Saturday, March 31, 2012


Today, O and I spent hours at Woolapalooza at Drumlin Farm Animal Sanctuary in Lincoln, MA. What a day!

There were goats:

Plenty of chickens, though this one was the only one who'd pose:

Border collies, the main reason O came with me:

A cow or two:

And, of course, sheep. Lots of them.

And when there's lots of sheep, that means there's lots of wool:


I'm thinking Topiary by Michelle Wang, a Brooklyn Tweed design. I'd only have enough yarn for the scarf version but it looks like this could be a good marriage between wool and pattern.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Friday finished object -- Owls!

Owls is D-O-N-E.

This sweater has been knit, ripped, re-knit, hibernating, ripped, re-knit, ripped (by cat), re-knit ... oh gosh, I can't keep up with how many times. But the last end has been woven in, and now all it needs is a bath to be ready for my mother's birthday in April. I hope she likes it! (Don't worry -- she won't see this. She never reads my blog or Ravelry page!)

I'd originally started knitting this for myself, but when my mother expressed delight in the softness of the wool (KnitPicks Swish Bulky), I decided to change plans. I may knit up another one for me, but I'll knit mine with a longer torso (oy, my long waist!) and in gray wool. Now that my mother's version is done, I'm ready for a completely different sweater for me, perhaps a simple, no-fuss  top-down cardigan knitted in Berroco Ultra Alpaca (colorway: Oceanic). Would be perfect for summer movie theater visits. Am I the only one who freezes all summer? Bloody air conditioning! Most stores (and movie theaters) have theirs set to "meat locker." By late July, the artificial chill has me pining for fall.

Another sweater high up on my list is Kate Davies' latest release, the Betty Mouat sweater. I fell in love with it when Kate first posted pictures of it last year and have been waiting patiently for the pattern release. And yay, this week it appeared in the 2nd edition of Kate's magazine Textisles, which includes a fascinating story about women's knitted swimwear. Anyway, I know Betty Mouat would have looked wonderful on me 20 years ago when I had a 22" waist and tight, toned triceps. Now I feel that I'm thick of waist and long of tooth; will it still flatter? There's a schematic for a long-sleeved version, but I really like the short sleeves.

I don't buy a lot of knitting books, preferring instead to check them out of the library. But here's one that I quickly added to my personal library after skimming through the copy I'd gotten through interlibrary loan:

What I like about Knitting in the Old Way is what I like about Elizabeth Zimmerman's books: a can-do attitude about design, and just enough explanation to help me get where I want to go. I've never been good about following directions slavishly and prefer to go off and do my own thing once I've got my sea legs, and this book meets my needs. There are no actual patterns in here; just illustrations of different styles and ethnic designs that a knitter is free to borrow for her own work. Anything that's remotely complicated (such as the overlapping welts at the join of a Danish Nattrøjer) is explained clearly, but otherwise the knitter is given just enough info to forge ahead successfully. I anticipate this book will become a well-loved addition to my small collection of craft books.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Kiosk attendants: Putting the maul in the mall

There's a kiosk attendant in our local mall who wouldn't leave me alone.

For those of you who aren't stateside or live near a shopping mall, many of them have freestanding kiosks out in the walkways that sell everything from cell phones and sunglasses, to acne creams (get your Proactiv here!)  and hair extensions. Most of the people who work at these kiosks are fine ... maybe a little eager at times if you show an iota of interest in a remote control helicopter or a "Yankees Suck" t-shirt, but generally they seem more interested in sitting on their stools and texting, which makes for a pleasant shopping experience for an introvert like me.

So back to the kiosk attendant who wouldn't leave me alone. He sells hand cream. Or so I think. He circles his kiosk balancing a little silver tray topped with plastic cups, which I believe contain this hand cream. Honestly, I'm not sure what's in the cups because when I used to walk by, I was doing everything I could to avoid making eye contact with him. This dude was relentless pursuing a sale with me. I must fit some demographic -- harried looking middle-aged mom with gnarly hands, a life devoid of any Me Time  -- because he was on me like white on rice.

"Ma'am, would you like to wake up tomorrow morning with softer, younger looking hands?"

This has been going on for years, I swear. Sometimes I kept my eyes averted and pretended to be deep in thought about Abercrombie and Fitch's table display. Or I'd interrupt him as if I hadn't heard him and would say something important to my son or husband: "Are you excited about school tomorrow?" "Maybe we should look at shower curtains down at Target? I noticed some mildew last time I was scrubbing the tub." Other times I couldn't avoid him, so I'd cut him off with a quick "No thank you." I got so that I'd plan my walk around his kiosk so when he was on one side, I could sneak down the other side. Or I'd walk on the upper level, where there are no kiosks and I could just walk over him.

One of my great talents in life is that I can keep an absolutely straight face while saying something utterly ridiculous. I'm also pretty good at taking up dares, especially if they involve saying something utterly ridiculous to someone and said dare involves money or a free ride. I'm not above using my God-given talents to make a buck. After one particularly harrowing pass by this guy, his tray, and his kiosk, I pondered aloud to my son, "What if I answered him with something so crazy it shocked him?" O fixed me with a look and said, "I dare you."

Game on.

I told O I would respond to this guy's eternal question with the most ridiculous answer O could dream up. I would do it with a straight face. I would speak clearly and project my voice so he heard it. My only restrictions were these: 1. No profanity. 2. No threats. 3. Nothing crude/crass. 4. No lying, unless the answer involved superheroes or  mythical creatures. 5. My answer had to begin with, "I'm sorry but ..."

We drafted the script in the food court. O was bouncing and giggling as we got closer to the kiosk. "Calm down," I said. "Keep a straight face."

"Oh no! He's going to the other side."

"Don't worry," I muttered. "He'll spot me."

He was on me in an instant.

"Ma'am, how would you like to wake up tomorrow with softer, younger looking hands?"

"I'm sorry," I said. "But Batman's on my tail."

The guy didn't blink. I don't even think my answer registered with him. He simply disappeared behind us. O held it in for about twenty feet then burst out laughing. "Mom! I can't believe you did that!"

Now we look forward to our mauling. I'm given my assignment in the car. We carefully plan our pass so I am not ignored.

"Ma'am, would you like to wake up tomorrow with softer, younger looking hands?"

"I'm sorry but ...

... I don't believe in the Easter bunny."

... atoms are hard to see."

... I've never seen a Bigfoot."

... I don't eat processed foods."

... we're going to Texas this summer."

... I prefer Coke."

... our car has a dent in it."

What's really funny? Nothing seems to register with him. He doesn't even recognize me as the Crazy Lady, which is kind of insulting in a way. I had visions of being That Woman in the mall who all the kiosk attendants talk about. ("What'd she say to you today?" "She's never been to my kiosk!") O and I wondered why and we finally figured out that the guy is so used to being shot down that all he's hearing is No. He's only going to respond if he senses a possible Yes.

Or maybe he's just staring into the Abercrombie and Fitch window while he has to pitch to me.



Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Acquired tastes

You know how some people get all crazy over gourmet coffee and French wines? Meet my crazy: root beer. My son and I consider ourselves root beer connoisseurs. We've tried just about every root beer on the market -- from Market Basket and Whole Foods 365 store brands, to the microbrewed and handcrafted beverages from Virgil's and Maine Root. Yesterday we were in Whole Foods buying another 4-pack of Maine Root (our favorite brew of choice -- perfect level of sweetness, no artificial/chemical taste and no, I haven't been paid to hawk it) and the cashier asked us if we liked root beer floats. Add ice cream to root beer? O and I looked at each other in horror. Hell no! We want our brew 1. icy cold* 2. straight up.

When we were out in the car with our booty of rooty, I mentioned that our relatives in Germany thought root beer tasted gross. O was shocked.

"How can they think that?" he asked.

"It's something of an acquired taste," I said. And then I had to explain what an acquired taste was, that the first time you taste some foods, they're disgusting, but if you keep tasting it over and over again, your tongue/brain starts to like the food. At this point, O may have used my cooking as an illustrative example. Brat.

I told him I can't think of a time I didn't like root beer; there was never a learning curve. We used to visit A&W Root Beer stands when I was a kid, and it was always a treat to eat there. I'm sure I always had a root beer with my hot dog or french fries. O says he can't remember when he didn't like root beer either. And as his mom, I concur because I seem to remember giving him some when he was three or four and he didn't spit it in my face.

Sometimes I let a mouthful of root beer wash across my tongue and there's part of my brain that understands why people wouldn't like its flavor; there's a medicinal undercurrent that can be disquieting to an unsuspecting palate.

So I've been thinking of all the all the flavors/foods we label as "an acquired taste." Certainly the British Isles have their fair share. On top of the list is Marmite (in Australia, Vegemite). When I was a kid I had a pen pal who sent me a couple sealed packets of this yeast spread and instructed me to spread it across toast before enjoying. My mother did the honors of toasting and spreading, then insisted on taking the first bite. I remember that she made this horrible face and spit it out, then forbade my brother and me from indulging, convinced it was poison, or at least a product one would use for fertilizing African violets.

Licorice is another acquired taste that's associated with Britain, but for me, it's one of the tastes of Scandinavia. My maternal grandfather, whose parents were from Norway and Denmark, loved licorice. He always carried a tin in his pocket filled with something called "liquorice pastilles" and I loved them from the get-go, no flavor acclimatization problems for me. Licorice tasted dark, sweet and earthy; even today, it touches that sweet spot on my palate that few other flavors can (wild mushrooms, perfectly ripe avocado). Salted licorice is another variation on this acquired taste, but sadly the application of salt doesn't work for me. I want my licorice straight up, thank you.

There are dishes like poutine (Canada), haggis (Scotland), and black pudding (northern England) one could call acquired tastes, but I put these in the loved-because-they're-national-dishes category. So I put it to you -- what has been an acquired taste for you? Do you like a flavor most people have a hard time understanding?

Mmm, just writing about root beer has me jones-ing for an icy cold one ... care to join me?


*Warm root beer = like drinking tepid groundwater from a Superfund site

Monday, March 12, 2012

It doesn't belong to Howard

A couple weeks ago, I was reading a New York Times' article about the appeal of Downton Abbey when my eyeballs hit the brakes:

"Granted, it’s rare that we don’t go nuts for lavishly produced Edwardian costume dramas with beautiful clothes, houses and manners; with their delicious tensions and upheavals and their tendency to squash lowly clerks under enormous bookcases after they enter into ill-advised romances with impulsive, intellectual upper-class girls. (See the tragic denouement of “Howard's [sic] End.”)

You see, I'd made the same mistake in a post I'd written about Downton Abbey just days before. Just as I hit "post," a 20-year-old memory of a paper I'd written in "The Modern British Novel" floated into my consciousness: Howard does not possess the End: It's Howards End with no possessive "s."

(The NYT has since issued a correction on the punctuation mistake.)

Here's another one, though, that took me by surprise. I'm blaming it on skipping out of Great American Novels Written by Men so I could read the likes of Woolf, Eliot, and Wollstonecraft in college. I was in Barnes and Noble this weekend, flipping through those B&N classic novel paperbacks that are priced so reasonably at $6.50, when I spotten an n-dash between Moby and Dick. For years, I've been writing that I've never read Moby Dick. Well, yes, that's because it's Moby-Dick, and I haven't read that doorstop either. Finnegans Wake is another title I see mis-punctuated with a possessive "s." I hesitate to call Finnegans Wake a novel, though. More like 600 pages of a crazy Irishman's scatological ranting.

Are there any other works of classic literature that have titles frequently mangled by either the masses or the press, as in the case of Howards End? Inquiring minds and all ...



Thursday, March 8, 2012

Big blue cowl

Lest anyone think I haven't been knitting ...

This monster (the famous Gaptastic cowl) took only three days to knit, but boy, it gave me quite the workout. Size 13 needles are not my bag. It's a gift for a dear friend's birthday next week, and now I feel kind of foolish giving it to her, seeing that we've got 65 degree weather and daffodils sprouting everywhere. However, I'm usually about two months late getting gifts to her, so off this goes tomorrow. I bought two skeins of heathered brown Berroco Peruvia last week to make a cowl for myself; I think I'll queue that up for late summer knitting.

My knitting has been purely utilitarian this past month: felted mittens for the cold, felted slippers, a hat here and there -- nothing really stunning. I've got to fix that. My goal now is to finish my Owls sweater which has been on the needles since forever.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Director chair covers and a bookcase paint job

From this:

Director chair - before

To this:

Director's Chair - after

I've had two director chairs gathering dust around the house. The hot pink (??) covers were faded and ugly, and when I went out to price the cost for new covers, I realized I'd be out $40 for something halfway decent. Since I'm pretty handy with my sewing machine, I decided to make new covers. I bought a yard of bright yellow cotton duck at Joann's for about $5.50 (after using a 50% off coupon), which was more than enough fabric for two chairs.  I carefully picked apart a set of the pink covers and measured seam allowances/fold lines, then used the deconstructed covers as templates/patterns for the new covers. It took me less than an hour of cutting and sewing, and I dare say, they look as good -- maybe even nicer! -- than the ones I saw for $20 elsewhere.

Then we had this unfinished bookshelf that I used in my old pantry to store canned goods and kitchen equipment. I forgot to take a "before" photo, but here's the "after." We're using this on the other side of the livingroom to hold my son's books, Legos, and other belongings:

Bookcase redo

I think my husband is rather horrified with my color choices of late: tangerine orange, lime green, daffodil yellow. But I love the play of bright colors against neutrals like cream and gray. Wait till I do my dining room reveal in a couple weeks!