Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Dropping the Gears

“Me Weeks” are approaching at the speed of light, an event I have learned to look upon with trepidation.

All the imagined carving out of a new schedule, focusing on beloved-but-neglected projects, learning new skills, reading book after book for long stretches, marathoning a season of television that I love but my viewing partner - not so much... well something usually happens to destroy all of that.

I am trying very hard not to set my sights too high, but as soon as I set myself realistic expectations, one more thing creeps onto my list and then another and another...

I need to fix that ASAP. This “Me Week” more than most has all the potential of being a fail, due to the likelihood that my time will be spent either in doctor’s offices and waiting rooms, or on the highway going or coming from the same. And I know I have significant yard clean-up time ahead of me give that most of the leaves have yet to fall.

I have a lot more office work than I expected because new assignments with tight deadlines roll in the door before I’ve had a chance to finish the ones I already had.

Because of all that, I’m going to test out a new approach to the weeks that will hopefully give me the flexibility to tackle each day as it comes, without the inevitable disappointment of missed opportunities. More on that later.

In preparation for the coming weeks, this week I have completed six major assignments, conducted interviews for two more, canned jars jars of green tomato salsa, eight jars of green tomato mincemeat, repaired rotted wood on the solarium, assisted in roof repair (mainly by conveying tools on and off the roof and holding the ladder) and tried my darnedest to get past the really difficult thinking stage of Fjalar. No small feat.

(The green tomato projects were last minute, but became critical and time sensitive once the flat landed on my doorstep - as noted by the four tomatoes ripening in this photo.)

Fjalar is from Elsbeth Lavold’s Viking Patterns for Knitting. She is a visionary designer, and her sensibilities align with mine. Nearly every project in the book is marked for future knitting. The downside is that English is not her first language, and her patterns are challenging. That’s when clearly written instructions are crucial, and that’s something this particular pattern is not blessed with.

It went well until the beginning of the collar on the front. Then I spent (no kidding) the entire two hours of my knitting group trying to make broad sense of the instructions. And another hour at home working out the fine details of those instructions. Now that I’m a dozen or so rows through the really head-bending stuff, I’m having to keep three row counters with me at all times to keep track of 1) rows in the cable chart, 2) rows between increases on the seam end, and 3) rows between decreases where the stockinette panel meets the cabled neckline. Yes, all three in tandem. The good news is that I’m almost done with the seam increases. The bad news is that once the whole right side is done, I’ll need to repeat all of this for the left side.

Frankly I’m finding the whole thing about irritating. Hardly “Me Week” knitting. But I forge ahead because the sleeves will be a breeze and I can nearly smell the barn when it comes to finishing this project.

Tonight is Halloween. Our porch lights will be off and we’ll be inside hiding.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Say Goodbye to Summer

It’s been in the 50s and drizzly all day. A log is burning in the fireplace. All the household plants are inside for the year. With every chance that we’ll have a hard frost in the next day or two, I ended the afternoon with a sweep of the yard, sampling the last of the 2011 blooms.

Goodbye summer. It’s been a sweet, sweet ride.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Lab Tested; Bride Approved

The bobbin lace “flower” for the wedding garter has been road tested - and proved to be a success.

This was the first time I’ve been inside the family church since the arson-caused fire, and its subsequent rebuild. The new church is barely recognizable as the old. What was once the parish hall is now offices. The sanctuary is now a parish hall. The old parking lot is now the sanctuary. And stylistically is it unrecognizable, too. It was never traditional, but the design now draws on Scandinavian influences.

Sitting in the sanctuary waiting for the wedding to begin, I found myself looking at the liturgical cloths and aching to create new ones with stylistically-appropriate lace inserts drawing on seasonally-appropriate biblical symbolism. This wouldn’t be a one year, or two year project. This would probably be bobbin lace linens created over the remainder of a lifetime.

Yes, I do know that I am a sick, sick woman. Perhaps I’ll postpone further action on that thought until after I’ve completed the 5,000+ projects that are already ahead of me.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Finished Object

Wedding rings motif from 50 New Bobbin Lace Patterns by Claire Burkhard.

If I were going to name this project, it would probably be “mistakes have been made,” because well... they have. But still, not a bad job overall considering how rusty I am with my bobbin lace skills (last project completed prior to 2007) and how much I had reduced this pattern (35% of the original), and therefore how difficult it was to see where I was to place pins, and what stitches to make where.

This is what it looked like soon after I started hanging on bobbins and making lace. I used the same Continental-style bobbins I used to make lace to re-make the family heirloom Christening gown that was destroyed in a fatal fire in December 2004... so I guess that means the last time I made lace was in 2005. Ee-gads - no wonder I felt out of my depth!

I used a spool of cobalt blue Gutermann silk thread that I happened to have in my stash.

Bobbin lace is essentially a weaving process, but I’m creating the loom on the pillow as I work, setting pins in the critical points. The density of the finished piece as made by the number of bobbins, thickness of thread, types of stitches, and number of twists, holds the shape in its finished form. I’m essentially blocking the lace as I go, much as knitted lace is blocked after it is finished.

The pattern was too small for me to easily read without the help of several magnifying lenses.

This is what one of the two motifs looked like right before I removed the pins.

And the two finished motifs with a quarter to show scale. I said it was really tiny, right?

Afterward I fastened it to the bride-furnished garter along with a cluster of silvery glass beads as faux stamens.

This was not an easy task period, and not an easy one to integrate into a very busy summer schedule driven mainly by near-death, death and dying of ones (multiple) near and dear, together with the foolish desire to earn a living wage.

Could I have done better? Probably. But it is done, it was done and in the hands of the bride a week before the blessed event. And I dare say, no one has the eyesight and knowledge to point out my errors. If they do, they, at least, will surely understand and keep their big yappers shut.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What the Heck?

I was only gone a week. When I left town, it was still hot and summery. A week later we’re in full-blown fall. Even on hot days, there is a chill dryness in the wind that reminds me hard frosts will soon be here.

Unlike other years, there will be no bulb planting this fall. There’s simply been too much happening around these parts that has put me woefully behind on many critical personal and professional areas. I’ll be doing good to make room in my schedule for leaf raking. And frankly, I may use the “wait until they blow into the neighbor’s yard” approach this year. They pay people to remove their leaves, so it’s not like I’m making their weekends harder than they need to be, right?

The past month has been a mixed bag of successes and failures and/or frustrations. Fortunately the successes have outnumbered the rest, but only by a hair.

A week before we left, I finally attributed the cause of our shower door sticking to the fact that the frame was coming completely apart at the seams. The surprise wasn’t that this had happened, but that we discovered it when two people were at home to fix the problem, and before the glass fell away creating a pathway of death between the naked person and the exit. We tried to fix it with the door in-place, but it turned out to be a much bigger problem, so the fix involved saw horses and a complete removal and dismantling of the door so we could replace two screws that had sheared off. Yay Michael for being lead mechanic on this one!

Did you know I was a plumber? Neither did I, but I did manage to successfully fix a dripping faucet even though all the hardware stores in two towns were out of the specific part I thought I needed. Hmmm... Maybe my tightening it when I re-assembled it will turn out to be a permanent fix. Or maybe the faucet is a ticking (or dripping) time bomb. We shall see. But until then and for the last three weeks it hasn’t dripped a drop. Success!

Speaking of time bombs, I’ve known since we bought this place that we were operating on borrowed time with the built-in microwave. Chunks were missing out of the handle, and I discovered that it was being held to the door with sheet rock screws and joint compound. A few nights ago, while thawing our dinner, the handle came completely off in my hand. Add “shop for new microwave” to our task list for the next day, and “schedule installment” for a day not too distant in the future, I hope. (The $$ I saved fixing the faucet myself proved to be a nice off-set to the price of the microwave, too!)

I stopped at some very cool stores during our multi-state venture, and could have done way more damage if a) my budget had allowed and b) if I already owned the kitchen of my dreams so I had a safe place to store and/or display things. I still bought a few things that are too big to fit anywhere, but at least they are metal and therefore fairly unbreakable.

This is my haul from the Dutchman’s Store in Cantrill, Iowa:

You’ll note a brand-new large cast iron skillet that I bought for the sole purpose of making biscuits and gravy. This Sunday is my next attempt when I’ll be trying out my Grandmother’s recipe for buttermilk biscuits straight from her old recipe file (in foreground of photo). You may note that it leaves off many of the criticals, like time and temperature. Gotta love it!

Also shown is a staple to the turn of the century Midwestern housewife: a grease cup. I’ll get use out of this every time I make bierocks. The massive metal bowl will be used for making bread. There’s real salt, straight from a mine with no purification, the skinniest elbow macaroni I’ve ever seen, and a bag of cheddar cheese powder to make my favorite popcorn.

I was extremely successful stocking the larder in Oklahoma, too. We stopped at Lovera’s Italian Market in Krebs.

There I picked up caciocavera cheese, aged caciocavera cheese, glop (parmasan and asiago cheeses blended in olive oil), smoked Italian sausage, Italian sausage with tomato basil...

a rosemary dipping oil, Fusilli bucati macaroni, lime tree honey, Tarallini with fennel, and various rice mixes and mints.

I could have gone a lot crazier there, but I can always order more by mail later. Lovera’s makes the caciocavera cheeses in-house.

As much as I’m trying to avoid buying new stock for the lawn and garden (both because of $$ and time), I couldn’t avoid replacing this arborvitae that we’d originally bought in June.

Yes. Massively dead. And as big as it was, it didn’t come cheap. Fortunately it did come with a warranty, so a section of last Sunday was spent making a return trip to the nursery where I a) had to endure a lecture about the proper care of my new plants (in my defense, it’s been a really really crappy year, and we left on a week-long business trip just as the hottest, driest week hit our area so no one was home to ensure it was properly watered), and b) lectured back about the fact that the original plant had two leaders which is a no-no-no for any good nursery, and c) learned how this plant (when alive) can be used to do a traditional Indian spiritual cleansing. After the nurseryman (who is in fact, a Native American) heard just a tiny fraction of what this year has been for us, he seemed to think point c was something we should really consider. He might be right.

Next post: an actual finished object fit for a bride.