June 29, 2012

learning curve

So far with my spinning, I've only worked with prepared roving, which isn't I think, the actual real name for it but it seems to be what people call it. Long ropes of fiber all combed into the same general direction. It makes it easy for a newb like me to make relativly smooth yarn from the get go.

But in my quest to learn to be a good spinner, hopefully one day a really good spinner, I've been experimenting with combing out fibers and spinning from little bundles called rolags. Which sounds like an odd name until you see them, and then you realize, yep, that's what they are. They couldn't really be called anything else.
I've been very lucky to receive some washed and dyed fiber from my dear friend Carol in New York and a huge kilogram bag of undyed wool that my parents brought back from a recent trip to Slovenia (sigh, I'm so jealous. Castles built into caves! Churches perched on little islands!) So I'm swimming in fiber that needs a little prep before spinning. Now I just need to get good at that prep. Because someday, someday I'm hoping that I'll be carding from my own little flock (but don't tell Will I said that, because I've only just convinced him that we need chickens AND bees and am almost there with the idea of meat birds in addition to the egg layers. Springing sheep or goats on him my push him overboard!)

Curiously, learning to prep has been harder for me than learning to spin, but I'm keeping at it. One little rolag at a time, one bunch of fiber. Because I'm just getting started and didn't want to invest big money in good hand carders, I'm using a pair of large dog brushes with a similar style of bristle. Really the only difference is the size it seems, which means that my rolags are wee little things where proper ones are much bigger. But it's working for now.

Carding wool is really very relaxing. Brush. Brush. Brush. Transfer. Brush. Brush. Brush. Transfer and roll. More than once I've found my self at the end of an evening with a small heap of little rolags scattered on the couch beside me (and no knitting or spinning done) But to be honest, I'm really not sure if I'm doing it right. So far I haven't found any other spinners around, at some point I'll take a trip down to Green Mountain Spinnery and pepper them with questions, but for now I'm plodding along on my own (although accompanied always by youtube and its endless tutorials.

Eventually, I'll get it. Like spinning, one day it will click and I'll know how to tell if the wool is combed enough, how to make it smooth and evenly rolled, how to move through larger amounts in a sitting. Because even an evening's worth of rolags doesn't go far once my wheel gets whirling.

It's a learning curve, and I have to say I'm enjoying the slowness of it. I'm happy to sit and comb and card and roll and eventually spin. Who needs meditation or yoga when you can relax to the spinning wheel going round and round?

Anyone out there with carding advice?

June 28, 2012


I can't quite get over the fact of Vermont. It sounds silly, but even a month in, I'm still in a little amazed every day that we get to live here. I feel spoiled. And very lucky.

Driving has never been my favorite thing, but having my daily route take me along a river and into a village to drop the kids at camp and then up to the top of the mountain for a workout before heading home through the woods, all in the space of a few short miles, makes it a pretty pleasant thing to do. This morning the moutain was wrapped in low hanging clouds and I had to force myself to keep my eyes on the road instead of the view.

I'm sure there will be days when the smallness of the place grates or the months of snow get old. And I'm still learning to slow down, to realize that sometimes, when a storm knocks out the power for the night and the internet for the next day, well, you just curl up with a book and chill. Because eventually, everything will be working again. Although- note to self-spinning by the light of ones ereader does not smooth yarn make. And it's nice to have the people at the post office know your name, and to see everyone stop patiently on the highway while a heard of ducks ambles s-l-o-w-l-y across, and to have folks already notice that your boy-o is an excellent big brother. Ever watchful. So I think those little niggles, well, they'll be well worth it.

But I've been feeling a little self-concious about my Vermont-love, not wanting to seem like such a newbie with my enthusiem (or worse, a tourist, you remember how much I hate to play the tourist). It's hard not to start every conversation with "Holy cow is it beautiful!" Becuause surely, surely, folks here are used to living in the middle of all this outrageous georgousness.  So when, yesterday during camp drop off, I heard one mother say to another "Wow, is it beautiful. We live in Paridise, you know? We really do."

We really do.

I felt immensely glad that I'm not the only dweeb that cant seem to get past that.

June 26, 2012

granola bars at last

I can't tell you how many recipes for homemade granola bars I've tried over the past decade. Peanut butter granola bars, chocolate granola bars, healthy granola bars, unhealthy granola bars. We have a serious love of granola bars in our house. They, along with frozen yogurt tubes and popcorn, are my go-to snacks. And of the three, the bars top the list since we are always a-going, and they are the perfect last-minute-throw-them-in-the-bag snack for my constantly hungry children. Unfortunately most of my attempts have ended in one of two ways. Either they are totally inedible, or they are good tasting yet crumble to pieces. Part of the reason I always seem to have a canister of granola floating around. It often starts out it's life trying to be bars only to be crumbled into a jar and tossed on yogurt. (Which isn't a bad thing, of course, but still..)

You'd think I would have given up by now. Really, how hard is it to just buy the silly things. But I have a strange addiction to making things for myself (ricotta anyone?) and so I persist. And finally, finally, I've found a recipe that actually works. Yay!

This started out it's life as "The Sweet Bar" from Homemade Pantry and it's seriously good as it is, but on my second go round I made a few tweaks per the suggestions of Briton (where are the raisins? can they be thicker?) and ended up with a good, solid (not particularly healthy but not horrible) yummy granola bar.

Maple Syrup Granola Bars

1 stick of butter
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
2/3 cup maple syrup (or equal amounts of honey and syrup, I've done that one as well)
1 1/2 cup rolled oats
1 1/2 cup puffed rice cereal
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup raisins or chopped hazelnuts (or both)

In a pot (or microwavable bowl if you want to use the microwave) melt the butter in with the sugar and syrup (and honey if you are using it)

Stir in the oats, salt and dried fruit and mix then add the puffed rice, 1/2 cup at a time, until you have a nice sticky but slightly spreadable mixture. You don't want it runny, but it shouldn't be a solid mass either.

Press into a baking sheet lined with parchment and bake at 350 for 15 minutes or until the edges are just barely starting to darken. Remove from the oven and allow it to cool all the way before cutting. I like making 1 inch by 4 inch bars, but squares work too. Whatever floats your boat. We have been keeping these in a lidded Corning-ware pot between sheets of parchment (reused from baking them) and then put what we need for the day in a baggie.

Do you have a granola bar recipe that really, truly works? I'd love to have more recipes for variety.

June 21, 2012

spinning and knitting and spinning

Oh how I love my spinning wheel. I knew I would. Somehow, for some reason, I knew that this particular wheel and I would be perfect for each other. I can spend hours spinning. I do spend hours spinning. I keep looking up at the clock in the evenings and realizing that it's past midnight. Once or twice it might even have been past one in the morning. I can't help myself. Of course that basket of beautiful braids of wool sitting next to me, begging to be spun up into yarn, doesn't help.

At some point I'd like to learn to dye fiber in bright, varied colors like these. It's an art, as I've realized after a few somewhat bland attempts at it. I'm hoping to find myself at Yarn School in the fall. Partly because I can't get enough of Hello Yarn fiber, her waiting list is closed it's so long, and so the prospect of a big old bag of it as part of the weekend sends my head spinning. But also because learning to dye fiber well sounds like an excellent way to fuel my addiction. Plus, it's not too far from my parent's house. A win win.

Knitting is still happening as well. In the car, on the deck, at the creek. It's become my on the go hobby so that the evenings can be taken up with spinning. When I started this shawl I had no idea we'd be moving somewhere where I could actually use it right away. I imagined that either a) I'd pack it away for the fall once I'd finished it or b) all this moving would mean it wouldn't get finished until it was fall. But in the end it came together quickly and is perfect for the cool evenings here. The pattern was easy to remember which meant I could just knit away with out checking or even much counting. Probably one of my favorite knits to date. I'm about to embark on a similar shawl by the same designer in fact.
 Also on the needles now is a winter hat for Briton made from the last batch of spindle spun yarn I made. I actually only spun up half of this on the spindle and the other half is in progress on the wheel. In theory the rest will go into mittens for him to match. or maybe it will end up as a strip on his winter sweater. I have high hopes of spinning enough yarn this summer to knit both kids their solstice sweaters this year. We shall see.

June 20, 2012

birthday picnic

Yesterday, in the middle of the day, we packed up plates and candles and one very carefully held sharp knife and headed out for a little birthday picnic. Will's birthday falls exactly one week after Evie's and is generally just a day or two after, if not on, Father's day and I feel like it sometimes gets a little but of a short shrift. He doesn't want a party and says he doesn't need a cake. His gifts get smooshed together with Father's Day gifts and if the day doesn't happen to fall on Father's Day he's usually working (personally I think that no one should have to go to work on their birthday. It should be a law). This year he's already busy with a new project at his new job but happily, was working at home, hence the middle of the day picnic. I hadn't actually planned on a mid day cake feast. But when the birthday boy comes up at two for a break and asks "When is it time for cake?" It's time for cake!

Living in a furnished vacation rental has it's ups and downs. On the plus side there is an electric griddle, which I've never had and which has now become indispensable to me. And we have cable here, enabling my new addiciton for Cajun Pawn Stars and American Pickers. There was a limit the the number of toys we could bring for the kids which is a positive in that they play hard with what they have, and there's less to pick up. On the negative side I'm hearing a lot of "I wish we had (fill in random toy) out of storage!" I can sympathise. The kitchen here is a little oddly stocked. You can tell it's someones second home. Lots of mismatched plates and bowls, plenty of forks and microwavable cups. No rolling pin. No mixing bowls other than a ginormous popcorn bowl and two small salad bowls. It makes baking a little bit of an adventure. I keep overfilling the salad bowls with batter that then has to be mixed v-e-r-y slowly so it doesn't slop over the edge. But we're making do. Last night I used a beer glass to roll out homemade tortillas for quesadillas. Whatever it takes.

Will's cake, other than the requisite overflowing salad bowl o'batter, went off without a hitch. Since we only just finished Evelyn's Neapolitan confection, we needed something  a little less rich this time so I pulled out my trusty yogurt cake recipe, filled it with jam and topped it with whipped cream. Delicious. I remember reading once that every girl should have a good cake recipe and this one is mine. I think the whipped cream frosting is the best topping I've made for it. I'm already planning another like it for my birthday later this summer. (Briton, on the other hand, has requested a bright green cake in the shape of a ninja head with little LEGO ninjas fighting on top. Here comes the food coloring!)

So we sat in the grass and watched the dog watch the cake and ate cake and ran around, swatting away midges and flying ants.  By the time we went back into the house half the cake was gone.

A sure sign of a good time.

June 19, 2012


We are inundated with butterflies and moths here. I've never seen anything quite like it. I'm not sure if it's Vermont, or our little cluster of cottages in particular, but they are everywhere.

Each morning we walk out to find giant, bright green or pale grey or deep brown moths resting on the woodpile or the deck. Slowly flapping their wings, crawling onto our fingers, their long beards tickling our palms.

Walking down the road, or driving away in the car, sends up a wave of blue and black and white butterflies who rest on the gravel, sunning themselves. Graceful yellow and black butterflies swoop around, tiny white moths flutter against screens.

The kids find lost wings and dying butterflies in the grass and move them to trees or flowers or bury them by the little stream. They run around with their net trying to catch the healthy ones. It['s like watching a swarm of bees sometimes, there are so many, except the butterflies are slower, and they bob and dart to avoid the net.

Our butterfly book is in storage, so we have plans to look for one at the library when we go later this week so that we can identify our flying neighbors. After all, when you're new, you have to get to know the neighbors, right?

June 15, 2012


She is six.

All of a sudden, her legs are so long, she is so tall, it seems impossible. She belts out Journey songs in her bedroom when she thinks we aren't listening and wants to be "on the STAGE!" She reads and reads and reads. And chooses as many patterns as possible when picking out an outfit. Because who doesn't think strips go with plaid and polka dots?
She is so big.

So big.

Her cake request was vanilla, with chocolate AND strawberry frosting, with jelly beans of course. And she wanted to frost it herself (except with my help too)  I'm not sure when she discovered Neapolitan, or if she knew that pink white and brown was a thing at all, maybe it just sprung up in her head in a six year old brainwave.

So big.

But, thank goodness, not to big for snuggles, of which we've been getting a lot lately. And not to big to sneak into our bed at night, or to still want her doll of the moment to eat at the table with us or to be buckled in the car next to her seat.

Not too big. But still, when did she get so big?

June 11, 2012

to the lake

Somehow, in the space of a week, I have gone from the kind of person who always has the necessities of a day in the city in her bag (bandaids, waterbottle, google map app, subway coloring book) to the kind of person who is always ready to go fishing. The poles live in the back of our car, the bait is in the fridge, but if we are already out, we know all the places where a little tub of worms can be picked up in a pinch. There are towels back there too, along with a bottle of water for drinking and another for catching tadpoles or minnows, and knitting, naturally, in my bag.

And so, in between meetings with mortgage brokers and real estate agents, looking at houses, visiting schools and new jobs, we pop out to the lake to run around, to wade in the shallows, to knit on the banks and to fish.

Briton, who has a hard time focusing on much for more than a few minutes, can fish for hours and hours  (and hours) and Evelyn, who will fish off and on, will putter around in the grass picking flowers or stand nose to the water watching the pond life for as long as her brother will fish.

Despite the fact that we are still busy getting settled, it is a slow kind of business, to mirror the slow kind of pace here. And that means long afternoons that stretch into the evenings doing nothing but watching the bobber bob, waiting for the beaver to troll across the pond and slap his tail at the canoers and chase tadpoles from one shady spot to another.

June 8, 2012

the other portland

Yesterday, we took off for on a slightly mad, 8-hour round trip to Maine, all in the name of wool. Ok, not just wool. Wool and lobster rolls and ocean cravings and the need for a few more cool summer duds since I underpacked for the weather here. But it started with wool.

The day that we found out we were moving to Vermont, a used spinning wheel just like the one I  had been wanting came up for sale in Portland Maine. It seemed like fate because, while Maine isn't exactly a short jog down the road, it's close enough, and the only wheel anywhere near that had been listed since I started looking. It's been waiting for me patiently while we panicked and packed and moved and unpacked and finally, finally (two weeks can feel like a long time when you really really want your spinning wheel) yesterday we picked her up.

We could have met the seller halfway between here and there, which would have made the day a whole lot shorter, but Will and I have been wanting to see the other Portland, so it was a good excuse for a mini-trip. Plus, as I mentioned before, we were in need of several non-shorts and short sleeve shirt kid duds. And some birthday gifts for a certain little girl who turns 6 next week. But I'm not quite ready to wrap my head around that one.

Portland, not my Portland but this Portland, is a pretty city. We drove through blocks of beautiful old houses, some of them enormous, sprawling mansions that perhaps, once upon a time, were owned by sea captains and shipping magnates. The downtown slopes toward the seaport, which still looks like a seaport (because it still is). We sat on a dock and ate our first lobster roll and watched the seagulls and the boats and decided that, while the bisque was good and the roll was delicious, Briton's fried shrimp basket was amazing. We might have all "shared" them with him.

For some reason I expected Portland to look like Portland, but it doesn't really. It reminded me more of Savannah mixed with Seattle with a little Ashland thrown into the mix.

We drove out to the Portland Head Light and watched the ocean roll in and out. Lighthouses are one of my favorite things in the world. I secretly want to retire to a lighthouse keepers cottage one day. Ok, maybe it's not that secret. After all, Will did ask me to marry him at a lighthouse. I can't resist visiting them if I'm anywhere near one, even if I've been a million times before (hello Heceta Head!) and then, when we'd had our fill of salty air, we did our shopping and drove home. It was a long day. But worth it to see the ocean from up here, to explore a new town and to wake up this morning with this sweet little lady in my living room.

Three guesses what I'll be doing this weekend!