Friday, October 31, 2008

small things

When a baby can't swallow on his own, is grizzly with pneumonia,and attached to a feeding and breathing tube, it's sometimes hard to think beyond today and be hopeful. The competence and kindness of the nurses in the intensive care unit, the distance to the hospital, and the comfort of an established routine are very important. Right now we're struggling to help my nephew stay right where he is rather than being moved to a 3rd hospital, as some insurance caseworker would prefer. We are lucky that we all have different strengths--and one of my mother's is a firm grasp on how to cope with organizational bureaucracies like insurance companies.
update: it looks like we won this battle after my brother spent many hours on the phone this morning with the insurance company. The baby should stay at this hospital until he's discharged. Whew. What a relief.

In this ever smaller focus, our family reminds each other about who picks up my other nephew from nursery school, who takes care of dinner, (we are overrun with food from friends) and what tomorrow will be like. In this space, small things make a big difference.

Sleep: As everyone knows, your average 2 or 3 year old will have a meltdown without his afternoon nap. We had a big meltdown yesterday, with no less than three grownups trying to calm things down, but frankly, the adults are all operating on the same principle...exhaustion is a real problem. Sleeping a lot is necessary when coping with such big stuff.

Maintain Habits: It took me several days to realize that I hadn't taken a walk. Not once. So, yesterday I walked a mile in the brisk sunshine. It made a big difference. I also spun on my new wheel. I blocked another project for my book. Small steps to maintain normality.

Splurge: This doesn't seem to be a good time to worry about one's diet. The other night I made my family pear bread pudding with hard sauce (vague recipe details below) and gosh, that sweetness was a good and positive distraction for a little while for all of us!

photo caption: (the knitting looks better than this photo) When my almost 3 year old nephew saw this tank top project, he said, "That's very pretty!" (no kidding. He's a smart cookie. :)

Pear Bread Pudding

Fill a 9 by 13 inch pan with:

Toasted leftover bread, cut into chunks (old challah works well), 4 pears, cut into small chunks, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup chopped pecans or hazelnuts, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 2 tsp. vanilla, 1 cup milk, 4 eggs

Combine the wet ingredients (beaten eggs, milk, vanilla extract) and dump over the pears, nuts, cinnamon, sugar, and bread.

Bake at 350 for a while. 45 minutes or so? You may need to cover the dish with foil for the last few minutes to avoid burning any exposed bits.

Hard Sauce:

1/4 cup cognac or brandy or bourbon (the hard stuff), 1 cup confectioner's sugar,1 stick of butter,1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, salt to taste (optional)

Melt butter in a saucepan on low heat with the sugar, alcohol and nutmeg. Add salt to taste. Stir as you heat this to make a smooth sauce. This tastes good over the bread pudding. Add vanilla ice cream as necessary, depending on the day's news.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Lyle Wheeler Great Wheel

I picked up my new, handmade great wheel at SAFF in Asheville. (I tried it out first at the festival and the professor shot these photos.) Then I drove over 500 miles to Northern Virginia and set it up again so you could see wheel#34 head-on in this last photo. This great wheel, is the 34th handmade by Lyle Wheeler in the mountains of North Carolina, in mixed Appalachian hardwoods.

The drive was alight with autumn leaves and sunshine.

I just read my almost 3 year old nephew stories (including one with sheep and knitting in it) before his afternoon nap. Later today I may be able to go to the hospital to see my new baby nephew, who is still in intensive care.

I'm very excited about my new wheel, but even excitement is a bit subdued at the moment. However, now I'm here in Virginia to visit and help as needed.

Enjoy the photos! You can just about still smell the linseed oil finish when you see these shots!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

pears all around

Having a nephew(or any small relative) in neo-natal intensive care (NICU) is a lot like being on a roller coaster but the ride doesn't end and you can't get off. Every day there is a new report. Sometimes, it is cautiously optimistic. Sometimes, it is not. Recently, there has been a fever, a lumbar puncture, (he didn't have pneumonia or meningitis) and tons of tests. There are physical therapists and speech therapists, which sounds ridiculous, but if an infant lacks the muscle tone to swallow, suck, and gag, that baby can't feed normally. Some doctors say encouraging things while others say scary things. We continue to hope for the best but it can be hard to focus on "the best" while also hearing things about feeding tubes, tubes that help the kid breathe, IVs, etc. This is some serious stuff over here.
In an effort to keep my life as normal as possible while I am still at home, we went out to dinner last week and bumped into my friend who keeps Romney sheep. Hey, he says, I've got 3 pear trees in my sheep pasture...want to come pick pears? Sure, I say. After all, I need to keep busy, and while my work is busy, I've been needing to be even busier than that. If I'm very busy, I don't worry as much.
We picked a lot of enormous Bartlett pears. So many pears that after we gave away 2 plastic shopping bags to one friend, another bag to a second friend, the entire box pictured above and another bag to a local food pantry? After all that? I made:
9 cups of pear/tomato chutney
8 cups of pear vanilla jam
7 pints of pear honey (gloopy stuff with pears, sugar, pineapple, and lime)
4 sandwich bags stuffed full of dried pears
I still have a small-ish box of, say, 6-10 lbs of pears left to bring with me to Virginia, since my almost 3 year old nephew (new baby's big brother) loves pears. I think one could say it's been a good year for fruit around here... and it's amazing how canning requires all my attention. I get whole blocks of 2 hours or so when I don't worry as much...and for this reason? I'm really grateful for all these pears.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Green Mountain Spinnery

It's a little hard to believe that just two weeks ago today, the professor and I were zipping across Eastern New York towards Putney, Vermont, to visit my best friend, (also known as Dr. Anne) with a destination of Green Mountain Spinnery. For me, it was a bit of a pilgrimage. For years now, I've admired the eco-friendly methods and beautiful yarns of this yarn company. They were even so kind as to donate yarn for Fiber Gathering...and they'd never seen the project that has been produced out of their yarns. I was lucky enough to whip out my laptop and share the photos with two of the owners!

Well, the trip was well worth it for all sorts of reasons. First, the Vermont fall colors were stunning and the 2 hour drive was beautiful. Lots of country roads, turns, twists, and good views kept us busy. The professor navigated while I took the turns. Then, when we arrived, I had a treat. It was a Sunday, and I hadn't announced to anyone that I would be coming. No matter.

It turns out that one of the owner-employees recognized who I was, the name of my book...and we had a ball (haha!) I took a lot of photos, and hopefully one day I'll get to use those in an article. Meanwhile, I got a fabulous tour of the mill.

When folks complain about the high prices of this yarn, they don't realize what a labor of love it is. The mill processes mainly local fibers (wool, mohair and cotton, in the main) and does it from start to finish, aside from some of the dyeing. There are 12 employees, 7 of which are part of the owner-cooperative plan. The machines are either very old, or hand tailored to fit the Spinnery's needs and space.

I got to touch their enormous bale of organic cotton. We (The professor, Dr. Anne and I) saw the washing facilities (fascinating) and the carding machines. We admired the sleek long lines of their spinning equipment. Finally, at the end of the "tour", we saw these elevated drying racks, full of yarn that they took an extra step with, washing and plumping it after processing.

The shop itself is absolutely petite. Here's a shot of my husband, the professor, taking up literally half the store! I was amazed at how much lovely yarn, samples, and other delights they managed to fit in. Whenever I'm at a festival that Green Mountain Spinnery is at, I want to touch and examine everything....but so does everyone else. This was a chance to think about my purchases without the crush of the crowds. I appreciated the lack of pressure...and really enjoyed making my purchases.
I've long admired the heathered and jewel tone yarns that this woolen mill produces. They are exactly my taste when it comes to color knitting! I bought their book just so I could think over those yarn colors years ago. That said, it was sort of surprising what I ended up coming home with. I chose a lot of natural colored yarns...some of which were kindly donated to me for designs for my next book. From top to bottom, the skeins are:
Maine Organic Wools (three natural shades), New Mexico Organic Wools (two natural shades) and 3 different shades of Green Mountain Granite (wool and kid mohair blend--a truly luxurious yarn!) The outliers? That big cone is 2lbs of the DK weight Cotton Comfort yarn. This is 80% wool, 20% Organic Cotton...and enough there for a sweater plus something else for only $40. (it was on special, and I know how to dye it at home.) The green and charcoal skein is some handdyed sock yarn....I couldn't resist just a bit of color!

We then drove to nearby Brattleboro for a late afternoon meal of locally grown foods and then...the long drive west across the mountains as the sun set. It was a practically perfect day of vacation with my professor and my best friend. (She lives in Vermont, so she just drove back home.)
On the new baby nephew front, things are progressing very slowly. He is still in intensive care and likely will be for a week or so more. I am now planning a journey to Virginia right after SAFF next weekend--I'm going with the professor and some friends. Then I'll drive northeast from Asheville on my own...the festival will break up the long drive. My family is known for its planning...and this timing has been carefully thought out. I hope to be there to help as the baby comes home from the hospital, but when that will be? We're not sure yet.
Thanks again for all your kind comments and prayers. It's been a rough week and I'm doing my best to keep up a "normal" patter of small talk here on the blog in the meanwhile!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008


My sister-in-law is recuperating at home now, that's good. My new nephew is still in the neonatal intensive care unit at the hospital. He appears to be improving, but seizures, lack of oxygen, and other serious medical things have us all still pretty worried. We're not "out of the woods" yet. This is some serious scary stuff.

Meanwhile, since the "first string" of relatives are still on the job in Virginia, I am working like mad here in Kentucky so that when I need to leave, it will work out ok. I'm reviewing more proofs for Fiber Gathering as it gets ready for publication. (Most authors aren't lucky enough to do a "second pass" of the proofreading, I, however, am this lucky.:)

I'm also crazy at work on book #2...and the professor has also had a lot going on. We've been so busy and pre-occupied we haven't even managed to build a sukkah this year, and gosh I miss it. It's maybe only the second time since we've been married that we haven't built one. Still, I haven't exactly been able to pull off any parties this week, either. Too bad I'm missing out on one of my favorite happy holidays.

Now, when I worry, I cook. Of course, I also didn't want to leave the professor with 7.5 lbs of rotting pears, which was a distinct possibility. These are mostly little Seckel pears (we think) from the professor's family farm and they are ripe when green. They taste sweet, tart and spicy. They are the size of golf balls--a total pain to peel.

First, I made a pear/apple tarte tatin, largely due to the suggestive powers of Janet's post. Those are almonds cooked into the top, and the crust was completely a cheater's one; I used puff pastry. It tastes good. How could a whole stick of butter and sugar caramelized with fruit taste bad, I ask you?!

Then I made 3 pints of vanilla spiced pears in Calvados and 8 cups of pear apricot jam. If I never see another golf ball sized pear to peel, I won't least not until next year!

Here's one of many amazing sunsets we see up at the professor's family farm. I know I still owe you a great post about Green Mountain Spinnery. The thing is, I had a fabulous time there and I'd like to pass along that experience to you. It might have to wait until I'm a little less worried.

Thanks so much for all your prayerful thoughts in my new nephew's direction. I am grateful.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Life sure interrupts the program.

The good news is that my sister-in-law is healing nicely, and my new infant nephew is alive. The bad news is that due to some pretty scary complications in childbirth, they are in different hospitals in the D.C. area. My new nephew is in a very good neo-natal intensive care unit at Georgetown Hospital. (He lacked oxygen for a few minutes and has had some seizures.)

As you might imagine, news about yarn can wait a day or two. At the moment, all hands are on deck in Northern Virginia, and luckily, everyone who lives close by is helping at the hospitals, with my two year old nephew, and taking care of the rest of my family.

I am, in the terms of the organizational genius who is my mom, "the second shift." I'll be heading east from Kentucky to help out when everyone is (hopefully) home from the cook meals, take my older nephew to nursery school, etc.

In the meanwhile, I'd like to ask if you, in my special cyber community, could send prayers, good vibes, or your strong thoughts and white light in the direction of Northern Virginia. One baby and his mom sure need it right now. If such things work, I'll be very grateful for your help, friends. Thanks.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Greenwich--a really special village

Just a week ago, I woke up on Friday and headed off to donate the first batch of apples. I met the Presbyterian church secretary/food pantry volunteer/fire house auxillary support lady in Argyle, which is just up the road from my husband's family land. So, in brief, this wonderful woman Tanya was grabbing a few bags of apples, manning the church, and brewing coffee for the firefighters, fighting a big fire up the road. She explained the pastor was also a firefighter, so he wasn't around.

In the friendly way that upstate NY folk have, she helped me figure out where the closest grocery store was and gave me directions so I could buy cinnamon and pie plates. (essential yet missing ingredients for apple pies!).. And yes, once we broke into the pies, I did eat them for breakfast with cheddar!

The closest grocery store was towards Greenwich, so I hopped in the car and took a drive. At the store, I talked to two young women who checked me out of the store. They were on their way through college and welcomed advice! I love this open and curious aspect to life in this area of the country...the brusque, bright and curious warmth always is a treat.

Downtown Greenwich (pronounced Green Witch) just happens to have a yarn shop. This shop is just a perfect place--lots of great basic colors and natural fibers, with a small town feel... and in my rush to go in, I forgot to shoot a photo. I found this shot of the antique store across the street on the web so you can get a sense of the Main Street. It's a historic town.

Needleworks is owned by Tracy and her retired professor husband Jeff. (Political Science at a SUNY school...) Jeff was there when I visited, and he told me an amazing story.

Tracy was diagnosed with ovarian cancer a little while back. It was serious and they weren't sure how they'd manage the store during her illness. The knitting groups at the store got together, created a list of people willing to help....and in the 6 months that she was going through treatment, the store was only closed for a few hours on one day. Otherwise? The knitting group ran the store, day in and day out, until she could get back to work.

Wow. I'd been planning to buy yarn, but gosh, that story made me want to take out stock in it. What a great knitting community. So, here's what I got at this shop.
First photo: Grey/Brown Bo Peep's Not Just For Socks Yarn, Red Happy Feet sock yarn, Charcoal Bo Peep's Not Just For Socks yarn.

Red and Khaki Dale Kolibri Cotton yarn, always good for keeping around for stash--future kids' presents, etc..

I love Lopi yarns and try to keep a rotating stash of these on hand. I bought 6 skeins of Lite Lopi so I can maybe make another Norah Gaughan lite lopi pullover. (Interweave Knits Fall 2003) I've just about worn the first one out. I used to sleep on it while travelling!

Last purchase was a mixed bunch of skeins of Loft Classic Zitron, a wool yarn that I'd read about and wanted to try out. I've got enough here for some hats and mittens, or something else just bigger than a swatch or two!

You might notice the dark colors theme. I like to wear a lot of black, browns and other solid dark shades generally. Some yarn shops just don't carry these shades, but it's all I want to wear and buy for my own stash! My designs are all shades of bright, but of course, I don't wear them all. How wonderful to step into a welcoming shop with such an obvious niche in its community--and to be able to buy all of this for $122. (yes, really.)

I haven't gotten to answer every comment individually this time, so I'll do it right here, as part of my "community!"
1) Mary, just google "Pick your own orchard" and pop in your area, Northern Virginia, and you'll find some luscious apples to try!
2) pie, cheddar AND another way to donate to the hungry? You go, Geek Knitter!
3) Alison, you have an amazing set of Second Harvest volunteers where you live. Wish it were that easy to donate everywhere!
4) Cyndy, I too wonder what varieties are in that orchard. So far, the guesses are for Northern Spy, Golden Delicious, and Cortland apples, as well as Seckel, Bartlett and Anjou pears. We're still guessing though, and I wish I could ask that long ago farmer what he planted and thank him for his bounty.
5) Nancy, I agree, we need to focus on what's important and basic needs in this economy...
6) Annmarie, thanks for enjoying our trunkload! We felt so proud. :)
7) Deb, I love Honeycrisps too...and those drops are delicious as long as you use them right away. The bruising may make them rot quickly, and as you know, you'll need to be sure you cut out any bad bits. (alas, that's what happens when the apples drop from the tree...)

Next stop, on to Green Mountain Spinnery! Ever wonder how big my actual stash is? Me too. There's a reason I don't account for it all on you have a shop like Needleworks near by? How about your stash?!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

the apples

If you like feeding people as I do, it's upsetting to know that anyone is going hungry. This year, many people will likely be hungry as the cost of heat, medicine, gas, and food has gone up.

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you may remember last year's discovery of an apple orchard on my husband's family's land. The short version is that the family stays in an old farm house on vacations, and rent out the farm land. When they changed farmer/renters, they discovered there'd been an orchard on the land all along. Probably the fruit had been feeding horses or cows before, but now, we had access to it again. I asked the professor to take this trip with me at this time of year because of the apples.

Access is a funny word. It's clear that the farmer who planted this orchard did it in a field that was not actually useful for modern farming. There's a ravine, some damp boggy areas, and no sane person would attempt to work this field on a tractor. Instead, there are rows and rows of trees. Even with 40 years of neglect, it is possible to see the rows of trees, the hard work of the farmer, and the beauty of these fruit trees.
Access means that first, we drove the rental car across the "big field" which had been hayed relatively recently. The professor does a lot of field work with four wheel drive and knows about what a car can do on minimal road surface or none at all. (Folks, don't try this at home.) Here's a photo of the view, and you can just about see the car tracks in the damp grass.
We came prepared. We brought every single plastic shopping bag from home, and we scrounged every shopping bag we could find in the farm house. Our raincoat pockets were stuffed with plastic bags. Then we climbed over an old barbed wire fence, goose stepped over some very tall weeds, and plowed through. (imagine weeds at thigh height...)
The views were great--note the traditional red barn in the distance here.... and the professor and I both love spending time outdoors in the fall. Our first date was picking apples. This was far less romantic, but our first apple picking session on Thursday was a good 3 to 4 hours outside in the orchard.
We've revised our estimate and think now that there are perhaps 30 bearing trees, although it's hard to tell. Everything needs to be pruned and worked on, but even so, we saw many trees had a productive year...and then their fruit dropped onto the ground. (pears and apples everywhere.) We caught the late bearing fruit this time.
The apples taste great, full of that delicious crunch and tart sweet vigor that makes New York State's crop one of the best in the country. The fruit are somewhat small, have blemishes or black spot mold, but taste fabulous. With some work, it would be possible to produce perfect apples, but as is, there's nothing wrong with this fruit. Of course, maintaining the orchard would guarantee us fruit in years to come, but for now? We had more apples than we could ever use. I made 3 pies and enough apple sauce for 16 or 20 servings and we didn't use up even one whole bag of apples!
Once I started looking for trees ripe with fruit, I saw them everywhere. In upstate NY, in Vermont, and even in downtown Bowling Green, Kentucky. What surprised me most is that more people aren't picking the fruit. When we arrived in upstate New York, we saw this article headline from the local paper:
A friend asked me, "So, the food bank always asks me for did you know what to do with the apples?" I got the idea because we walk by a food pantry every day when Harry and Sally dogs need a walk. I asked them if they took fruit donations, and they said yes, but normally they had to buy fresh fruit. It only took a little research online to find out how to donate food in another location. I used a food bank locator and called one of the regional food bank distributors. I explained the situation. We located a small food pantry 3 miles from the farm (6 shopping bags of apples.) Another food pantry, slightly farther away, sent two older gentlemen in a pick-up truck to pick up this trunkload...we couldn't really close the trunk!
Then, on Saturday, we went back out to the orchard with a ladder and some help from relatives. That was about 12 heavy shopping bags full of apples, 124 lbs, which we dropped off in Glens Falls at the location mentioned in that article, above.
I'm really proud that our family could do this! All in all, this took a couple of hours of organizing and phone calls, perhaps two days of picking, and that was it. 400 lbs of apples harvested. We're talking maybe 1500 apples here.
Right, you're thinking, but not everyone has an orchard just sitting around....or people who want to pick the fruit! Here's a simple set of ideas to think about:
1) Even one fruit tree feeds a lot of people. If you have access to one, see one in someone else's yard, or by the side or the road, ask if you can harvest some for the owner if they allow you to donate some of it for the hungry. A ladder, some plastic bags, and a friend to help...that's all you need. First, do taste the fruit make sure it's good before going to the effort!
2) Pick your own orchards charge less for fruit than grocery stores. Pick your fruit and find some to donate. (Think about large amounts here, the food pantry needs more than a few apples at a time.)
3) If you live in an urban area or can't pick food for others, no big deal. Look to see if your local grocery store has a food bank drop-off. Buying canned goods? Buy double and drop half those cans into the drop-off. You'll maybe spend an addition $1-5 on your groceries each time. If you can't imagine swinging that, ask yourself if you can cut back on some other purchase to help others...processed food costs more, so cut back on that stuff, cook one meal at home...and that money can be used to feed the needy.
Last night, I listened to the latest presidential debate. A smart person asked the candidates--Given what's going on in our economy and in the world, how will you ask Americans to sacrifice?
One candidate said, "I'll cut spending across government programs across the board and that way, everyone will have to sacrifice." (but of course, the wealthy will likely not suffer from those cuts as the poor will, such as the children who need insurance or who are in Headstart programs, for instance)
The one I'm voting for (hint, he's younger) suggested we all have to start conserving resources, limiting our energy usage, and making small changes in our daily lives. I think that's a great suggestion. Even better? Why not simply stop wasting the fruit growing by the side of the roads...?
Don't worry, I'll talk about yarn purchases in my next post, really! Sorry to sound so preachy this time. So, how 'bout them apples? What are you thinking? Say something in the comments....

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

She's Back...

And gosh there's a lot of laundry to do! I'll catch you up on everything when things calm down here a little.

We managed to pick about 400 lbs of apples (and a few pears) from the mostly abandoned orchard on my father-in-law's land. Aside from enough apples for 3 pies, applesauce, and for everyone to take home a bag or all went to foodbanks in NY State. More on that later.

Neighboring Vermont really is beautiful in leaf peeper season and aged VT cheddar is that good. Cider doughnuts aren't bad either.:)

Uhh, I stimulated the economy in the yarn department. $250 later, I have a serious amount of stash enhancement going on here. Don't even know where I'll put it all.

Used bookstores abound in upstate NY. Junk and antique shops, too, but luckily, none of that would fit in airplane sized luggage, so I stuck with the books, apples and yarn. Good thing we weren't charged for our baggage. (I packed light to begin with.) What's wearing the same hoodie sweater continuously for 4 days and nights when you can bring home such goodies?

More soon. I've just got to dig out from under this pile of yarn and laundry and find the "post" button here somewhere...