Oh garden, my garden

The garden has continued to exceed my expectations for first year dirt.

garden-full

Don’t get me wrong, it’s got many problems, but we’re at the point where we can eat something from it every day, and I’ve been able to freeze a few things too.

garden-stuffed peppers

(I’ve got my fingers crossed for a big tomato canning session soon if all goes well).

And it is immensely satisfying – both in eating something homegrown and not having to shop for veg of unknown origins.

garden-green stuff

But I’m still learning a great deal and battling far more pests than I’d expected – my former urban gardens didn’t have half the critters that live in or near the country like we do now, and the bone-dry spring followed by a swampy June has messed things up a bit…

Three lined potato beetles went to town on the tomatillos, followed by a minor invasion of cucumber beetles on the squashes that I thought were just baby three lined potato beetles, but weren’t and are much worse… (Thanks K for catching that one!). Powdery mildew is making sad stuff of the zucchini and I found end rot on one of the precious tomatoes. The cauliflower went ricey early (but I put that in too late and didn’t expect much), leaf miners have been selectively browsing, the cilantro bolts practically the second I put it in the ground, some things are misshapen likely due to soil deficiencies or the wacky rainfall, flea beetles have made lace of the eggplants and I’ve given up on them entirely, and there is something that I fear to be leaf spot on some of the peppers (though the actual peppers haven’t been afflicted).

And some fucker is nibbling on the tiny watermelons.

garden-watermelon

So I’ve been spraying concoctions of soaps and oils and baking powders of dubious efficacy, though still organic, and squishing everything evil in site, but it’s also been a joy to watch the area become even more populated with daddy long legs, lady bugs, praying mantis (though those can be a bit evil too – I had no idea that they ate hummingbirds – hummingbirds for chrissakes!) and birds, though we’ll have to address keeping them out of some parts when we put in berries.

But we’ve had some glorious tomatoes by the first week in July, and…

garden-tomatoes

an early panzanella…

garden-panzanalla

and caprese salad…

caprese

makes it all worthwhile…

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On getting rid of things, part III – thinking more than doing

tiny car

I’m suffering from a self-diagnosed bout of tendonitis.

That marathon session of curtain hemming, followed by countless hours of weeding the garden, some mad hex sewing sessions, some warm-up spinning for the tour de fleece, then knitting with cotton, and finally holding a paint cup in my taloned index finger and thumb for hours on end while painting the basement made some niggling occasional tweaks turn into a sizzling iron inserted into the flesh of my left forearm and wrist.

I haven’t touched needles of any kind for weeks, even my new little shorties, and this year’s tour de fleece is crawling at a snail’s pace as I’m learning to spin with my opposite hand and for just a few minutes here and there as to not damage that one too.

PRS-treescum1

So I’m back to sorting through my unpacked boxes of shit and book collection that I thought was already heavily culled…

My nostalgia problems and issues of practicality aside, how did I end up with so much?

And do I really have that much – certainly less than many Americans, but much, much more than most of the rest of the world…?

Most of it can be blamed on art, and if I take that which I describe as “materials” away, I’m left with a few small collections of old or odd things, a semi-reasonable amount of books for my field, and a variety of tools and gear that are used enough to justify.

I’ve been watching a few hoarding shows, and find them fairly distasteful/exploitative/I-don’t-know-what-it-is-but-I-know-it-when-I-see-it and have only identified with just a few of the folks – the kind that scavenge for re-sale or art – the rest with their excrement-soaked abodes are in a sad, much different sort of way. And I’ve also been reading some sites on downsizing and living in small houses.

I don’t understand why many of us have trouble getting rid of things.

I don’t understand the self-help guides and formulas – things that tell you to only wear a few things for a few months, then get rid of what you don’t (not taking into consideration that having too many pairs of socks means you don’t have to shop for socks for years); or get rid of a number of things according to the day of the month (i.e. get rid of 15 things on July 15) and then the people who publicly post their progress and count throwing the junk mail into the recycling as one of the things – or even worse multiple things – when it isn’t getting to the heart of the matter unless your problem is hoarding junk mail or expired foodstuffs or that terrible-smelling product you accidentally bought.

And why must our things thrill us or make our hearts sing in order to keep them?

(A drill isn’t thrilling unless you’re into something kinky, and if I heard my heart sing, I’d probably shut it up with the drill).

Why do we have to be supported or told how to do this as if we are terrible little children or untrustworthy junkies, or cling to others for approval and praise, or subscribe to a bullshit view of things (and life in general) as precious when none of us or anything is special?

Each and every one of us is merely a bag of bones and meat and our stuff rots away along with us.

And why am I even thinking about this out loud here, publicly declaring my own difficulty obtaining a more minimal life while criticizing others who seek out some form of help?

I saw a reference the other day about someone who was downsizing to a more modest 2,200 square foot house. I wouldn’t have considered modest and over 2,000 square feet in the same breath unless you had a family of ten or more.

I once knew a woman who lived out of three suitcases, and just bought a new bed, table, and one chair whenever she moved.  I was slightly jealous, but then she spent more and more time at my apartment, mooching off my atmosphere of live-in cabinet of curiosities until she seemed drunk with gee gaws.

I find myself looking at tiny houses and gleefully make fun of those earnest folks who believe they’re living the dream while fighting to breathe from cooking smells, the loft bed being 2 feet from the hot ceiling, farts, and the composting toilet.

(Don’t get me wrong, I’d love a tiny house on a trailer to park in the woods or the beach for a holiday or a private space for guests when at home.)

But those folks don’t get it – living minimally and simplistically doesn’t mean leaving a footprint – even a tiny one. We can be simple without as much as a single birch bark vase in an apartment or house already built, and work on making it far more efficient or entirely off the grid so that when that body beneath the vintage plaid shirt becomes dust, the next person who needs to live in a house will do so more efficiently. I imagine that tiny house will just be driven off a cliff or bulldozed by a municipality or turned into a suburban playhouse before long…

But perhaps again, I’m a tiny bit jealous.

So I’m striving for simple but not sterile, practical and affordable, homey but not belongs-in-a-home, relationship with my stuff…

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Fancy feets

It’s been several months since I had an actual sock on the needles.

I’m working on a simple sock yarn cardigan that was small enough to be travel knitting for a time, but has since outgrown my everyday bag and will probably take me years to finish…

fancy feets

N treated me to a fancy feast in NYC for my birthday last month and I finally began a new sock on the train home. (I went up earlier in the day for a work thing and wisely tucked the yarn into my bag in case there was a gap in the work moments – I don’t normally bring yarn to dinner).

This is my last ball of 6-ply sock yarn and I’m a bit sad about that – I still have plenty of sock yarn in my stash, but hands down, I like the thicker stuff much better (even though I’m not crazy about these colors, but at least green is involved) and I’m still on the longest non-buying spree of my yarn life (except for that stupid neon stuff) that I hope to stretch into next year, or hell, maybe even the following, or the one after that too…

But only a day after I committed those words to the screen, I caved and ordered two more balls (on the cheap, of course).

Balls usually come in pairs, right?

(Well, I guess not in the ball sports, but I’m not much of a sports fan.)

fancy feets-more

But this really isn’t about stash-building, it’s more like a work-in-progress waiting in the wings, and I know my trusted pattern* works for me, and I gave the other pair I made earlier this year away, so my conscious is clear.

fancy feets tiny needles

I also got some absurdly teeny 9″ US0 size circulars to try out on the rest of my sock yarn stash – I like knitting and wearing the thicker yarn (though I also like wearing thin wool socks in the warmer months, but commercially-made thinness – an impossible weight for me to knit) so I’m not holding my breath that I’ll fall in love with knitting and wearing the light fingering weight yarn, but I do love a repetitive round and round and round and round and round on circulars, so who knows… But I knit a little tighter on circulars than dpns, so I won’t be too keen if that skews my stitch numbers too much. And not to mention I’ve got big paws and these are sized for child labor or the dainty bird-like lady…

If these don’t work out, the rest of the skinny stash (held double, of course, or maybe triple…) is probably destined to become a throw blanket…

*My favorite/trusty sock is 64 stitches of the light sport-weight yarn on US2 dpns (got a high instep) with provisional cast on from ankle down, a slipped stitch heel flap, reducing 4 stitches on the foot, then picked up and knit ankle up. After one ankle/foot is done, I make the other on another set of dpns. Then I wind the yarn into a center-pull ball if it isn’t already and take turns knitting each cuff up from each end of yarn, so it’s sorta two at a time and no leftover yarn.

And I still haven’t settled on how many stitches I need when dropping down to US1 or US0 needles…

For the sake of keeping notes, I’m thinking the following might work for me:

US2 – 64 sts

US1.5 – 68 sts

US1 – 72 sts

US0 – 80 sts

But 80 stitches is 20% more sock that I usually make, so that doesn’t sound too promising…

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Let’s hope this one doesn’t take 15 years…

I might regret this, but I want another cotton blanket, and soon – we’ve been fighting over the one.

So I took two of N’s old sweaters:

brown black sweaters

And reduced them to stringy cakes:

brown black yarn

I started with a linen-stitch thing, but the colors don’t have much contrast (these photos lie a bit) and though that pattern is speedy, it’s not as speedy and nearly 99% foolproof as knitting only.

So I ripped and started over.

I like reversible blankets, but this one won’t be, but so be it – I wanted to do all garter stitch, but in the round I’d have to purl, and that slows me down a tiny bit and/or taxes my wrist a bit more, so I’ll only do a few all-garter bands here and there – it’s mostly the same pattern as the other blanket I finished last year.

I knit the center garter rectangle at the shore. Cotton turns out to be a very good beach knitting material, so that just bought me a few good chunks of knitting time (if the weather cooperates with our time and ability to go – we’re now just slightly over an hour to the shore rather than the 35-40 minutes it took when we lived in the ghastly vinyl village).

brown black blanket

(Let’s hope its expression isn’t a true expression of how it feels…)

And seashells work for for emergency stitch markers…

brown black shell

I’m not happy that the gauge is so loose – loose gauge is up on the list of my knitting pet peeves, but the next size needle down is on another project, and the next one after that just seems wrong to use on a large project that I want to believe will be quick, or at least not slow…

But ugh, cotton… My wrists and hands can only take a few rounds at a time, and the rounds are still short…

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Anatomy of a hex

I’ve yammered on about my love of the hexagon shape for a bit now, and have finally put needle to cloth and started to play…

hex-green

I’m still obsessed with the hex-tile floor and passing though my old city recently, I was shocked to see more lovely old buildings ripped out and re-planted with soulless new shitboxes. All of the other lovely and unique architectural details destroyed aside, I mourn for the very likely loss of hex-tiled entrances, halls, coatrooms, mudrooms, bathrooms, and maybe even kitchens. I still dream of living in a house that was untouched by vinyl, paneling, laminate, textured paint, beige ceramic tile, and all other destructive DIY – unless it was carpeted and paneled in a way that preserved everything underneath and it would be a matter of unwrapping a lovely surprise room to room…

But  I digress…

To date, all of my fiber hexing has been via the English paper-piercing method. I ordered some pre-cut little buggers last year and was on the lookout for some plastic ones I’d seen that require basting stitches cinched up, but weren’t stocked in my area until I forgot about them. I started cutting some shapes out of mylar to try out the general idea, but got distracted and moved on.

hex-plastic

The plastic ones reappeared at the big box recently, and at a time when I had good coupons, so I finally got some thinking that I would fall in love with them and they would last forever and I was happy that they were manufactured in the USA… But sadly, I just couldn’t get them to work for me (or I’m too set in my paper-piercing ways).

The main problems were: I had to run too many basting stitches, it was fiddly to get the tension right and the corners sharp, they are too thick to finger-press the fabric, they are slick, and the whole thing took longer.

I should back up first – I’m working on a project that needs to be very portable and not require electricity (will take on a rustic vacation later this summer) and I’m making it out of old shirts that have some poly or stretch that makes the fabric harder to control. The plastic shapes did work better with rougher, stiffer quilting cotton or  good lay with a hot iron, so all hope isn’t lost for them, but they’re just now what I need right now.

(And in general, I’m usually working on pieced things on another floor from the ironing board, or on a hot day when the iron is banned.)

So I attempted to make them more usable by drilling some holes to provide better stability with a piercing method. That helped a good deal, but I was still slow in finding the drill holes with the needle, the thickness still prevented a good finger press, and they were still too slippery.

hex-drilled

So I tried to drill some bigger holes and score the surface with a variety of rasps, but that was an utter failure…

hex-fail

So finally, I just used the shape as a template on the other half of the coupon used to purchase them (and lifted from the recycling bin) and voila, success!

hex-samples

But that was the only piece of scrap card stock in the house, so I have to wait for the mail to arrive (for a few days likely) to obtain more…

hex-templates

This piece might end up into something finished, and perhaps something with a bit of meaning… but the green hexies at the top are just a doodle for now.

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From dirt to delicious

We installed a few rain barrels off of our gutters back in April.

N tapped into his Roman ancestral knowledge of aqueduct engineering and rigged a system to flow away from the utility meters and wiring at one corner of the house a barrel down a hill and close to one of the garden gates.

Then it didn’t rain…

Until the first week of June.

(In the meantime we rigged over 200 feet of hoses from a very stupidly placed spigot on the opposite side of the house to the somewhat delicate well and I had more than one fit of anxiety over the whole thing…)

But now the barrels are filled, the garden is going really well (except for a moderate skirmish with the three-lined potato beetle on our too-few tomatillo plants that seems to be under control now thanks to neem oil, and aphids or something on  the eggplant, but I’m not that crazy about eggplant* anyway) and we’ve been able to stuff our gobs from it a bit.

pasta-rapini

I was a vegetarian for most of the 1990s and early 00s and lived in a city that only caught up with food trends (and since far exceeded them) in the last decade or so. Going out to dinner meant getting the same delicious eastern/easternish ethnic thing over and over and over and over again (vegetable lo mein, falafel, veggie korma, etc. ) or something that was often disappointing and not worth it – especially in “Italian” (Italian-American) restaurants where my only option was

pasta primavera.

Those two words in combination are a quick ticket to destroying my appetite.

The veg was almost always out of season, overcooked, under or over seasoned; the pasta was always bland and overcooked, and then there would sometimes be an overwhelming inappropriate flavor – dried herbs or an entire grove’s worth of lemons.

But N recently whipped up a little variation with some baby rapini I just thinned from our dirt, and local veg from a new-to-us organic farm just a couple of miles away, and my faith in the dish is restored.

pasta primavera

(Though I’ll still never order it again in an American restaurant…)

Since then, and after perhaps too much rain, (but I’m not complaining at all, but have had to try to air out the dirt a bit) the whole edible green-goodness has gone gangbusters. That baby rapini went big fast and has replaced our need to purchase any supplemental greens. I’m a bit worried about the zucchini only still producing male blossoms, but there’s still time for the ladies, and the dudes are at least tasty in the interim.

blossom salad

(And I don’t want to jinx it, but we might actually have ripe tomatoes in a couple of weeks which I can’t believe and I’m so excited about, but it almost doesn’t seem real, and it could all utterly fail before then…)

But for not expecting much in the first year of our dirt, I’m exceptionally pleased.

Although weeding and general garden-tending has taken a considerable bite out of my sewing/knitting/puttering time…

*Eggplant Parmesan was also one of the few dishes I could get as a vegetarian, and was most often a disaster, so it killed my taste for the veg all together – I’m only just now warming back up to it, though I’d rather have it grilled or mushed up into baba ghanoush, or baba ghannouj, or babaganouj or however the hell it’s spelled…

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A time to dye

I had one of those stupid frustrating telecommuting days last week wherein I couldn’t connect with my work computer…

and couldn’t connect with a person there who could re-connect my computer to me…

So I couldn’t work, but I had plans to work so that I’d have time later in the week to do some non-work work, and I really couldn’t stand not being able to get the work work over and was frustrated and pissy and feeling like I didn’t exist – a feeling probably common to telecommuters, but I don’t know any others so it might just be me, and there are times when in fact, I do not exist…

So I did something I hadn’t planned on doing any time soon to ease my unease.

I thrifted some comfy but insanely red linen pants  last year, and though I like bold color, I have a few red t-shirts, many green t-shirts, and most often wear a pair of yellow sandals, so I either looked like a cardinal (bird), Christmas, or condiments if I wore any of them with the pants.

(And I don’t really like yellow mustard, especially next to ketchup).

I also had a sorry once lavender t-shirt, and a commercially sewn floral canvas bag that served its purpose at the time, but I never use anymore and keep almost getting rid of it…

teal dye-before

I also have a few old boxes of that powdered dye knocking about, so I simmered the threesome in teal (which really was more turquoise).

I wanted the pants to be anything other than bright red, and was hoping for burgundy, purplish, brown, or some murkier variation thereof.

teal dye-during

And now all is well, except for the bag – I’m really ready to get rid of it finally.

I know the dye won’t stick around forever, and I know well enough to only wash these things with darker things, but since the pants and shirt were already old, the dye should hopefully hold up for the rest of their lifespans, or else the yellow sandals might wear out by the time the pants become red again…

teal dye-after

And it also became evident that the pant’s manufacturer made no effort to match the inside button to the outside and/or made the inside button match the outside, but the outside button an odd beige (now pleasingly turquoise) accent piece…?

teal dye-button

Or perhaps the original owner replaced it…

Either way, now I’m either a giant gradient when wearing a red t-shirt, pleasantly almost-complementary when wearing green, and let’s just say I’m enjoying a robust red with something mustard-schmeared…

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