Of basil, beans, and blankets

borlotti finger

My garden (I can hardly call it my garden – it was a patch of dirt the previous owners planted tomatoes in, and I just threw some seeds in there in the spring) bore much more than I expected, especially after I entirely ignored it (let’s hope it just doesn’t have low self esteem and thrives on neglect).

And two of my favorite comfort foods did exceptionally well.

We had enough basil for multiple pesto dishes.

basil in garden

And some entirely lovely borlotti beans – but just a few plants’ worth since I threw just a few seeds in not expecting anything.

borlotti beans

(Yes, they are surrounded by lots and lots of weeds.)

Basil pesto reminds me of home – I grew up with the stuff over homemade spaghetti while the closest thing my classmates had to pasta was elbows and powdered cheese from a box.  I’m pretty sure one of my teen boyfriends (a boyfriend I had as a teen, and who himself was a teen) only hung around as long as he did for the food.  When I moved into my first few apartments, pesto was one of the first dishes I’d make so the place would immediately smell good.  And then I could sound even more pretentious and say the smell of fresh basil and garlic and boiling pasta immediately takes me back to my halcyon days as a college student in Firenze.

pesto dish

I didn’t think you could acquire new comfort foods as an adult, but borlotti beans came in to my life several years ago and nestled into that role.  I spent nearly all of my twenties as a vegetarian, so all beans wore out their welcome, but when N came around and started whipping up beans and greens with the speckled beauties, I became a fan.  And they also remind me of our semi-annual trips to Abruzzo.  Next year I hope to plant a gigantic bed of them so I can dry pounds and enjoy them through the winter.

borlotti-dried

And I finally finished knitting a [large-ish] baby blanket for a new member of the family.  His mother started it and I offered to finish it – boldly thinking I’d have it done in time for his birth in July, but at least it’s still technically summer.

babyblanket-dry

Though I was uncharacteristically monogamous with the project, and while knitting it made a mental list of all the other things I wanted to start (or finish) when I was done, I’m feeling a little itchy to knit a new blanket for us – one to snuggle under while eating some beans.

Isn’t that just cozy?

(Actually, I hate eating around textiles and prefer dining properly at the table…)

But wait, haven’t I already been knitting a blanket for over a decade….?

newhampshire-blanketinprogress

I finally got it back out to finish – it’s nearly done, but the cotton is still doing some ass-kicking to my wrists, so I’m dreaming about a new one in wool…

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Jersey [wool] baby…

NJsheep-bored

Folks are always in a tizzy about Rhinebeck and the Maryland Sheep and Wool festivals, but smack in the middle is the small and very manageable Garden State [aka New Jersey] Sheep Breeders festival.

I went several years ago and bought a large amount of  raw alpaca fiber.  I think it was before I owned a spinning wheel, and had just learned to spin on a Turkish spindle…?  And I also thought I got a really good deal, but I didn’t – though it’s in beautiful natural fawn, grey, and black colors, the fibers were shorn at a very short length, so I’m not able to spin it (at least not without experiencing anger).  I need to felt it, blend it into something else, send it out for commercial processing, or just sell/trade/gift the mess.

I thought that this year’s festival would be bigger, and I think there were a few more vendors, but as a whole it’s small and I love it – no crowds, no pushing in booths, and plenty of time and space to enjoy the animals.

NJsheep-judging

And it really is about the animals – I know those other large festivals are too in theory, but the wooly nirvana shopping frenzy is the annoying take away.  I like watching the judging, even if it’s for the meat breeds – brings me back to my 4-H youth, and I can still spot the nicest hindquarters most of the time.

There may have been fewer breeds on display this year too, but I’m not sure.

N’s favorites are the angora goats.

NJsheep-goats

And I’m a fan of the Jacob sheep.

NJsheep-JacobRam

NJsheep-Jacobs

This little one – not sure if she’s Shetland or one of the small Cheviots – was bleating her cute little head off louder than anyone in the barn.

NJsheep-bleater

It seemed she just wanted attention, or she was nervous about an approaching late summer thunderstorm, or her buddies were in the ring and she was lonely, or she knew she was in the wrong state and the others were going Jersey on her ass…

NJsheep-bleaterportrait

But she calmed down once she got to pose for snaps.

[And for those who think they have an idea of what NJ might be like, they're most likely wrong - this part of the state might as well be the Midwest, complete with more reasonable drivers and farm smells rather than malodorous chemical plants.  Actually the farms are really well-managed around here and rarely give off odors unlike the factory farms of PA].

On our last vacation, I managed just walk on by two decent-looking LYSs, and we drove right past WEBS since I knew that wool festivals were coming up. I’ve also been good about passing up sales at my favorite indie dyers and deeply discounted full lots of yarns over the last year, so I could spend a little on some fiber directly from the source.  I love so much of the beautifully dyed yarns out there at festivals though, and always kick myself for not picking up a skein or two of something gorgeous, but at nearly $30 a pop for most, I can get more [and more unique] fiber instead.  This would have been the time and place to pick up a few of those skeins though – some of the same booths at Rhinebeck are virtually impenetrable.

The fiber-bearing-animal-keeper folks around here seem to prefer Romneys and Alpacas, and I’m done with both of those for a bit – I’ve spun plenty of Romney, and though I love a “rustic” yarn, I’ve already got enough, and I don’t love knitting with it.  And the Alpaca is lovely, but the good stuff is pricey and I still have some waiting to be spun, so I’m mostly looking for different breeds to try, especially if they have a name and a face.

NJsheep-Gustave

So a few ounces of Gustav the Gotland came home with me.

NJsheep-Gotland

He lives at Cloudberry Sheep and Wool farm in central NJ and is a lovely pale to medium grey.  I’m not sure how I’ll spin him yet, or if I’ll combine some of the various breeds I’ve collected into some sort of sampler project, or make small accessories of each…

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Gettin’ wiggy…

I’m embarrassed to admit I hired a carpenter.

I really like to work with wood, I know how to use a variety of tools, and in theory, I know how to measure and cut accurately.

But I hate measuring and cutting accurately.

I hate doing anything absolutely accurately – especially in sewing and knitting – though some have accused me of being a perfectionist in other aspects of my life.  I suppose it’s true in my paid work involving information and searchability because some things really don’t have wiggle room, but in my visual life, I like the wiggle.

Unless it actually wiggles.

(And I’m not talking about jolly worms, or custard desserts, or the delicious Wigle whiskey which doesn’t actually wiggle unless you too heavily imbibe).

So when it became apparent we couldn’t live much longer with the missing balusters and five broken steps in our staircase and their various murderous wiggles and cracks that pitched us forwards and back when we least suspected it, I knew we needed professional help since I’d either waste too many lovely red oak treads trying to get them right, or they just never would be right enough.

But it’s odd to have someone working in the house with familiar sounding tools – I keep thinking N might be home and tinkering.  But then the carpenter uses something particularly loud and wicked-sounding – like something from the opening song to American Horror Story – and once again, I feel the stairs are attempting to murder me – or rather, the stairs convinced the seemingly slightly unhinged carpenter to do their bidding.

But if I did in fact live to tell the tale, our staircase is now smooth-stepping.

stairs-full

Now I just have to oil the new steps, and sand and oil the old (along with the nasty floor below them).

stairs-detail

(It also didn’t help that the carpenter told me he keeps some old oak balusters by his bed for protection…  I’m kicking myself for not coming up with a witty retort in time along the lines of: “um, most people use condoms.”  And I didn’t ask if he’d be adding some of ours with their rusty nail spikes to his collection.)

Thankfully N is an ace at measuring and cutting various trims and moldings, so we should be on our own merry way from here on out.

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I went on vacation and all I got was this [not lousy] hat…

newhampshire -bag

We finally had our summer vacation – a week in a shack on a pond in the White Mountains.

My knee is still mostly out of commission, so I planned accordingly and packed several knitting and sewing projects along with bathing suits and sun wear to occupy my time while N was on the peaks.

What I hadn’t really planned was it ended up being cold as [insert favorite anaolgy here].

The forecast called for cool nighttime temps, so at the last minute, I luckily (and brilliantly I might say) packed our down duvet and one of our down bags along with that trickster ball of handspun* I just finished in case I wanted to whip something up out of it.

newhampshire-hatball

I quickly determined to make a hat since I neglected to pack one, and needed to wear one immediately.

(I wound the skein into a ball on the way up which didn’t induce as much car-sickness as I thought it would).

newhampshire-hathalf

I also had a few basic patterns with me just in case, and I loosely based it on the Purl Beret, but with a much smaller/tighter brim.

I finished it on the second day after hours of otter watching.

newhampshire-otters

There were also many murderous birds – a greedy heron, harriers that picked off the sweet warblers in the marsh grasses, kingfishers bombing around the dock, and less successful eagles and ospreys.

newhampshire-hattop

We even saw a moose – I’ve been patiently waiting to spy one of those for some time now.

newhampshire-hatunderside

I’m a little embarrassed to show the hat in its very wonky unblocked state, but the cool misty weather made the colors pop.

And the yarn was cooperative this time, though it had the last laugh by leaving me with an orange nipple on the top.

The hat could have been a little larger, but I was afraid of running out of yarn and I figured it would stretch since it’s superwash.

newhampshire-orangenipple

And after a month of physical therapy, I can at least ride a bike again (though not really uphill).  So we enjoyed a few pretty awesome  and underutilized bike/recreational paths, as well as tooled around the pond in a canoe.

newhampshire-bikebar

I worked on another long-suffering knitting project that is nearly on its home stretch, though I wasted a few days when I messed it up and had to undo and redo, so I will say no more about it until it’s done.

newhampshire-biketrail

And I never got to the sewing project or casting on for a new pair of socks that I though were must-dos for the week…

We really needed another week…

*There’s still enough left for a few token stripes on a pair of socks, and that little 2ply skein remains untouched.

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Paneling, what paneling…?

I’m feeling quite the amount of bravado (bravada?) then real triumph about certain parts of our home fixing upping – especially the kitchen sink and oak floors.  But though I’m still on the fence about keeping the knotty pine paneling, I just blasted some cheap 1970s shite out of its misery.

paneling-done-flash

I looked at several blog posts about people filing in the cracks of cheap paneling to make it look like drywall.  A few of them claimed you couldn’t tell it was ever paneling!  But many of them you could – it looked awful.  And there are message boards full of testosteroni contractors saying it could never work – it would just look like patched paneling and worse than it was before…

…but my friends (in Ira Glass’s voice) it can be done.

(Well, as long as you don’t suck at patching and have giant reserves of patience).

But wait, let’s back up.  In the beginning, I wanted to rip out the paneling and replace it with drywall.  This would have been easy and not that expensive. But I don’t have a truck and I don’t have friends with a truck (and I don’t have friends here at all, but that’s not the point) and I’d have to rent one (trucks not friends) or pay for delivery (again of the drywall, not friends).  If we were better organized and not living in the house while we rehabbed it (that really doesn’t matter, but in my head it does) we should have rented a truck once and bought a bunch of drywall and backerboard and lumber all at once like we’ve done before.  But I’m also trying to be as conscientious about waste as possible (and we have to pay a fee to trash things like paneling) and the paneling still functions as a wall, so it stayed and got a face lift.

This is the closest thing to a tutorial I’ll probably ever post:

(I didn’t even stop to take a before picture)

Peel off stickers and wash off the disgusting gooey bits and boogers.

Sand/scuff/gouge up paneling – a few swipes of 80 grit paper will do it.

Tape all seams and channels with mesh tape.

paneling-taped

Add joint compound in thin layers, sanding in between.  Repeat and repeat and repeat more than you want to.

paneling-mud

paneling-mud-full

Prime the hell out of it – I used BIN, followed by a coat of latex primer – you could prime beforehand, and maybe you should, but the joint compound adhered really well to the “wood” for me.

paneling-primed

Paint.

paneling-done-full

paneling-done-window

Done.

(But I still need to come up with a plan to make those hollow sliding closet doors less awful).

We’ve been banging on the walls and floors around it and my patched paneling is holding up fine – it might not hold up forever, but hopefully long enough until I find a friend with a truck.

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You should probably get that checked out…

I’m not one to worry about medical issues unless I know with absolute diagnostic certainty that I do have something to worry about.  I probably don’t fret much because I was a sickly child, or because I now have enough chronic but minor “let’s keep an eye on that” issues that I expect I’ll spend many more years partially broken down and mildly miserable until something really big comes around to finish things off.

And then the other day I felt something strange on my ear.  I picked at it for a bit and it didn’t come off.  My heart started to race a little and I began counting the times my ears got pustulous sunburns, and wondering if I’d get an extra elfin-looking prosthesis just for shits and giggles.  I got up to examine it in the mirror and then got entirely distracted* and forgot about it for a day or two.  Then I remembered and finally got up in there with a flashlight and extra hand mirrors.

It was lumpy and hard and a strange skin tone that wasn’t quite my own.

I figured it was more likely to be some sort of ageing barnacle, so I flicked a little harder at the thing with disgust.

It came off…

I’m pretty sure it was a glob of Liquid Nails.

plaster schmear

(My home improvement crust usually looks more like this).

But I do sometimes worry about the day when I can’t do much with my hands.  I’m already unable to knit, sew, or type for more than an hour or two at a time, and I have to take frequent breaks due to various wrist and finger and hand barks and whines.  So I need do as much fiddly-fingered work as I can now.

 hex-a-sketch

I’m plotting some hex quilts I’ve been thinking about for some time now.  Some may be “art” pieces that I probably won’t share, while some of the fabric sketches (quilt-a-doodle-dos?) might end up for sale.  We’ll see if my fingers can do the talking as well as the walking…

I ordered some dye-cut hexes to take the easy route.

Hexagon-tiny

I didn’t quite expect them to be this small.

I hate rulers and their confounding fractions – give me metric!

*I probably should actually worry about this.

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Of bastards and bathrooms…

Someone, or ones, stole my credit card info and attempted to ship $2,300 worth of Home Depot shite to Nevada.

(I don’t live in Nevada)

It’s a bit disconcerting to think that it might be possible that they knew I was working on a house, and thus I might not notice.

But they don’t know me that well.

I don’t shop there because of their right-winged evil overlord.

I’d post a warning about where my card got hacked, but it’s the same one I’ve had for over a decade of online shopping and automatic bill payments, so it could have been a security breach in one of a hundred or more websites and utility companies.  Well, at least not right-wing fundraiser sites, or skanky porn, or games, or psychics, or…

But thankfully the evil corporate anti-everything good about life and humans credit card company had my back, so someone/s in Nevada didn’t get their new what… deluxe chainsaw?  big-ass grill?  swirly tub?  giant refrigerator?  or lots and lots and lots of nails?

I love that we’ve got an awesome independent lumber yard, hardware store, and green building supplier in our town (and that also probably proves extreme gentrification) but I can’t always afford their stuff, or rather, none of them stocks the really cheap stuff.

(If my credit card thief shopped at one of those stores he just might have gotten away with it.)

But sometimes cheap is okay and historically accurate.

So I did our half-bath floor in a pinwheel mosaic tile from the other big box home improvement store.

halfbath-tiling

Though the floor we removed was already tile, it was ugly – creepy 1970s van stripes – and broken in places (thank you original owner for installing tile on thin-ass plywood, but at least it was easy to remove) and underneath was un-salvageable linoleum.  We had been prepared to live with the room for a few years though, and it was the lowest priority to re-do, but then the toilet broke inexplicably, and it made sense to go ahead and replace the floor before we put in a new shitter.

half bath before

(bathroom before when we first looked at the house – the previous owners left out their crap).

We reused the old vanity but gave it a fresh coat of paint, replaced the semi-non-functioning faucet, and replaced the fake wood triptych-mirrored medicine cabinet with a new one that is utterly cheap, but made in the USA, so it will do well enough.

halfbath-crapper

We still need to install said medicine cabinet, add the towel and TP holders, paint some more, attach the floor trim, hang some art, sew or knit some curtains, and add a plant or something.

Along with the vintage-looking tile, the peach paint* throws the whole thing back to the 1950s, so hopefully the house feels good about it.

halfbath-paint

And it glows.

*Paint is Mythic brand and I love it – not stinky and well-priced for non-toxic paint – color is Benjamin Moore’s “Hathaway Peach.”  Tile is American Olean.  (I didn’t get anything to endorse this stuff, but I’ll gladly take some free paint or coupons if offered…).  The former ugly but perfectly functional medicine cabinet goes to Habitat for Humanity, and the plumber took the old faucet and toilet for recycling (as least that’s what he said he’d do with it…) so it was a remodel with only one bag of trash.

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