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

Friday, June 28, 2013

Google Reader is No More

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So I've heard through the grapevine that google reader is going away soon. Thus, if you use it apparently, you have to find a new blogreader. I'm switching to bloglovin, mostly because I like the name. If you want to follow me there, the link is above.

If you already follow me and you use google reader, you can also set up an account there and then give them access to your google reader account. They will do the rest.

More yarny/food/writing fun to come. Stay tuned.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Be Sweet Yarn

Last week, I met a wonderful surprise waiting for me in the post. You see, I won a giveway over at the Canary Knits blog for a package of Be Sweet yarn, so I knew it was coming. However, I did not expect this package of wooly goodness to arrive on my birthday.

The package included:
  • a ball of satisfaction in the peacock colorway
  • a ball of whipped cream in the grape colorway
  • a ball of bambino taffy in the licorice colorway
  • a skein of magic eight ball (that would be the really funky multi-colored one pictured above)
The yarn itself is soft, soft, softy soft in a extreme. It made me want to hold it up against family members' faces and rub while muttering "Feeeeeel it." It was an urge I could not resist acting upon. The husband was less than amused.

I am now figuring out what I can make with the squishy, high-quality fiber yarn now at my disposal, with the bambino taffy, with its part-cottony softness, reserved for an as-yet unknown baby gift. Until I finish my current project of doom (the never-ending Maize and Blue Blanket) though, I can't act on my wish to knit all the things with the pretty yarn. Thus, I have placed them safely inside my cedar trunk reserved for the best of my stash.

If the yarn wasn't delicious on its own, I am also quite thrilled with the company it hails from. Be Sweet is concerned with being "socially and environmentally" conscious. They employ those in economically depressed areas, allowing them to become independent and able to support their families. The sheet my yarn came with shows a lot of smiling women in South Africa who benefit from the ideals of this company.

Sweet yarn. Sweet company. The name makes total sense. It was quite a pleasant package to find in my mailbox on the day that I turned 29.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A Plea for Nerdity

I'm one of those mothers. When summertime comes around and what seems like every other kid in existence is putting away the book-learning for three months, I get busy on my son's summer curriculum. You see, I know that kids unlearn a lot of information in those three months if they don't have some sort of educational reinforcement. Besides, my kid, for better or for worse, is just insanely bright, so bright that when they went over the scores of his first intelligence test a little over a year ago at his old school, his teacher, the principal, the guidance counselor, the school psychologist, and my husband and I were dumbfounded. That means that when he is given a consistent amount of material to learn, he just churns right through it. However, if he isn't, he just takes to skimming everything because hell still probably score in the A-to-B range on the test. I like to avoid the lazily skimming, so consistency is the key to the summer months out of school.

To make a long story medium, that is why I found myself standing in front of the education section of my local library, pawing at books. Along with the giant stack I accumulated to satiate my son's "summer school" schedule, I grabbed an additional book whose spine shouted, "Nerd!" at me from the top shelf. As I am the sort of person who enjoys when nerdity is involved, I ended up checking out and hungrily reading through Dr. David Anderegg's Nerds: Who They Are and Why We Need More of Them.

Being a book written in the early 2000s, the cultural references (and some of his postulating) is a bit dated. However, that does not diminish the importance of this book. Essentially, Anderegg makes the claim (supported by numerous, though with a sometimes “out of it” older-adult spin, examples and references) that the negative association with the nerd (and geek) stereotype, as well as with those habits and subjects deemed as “nerdy” or “geeky,” is the main reason why the American education system cannot seem to better its mediocrity when comparing it to the education systems of other countries around the world.

"We act like it's all in good fun to communicate to our kids that people who are smart and do well in school and like science fiction and computers are also people who smell bad and look ugly and are so repulsive that they are not allowed to have girlfriends. And then we wonder why it's so hard to motivate kids to do well in school." 

 According to Anderegg, America is founded on the idea that it is a nation of “men of action,” while the British culture that the Revolutionary War allowed America to overthrow is a nation consisting primarily of “men of reflection.” Bookworms, in this dichotomy, cannot act. They are confined to their libraries and laboratories, while those men who possess the street smarts, social skills, and attractive dispositions do all the heavy lifting and thus, succeed where booksmart men fail. (“Men” is used here because at the time of America’s inception, women were not allowed to do pretty much anything.) Anderegg cites Ichabod Crane from “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” as the first fictional representation of the modern nerd sterotype. Note that at the end of the book, it is the strong, manly, not-booksmart Brom who gets the girl (partly by hazing Ichabod into nonexistence).

How this translates into a tween’s mind is fairly simple: Good at book-learning equals unpopular and asexual. (Remember that even in The Breakfast Club, it is the nerd of the bunch who ends up without a love interest.) Thus, when the time comes to decide between grades and popularity, most “normal” kids are going to choose popularity and purposefully not take those math and science classes that would result in overall higher math and science test scores on standardized tests. The nerds, of course, are psyched to take advanced courses and score well on these tests, but they are the minority and (according to their stereotypical form) without friends, significant others, or social grace.

On this premise, Anderegg seems pretty spot on. I know for a fact that my kid has, on numerous occasions, tried to make himself look dumber to fit in with the “normal” kids and the popular crowd (not that he succeeded but he tried), and despite his thus-far absence of eye glasses, he is pretty much the epitome of nerdity. This means that Anderegg might have, in fact, not taken it far enough. Sometimes even the nerds will opt out of learning valuable knowledge in order to seem “cooler.” No wonder American test scores are so far behind other countries that lack the negative nerd sterotype.
Whichever side of the fence you come down on (nerd or normal), I encourage you to pick up a copy of this book and come to an understanding about how the American way of street-smarts over book-smarts just might be destroying the future of our country. It's an iteresting read, if a bit preachy at times.

Speaking of nerds, here's how I won a recent game of Scrabble against the husband and the kid:

Got to love that seven letter 50 point bonus.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Garden of my very Own: Flowering Fauna (part 2 in a series)

The pre-existing plants in my new front yard continue to teach me new things. For example, wisteria vines are actually rather invasive (at least the variety in my garden) and must be hacked at constantly and new vines must be watched for with vigilance so as to avoid them taking over EVERYTHING. Also, catnip flowers and it's very pretty:

Yes, the end of spring does not mean the end of flowers. The former owner of my property made sure of that. In addition to the catnip blossoms, there are five rose bushes I have found thus far. Two are pink, one with thorns and one (pictured left), which is blessedly without thorns.

The other three of various varieties of red rose, including this one (pictured right), which looks particularly um... flowery when the rose is fully blown.

The columbines are over now, but they thrived for a good month. I kept seeing new plants of them all over the yard, including this late-blooming and amazing purple columbine.

(That white fuzz all over them would be cottonwood fluff.)

The rhododendrons too have kicked the bucket since this photo was taken near the end of their stay, but while they were here, they were just lovely.

And behind the front garden fence, I've got a few of these. I don't rightly know what they are, despite heavy amounts of google searches, so if you know what the heck this thing is, let me know:

As the columbines, rhododendrons, and azaleas were saying goodbye, the daylilies that are planted all over the front yard started budding. So far, all of the ones that have opened are a bit of a school bus yellow. I wait patiently to see about the rest.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Are you ready for some football (made of yarn)?

Just as promised, I worked diligently on my football afghan rectangular square over my week-long staycation. As you may remember, this is the fourth rectangle in the Maize and Blue Stained Glass Blanket that I'm designing/knitting for my little brother in hopes of finishing it for his 26th birthday in July. By day two, I was far enough along on it to add the two extra balls for the laces at the top of the football.

Not much else of consequence got accomplished during the vacay. No real progress on the house, other than some minor cabinetry demolition that resulted in the death of the second stove's cooktop. (At least it was the old, less-nice stove.) I have a few writing ideas floating around in my head, solidifying. I made some headway on the starting the new novel front. I finished reading a couple of books, but really, I was just happy to sit around and not be working.

Of course, where there's sitting, there is inevitably knitting, so at least I did keep my promise to finish the football. Buy the pattern chart on ravelry.

Finally. Now, to start on the square of the Michigan "M" in none other than maize and blue. One month and two days to go. Think I can finish another four or five rectangles by then?

Yeah, I'm skeptical too.

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Garden of my very Own: Food starts to grow

After a lengthy drought, the rain has started to fall in plenty here in Northeast Ohio. Boy, do my plants love the rain (so does my water bill). In fact, the little dwarf yellow transparent apple tree we just put in the ground a month or so ago is already producing fruit in its joy.

Originally, I was thinking that, in all likelihood, we wouldn't see apples for a few years, but I'm glad to be proven wrong. The swiss chard it really starting to grow too.

(This picture is a week and a half old now.
It's even bigger now, as is the kale and both lettuces. They're all just HUGE.)

And despite my fears of a complete rhubarb and asparagus patch failure, two of the three rhubarb roots I planted are starting to leaf, and two out of three ain't bad or so I've heard.

Also, most of the asparagus roots are starting to sprout too.

On the other side of the house, that one remaining tree that didn't sprout flowers in the spring with the rest of them? It's also a dogwood, a Kousa Dogwood to be precise. It will have blooms for the month of June and they will turn into edible fruit in the fall. How about that?

Apparently, it makes a lovely jam. Mostly, though it's just a very pretty tree.

As I type, I have already cooked my first recipe using ingredients from my very own garden. That blog will be forthcoming.

Friday, June 7, 2013

On Traffic and Increased Knitting Time

Here in my adopted city of Cleveland, they are filming the second Captain America movie. You might have heard of it or about it. I know I have and not because I've been hanging at film locations for glimpses of starlets or even watching the local morning news. No. Rather, because of just how much the filming of this movie has impacted my work commute.

For some crazed reason, the city decided that it would be completely okay to allow the production company to close a major highway (and one of the few bridges used to get into the downtown area across the Cuyahoga River), known as the Shoreway, for two weeks. As a result, alternate routes had to take on the something like 37,000 vehicles that daily make their way into and out of town using the Shoreway. What that means for me is this: my normally 30 to 45 minute commute into town has changed into a 55 minute (if I leave by 6 in the morning) to an almost hour and a half drive through clogged, near-stand-still lanes on Interstate 90. FOR HALF A MONTH.

After a week of this stop-and-go madness, I made a choice. I decided to give myself a birthday present in the form of an early weeklong vacation. That's right. Starting next monday, which is my birthday incidently, I am taking a week's PTO time and having a staycation. We weren't going to do a big vacation this year anyway, what with all the necessary house renovations, so this just seemed like the next best thing. By the time I return to the interstate the week after next, the Shoreway should be back open and the traffic patterns, more or less, back to normal.

What that means: more knitting time. Oh sure, of course I'll also write and work on the house, getting carpets torn up and walls washed, and we might decide on a daytrip or two, but the real prize is the knitting.

 I'm halfway through the football square of the Maize and Blue Stained Glass Afghan for my brother. This blanket has an impending but flexible late July deadline that I probably won't make, as you may recall if you are one of my eleven subscribed readers.

By now, it's clear that there is a football there. It's snail's pace intarsia process has nearly been the death of this blanket on several occasions. I had to stop work on it yet again when I realized/remembered that it needed separate little balls for each different section of color.

A long time and numerous math calculations later, I had the required seven balls in use right now, three of which are full skeins, with an additional two that will need added on before the football is done for the lacing at the top.

(It's sitting on the hand-me-down couch we got from my brother, humorously enough.)

It's a bit like trying to find your way through a maze. Working a row goes something like this: Start row with white, find which brown ball goes next, cross with previous white ball, knit with brown ball, find which white ball goes next, cross with previous brown ball, knit, and repeat process, concluding with white. All the while, I've been praying to the powers-that-be to not have any of these many many balls tangle on me. So far I've been mostly successful. *Knock on wood.*

Here's to staycations, knitting, and movie traffic... And here's hoping that my next knitting post will include pictures of a completed football square.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Hickory Syrup

My mother-in-law knows that my husband and I appreciate locally made and manufactured foodstuffs (and nonfoodstuffs for that matter, as our Libbey glass dishware can attest). That is why our Christmas gift from her included a gift basket of locally made cheese, chocolate, baked goods, and beverages. It was probably one of the best Christmas presents I've ever received in the way that it was so catered to our tastes. It went over so well that, for his birthday, my husband received a bottle of Soaring Hill Hickory Syrup from a shop in Tecumseh, MI.

The company is located in Adrain, MI, in the city where my husband I met and went to undergraduate school together. I have a lot of good times bottled up in Adrian, and I had high hopes for this sugary concoction. Thus, when a weekend morning of leisure breakfasting presented itself (and those aren't easy to come by), the pancakes were made and all three of us--the husband, the son, and I-- all sat down for a taste test.

Neither of us had ever tasted hickory syrup before and we were a little skeptical. According to the label, hickory syrup is not tapped as maple syrup is. Rather, hickory bark is boiled with sugar to produce a syrup consistency. I was hoping that even if it didn't taste all that great as a syrup, we could use it as a marinade for tofu or tempeh or even ham or chicken for the boys.

All that worry was for nought, though, because hickory syrup is smooth and sweet and tangy and delightful. It's sweetness is light, while the hickory taste gives it depth and interest. Best of all, this treat comes with a ecological stamp of approval. If syrup wasn't slow enough drizzling from bottle to plate, this locally-made, small-business-created syrup is slow food at its best. I hope that you too will consider keeping Soaring Hill in business. I know I plan on doing my part.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Inspired by Tolkien

Though it's been on my bookshelf for a few years now, I have only just gotten around to reading John Garth's Tolkien and the Great War, a nonfictional look at JRR Tolkien and how his life in and around the first World War impacted his writing. I bought the book while at a local library booksale. I have to admit to being quite a fan of Tolkien, which includes a fondness for The Lord of the Rings but really, birthed in an avid love of The Hobbit. I first read about Bilbo and company as mandatory summer reading for honors freshman English in high school (because my freshman English teacher--and later, my newspaper advisor--was and always will be the best teacher I ever encountered, which is saying quite a lot due to the amount of good teachers I have been taught by other the years). I loved it so much that when I gave birth to a son six years later, the Hobbit was the first chapter book I ever read to him aloud. He was roughly six months old, rocking in a baby swing on the porch.

This might seem excessive, but alas, extensive reading has been a part of my child's life always. His second grade teacher once commented on how he wished other parents would do whatever I do with my kid to make him so adept at reading and the teacher asked me what that was. I mentioned reading to my son throughout his childhood, mostly my homework from three different English degrees (As a habitual speed reader, I can only read every word of something if I read it out loud). In particular, I noted that I read him the entirety of Dante's Inferno when he was two and maybe it was that... But then again, maybe it was Tolkien.

I later invested in the Hobbit Playstation 2 game for him when he was old enough to play it and shelled out the dough to take him to the movie in the theaters. The Lord of the Rings has nothing on the Hobbit. Not in my blog, but I digress.

I have to say, a lot of nonfiction, especially that which is biographical in nature, I just find boring and tedious, but Tolkien and the Great War was rather engaging and its points were well-informed and well-thought-out. That Tolkien should be influenced by the war in which he participated is inevitable. However, it's not the sort of theory that one often hears about Tolkien, partly, I assume, because he is considered a writer of genre ficiton. After all, none dispute the ways in which Hemingway was influenced by war.

War aside, I'm gaining a lot of insight into the life of Tolkien. Pre-20th century writers, particularly British writers, always seem to have their hands in a lot of pots. They study at university when just out of the tweener age (not that tweeners existed back then, but I digress). They know several languages, gain military prowess, travel extensively, and develop early excellence in several subject areas that often relate very little to English. If they were men anyway. Even the women, though, accomplished quite a bit in their proper "sphere:" drawing, writing, calligraphy, clothing design, needlework, gardening, baking, cooking, child care, nursing, and social grace, as well as learning to play a mean pianoforte.

However, writers beyond a certain date in history start to lose this universal knowledge gain (possibly because lower classes began to develop writerly careers and they had no time to devote to expansive, extraneous learning or trips to India). As a general rule, I have found this to be true and so, when a professor expounded on the many talents of Emerson or Pope while I was in school, I took heart in the fact that nobody does that sort of thing in modernism and post-modernism (barring T.S. Eliot's intelligence-touting poetry, which we can all agree was just him being intentionally obtuse) and I didn't need to worry if I never scuba-dived in the Bermuda Triangle, discovered an error in the Theory of Relativity, or became fluent in Japanese.

Not so anymore. Tolkien, a penniless orphan boy raised into adulthood by a clergiman, studied the Classics and philology and began learning the Finnish and Gothic languages in high school. By the end of college, he was already inventing, with proper sound-shift laws, what would become the languages of Middle Earth, not to mention risking life and limb for his country directly upon graduating. Sure, he did this a century ago now, but it still inspires me to learn Gaelic in my free time (rather, my imagined free time) or at least, a few new songs for my acoustic guitar.

I feel inspired to stop lazing about and accomplish something. I want to take a ballet class. I want to enroll in computer programming. I want to write. (This, of course, is the positive side of reading this book, the negative being that nawing feeling of guilt every time I sit down for an hour of Agatha Christie's Poirot on Netflix.)

Overall, it's been an interesting read. I've already gotten this much out of it and I'm only on chapter five.