Vegetables, yarn, and yarns: all of my passions all in one place.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Progress and Completion

There I was, frantically working on the Mason Dixon Knitting dishcloth cotton Baby Kimono for its Wednesday completion date while traveling to visit family over the long weekend, when it happened. Yes, though I had packed not only the kimono but my brothers ginormous, seemingly doomed Maize and Blue Stained Glass Blanket, with its many skeins of yarn, just in case I finished the kimono ahead of schedule, I forgot to pack the as-yet unused ball of Peaches and Cream yarn I needed for the kimono.

Thus, upon finishing the first front, I had to disengage and hope that I would have enough time when I got home on Labor Day night. Instead, perhaps partially out of guilt, I took up my brother's seemingly doomed blanket and tried to figure out whether or not what I had knit on the new square thus far was salvageable.

What do you know? It was. All the problems I saw with it when last I worked on it just weren't there anymore, so I have to chalk them up as wild hallucinations brought on by blanket fatigue. With the problems no longer an issue, I spent a good chunk of Monday banging out rows on the blanket, until, that is, I realized that I forgot to bring the extra skein of white I need to start on the white-colored interior detail of the football I'm intarsia-ing for this particular square. There I was, Monday afternoon on a four-day vacation week with absolutely no viable knitting to do. I could blame only myself.

Here it is, the bottom brown-only portion of the football, right before the white striping and laces come into play.

Either that or I have a very large mustache.

Back at home after an hour and a half drive, I got to work on the second sleeve/front of the kimono from Monday into Tuesday, finishing it up for a quick soak, block, and sun-drying on the back porch by around 3 p.m. By 6 p.m., I started in on the seaming, pausing to play a game of Scrabble before the kid's bedtime, and sewed on the buttons just shy of 9:30 p.m., having searched for and found the perfect shade and size of brown buttons in a mason jar of assorted buttons I purchased at a consignment shop last summer.

It turned out just as Mason Dixon Knitting predicted it would: quick, cute, and practical, despite the fact that before I seamed it up, it looked like this:

Mom-to-be seemed to like it and I hope baby feels likewise. I figure, since the baby will be born in the summer, a nice light cotton jacket will help keep him warm on chilly summer nights.

I even made my deadline, even with the additonal knitting done to my brother's blanket, though I did learn a valuable lesson: In a vacation situation, you can never bring too much yarn.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A Garden of my very Own: Planting

The herb garden is in. Unfortunately, a lack of rain has hindered its growth thus far, but I have high hopes that continued watering will result in big bushy plants. The rosemary, thyme, and savory, for example, are all supposed to get around 15 inches in diameter, hence the hefty spacing between them.

There is a climbing mint plant not pictured that's in the back there by the rhododendron. I'm hoping it can take the amount of shade and expand out into ground cover. I can't think of anything I want more for ground cover than a bunch of mint.

I also bought a chocolate mint plant. I'm not sure what type of root system it will have, i.e. if it sprouts shoots with a wandering root system or not as some mint plants do, which can be rather invasive to other plants in the garden). Thus, I planted the chocolate mint in a bed that is largely overgrown and not-yet cleared. If it wants to take over there, I'd be more than fine with that.

While clearing room for the mint, I noticed a shamrock in the smaller bed below being strangled by weeds, so I ripped out the weeds and so far, the shamrock seems to be doing well. It promptly responded to its new situation by budding copuous amounts of yellow flowers for its small size. I take that as a good sign.

I also noticed that my strawberry plants both had a tag recommending they be planted with rhubarb, asparahus, and raspberries. I do not have raspberries yet, which will be planted along the back side fence-line, but I do have asparagus and rhubarb. In the spirit of suggestion, I cleared part of the side front bed behind our mailbox for a perrenial strawberry-rhubarb-asparagus garden. The bed, though overrun with weeds, also had a fabric covering it to keep out the weeds. This meant that the clearing didn't take nearly as much time or energy as the herb garden crabgrass situation. I got home from work, cleared the bed, stopped for dinner, and had the entire project done before dark. It's been over a week now, however, and still no growth has occured on the asparagus or rhubarb plants. This gives me no small amount of anxiety.
After so much garden success, I started in on the bed against the back fence in the back yard. I had high hopes of widening the bed and putting my remaining vegetable crops there for this year. As you may recall, this particular bed is overrun with pricker bushes. Well, I took my hoe and I got down to business. I hacked out weeds and vines and yet more of that seemingly useless weed-stopping garden fabric, underneath which I uncovered a hive of wolf spiders, all of whom carted egg sacks. This told me  that 1. I needed to be careful not to get bitten by fangs as well as pricked by thorns and 2. They had obviously already mated with and killed the males if the eggs are already on their mommas' backs. I stopped gardening for a while to watch the spiders (from a safe distance) and contemplate the joys of mate-acide in arachnids.

Makes the crabgrass seem harmless in comparison, doesn't it?

While hacking away at the back bed, I noticed I had hacked away what appeared to be edible. I confirmed it with my husband. Yes, 'tis true. We apparently already had rhubarb. I butchered one plant, which I hope regrows, as the roots are still intact, but I managed to avoid hurting the second.

That being said, we didn't need to buy any rhubarb and probably wouldn't have if we'd known these were back there. However, more rhubarb is a heck of a lot better than not enough rhubarb. Besides, none of the newly planted rhubarb has sprouted yet.

With the knowledge that I seem to be able to spot the good plants in the weeds without too much difficulty (barring the butcher of the occasional rhubarb plant), I continued my crusade, hoping against hope to get a viable garden out of this prickery bed.

Not far into my new efforts, I was stopped again. If you can believe it, this time I found wild strawberries. I called my husband over again. "If I find asparagus, I'm throwing in the towel," I said. Fortunately, I did not find any asparagus, but I did discover that those strawberries have been very busy. Half the back lawn is actually comprised almost entirely of wild strawberries. They are everywhere.
And here they are under the forsythia bush:

Despite my best efforts, I could not tame the pricker bed of doom, so I decided to leave it and its few repeat plants and instead, just clear out the rest of the front bed where the asparagus/rhubarb/strawberry garden is. Now, while this bed does have that nifty fabric, it also has weeds intermixed with assorted viable nonedible perrenials. Thus, clearing this bed was a lot more work, involving sorting the good from the bad, transplanting, discarding, and saving plants from weed strangulation. Slowly, that mess became this:
And then, in the midst of my work, I discovered another annoyance. That catnip plant I bought for the  herb garden and decided to plant indoors instead to keep stray cats away?

Well, it's not the only catnip we own, apparently. Unless of course, this isn't catnip and just looks a lot like catnip and drives my cat insane in the same manner as catnip without being catnip. But I doubt it.

When it was all over, the weeds were gone, some plants were moved to other areas of the yard, and in the midst of the remaining thornless rose bush, catnip, evergreen tree, random bushes, and hostas, I planted my veggies. I started by planting my two pepper plants in a cinder block, as recommended in a pinterest post I saw and wondered about. It claimed that peppers grown in cinder block, which conducts heat well, tend to produce better and have faster fruit maturation.

Then I planted three zucchini plants,

two eggplant varieties,

two cucumber plants (which I plan to trellis),

and one lone beet.

While I was clearing the front bed, my husband took the liberty of clearing the back bed behind the main garage. In this bed, we planted three hierloom tomato plants, one hybrid, and two cherry tomato plants.

In the same weekend that all this went down, my mother-in-law came down to see our house for the first time, and with her, she brough us a gift: One semi-dwarf Montmorency cherry tree (now planted but pictured here unplanted)

and one dwarf yellow transparent apple tree.

Obviously the ugly shed is not completely down yet, but until the rest of it goes (along with the dilapidated fence), it will help to harbor the little tree from the elements until it gets a little stronger.

I can't wait for things to start growing.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Baby Knitting

Well, it's happened. I've let myself take a break from my long-standing blanket knitting project for my brother in order to knit a baby shower gift. So this dish cloth cotton

has become the start of a Mason Dixon Knitting Baby Kimono.

I have a week to get this thing done. Otherwise, the mom-to-be is getting a washcloth. Wish me luck.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

A Garden of my very Own: Flowering Fauna

A lot of the real pizzazz that has been happening in my yard has already come to a close, the buds all flowering and falling, but for the past few weeks, I was welcomed into my new home by the garden around me. Every day brought a new bloom of color, little fireworks in my front lawn.

Discovery 1: A Forsythia bush
I wasn't quite sure what this yellow monstrosity was until I asked my part-time flower-shop-worker mother-in-law. I really never noticed that they existed, but once we found the one in our back yard, they were everywhere. Everywhere. I think it's a conspiracy.

While it's gorgeous for the two or three weeks it blooms, it's less than attractive the rest of the year. Also, the previous owners planted it too close to a fence line so it grows out diagonally, which will look rather awkward after we tear the fence down. Likely, we won't have a forsythia bush after next year. Unless I buy a new one.

Discovery 2: Columbines
I'm new to the existence of columbines. When the shooting at Columbine happened when I was in high school, for example, I had no idea the school was named after a flower. However, one of my aunts has given a number of columbines to mother, who is a fan of the columbine, over the years since. While de-crabgrassing the front beds, I noticed a few columbines. Sadly, some of them lost there lives during the battle. There are always causalities in wartime. Fortunately a number of columbines live on, both in the front and back yards, including those that have white, purple, and pink blooms.

Discovery 3: Four lilac bushes, plus a number of baby bushes that will need to be transplanted.
And here I was, sad about the lack of lilac bushes. Two of them have darker flowers.

Two of them have lighter flowers.

Discovery 4: Wisteria vines
We have three, two that have grown up the opposite sides of a trellis to form a living, CO2 breathing doorway into the front yard, both of which have purple flowers.

Another vine of white flowers shares a trellis with a none-wistera vine that we have yet to identify. It may be a clematis.

Discovery 5: Lily of the Valley, Blue Bells, and Violets
One of the best smells in existence: Lily of the Valley. Second only to Lilac.

I'd like to have a few more violets than I do, but I'll  take what I can get. Violets were my grandmother's favorite flower.

Discovery 6: The Beauty of my flowering trees
All of them in bloom at the same time, a grove of rose-colored hue. A flowering cherry.

A pink-blossomed dogwood.

A redbud.

Not to mention the two Japanese maples (one in the front, one with the rest of the flowering trees) and three magnolias, two in the front, one with the rest of the flowering trees).

Discovery 7: Two azalea bushes
We knew about the rhododendron bush out front, which blooms pink, but the azaleas, one in the front and one in the back, where a surprise.

The discoveries keep on coming, even as I continue my quest to rub out the crabgrass and plant my vegetables. The fun is only just beginning.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Another Draft Done

If any of my former composition or creative writing students ever wonder if I practice what I preach, here is the proof right here: another completed draft of my novel. This one is chronologized with time monikers replacing chapter markers and the narrator listed in a subhead whenever the point of view changes. The entire process was equal parts Mrs Dalloway and Louise Erdrich, with a smattering of Wells Tower, I like to think. (If I've never recommended it, run out and read Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned. It is the single most narratively diverse and broad in subject-matter of any story collection I've ever read. Ever.)

While it sounds rather complex and was rather time consuming, the result seems simple and straightforward. It definitely looks more like a cohesive novel,which is what my agent was looking for, but I guess I'll find out if I succeeded to an acceptable end when I learn whether or not it needs further revision.

And I'm game for revision (within limits). Why? Because I practice what I preach. Now, if you are currently a composition student and your teacher has recently commented on your rough draft that you need to reorganize to fit your thesis statement, go do it. Right now, because your teacher is right. 100%. Listen to him/her. They know.

In literary news, I am now reading the sixth 44 Scotland Street novel, The Importance of Being Seven. I am just as smitten with this installation as I have been with the last five. It appears as though there are still two or three books in the series, so I'll have to seek them out at some point. They were not on the shelves at my new local library. I'm still keen on serialized novels, both writing and reading them, so if you know of any modern or postmodern literary authors writing in this format, let me know. I'm interested in reading them.

"Children were no longer made to learn poetry by heart. And so the deep rhythms of the language, its inner music, was lost to them, because they had never it embedded in their minds. And geography had been abandoned too -- the basic knowledge of how the world looked, simply never instilled; all in the name of educational theory and of the goal of teaching children how to think. But what, she wondered, was the point of teaching them how to think if they had nothing to think about?"
-Alexander McCall Smith, Love Over Scotland

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Ravelry Conundrum

I started making progress on the first intarsia square of the maize and blue stained glass blanket, promised at Christmas to my brother, in hopes of my completing it by his birthday in July. I really did. I made serious progress. Many, many rows were knit. And they still are knit, but the tension isn't quite right in places and I didn't put the yarn into bobbins so now its getting tangled all the time. I might need to rip it out and start over. I'm starting to doubt the feasibility of a July completion date.

On top of that, I have an impending baby shower at the end of May. Do I dare to consider making a wee hat or some wee mittens for the little one? Can I spare the time from the blanket? I know I shouldn't. However, apparently the knitter in me does not agree and has already purchased some cotton yarn with which to make a shower gift for a baby boy.

I'm thinking it could be either the Tea Cozy Elf Hat or the Mazon Dixon Knitting dish cloth cotton Baby Kimono. For the hat to have its full impact, though, it would require that the mommy understands that Dobby the house elf wore a tea cozy for a hat. Thus, if she is not a fan of Harry Potter, she might not get the reference, and I'm not sure she is into the Wizarding World in all its glory. Subsequently, I'm leaning towards the baby kimono, which I've heard from many corners is a great baby gift knit. Plus, the yarn I bought is dish cloth cotton.

Of course, when I purchased my new yarn for this special occasion, it hit me. Despite my best efforts to get my knitterly life organized and tabulated on ravelry, I never seem to keep up with it. As a result, my ravelry  queue is again horribly out-of-date, my stash has grown larger than my ravelry stash listings, and I have no idea which of my knitting books is added to my library and which aren't. The idea of having ravelry features to organize your stuff is genius, but the functionality of all those features gets a bit cloudy in practice. Who can remember to add a listing every time they buy a new knitting book or skein of yarn? Maybe some can, but I am not that girl.

No, I am not. In an atttempt to be that girl, I have faithfully listed to all of the organized knitter podcasts, but none of it has sunk in yet. I'm not sure it ever will.

Monday, May 6, 2013

A Garden of my Very Own: Work in Progress

Things have been busy at our new home. While it was cold, we focused more on fixing up the interior, but then, warmth slowly returned to the Cleveland area and with it, life came to the garden. I learned that I have several Yucca plants, three magnolia tress, a dogwood, a redbud, hyacinths, hygrangeas, clover, violets, daffodils, lilly of the valley, ferns, a very tall Japanese maple. The list goes on and on. Of course, you may notice that missing among this list is those plants that would be considered edible.

At first, we just noticed the faint traces of green peaking out through the winter detritus and the old downed birds nest in the honeysuckle(?) vine. 

Then, the green began popping up in earnest. The magnolias blossomed in gorgeous blooms of white and pink. Just like that, a frost hit and took out all the blooms. Two days of magnolia and that was about it. Flowers gone until next year. Inevitably, though, warmth took root, seemed to want to stay.

I got out my hoe and gardening gloves and I got to work. Our short-sale purchase was left without caretakers for a year. That's a year in which the crabgrass had a chance to take hold over what seems to have been the annuals bed in the front garden. It was so thick, I could hardly make out the few nonweed plants hidden in the tangle. I begin the slow, week-long process of clearing away the weeds. 

Over a dozen bags full of crabgrass and an entire saturday (and a nasty sunburn to boot) later, the bed was clear for what I have planned. And what I have planned is an herb and ornamental edibles garden.

Of course, to make my plan a reality, I needed the plants, so we piled in the Subaru and headed out to Chagrin Falls, where my favorite greenhouse is located, Lowe's Greenhouse. Next year, of course, we'll search for one that's closer to home, but this year, I wanted to stick with what I know to ease the stress of the process a bit. We've had plenty of newness already this year.

I must admit I went a bit crazy during the plant selection process. And while we still have an apple tree, a cherry tree, and raspberry and currant bushes to find, I think I got us plenty to deal with in the meantime, including several tomato plants, cucumbers, zucchini, lettuce, peppers, strawberries, kale, chard, spinach, arugula, and beets for the veggies/fruits and basil, cilantro, rosemary, thyme, savory, climbing mint, chocolate mint, chamomile, parsley, catnip, and lavender seeds for the herbs. I may be forgetting a few.

Of course, now I can't plant any of them yet, because there will likely be another frost on mother's day. Thus, I will be spending the next week or so bringing my two pallets of plants onto the indoor porch at night and taking them out again in the morning with a good watering to get them through the day on the front walk in the sun. That crabgrass had so better not grow back before I get this all planted.

Now, I need to tackle the backyard bed that the veggies will go in. Currently, it is covered in a gardening cloth and in that cloth, the only plant hardy enough to break through its sturdy fabric has colonized: pricker bushes. All over. I'm going to need thicker gloves.