A View from Sierra County

Small town life and politics, lots of knitting, and travels with and without my five burros

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Location: In the Sierra Nevadas, United States

I blog about rural living and social issues, and the creativity that comes from knitting, as well as post random pictures of the Sierras and my burros. "In order to be an artist, one must be deeply rooted in the society" - Simone de Beauvoir


Monday, May 29, 2006

Family Camp

For several of the past years, DH's family has held a family reunion over Memorial Day weekend, and this is the third year that it has taken place at our house. As you can imagine, things have been pretty hectic around Slate Range Camp, especially since we had a house guest for the week prior to family reunion, and those guests started arriving Wednesday and don't depart until tomorrow.

We have plenty of room around the old Camp, and Mom and Dad, as well as sis Erika and her husband Dave, and daughter Karlee, brought their own shells with them. Our barn is in the background, my raised bed garden in the foreground and the parents' fifth wheel to the side, with an impromptu camp circle to gather us together.

Four of the five children Glenn and I have managed to put in appearances at one point or another, with Cody and Nikki spending Friday night with Grandma, Grandpa and us... then departing for work commitments, while Jesse and Rex came by for Saturday's adventures. Glenn's brother Dave zoomed through, from Salt Lake City, by way of Oakland airport and Walnut Creek, where his girlfriend Angie and son Tyler reside. She provided the transport as they ended up in Reno Saturday night, but not before Tyler was able to take driving lessons on Glenn's lawn tractor... he was one happy 12-year old! Dave called while trying to find Beckwourth Pass, to tell me it was snowing on them Saturday afternoon, and to describe landmarks ("Dave, tell me what was on that sign you last drove past?"), but I got him safely to Portola and back on a major highway.

On Sunday, we were down to just seven and drove up the North Yuba River to see the Sierra Buttes. Most of the family had not been to Sardine Lake before and they were awestruck. People around here refer to this view as the "mini-Alps".

Sierra Buttes from shore of Sardine Lake

It was probably almost as cold, with lots of clouds, so we only stayed for the morning, taking a short hike:

This view is from the interpretive trail in an area flooded by beavers constructing a dam a few decades ago; the flooding killed most of the trees, and the beavers ate much of the willow, opening up a marshy meadow environment. Now, the beavers have been gone for five years, and it is a great example of ecological succession, with plant species beginning to shift.

We have eaten and feasted and eaten some more: leg of lamb on Saturday afternoon, followed by brownie sundaes at our town's little restaurant; sourdough pancakes and fresh berries for breakfast, a bratwurst feast tonight, and a few picnics. We had a large bonfire last night, and sat around telling stories about Glenn's younger brother, Steve, who died in a plane crash while serving in the Air Force 14 years ago, as our own family Memorial Day tribute.

Today, we traveled to the next ridge over, to visit Malakoff Diggins State Historical Park , celebrating the Gold Rush and hydraulic mining.

Tent cabins in a meadow

Old general store and post office

Grandma Diana and Karlee decided to borrow gold pans from the park office and give panning for gold a try.

Grandma panning for gold in Humbug Creek, so named because very little gold was found here, and they didn't either.

We also hiked around Blair Lake, a small lake with lots of fish....and came home tired and a little sunburned. It has been cooler than usual, but very pleasant, and even the rain showers Friday and Saturday were refreshing.

I did manage to get my yarn dyed for my Dye-O-Rama recipient, and it will be heading off by mail later this week (yarn is drying as I type), but very little real knitting done... CeCe is started, though!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Out, Out, Damn Funk!

Yahoo! My replacement yarn for CeCe arrived in the mail today!

I was so delighted that I had to snap a picture right away! It is the same Sour colorway as the Rowan Cork sent by mistake, but the Cork seems a little brighter.... thanks to Spiderwoman for comforting me with a suggested use for Cork. And thanks from the bottom of my heart to all who tried to console and cajole me out of my funk. I have not gotten much done, period, around here of late. For the past week, we have been swamped with visitors (one did leave with a handknitted washcloth :) I am not complaining, as I dearly love the people in my life, and treasure the times spent with those that live too far to see regularly, but I haven't been able to be a good hostess and knit a complicated lace pattern at the same time (Susan, does that come with time?). We have feasted on strawberries, which are coming ripe in the lower elevations near here, as well as other treats. Roast leg of lamb and BBQ shrimp are on the menu for the weekend, as well as entertaining little nieces with craft projects and burro hikes (pictures, I promise!).

However, this trying week is finally over, and I realized yesterday that the funk wasn't really with the knitting, it was with the looming prospect of attending a major state committee meeting yesterday, where we would attempt to appeal being displaced in our scoring, and losing a $250,000 capital improvement grant for our clinic. Sitting in the power capital of Sacramento, where two State Senators were also pleading the cases of health centers in their districts (and the media was on the prowl hoping to see Mexican President Vincente Fox meet with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger), I realized that it was really as hopeless as I thought when I reviewed the letter stating that evaluation of other agencies' appeals had led to our defunding... there were so many meritorious centers, and any gain would be someone elses' loss. That is the quick and dirty summary of the terrible state of health care in our country.

There have been other trials and disappointments this week, and I am very thankful that CeCe can get started this weekend, as I do believe getting my knitting mojo back will help my outlook. That, and gardening.

Have a fun and restful holiday.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Stuck in a Holding Pattern

You know how it is, end of a long flight, your destination in sight, and air traffic control has you circling the airport... you can almost see the loved ones staring out the window waiting for you....

I am having a knitting holding pattern. Somehow, the Ebay vendor I ordered Rowan Calmer from (she will remain nameless to save her from further embarassment) sent me the right colorway, Sour, but the wrong yarn, Cork, instead. Since Rowan is enjoying putting out yarn with ball bands the color of natural organic cotton teeshirts, and text using the same font, no matter the yarn, I could almost see how she would make this mistake, and I didn't notice myself till I already had about six rows of a generous swatch for CeCe going, when it occurred to me that the texture didn't feel quite right (duh! there's a big difference between merino/nylon in the Cork and cotton/microfiber in the Calmer). Actually, the Cork has a very interesting, springy texture, and I now have 4 balls, since the seller is sending the Calmer to me, and offered the Cork as a gift to make up for my inconvenience. Not bad, I guess, except that I was all ready to start, and am casting about for ways to fill my time....

I could finish up the "sew-off" and fringe on Ruana, and probably will tomorrow evening so I can use it.

I could knit a bit on Mountain Peaks (or a lot, for that matter!), but have been suffering from allergies and lack of concentration abilities the past few days.

I could make a washcloth (bleagh), and actually started on the circular one in Mason-Dixon Knitting.

I could finish the teeny-tiny sleeve for DD's sweater and give it to her this weekend (now, there's a thought!).

I could even sit around watching sock knitting machine video instruction and conquer my fear of making heels with the machine, so that I could turn out some socks for DH - oh, and I could even pull out the boring dark green vest-to-be-felted for him.

But, I was so looking forward to CeCe.

If you haven't already, go and read Spiderwoman's story about Knitting Local and the Possibility of Defiant Sheep... I definitely feel sometimes as if my projects are feeling defiant (or is it me?). She talks about how some projects just match right up, while others fight you the whole way, and muses about whether knitting with yarn sheared off happy sheep makes for better project success than that from mass-market-raised sheep. Food for thought, or needles, as the case may be. I am very happy with my local wool, and looking forward to what I will find from small producers at Estes Park (yes, I did buy my ticket the other day, when the planets were in a more decisive and harmonious alignment). I am not thinking big this year, but "just right", and looking for yarn that calls out loudly what it wants to be and that it wants to come home to my mountains and become something beautiful.

I am also feeling cranky because I had to miss guild night and the terrific, fabulous Tailgate Sale, because my meeting over in the Sierra Valley ran on too long... midway through, since I was serving as Acting Chair, I had to whimper a bit that I hadn't been the one to change our monthly meeting to the 4th Tuesday, and that the person who had wanted this day of the month wasn't even in attendance. I mumbled about having a conflicting engagement each month, but was a bit reluctant to admit that it was my guild meeting, since this is one of my "important professional responsibilities", but I pouted all the way home, especially when I hit Sierraville, and realized that even taking the shorter of the two routes that would get me to Nevada City, 70 miles or so later, would also make me too late to catch any of the bargains. Once a year, everyone brings their spinning, weaving, knitting, fiber stuff in advance of the meeting for a mini-Swap Meet, and I missed out. I am seriously rethinking some of my obligations, while I coast around in the knitting holding pattern.

It is also a good time to ponder what to do for World Wide Knit In Public Day (WWKIPD), on June 10, 2006. Sara has suggested that our guild get together, either in front of the library or at the growers' market (I am voting for the growers' market as the shadier alternative, as the temperature will probably be back up in the high 80s by then) to knit in public. She even found us a source for the necessary t-shirts. Sara also has a fabulous inkle weaving tutorial on her blog, if you want to consider diversifying....

I have succeeded in frittering a good amount of time on the Internet, blogging and reading, instead of taking up a "lesser" knitting project - does this qualify as a funk? I certainly hope to feel more inspired in the morning!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Ruana Update

I did it, I finally did it! I managed to get Ruana off the needles, and the side bound off using Elizabeth Zimmerman's "cast on-cast off" as described in Folk Shawls... this took what seemed to be forever, since you are actually using a tapestry needle, but does make for a very stretchy bound off edge. As I was finishing this section Thursday night, I realized that I actually hadn't spent all that long on Ruana, was just getting anxious to finish since the temps here on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday all reached the high 80s, definitely heading towards summer. I started Ruana on Easter, so really have only been knitting an hour or two a day for a month! The casting off took me right up to bedtime Thursday night, but at least the main part of the knitting was DONE, and the next steps were finish work.

The next step, taken Friday evening, was to cut loose the waste yarn and open up the front opening. Cheryl Oberle does a great job of using practical ideas, and in this case, has you use waste yarn for each side of the front opening to serve as stitch holders.

Once the stitches were free, I could begin work on the clever short-row shawl collar that fills in the traditional deep V in back (which would be a great place to catch a draft were it not for this very nice collar). The collar worked up quickly, and folds over to help hold the ruana in place when worn:

Detail of the collar

The green thread shown above is the waste thread holding these collar stitches in place, for the almost-final finishing step, returning to the same slow tapestry needle cast off to bind off 321 stitches... this should take a mere two or three hours, considering my earlier pace. Maybe it will go a little faster, now that I have already had so much practice!

I got to try on my big project when the collar was safely on a string holder yesterday evening, and realized that, even with my planning and adjusting for my height, this ruana is long. So long, that I will need to trim the fringes, even after tying into groups. Long enough that I am not sure I am completely happy about it. I pondered this, looking at myself in the mirror, realizing that if I were 5'11", it would hang to about my knees, which would probably be more versatile than hanging to mid-calf on me. However, the ruana does look very traditional in the longer length, will be very elegant and cape-like, and will see much use as a meditation shawl, since I can wrap it around myself a few times, lie down at the end of practice in Savasana, with it as a blankie to completely cover me, and then get up and wear it as a wrap to head home from yoga class.

The back view, in all its glory!

Maybe a security blanket was really what I was wanting; I have been feeling very ill with allergies all week, and have also come face to face with just how much grieving over life changes I have been both doing and avoiding in recent weeks. A dear, old friend has been visiting a few days, and commented watching me knit up the ruana collar, "Birdsong, you really like to knit! This is your meditation, isn't it?" To which, my answer was "yes", and quietly, the deeper realization came that this meditation practice of relentlessly knitting has both healed me and protected me from the devastation I felt a few months back at the loss of my job and dream at the same time, as well as provided a sense of well-being and reward as I attempted to ponder what I would do next in life.

I have found several very positive niches in my little world in which to be useful and productive. I write far more, and have put out a lot of volunteer time. I began a new teaching position, helping people find a way to move past dropping out of high school, have contributed to the Eat Local Challenge blog, and have been working with other community members to increase our local resourcefulness.

However, I backed away from attending an event featuring a powerful and dynamic early childhood educator this weekend, as I found it hard to conceive of going when I didn't have a population of children to come back and improve the environment for. I doubt that I will move from where I live in order to find a new center to direct, and therefore will probably be drifting around a bit more, working outside of my area of passion, but hopefully bringing meaning to people. I also have to figure out better ways to support our needs.

One small way has been to concentrate on getting food plants into the ground. Here is my special raised bed garden, created by my then-teen son as a Mother's Day gift for me five years ago; those of you familiar with permaculture will immediately recognize that this is NOT the herb spiral I had asked for, but those who know me well will also recognize that I would never turn away a gift of love or ask that it be modified.

This raised bed garden has served me very well in the intervening years. In a very small space, it can provide quite a bit of food, and even too much for our needs in the way of herbs (some of the dried herbs will make their way to the farmer's market here in August, along with knitted washcloths for sale).

Currently, five heirloom tomato plants are in the upper tier, protected by marigolds, with some parsley and the remnants of sugar snap peas that I attempted to plant a month and a half ago (which didn't begin to grow till the rains stopped three weeks ago). The border edging of the upper tier is a creeping rosemary hedge, started from a six-pack, which I trimmed back severely in order to allow light to once again reach the soil of the lower tier, which has been planted with hills of Delicata squash, a few seeds of Mexican sunflower plants on each end, and oregano plants added last year in the very front.

Unfortunately, the stevia plants I put in this bed last year didn't survive the winter, but a mullein plant graciously volunteered... I am a strong believer in plant communities, harking back to my earliest days of studying John Jeavons' work, and the mullein is a plant I have a very special affinity for... if ever a mullein graces my garden, she is allowed to stay where she lands, and grow up amongst those plants crowded around her, where she provides a towering and comforting presence, as well as leaves that can be used for tea for lung ailments (which is why I love her so dearly), and precious little yellow flowers, gathered each summer and infused in olive oil as a remedy in case someone should have an earache the following winter.

As an update from my very crummy attempt at "I is for Iris", I have some photos to share of my irises, who have finally consented to appear, in far greater glory than ever before, perhaps to make up for their tardiness:

This model is the eviably colorful gold with purple... I have had a few requests from friends to give them rhizomes for their gardens, and yesterday Lois, Linda and I hit upon a way to identify them while in flower and mark them for division in August, the right month in my climate... I will fish around to find embroidery thread in matching colors to tie and mark each one, so that when I divide them, I can keep track of what they used to look like in bloom. Clever, eh?

This one is my personal favorite... and offered up two heavy blooms on one stem, hence the froggie garden stake in the background, lending a helping frog leg or two.

More gardening took place over the weekend, however it has rained most of today, which helped my allergies quite a bit (I actually fell asleep after work on Friday, I was so groggy), but prevented further garden activities. I am swatching for CeCe, which is exciting, and was only able to get one row of Mountain Peaks in all week, but now that my push to finish Ruana is almost over, I am happy to look forward to more time with my lovely charcoal shawl.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Mid-Week Update

I cannot believe that I am really within inches of being finished with Ruana! It all depends on where I lay it out to measure, though. If I use the couch or the bed that I measured the first half on, I am almost done. But if I use the floor, a hard surface, I still have a few inches to go and the first half is probably an inch or two narrower than I thought. I have decided that I will keep comparing the two halves on either side of the waste yarn that marks the center opening (to be edged when I bind off), and when they match, I will be done. This will at least make for symmetry.

It really isn't all that wierd to have an ever-changing length measurement, as this project uses large needles and aims for a fabric that is a bit loose and drapey. I am betting that I was wise to make the length a LOT shorter than the pattern called for, and not just 'cuz of my short stature (not sure what she meant when Margene commented awhile back that I was shorter than she had thought; I am 5'3 1/2"). The weight of this large project is apt to make it one of those that "grows" or stretches out in length from draping it over my shoulders, so I can count on being plenty warm in it. I was pretty warm (maybe too much so) last night while working on it, as I would occasionally turn a row and end up with the whole pile on my lap, promoting feelings of imminent hot flashes. Good thing I will be done soon.

Carole posted a picture of a fabulous little shawlette today, prompting me to comment that she was a shawl-knittin' mama! She even added beads! I would feel woefully inadequate, but my Mountain Peaks is looking pretty promising... there will be update photos when I can get a longer needle in the right size, so that I can transfer the stitches over and spread the darn thing out to photograph, without losing the stitches (yes, it is possible to learn from one's mistakes). I ran out of time to stop at my LYS today while in town and before class time, as my secret ingredients for Dye-O-Rama involved more stores than I originally planned for....

I got in a few more inches on Ruana than I had planned last night, as I decided to watch a rather compelling edition of Frontline, titled "Can You Afford to Retire?", dealing with 401(k)s and retirement issues. I found it disturbing, but somehow not surprising to hear one of the business professors interviewed state that "the new retirement will be work" (as in working through our retirement years).

Apparently, letting people who are not trained investment advisors (such as you and me) manage their own 401(k) plans only worked for the employers who were now making significantly less in contributions, but not for the employees who mainly were not savvy enough to a) put enough money in for the long haul, or b) invest in areas that gave the best return. On top of it, those of us within 10-20 years of retirement (or less) were amongst the guinea-pig pool of workers who have been experiemented upon by this bait-and-switch method of getting corporate America out of the pension plan option, with no clear idea of the long-term social costs.

Do I sound a tad bit bitter? I am not, really, for myself, as I have always known that what was available to me in my working life would be woefully inadequate, and would not allow me to ever fully "retire". I have intended to keep trying out new jobs, and refining what was best to do at a given time based on my skills, abilities, and health, as well as managed a rental business for the past decade to help bolster our income.

However, most of my fellow baby boomers (I was born in 1954, at the tail end of the boom) have gone through their working lives duped into thinking that there would be a time, at a relative young age, when they could "stop working and kick back", yet continue to live a posh lifestyle. Statistics are proving otherwise.

I am sharing this depressing information with you, my dear and loyal readers, not to ruin your day or week, but to encourage you to do a bit of soul-searching right now. Are you truly living the life you want? Are you deferring some plan or dream, thinking you will have more time and/or money for it later, "when I retire"? My answer to that is DON'T. Do what you love right now, as much as you can fit it in, and be thinking of what you can do that makes money doing what you love, and that you can change if your abilities and health changes.

I told my husband, who I forced into watching this hour-long bummer with me, that I thought he should start making custom furniture now, during his winters off, since he has been amassing skills, tools and materials, since that would be a much more compatible occupation than his present one, hefting a chain saw and hiking through the back woods 8-10 hours a day clearing recreational trails for the Forest Service.

You may not ever really retire or want to retire, but it is critical to love what you do in order to face every day with hope.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Third Time's The Charm?

Back about two months ago, I joined the Mountain Lace KAL, excited because I just knew that I had the perfect yarn for each pattern... I cast on for Mountain Peaks first, not caring to wait to join in the contest fun, but just wanting to get my hands on the Knitpicks Alpaca Cloud I had just waiting to be a shawl. I didn't make much headway at first, and decided by about the fifth row of Chart 1 that I was using needles too large for this very fine, two-ply "laceweight". I ripped everything out, and started over, dropping down two needles sizes.

In an afternoon of work, I caught back up to where I had been originally, and pinned out the work, admiring the supersoft hand. The stitch definition was much better, but the stitches still had trouble staying on the needle, and I lost a bunch of the work while unpinning, thankful there was a lifeline in place already.

I was disgusted though, and dove right in to work on Mountain Stream. The yarn I had chosen was a bit different here as well, but this time I was happy with the results, and flew through the pattern, finishing a few weeks ago.

Since that time, I have been watching as others finish their Mountain Peaks shawls, and still thinking this is a wonderful pattern. Two weeks ago, while attending the Portola quilt guild's show, I got to see some of the yarn my friend Anna had spun commercially from her flock, and right then and there it hit me that the yarn I was trying to use for my shawl simply wasn't right, but that I wanted some of her lovely charcoal laceweight to make another run at it.

Anna's laceweight yarn is from her spinning flock of Coopworth-Salish sheep and is a springy, somewhat tightly spun two ply, crisp where the Alpaca Cloud is soft. I realized that I would get the stitch definition I wanted for the pattern, as well as have a much easier time keeping the stitches on the needles. Blocking might be more of a challenge, as such springy yarns have a tendency to "bounce back", while the alpaca would stay pressed in place, much the way my wool/silk blend Mountain Stream blocked up so effectively. I emailed Anna and asked her to save me some till I would be at her needle-felting class next month; long story short is that the package arrived in Friday's mail.

I cast on this morning, while waiting to meet up with my family for Mother's Day brunch. After our lovely meal in a beautiful spring setting at the Palace Restaurant at Lake Frances Resort, I spent part of the afternoon trialing this new yarn. Here it is, pinned down to check density.

I have since made it through the Top Chart and almost all the way through my first repeat of Chart One. This version will look completely different from the one I might have turned out using Alpaca Cloud, if I could have had the heart to try again.... however, I think I am going to like this version a lot better. I have been wanting an earthy, charcoal-black shawl for some time, and had even considered making the Peddler's Shawl in Folk Shawls. It will work well when I am in costume at historical re-enactment-type events. I am also delighted to be making Mim's pattern from wool taken from mountain sheep:) I have found it quite interesting to see the range of what is classified as "laceweight", and am beginning to think that it is anything too small to qualify as fingering! Anna's laceweight is quite a bit denser than the Alpaca Cloud, and many of the choices other KALers are using fall somewhere between my two choices.

I worked on Ruana yesterday, and really didn't want to get distracted away, as there are only between 9 and 11 inches to go at this point, and I really want to finish it rather than stash it away because the weather is too hot to work on it (this afternoon, with temps in the high 80s, is a warning to me). I will be concentrating on finishing her during the evenings in the coming week, as well as adding those final tentacles to Nautie. I also want to get started on CeCe, as the yarn is calling to me from my smaller knitting bag, and I want to get a lot of wear out of this cute little sweater in the coming season, so I think that my new version of Mountain Peaks will have to take turns for awhile, but at last there is hope once again.

Now don't go feeling too sorry for all that lovely, evening violet-colored Alpaca Cloud... I have a plan for it as well.

I have had fun answering a quiz or two, so decided to create my own for you to take, and see how well you know me!

Happy Mother's Day to all my dear, creative Mothers of Invention in the knitting world and elsewhere....

Saturday, May 13, 2006

J is for Journaling

J is for journaling, which I have been committed to since a teenager. I have different sorts of journals, boxed away (I couldn't find them this morning to photograph; the boxes are buried under the stored items we moved around this winter), reflecting different styles as the years went by... there are the illustrated ones from my rapidograph phase, with some drawings I like and many I think are absolutely awful.. I loved putting ink to paper and even tried ink in different colors but the constant clogging and cleaning led me away, to lined books from office supply store racks, during my period of living outdoors. There is the time period, when pregnant with my DD, that I was studying Jungian-Senoi dreamwork and kept detailed journals of my very vivid dreams. Another period reflects my reading A Midwife's Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812 in the early 1990s, and keeping daily records of our accomplishments, along the lines of "1 pair of socks finished and 5 quarts of applesauce canned today". I was fascinated by how much she and her daughters contributed to the community income, in fact more than their husbands, and gained a lot of respect for myself as a single mother of three small children, keeping track of all I was managing to do each day and month. Journaling has been an important part of my life and my development as a writer.

J is also for Journalism, a subject which I taught for eight years, with great enjoyment. It was both creative and thought-provoking, and occasionally controversial. I don't really have the "qualifications" or experience at a big-time newspaper to go further in the world of teaching journalism, but do believe that it is an important area of the curriculum in need of teachers with integrity. My interest in journalism led me into blogging about a year and a half ago, which has deeply enriched my life. Now, I often write with my audience in mind, and with a clearer idea of who they are and why they come back regularly to read my work. I cannot tell you how gratifying this has been, to connect with people in other parts of the world I will probably never have the opportunity to visit. That is why I jumped at the chance to join a group blog, the Eat Local Challenge, and engage in a broader conversation on another subject that is almost as dear to me as knitting and burros, the topic of food. I have absorbed this year that I don't see writing in my life as a hobby, but as a passion, one that is integral to who I am and what my purpose here is. Thanks for being a part of my listening audience, and for giving me so much feedback.

Dye-O-Rama Update

I have not written much about Dye-O-Rama yet, nor have I put up a button (remiss, must correct that soon), and that is mainly because I am a bit afraid of giving myself away; turns out the person I am dyeing yarn for is a sometimes reader. This means that almost all of what I am doing will have to remain a deep, dark secret until the yarn has been received.... but, I can divulge just how excited I am today about this project! This is Spinning Saturday at Foothill Fibers, my local spin/weave/knit (love wool) guild, and during the week, I had emailed Sara, desperate for assistance in getting my yarn done in time... you see, I have a special plan. Of course, she and Beryl came to the rescue with data and recipes and sources to make sure that I will succeed. I will be documenting the process as I go, in anticipation of putting up a detailed post, and I can promise that my project will be unique.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

A Special Day in Donkeydom

Kathy has asked after the burros, so I thought I would feature them this evening. Spring is our donkeys' favorite time; the grass gets long and goes to seed and we tether them outside of the usual fenced pastures to feed and enjoy this special season. The weather is still mild, otherwise being out in the sun would be pretty intense, even for a donkey.

This week, DH rigged some barriers to give the four used to being outside of the fences a chance to roam about the back side of the property, under his occasional supervision. Donkeys are herd animals, and like to keep tabs on each other, but could also just as easily stage a mutiny together and head up the road to so-called greener pastures; luckily his system has proven effective so far.

He was unable to coax April, our semi-wild burro from the Sheldon Wildlife Refuge to join the rest, until today. She is not halter-trained yet, although approachable and finally over her year-long shyness of us. She was very intimidated by the fencing (which is usually electrified at the top) and even though she had seen the others go in and out of gates time after time without harm, would not try until today. I am a bit nervous to let her out, but very proud of her bravery, and how she simply followed her stablemates, her son Assteroid and buddy Rose, back into the pen this evening. April is the only chocolate-brown burro, and the shaggy little one, her son Assteroid, was born here shortly after her arrival and will be two years old next week (I think this will call for some carrot cake!).

Rose in front with April behind her

Everyone enjoying the spring greens

Assteroid munching on spring grass

Monday, May 08, 2006

Progress Report and a Chocolate Recipe

I had a few requests to show you what the ruana is looking like, so I draped it over a chair this afternoon, and took a photo... to the right, the stitches are all bunched up on the needle and tied closed so that I wouldn't lose any, and you can get a glimpse of bright green waste yarn, which will later be transformed into the front opening.

I am really enjoying the striping process, and also happy to realize that there is only about 15 more inches to go... there are items waiting patiently in the queue, and I got the latest issue of Interweave Knits in today's mail!

I have stayed focused and true to my two projects over the weekend, and as a result, now have a Nautie with pink head, but minus pink tentacles and felt eyes... that will come over the next few days.

I really enjoyed the comments and info about what you will be knitting for spring and am also happy to see that the doldrums bouncing around blogland about a month ago have faded and we knitters have become re-energized with the change in seasons.

I am continuing to have a great time with the Eat Local Challenge, and have even talked myself into making sourdough starter, which used to grace my pantry for years. While I am waiting for my starter to be ready, let me share the recipe for a family favorite:

Sourdough Chocolate Cake

1/2 cup starter (thick)
1 cup water
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup nonfat dry milk

Mix and let ferment for 2 to 3 hours in a warm place until bubbly and there is the odor of clean, sour milk.


3/4 cup honey
1 cup shortening or butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2 eggs
3 squares melted chocolate

Cream fat, honey, flour, spices, flavorings, flour, salt and baking soda. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Combine creamed mixture and melted chocolate with sourdough starter. Stir three hundred strokes until blended. Pour into two greased and floured layer pans or one large pan. Bake at 305 degrees fahrenheit for 25 to 30 minutes. Cool and frost as desired.

Now, I know someone is going to point out that this recipe is awfully high in fat to be considered "healthy". In our family, this is the sort of cake made only for someone's birthday or other very memorable occasion, and I have always been a baker to scrimp the rest of the year, but not for a celebration... everything in moderation! If you have not used sourdough starter, or just want a refresher course, read Claire's post at the ELC website today for directions. I will add the tip that, when making a cake such as this, I would take out the starter needed, and replenish by directly feeding my sourdough crock, and not from the sponge after it had risen. I never, ever put anything in my crock except flour and water. Sourdough is an even quirkier mystery than knitting!

Friday, May 05, 2006

What Are You Making For May?

I know that you were beginning to think it was all about the food around here, and that's a big part of May, as well as beginning to get out and work with the burros more, now that the weather is nice. But, there's still, and always, knitting going on around here. In fact, while attending an inservice this morning, I finished one variegated washcloth (greens) and started on another (pastels)... they go that fast!

My main goal is to finish the ruana, and since I have made it past the halfway point, feel somewhat optimistic, but you all know what it's like to knit all day, hoping for 10 inches and seeming to only turn out two. I know there's a good chance that the second half won't be as exciting as the first (kind of like 'second-sock' syndrome, only bigger), but I am still enjoying the time spent in my knitting chair, watching the stripes go by. I wanted to be even more random than Fibonacci, but have used the sequence for parts, and then thrown in an out-of-sequence mix of rows, then gone back to dear ol' Fib... I still love the various shades of light purples and the occasional surprises thrown in and I think I will enjoy using this item for a long while.

Since I am finished with Mountain Stream, I was all set to go back to Mountain Peaks, and I will, but I am going to switch yarns, so will have to wait to re-start (hey, third time's the charm, they say) until I can get together with Anna and get some of her laceweight.

I also intend to dig out DD's skimpy tank and re-do the sleeve (actually, make a new, correct and third sleeve, and see which one was the wrong version - there are two tiny cap sleeves ready, but they don't match, and it started raining in earnest early last fall when I figured that out, so she said "just wait till spring" - tempting words to a fickle and sanguine knitter like me).

I am awaiting the arrival of my Rowan Calmer in the color Sour (which is actually a pale apple green) so that I can get started on CeCe... it would be really great to have it done to wear to Estes Park next month, but since I bought the yarn from one of the Ebay yarn stores based in Britain, who knows when I will be able to start.

There's usually a little something unexpected that slips in each month, and here is May's:

This is my version of Nautie, about three-fourths of the body is done. I am using some Noro Blossom that I received as a gift earlier this year, and it is absolutely perfect for this... the colors look very "natural" and earthy. But in keeping with the playful spirit, the face will be pale pink! I am planning to hang my Nautie in our large bathroom window, which overlooks our private inner yard.

I had a nice conversation with Anna of My Fashionable Life earlier this week about fun and sexy summer knitting, and eagerly await what designs she might publish that I can make up later in the season. I also hanker to make the Elsebeth Lavold top I never got around to before winter. So, what are YOU working on this month?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Poised For A Challenge

I have been promoting sending all of you on your own version of the Eat Local Challenge, and decided it would be fair to let you know what my version looks like. These questions came from the ELC website:

1. What's your definition of local for this challenge?

I decided to go with "local as I can" as my definition, while aiming this month to find more sources for daily food needs that are between 50 and 100 miles of my home. I live in a particularly rich part of the country; when I was born in the 1950s, California fed the world - or at least that was its claim. The widest assortment of food was grown here of almost all the states, except maybe for the New Jersey of that era, which had been the garden for New York City for over a century. Now, much of our food is imported from other countries. Luckily, there have grown to be quite a few small, organic family farms and artisanal food producers within that radius. I can get meat, dairy, eggs, many veggies, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, olives and olive oil, various wines, and, of course, rice all close at hand, and much of it organic.

That said, I have made a strong commitment to eating organic foods over the years, and don't plan to give that up for the Challenge; I will be looking instead at preserving more of my own local foods in season, such as freezing the hordes of locally grown strawberries available during May, so that I will be eating local when I put them in smoothies next winter. If there is something that is organic, but still a bit outside that 100-mile range, I won't hesitate to eat it, and support the organic farmers.

2. What exemptions will you claim?

Oh, probably more than I care to admit! I will continue to drink the fair-traded coffee we have purchased for two decades, as well as consume chocolate and spices. I don't eat much in the way of grains, so rice will be ok, but I will exempt the Rudy's Organic bread I do eat, even though it comes from Colorado, and the Straus Family Creamery dairy products I get at my local coop, even though they are 183.88 miles from me (thanks, Map Quest), because they are a responsible family farm that employs reusable glass milk bottles in their packaging. I decided I balance the extra oil consumption involved in getting these products by getting my eggs at either the local feed store or from a friend who delivers them to me at work, and my meats from my cousin and my friend, Anna.

I will probably eat out once or twice a week, especially if traveling, and maybe for Mother's Day, depending on what my family concocts for me. We will be hosting all of DH's family over Memorial Day weekend, and I will eat almost everything put in front of me, as I consider it more important to nurture family ties than alienate family members by refusing to eat their food. I will, however, save some of my choicest local finds to feast with them.

3. What is your personal goal for the month?

I have a few: to search out new, closer sources (such as my next olive oil purchase), to reconnect with preserving the abundance of the seasons in order to broaden our food choices down the line, while localizing further, and to contribute to the education of others.

So you're ready to take the challenge ... now what?

Be sure and read our group blog regularly (it is colorful and entertaining), to try new produce that is in season at your local farmers market, and to plant something you can eat, even if it is just one pot of kitchen herbs! Don't hesitate to write and share your thoughts, fears and questions. I have loved food and cooking all my life, and am still learning new things, very exciting for me.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Mountain Stream, She is Finished

I am so delighted with this pattern and how lovely (and different) the blocked scarf looks. Lace is just such a leap of faith, not really looking like all that much until you roughly stretch and pin out the points and the pattern finally emerges in all its glory.

Here is the scarf blocked and drying... I made the pattern two repeats longer than stated, as I was using a different yarn, and knew I had plenty. It drapes over my shoulders on each side to a happy length, so I would buy extra yarn if needed to repeat the pattern in the future.

This close up really shows off the detail.

I used Garnstudio Silke-Woole, a gift from my Better Pal, Beth earlier this winter, and I was amazed when I pulled the pins out this morning to see that the silk component helped the pattern to "hold" its stiffness from blocking. I love the dark green color but it did bleed off a lot of dye when I soaked the piece to block.

We are almost past scarf-wearing weather around here, but I will be using it as a light scarf in the early mornings, and also when I am up in the higher elevations. I am still planning to get Mountain Peaks finished, but have made the decision to order some of my friend Anna's charcoal laceweight to make it and to abandon the Alpaca Cloud to another project (possibly Eunny's Print o' the Wave Stole - I am in love with lace).

In other news, please consider taking the Eat Local Challenge participant button I put up on my sidebar, even if you only want to scope out your local possibilities. Anyplace along the spectrum is just fine! The group blog is up and running and well worth a visit to see all the talent and the cross-section of the country represented by our authors.