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Friday, December 30, 2011

Brica Update (a knitting post)

Brica is zipping along this week - with only 30 more rounds to go to finish up the shoulder area - or not - because that shoulder shaping is always a little dicey. Making the neck opening, the sleeve length, the shoulder depth and the stitch count all play nicely together requires serious Knitting Math. The hope is that - even though I began the every-other-row sleeve decreases as soon as I switched from the sweater body decreases - the sweater still has enough shoulder depth to fit comfortably over my body's shoulder depth. If not - I will know soon enough - and have to rip back to that point and knit a couple of rounds with zero decreases. Eh. One hates to frog a sweater this close to being finished, but one does what one must. 

I'll make my neck opening calculations using Ann Budd's book of basic patterns. I believe I'll start the neck opening at 7 inches since I'm worried there aren't enough sleeve stitches. If I decrease at the sleeves every other row all the way to the top I'll end up with a pointed sleeve cap. I really need to have about 4 stitches centered over the top of that sleeve to make a nice rounded shape. 

I'm going to do a steeked neck opening too - so I can do all that short row shoulder shaping in the round. I've done it back and forth - but even as a combination knitter my flat knitted purls are slightly bigger than my in-the-round knit stitches. There will be a demarcation line and it will be noticeable. How wide that neckline will be depends on how many stitches it takes to do the cathedral cable. I've forgotten. I did all those back in October.

Ah well. This is why top-down construction is so much faster. You get this tricky part done right at the beginning. There's no temptation to set the poor garment aside while you worry over your lack of Knitting Math Skills and dread the thought of all those hours of knitting turning into something that doesn't fit or looks horrible on you. 

Still and all, I Shall Persevere. After all, I have done this successfully before. And Brica is too pretty a sweater to let it languish any longer. Besides - I have all that yarn clamoring upstairs for their turn on the needles. Just wait till you see what I have cooked up for that Cascade 220!!

So it's off to the knitting couch for me, calculator in hand. Ta!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Old Town Yarnery in Fredericksburg (long post)

Nothing so warms the heart of a knitter than news of a New Yarn Shop. When it opens up in one of the quaintest, most charming little colonial towns just a short 1 hour drive (with almost zero stoplights and only 4 turns) from her house - through some of the prettiest countryside of Virginia - well - that heart beats warmer and warmer. When that knitter arrives and finds the friendliest staff, a good basic selection of a classic workhorse yarn, a nice array of some luxury yarns, solid colored sock yarn as well as self striping (an important feature for certain TheQueen-ly knitters), and the smell of fresh coffee, all tucked into a cozy shop that has a lot of room to spread out, take a class, or just kick back with your shoes off ... well now - there just ain't nuffin' better'n that.  

It was just a few short weeks ago when I was sighing to J that it was really just too bad there wasn't a yarn shop in Fredericksburg. There used to be one and I don't know why it closed - many things happen in a business that the customer will never know. But I know this city, with it's huge influx of federal government commuters, as well as a creative university staff and a homesick student body longing for those little comforts left back in their home towns ... things like Mom knitting cozy hats... can support a yarn shop. And right then, as I was whining about the lack of such knitterly diversion, my car was parked in front of this little white shop with it's fabulous natural light flooding in its south facing window. I promised myself I'd visit during my Christmas vacation.

A google search had yielded up a phone number [540-373-YARN (9276)]   on the Virginia KnitMap along with posted hours (which I believe are about to change - so - call first). This was good because, though the shop has a facebook page,  I don't believe it yet has its own website - or if it does - it's not vibrant yet. Quite understandable when you realize it's only been open a month. I took a chance, called and got the owner who confirmed her opening days and hours. So, early yesterday morning I picked up my knitting buddy and we tooled on up the highway. 

We stepped through the door around 10:30 and right away I was swept with that delicious feeling I get when I walk into a room full of yarn - the quiver in my nose at the faint scent of fresh new fibers - the little shiver that rolls up and down my arms at the nearness of so much yarn goodness - that flexing of the fingers just itching to touch - and the heady knowledge that here it's okay to touch. You'll be offered touchable opportunities by your friend, the shop owner, her husband. There's something so connected about that moment when you start talking fiber to a kindred soul.

At the front of the shop was a table - full of yarn at the moment and I suppose they'll be wanting to keep it as a shop window display area - but I hope they'll also keep an area clear for you to lay out yarns in that fabulous natural light to be sure you've got the color combos you want. There was also, at the front, a drop dead gorgeous Great American Aran Afghan, knit in Cascade 220 heathers, with a sign noting that there was going to be a winter knit-along on Sundays. I regret I didn't get a photo of that but I will say, that afgan is so much more attractive in those cozy heathery colors than in the white cashmere I was working it up in. (I like the cashmere yarn. I like the pattern. I just didn't like doing the one with the other) 

The owner introduced herself right away - or at least right after she'd hung up the phone. Her name is something lovely that I have now forgotten because she said "Everyone calls me Mo". There was a 'Mr. Mo' working away on the computer system. There was a very pretty young woman at a table who was introduced as Alex - the shop instructor. This is a good sign - that the shop is ready with someone skilled who can help. 
I'd seen on the KnitMap that Mo uses Cascade 220 as her staple workhorse yarn which was an added thrill. That yarn disappeared from the Richmond area before I ever got around to buying any. I used to see it in Ben Franklin and think about getting enough of a handful of colors to make something really vivid and striking in stranded colorwork - something you might design based on the work of Lise Kolstand in her books Small Sweaters and More Sweaters. I just never got around to getting any. I was thrilled to find that OTY has the full 90 colors of Cascade 220 and while she has other  Cascade yarns, if she doesn't have the color you wan't she'll order it in for you. You can see the 220 tucked into bins on the left of this photo.

 There are also tables, shelves, baskets and bowls full of other yarns: Noro, of course, and Debbie Bliss (Yea! of Cashmerino fame a la Brica), Plymouth, Berocco and, as I said, sock yarns in solids and prints. Mo also has some  unusual buttons and closures, most of them displayed in individual glass jars. Best of all - she carries Addi needles. Because, if you know TheQueen, you know a yarn shop that doesn't carry Addi needles just doesn't understand!!! 

Here's C, who can't help fondling some Debbie Bliss Angel - super kid mohair and silk - well, who could resist?

A nice stream of knitters wandered through while C & I lingered. It was nice to see the staff ready to help, but not pushing themselves on the customers. As knitters themselves, they understood the need to linger, to stroke, to think about it before actually spending. A nice blend of friendliness and respect for privacy.

So. What did I buy? Why - what do you think? With the aid of that lovely natural light I picked up 6 colors of Cascade in TheQueen's colors. I know. I know there is an oatmeal tweed aran sweater sulking upstairs and I'm not going to leave it languishing in the spare room stash. But I'm not taking any chances either. I want that inspirational color in my house - not an hour away in an admittedly lovely shop.

And so - aren't we just the lucky ones - to have such a wonderful new yarn shop in the Fredericksburg area?  I hope to see you there sometime.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

We Have Connection - a knitting post

Now that gift knitting is completed I am free to pick up Brica - which I have been spelling wrong for weeks. eh. I hate spelling. "Oh - learn phonics" I used to be told. Huh. So why is a short "i" sometimes followed by double consonants and sometimes not? grrrr.
But this is not a spelling post - that would be disastrous! This is a knitting post with a few photos and some explanations.

I decided to make the sweater about 24 inches long so when it was 13 inches long I threw in an inch of short rows on the front - as I always do - and then knit that final inch. Then it was 8% of stitches at the underarm seam loaded onto stitch holders - I chose to go with 14 stitches at each side, on sleeves and sweater body. 


I am going to make knitted in set-in sleeves with this one, though its plain stockinette shoulder area would be fine with a yoke type treatment. I'm confident I can knit this type of shoulder treatment ... I have done it at least 3 times already ... but it's been a while. Not since I made the Kipfee back in 2007 have I done this type of sleeve/shoulder math. I've always just winged it - fiddling and fudging till it suddenly falls into place, but I know there is a systematic way to go about this - a way to codify it, write it, explain it ... to teach it to others. One of these days I'll master it and then you, my faithful readers, will know how to do it too! 

At this point, though, I'm just eating up sweater body stitches till I get to the shoulder width I want . This comes to 4 decreases every round, placed where the sleeves join the body. Then the decreases begin to eat up the sleeves at a slower pace - every other round I believe. The trick is that as you get to the very top of the sweater you have to do some short row magic on flat knitting, doing each front shoulder and the back shoulder area separately before  making one final connecting row and two short 3-needle bind-offs.

And yes. Doing this top-down is easier - but there are some stitch patterns that just don't work when knit top down - and this Cathedral pattern is one of them. The neckline will be a wide crew neck with a stand-up collar done in one repeat of that Cathedral pattern. My goal is to finish this by January 1 or by the end of my vacation ... which is January 2 ... and then I'm going to cast on the oatmeal tweed Aran sweater. At the same time I'm going to pick up stitches around the bottom of Irene, on the inside, right where the garter part of the leaf edging attaches to the sweater, knit down a few inches and put another leaf border on the bottom. This should lengthen the sweater and make it look better on me. And yes. I intend to be knitting on both projects at the same time. Doesn't everybody have an upstairs project and a downstairs one? 

But before I do any of that I am going with a friend to Fredericksburg to check out Old Town Yarnery. Yes! A New Yarn Shop! Because in spite of what MsHoroscope says ... Knitting still floats my boat.

So. Happy Knitting to all my knitting buddies - and o

Monday, December 26, 2011

May Your Days Be Merry and Bright

Ahh well. We have climbed the glittering peak that is the week before Christmas and are now taking in the view from the other side. And what a view it is - with a 2 day visit from youngest sister - with whom I have spent very little time over the past 5 years. She is an out of state sister with a busy life. Whenever she's visited before she's stayed with Daddy and I have driven over to Richmond to share a brief few moments with her. But Dad was the focus so we had little time to catch up. This time, though she spent her days with Mama and doing City Stuff, she made the long trek to my house for dinner and music and talk. Turns out, she's a dawn prowler too so personal computer time those days was extremely limited. I'm on vacation this week so work was extremely demanding as I crammed every last thing I could think to do in 2011 into the short 3 and a half days I had left. The county gave us Friday off and I skipped out early on Thursday to go to the Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens' Festival of Lights.

This trip had been postponed from the previous Friday due to rain but the only day that promised dry weather when we rescheduled it was Thursday the 22. Promised, that is, by weather dot com guys - who got it wrong.  Fortunately, about 20 intrepid carolers stood in the rain, beneath sheltering umbrellas gleaned from half a dozen car trunks and serenaded each other ... there were no crowds, of course.

It was never a deluge - just rain - and there were indoor delights to enjoy as well and even some happy bright lights on the drive home.

Cousin C came home with me and stayed Friday and half of Saturday. Her dad and brother showed up Friday for Oyster Pie and deer hunting on Christmas Eve. Hunting was the operative word - finding never happened. Deer are smart - the not only know which parts of the forest are flooded, they know which pieces are posted.

Cousin C loves to make things with TheQueen. We share that fiddly craftiness and both of us are handy in the kitchen too. In fact, she blended the biscuit dough as well as any pro - cutting the fat into the flour till it was perfect. Everyone raved about her biscuit crust on the oyster pie and there was not a crumb left! She also helped with the candied grapefruit peel - a true seasonal delicacy - because I can't stop eating the stuff. I only make it once a year and only at Christmas time, even though grapefruit will be available for several months.

As darkness fell, BD and I cozied up together while I knitted on his Christmas gift ... which he did not realize was for him ... I'm 'always knitting' so whatever's in my lap at any given moment is 'just more of that knitting stuff'. Thus I never try to hide what I'm making from him. He's still surprised when it's finished and, fortunately, glad when he finds out it's for him. There was music. There were the chapters from Luke and Mathew. There was the climb up the stairs to bed....

And then it was Christmas Morning and he did! He did come - leaving presents under the tree - filling stockings. And either Santa understands or Mrs. Clause is a knitter because the longed for set of Knitters Pride Dreamz Interchangeable needles was underneath the tree along with some knitting books, a new blank journal, and blue pens! It was a very bookish Christmas - for TheQueen has access to secret stores of literary treasure and of course, she listens to what ThePrince Himself says throughout the year - and when he expresses a wish, she notes it down. She is a Very Good TheQueen.  Somebody will have hours and hours of armchair sailing this winter.

There was a Christmas morning phone call from LD who is spending the month abroad visiting a special friend. We miss him, but he generously sends us photos of his travels through quaint European villages and deep into their swept and tidy forests. There were more phone calls, from and to family who are also far away. There was BH to join us for our traditional stupor producing Christmas Feast of standing rib roast, Yorkshire pudding, mashed potatoes, peas and broccoli.

Released from gift knitting I picked up Bricca with new enthusiasm and a new game plan too. I'm making this one longer than I'd planned - not tunic length, but certainly more traditionally long - 28 inches probably. With my new needles and a box of oatmeal colored tweed upstairs in the guest room - I am determined to finish Bricca by the New Year. It's almost all stockinette knitting - it should zip along nicely. There will be photos.

And so - we have climbed the mountain that is Christmas and ahead of me lies the beautiful plain of Vacation - I'm off till the 3rd. Today I'll visit Mama. Tomorrow I will go to the gym. One day this week there will be a trip to F'burg with knitter friends because I want to look inside the new yarn shop on Williams Street. Whatever time is left will be spent watching all the Christmas movies I was unable to see before the big day. I'm still humming Christmas music and still wishing that, for all of you, may your days be merry and bright. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Resonating with the Christmas thrum

It's just a week away - and the festivities are piling up around TheCastle making the air fairly sing with the joy of the season. I simply love Christmas. When I hear people say "Christmas is for children" in that faintly dismissive tone, implying they have long since decided to not be impressed by anything so glittering and fragrant, I ignore them. Because in a way, they are right - Christmas is for the child in my spirit - the one who thinks that tomorrow, who knows, something so wonderful could happen that I might just fall down in a heap of ecstasy. Who knows? It could happen.

And when I hear that Christmas has been diminished in some way - too commercial, lost its real spirit, too stressful - well. I always think "For you maybe. Not for me." I don't say so, because I really do believe that people have the right to be miserable if they want to. I never am. Even this year, when I have lost some beloved ones, when I would give all I possess to pat my bed and invite Priss up for a cuddle - when I could take my Daddy a funny Christmas present and see him sit and laugh, silently, with those twinkly eyes - even this year is still rich and sweet and vibrating with possibilities. To quote Ferroll Sams "I still have more on this side of the Jordan" and isn't that a wonderful thought?

 Yesterday was the Day Of The Tree - and it was the best tree hunt we've ever had, resulting in the absolutely best tree we've ever put up!

Everyone helps to choose but it is BD, ThePrince himself, who does all the hard labor in the beginning - from bringing it home ...

To setting it up.....

 To stringing the lights - after which he and his helper take a well earned rest - and sip an eggnog.

Well - Jack did not get any eggnog.

We girls do the ornament hanging - and this year I had help - which made the job more fun and easier too!
Ornaments from BD's childhood, LD's own handicraft and of course - birds selected by TheQueen. There is still more decorating to do, for the icicles aren't on it yet and there may still be some gaps that need to be filled with ornaments who've been strung on long dangling threads.

There is also Christmas Knitting in an amazing yarn from Spirit Trail Fiberworks - in a blue to jolt you awake and a plied yarn in a blend of merino, cashmere and silk that really shows stitches off at their crisply perfect best. And it's worsted weight and it is Not Socks. It is for BD who won't read this blog anyway so I can show you a picture.

Looks  like a  skirt for a stuffed animal, doesn't it. I'll post a photo of the finished object sometime soon.

Today there will be More Christmas Decorating and More Christmas Knitting and maybe More Christmas Movie Watching. It's a grey day that looks just right for staying cozily indoors making preparations. I am thinking it's time to make candied grapefruit peel ....

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Meeting in the Middle - and a wee bit of shopping

I met up with J in Fredericksburg yesterday, at Castiglia's who have a solid gluten free menu - including Pizza (crispy with delicious cheese and thin slices of prosciutto) and, I noticed in the desert case - a gluten free cheesecake with what looked like chocolate on top. That's their brick oven in the background. Our lives are just busy enough - and in different stages of life - that visits like this are precious and tend to be this time of year - when library work slows down and all the fiber shows are over for the year. 
We had a 2 hour lunch and caught up on all the details that emails just don't convey:  her musical son - my adventuring one - Little Miss Horsewoman - husbands, parents. Self and health and spiritual stuff. A sweet reunion. I asked her if she noticed a yarn shop on the east bound lane of Rt. 3, just as the Fredericksburg sprawl begins coming in from the west. There used to be one, now defunct, on William Street near the college. But last summer when I was coming home from Culpepper I thought I noticed one.  I couldn't be sure, though and it wasn't a convenient time to stop ... just at the beginning of the gridlock rush hour. She hadn't noticed it either and really, I don't need to shop for yarn, you know. I just like to.

Moseying down Caroline Street, we peeked into little shops, picking up a Christmas gift here or there. I noticed several book stores - some new, mostly used - and delightfully tempting. I will go back and browse soon, but I have already bought all the books I'm going to get this holiday. Time to find Other Things for Other People. And then it was time to part - she to be back west to meet the school bus, I to head south east to get started on the Christmas hat for BD that I'm knitting with the blueblueblueblueblue yarn she brought me. So you see, who needs a yarn shop when you're friends with MsSpirit Trail herself!?!

We parted with warm hugs and loving wishes for happy new years and I got into my car. As I settled around, putting a coat on the back seat, a CD into the player, I noticed a sign on the building I was parked in front of .... Yarnery. I really couldn't believe my eyes. I got out, walked up to the building, tried the door and peeked through the window to be sure it really was what I thought it was ... 

It was! Old Town Yarnery   has opened it's doors on 205 William Street. Yippeee. There is nothing so reassuring to a knitter than news of a yarn emergency relief station is less than 50 miles away. Closed Monday's, alas but I've got the whole week between Christmas and New Year's off. I can make a trip to Fredericksburg. I believe I will call R and ask her to join me there. 

So. An unexpected gift for TheQueen. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Knitting Homesickness and Sunday Activities

Yes. I am homesick for my regular knitting. December is Christmas knitting and I have socks growing from my #2's but I am missing my Bricca. Sigh. This is how I left her - wait! No! I'd finished that second sleeve. But since then I have been industriously stitching away on guy stuff. I have a little time today - because I was such a good girl yesterday and got the grubby kitchen cleaned - Maybe I'll pull her out and caress her a bit. I want her finished by the first 2 weeks of January because there is an Aran Tweed Sweater, completely unassembled in the guest/stash/junk room. It longs to be worn this year, though I suspect we'll need an awfully cold May if I am really going to get to wear it before next fall. After all - it's cables! S L O W knitting at best. Moribund if I am not diligent.

Happily, Bricca is now at the all circular stockinette stitch stage - she'll finish up fast.

And there is a lacy cap sleeved cardigan to toss over my shoulders at garden parties and soirees this summer (who am I kidding - it's so freakin' hot here in the summer I wish I could take my skin off). Still - I want a little lace cardigan and I want it from this Orihime lace weight merino/cashmere blend from Spirit Trail Fiberworks. Pretty, no? And are we seeing a pattern in the color choices at TheCastle.

It's a gorgeously blue day and I will be going out into the woods to gather decorative greenery. Unlike the fabulous houses I visited last weekend, I have done nothing to decorate for Christmas. But I have everything except boxwood right here in my yard and the near by woods. I'll pick and tie and drape and at least the front door will look festive.

As for the rest of my family - I believe a sailboat will be hauled today - and perhaps some firewood chopped - I am hoping they'll be chore free in time to go with me to St. John's to hear the Lessons in Carols but I did not get avid enthusiasm from either when I mentioned this. I'm far more likely to come home and find this scene from last night repeated.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

A Different Feeling

Christmas is just 2 weeks away and I can't really think what I should be doing. It's Saturday and of course the house needs cleaning - houses are like toddlers - they need your attention all the time. If you ignore them very long they become bratty - and dirty. But this close to Christmas I feel like I ought to be rushing towards ... something.

Oh - there are festive activities on the calendar ... tomorrow's Lesson's in Carols at St. John's . Monday's visit with J - and some Christmas Shopping. Friday's gathering of friends at Lewis Ginter for the light show. Then the final rush of that last week with tree hunting, (and decorating), present wrapping and Christmas dinner cooking. Oh. And yes. I do have a job and all .....

But somehow this just doesn't feel like other years have felt. It feels exceedingly laid back which, for even a close to the cusp Virgo, feels like I'm forgetting something. Perhaps this is because of the altered state of my family with Daddy gone and Mama not present enough to answer the phone or to pick it up and call me. I can go all week now without hearing from her - when last year she would be calling several times a day. And when we do connect the conversation is empty. Thank goodness when we're together we can still really converse - but phone chat, something I've never been very good at anyway, is difficult.

Maybe it's the eclipse - which is happening as I type this - with both Mercury and Uranus turning out of retrograde as well. Maybe it's the mild weather we've been having. Hardly a morning with frost all autumn and even today's so-called cold snap will last only through the weekend.

Whatever it is - it's a different sort of Christmas season for me - smaller, slower, maybe easier too.

I remember Christmases of such frenzy I was spanked and sent to bed. In fact, that seems like it happened every year though I believe it was only a couple of times. Probably when I was 10 and driving everybody nuts that year anyway. There were also those Christmases when we were broke ... like the first 10 years we were married. The budget for Christmas was always $100 and that had to include the tree, the dinner and the presents. Travel involved both a trip to Richmond and one to D.C. to visit both grandmas - who, after all, couldn't come have Christmas with us - in a yurt.

So our rule was always to stay home on TheDay and do our traveling afterwards. Now there is almost no traveling to do. Sisters are scattered too far away. Most of the Grandparents are gone and I am not a grandmother myself ...

Well. Durn. If I keep writing on this post I will become depressed - which I am not. Just different. and Weird. But a nice sort of weird. I think I better just go do something else.

Happy Eclipse Day to you - and may your Christmas spirit be bright, whether it is different or same. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Death's Heartless Theft

It wasn't my intention to write a gloomy post during this festive time of year but death has blown hot breath through my community and in the space of a week I have lost 4 friends. Two had been dreadfully ill for a long time. Their departure was not unexpected, but neither was it desired. Still, both B and M were so very sick who would want them to linger in a suspended state of pain and suffering? One death was, true to the nature of time, at least a reasonable development. H was 92. Dementia had set in and the circle of his life had shrunk to virtual minutia. Until 3 years ago, he was driving, cooking, taking care of himself and enjoying his grandchildren. I am sorry and sad he is gone, but there is something whole about the fullness of his life - his experiences - his love. Like the cadence of a beautiful symphony - it feels right when it comes even if it does mean that silence follows.

And then the 4th blow struck with the news that Pete had died over the weekend.

Pete wasn't really his name - not even Peter. For some reason, in this community, 60-plus years ago it became a common nickname. I know several Petes, Peties, and Petsies. Burly men or august seniors now, who once were little darlings. When BD and I moved down here this particular Pete was the very first friend I made. We knew we were oddities - living in Pop's old WWII army pup tent and building a yurt and talking about our plans to live off the land and sustain ourselves with wild food. We had all the books and the youth and the sense of magic it takes to do something crazy like that and who cares if your dad looks at your house, turns away and mutters "tar paper shack".  But not Pete. He just drove right up to our campsite, hopped out of his rattly truck and hallooed. He had heard about us from Agnes Ware, who was sure we would become fast friends.

She was right. And not just because he was as much of an oddity as we were.

Pete really took us under his wing, sharing in that flat out, full blast, one hundred per cent way he did everything.  He helped us get building materials at cost. He invited us up to his place to swim off the shady banks in front of Marlbank. He showed up with beer. He showed up with hammer and saw. He showed up with friends. He just poured welcome all over us as we hewed a place for ourselves in the woods, in the country, in the community. Pete did everything that way. He was like a spewing volcano. I was the beneficiary of his warmth and generosity but there were others who swayed beneath his cantankerousness - an almost insane madness that gushed out of him with the same intensity. He was really famous for his wild outbursts - this, in a county rife with stories about passionate flamboyant men. But he was always kind and good to me - and to mine.

And he once saved my son's life.

I don't say that in an cliched sort of way. He is an unsung hero and I mean it with all the passion of a mother who nearly lost her only child. There was a day when we were building our house and I was showing Pete around. He and I, with 4-year oldLDclimbed up to the second floor to have a look-see. Sub-flooring was tacked down everywhere, but there was just the smallest gap between some of it and sure enough, LD dropped right through it. Had he fallen all the way it would have been about 12 feet to a concrete slab. No way that little body would have survived.  Both Pete and I were just beyond an arm's length away from him and in slow motion I watched my only child heading for that unyielding floor below. Faster than lightening Pete leapt the distance, snatched my little boy by the shoulders and flung him back onto the second story surface.

A flash. A millisecond. A tiny child. An adult with ADD. A miracle. Thank God. 

Everything that defines my first steps into country life is wrapped around Pete and losing him really hurts. He had been out of touch with everyone for a long time. He was actually incommunicado, though I had a private way to send him messages and just knowing he was alive and okay and somewhere doing what he wanted was one of those little savings accounts I kept in my heart to assure me that I had extra resources, that I was rich.But now that's all gone, melted away with this sad, sad news.The memories are still there - Pete and the Ghost Car. Pete and swimming up at Marlbank. Pete and the arrowhead root. Pete and his dog Squirelly. Pete's oyster roast. Pete's crazy laugh.


Not quite as tangible as the real flesh and blood Pete - but riches nonetheless.

Oh Pete. Fare well.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

What a Week

I certainly didn't intend to drop off the blogging radar last week - it just happened. Of course - this time of year has all sorts of seasonal challenges - not the least of which is trying to settle back into a work routine after wallowing in carbohydrate heaven for the 5 days of a long Thanksgiving weekend. It took all day Monday for me to get a handle on the ADD behavior - the people part of my job was just too tempting. "How was your Thanksgiving?" "Yes. We have those Martha Stewart Christmas books." "Look what just came in to the collection!" I was still being a librarian - but really I was doing what the front desk people do just as well - and they don't really know how to do the back room stuff I was avoiding.

Then there is knitting - gift knitting - something one doesn't natter on about because either the recipient might read about it or it is just ubiquitous sock knitting. Do you really want to see a photograph of a self striping stockinette stitch sock slowly spreading towards a toe? No. I didn't think so either. 

There was a retirement party - where all the community turned out to cheer a local official off into bucolic relaxation. He's delighted to settle into the life of country squire and his wife told me she's counting the days. 

There was also the unexpected challenge of the funeral of neighbor that drew half the county to the colonial churchyard up in Loretto. Though usually I consider myself too old and too important to stand at funerals, I knew this one would be so full of family and closer friends that I didn't bother to get there early. The church was packed but they kept the door open so you could listen to the sermon and eulogy, but there were actually more people standing outside than in. The internment was at the family cemetery, with people gathering at the big house afterwards - so many people the catering staff couldn't even bring trays around. We stayed only long enough to hug the widow and tell her a sweet story we remembered about her husband. Farewell, old friend - it looked like the heaven's had lit up to receive you that night. 

Homes for the Holidays!TheQueen's productivity picked up as the week progressed - a fortunate thing since there were half a dozen little extra meetings, planning sessions and bee yooo tee appointments, as she fit in hair cuts, manicures and a stop at the dry cleaners in preparation for the Big Event of Saturday -Christmas House Tour of the Big Houses up my end of the county. 
This was my station - on the second floor at the top of the stair case - telling the ghost story. Not that there's so much to tell - their ghost is merely a lady in a long silken dress carrying a candle and brushing past people on the staircase, darting into the first bedroom and slamming the door. BD's grandmother saw one of those harmless night wanderers at another local Big House when she was a  teenager.

Nothing half so exciting as the Mount Pleasant ghost - a man in chains who appeared in the mirror of a new bride who then went running down the staircase, tripped and fell to her death - and you could still see the bloodstains where she landed. (that's always the end of the story)  But a ghost in a Big House is a good thing and the story was just enough to get people to stop and listen in the hallway while the previous group of sightseers wandered away.

BH was in charge of it all and she organized everything splendidly. Not that she didn't have an army of helpers - I figured she had to have about 20 volunteers to help guide people through this mansion. It's called Blandfield, btw and you can, if you want to have the Lady Baltimore experience, actually get married here.
The told us not to take photos inside - but I don't believe these two shots - of TheGeneral and TheQueen - display anything revealing. The house is chock a block full of antiques and art as befits something this old and this big. And we had such fun I just have to share the smiles.

So. Here it is Sunday morning and on the agenda today is a little light housekeeping and an afternoon of watercolor painting with a little buddy - an utterly charming young man who has inherited his great-grandmother's talent. How fortunate that I have so many good toys - and that I share.

And now - I believe it is time for breakfast.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Sunday Stroll As November Wanes

In fact, some of these photos were taken on Saturday because I've been wandering the forest and fields both days. Yesterday the skies began to cloud over and there was just enough nip in the air to warrant a sweater. It's been an unusually mild autumn and I've barely worn a coat at all. We've let the fire go out at night because the temperatures just haven't justified banking the stove. Of course, this has had no effect on the sun's angle to this particular cozy nook of planet earth so leaves have fallen as well as rain. Tides are backing up into the forests as you can see in this photo, and the berries on the holly trees are fat and red and Christmassy. 

The walk along the newest path - we call it the Rim Path is packed with history - for this land has been occupied by English speakers since at least the 1680's. This artifact has the distinct look of a 19th century dutch oven. There is another bit of one half eaten and half buried a little further down the path from this forked perch. I still have one of my own somewhere around here - the one I learned to bake bread in over a campfire these 36 years ago.

More than 20 years ago my archaeologist brother in law visited and excavated the old house site - bits of crockery and pipe stems came out of that hole, along with corroded buckles and other metallic bits, just to the north east of where the present tenant house wreck stands. It's the highest point on the property and it's close to a natural spring so it's the logical place for a house. We are not always logical. TheCastle is much closer to the point, where we can watch the eagles soar out over the water as they forage for a meal.
 This is the old corn crib, tucked into a corner of the property. Once BD thought he'd use it as a wood working shop but it's empty now. We used to hide Christmas presents there when LD was a little boy and we were still living in the Yurt.

 The damage from Hurricane Irene was the worst we've suffered - surpassing Isabelle by about an acre of trees. This chock pretty much did in the old chain saw - or if it didn't the next one did, because we last week had to get a new chain saw. This is a double poplar cut - It looks like an owl's face, doesn't it?

Just to give you an idea of how big the root balls of these trees are - here's a bit of scale. Imagine this tree times 30 - because that's what ThePrince has had to cut away to open up our paths again.

 Back out on the fields the sky has a wintery look even if the temperatures are in the balmy high 60's. Yes. That is a bald eagle - most likely one of the pair that used to live in the back yard. As I said - they moved south and east but they still come back to hunt and perch and call outside the window. Birds don't live in nests the way people live in houses. They only use them when they have chicks. Eagles don't kick food remains out of their nests because they don't want possums or coons or other climbing predators to nose around the base of their nursery trees. But that means there are some pretty scurvy remains that lie in the nests with their infants. To keep their babies free of parasites they pile new sticks on top of the old garbage but eventually they have to move to new trees and start fresh. I don't take it personally that mine moved away - I just miss them and love it when I see them soaring over our property, catching the thermals and rising in giant swooping circles.

Today has been very breezy and the skies have filled with mares' tales and dragons' eyes. Even if the weather is warm, we know there are cold days up ahead.

One of the best things about a walk in the country is bumping into neighbors, also out enjoying the end of autumn. Catching up on news, petting dogs, swapping stories - these are the things that add richness to our lives. What more could you ask for on the last day of a food filled, friend flocked Thanksgiving holiday.  And tomorrow? It's back to werk for TheQueen.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Post Thanksgiving Thoughts and Christmas Knitting

I'm a little more than halfway through the food and family extravaganza that is a Thanksgiving holiday and in some ways what's up ahead is the nicest part. Only in some ways, of course, because what can top a room full of beloved friends and family lifting glasses of wine in a toast of thankfulness. Thankful for each other, thankful for the bountiful table, thankful for safe journeys over the river and through the woods to TheCastle - even thankful for the warm sunny day with bright clear skies so that we could take an after dinner stroll in the gathering glow of evening.

I did get out the camera to record this year's festivities, but while we were gathered and lively and energetic I forgot to take any photos, though there is photographic evidence of preparations

and recovery.

Friday followed a pattern set in place 5 or 6 years ago when my parents grew too old to make the trip to my house. LD and I drove into the city and spent a lovely hour with Mama, looking at old family photographs. This year had a bitter sweetness to it because Daddy is gone and Mama is more faded each time I visit. It left me feeling a little disconcerted too, because the timing was off. The Friday visit used to take all day but Mama is good for only about an hour's visit and we were home well before dark.  Even BD was alive to the poignancy of this shifting of the generations and needed a hug when I got back. Before long we will be too old to host the feast and young things will stop by on the Friday after to let us know we are still loved.

I'm about as far from a Black Friday type of person as it's possible to get, but I do start my Christmas preparations during this long weekend. I put away knitting for TheQueen and pick up Christmas Socks. I also start working on my Christmas cards and this year there is another sadness to deal with. I've been drawing my own Christmas cards for a few years - a cartoon of ThePrince and me, our 3 dogs and Mr. & Mrs. Bald Eagle celebrating. But last spring the eagles moved south over the property line to a fresh new empty pine tree and in the early summer our Priss died. I just don't have the heart to draw such a truncated family this year.

So on the way out of the city LD and I stopped at Barnes & Nobel and bought Christmas cards and perused the magazine rack. I was a little puzzled to find no XRX publications at all - neither fall nor winter Knitters issue was in the racks and alas - there were half a dozen other knitting magazines in tight plastic envelopes. A number of them are European so I understand why they ship in sealed bags but why the stores don't open up the bags to display them is beyond me. Who buys a knitting magazine without looking through it first? If I trusted the publishers and editors that much I'd subscribe! And while I loved the colors in the Norwegian sweater on the cover of Verena ... I already have everything I need to knit or even design one. The issue of Interweave Knits was just not quite interesting enough for me to purchase but as I thumbed through it I found an ad for one of their specialty magazines that did tempt.

Wisely, the folks at Interweave put photos of a few of the designs in the advertisement and the red long sleeved cardigan with puffs at the shoulder captured my attention and stimulated that familiar knitlust of curiosity. It's sold out. They're sending back-orders as soon as they receive them. I will count mine as an early Christmas present to me.

And so - I have before me two glorious days with virtually no chores. Oh - I'll fix meals for menfolk. I may even run a load of laundry (which, shhhh. Don't tell anybody. I consider a pleasure, not a chore. It's just that - what the guys don't know won't hurt them.) But basically I get to play with my toys all day and that's what makes the latter half of the Thanksgiving holiday such glorious fun!

Happy Play With Your Toys Day to you all!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Cake Quest

For several weeks now I have been hankering for a piece of the perfect Coconut Cake. Only problem is - it's not a cake I ever tasted before. Most coconut cakes are really butter cakes with white frosting and coconut sprinkled on top. I'm looking for something different. I wanted it to have a powerful coconut taste. I wanted a texture something like carrot cake only ... not carrot flavored or spice flavored - just coconut flavored. A second problem is ... I don't want a whole cake in my house. And since this is a cake quest - it might mean I need to bake several cakes!  Well.  I need several cakes in my house even less!!

The solution to the latter problem was easy because I knew my Cousin F was coming for a weekend visit and she likes to cook and she has 3 siblings - two of them teenagers. We could bake anything and send half of it home with her. 

The second problem was trickier. I'm an adequate baker but I don't really bake that much any more and I don't have that constant familiarity with a process needed to get creative with it. I'm more of the Over-the-river-and-through-the-woods sort of cook - basic country style home cooking - not the the Rose Levy Beranbaum sort - though now I've tracked down her blog there might be some baking adventures up ahead.

Challenged I might be but daunted I was not. Last year I stumbled upon America's Test Kitchen and their stunning magazines, website and television show, archived on DVD and available from Netflix. While I consider myself a good cook, with a few specialties all my very own, I really am not a foodie and I seldom use recipes. Like my knitting, if it doesn't grow organically out of what I have at hand combined with what I know in my head, I probably wont bother to cook it. I will use recipes to learn ethnic cooking, or to explore a foreign (to me) food like quinua but that's about the limit. Or rather - was. Because after experimenting with a few of the ATK recipes - the basic ones for stuff like pot roast and hamburgers - I know that sometimes it's good to consult some experts. I swear - their pot roast recipe is so good I want to dive into the pot and live there - and the beef stroganoff? - a dish I consider a throw-away 30 minute meal you cook on those days when you're too tired to cook? - well - Lord make me that tired every night of my life! 

I figured their recipe database would be where I began my Coconut Cake Quest and I figured right. You have to register to get it - but it's the freebie registration. And although they state up front it's based on their basic butter cake recipe - I could tell at a glance that the addition of both coconut extract and cream of coconut (you know the stuff you make pina coladas with) would guarantee a powerful coconut flavor. Since I have had such success with their previous recipes I decided to give it a go. 

The butter cake recipe was easy to stir up and didn't require anything too unusual beyond the cream of coconut. It has lots of egg whites in it - which give a lovely fine crumb texture. It's actually a recipe I'd be happy to bake again and cover with chocolate frosting to make what BD, and just about every other southern man, calls a "Chocolate Cake". While the cake cooled we toasted the coconut, 2 cups for the cake and a little more just because toasted coconut tastes soooo good.

The cake called for buttercream frosting which I had always thought was made with a little butter, a little milk, some flavorings and a lot of powdered sugar. This buttercream frosting is more of a 7-minute frosting - a cake topping I've never succeeded in producing till now. It's made with a cup of sugar, 4 egg whites and a pinch of salt beat over a pan of barely simmering water till it reaches 120 degrees. You then whip it till it cools down to 80 degrees and dump in 1/2 a cup of cream of coconut, 1 tsp of coconut extract and 1 tsp of vanilla. Then you beat in (I kid you not) 1 lb of unsalted butter cut into chunks! 

In my whole life the idea of using 1 lb of butter in anything has never once popped up to the surface of my mind. Even when making mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner I don't use more than a stick of butter and I feel pretty guilty at that. All I could think of was that I was beating up a bowl full of heart attacks. Still and all - I was determined to follow their recipe exactly. It's probably the only time I will ever make this frosting and I wanted to see just how it worked out. The sugar and egg whites took all of 8 minutes to cool down to 80 degrees and when they did they had only thickened the slightest bit. Adding the flavorings actually made it a tad bit soupier. The butter had been cut into 24 chunks and as I held the beater Cousin F dropped the chunks in one by one. At first it continued to look gloppy but by the time we were on the third stick of butter it began to look like frosting and after all 4 sticks had been incorporated we had the creamiest lightest sweet-but not too sweet paste I've ever made.

The cake assembly involved slicing the two cake layers lengthwise in order to get 4 layers and as you can see below - my cake slicing skills are only average. In fact, my ancient aluminum cake pans and aging gas oven ensured that the layers would be slightly uneven. That was not so important to me. I don't keep my house like the magazines - why would I expect my baking to look like them either. Besides, this cake was a joint effort. And the taste? Well. Yum! Never. Never have I tasted such pure vivid coconutty taste! There is an after taste too - that lingers on your tongue when you set your fork down. The frosting was very light - in spite of the full pound of butter that went into it. The toasted coconut added a fragrance that tickled my nose. It was a simply divine coconut cake.


Mind now - it wasn't what I had been aiming for - that moister, heavier carrot cake texture - but I think I can do that next time. My creativity has been sparked. Next time I'll bake a denser textured cake flavored with the cream of coconut and frost it with a saltier, less butter-packed powdered sugar frosting - perhaps even something with coconut and cream cheese ...

But for now - I have satisfied my Coconut Cake Quest - and that is a good way to begin Thanksgiving week. Bon Appetit!