Conquering Shyness

Picture of fiber from Happy Fuzzy Yarn

I was terribly shy as a child.  When we moved into a new school district in second grade, I was nearly friendless for two years because I was too frightened to approach other children and ask to join their play.

In fact, I first learned to knit from my second grade teacher because she would allow us to stay inside at recess if we wanted to knit with her.  Knitting was better than being cold and lonely!

Somewhere out there in the world — in a thrift store or garbage dump or maybe even lost in my parents’ house — is an unfinished garter stitch burgundy acrylic scarf.

The shyness persisted throughout school, including college.  That was about the time I began to purposefully push through.  It helped to realize that other people have the same fears and it wasn’t just me.  I also remind myself that talking to people I don’t know isn’t dangerous.  Sounds weird, but if you are shy also then you know what I mean.

Here I am, in my thirties, and I don’t think people would describe me as shy.  Sometimes reserved perhaps, but I no longer hesitate to go up and talk to someone when I want to.  It’s very freeing!  I still have my moments, but what a difference it has made in my life to not be ruled by those fears.

Which brings me to the Ann Arbor Fiber Expo this past weekend.  I was working the Happy Fuzzy Yarn booth, but I also made a point to circuit the barns and talk to many vendors.  I had to consciously approach people, but it wasn’t as hard as it used to be because the interactions are often rewarding, amusing, informative, and community-building.  Only one or two people blew me off, and I left those booths quickly.  I don’t even remember who they were.

I really love talking to farmers and shepherds in particular and am starting to see familiar faces after working at shows around the region for the past year.  Now that I think about it, it’s going to be months–long, cold, snowy months!–before there’s another show around here.  Good thing I stocked up on pretty things to get me through the quiet season.

I totally have a palette.  There is no shame in my game!

Top row: Fiberstory FAVE sock in “Milo”; BFL/Silk from Cross Wind Farm; Superwash Sport “Aquatic” from Happy Fuzzy Yarn.

Middle row: DK Merino in “Verdigris,” “Shadow,” and “Granny Smith” from Happy Fuzzy Yarn; Polwarth “Nessie” (darker braid) and Superfine Merino “Blue Lagoon” from Happy Fuzzy Yarn; 3ply worsted black alpaca from Amiable Alpacas.

Bottom row: Silky Meri in “Deep Blue Green” from Studio June Yarn; Arial Evolution in “Dusk” from Twisted Fiber Art; and Boyne (BFL) in “Castiel” from CJKoho Designs — plus a spinner’s merit badge!

I have specific plans for four of these purchases.  The others I bought as part of my effort to try out the products of local fiber artists.  So I just went with something that called to me and I’ll figure out what to do with it eventually.  Dangerous words, I know.

The only question is: where to start?

 

Seed starting, maple sugaring, and hope for the end of the season of slush

We tapped out maple tree a week ago.

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It cost us $4 for the tap; the jar and spare wire were found around the house.  Talk about Yankee frugality!  I have done a bit of reading and talked to people who do this more seriously and I know my one little tap is not going to give me much, no matter how much sap this tree pumps out.  In the first four days we collected about 2 gallons, boiled it down to 1/2 quart of complexly flavored, delicious sweet water — it needs to be cooked down further but I have to collect more sap first.  Since Thursday, I’ve collected another 2+ gallons and it’s time for another boil.  It took some 10 hours of hard boiling last time, oy.  If you’ve ever been to a real, outdoor maple syrup-making event, you know how very small scale my venture is.  Nonetheless, we are having fun!

We are considering a second or third tap.  An experienced maple sugarer assures me that more taps is fine and the sugaring season in Michigan will last for at least another month (nights below freezing, days above freezing).

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I’ll share more of what I’ve learned as we progress with the collection and boiling over the next month.  My best source of info — enough to get going and not so much that you’ll be stalled — comes from this University of Maine agricultural extension pamphlet.

While I am new to maple sugaring, I am old hand at seed starting.  This is my favorite part of gardening and a great relief from winter!

I began by disinfecting all my pots and trays in bleach water solution in the bath tub (I decided against sharing that grotesque picture!).  I didn’t measure anything – just filled the tub with enough hot water to submerge the trays and dumped in a large glug of bleach (1 cup or less), swirled the bleach into the water and made sure it didn’t have that slimy feeling you get with too much bleach and let the dunking begin.  I did not clean the containers, mind you, just disinfected them.  I have a large collection of pots and trays and — life’s too short.  Mind you, this is the first time in all my years of gardening that I have bothered with disinfecting and that’s because I got these supplies from another gardener.  I’ve never had fungal problems with my seed starting so I never feel the need to disinfect.

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Air dry is best when disinfecting, but I rinsed my first set so I could get going right away.  The kids and I filled the first tray of 18 pots with a commercial soil-less seed starting mixture that we had around the house from some other project.

We planted — about 4 seeds per 3″ pot:

  • Tomatillos (2012) — they are rather carefree in form and easy easy easy; we are going to roast them and make salsa
  • Black Plum tomatoes (2010) — black tomatoes have a nice smokey flavor
  • Oxheart Pink tomatoes (2010) — I am searching for an elusive orange oxheart I grew many years ago and this was the closest I could find last time I ordered online
  • Tiger-like tomatoes (2009) — the earliest maturing variety I’ve ever grown, and they’re cute
  • San Marzano Lampadina plum tomato (2010) — The year I had a newborn and every other gardener got late blight on their tomatoes, these plants pumped out tomatoes under some serious neglect
  • Nicholson’s Yellow Cherry (2007) — The only cherry tomato in my stash, but I also prefer yellow tomatoes for their lower acid content
  • Ground cherry (2009) — a garden curiosity!  The grow in a husk like a tomatillo and taste a bit like pineapple.  They also like to wander all over the garden so I am replanting them this year.  My mother-in-law, who comes from farming stock, told me that this old-fashioned fruit will flourish in a wild patch once it finds the right spot; and that it makes great pie.
  • mini sweet peppers (2012) — seed saving adventure from the grocery store.  I struggle to get sweet peppers to set fruit and to have those fruit mature so I hope a mini variety will help make those problems easier.  And the kids love sweet peppers (and hate tomatoes).
  • Early Jalapeno (2007) — I find hot peppers easier to grow than sweet peppers.  And jalepenos are a crucial ingredient in my homemade refried black beans.
  • Ancho hot pepper (2010) — It’s not always easy to find a good variety of hot peppers where I live so why not grow my own and preserve them!
  • Cayenne pepper (2010) — They’re beautiful and useful in sparing amounts
  • Garden sage (2008) — I need more of this good stuff to tuck around the vegetable garden.  It attracts pollinators and repels pests.
  • Hyssop (2007) — Attracts bees and butterflies
  • Cumin (2008) — I love this spice and cannot resist trying to grow it, again!

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Yes I am using “old” seed and yes, I plant sparingly.  It works for me.  If germination rates are too low to be useful, I will know in the next 10 days and can replant with new seed, skip it for this year, or buy a plant at the nursery.  I know the paper towel germination check trick, but I cannot be bothered to do it because I have SO MANY packages of seeds.  How many, you’re wondering?  My spreadsheet shows around 230.  Some are being tossed today as things I refuse to ever grow again (shasta daisy, wormwood), or failed experiments (gerber daisy), or used up (Nicholson’s Yellow Cherry).  I hope to whittle this number down significantly this year and have many new plants growing in the garden instead.

Today is the new moon and we are trying out some biodynamic gardening methods this year.  The new moon is a good time to plant seeds because it promotes root growth (think tidal pulls, not magic).  Although Jeavons’s tome, How to Grow More Vegetables… is a great source of biodynamic gardening information, for an easy beginning I recommend the seed starting tool at Almanac.com, which gives best planting dates for several popular vegetables, including moon-favorable dates.  That link is set to Detroit, MI; put in your city or zip code to get the dates for your part of the US (sorry Canada!  And everybody else in the world!) .

Once my seeds are planted, they go on a wire shelf in front of the south-east facing window in my dining room.  It is the perfect plant nursery.  Plenty of sunlight and warmth and air movement (I do use domes until seedlings emerge to make them a littler warmer and moister) without the expense of grow lights or heat mats.  Yes, it makes my husband a little crazy to have this in my dining room but not so much that he wants to invest in a mini greenhouse.  Yet.

How are you breaking out of winter’s doldrums?  Having any dreams of green things?

Two sweaters…in time for summer!

Needle blocking and lace scarf gifting aside, the needles have not been quiet these past two months.  I also finished my Ribby Cardi, once an Olympic contender but we failed our qualifying round, took our time recouperating and in the end emerged victorious because I still only took two months to finished this adult sized garment and that is a personal best.

It is finished–not counting the fact that it needs the zipper installed and some grosgrain ribbon facing to tidy up the inside.  Sadly the zippers I ordered did not match at all and, given the hot weather, I’ve just chucked the whole thing into a basket.  I’ll be motivated to do the finishing work as soon as it gets cool.

I also made an Owlet for E.B.  What a wonderfully quick knit and the wool I got for it was more marvelous than I realized at the check out counter: Shepherd’s Wool by Stonehenge Fiber Mill (local for me, to boot!).  It is squishy, non-splitty, has good stitch definition, and feels great in the hand.  One word sums it up: delicious.  At $10 for a 250 yard skein of aran-weight deliciousness–well, I am looking forward to making a sweater for me!

Sadly, E.B.’s Owlet is in time out next to the Ribby Cardi.  I made the 18-24 month size with additional body length of 1 to 1.5 inches because this is normally what would fit my daughter this winter given the size she’s wearing now.  But no.  This pattern either runs small or my gauge is off (or both!) because the pullover fits her perfectly NOW.  Le sigh.  Thus I have not sewn up the underarms or put eyes on owls. We’ll see how it fits in September at which point I can rip and reknit this in a week.  For now, I need some emotional distance from this disappointing result.

The silver lining: the size I did knit, which was at the larger end of the baby sizing, took just over one skein of Shepherd’s Wool – and remember, I added length to the body.  You could totally make a delicious baby sweater for $10, just sayin’.  No acrylic trees will be harmed in the knitting of that sweater, either.

Expo-sing

Jenny, Chloe, and I went to the 4th annual Ann Arbor Fiber Expo this past Sunday.  My first time out there despite it being but a short jaunt to the other side of our fair but wee city.  Past attempts have been foiled by family plans and the like but this year I was all selfishness.

What’s a good fiber festival without running into friends? We had the pleasure of seeing Charlotte (girlfriend, why don’t you have a blog yet?) and her husband.  While we chit-chatted, we were standing right next to the most enormous angora bunny I have ever seen.  Full disclosure: I have not seen a lot of angora bunnies.  But this guy was larger than a Jack Russell terrier!  We all commented on the largeness and how it was probably mostly hair but I am hear to tell you – especially you, Charlotte! – Jenny and I saw the bunny on our way out a few hours later and it had been shaved.  It was still a VERY big bunny.  I think more to the Thanksgiving end of the scale rather than the Sunday family dinner end.  Not that I want to eat rabbit.  Anyway.

I got some things.  More than I planned but by no means a crazy splurge.  As is only right and proper, first was a gift for my husband. All I can tell you, since he does lurk here sometimes, is that it came from an animal and will keep him very warm.  Hopefully that isn’t much of a clue at all since I was at a FIBER festival, shah.

Second was a delightful felted pumpkin from Wooly Pett’s Creations (no website, sorry and my picture is total crap but do you like our scaaaary dinosaur-themed mantel decor?  Guess who though of that).  I could go in for a whole army of these pumpkins, seriously.  Roxanne Pett’s fibery goodies were fantastic and by no means limited to needlefelting.  She is very talented and industrious.  I look forward to seeing Wooly Pett’s Creations again at the Spinner’s Flock Fleece Fair in Chelsea every February and September.  (The magenta price labels were a dead giveaway!)

Moving on, there was some awesome licorice twist yarn – how to describe it?  Handpainted in gently shifting hues of blue and purple (some skeins also had green) but the yarn had a dark wrapping strand so it had an overall light-dark spiral going on.  Why was this suddenly so beautiful to me?  I don’t know.  I don’t generally like the mash of strong contrasts like seen in a marl.  This website has an example of what I am talking about in general although it is not the same vendor.  I missed who that was.  Jenny might now because she did not resist, good patron that she is!

Next piece sans resistance was Studio June Yarn (website coming soon, they say).  Their colors were so saturated and delicious. Jenny and I were both taken with the Bamboo La La yarn and bought some.  I was originally thinking Clapotis for this plummy delight but I have another idea for that pattern thanks to the new Webs catalog.  The Studio June ladies, both mad scientists, were fun to talk to.  They also had Fleece Maiden! I have never seen Fleece Maiden in person, so wow!  I know who I am calling when I am ready for that Fleece Maiden fix.

Finally, my moment of crazy was had over a booth that specialized in punch needle embroidery and rug hooking.  The small pieces (not rugs despite the words on the package) were so completely freakin’ cute, it made my fingers itch to not make one or a dozen!  This booth was near the entrance so I had the entire expo to hem and haw.  Jenny not so gently pushed me over the edge as we were readying to leave.  Now I have a NEW HOBBY.  Bwahahaha!

I have yet to start, though.  Sadness!  If you spend time with children under the age of 5, you have probably had a moment or two of terror that their bodies could come to harm by way of your knitting tools.  Imagine that, plus a pencil-sized punch needle.  Oy.

Also, it might not be fair to my long suffering husband if I start an absorbing new project with his birthday sweater, the Urban Aran Cardigan, finally in the sewing up stage.  Sewing is not my strength or interest but I am by no means incapable.  More on this later.

Nevermind that my holiday-themed punch needle piece will likely not be done for Halloween this year.  Because the boy-child is ill and if it is the flu and just starting today, he might not be well enough for Halloween.  Sob!  Cross your fingers and toes for my little dinosaur.

Yarnivore, local edition

The greening of the yarn industry continues apace.  Spied over at the Knitter’s Review newsletter this week was a piece about Yarn CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture; scroll down to Socially Conscious Stashing).  Clara specifically mentions one such CSA operating in Michigan, Videnovich Farms.  Here’s their Etsy shop with yarn shares for sale – natural and plant-dyed (cosmos), how cool.  While the notion of a yarn CSA is intriguing, like sock clubs I cannot afford it without saving up.  Also, I would prefer to be able buy some samples first.

This is all good reason to attend one’s local fiber festival.  For me, it’s the Michigan Fiber Festival (you must click that link!  There’s a hilarious photo on the main page), about 2 to 2.5 hours away in Allegan, MI at the Allegan County Fairgrounds.  $5 to get in but bring a packed lunch–food offerings were glaringly lean.

Last year, Jenny and I made the trek and with my saved up cash, I eeked out two special purchases.  First was a GIANT hank of gorgeous mohair from Mohair in Motion of White Cloud, MI. Betty, the proprietor, dyes it all herself and she and her husband were helpful, delightful people.  Even more exciting was the alpaca blended sock yarn from Oak Meadow Alpaca Farm (Walkerton, IN) which comes in natural colors – I got a brown and a black, both skeins big enough to each knit a pair of socks.  Nancy, the proprietor, had the fiber milled as an experiment so I hope other people are as excited as I am about this and we will see it again next year.  I haven’t knit up either yet, such is life, but have ideas for both this winter, especially the alpaca.  I will have to take some pictures this weekend so we can all drool in technicolor.