Thursday, June 26, 2008

new roads

caption: The road down from my parents' vacation place. Explanation: The road is so steep that they named it "Virage." A virage, in French, is a sharp, U-bend in a road. Usually there are signs on mountains that warn of "virage" so you know to drive more slowly--those hairpin turns are the way you make it up a steep hill without going up an impossible grade.
When my parents built their vacation home, the electric company had to come up the hill and put down new poles and string wire to get them electricity. That's the kind of forging ahead that I feel as though I've been doing this week. Good progress, hard work, and somewhat uncharted....
Two dogs have now been bathed as a result of the compost adventure. I've also turned the stuff, watered it, and done everything possible to lessen its odor and keep it from being tempting. I've also dealt with a dead half-snake (a dog killed this, gosh knows where the other half was) and a variety of dog stomach ailments from their compost mistakes. The professor has apologized, long distance, several times, and I know it was a mistake. I promise, I'm not angry. Just tired of the grossness of this experience!
Other excitement has included two visits from my favorite air conditioning fix-it guys, who had to rewire the air conditioning connection and put in a new attic fan. Of course, since it is so hot here in the summer, they had to be in the attic by 8 I got up, to fight the compost battles with the dogs, by 6.
Now, I've been plenty busy with work and I haven't minded the time to myself. I really like being on my own sometimes. I'm not unhappy. That said, by yesterday evening I was rattling around. I'd spent the day inside since it was so hot. I felt the need for a walk. I hoped to, you know, see a person or two, have a conversation, and make sure I was still part of society. I'd walked about a mile or so with the dogs when I finally bumped into one of the professor's colleagues. We had a nice talk, during which I found out that there was a baby shower for somebody in their department happening at that moment, and no, I wasn't even invited. Never mind that baby showers are hard for me sometimes...what stung was not even being included.
I didn't meet anyone else on the walk, and by the time I got home, I was happy to retreat again with my knitting-perhaps the benefits of local society are overrated? The professor and I are off to visit Winnipeg in a few days, and I'm looking forward to it. (For the geographically challenged, Winnipeg is in Manitoba. Manitoba is in Canada. Think North Dakota, and drive north from there...) We're still exploring the options for where we might move. When, I don't know, if and where is still in limbo, too. I do know that 5 years is long enough to try hard someplace. If I'm still wandering around looking for a conversation after this long? It may be time to find a new road. I'm willing to handle some switchbacks and to take a long walk or two, honest, but I hope I find that new journey soon.
Now, back to my knitting...

Monday, June 23, 2008

the downside of gardening

PS: This is what you get for glorifying gardening to the extreme. (read earlier post first if you haven't already...)

Yesterday, the professor spread compost on the garden from our compost pile. It was, you know, mostly degraded. Actually, no, it still stunk. It was apparently "nitrogen rich" and good "anaerobic activity" and a lot of other scientist mumblety-jumble that I ignored. I worried about whether it would kill the new tomato plants, since it was pretty strong. No, the professor said, it was fine...and the smell would diminish in a few days, it would break down in the sun. All was good, he said, and he went off to pack for a conference and field trip to Mississippi this week. ASIDE: folks think that professors take summers off. NOT. My professor spends most of his summer doing field research, conferences, and helping students with summer research. It's very busy here! I even fit in some writing and designing!

So, Harry the dog loves him some stinky stuff. As a puppy, he rolled in things a few times...and got the requisite bath outside with the hose as punishment. (he's not a fan of water.) Guess who decided to get into that compost in the garden? YUCKO.

First, I just thought it was his paws, and I cleaned those off. Then, we had a series of small disasters. The professor took his computer to the back porch, sat on the wooden bench, and proceeded to do something online. Harry went to snack on stinky compost. He also decided that his collar and silky long Setter ears needed compost conditioner, so he somehow applied that new garden formula generously throughout his fur.

The wooden bench on the porch collapsed. The professor said "Help!" but when I rushed over to see what was wrong, all I saw his leg, the computer, and figured he was saying "Hey" to a dog. I didn't even get outside; he didn't say anything else. Apparently the professor managed to get himself out of the entirely broken bench. He and the dogs came inside.

Harry and his fur smelled like a field that's just be manured...and in no way was that attractive indoors. At ten o'clock last night, the professor and I had an important bonding activity with Harry and the outside garden hose. Harry dog got a full body shampoo. His collar was taken to the kitchen sink "cleaners".

The professor said he was sorry that he'd composted the garden right before leaving town. He apologized for it and said he should have realized how tempting it would be to Harry. (ugh.)

Things we've learned from our late night experience?
1) When you're stuck in a collapsed wooden bench, it would be prudent to say "HELP" more than once. You know, just so your partner actually knows you need assistance or something.
2) Sometimes Harry just can't help himself. We'll all be sorry.
3) Sally is really smart. She was clean, sweet smelling, and sleeping in her crate while all this happened.
4) So, yeah, Gardening? Along with every tomato or garlic growing adventure, some compost must happen. It definitely stinks.

Most important? We all still love each other, and most of us smelled good when we finally went to bed!
...Lucky me, at home this week with stinky garden and one dog who definitely can't resist the temptation.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


Sometimes we forget that what's just "every day" to us is special to someone else. Recently, my friend and I had an email correspondence about lemons...Meyer Lemons, in particular, which have a floral scent that is just unmistakable. Lovely like the best kind of perfume, and I'd never known it until I bought an expensive splurge in Nashville, two of these rare lemons. Bits of this chatter may have appeared in blog comments, you might have heard about it. My friend is Alison; she lives in California. She'd emailed me that I should expect something in the mail when I got home. When the mail arrived, it included 10 Meyer Lemons. Two had gone off (no surprise, given the heat and delay I'd forced upon them) but 8 were popped into the refrigerator.
This is what I wrote her on Friday--the lamb roast was for the professor's b-day..:
Hi Alison:
Day #1 with lemons...fresh lemonade and a little squirt on those canned grapeleaves..
Day #2 with lemons...homemade pasta noodles dressed with garlic from our garden and lemon zest sauted in olive oil, bits of smoked salmon and meyer lemon juice. Topped with a bit of grated parmesan cheese. Mmmmh. Good.
Day#3 with lemons.(tonight) roasted locally raised lamb, marinated with lemons, onions, rosemary and garlic. Eggplant salad with banana peppers, seasoned with garlic, lemon, red wine vinegar, pepper and salt.
We are thanking you every night over here! :)

Day #4 was fabulous leftover lamb sandwiches for dinner, with leftover eggplant salad and fresh tomatoes from the farmer's market, so we saved a few lemons for the next couple of days...good thing, too.
Today the professor dug up our radishes and harvested all the radish seed pods. We plan to saute those tonight with a bit of garlic, sesame oil, and ---maybe some lemon? Nothing brightens up summer food the way a little lemon might. I have my big bottle of lemon juice at hand, but it in no way compares to a real lemon!

Last fall, I had a last minute idea. We'd had such a bad drought that practically nothing remained in our garden. However, I bought some seed garlic and get started on another crop. (Garlic needs to overwinter in Kentucky's climate) Today, we pulled this out of the ground. After a few days of drying out this treasure, we'll look forward to many nights of garlic bread, garlicky tomatoes, or pesto filled adventures. Yum. An ordinary thing, garlic...but still it's a wonder to pull your own out of the ground!

One of the best parts of gardening is getting to "pass along" some of one's the lemons were sent to me. Today the professor potted up bits of our enormous lemon balm (great for tea and getting rid of insects, it perfumes the air) and grabbed some onion bulbs from our Egyptian Walking Onion. He passed along these to a neighbor and friend. She owns a great neighborhood cafe, Bread and Bagel. In the back? She's starting an herb garden. She's working to produce her own veggies and herbs for the restaurant, and just as the lemons were passed to me, the onions and lemon balm were passed to her. She too will pass countless green gifts along.

Thank you, Alison, for starting this chain of gifts!

Friday, June 20, 2008

More travel fun

Part of our trip east was for a big family event in New Jersey--the b'nai mitzvah (plural of bar mitzvah) of twins. When the party and hoopla ended, we really enjoyed retreating to the quiet of the Seiff vacation home in West Virginia. Here's the professor, waving from the porch with my parents.

On our (long) drive back to Kentucky, we stopped at Penn Alps in Grantsville, MD. My initial goal had been to buy a rolling pin for ravioli (it stamps out the shapes of the pasta, it's really cool) but the shop had run out of those beautiful handmade pins. (made by an artist in Frostburg, MD.) So, instead, we stopped by Stanton mill for some flour and we met the current miller, John Childers. Gosh, I was so glad we did. John is from Hazard, in rural eastern Kentucky and his family was one of the last in Kentucky to spin yarn and weave traditional coverlets. His family's work is in the Smithsonian, and his coverlets are featured in several museums. We walked over to his house and got the "private" tour. No photos, but wow, John spins on a great wheel and his yarn is impressively even and exquisite. He has a shed out back for his barn loom (string heddles are the only way, he says) and as he sent us on our way, he handed us two boxes of homemade peanut brittle for the road! He's planning a move back to Kentucky to open a new mill in the fall.

I promised an accounting of the yarns I bought at Pocket Meadow Farm, and here it is: two skeins of Panda Cotton, two skeins (blue and red) of Bamboozled yarn and two skeins (white and natural black) of Shetland 2000. It doesn't sound exotic, does it? None of those luscious short run local fiber blends or hand-dyes? Here's why. I am working up ideas for my next book, and I need to use yarns that are readily available. Sadly, if I rely on those precious small lots of handmade yarns, I will do my readers a disservice--they won't be able to buy "exactly" what I used in the design. Since many knitters like to use the exact same yarn and shade, I want that to actually be an option. I encourage innovation and yarn substitution, of course, but availability is an issue, too.

One last photo--isn't this Leicester Longwool from Pocket Meadow Farm just gorgeous? Today is the professor's birthday, and I know he'd want to celebrate it with a big up close and personal encounter like I had with this sheep! If you get a chance, wish the professor a happy birthday, ok?

Psst. He reads the blog. Leave a comment!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Pocket Meadow Farm

I'm at home again...and although much of the adventures from this trip were family related and perhaps not blog-public, I had several fibery experiences to share. (what's a road trip without the yarn shop stops, I ask you?!)

My parents have a vacation place near Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. It's where George Washington came to "take the baths." It is also, luckily, the location of a great new fiber shop. We dropped in to visit Ellen, the owner of Pocket Meadow Farm. We shopped and visited. It was a highlight of our trip!

You know a farm shop is a good place when the chickens are the welcoming committee. Here, one of the chickens is taking a dust bath in a flower pot, which foils Ellen's earnest flower gardening efforts--but offers visitors a really funny show!

Next, I checked out the freshly shorn Leicester Longwool fleeces on the porch. Ahh, a true sign that there was good stuff inside...

Ellen's a graphic artist and it is obvious when you see her shop that she has a great eye for design, color, and style. Her yarn choices are super--more on that in another post, or check out her website if you can't wait! I am especially impressed with the small runs of local fibers and hand-dyed yarns. Call now if you want locally raised Cormo yarn, Alpaca and Merino (beautiful!) yarn, or hand-dyed sock yarns or roving. Scruptious stuff...and there's not a lot of it!

Not a big weaver, spinner, knitter, crocheter, or felter? (What's wrong with you, huh?) Ellen used to do art glass, and has several window sized stained glass pieces for sale. I am dreaming of a home where I can hang one of these in the window, they are just perfect pieces of art, in my opinion.

Just before it rained, we wandered out to meet Pocket Meadow Farm's 4 Leicester Longwool sheep and two Angora Goats. Leicester Longwools are a rare breed, with lovely luster and long locks. These sheep had just been shorn...and they wandered right up to get some pets and attention as we visited with them!

More trip related posts will be coming soon...I'm doing the "first day home" necessities today...Baking bread, answering email, getting Harry and Sally from the kennel, and gosh, I can't wait. It's good to be home.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

650 miles down

...and only 300 miles to go. Ok, I admit it, that author thing on Amazon hasn't gotten old yet. I am still pretty stoked about it! Maybe it will become old hat, but it hasn't yet! To answer some of the blog questions about where I'll be to sign the book....umm, I don't know. Book tours aren't what they used to be. I mean, I will have to pay for mine as publishers don't really cover that anymore for first time authors, and I don't quite know yet how that will turn out in 2009...I imagine gas, airfares, etc. will all just keep going up, too. I'll keep you updated. I promise. I want to see you, in person too, believe me!

Now, yesterday was a long long day of driving, but a highlight was stopping at this soda fountain in Kenova, West Virginia. There is nothing like a chocolate ice cream soda or a handmade shake at 4 in the afternoon to keep your spirits up, especially when driving through rural states like Kentucky and West Virginia. There are towns, sure, but there's a lot of tree, tree, tree, mountain, crick, river, pasture, cow, horse, tree and more trees. At least it's beautiful and green this time of year. There are definitely moments when I'm driving and I think--if-I-don't-see-a-bathroom-soon....I'll I'll? (pull over to the side of the road? Pop?) Luckily, I made it. :)

Since my photo of the Griffith-Feil soda fountain and pharmacy is not so great, I found this blog with superb images to keep you entertained. Now, on to the east coast big cities, where driving is much more traffic-y and there are far fewer rural soda fountains....
Psst: I drove 325 or so miles. I also knit 2/3rds of a hat out of Shokay yak yarn. That was yarn--from yak down. Very fancy stuff! All round good day!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

getting ready

We realized (it snuck up on us) that we're about to leave town. We're going east for a family bar mitzvah and have to get ourselves together. Sally got caught up in the excitement. There was a lot of rushing around. Then we had to organize some things. I hate leaving dirty laundry--so the bed had to be made and random house things had to be tidied. The professor points out that we are making sure that the house will be less cluttered all by itself, but this way, when I lock the door, I don't feel bad about some of the mess I've left behind. (there's plenty of mess still to feel harassed about, believe me!)

Sally organized her toys. Her bed is mostly cleared off, with the squeaky toy dog babies moved around and around my office. It must be almost time to go to the kennel, huh? Yup, Harry and Sally have to go to dog jail, because 900 miles' drive each way in the summer time is not a happy recipe for dogs. I'd wrapped my head all around this "getting ready" stuff. I've been doing a "review" of all the edited chapters of my book, and working lots of weekend hours to finish it in time. It's been a frenzy around here.

I started organizing my traveling "kit" so I can keep designing and knitting on the road...but I'd lost a needle somewhere...and despite an extreme number of needles around here, this kind of thing makes me crazy. I like my matchy matchy sets of needles for trips. (I know, it's weird.) I found it here. Remember this project? I didn't sell the design, so instead I knit for myself. Alas, knitting for myself has to be pushed aside when I've got work knitting to do. I am in love with these vibrant colors. Gosh knows when I'll finish this, or if I'll rip it all out to try something new, but for now...check this out. Ahhh. A furiously flaming scarlet and alarming handspun Cotswold and silk singles. Oh...and with the air conditioning on, it's 85 in my office. (Celsius folk, that would be about 29.5C.) Roughly 95 (35C) outside. Hot, maybe too hot for playing with wool, especially when rushing around.

Then, something stopped me dead in my tracks. I screamed. I yelled for the professor to come right over here RIGHT NOW!! I spend a lot of time preparing myself. I work on the details. I try to get things organized and to be ready. I admit it. No matter how much I try? I'm not quite believing it know what I mean, right?
Yup. (gulp.) This....
"by Joanne Seiff (Author)"
DUDE. I had to just, ummm. Sit down. Right. Away. Whoa. DANG.

(I'll be back in touch in a few hundred miles, OK? When maybe I've calmed down a little.)

Friday, June 06, 2008


OK, it's been pointed out to me that my references to Fahrenheit temperatures are confusing. I cannot always guarantee a celsius translation, but here it goes, with a funny story to match.

About ten or 12 years ago, my youngest brother was still living at home. He had some tropical fish. We had a family friend named Meg who was perhaps 3 at the time. Every time she visited, she rushed into my brother's bedroom to visit those fish. Except for that one last time, when the fish were all, umm, floating at the top of the tank. Then Meg raced out saying, "The MOM-eter's broken, the 'mometer's broken!" Ahh, temperature can make such a difference in our world. Poor fish.

Of course, I have referred to thermometers as "'mometers" ever since. (MOM-eter can be your pronounciation guide...) Meg is now a teenager and would be mortified if she knew I remember this, recount it all the time and think back on it fondly!

Now, a brief tutorial:
I consulted this website as my guide. I should preface this by saying that I think it's totally stupid that the US didn't convert to metric a long time ago. That said, I live my life largely in a non-metric sphere. I find it's like language, though. When I am living and speaking in another language, I just adjust almost automatically. I'd say, "it will be 33C today," just as if I'd say, "Ya-sus" when greeting my Greek friend or "Ah-halan" when saying hey to an Egyptian friend. (Alas, I only really can manage in French and Hebrew, but I've learned a few other words along the way.) So, here's my guide:
-40 Darn Cold in both Fahrenheit and Celsius; also equivalent to the same temperature.
Fahrenheit: Celsius: Commentary
0 -18 Cold. Too cold for shovelling without an asthma attack.
32 0 Winter weather, freezing, just perfect for snow. Good.
70 21 Ideal warm weather. Nice breeze. Hammock. Book.
90 32 Standard summer weather in KY. Humid. Sweaty.
95 35 Humid high for the day, July and August in U.S. South.
100 38 Not at all unusual in Virginia & North Carolina, where I used to live. Darn hot, all work must be done before 10 AM. Drink lots of water and sweet tea.
104 40 Stinkin' hot. Unusual in Kentucky, standard in North Carolina or Virginia. At this temperature, the asphalt feels squishy and one prays for a thundershower so the temperature will break to, say, 85. No kidding.

Hope this is helpful for my Celsius-inclined readers! We're aiming for a 35 degree (Celsius) day or two this weekend. Is it cooler where you live? I hope so!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Ahh, the cool!

We are celebrating air conditioning around here! My nice repairman came out and discovered we had a wire short in our wall. When the thermostat triggered the air conditioner, both the heat and the air conditioning came up at the same time. No wonder it never got cool in here! He will come back to fix the wiring, (he just disconnected the heat) but in the meanwhile, we are ever so much less humid and more comfortable now. It was in the '80's when I took my dog walk this morning, and it's headed over 90F later on. Not quite summer, but warmer than you'd want in the upstairs of my house without air conditioning...And while I tolerate heat well, it is definitely not something I really enjoy. Give me a 70 degree day of sunshine or a snowy day anytime in exchange, you folks in Michigan or the UK!

I loved all those comments! If I have your email or blog address, I try to email you or pop over to leave notes on your blog. It is a wonderful form of socialization for me, lone writer woman, during this season where the professor is off doing field work much of the time. (Today, he is in the wilds of Paducah, KY, where cell phone service is intermittent. He's to be home late tonight.)

Lately there's been a meme going around that asks what people do in a day. I've not been invited to do it, but I idly thought it over:
-cooked collards for dinner last night and ate ice cream for dessert
-wrestled with a Fed Ex delivery (will I ever be here to sign the darn form, and don'tcha know I am home about 23 hours of the day?!)
-knit and blocked part of a "secret" project
-couldn't sleep last night so I stayed up late reading..
-overslept this AM
-rushed through my mile long to be home for that dang Fed Ex package! The humidity was so bad that I got blisters from my old worn in sandals. Feet were that hot. ouch.
-edited parts of my "author review" for Fiber Gathering
-posted to the blog, with these fab photos of true enjoyment--dog belly scratching moments, courtesy of my models and faithful friends, Harry and Sally!

So, did you do anything exotic or interesting in the last day or two? Tell me all about those belly scratching moments of bliss, ok?!

Monday, June 02, 2008

Art in the Park

Our town has a new organization called Artworks. I joined a few months ago and suddenly I was in the "cool kids club" and knew when all the art shows were happening in our town. In fact, tonight, I'm even helping out at the monthly meeting, but I get ahead of myself...

I signed up for "Art in the Park." First, I had to organize some stuff to bring along to the event. I have a box of handspun sitting in my office. When I spin some yarn that I don't think I'll use right away, for whatever reason, I pop it in the box when I'm done making it. Every now and again I find a gallery who wants to sell my handspun, but lately? The box was very full. I gathered it all together and labelled it for sale. This took a long while.
I thought about all your comments. (to me, the comments are like a conversation. I get to hear from friends, get some outside stimulation, and think about new things...that's why I do this blog thing. The comments really count for me.) I quietly agreed with Alison when she mentioned her husband's habit of keeping sneakers 'til they look like "sock blockers." You know, with holes in them. I have a husband like that. He recently threw away a pair of shoes while on a field trip (collecting trip, biologists have these) in South Texas. I celebrated loudly upon hearing we'd lost a pair of stinky hole-y sneakers down there. And I labelled yarn with yardage, ounces, etc. for quite a while.

On Saturday around noon, we wandered down to the park, which is about 4 blocks from our house, to set up. It was a humid, warm day with a breeze. We set up, and I settled in. From about noon until 6:30, I was stationed in the park. My professor kept me company a while. A friend or two came by to talk. A lot of curious kids left with a bit of wool and a basic lesson on how spinning works. Many grown-ups stared and walked on as I smiled and invited them over. (you know, the "Why not just buy it at Walmart?" types, who can't imagine why I do this by hand...) A few asked interesting questions...and I sold about 4 or 5 skeins of yarn to enthusiastic knitters, crocheters, and their friends.

I tried not to think about the wage earning potential here. It is sadly far far below minimum wage! However, if I think about it differently, it was a leisurely afternoon outside, spinning in public, educating kids and even a few older folks, and enjoying springtime art. I did spin about 3 bobbins of yarn--thank goodness for the portable travel wheel. Without a spinning wheel, it would have been a long afternoon!
It turned out that sitting outside in the shade was probably the best thing. Our air conditioning isn't working again, so we're back to this. Sadly not as pleasant as the last time this happened, when the humidity was low, but despite the higher humidity, it's still somewhat cool, if dank and damp at night. Highs only in the mid- 80's, I hear.

Yesterday, I spent a lot of time working with my (hot) laptop. Sundays are very quiet in my neighborhood, and good for getting hard thinking done. During the week, we're back to road construction beeps, jack hammers, nearby old house renovation noises, and traffic.

Today may be a good day to recover from my weekend. I foresee some iced tea and cool breezes by a window. Maybe some knitting, too. Wish you could drop by for a sweet tea and a visit! Instead, say hey in the comments?