Monday, January 31, 2011


It took knitting into the wee hours of the morning (Ok, it was midnight... but that's really late for me. I'm a 'need my sleep' kinda girl!) but I got Jack's hat done. Phew!

I'm doubly pleased because I recently found this knitting challenge issued by Bridget Allin, owner of Needles in the Hay, a new yarn shop in Peterborough, Ont. I haven't been to her store yet, but I've been oogling it from afar.

So what's the challenge? A year in colour. In her own words: "To knit at least one item in a designated colour for each month of 2011. It can be any project, any size; the point is to broaden my colour horizons, so to speak, and encourage myself to embrace colours I normally wouldn’t choose."

Here's the colour palette and look, January's colour is red!

To be
honest, I suck at challenges. I start and usually flake out pretty soon thereafter (anyone remember KinderGARDENS? Me neither.) Life gets busy, I get frazzled and I let goals like this quietly fall to the wayside.

So what's different this time? Maybe nothing. Like most humans, I am a creature of habit, good and bad. I just know that I want to fit more knitting into my life and give myself some quiet space to be creative while making beautiful things for me and my family. I have a lot of projects that I'd like to try, and I thought this could be a fun way to keep me motivated. Or not. I've vowed to be kind to myself if this intention falls apart, but I love the idea of finishing the year with at least 12 completed projects in a rainbow of colours -- even if I make 12 dishcloths! I'll keep you posted.

So on to February: orange. Socks maybe?

P.S. Speaking of socks: If you're looking for some knitting inspiration, check out Bridget's challenge from last year -- Summer of Socks challenge 2010. She knit 14 pairs of socks using different patterns. And we're not talking simple tube socks... these are really fancy dancy socks!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Almost done...

Must... knit... faster!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Gettin' knitty with it -- A ribbed hat for Jack

Last Christmas, my dad gave me four hanks of lovely hand-spun wool that he'd purchased from a Port Hope, Ont.-based based family farm: Osland Sheep & Beef Farm, home of Cindy's homegrown yarn.

Jack has been asking for a new ribbed hat, so I thought this would be the perfect yarn for it. I found this pattern in Judith Durant's lovely One-Skein Wonders book, which has "101 original and charming solutions to the perpetual one-skein problem."

The pattern calls for a Cascade 220, 100% Peruvian highland merino wool, 3.5 oz (100g)/220 yards (201 m), but this worsted weight wool should sub in just fine.

Jack wasn't sure what colour he wanted, so we decided on a red main colour with a green stripe near the bottom. I started it last night and it's knitting up quickly on 4.5mm (US 7) circular needles.

His birthday isn't until the end of the month, so I should have no trouble getting it done well before then -- as long as I don't get too distracted by those new socks that I just cast on, or that simple oh-so-warm bulky cardi pattern I just found on, or...

Friday, January 28, 2011

Seedy mail call!

Seed catalogues are to me like a new issue of Vogue or Elle is to a fashionista. I love flipping through the shiny pages, filled with glorious colour that dazzles with this year’s must-have blooms, like the award-winning Magic Star, a fragrant double oriental lily, or Cherry Brandy, a modern hybrid twist on the classic “plain yellow” black-eyed Susan.

I devour page after page of food growing goodness: glorious and perfect, blight and bug-free vegetables, plump and juicy berries, even the herbs evoke memories of basil-kissed breezes on hot summer days.

But the catalogue that I’ve been anticipating most is neither flashy, nor shiny. It’s this one from The Cottage Gardener, one of Canada's largest heirloom seed companies based in Newtonville-Ont.

It’s a plain Jane catalogue, printed on newsprint with simple illustrations.

But inside, it’s filled with over 650 varieties of heirloom flower and food seeds, including over 20 pages of vegetables, many rare or endangered; everything from beans to melons, peas to turnips and over seven pages devoted to tomatoes alone!

I delight in the one-of-a-kind varieties, such as the Lazy Housewife pole bean, so-named by German immigrants because they were the first beans to not require destringing; the Mexican Sour Gherkin, which produces hundreds and hundreds of tiny (1 to 2”) cuke fruits that look like mini or fairy watermelons; the Drunken Woman Frizzy-Headed lettuce, an Italian heirloom with large, green leaves with a pink-red edge that are so frilly they resemble a blowsy, frowsy head of hair; or the highly-productive and excellent tasting Cosmonaut Volkov tomato, re-named in honour of the Russian astronaut who died coming back from a mission in 1971.

What I love most about this catalogue is the simple stories, uses, ‘magical powers’ and histories that accompany most varieties.

Granted, I’m a history buff but I find there’s something romantic about planning a garden and growing seeds with their own heritage. More importantly, there's also the practicality of tending heirlooms that are suited to one’s own local climate and growing conditions, and saving seed from year to year for a more secure source of food and genetic biodiversity.

So this year when I make my seed orders, I’ll go to the shiny catalogues for a couple “old reliables,” such as the Golden Dawn III hybrid yellow zucchini or the Tendergreen improved bush bean. But when it comes to growing my own seed bank with some not-so-new varieties, these simple newsprint pages offer everything I need.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

New life for old socks

You know when you experience those lightning strikes of sheer brilliance, when you think to yourself, "why didn't I think of that before?" and you've just got to share it? I'm having one of those (rare) awe-inspiring "man do I rock!" moments.

I've discovered a new use for old socks.

I'm all about sewing and darning old socks, but there comes a time when there's just not enough material left to darn. My husband and son wear the heels and toes through sports socks in no time; I even have a basket in the cellar relegated to discarded and mismatched socks.

I've found they're handy for rags and crafting, but I'd never thought of their use as a veterinary aide.

It started this morning as I stepped through the barnyard gate after finishing my chores. I noticed Henry lying nearby licking his foot, but as he's taken to collecting sticky ice chunks between his toes, I thought he was simply removing them. Then I noticed the blood-stained snow. Turns out he'd ripped open the carpal pad (the one on the back of his leg, above the paw). The bleeding had stopped, but being a dog, he wouldn't leave it alone.

I brought him inside, cleaned the wound and wrapped it with some gauze. He sat there, ears pressed against the sides of his head, holding his paw up in front of him like a lady waiting to have her hand kissed. I don't think it was the pain that wounded him -- it was the indignity of being subjected to this kind of swaddling.

I settled in my office to get some work and Henry joined me at his post -- the rug behind my desk. Then I heard it: the slurping, licking, sloppy sound of his massive dog tongue working away at the gauze.

I started thinking of all the ways I could secure the gauze, just long enough for the pad to seal and begin healing: Packing tape? Too crinkly. Duct tape? Too sticky. Surgical tape? Yes, of course... but we're out.

Then it came to me: a doggie sock/leg warmer.

I grabbed one of Jack's old sports socks, cut the leg off and slipped it over the gauze. It worked perfectly. It secured the gauze and stopped him from licking.

Henry was none too impressed. Not only was he now wearing human clothes, but I'd taken away his sloppy yucky pastime.

That's his "you've got to be kidding me" look.

It could be worse: At least the sock doesn't have rainbows or fairies or heaven forbid, cats on it.

Just wait 'til the next time he goes outside and I put the plastic baggie over his paw. I just hope the donkeys don't laugh at him.

Ed. update: Six hours later, Henry needs a bigger sock.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Confessions of an absentee blogger

There have been a few times lately that I've sat down and started a blog post about silly things happening in the barnyard or my late-night knitting bouts or my new obsession with alpaca wool, but after a few lines, I'd always hit ‘delete.’ The words came out sounding false, forced and lifeless. I’ve been reading too many blogs lately, and other people's posts are invariably more interesting, moving, eloquent or hilarious than anything I’ve been able to come up with.

So here’s my dirty little secret: I'm suffering from a serious case of writer's block. Well, it’s not exactly writer’s block – it’s more a sense of having absolutely nothing to say. I have no trouble writing about other people’s lives for work, but when it comes to my own, the well is looking pretty dry. It helps that I've got a part-time editing gig that keeps part of my creative brain cranking away. That's what's been keeping me so busy this past six months of radio silence. Well, that and I've become somewhat derailed.

It began last September when Ella started grade one. It was a day that I'd been dreading for most of the summer. Each time we talked about going back to school, her big blue eyes framed with long dark lashes, would fill up with tears and she'd say to me, "But mama, I'm going to miss you." And every time, she broke my heart a little bit more.

You see, when Lucas and I decided to have kids, the deal was that I'd stay home with them. I'd finished post-grad journalism school in April, was pregnant by May and interned at a magazine until two days before Jack was born. I'd work when I could, but my main job was one of "mum." That was nine years ago.

My freelance writing work load was fairly steady, though there were crazy times that I'd clock lots of late nights after the kids went to bed and too many weekends. Money was tight, I was always juggling and it was exhausting and often frustrating. There were dark times when my fuse was especially short, when I couldn't wait to have "my" life back, whatever that looked like. But then I’d chide myself with the reminder that this time home with the kids was so short.

Jack was the first to leave the nest five days a week, starting grade one the September after we moved to the farm.

After an intense summer of spending all our time together as we explored our new home, and our new lives, he was suddenly gone from Monday to Friday. I'd walk him to the bus in the morning and pick him up at the end of the drive at 4:00pm, but for seven hours each day, his world was foreign to me. I knew this was a part of growing up and letting go, but still, it felt like a piece of me was missing.

My consolation was that I still had Ella at home. She, too, would ride the school bus, but only attended kindergarten on Mondays, Wednesdays and every other Friday. I would have the day to myself -- to work, to get chores done -- and then we would have her off days together. But life gets messy and there were days that I'd have to work when she was home. I still never seemed to have enough time in the day and the burden of "mummy guilt" weighed heavily.

But two years of kindergarten passed quickly and this past September saw them both away at school. Surprisingly, to me at least, when D-day came it was something of a non-event for the kids. As Jack was entering grade three, he was an old pro at this full-time school thing; Ella just wanted to be like her big brother.

After a bazillion photos, hugs and kisses, they trooped off down the driveway with their dad, climbed the big steps to the school bus and were on their way, waving madly out the window before turning their backs to chatter with their friends.

Like a scene out of a B grade movie, I watched the bus pull away and only when I turned did the tears start spilling down my cheeks.

I braced myself for some kind of aftershock once the novelty of "back to school" wore off. I still ache with the memory of sitting on the edge of Jack's bed while I rubbed his six-year-old back, trying to console his desolate sobs while I gently explained that yes, he did have to go to school every day of the week now.

He had it harder than Ella: he was the shy new kid at a rural school where everyone has known each others' families for generations. He got through it and today, he's got his own tribe of school chums.

But Ella never went through that: she embraced school as she does most things -- with enthusiasm, exuberance and joy. Perched at the kitchen table during after-school snack time, she'd tell me stories of what she'd done that day. To any onlooker, I was the quintessential proud and smiling mother, but deep inside there was this pit of loneliness and disorientation. I had "my" life back. Five days a week. And I was lost.

I knew all too well the dangers of the empty nest syndrome. I vowed not to be one of those parents who lived their lives vicariously through their children. I'd model parental devotion as well as interest in my own life through writing, farming, cooking, yoga, crafting -- whatever. That was the plan, at least.

When I'm busy being busy -- those days when I've got so much work to do and the chores are overwhelming and I need 28 hours in the day to get everything accomplished -- then I'm ok. Well, not really – I’m often grumpy, strung out and frazzled. But lately, during the quiet of winter when much of the farm sleeps under a thick blanket of snow, when I'm forced to slow down and come face-to-face with that insidious question -- what happens now?—that’s when I get derailed.

I'm sure most folks would shake their heads and tell me I'm wasting my time with such preoccupations. I'm blessed to send my kids off to school and be there at the end of the day. I'm with them on field trips, snow days and we'll drive each other crazy during the long eight weeks of summer.

I know what I have to do. It's time to get off my duff and stop thinking so bloody much. Seize the day, be here now, be the person I want to be in the world, and all that. But it’s scary. It feels a bit like starting over, reaching for that next monkey bar without someone there to catch me if I fall. I’ve spent the last nine years preoccupied with the needs and wants of these two wonderful, and often demanding, little people; now I’ve got to start thinking of my own needs and wants.

It’s no longer a case of asking them, ‘what do you want to do today?’ I’ve got to start asking myself that question. It's just harder than I thought it'd be; that's all.

Phew! For all of you who made it to the bottom of that monster post, kudos! I feel remarkably better getting that off my chest. I'm even getting some inspiration for a new blog post on... wait for it... knitting my first sock! I'm living on the edge out here...

Monday, January 24, 2011

Madcap Monday

What do you do if your pond is frozen over and it's -30 degrees Celsius out? Take a paddle in the horse's heated water bucket, of course.

It's hot tubbing, duck style!

To all of you who have left comments over the last few months or sent emails checking in to make sure we're ok (no, the giant mushroom didn't do us all in!): thank you. You rock my world...
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