Despite my penchant for late-night baking, I was too tired to make it last night when the urge was strong, but I did at least search up this healthier recipe for it and made it this morning. Yummy! (The only changes I made to the recipe were to substitute 1/2 c. applesauce for the oil and to add about a tsp. of cinnamon.)

My weekend knitting consisted solely of working on the garter borders for my swap afghan...

...it's coming along and I'm totally loving it. I got all four vertical strips joined, and now I'm working on joining the third strip to the first two that are already together. I love the crazy colors and how they're just there, random. I can't wait to have it done! This week. That is my goal for this week...to finish this fun, crazy, happy project. (Then I'll return to the lace!)

Happy scraps!