Friday, April 30, 2010

The Other Side of the Boy Cat Pre-Storm Crash

I shared photos of boy #2 yesterday after he experienced a rush of frustration and restlessness preceding a spring cold front. You might have been asking yourself how his sparring partner (boy #1) was faring at that very moment. Here he is, only a few feet from his greatest mortal enemy.

It didn’t look good.
Knitting and Crochet Blog Week, Day 5

Today’s question is where. That would depend on the specific craft, of course. How much light is needed, if distraction is welcome vs. a hindrance, if the craft is mobile or stationary. But the place I am drawn to most frequently for mobile tasks is a leather recliner in the t.v. room. During the day, light floods the room. And if the task is repetitive and boring (like stockinette or garter), I can get a burst of knitting accomplished while watching an interesting television show or movie.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

I Should be Working

I do, after all, have a few assignments with deadlines fast approaching.

But how can I when this

is sacked out on my paperwork? And I do mean sacked out.

The kind of sacked out that comes after a day of windstorm preceding severe weather. A day when the memory of testosterone courses through the boys’ veins, forcing them to joist and argue for hours on end in defense of their territory, food, housing and females.

Until finally, peace.
Knitting and Crochet Blog Week, Day 4

There is a long list of crafty things I would love to learn—or more to the point: learn to do less-crappily—I’d have to answer crochet. I have several projects bagged up, yarn and pattern in hand, that are 100% crochet. I have books. I watch videos (it’s amazing how easy it all looks when someone else is doing it). But I have difficulty remembering the sequence of steps that make up the various stitches. I also have difficulty recognizing the where I put my hook in order to make the next stitch. This second part is more simply solved. I just need to crochet over and over and over and, as my MIL puts it, pay attention.

Knitting was very much the same way. I remember a time (scarf #2 during my final voyage of knitting discovery) that I had to finish a row before I set it down or I didn’t know which direction to knit when I picked it up again. The simple and obvious now were just one of a mind-numbing quantity of details I didn’t know or understand at the beginning.

Understanding that this is the process, and giving myself the time and space to practice while my ignorance is won over by skill and knowledge, is perhaps the hardest hurdle to overcome.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Knitting and Crochet Blog Week, Day 3

A great knitter... This is particularly difficult because so many knitters inspire me, and all for different reasons. But if I’m forced to narrow it down to one, I’d have to say Elsebeth Lavold, author of Viking Knits. I’m a huge fan of cables, and I am drawn to designs that are inspired by cultural heritage, without being too literal. While I admire stranded work (and I know of several particularly inspirational stranded-design knitters), it isn’t what I like to wear. That’s just a personal choice, and may have a lot to do with the era in which I was brought up. Elsebeth creates designs that are monotone, yet rich in complexity. Frankly, there’s not a single design in her book that I don’t yearn to make.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Knitting and Crochet Blog Week, Day 2

A pattern or project I aspire to...

That would have to be the Little Ricky Swing Coat. I imagined this project up in 2007 when I purchased two large skins of a thinly spun charcoal alpaca blend in Door County, WI—on yet another business trip. I haven’t even swatched for gauge on the yarn because the project is so daunting.

Simply put, the shape of the garment I envision isn’t one that is on the market already. And I have in mind some major gauge shifts from button band to body that would be easy to manage if I were working a waist band vs body. But vertical? Without a seam?

This was one of the first projects of my own design I imagined up, and in the frontier days of Ravelry. So, of course, I posted a question on the designer’s forum about the best way to go about it. My instinct was to create a pattern in muslin first, and then apply the math of gauge to develop the knitting pattern. This was shot down by “The Designers” who felt that everything was already out there so I should really just purchase a book like The Knitter’s Handy Book of Sweater Patterns. Which I did. And it didn’t help a bit. Neither did the other design books I purchased.

Around this time period I had my World Traveler source some delicious alpaca while in Chile, envisioning a scarf set of my own design. The problem was that it is in dk, and I wanted to make a tam, which is nigh impossible to find already patterned in that weight of fiber. I attempted. I frogged. I re-attempted. I frogged. Eventually I ruined several skeins. From this I learned that I need to make a test pattern first out of a similar weight fiber. You know, something I wouldn’t mind destroying?

So this is where I am left: with the knowledge that I need to make a muslin version first, “Designers” be damned, and that I should first test knit the critical tracts in a similar by less-dear yarn. Perhaps even knit it entirely so I know the exact yardage requirements to ensure that I have sufficient quantities of my desired fiber.

Certainly possible. Certainly doable. But certainly a project for another day.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Knitting and Crochet Blog Week, Day 1

I learned and re-learned knitting (and crochet) several times over my life. I first learned to crochet during the original hippie era when macrame plant hangars, and suede jackets with long fringe was all the rage. I’m not certain who taught me because I was so young (under 5), but it was probably my oldest sister. After crocheting a few useless potholders out of ugly yarn, I decided to learn to knit. Apparently knitting a coat-length sweater out of ugly yarn was preferable. I do remember that it was my uncle’s wife who taught me. She first tried to teach me English, but it was easier for me to handle the yarn Continental since that was most similar to the way I held yarn when I crocheted. I was about five. I knitted a few useless potholders, then gave it up.

A male friend in college knit scarves, and he re-sparked my interest. I knit a few scarves, then took a beginning knitting class. But I had to commute to class. They were evening classes, it was November, and one night traveling home I hit a 10 point buck on the highway, which completely disabled the new car. Since this was before I had a cellphone, that also meant that I had to literally thumb a ride to the nearest rest area where they had a pay phone and I could call the highway patrol. That experience, combined with the fact that our budget only allowed me to use ugly yarn I’d purchased from the store closing sale at a Duckwall’s Drug Store, really took the wind out of my knitting sails. I set everything aside for years.

Flash forward many years, to around 2005 or 6. I’m forgetting now the exact year. Anyway, I was on a business trip to Michigan, and stopped in a yarn store. It had been many years since I’d actually ventured into one, and given that most of my fiber experience had been with ugly acrylic, I was truly captivated by the range of available options. I bought a couple needles, two very different skeins of yarn (which I would never buy now, but they were my gateway drug, I guess you could say) and a booklet on how to knit. By the time we pulled in the driveway home, I had one scarf done, and another underway.

I have a few people in my family who do simple textile work now, and one who is very good at punch needle. But my true inspiration is a woman who died decades before I was born, and that is my grandfather’s grandmother. She was not a knitter from what I have been told, but she did many other things, including painting ceramics. I have several of her pieces, as well as the tin box and and small corked bottles of pigment that she used.

I need to re-learn how to crochet. I long ago forget what I once knew. I taught myself again a few years ago, but only enough to show my oldest sister how to make a specific stitch for a shrug for our mother’s birthday. My sister does crochet, but learns through demonstration. I don’t crochet, but learn best through books. So I learned, and demonstrated, and forget. I have a few projects that are crochet-intensive, but need to be in the right head space to work on them.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Finished Object: Sea Feral Purse Plucked from the Murky Depths of the UFO Pool.

According to my Ravelry project page, I began this sucker in December, 2007.

The inspiration behind it began with the fiber I bought at ReBelle in Lexington, Kentucky, May, 2007: banana silk, hemp, and corn fiber. They were unexpected and non-traditional, so they deserved to be transformed into something unexpected and non-traditional as well. Feeling a bit adventurous (dare I say “rebellious”?) I opted for a purse using a feral knitting technique rather than a pre-set pattern. To put an extra spin on it, I added a bit of hardware bling to most sections that were knit out of banana silk. (As for the “sea” part of the name, the colors remind me of a coral reef.)

Although I was knitting this using feral techniques, I still needed to create a rectangle with one open side. My first solution was cut the bottom off a paper grocery sack which was about the size of my finished purse, and map the progression of knit shapes on it much like the continents on a globe. That gave me a brief moment of confidence, but all was dashed as soon as I needed to turn a corner. I mean, how do I make such a fine-tuned mathematical construction happen when my my gauges and edge shapes were all over the board?

Fast forward to Me Week(s) March, 2010, which was unofficially dedicated to getting projects unstuck. My solution was to build a better box out of corrugated cardboard, and use T-pins to hold my knitting in place as I worked. Granted, the box was entirely in the way 90% of the time, slowing me down to a crawl. It also made it almost entirely unsuitable to travel to knit group. But I was able to block, stretch, and knit-to-fit the remainder of the purse.

With that completed, I turned my attention to creating the lining, and sourcing the materials to make the handle.

I had originally planned to use some pink lining salvaged from a thrift store wool coat I’d bought for the rug project, but ultimately abandoned that plan because the lining was so old it was becoming brittle. Plus I needed a more rigid lining to keep the purse form in more of a, er, purse form.

The second visioning of the lining was to purchase a sufficient quantity of new lining material to create a sort of quilted box using thick felt for batting. I’d gone so far as to plot out a complex set of cut lines that would allow for fold lines along the sides.

The third and final visioning was the realization that I had a pair of old jeans on my stash pile, and they would serve the purpose beautifully. It offers a small amount of rigidity, is a sturdy lining for all the “stuff” that comes with being a girl that likes to shop at hardware stores, and also has pockets. Pockets are great to hold business cards, store rewards cards, pens, etc.

I added a vertical stitch line on one of the pockets to make it into two—one for cards, and its partner for pens.

The two long sides needed a frame or support, in addition to the handle. For this I chose a length of metal wall shelving support. There are two things I love about this particular solution. First, it comes with lots of holes that I can use to secure the frame to the purse. Second, it happens to be the exact width necessary to hold an adhesive-backed magnetic strip. I had hoped that this would keep the purse closed.

Now what to do about the handles? For this I chose two types of speaker cord, which I braided to form a decorative, yet strong handle. Speaker cord has a nice hand-feel, so was my first choice from the beginning, though I had more color choices if I’d looked beyond that category.

I used the heavier speaker cord as the main support, split the cord back 5" from the end, and stripped one of its pair to that point. The non-stripped cord fit snugly in a 5/32" cable crimp. I threaded it through the tie and brought it back into the tie, forming a loop. With that done, I added the additional two lengths of smaller-gauge wire, and wrapped them in a sort of braid around the main structural wire.

Unfortunately I didn’t care for the look of the raw exposed wire at the attachment points, so I made a quick run to Hancock for a wide black elastic. I like the resulting modification much better.

With that done, I turned my attention to attaching the handle to the bag. For this I used more denim scraps, threading them through the wire loop, and attaching both denim ends to the inside of the purse using a zig zag stitch.

If I have a blind spot with my sewing machine, it’s the need to drop the presser foot when I’m sewing thick layers. Since the thickness makes it appear that the foot is fully depressed, I sew and sew and sew, then can’t figure out why the bobbin-side of the fabric is a mess.

Dropping the presser foot solves this every time.

I sewed back over some of the more ragged areas of the zig-zag, but opted to leave the mess in place. If this were a tailored bag, I definitely would have “fixed” it, but given the rawness of the project, having a stitch mess is oddly suited.

With that done, I attached the supporting frame to the purse top, first using thick button thread to attach the ends through the frame’s built-in loops. Then used the hemp thread to sort of wrap and crochet the frame along the purse top.

While the frame is necessary, and wrapping it this way was necessary, the thickness of the hemp was just enough to prevent the weak magnet in the magnetic strip from working. I had anticipated this might be a problem, so I already had a solution in my hip pocket. And that was to use the Dritz traditional magnetic latch. I attached these to denim strips and secured them to the bag’s interior as before.

The last problem to solve was how to keep the purse sides pulled in. I tried a few different solutions, but they all either barely worked, or worked too well, preventing me from being able to open the purse fully. Ultimately I used some leftover elastic, which I attached to the center of each side at the top, then at the seam along the base. The pulling down of the side effectively pulls it in as well.

And that’s it. A feral purse ready to hit the streets.

Monday, April 19, 2010


To the general public, this is a 10-gallon Igloo beverage cooler.

To home brewers, this is a mash and lauter tun.

To us it’s “Steve,” in honor of the manager of the local hardware store who took it as his personal mission to successfully remove the inner rubber hose from its outer braided steel sleeve after several days and multiple approaches by us had failed miserably.

Go Steve!

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Have you ever spent a day just—literally—watching grass grow? Here’s what it looks like... except that it’s a hallertau hops vine and not grass.

This photo taken April 17. 2010 at 6:42 pm:

This photo taken April 18, 2010 at 3:57 pm:

Freaky stuff!

Note to self: Don’t set the lounge chairs too close to the vines, lest I doze off and become imprisoned in the mad vining action.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Dubbing from VHS to DV: a Primer

When any generation of my family becomes nostalgic, it generally translates into a work order for me. I’m used to this from the top-tier generation. I’ve become accustomed to this from my generation when illness or death (or fire/death) requires a small return of balance in the form of replacement mementos and memory books. I never expected, however, to get these work orders from the generation below. And yet here I am.

You see, when my nieces and nephews were in grade school, their parents and maternal grandmother coerced them into performing short plays captured on video for the birthday of the same relative I made the memory cube for. As I mentioned in that post, he’s a very difficult person to buy for, and always has been. On one occasion these children did a sort of “This is your Life.” The next year they re-enacted the Wizard of Oz.

Yes, it is as bad a rendition as you are imagining. Possibly worse.

One of these nephews now is grown and has a child of his own, and he has mentioned that he would like to show the play they put on to his young daughter. No sweat, right? Except it was shot on VHS tape, and no one in that generation owns a VHS player. Quite frankly, they are getting about as rare as hen’s teeth. So it was put to me to transfer it onto a DVD, step 1 of which is to transfer the VHS tape to DV tape. The following is a brief explanation of the process. The specifics will vary according to the specific DV camera being used. I happen to own a Canon Vixia HV30, though I’ve done this successfully on other models, too.

To do this, I needed several pieces of equipment.

  • Working VHS player.
  • VHS tape containing desired video
  • DV camera with power supply cord
  • Owner’s manual for same
  • Stereo video cable with a yellow, red, and white plug on one end; and single av plug on the other.

With that all sorted, plug the yellow, red and white plugs into the out ports on the VHS player. The av plug is inserted into the av/headphone jack on the DV camera.

In my case, my camera was an HD. Clearly my source signal (the VHS tape) is analog, so I needed to go through the menu settings to switch from HD to DV.

The most confusing and counter-intuitive part of the dubbing process, is that the video camera will only record from the av port if it is in PLAY mode. Yes, that’s right. It has to be in PLAY to record. Go figure. That was the same with my previous camera, so I don’t think the requirement is unique.

With that done, and a fresh DV tape inserted into the camera, the manual instructed me to enter FUNCTION mode and select REC PAUSE. Then I selected EXECUTE.

At this point the DV camera was ready to go, so I hit PLAY on the VHS machine, and then hit the PLAY button on the camera when the section I wanted to dub appeared on the camera’s LCD screen.

Once finished, I hit the STOP button on both the camera and player. The video had successfully dubbed onto the DV tape for easy transfer to my desktop computer and movie editing software of my choice.

Other than being forced to listen to five children who couldn’t hold a tune individually—and definitely not in tandem—sing “Somewhere Out There” from the 1987 American Tail, the process was fairly painless.

At least, despite the production quality, it is obvious that everyone involved is having a blast!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Gift of Heritage3

I have one relative who is always—always—a challenge at gift time. Some gifts can take up to a year in planning to make happen. This year’s birthday sneaked up on me. It’s late. Very late. But I did at least call the morning of his birthday to wish him well, and tell him that my project was going to take some time yet. Then I put Michael on a plane and got to work.

One of the most recent Make Magazine vidcasts covered how to make a Magic Photo Cube. It seemed relatively straight forward. In fact, the most difficult part of this project, in my opinion, is deciding on which photos to use. I varied several steps of my project from the given directions, so I’ve documented my particular work below.

First, I purchased a small length of 1 1/2" x 1 1/2" lumber.

I cut a small piece off the end, set it vertically, and used that to mount a stop block against the fence for the miter saw. (Make’s Kip Kay used a band saw to cut his blocks... To that I say, “Right tool for the right job.” The original author of the project had a cabinet shop cut his blocks. Coward.)

Once this was in place, it was simply a matter of assembly-line chopping. I only needed eight blocks to complete my project, but since I had the lumber I made enough for two cubes. The blocks were sanded afterward.

Once sanded, I painted all the blocks with a matte black paint. This was another point of variance, but I wanted a more finished look to any areas that might show after they were assembled.

The way this photo cube works, is there are hinges attached at critical junction points. Here I’ve temporarily used painter’s tape as a guide for placing the permanent hinges.

The project author and Make used packing tape, but this seemed too easy to tear and a bit low-brow for my taste. Instead, I took small rectangles of thin muslin, and glued these using carpenter’s glue across the hinge points.

The next step was deciding which photographs to use. I started out looking for 6 images that would work well in a square format.

I had my in-home tech guy (who has the software, driver and hardware hooked up) scan them. Then I imported them into my minimal-but-much-less costly-than-the-professional-kind iPhoto software, cropped them into 3" by 3" images, and sent them to the printer.

Then I cut each image into 4 equal squares and glued them to the block faces using rubber cement. (This was another point where I varied from the original instructions, which had suggested using a glue stick. As if!).

There are two ways to use rubber cement. In the first, you apply glue to the object to be glued, as well as the object to be glued-upon, and let it dry to tack. Then the two surfaces are lined up and pressed flat. This works really well when gluing two sheets of paper to each other. The second method involves applying the rubber cement to only one surface, and attaching the two surfaces while the glue is still wet. This method could create wrinkles in the photos, but is a more permanent bond, so that’s the method I chose.

After gluing each face, I set a small flat weight over the surface and walked away for at least thirty minutes to give it time to set properly before further manipulating the cube. This translated into two of my favorite “N” activities: Knitting and Napping.

Once the six faces were covered with photos, I began manipulating the cube to expose new faces, and chose new photos to scan, print, cut and glue.

Six more photos and six more sides later, this is what the cube looked like:

To get back to the original six images, I unfolded the cube thusly:

Rolled the long sides outward to show new faces:

And collapsed it back into its original cubic form:

I’m very happy with my choice to paint the blocks black. For a more finished look, I probably should have gone with a black fabric for the hinge material, too, although it’s useful to be able to see the hinges while manipulating the cube. The cubes also would have fit a tad better if I had made the hinge sides of each cube component narrower by the thickness of the hinge fabric. But I so don’t have any machinery with that much precision power.

And there you have it: a one-of-a-kind tailor-made gift. Now the cube (along with a jar of three-citrus marmalade and a jar of blood orange/ugli fruit marmalade) is packaged up and ready for a trip to the post office tomorrow morning. For safety’s sake, the two jars of marmalade are individually wrapped in bubble wrap, and enclosed in their own Ziploc bags. The cube is wrapped in tissue and also inside its own Ziploc bag. Just in case the box is drop kicked or there is an unfortunate air pressure event en route. This will travel to its destination in a cargo plane, after all.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Finished Object: Rahda Redux

Finally! It took a lot of effort, and ending with a six-episode marathon of Big Love Season 2, and knit group to bring this puppy to an end.

At times this was a painful process, and it isn’t without its flaws. but I think the result was worth it. And wearing it feels like a hug.

Can’t wait until next fall when I can really make use of it!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Method Behind the Color Madness

I promised a photo explanation of this months ago, but I’m going to use the tired excuse of the weather having been consistently piss-poor for a marathon stretch which would have made for lousy photos. Sure, there have been a handful of days that have been brilliant and sunny, but on those rare days I was kinda busy with the whole garage sale/gardening/beer making thing to make the short trek to the LYS to take them. But yesterday was glorious, and coincided with the creation of a short but essential shopping list at the LYS. So let’s recap:

I am making the Radha shrug by Berroco, using mainly yarn I stumbled upon at Busy Hands in Ann Arbor Michigan a few years ago. They only had about half the yarn (HWS Markoma Nobel) I needed at that time, but on a separate visit a year later, and a phone call about a year after that, I was able to get my entire supply—for the body. There wasn’t enough to do the sleeves.

The Nobel is a significantly larger gauge than the pattern originally calls for, so it required math to make it work. A non-issue, really. But since I needed to use a different yarn to make the sleeves, I decided to look within the original gauge family. Softness was critical because the Nobel is deliciously soft for an acrylic. Color was also critical because there was zero hope of matching dye lot. I did have an advantage, though, that the Nobel was variegated, so I had a range of colors to inspire me.

After seeing my options, I ultimately decided on a yarn within the Lustra family by Berroco. And within that, two were obvious front runners for matching: a copper and a blue.

Here’s what the copper looks like on the shrug body:

As you can see, it blends beautifully with the shrug body, and allows the blue to pop a bit.

Here’s the same shot using the blue skein instead:

While the blue is a nice match to the blue in the main body, it overpowers the coloring in the shrug. The blue in the shrug body sort of disappears, making for bright sleeves and a dull wrap.

The clear winner was the copper. Here’s what it looks like knit into fabric:

The reason for this can be explained using the Gestalt Principal of figure vs. ground. If I had used blue in the sleeve, it would have made the blue in the shrug body the ground and the copper the figure. Using copper, it did the opposite. The copper now frames the blue, making it more of a prominent color within the shrug body.

And really, that’s as it should be. As for as my personal design sense goes, sleeves should never be the focal point of a garment. If I had used blue on the sleeves—knit in a solid field as they are—they definitely would have been the focal point. And at the same time it would have dulled down the main garment body. The more reserved copper, on the other hand, let’s the blue in the main garment body take center stage.

I’m on a mission, and Radha is on the homestretch.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Discovering the Genetic Roots of my Growing Obsession

It has probably been a decade since I last planted tomatoes. I used to love tomatoes—still do in point of fact—but between the limits of my allergies, the fact that only one person in this two-person household likes tomatoes even remotely, the fact that I think tomato cages are one of the fugliest things on the face of the earth, and that most years I am barely home for harvest... well tomatoes were pretty much a forgotten pleasure. Not this year.

Last year I discovered Black Russian tomatoes at the farmer’s market. I fell instantly in love with this variety as soon as I topped a thick slice with fresh mozzarella, sprinkled with fresh basil, and set it under the broiler until the cookie sheet banged from heat distress. So this year I decided to plant my own Black Russian crop, as well as Romas, to be transformed into spaghetti sauce, tomato sauce, and all other wonderful tomatoey canned goods.

I historically suck at starting plants from seed. Unless it is something that can be sown directly outdoors, there is no hope. Seriously. I’ve done everything, tried everything. I’ve even built a seed starter box, added plumber’s heat tape under a bed of sand, added a hinged old storm window for a lid, and set it under a grow light. When that didn’t work I gave up, and instead took my seeds to a local nursery for them to start. Then I simply bought back the trays once the seedlings had matured. Genius, right? It worked well for a few years, but in recent history I have lost total respect for that business and promised myself I would never shop there again. They weren’t dishonest. Just highly unprofessional and incompetent in that sad way that some people grow into as they age.

Given all the above, I realized that I needed to find a local nursery that would carry heirloom plants. I had done some pre-shopping a few weeks ago, and was preparing to start shopping for real in the next week or so. That all changed during a visit to WalMart earlier this week.

You see, I needed only a couple of groceries, and that was by far the closest store to my other errand destinations. We noticed that there seemed to be a bit of activity in the garden center as we entered the store, so we strolled through there to survey possible plant options for holes in our landscape plan. Turns out they didn’t have much of a bush selection, but they had just set out some shelves of tomatoes. Lots of tomatoes, in fact. And heirloom tomatoes. Including Black Russian, which is really the Russian Black Prince, but you get what I mean. I made a mental note to come back in a few days, then got on with my life because I had some work-related things that took precedence.

That over, and with the forecast looking miraculously beautiful for the remainder of the week, I decided Thursday would be yard work day. And with that, the planting of the tomatoes. But before starting this, I called my mother for our daily chat about “stuff” and mentioned that I had found those Black Russians at WalMart, and how that had totally shocked me because I never would have thought WalMart would carry heirloom tomato plants. She was shocked, too. As well as overjoyed. She has searched high and low for heirloom tomatoes in the past, and usually has to go out of town to find them.

As soon as we ended the call, she was in the car and headed to WalMart. Except her WalMart didn’t have any vegetable plants. She called me, and moaned about the fact that they didn’t carry them and that she should have asked me which WalMart I had gone to (naming two of the three locations in her town.) “None,” I answered. I bought them (in my town,) once again proving to her how perfectly magical my town is grocery-wise. “Would you like me to pick up some for you when I buy mine?” The response was a resounding “yes!”

The store had dozens of varieties. I knew I wanted one black and two Romas, but as for the third, I was leaving myself open to inspiration.

She requested that I pick up one each of the heirlooms for a total of four, including the black. It turned out they only had three hybrids, so I added those to the cart and gave her a call. Did she want me to buy a second black, something else, or nothing at all? She decided to leave it at the three.

I made the mistake of continuing to look at plant labels while we chatted, and one caught my eye: Lemon boy. “Oh, they have lemon boy!” I said, though I’m not sure why I said it with such surprise and enthusiasm given that I’d never heard of it.

“Lemon boy?!”

“Oh, you’ve heard of it?”

Absolutely. One of her cooking mavens swears by it for putting on sandwiches. That solved that.

I ended up with a black prince, lemon boy, and two Romas.

My mother has a German princess, lemon boy, black prince, and a red beefsteak, which the label said was also an heirloom. The lemon boy is not, btw.

We tossed our tomato cages years ago, so I also needed to purchase those. This year these caught me eyes: the Ultimato tomato cage which collapses flat for storage during the off-season. Perfect!

And before I put the plants in the ground I made collars to protect the young plants from cutworms.

Every project is better if it involves a wee bit of arts and crafts!
Life Lesson for Wednesday, April 8, 2010

Home brew sampled toward the end of a client’s marathon marketing meeting makes everything sunny and bright—even on a stormy day.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

It has its Moments

Saturday after our brew session, we switched gears entirely and turned our attention to the garden.

We have many, many plans for the yard, which was mostly half-dead grass and a half-dead trees when we bought the place. We’ve made major progress, but other things will have to wait because they are affected by very pricey alterations to the structure of our home, or simply because that section of yardscape design will be pricey on its own.

This was the first warm and dry weekend for months, and the first that Michael was on this continent, so it was high time to turn our attention yard-ward. Our first effort for the 2010 garden year was installing a new edged planting bed that connects the river rock bed along the front of the house, with the north-ish side of the house, and around to the back yard. That’s a tremendously large area, and uses a tremendous amount of edging. I have only a small portion of the mulch on-hand to fill this area in, so we’ll do our best and add in as local nurseries offer mulch sales and our budget allows.

Thankfully we didn’t need to buy any additional plants to fill in these areas. We were mostly connecting areas that were planted last year. Other items were transplanted from other parts of the yard.

Like the sedum from a bed out front that is slated to be removed in the fall. It was one of the few plants left by previous owners and tenants.

Traditional day lilies give to us by a neighbor last year that I’d temporarily “parked” on a small plot in the sunken garden last fall, but will soon need for a modest tomato patch.

And three established bushes from the same front bed that is slated for demolition.

As big as this lilac was, I have serious doubts it will survive the move. But since it never bloomed in an attractive or fragrant way since we’ve lived here, it’s a bush I won’t weep over if it does pass on.

Michael focused his attention on edging, while I spent my time wrestling the bushes out of the ground, then transplanting the other items.

The yellow patches of lawn are from Tuesday’s highly successful herbicide treatment of our wild onion “crop.”

We both got a bit sidetracked on Saturday when we traced the source of ponding to a crack in the pipes with our irrigation system’s valve box.

Normally this shouldn’t contain any water. And this is about an hour after I shut the water off, so the water had drained a bit. Note to self: call landscape company Monday morning.

A friend recently asked me if I liked to garden. Such a simple question, and yet I was taken aback. “It has its moments,” I replied. I mean, you would think that give the size of the yard and the number of plants and beds that we’ve installed already, that I simply love, love, love gardening. Right?

Not exactly.

I love having a lawn, which is something that we never had at our other home. I also love having room to plant and play and experiment. Also something we never had at our other home. But the harsh reality is that I don’t enjoy weeding or pruning or planting.

Yes, we totally exhausted ourselves gardening this weekend, and had to call a halt to efforts shortly after lunch Sunday. Every muscle in my body aches, and I’m burning through three times the calories I’m taking in. The muscle aches are a serious blow to my knitting schedule. And yes, it’s far from done. Even this one bed (all be at one that wraps around three sides of the house) is going to require lots more work to kill the existing grass, and spread mulch. But taking the long view, once the mulch is in I won’t have to spend much time keeping it looking healthy and manicured.

The trick is keeping plants to types that are interesting and beautiful, but also relatively carefree. And knowing when and how often to hire outside help. Which sounds easier than it really is.

The payoff comes in moments like this:

Mt. Hood Narcissus from last fall’s plantings, and

last spring’s Saaz rhizome, already popped and searching for something to vine up.